In Celtic spirituality, February is associated with the rowan tree. Its red berries were thought to guard against all sorts of bad things.
They’d put rowan branches on their cattle sheds and dairy barns to keep the meat and milk fresh and free of disease, and across Celtic lands crosses of rowan twigs were tied with red thread and carried in pockets or sewn into the linings of coats for traveling mercies.
Since the saint of the month, Saint Brigid, was associated with flame and fire, the blazing red berries were thought to be little glimpses of her favor.
I found a modern Celtic prayer to say under the Rowan Moon (February’s moon). And since it’s the last day one can say it, I thought I’d throw it out there.
What I love about this prayer is that, while images of Christ/love and the sun are really common, we don’t get many images of Christ/love being seen in the moon. But in the month where the moon still outshines the sun, it makes sense to have a prayer that highlights this truth, right?
Bright glory, bright moon, the moon that shines on Brigid, lamp of the poor, love, light, illumined by God. Bright moon of glory, teach me good purpose toward all creation. Bright moon of grace, teach me good prayer in accord with Christ’s heart.
Fiery moon of great light, be in my heart be in my deeds be in my wishes. Teach me your grace. Bright moon over Brigid, your light my hope, your light on my purpose here, in accord with God’s satisfaction.
Bright fire, bright moon, point my heart to God’s repose. Point me to my rest, with the Son of Tranquility.
As night falls on February 27th, I would lobby hard that the church remember a modern saint who saw everyone as his neighbor, and therefore loved his neighbor as himself (and even more-so) without even trying, teaching others to do the same: Saint Fred McFeely Rogers, Friend of Humanity and Muse of Young Ones.
Fred McFeely (yes, you read that correctly) Rogers was born in 1928 just as the American landscape was about to take a turn for the worst. Born in Latrobe, PA, Saint Fred was a shy child, spending much of his spare time with puppets he made or who were given to him. He was tormented and bullied at school because of his quiet way, and was called “Fat Freddy” by classmates because he was overweight.
These early experiences no doubt sent him on a spiritual quest for true friendship.
He overcame his shyness in High School through trial and error, finding out what true friendship looked like, and eventually gained a University degree in music. On one of his summers home from college he encountered a new box in his parent’s house: a television. He was intrigued and disgusted.
Saint Fred was not in love with television at first, but saw that it had potential to shape the people who tuned in. He went to work for NBC, and then his local Pittsburgh affiliate, trying his hand at children’s shows and production. While doing all of this he also answered a call from the church and graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. But rather than finding his parish within sacred halls sitting in pews, he cultivated his parish within living rooms across vast distances who sat on couches, floors, or on their knees with their small hands pressed against the screen.
Freddy had found the friends his childhood self desired, but never could make.
Saint Fred had a number of different children’s programs in different markets through the early ’60’s. He worked with child psychologists to understand best how children not only developed, but also how they learned best. He was tireless in trying to make the medium a good for children.
In 1968 Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood began airing nationally on what would become PBS. Over almost 900 episodes children learned how to make and keep friends, sing songs together, use their imaginations, and be curious. When the last episode aired in 2001, Saint Fred had not only left his mark on the television industry, he had left his mark on so many of our hearts, me included.
Fun fact: he taught me what house shoes are…always being sure to change into them when he came in the door.
Alongside his care for children and their education, Saint Fred was a tireless advocate within the halls of power for educational opportunities and children’s rights. He spoke before congress, used politics for the betterment of humans, and gave scores of commencement speeches to eager young minds wanting to change the world like he did.
As if all of the above didn’t keep him busy enough, he also married and had two sons, appropriately named James and John. He kept his license as a Presbyterian minister his many years, and reportedly had a deep spiritual life that also studied mysticism, Buddhism, and many other faiths. He never spoke about religion overtly on the air, but believed his example said volumes about his core convictions.
He was eloquent and honest and earnest. But I think his deep secret to changing the world had very little to do with what he said and most to do with who he was: he was a very good friend.
And that made all the difference.
He died on this day in 2003.
Saint Fred McFeely Rogers is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes evangelism isn’t done by saying anything about your faith, but rather by simply living it and being a darn good friend in the process.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits from public sources
-icon written by Kelly Latimore (and is available for purchase from him!)
Today the church remembers a saint who was a victor (or victim?) of chance: Saint Matthias, Apostle and Patron Saint of One-Hit Wonders.
We know absolutely nothing about St. Matthias except for the brief account in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles where he is chosen by throwing dice as a replacement for Judas in the pantheon of Apostles. The early church felt it was necessary to restore the ranks to twelve, mirroring the tribes of ancient Israel. One wonders why they didn’t just incorporate Mary Magdalene into that position, as she was already performing the duties and fulfilled Peter’s qualifications for the role as a “witness to the resurrection,” but whatever. Patriarchy wins again, I guess.
When considering who should replace Judas, two disciples were put forth that supposedly fit the bill: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias, both who were supposedly part of the seventy sent out by Jesus when he was alive. The dice landed on Matthias.
And that, Beloved, is all we know about him.
There is apocryphal lore regarding Matthias, though there is some confusion as to whether the authors of these stories meant to reference the Apostle Matthew instead. St. Clement quotes a second-century Gospel of Matthias, though we have no text of this Gospel book. Other works from the 6th Century and later expand upon the lore, often pairing Matthias (or is it Matthew?) with the Apostle Andrew in spreading the Gospel in hostile lands.
The one thing all the tales do agree on is that he was a martyr for the faith in the end. His crest exemplifies this thought, often depicting a double-headed axe resting on the scriptures.
It’s unknown why today was chosen as his feast day back in the eleventh century. Rome has him commemorated on May 14th to avoid the feast falling in the season of Lent, but Lutherans have no qualms lifting up a martyr in the penitential season. After all, though he witnessed the resurrection, he did so with his life on the line, which seems to fit both Lent and Easter sensibilities.
St. Matthias is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes things just happen and they don’t need a Divine reason behind it to be significant. I’m not one to say the Holy Spirit plays dice, and in all honesty I’d rather have had Mary rightfully acknowledged as the true Apostle she was, but I’m happy to give Matthias a nod today because, whether he wanted it or not, the lot fell to him.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
Today the church remembers one of the most direct links to the first Apostles (if the lore is true), constituting a bridge between those first followers and the emerging church to come: St. Polycarp, Disciple of St. John, Bishop of Smyrna, and Martyr.
Born just as the Gospels were being penned by Matthew and Luke (70 AD), St. Polycarp was appointed by St. John the Apostle as Bishop of Smyrna (preceding my favorite Saint, Nicholas, in that role). Polycarp kept good company with both Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus, making him the third in that Trinity of first-generation theologians.
St. Polycarp supported the early church through words of love, encouragement, and discipline (as all good parents do), and his Epistle to the Philippians remains to this day as a pastoral letter against the growing Marcionite heresy that saw the Hebrew scriptures as irrelevant. Though this letter didn’t make it into the canon of scripture (though it was close!), it was still read and disseminated throughout the early church during worship.
Polycarp was largely the leading figure in Asia Minor where the early church is concerned. In his old age he went to Rome to argue over the dating of the resurrection (long story there!) and, upon returning to Smyrna, was captured and killed by authorities at the age of eighty-six. The story goes that he was captured, brought before the proconsul and, when he refused to give oblations to the Emperor (what is it with tough guys in power always needing their egos stroked?), he was burned alive on this date in the year 156 AD.
He is unique in that his martyrdom was captured by eyewitnesses and published to embolden the church, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp can still be found at your local library (or wherever books are sold).
St. Polycarp is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that when people in power invite you to stroke their egos, the faithful response is, “No thank you.”
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon written in Byzantine style and can be purchased at Legacy Icons (legacyicons.com)
“You thumbed grit into my furrowed brow, marking me with the sign of mortality, the dust of last year’s palms. The cross you traced seared, smudged skin, and I recalled other ashes etched into my heart by those who loved too little or not at all.” -Elizabeth-Anne Vanek
Today the church remembers a relatively obscure 13th Century saint, St. Margaret of Cortona, Mother and Friend of Those Who Self-Harm.
St. Margaret lived an unconventional life in many ways, at least for one who is considered a saint of the church…which makes her so relatable. Her father was a Tuscan farmer and her mother died while she was quite young. In the hustle and bustle of all her siblings, Margaret was neglected and largely forgotten, which caused her to run off early in life with a local man and have his child out of wedlock.
Though her child was this man’s, she was not his wife, and remained his mistress for nine years. One day the man’s dog came bounding toward her without her lover, and following the canine, she found him murdered under a nearby tree with no explanation.
With her young son, St. Margaret attempted to be reconciled to her father, but he rejected her and his grandson. Having no where else to go, she turned to the Friars Minor of Cortona to take sanctuary.
She was so tormented by her life which she assumed was a failure, that she tried to harm herself a number of times. Our past can be difficult to carry, especially when we feel like we are rejected by those we most love. The systems we find ourselves in can trap us in cycles of pain; this is most certainly true.
The kind Friars she found herself with, though, would not let her hurt herself. Gently and honestly they walked with her, and because she knew intimately the pain of rejection, she made a wonderful nurse in their sick ward, and spent her days tending those others refused to touch.
She eventually joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and her son became a Franciscan as well. She deepened her spiritual practices, and was granted permission by the church to dedicate herself to the care of the outcast, the poor, and the sick as her life’s work. She gathered her small group of followers and eventually became known as “The Poor Ones,” standing in solidarity with those who felt rejected and hurt in life.
She died on this day in 1297.
St. Margaret of Cortona is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes people harm themselves not because they are selfish, but because they feel unseen, forgotten, and guilt-laden by a world that does a poor job at teaching us to transform pain rather than transmit it.
-historical bits gleaned from public source material
Today the church holds a somber fast traditionally known as Ash Wednesday which dates back to the 11th Century.
In a number of places in the Hebrew scriptures ashes were associated with penance and remorse. The books of Jonah, Amos, and Daniel all note the practice of heaping ashes upon your head as a outward display of how guilt and penitence feel inside.
As the church year begins to ponder the death of the Christ in anticipation for resurrection, a more introspective, prayerful, and yes, honest tone is kept. Ash Wednesday is the start of that long road to Calvary.
While some might consider the practice to be sad or even scary (after all, who likes considering their mortality?!), the wise mystics of all faiths remind us that we must ever keep death before our eyes if we are to truly live.
You cannot outrun mortality, Beloved.
You cannot out-diet, out-exercise, out-supplement, out-buy, or out-smart the quiet, pervasive truth that all creation is indeed, dust at our core (beautiful stardust, to be exact), and we will all one day return to that dust.
There is no out.
And yet, as is true with all paradox, there is a certain amount of freedom that comes with embracing this hard truth. Being Wonder Woman and Superman for too long weighs on us all, and we’re really not meant to fly anyway.
We’re meant to walk, which means we stumble like all walking beings do from time to time. The reality of our imperfection is, too, a gift of grace.
After the church and the empire had joined hands, the rhythm of the church year was overlaid on the rhythm of the ancient celebrations of humans.
Ash Wednesday, the day of penitence, became a massive event; a “full Nineveh moment” in the face of the “holy” church’s Jonah proclamation: “Repent, lest ye be damned!”
Sackcloth. Ashes. Solemnity. That was the prescription. Interestingly enough, the diagnosis was proclaimed by the entity who also claimed to have the cure. Religion tends to do that…
But the people, used to more festive holidays, demanded some revelry before the fast. Intrinsic in our human bones, divorced of any religious pietistic profundity, we all know that a fast is seen best through the lens of a feast, and vice versa. A little bit of denial needs a little bit of indulgence to truly know what you’re missing, right?
And so Carnival was declared, a time to fatten our stomachs, our spirits, and our souls before the sobriety of Lent.
Masks were handed out so that, if you were in hiding for a crime, you could come out of your shelter and join in the fun. A hall pass of sorts. Acts of extreme gluttony are best done anonymously, right? On Carnival, everyone is criminal in some way, everyone is queen and king of their universe for just a bit.
The time for bending a knee will come; for sure. One day all masks fall.
But today is a day for reclining, gesticulation, and for pretending we don’t fear fat and sumptuousness, if only for a bit!
“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice.
Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard.
Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations.
Above all, give us grace to live as true folk–to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand.
Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and shadows; cast out demons the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou has blessed us–with the dew of heaven, the fatness of earth, and plenty of corn and wine.