Note that two weeks after that 2020 Ash Wednesday, the COVID pandemic hit:
…to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”
But of course, Ash Wednesday comes right after “Fat Tuesday,” also called Mardi Gras, or “Pancake Day,” or Shrove Tuesday. (From the word shrive,* meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve.”) Which is a pretty good metaphor for the kind of absolutionsome people may feel we need – because of all the calamities that have befallen us since that long-ago Ash Wednesday, 2020. (That long-ago time of innocence, before “the stuff hit the fan.”)
On the other hand there’s Job 5:7, a reminder that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (And that before the COVID we had a pretty good run of “not so bad.”)
As Wikipedia said, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.” But that debauchery is always – in the church calendar – followed by Lent. Lent in turn is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
And by the way, you do get days off in Lent. There are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Sundays don’t count in the calculation. They’re essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” But back on topic…
As noted in My Lenten meditation – from 2016 – most people have traditional Lenten Disciplines that involve giving up something. (Preferably something they really enjoy.) On the other hand, some choose to add a discipline, a discipline that will “add to my spiritual life.”
For example, I spent the 2016 Lenten period “contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books;” that is, the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. But this Lent I’ll be going back and revising an eBook I published in 2018, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian.” As you can tell by the title, it was way too militant. (As in having a “combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.)
I’ll be writing more about such Lenten practices in the near future. But for this Lenten 2022 discipline “adding to my spiritual life,” I’ll be revising and rewriting that 2018 book. It to be less militant, less confrontational, and “more Christian.” So wish me luck, but in the meantime:
Have a Happy Ash Wednesday!
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“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.
The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras – Wikipedia. Captioned: “Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street.”
We are now in theSeason of Epiphany. That church season runs from January 6 – the day of Epiphany (holiday) – to Ash Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday comes on March 2, and marks the beginning of Lent. (And just as an aside, the season of Epiphanytide can last anywhere from four to nine weeks; it all depends on when Easter falls in any given year.)
The one certainty is that Epiphanytideruns from January 6 to the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday. (And that “Tuesday before” is called Mardi Gras, discussed below.) So with Ash Wednesday – illustrated at right – coming on March 2, that means Easter Sunday comes this year on April 17. Note also that Easter is not just one day; it’s also another season, the Season of Easter. That liturgical season lasts 50 days, this year from April 17 to June 5, 2022. (Easter Season ends on Pentecost Sunday, which comes from the Latin word for “50.”)
And speaking of Mardi Gras, that holiday – just before the start of Lent – is a prime example of the church calendar’s cycle of “feasting and fasting.” (See On Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – 2020, “In other words, the Christian pilgrimage consists of both fasting and feasting.”) In further words, by reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis, the good Christian can both relish the good things that come along in life, and get through the challenging parts as well.
Then too, “Mardi Gras” – the day – is also known as Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday. (The term “Mardi Gras” comes from the French words for Fat Tuesday.*) And the terms “Mardi Gras,” Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday all refer to the “practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual Lenten sacrifices andfasting of the Lenten season.”
Or as it has come to mean in some circles today, Mardi Gras translates to a chance to engage in certain debauchery – like “showing skin for beads” – or in other words, “Let’s Party!!”
Which pretty much squares which my calculations, that we are now past the 96th full week of the pandemic, or 24 full months.* But that’s not the only thing we have to worry about, as noted in last year’s post on Epiphany.
I put some links in the notes; deep background on the various feast days. Like January 1 being known by various names including National Hangover Day and the day we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. (But since we today are more squeamish, “modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.”) Or more information on January 6 being known as “Three Kings Day,” when the three “Magi” came to visit the infant Jesus. (And a note that in its original sense, Magi referred to “followers of Zoroaster,” and comes from the root word for “magic.”)
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Meanwhile – and speaking of Will I REALLY live to 120 – I just published a book with that title back in 2021. It’s about a bet that I made with myself, about maybe living to 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.” (Deuteronomy 34:7.) Some chapters deal with a really old ancestor of mine, William Bradford, who lived to the equivalent of 140.* He came over on the Mayflower and served as governor of Plymouth Colony for some 30 years. He also studied Hebrew in his old age, because he wanted to read the Old Testament in it original language.
On that note – and following in Bradford‘s footsteps – I myself just started studying Hebrew. (At the age of 70.) Part of the studies include a 36-chapter set of “Wondrium” videos, Learn Biblical Hebrew. Another part is my recent purchase of the Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook, shown below. And in the very beginning of that workbook there is this caveat: “Allow yourself space to fail … regardless of the number of errors you made in the process. If you are like our students, you may complete entire exercises without getting one problem fully correct.”
[T]he would-be meditator might want to give himself permission to make mistakes. “You will make them anyway and will be much more comfortable – and get along better with this exercise – if you give yourself permission in advance.” [T]he meditator [or Bible student] should treat himself as a “much-loved child … trying to keep walking on a narrow side-walk.”
Which is a far cry from the “get it right or go straight to hell” method of Bible study that some so-called Christians seem to promote. That’s also a far cry from how Jesus wanted us to read the Bible: With an open mind. (Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”) The result of such an approach? A good Christian reading the Bible with an open mind can both “transcend the painful, negative aspects of life,” and live with a serene inner peace. In other words, a life of joy and love, along with a “zest, a fervor and gusto in life.” All of which is a pretty tall order, so it’s time to get back to work.
The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!” Or as Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.” That “debauchery, etc.” has come to include “showing skin for beads” as part of an “alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal.”
Re: Full weeks of COVID. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that to me, the pandemic hit full swing – the “stuff really hit the fan” – on Thursday, March 12. “That’s when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, and March Madness and college baseball were called off… So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st,” 2020.
Re: William Bradford living to the equivalent of 140. He died at 67, when the average life expectancy was almost half that, or 36 years. That works out to a 1.86 factor, so multiplying today’s average life expectancy – say 75 years – leads to 140 years being the equivalent of Bradford’s living to 67.
I’ll talk about the 12 Days of Christmas in a bit, but first a note about 1st Kings 17:21. There’s a story there about the prophet Elijah bringing back to life a boy who had died. The interestingpart is where he prays, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.”
That was the Old Testament reading for Thursday, December 30,* and when I read that it raised some questions. Like, “Where did the boy’s soul go? Where did it come back from? And does that passage have an effect on any of the pressing hot-button political issues of today?” Note too that many translations say “let this child’s life come back to him.” However, the King James Version – the one God uses – has the term “soul,” and that’s good enough for me.*
Another good passage I just ran across – in the readings for Christmas Day – was 1st John 4:8. The translation I like best is the Contemporary English Version, “God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him.” Which can be a good response to those Facebook users who seem to revel in spreading hate. (“Are you acting out of love? Like Billy Graham?”)
But enough of that. Back to the 12 days of Christmas.
For starters, let’s go back before the Covid to The 12 days of Christmas, 2018-2019. That post noted that those 12 days of Christmas don’t end until “next year,” on January 6:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season [including “Twelfth Night”] beginning on Christmas Day … that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide… The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
The latter feast day was immortalized by artists including Jan Steen, whose painting “The King drinks” is shown below. In fact, the custom of eating and especially drinking too much became such a problem it was banned in some places: “Twelfth Night in the Netherlands became so secularised, rowdy and boisterous that public celebrations were banned from the church.”
Then there’s the tradition that the Three Wise Men got to the manger-scene just after Jesus was born, but the truth seems harder to pin down. Some say they arrived the same winter Jesus was born, while others say they came two winters after his birth. That would explain Herod’s order – see Matthew 2:16–18 – that his soldiers kill “all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.” (Known to history as the “Massacre of the Innocents,” noted every December 28.)
In that post – from last year near this time – I picked “three earlier posts to glean from,” along with a reflection on how “gleaning” came to have multiple meanings. Along with a reflection on a mid-winter trip I took the year before, three months before the Covid pandemic “hit the fan.” Referring back to a post from January 17, 2020, My recent Utah trip noted this:
[T]he end of an old year and beginning of a New Year is also a time to recall the events of that past year gone by, and 2019 was definitely a year of pilgrimage for me. Like my trip last May to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. (See “On to Jerusalem, On my first full day in Jerusalem, or type in “Jerusalem” in the search box above right.)
Which is another way of saying that 2019 was a “pilgrimage-filled year,” ending with a 15-day solo road trip “out to and back from my brother’s house in Utah.*” All of which brought back fond memories – of “before Covid” – with recalling that “This too shall pass.”
I ended that “Gleaning” … 2021 post with this thought: “Here’s hoping for a much better 2021.” So now I’ll close this post by saying, “Here’s hoping for a much better 2022.” And I’m going to keep saying it, updating it every year, until that much-better year finally happens…
In fact, Graham eventually grew in grace so much that he came to say that God loves allpeople – even Liberals. Which led some Fundamentalists to criticize him “for his ecumenism, even calling him ‘Antichrist.’”
I recently started re-reading portions of the book, which convinced me that I should try to be more like Billy, in the purity and inclusiveness of his faith. (Instead of referring to Right-wing Wackos as – well, “Right-wing Wackos.”) On a related note, in 2018 I published an eBook, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian”: and Other Such Musings on the Faith of the Bible. In light of my determination to be “more like Billy,”I’ll be revamping that book for a new version tentatively titled, “There ARE still some open-minded, tolerant and caring Christians… (‘You know, the REAL ones?’)” Or something less confrontational like that. And toning it down a bit.
A note: 2019 included, in September, a 160-mile hike on the Portuguese Way (of the Camino de Santiago), from Porto to Santiago. The mid-winter road trip to Utah included “getting snowed in at a Motel 6 in Grand Island, Nebraska, with a view of a near-frozen North Platte River,” but which also included “a great burger and two draft beers at the Thunder Road Grill at the truck stop next door.”
Like the headline says, “Welcome to Christmas, 2021.” Which means – among other things – that it’s time to look back on this past year. I suppose the biggest and most heartbreaking news is that – as of last December 5 – our version of the COVID and its variants has claimed the lives of some 803,045 Americans. Which leads us back to this time last year.
To help curb its spread, health departments [in 1918] ordered the closures of schools, theaters, bars, and churches. Christians were unable to celebrate Christmas by gathering to worship, to hear or participate in choir concerts, and other well-loved and important traditions used to mark the holiday by many.
But of course, we thought we’d be over all that by now…
That is, many Americans during Christmas back in 2020 no doubt figured that by now – a full year later – we would have the Covid problem largely fixed. Then too, I noted that the Spanish Flu pandemic started in February 1918, and lasted two years and two months, until April 1920. On that note, according to my calculations, we are now in the 93d full week of COVID, or 23 months and one week.* Which might have meant that the end of this plague was near, except for that new and more-transmissible “Covid in town,” the Omicron variant.
Getting back to “2020 Christmas,” that post noted that 1918 people had some advantages over us today. For one thing, Americans then were “much more familiar with epidemic disease:”
[E]pidemic disease was very familiar to the early 20th century public. Families, many of which had lost a child to diphtheria or watched a loved one suffer from polio, were generally willing to comply with some limitations on their activities. Most public health departments wore badges and had police powers, and this was generally uncontroversial. “They could forcibly quarantine you or put you on a quarantine station on an island.”
That willingness to comply with “limitations on their activities” is a lesson some Americans today seem unwilling to learn. Then too – aside from describing the progress of that plague (from “where it started”) – that 2020 post talked about the pandemic’s “waves.” For example, the number of cases went down in mid-1918, only to rise again when – in November – Americans gathered in large numbers to celebrate the end of “The Great War.”
There was also a note on “bad things happening to good people,” with one silver lining:
There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter… When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.
Which I thought was pretty much what Christians are supposed to do anyway. (Show empathy, and try to alleviate the suffering of others.) And which was pretty much the point of my post, Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. That rather than waiting on God to perform miracles, we should get to work on the problems ourselves. Which brings up the “Christmas spirit.”
The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit… After all, we are the sum of the individuals around us who generate the collective force that governs and organizes our social structure… When we “act out” Christmas spirit, we’re making visible this collective force, and we give it power.
The upper image is courtesy of Christmas 2021 Images – Image Results. It came with an advertisement – touting the unique Christmas ornament – but when I clicked on the link I got this notice: “Sorry, this item and shop are currently unavailable.” Maybe they sold out?
As for 2021 being “not all that bad” for me, among other things – and for most of this past September – I got to travel to France and Spain, for another hike on the Camino de Santiago. See I just got back from “Camino 2021.”
Re: My “93d full week of COVID” calculations.See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”
The song, recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, was made on 27 November (some sources give 28 November), 1949. The recording was released by Decca Records [and] first reached the Billboard record chart in the US on 13 January 1950, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 10.
The tune’s lyrics comment on our tendency to be constantly busy, while always making travel plans for “some time in the future.” Then comes the kicker: “how far can you travel when you’re six feet underground. (Along with this thought: If your “ravishing brunette” leaves you for another man, don’t fret. “You’ll have more fun by reaching for a redhead or a blonde.”)
But we digress…
You can find similar views in the Bible. I especially like the New King James Version of Ecclesiastes 5:18, “It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good … all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage.” (Many versions focus on “the few days of life” or “the short life” God gives us. But at 70 years of age now I’m not too crazy about those “negative” translations. Though I do like the part about redheads and blondes.)
And that’s not to mention the fact that – with good diet, supplements and healthy exercise – I hope to live another 50 years. To 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.*”
Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.
So I thought – back in 2020 – that the “current [COVID] pestilence might lead to a massive change in our present national life.” Like a general and sweeping “softening of the heart” in America. That hasn’t happened yet, but we started off this post talking about Advent, 2021.
Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year  has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.
That post noted that even Ebenezer Scrooge recognized that “Christmas is a very busy time for us.” And that this time of year – in the church calendar – can also be very confusing. “That’s because both the Season of Advent and the church-year itself actually begin with St. Andrew, the ‘First Apostle.'” There’s more on St. Andrew in the notes, but the point is that it’s okay to feel “busy,” confused, and even overwhelmed at Christmas time, and especially at this Christmas time, of 2021. (When “we thought the Plague was finally over!”)
Re: “More on St. Andrew.” According to the National Catholic Register, “St. Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.” Which is another way of saying that he was pretty important, but that he often gets overlooked:
Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four… That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[. In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”