Let the Law Catch Up

Today I would lobby hard that the larger church adopt a calendar option that our Episcopal siblings have done, and honor on this day Justice Thurgood Marshall, Warrior for Equality and Trailblazer.

Born in 1908 to former slaves, this Baltimore son was raised hearing court cases as a form of informal education. He attended Frederick Douglass High School, graduated a year early, and entered Lincoln University, an HBCU, where he sat in classes with Langston Hughes and excelled on the debate team.

After graduating and marrying, he went on to Howard University to study law. In his law practice he partnered with the NAACP and became chief council for the organization, arguing a number of historic cases in the pursuit of civil rights, most notably arguing before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

JFK appointed Brother Marshall to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but he was prevented from officially taking the chair by a group of Senators (led by Mississippi Democrat James Eastman) who didn’t love the idea of a Black man serving that high in system. Marshall took the seat by recess appointment and, when offered the chance, LBJ elevated him to U.S. Solicitor General, making him the highest-ranking Black government official of his day.

When Justice Tomas Clark left the court, LBJ put Thurgood Marshall’s name forth as the justice to replace him. He was confirmed by the Senate, and described his political philosophy as, “You do what you think is right and you let the law catch up.”

Marshall served on the court for 24 years.

In 1991 he retired from the court, citing failing health, and in 1993 he died of heart failure. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It is his personal Bible that Vice President Kamala Harris used in her swearing-in ceremony.

Brother Marshall was not perfect, and nor would he claim to be. But he was fair and sought to champion the rights of those who had few champions with political power at the time. He is a reminder for me, and should be for everyone, that sometimes, well:

“You have to do what’s right and let the law catch up.”

-historical bits from public source materials
-icon written by Christopher Davis

The Navigator

Today the church remembers an Irish saint who honors the ancient truth that the Celts love the word “story” within “hiSTORY”: Saint Brendan the Navigator, Abbot and Pioneer.

Saint Brendan was born around the year 484 in County Kerry. He was trained by those ancient Irish monks and, at the age of 26, ordained a priest. He then began to travel the island, founding monastery after monastery as he went. He was known for being kind and adventurous, and from his early life longed to answer the siren call that the sea had placed on his heart.

Believing that the Garden of Eden could be found just somewhere off the coast of Ireland (most of us of Celtic ancestry believe this to be true because you’d be hard to find a more perfect spot of land, right?), he took to the sea.

And this is how legend about him grew and grew. His sea adventures were passed down through oral tradition, and the first written accounts of it date around the 900’s, though the voyages themselves took place in the early 6th Century.

Saint Brendan was said to have fought with sea monsters in his boat of eager monks. One legend has him finding an island of lush vegetation, only to discover it was the back of a great monster all along!

Tales of his travels mark Irish bookshelves and drip from Celtic tongues, not because these voyages actually happened, but because they are all true.

Saint Brendan eventually grew tired of the sea voyage life and, after visiting the holy island of Iona in Scotland, retired to the monastery he founded at Annaghdown, though his “retirement” was simply more rounds of travel around Ireland and Britain, visiting this community or that. He died in 577 in Annaghdown while visiting his sister, and fellow monastic, Brigid.

Some actually think (and provide some shaky, but present, evidence to the idea) that Saint Brendan made it as far as Greenland, or even the coast of Canada in his voyages. Others think he made it to the Azores or the Canary Islands. Regardless of how far he made it, though, his tales of faith and voyage have sparked, and continue to spark, the imagination of so many. Like all good saints, he refuses to die.

Saint Brendan is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes very true things just never happened.

They happen.

-historical bits from publicly available sites

-icon written by Theophilia, and can be purchased at Deviantart.com

A Forest of Junipers

Today the church remembers an unusual 13th Century Saint of the church, Saint Juniper, Fool and Friend.

Juniper was a companion of St. Francis of Assisi, but may have been even more extreme than him when it came to eccentricities. Juniper was known as a “fool for Christ,” and, like your aunt with an unending purse in church, was known for continually giving away all of his possessions and living in such a publicly exuberant way that he was constantly in trouble with authorities.

Eventually his monastic superiors ordered him to no longer give away his outer robe to beggars, which he had a habit of doing. Moments after the directive, he encountered a beggar and is supposed to have said, “I have been told not to give you my clothing, but if you decide to take it off of my back, I will not put up a fight.”

Juniper is a winsome saint who reminds the church, and all of us, that everything we have is always on loan, and in living that way we learn to better enjoy not only what we have, but also the moment we give it away.

-icon written by Brenda Nippert (https://pixels.com/featured/st-junipero-serra-brenda-nippert.html)

The First Month of Summer

For the ancient Celtic Christians, May was the first month of summer. It may feel strange to think of the rhythm of the year in this way, mostly because we’ve been conditioned by society to see May as still part of “spring,” but for those Celts who paid attention to how things look and feel, rather than acquiescing to what others told them to feel, they knew that the change of May meant the beginning of summer.

Their wheel for the year was:

November-December-January: Winter (the cold would set in, ground would freeze, and things took a dormant nature…which is why in the middle of December you’d celebrate the undying light of Christ, reminding yourself that the sun/Son always shines)

February-March-April: Spring (things start to break through the ground, thaws happen, tulips push up and animals stir and mate…which is why Easter is the capstone to the season, the eternal “emergence”)

May-June-July: Summer (heat sets in, you start to do all things out-of-doors, you plant and tend, and the midpoint is the celebration of John the Baptizer/Summer Solstice where you remember that St. John the Baptizer said, “I must decrease so that Christ may increase”…and the sun starts setting a little earlier each day)

August-September-October: Autumn (you celebrate the waning heat, you harvest, you prep and store, and prepare for the winter, with the capstone of the season being All Hallow’s Eve where you give thanks for the harvest and the faithfully departed, knowing winter is coming where nature reminds us that all things die)

This cycle was the year life, but imbued into all of this was the sense of death and regeneration.  It was an Easter life. 

In our modern days where we’re so tossed back and forth between this event and that event, seeing so much of it all as isolated incidences that rock our boats, we forget the golden thread, the rhythm, or as the ancient Celts would call it, the “heartbeat of the Divine” running through it all. 

If we tilt at every windmill, we never stand up straight.  The ancient Celts understood this, and so they were able to weather most any storm knowing what season it was. 

Now? Now is the start of summer. The season of “out-of-doors.” Take advantage, live into the newness around you, and breathe deeply into the now. 

Because now it’s about living life. 

Patron Saint of Victims of Sexual Assault

Today parts of the church, especially those of Frankish origin, remember a 9th Century saint whose story is all too familiar: Saint Solange, Patron Saint of Sexual Assault Victims and Resistor of Rape.

Saint Solange was the daughter of poor vineyard workers in central France. She eventually took on the role of shepherdess, tending her sheep in the fields of the area. She was raised devout in the faith.

Her beauty attracted the attention of a local nobleman. She rebuffed his advances, even though he continually sought her out, especially while she was doing her work in the fields, alone.

Yet, she persisted.

Frustrated by her lack of interest in him, he snuck up on her one night and, using brute force, kidnapped her. In the moments after being taken Saint Solange struggled violently and, as a result, fell from the horse he had tied her to as they were crossing a stream. Her abductor was so angry at her reluctance to do what he told her to and give up her body to him, he killed her on the spot.

The year was 880 A.D.

But it was also this year. And last. And every year before it.

She is remembered as a strong woman who, when accosted by the wealthy and powerful men who thought they could do what they wanted to her and with her, resisted. Her tale is one of bravery, fear, and one all too often repeated in this life.

She is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that patriarchal systems of power must never be reinforced, must never be taught and, where they are found, must be resisted and fought against.

And we need to teach this to all our children, regardless of gender.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-information gleaned from public sources as well as Daily Magic by Judika Illes

More than Just Cookies

Today the church remembers an obscure, but important saint, especially for those of us who find ourselves Lutheran in the Carolinas.

Today we honor Nicolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf, who may be considered the founder of the modern Moravian Church.

Zinzendorf was raised in an Austrian Lutheran family, and trained at Wittenberg University. Being of noble heritage, he took up a post in the court of King August the Strong of Saxony.

While there, he opened his home to Austrian Protestant immigrants, mostly of Bohemian descent. His hospitality, and the colony growing under his care, flourished, and he resigned his political post to attend to “the Lord’s watch,” as it came to be known.

He was a little too pious even for the Lutherans, but all the same was considered a Lutheran theologian. He was exiled from Saxony for his extreme piety, and founded communities in the Baltics, the Netherlands, England, the West Indies, and North America.

In 1737 he was consecrated a bishop in the Church of the Czech Brethren, a branch of the church that John Hus followers formed after his death. Because the church was founded around Moravia, it became known as the Moravian Church.

Zinzendorf also had great concern for social justice, a streak which continues in the Moravian Church to this day.

In the United States, and particularly Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, the Moravian Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America maintain a special relationship. Here in Carolina it’s not unusual for families to have both Lutheran and Moravian members, and for churches close to one another to work together in mission. We are close theological cousins, and though there are certainly differences, we share pastors and are in full communion.

While many might know Moravians for their thin, wafer-like sweet cookies (and a pretty good thing to be known for!), they should be known more-so for their continued care for the poor and the oppressed around the world.

Mother of Mystics

As Mother’s Day dawns, I’m compelled to note that today the church honors the mothering mystic 15th Century icon: St. Julian of Norwich, Enigma and Anchoress.

We know little about St. Julian, though she left us a treasure trove of writings from which to grow from. She became an anchoress of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, a statement which means little to our ears, but explains that she lived in a shack adjacent to a particular church, in exile and voluntarily alone. She sought the contemplative life without distraction, and at the time this was seen as a benefit to her and her insights. We would later know it was certainly a benefit for our collective knowledge, but may have done her personal harm in the long run.

St. Julian called her insights “showings,” and she has recorded fifteen of them for the world. She was only around thirty years old when these visions happened to her, and they show both her admiration for the Divine and what she believes the Divine was showing her. In these experiences she recounts a God who is close, intimate, and “homely,” according to her description. She draws upon scripture and other medieval writings of the time to extrapolate on these extraordinary experiences.

St. Julian (sometimes called Dame Julian) was sought out for her wisdom. Though she lived as a recluse, others traveled far to hear her thoughts and seek her guidance.

St. Julian of Norwich died in the year 1417, and has long been honored on May 7th or May 8th by much of the church.

My favorite quote of hers, which was scribed while she was on her death bed, is, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

She is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that insight into the Divine can happen to anyone, anywhere. And sometimes the most feeble amongst us holds the most acute lens.

-historical bits taken from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Marcy Hall of Rabbitroomarts: https://www.etsy.com/shop/RabbitRoomArts?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=973273358

What’s in a Name?

Today the church remembers two of the original twelve disciples: St. Philip and St. James the Less, Apostles, Martyrs, and Friend of the Obscure.

While there are disciples of Jesus with fewer speaking roles than Philip and James the Less (lookin’ at you Simone the Zealot and Mattias!), St. Philip and St. James the Less are pretty obscure, with James taking the lion’s share of that cloud of mystery. Nevertheless, like many characters in the scripture, these two deserve remembering because they “were in the room where it happened,” and went on to work in the world even after it happened.

St. Philip is more well-known, hailing from Bethsaida, that fishing village that birthed St. Peter and St. Andrew. He’s remembered for two main stories in the scriptures: his call story in John 1:43-51, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:5-7). He’s mentioned a few more times, but most people will recall these two tales more readily.

St. Philip is said to have traveled to modern day Turkey after the Pentecost story, preaching and teaching with reported success. Lore says that he was married and had two daughters who accompanied him. His death came at the hands of the townspeople of Hierapolis in Phrygia (Turkey), where he was either stoned or crucified, depending on which literature you follow. He was buried there and his daughters, who remained unmarried, survived him and are also buried there.

In iconography you’ll often find St. Philip depicted with a “Tau Cross” (T-shaped), and/or with two loaves of bread, referencing both his death and the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

St. James the Less (a moniker that distinguished him from James the brother of John), is simply noted as one of the disciples of Jesus and his mother may have been one of the Mary’s present at the crucifixion. Apparently they were at a loss for names in the ancient world, hence why there are so many named Mary and James…but I digress.

Post-Pentecost we don’t really have any stories of note about James the Less other than that he was said to have been martyred using either a saw or a “fuller’s club,” a large club with spikes or knobs. One of these two images usually appear in his iconography.

St. Philip and St. James are commemorated by the Roman church on this day, May 3rd, though Lutherans and Anglicans usually commemorate him on May 1st (which is more traditional). But in 1955 Pope Pius XII declared that May 1st should be a day dedicated to remembering the working class, and so he put St. Joseph the Worker’s feast day on that day, and transposed these two obscure apostles to May 3rd.

Honestly, it’s six in one hand and half a dozen in the other, because half of the church honors them on May 1st and the other half on May 3rd. Decide which candle to light and do your thing, Beloved.

St. Philip and St. James the Less are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes in life all you get to be remembered by is your name.

And sometimes that’s enough, by God.

-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-it is worth noting that Pfatteicher encourages the church to adopt the older commemoration date of May 1st to honor these saints

Father of Orthodoxy

Today the church remembers 4th Century Bishop St. Athanasius, who presided in Alexandria and was not known for brevity.

Athanasius is known as “the father of Orthodoxy,” arguing vehemently with the Arians who denied the full divinity of Jesus. Because of him the phrase “of one Being with the Father” became central to the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

He assumed the Bishopric as the successor of Bishop Alexander, but many opposed his selection and, like he with Arius, brought him up on heresy charges. He appealed to Constantine himself, and was mercifully exiled to northern Gaul.

After Constantine’s death he was allowed to return to Alexandria and resume his duties. Yet, it wasn’t before long that he was charged again by those who disliked him. Pope Julius I convened a council in the late 330’s and declared Athanasius innocent.

He would be brought up on heresy charges again, of course, and by his death he would see exile from the church five times.

The Athanasian Creed, named after Athanasius (though not written by him) is still sometimes recited on Holy Trinity Sunday in some parishes. It is yet a further “circling of the wagons” of the creeds of the ancient church, leaving less room for interpreting God’s work in the world.

Athanasius is seen as a great “doctor of the church,” but he should also be seen as a case study for what happens when our search for what is “correct” overwhelms the church. The one who cried heresy against others was quickly charged of heresy himself…and it would mark his whole life.

The schisms in our own Lutheran legacy are a testament to this deep and unfortunate truth.

If the faith is contingent solely on right and inerrant interpretation, you eventually end up with a church of one: yourself.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon can be purchased at monasteryicons.com