BRACING FOR THE NEW YEAR

Much happened in my life in the past year that I haven’t mentioned in the blog. My attention was largely focused on the new novel, which underwent three major revisions, completely changing its focus from, first, what Cassia discovered about her hippie father to, second, what she discovered about her Greek-American family through his photos to, third, finally the way she emerged from the emotional loss and grew stronger and wiser as a consequence. Now that What’s Left (the third title, by the way) is finally released as an ebook (Cheers!), you can tell me if it was worth three years of angst, fasting, and flagellation on my part.

One personal accomplishment was my reading the Bible straight-through at the beginning of the year. I started with Everett Fox’s extraordinary translation of the Five Books of Moses and ended with David Bauscher’s translation of the New Testament from Aramaic, while covering most of what’s in-between in the New Jerusalem version. Wanted to hear it all afresh. My notes from the experience will probably fuel an upcoming series, likely at my As Light Is Sown blog.

Also on the religious front, I attended the entire Holy Week (what they regard as Passover) services in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Outwardly, it’s about as far as you can get from my quietist Quaker aesthetic, but again, it was a powerful way of hearing the story afresh. With the shortest service running about an hour-and-a-half and the longest well beyond that, the closest comparison I could come up with would be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (nightly) or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs shorter in time and isn’t repeated the next morning. It was a miracle the priest and psalmists had any voice left by Easter. And the final services border on chaotic, wax-dripping celebration. Well, that’s the short take. My one regret is that I’ll never again be able to experience this for the first time.

In late spring, I felt called to assist our neighboring Indonesian immigrant community as a number of Christian refugees face deportation to a land where they fear profound religious persecution. As many of us have found, accompanying them to monthly immigration appointments an hour from home has been a life-changing experience. The vigil outside the federal building has been the biggest ecumenical gathering in the state, with clergy and laity blending together. I’m getting teary simply typing this. A last-minute federal court stay has us hopeful, but nothing’s certain as we await the final rulings. I am so proud that my Quaker Meeting has stepped up to this challenge, supported by at least a dozen other congregations in our corner of the state. Whatever action we take, we cannot do alone, but we feel God’s Spirit leading.

At home, our garden flourished, especially with an unprecedented fall in which the first frost didn’t strike until November 8 — a full month later than normal. We still had our own tomatoes up to New Year’s Day.

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CLOCKING THE FORECAST

YES, EVERYBODY TALKS about the weather. I’m no exception, and I usually enjoy the exchange. But I also listen with a grain of salt. To take a longer view and talk about the seasons, however, is another matter – one heightened in recent years by concerns about climatic upheaval and global warming. Living as I have in various locales in a band across the northern half of the United States, I’ve come to appreciate a wide seasonal ebb and flow. Deep snowfall and subzero spells, crackling and booming thunderstorms, an extended spring – I’m not one for the monotonous sunshine of Florida or southern California. I want to be jolted and moved, with all the accompanying influence on my emotions and thinking. There are seasons for curling up late at night with a book; others for reading on the beach or under the trees. Times for shoveling snow or cross-country skiing; times for raking leaves and mulching. Each new place has meant adjusting my expectations and observing fine differences from what I had previously encountered. All this, before dealing directly with the variations from one year to another within a specific place.

Over the years, the repetition adds up to knowledge and expectation. As the winter solstice observations of Christmas and New Year’s, there’s anticipation before ordering garden seeds in January and bringing the grow lights up from the cellar so you may start the seedlings. Having the cross country boots and skis ready. Keeping an eye on the pussy willows, to collect their sprigs. Planting, harvesting, cooking, sharing, and preserving. There’s the anticipation of the sequence of flowers or garden produce, each to be savored in its moment. From asparagus, snow peas, and strawberries through to potatoes, garlic, and leaks. From snow lilies, forsythia, and crocus through to asters and Jerusalem artichokes. Ordering firewood early, so it will season properly. Calling the chimney sweep and annual furnace checkup. Making room in the compost bins for October leaves. Trimming the hedges. And that’s just from a homeowner’s and urban gardener’s perspective. Normally, I wouldn’t be writing in July – my attic workspace simply becomes too stuffy, but this year’s an exception. There are other fronts. We’ve brewed ales in late autumn and lagers in deep winter, to take advantage of the favored requirements of each yeast. There’s also the seasonal flow of paying taxes and insurance, registering the car, taking a vacation, enjoying holidays. We also see academic years, baseball and football seasons, opera and symphony seasons, television seasons. There are many more, of course, as you start looking.

The challenge comes in not falling behind, but to instead preparing for the next stage. Here come the tomatoes, here comes the sweet corn. Pace yourself for the playoffs. Budget accordingly.

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APPREHENDING

gratitude for minutia and large flowing creation and homing family, mystery within walls around our bedding wealth beyond cash and clutter overabundance of opportunities to engage any strength generously distinguishing between gifts and hard-earned wealth and everything seized from others remembering greed bondage and warfare gluttony all entangle lust yet if we love liberally this […]

IN THE STARS, MEANING MOSTLY PLANETS

I used to get quite annoyed at those at the ashram who were so deeply into the astrology, into charting every minuscule bit of mathematics (and do they ever get into the calculations! hour after hour). And the following is all very tentative, superficial scratching especially when the serious astrologer is looking over our shoulders. But then they look to see what seems to fit and what doesn’t from their findings.

The idea of celestial influences on our lives can be seen in as a dimension of Seasons of Spirit. Sometimes conditions are more favorable than others. Sometimes things go more smoothly than others. The Biblical counsel, however, is to stay faithful in one’s practice. Make no excuses. Be ready.

Those of a more scientific bent can point instead to the precision of celestial calculations. The annual sequence of heavenly turning, the appearance of various meteor showers (with their own unpredictable volume and visibility), is complicated by the individual calculations for moons and planets.

From either perspective, we watch. Two or three planets approach in the evening sky, moving through the night, to reenact an ancient mythological tale.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.

 

THE PRIEST’S WIFE

The celibacy expectation for their priests and monastics leaves many Roman Catholics perplexed when they hear of the married ministers of their Protestant and Anglican/Episcopalian neighbors. Sometimes this is seen as a question of whether a pastor is able to focus all of his attention on the work of the church without the distractions of family life – or, on the other hand, the ways that family service enriches his ability to understand and counsel the members of his congregation.

(Yes, I’m aware of the male pronoun there – we haven’t touched on the matter of the ordination of women in many of those Protestant and Anglican/Episcopal churches, contrary to Roman Catholic strictures.)

While the focus is usually on the pastors, the condition of their spouses is typically overlooked. Are they fully members of the congregation or are they somehow set apart? They’re definitely in a spotlight and held to a higher standard than the rest of those in the pews. In addition, many congregations assume the spouse – usually the wife – will function as an enthusiastic unpaid full-time employee of the church, either as an unofficial co-pastor, minister of music, choir director, secretary, or some other visible role. Whatever the ultimate definition, it’s a high-stress situation to fill. Not all marriages survive. As one former pastor told me, “My wife said she married me, not the church.” For him, to take another pastorate would have led to divorce.

To add insult to injury, they’re rarely accorded any open recognition of the duties they fulfill, much less given a place of honor. Their husbands are typically addressed as “Reverend,” for starters. As for the wives, though? Only Mrs.

In contrast, the Eastern Orthodox introduce a fascinating alternative. While the priesthood is reserved for males only, they are allowed to marry – if they do it before ordination. The last year of seminary, according to the story, is a time of intense courtship. (Otherwise, it’s celibacy.)

As for the wife? In Greek circles, she’s accorded the title presbytera in English, drawn from priest or elder. Among other Orthodox, similar titles from their native tongues.

Of course, now I’m wondering how it plays out in practice.

REVELATION, BEGINNING WITH GROUNDHOG’S DAY

BEING SINGLE AND without children for much of my adult life, I could get around Christmas without getting caught up in many of its trappings. One year, getting my holiday greetings out late, I launched my annual letter with “A happy Ground Hog’s Day to thee.”

That’s particular calendar date had seemed so weird, until I discovered there are “solar seasons” as well as the ones our calendars show. In solar winter, for instance, the solstice comes at the middle of the season, rather than the beginning; so Christmas would be right around the middle of solar winter, even though it’s at the beginning of the calendar winter. Why does my brain ever go into these bizarre leaps? Oh well, as long as we’re at it: If my calculations are right, Ground Hog’s day comes at the end of solar winter. Follow that? In other words, as far as the amount of sunlight falling on the Earth is concerned, winter is over, even if we wind up getting another six weeks or so of cold and snowy weather, right up to the vernal equinox. So what I really began asking was whether Punxsutawney Phil, the official ground hog those Pennsylvanians in tuxedos and stovepipe hats bring out every year, is stuffed or live. He sure looks stuffed in the official portrait the wire services move, but what do I know? One of my coworkers, who has witnessed the event, claims it’s a living critter.

Awareness of solar seasons puts other events into perspective. Halloween, for instance, acknowledges the beginning of solar winter. May Day brings solar summer. The Midsummer’s Day or Night, ostensibly announcing the beginning of calendar summer, really does come at solar midsummer. The beginning of August is the invisible event in our awareness.

(Neo-Pagans, incidentally, put their own significance into this alternative alignment of seasons.)

Dwelling in northern New England, as I do, presents another awareness of seasons. They are not evenly divided across the year, as a calendar would do, but are instead of unequal duration. Winter, for instance, begins around Halloween and lingers until the beginning of April – five months, rather than three. Summer, on the other hand, opens around the Fourth of July and ends by mid-August – all of a month and a half. That leaves three months for spring and two-and-a-half months for autumn. Within that there are other divisions. Winter, for example, ends with Mud Season, Black-Fly Season, and Mosquito Season. Or some Mainers see the year as Freezin’ Season, Black-Fly Season, and Road Construction Season.

It’s easy to make the leap to the emotional dimension of the seasons. Skiers and ice fishermen can view deep winter with their own appreciation. I revel in the glorious mutations of October foliage, while another friend dreads its appearance, knowing all too well the gloom that will follow.

Some creatures, of course, will hibernate.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.