Friday, December 28, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 57) Christmas edition

For the fourth day of Christmas, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Christmas hymns (although technically the first is an Advent song and the last one isn't a hymn, but it's my list and I can put whatever I want). It was difficult finding versions of these songs that I actually liked. I think Christmas songs are just better sung in person. That's what makes them so good!
1.Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel
"Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and random captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here."

2. Adeste Fideles
"Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes."

3. Joy to the World
"He rules the earth with truth and grace."

4. What Child is This?
"This, this, is Christ the King, whom shepherds laud and angels sing."

5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
"Remember Christ the Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan's pow'r when we had gone astray."

6. Hark the Herald, Angels Sing
"Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled."

7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
"Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St. Stephan

Today is the feast day of St. Stephan. Stephan is known as the first of Christ’s followers to die for the faith, or the protomartyr of Christianity. He was appointed a deacon in Jerusalem in 34 or 35 AD. His successful preaching attracted the attention of Jewish leaders, and he was put on trial for blasphemy (Christians were still a fringe group of Jews at this time). He testified that he saw Christ standing at the right hand of God the Father. He was stoned to death by a mob permitted by Saul of Tarsus (later St. Paul). St. Stephan is often depicted as clean-shaven and with a boyish face, indicating he was a young man when he was killed; he is also referred to as having the face of an angel. St. Stephan’s story is in Acts 6:1-8:2.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christ's Pagan Mass

In early America, Christmas was not a holiday. In fact, people were reprimanded for celebrating it. It was the belief that Christmas was pagan and idolatrous. And although it became a federal holiday in 1870, there are still some people who like to point out how un-Christian Christmas is. 
“You know, Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th.” 
“You know, bringing trees and greenery into the house is a pagan tradition.” 
“You know, Christmas is just a pagan ritual taken from Yule, Saturnalia, etc.” 
Why, yes, I do know, because I hear the exact same arguments every year. My answer: get over it, Puritans.

I don’t care if the date of Christmas was arbitrarily set in December. We don’t even know what year Jesus was born, much less the day. But celebrating the Birth near the winter solace makes sense. Celebrating the Light being born in the darkest time of the year makes sense to Christian theology. I’m all about blatant symbolism. Pagans don’t have a monopoly on the solace. It’s the shortest day of the year for everyone, regardless of religion. Why can’t we acknowledge the growing of the days and incorporate that into our religion? My God created the universe, and that includes the relationship between the earth and sun. Using a star as a metaphor for God isn’t sun-worship; it’s (gasp) a metaphor.

Christianity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If it did, we wouldn’t need all those books of Jewish history in our Bible. As the faith spread, people who converted brought practices from their old region and adapted them for Christ. A practice that is brought in and useful to Christian theology can become a Christian practice, regardless of its roots. The evergreen wreath may have started with Germanic tribes as a sign of the cycle of life. But when a Christian uses one, it can represent the eternality of Christ. It is the intent behind symbols that give them meaning. A swastika means something completely differently when used by a Hindu than when used by a Neo-Nazi.It's just a few simple lines, but how it is used is what gives it meaning.
Maybe I don’t mind a few stolen rituals co-opted for Christ because I’m an English-speaker. English is a hodgepodge  language that steals a lot of its vocabulary from Romantic, Germanic, and Scandinavian languages. That doesn’t mean English isn’t a true language, or that borrowed words aren’t really English. (“You know, house isn’t an English word, because the Germans used the word haus first.”)

I was taught that Marian devotion is supposed to always lead to Christ. So if, as a Protestant converting to Catholicism, I felt uncomfortable talking to Mary, don’t. But it was always there as an optional resource. In the same way, candles and wreaths and liturgical seasons and gold and icons serve as symbols and resources to point to Christ. If their origins keep you from Christ, ignore them. But they draw me to Christ. They serve as metaphors for the power and everlastingness and victory and Truth which is beyond words. So, I’ll keep my pagan Christmas, thank you very much. 

“And therefore… though [Christmas] has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!” –A Christmas Carol

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fighting Darkness

I debated writing about the recent shooting. Everyone seemed to have condolences and opinions on gun control to share ad nauseum, and I just didn’t feel like adding to the noise. Also, the shooting didn’t shake me. Mass shootings have become so common place that I don’t have emotional reactions to them. The twist of it happening at an elementary school was sad, but still I felt nothing. I felt nothing until about 48 hours later when I began seeing these posts on facebook:
Then I felt something: disgust. If your god abandons children because of a Supreme Court ruling, then you’re worshiping a bad god. 

I don’t believe any of these debates will change anything in our culture; they haven’t before. There will be more shootings; I accept that as fact in modern America. More American children will die from a gunman. And more Pakistani children will die from drone strikes. And more Nigerian children will die of malnutrition. And part of me wants to keep feeling nothing, because if I start feeling bad for one, I have to feel bad for the rest. I have to mourn with the thousands of parents who lose their children every day, who see such young potential and ambition and life extinguished prematurely. I’m too weak to feel for all of them; it’s a self-preservation thing. I try to feel just enough to want to make a difference without being overwhelmingly depressed. 

This is supposed to be the time of year focusing on the birth of a child, not the deaths of children. But thousands of children die every day, whether it’s Christmas or not.  So maybe it is the time to think about the dying children, to look at the broken world where children face violence and abuse and disease and malnutrition. It's time to face darkness.

How can we possibly fix such an evil world? Sometimes the darkness is overwhelming. The evil closes in. And it is when the evil is closing in, when darkness overwhelms, when you are mourning over the innocent lives lost, that a small flicker of light makes the greatest impact. Advent is all about overcoming the darkness. When the nights are long and dark, when evil surrounds us and seems unstoppable, Advent tells us there is a coming salvation. It is a message of hope, that though we live in a broken, dark world, the healing light will prevail. What seems impossible is truth. We will be redeemed. 

Promises of hope may not mean much to a parent who just lost a child. We all suffer those moments where the darkness is thick and unrelenting. Part of being a Christian is helping others through those times. By being a comforting friend, an advocate for injustice, or just a silent shoulder to cry on. By bonding together, by not pointing fingers and rejecting blame, by loving everyone as a neighbor, we increase the light. Love fights against darkness. Love comforts. Love conquers.

Friday, December 21, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 56)

I’ve spent most of this week catching up on this semester’s sleep. But, since it’s the winter solace and the supposed Mayan Apocalypse, here are some other dates of the end of the world:

1. 634 BC: Many early Romans feared a prediction of Rome’s destruction would occur in the city’s 120th year. The legend said that twelve eagles had revealed to Romulus the life of Rome, with each eagle representing ten years. 

2. 1000: As Christianity completed its first millennium, many Christians believed the end of the world was close, sparking riots throughout Europe.  Recalling the 1999-2000 year change, I must imagine that the move to four digits must have included some crazy partying along with the crazies. 

3. 1524: An unusual planetary alignment in Pieces sparked end of the world predictions from astrologers in Germany and England. People believed a large flood would destroy the world. Clearly, they forgot the whole rainbow part of Noah’s story.

4. 1806: In Leeds, a hen began hatching eggs with the phrase “Christ is coming” written on them.  People interpreted it as a sign of impending doom, creating a local panic. It was later revealed that the hen’s owner had etched on the eggs and inserted them into the hen. 

5. 1843: The Millerites, a sect born out of the Second Great Awakening, believed that the Bible predicted the end of the world occurred in April of 1843. Many gave up all their property and belongings in anticipation of the Apocalypse. When April passed (dubbed the Great Disappointment), the date was moved to December, and then early 1844. The Adventist movement that grew out of this continues to predict end times from the Bible. 

6. Y2K: Similar to 1000, many Christians viewed the end of the millennium as a sign of the Apocalypse. There was also the widespread belief that all the computers would be unable to read the year 2000, revert of 1900, and crash. Fortunately, computer programmers were wise enough to not destroy the world over two digits.

7. Obligatory R.E.M. reference:

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." Matthew 24: 35-36
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Friday, December 14, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 55)

1. I few hours after I wrote my post about the Immaculate Conception and nonlinear time, I learned that December 8 was Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. I'm so hip. 

2. The campus center didn’t have services on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I went to the local parish. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Latin for the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus and the Agnes Dei. They are starting to offer Latin services every other week, and hopefully I can make it to one soon. [insert promise to self to study my Latin with no real intention to do so here] 

3. Krispy Kreme has red velvet doughnuts and snowman shaped doughnuts for Christmas. I really hate that I discovered that. At the same time, I found a perfect post-finals treat.

5. The cutest look at Curiosity. Cool things to find. In other space news, it’s been over 40 years since we’ve had a man on the moon. Sads.   

6. I got an eye infection this week that made me uber-sensitive to light. Do you want to know what you can’t use when you’re photophobic? Computers, TVs, smartphones (even with brightness turned all the way down), reading lamps. Life gets pretty boring. Fortunately, St. Lucy came through for me, and it seems to be clearing up (I actually went out in the sun and everything). 

7. Finally, finally on break! I haven’t had a Christmas break in three years, and I’m sort of excited to have it again. As I turned in my finals, teachers kept telling me “Have a good Christmas.” I was in such a study daze, I had completely forgotten about the whole Christmas thing. But now that I have no academic responsibilities for a month, I’m ready to get my Yule on.

4. I thought I had finished my Quick Takes until I realized I had no #4. I'm leaving it this way to show how sleep deprived I am. So, random awesome cello music:

Check out others' Quick Takes here!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Lucy

Yesterday, I got some infection in my eye, causing me to be uber-sensitive to light. I spent most of the night and early morning trying to right balance of soft light that wouldn’t hurt while still enough to get things done. I’ve always valued by vision above other senses because I’m a writer and a visual learner. So it was apropos that I learned today is the Feast of Saint Lucy, the patron of the blind.

The American Girl doll Kirsten.
Her family celebrates St. Lucia Day.
The only thing I knew about Saint Lucia Day was what I learned in my American Girl books when I was little. Kirsten's nineteenth-century family were Swedish in origin, and Saint Lucia Day is represented as a custom from the old country. A young girl represents Lucy wearing a white robe, red sash, and a wreath of candles on her head. She serves pastries or St. Lucia buns (made from saffron)  to the family.

Lucy (which means “light”) was a third-century Christian in Sicily who refused to marry a pagan. She gave away her dowry to the poor. Her fiance turned her in to be killed. There are two versions of how she lost her eyes. One is that the guards pulled out her eyes with forks; another is that she cut out her own eyes because they were what her fiance admired about her.  Both stories say God restored her sight. She was eventually killed, making her one of the most famous virgin-martyrs.

St. Lucy is often depicted with her eyes on a dish.
Her story spread quickly, and by the fifth century she was well-known throughout Christendom. She is one of seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass, and she celebrated highly in the Lutheran Church as well (hence Saint Lucia Day celebrations in Scandinavian countries). Her feast day falls on one of the darkest days of the year. I think that is because it is when it is darkest that we crave light the most.That's what makes the candles of Advent so attractive: the hope that pushes back against the looming, dark night.