Any Moment

A thought for Tuesday of Holy Week:

The ancient Celts who adopted Christianity into their worldview had this belief that, with every birth Christ was also birthed into the world. In the inside of every human a bit of that redemptive possibility had taken root. We, in their theology, were not “original sin” carriers, but the bearers of “original possibility.”

So, too, they believed every moment could be an Easter moment, because redemption was inside everything…it just needed time and the right environment to blossom.

The Tuesday of Holy Week, as Spring cleaning continued, they turned their attention outside the house: hanging wreathes and garlands, pruning, and (where possible) planting or prepping to plant.

Easter was coming and it could arrive at any moment.

Quite literally.

The Triduum: How to Avoid an Overly Saccharine Easter

As we enter Holy Week, a thought on the events to come:

The Triduum, or Great Three Days, is the antidote to an overly saccharine Easter.

Maundy Thursday gathers the disciples, including you, around a shared table where we all get our feet washed and we all share in dipping our bread in the same bowl as Jesus.

Then the sanctuary is stripped, like our souls now feel stripped, as we realize not only what is about to happen, but also that we must stay to bear witness.

On Good Friday we come not to church, but, with everything bare and the lights low, to a darkened tomb. There we encounter the story of that fateful night, a story we know well not only because we’ve heard it every year, but also because we’ve lived it. It’s familiar.

We’ve all been betrayed by our friends, and have all betrayed a friend. We’ve all been falsely accused and accused others without evidence, let alone our unspoken shame knowing our justice system does this, and profits from it all the time.

We’ve all seen power prey on the powerless. This is that story, but instead of the local courtroom it’s the courtroom of the cosmos.

The reproaches are sung where we’re challenged to answer unanswerable questions of eternal proportions, and the service ends with the cross alone left in the room.

We are, in the end, left only with the cross: this twisted tool of torture to which we now cling, hoping that something good can yet come from it.

Sound familiar?

And then we spend the whole next day in the quiet of non-answers. And at dusk we stream back to that tomb, create a new fire to keep our souls warm, and tell campfire stories of salvation to console ourselves.

“Remember that time that God created the world?” we ask around the fire. “And remember when God saved those folks from the fiery furnace?” We retell these stories as a way to spark hope that, as in those impossible moments, God might be able to do something new with this impossible moment. We teach these stories to our babies, even as we reteach it to ourselves.

And then before we know it, the tomb has turned into a lush garden, and that tomb that was full of death is suddenly full of life: flowers, water, and yes, living bodies.

Our bodies.

Our bodies who now gather around the body of the risen Christ now seen in bread, wine, water, and the faces around us. And we baptize people who have newly heard all of this. And we sing and dance and party because, yup, resurrection has happened again, by God!

The whole arc has import. Every scene plays a part.

Easter is not a day, it’s a journey

All Glory…

Bishop Theodulph of Orleans penned the hymn my heart is singing on this Palm Sunday morning, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

It truly is one of my favorites, made more sacred by the fact that we really only sing it once a year.

He is said to have written it from his prison tower, thrown there by King Louis the Debonair, son of Charlemagne.

The story goes that the Bishop wrote this hymn and, in the year 821 as the Emperor passed by on Palm Sunday heading to Mass at the cathedral, he sang it loudly over the passing procession from his stone entombment. The emperor, taken with the song, released the good Bishop.

Truly the rocks themselves will shout for justice.

Start Gathering Your Eggs

The Christian Celts (and the pre-Christians Celts, even, celebrating the newly thawed ground and the emergence of Spring) would celebrate Easter week with signs of new life and abundance.

Children would go about looking for nests in trees and underbrush, collecting any eggs they could find. They’d hide them in cubbies in their rooms, or under their houses, and on Easter they’d haul their findings out into the woods and have a pre-dawn breakfast of roasted eggs with the other children of the town.

On Easter Sunday the town would come together, having reserved some of those eggs for cake baking, and they’d present a village cake called a “prioncam cake,” which loosely means “capering cake” or “dancing cake.” It was decorated with woodland animals and a garland of wildflowers.

They’d put the cake in the middle of the gathering, and around it they’d dance and prance to fiddle and pipe. The best dance won the prize, the cake, hence that old saying, “That takes the cake!”

Now, on this week before Holy Week, is the time to start gathering your eggs…

A Somber Fast

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.

Plus, God loves things made out of dust.

Today we remember that.

On Carnival

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!

The Rowan Moon

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.

Don’t Be Dazzled

When it comes to the Transfiguration, Beloved, don’t be distracted by the dazzling clothes.

God who holds the law (Moses) in a hand that will be scarred will rule with justice tempered by mercy, not the other way around.

God who holds prophecy (Elijah) in a hand to be scarred will proclaim truth from behind the picket line, within the ranks of the needy and poor, from the place of poverty, not power.

Don’t be distracted by the dazzling clothes…that’s not where the miracle is.

The miracle is in the fact that God holds mercy over retribution and stands with the poor, not the powerful.

That’s dazzling.

Imbolc

In America this may be Groundhog’s Day, but in Celtic spirituality these days are known as Imbolc, or “in the belly,” because you’re at the halfway point between the equinox and the solstice, and you’re emerging into spring.

Christians celebrate Candlemas today, where new candles are blessed, as the ones lit at the Solstice are now spent. And in services many will hear about the Presentation of Christ, where the ancient prophets Simeon and Anna lift him up and bless him as the light of the world.

The symmetry is stunning and intentional.

These hinge days between seasons are worth paying attention to, as our mothers and fathers did.

So bless your new candles, because you’ve spent the old ones in these winter days, and start opening the shades.

It’s time to wake from our hibernation, blink, and live again.

Everything is Possible

Yesterday the church celebrated one of our moveable feast days: The Baptism of Our Lord.

This is one of the few events in the life of Jesus that every Gospel mentions, and in each of the Gospels it is noted as kind of the beginning of his dedicated work in the world.

Most every major religion has some sort of bathing/purity rite, and for Christians baptism is meant to mark a rebirth of sorts. In your first birth you came into a world that wants you to seek out fame and fortune. The birth from the font, however, dedicates you to a different life of justice, love, and service.

Surely, it doesn’t always take for all people, but the amniotic fluid of the baptismal font, the water, is intended to renew the life of the person and give them a new lens through which to see their work in the world.

In addition to all of the above, baptism is meant to mark the Divine’s deep love for the individual…and that “takes” for everyone, regardless of how well they live into the vows.

Baptism is an interesting rite, too, because it is both a one-time event (for many Christians) and also a life-long process. Every bath is a renewal of life when seen in this way, a chance to be birthed differently and start fresh. There is a penitential element to it, of course, as every bath is intended to make someone clean. But there is also a primal element to it, one that connects all humanity, Christian or not. After all, we don’t baptize using Pepsi, gin, or coffee.

We use water, the stuff of life (though, coffee is also the “stuff of life” in my book, but I digress…).

Genesis, the first book of the scriptures begins with the Divine brooding over the swirling chaotic waters, and the Book of Revelation, the last book, ends at those same waters, but now they’re known as The River of Life. Scripture is bookended by water.

Similarly, in many traditions, a child is brought to the font for rebirth and, at every funeral I’ve ever done in a church, we start saying good bye to the deceased at the font, recalling where it all began. In this way life, too, is book ended by water.

The Baptism of Our Lord is a feast day that reminds me, and should remind the whole church, of a few things:

First: water is life. And because it is life, clean water should be a right for every human, from Flint, Michigan to Finland to far flung Namibia. We must work hard to make it so.

Secondly: rebirth is always possible in so many ways. Every drop of water should remind us that a new way of being is possible, by God.

Finally: that change in the church will require Christians to take a hard look at the baptismal vows and rethink how we apply and live into them. Baptism should never happen “to make grandma happy.” Baptism is a public statement about a person’s intent to live and be and move in the world differently than the world calls them to live, be, and move.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-icon written by Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–)