Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter Rut

Normally, I look forward to Lent and its beautiful darkness. But this year, I just need Easter to get here. It doesn’t help that it’s a late season this year, meaning we’re at the end of February and Lent hasn’t even begun yet. The winter just stretches on. For once in a long, long time, I’m not looking forward to Lent. It is serious and has obligations, and doing nothing has been really working for me. I mean, it hasn’t been working for me spiritually; it’s been working on me in a being-a-lazy-bum sort of way. Effort and I haven’t been good friends lately, and I don’t want six weeks of penance and reflection because that sounds an awfully lot like effort.

It’s a good thing that my religion doesn’t exist for my comfort. Someone with my attitude is not in a good position to see the big picture. I need a wake-up call and a splash of cold water. I need a reason to regroup and take care of where I’ve been lacking, spiritually. I’m not going to do it on my own out of my own motivations. I need the structure of the Church. The Church will not and should not conform to my whims; I must conform to her. In doing so, I reign in my impulses and demands and laziness and strive for piety and forgiveness and righteousness. I’ll set goals and fail (like every year during Lent). But I’ll try. 

In an odd way, I like that I’m focused on Easter so early this year. Normally my love for Lent means I don’t start to look forward to Easter until right before Holy Week. But this year, I recognize how much I truly need it. More to come as the annual, timeless story develops.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Winter Sun

It was my third snow day in a row. Snow doesn’t normally accumulate here, and I had been enjoying the mandatory introvert time. I spent the afternoon diving into The Sun Also Rises. I have an odd relationship with Hemingway in that I have not read much of his work, but I suspect that I won’t like him. As if my tastes and his style don’t pair. And yet what I have read of his, I do like, in frustratingly inarticulate ways. By late afternoon, however, I decided that getting dressed and going out might be healthy for me, even if I’m perfectly content holed up in my nest. So I decided to go to mass.

It was the first time I had walked to mass since the weather had gotten cold back in the fall. My car was still under a few inches of snow, so it would be faster to walk than to unearth and defrost the car. The sidewalks had been cleared (mostly), and the temperature was reaching 40, so it was a pleasant walk. I didn’t even need a hat and gloves. The yards were still covered in snow, but snowmen lay on their sides, defeated by the pretty day. Families were out enjoying the weather. One family of dad, mom, and three kids were having a snowball fight. As I passed the elementary school, a father was shoveling the school’s walk while his daughter was sledding nearby. They had built a mound of snow at the bottom of the hill to stop her from sledding into the benches or out in the street. Everyone appeared cheerful and happy to be outside after so many snow days, but there was also a peacefulness hanging in the air. 

There is something about the way the sun looks in winter. It’s pastel and low and unassuming. The yellow sun and blue sky and white ground blend together, like some New England landscape painting. The world is pristine and slow and quiet. There is just me and my thoughts and images that bring to mind Norman Rockwell.

Mass on Valentine’s Day summed up in four words: all the single ladies. As much as I hate “Jesus is my boyfriend” comparisons, Jesus is a pretty good choice for a Valentine’s date. Going to church gets away from all the facebook posts of flowers and candy hearts and focuses on martyrs instead. Which is still a focus on love.

It was dark when I walked home. The temperature had dropped, but there was no wind. All was still and quiet. There are not lampposts on my street, but the snow illuminated my path. It did not seem dark. My ipod began playing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” which made me laugh since the sun was gone. But the song still felt like it fit. It was night, but I could see my way. The divide between day and night seemed as hazy as a winter sun.

“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose” –Ecclesiastes 1:5 as quoted in The Sun Also Rises

Friday, February 14, 2014

7 Quick Take Friday (vol. 83)

1. School has been cancelled for 2 and a half days due to snow this week. College snow days are bizarre. I still have papers due, but I don’t have access to the library, and I have hours of my assistantship mounting up that will have to be made up before the end of the month. All in all, snow days in college kind of stink.

2. Except that they don’t, because I can sleep in, enjoy the pretty snow without having to drive in it, and be free of responsibilities for a few days.

3. When people were saying 6-8 inches of snow, I didn’t really believe them, so I avoided the mad panic to the grocery store. Now I’m super low on food, but still well-stocked on alcoholic beverages. I haven’t determined if this is good or bad yet.

4. One of my classes is discussing expatriates in Paris in the 1920s next week, so I re-watched Midnight in Paris to get me in the mood. I had forgotten how good that movie is. It totally makes me nostalgic even while showing the dangers of nostalgia.

5. The Hemingway in Midnight in Paris has inspired me to go into The Sun Also Rises with a more open mind. I’ve never actually read much of Hemingway’s work; I’ve just been disinterested, but now I’m looking forward to it.

6. I’ve haven’t watched any Olympics coverage since the opening ceremony. I’ve been more interested in watching the American-Soviet tensions flare up than the actual events. I think the real winner is Bob Costas. As someone who has suffered eye infections, I think he is a real trooper.

7. And, since it’s Valentine’s Day:

Monday, February 10, 2014

St. Scholastica

I didn’t intend on continuing my series on the saints beyond the Year of Faith, but there are just too many interesting people! Today is the feast of St. Scholastica, who, it turns out, is not the patron saint of children’s book fairs. However, she still peaked my interest.

Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict. She was born around 480 into a wealthy family. She started an order in Monte Cassino, making her the founder of the women’s branch of Benedictine monasticism. Not much is known about her other than her lifelong devotion to God and her popular brother. When she died (around the year 543), Benedict had a vision of her soul ascending like a dove.

She is invoked against storms and rain. This is because of the story about the last time she and Benedict saw one another before her death. Although they lived only a few miles apart, they met only once a year. When it was time for Benedict to leave, Scholastica begged him to stay overnight, but he refused, as it would be breaking one of his rules about being outside of the order overnight. She prayed to God for her brother to stay, and a thunderstorm so severe came through that Benedict could not leave until the next morning. Benedict cried out, “Sister, what have you done?” and she replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked a favor of God and he granted it.”

Scholastica is also the patron of nuns and convulsive children.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Weird Science

Fr. George Lemaitre proposed the theory
of the expanding universe.
I was aware of the Bill Nye/ Ken Ham debate last night, but I didn’t watch it, and I won’t. I’ve heard generally positive things and that it was conducted well, so good for them. Hopefully it was made clear that young earth creationism is a small minority within Christianity. But I disagree with the entire premise, so I’m trying to avoid looking too much into what went down.
It’s difficult for me to talk about young earth creationism, because the subject quickly leads me to saying uncharitable things. I believe Bill Nye was in the wrong for accepting this debate in the first place. It validated young earth creationism as a model compatible with modern scientific theories, and it reinforced the idea that there is dichotomy between religion and science. I understand why Bill Nye wanted the publicity and the opportunity to address the issues, but I think giving Ken Ham such a platform lent his theories too much credence. 

I’ve seen the statistics that say around 46% of the U.S. population believes in a 6-literal-day creation and 6,000-year-old earth. I know that being in the Bible Belt means that stat is probably higher around here. But honestly, my reality says differently. Yes, I know some young earth creationists, but I would say that they do not account for anywhere close to half of the people I interact with daily. Is there some sort of segregation at play where I just don’t run into these people? They seem like such a tiny, shrill, extremist group, that giving them any attention seems to magnetize their importance, politically and especially theologically. 

The reason I get frustrated and uncharitable over young earth creationism is not the bad science. If one chooses to live a life ignorant of evolutionary processes, I’m alright with that. My problem is that the ultra-literal interpretation of the Bible is bad theology, and it’s keeping people away from God. There are answers in Genesis, but they are much different than Ken Ham’s conclusions. To say that Adam and Eve had to literally exist and eat a literal fruit for original sin to exist is absurd. To say that Genesis and Kings and Matthew and Revelation must all be read in the same manner and must all be equally factual for any of it to be true is such an extreme absolute, I can only assume a Sith came up with it. 

I respect my religion’s sacred texts too much to have them reduced to biological textbooks. To ignore the context and typology of scripture and insist on fact-checking and shoe-horning insults my faith. The Bible is not the foundation of Christianity; Christ is. The traditions of the Church he founded led to the formation of the Bible. It is our text for instruction and inspiration. It is sacred. It explains man’s relationship with God. It contains Truth. But it is not the beginning and end of the faith. And it cannot be read apart from its setting and purpose. 

By creating a violent divide between the physical study of the world and the spiritual understanding of the world, young earth creationists force people to choose between two things that aren’t comparable. When forced to pick a side, people (at least of Western tradition) are more likely to pick the one that uses the empirical method, that claims objectivity, and that is generally agreed upon as a valid way to investigate the world. They reject God under the false premise that belief in God means a rejection of reality. While part of me wants to be tolerant and let people believe as they do, another part of me feels the need to combat this. This false battle between science and faith is doing unwarranted damage to my religion. It is preventing people from God’s love; it is putting others’ salvation at risk. So it is difficult for me to tolerate this vocal minority. Young earth creationism deserves to be theologically and scientifically refuted and corrected. And then forgotten. I’m still not even sure I want to give it 700 words of my attention, even to refute it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Two Young Pigeons and a Groundhog

Punxsutawney Phil after seeing his shadow this year.
Yesterday was Candlemas, which in the life of the Church, celebrates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. In Jewish custom, a mother received a ritual purification 40 days after the birth of a son and an offering would be made for the firstborn son. So 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family went to the temple in Jerusalem. Wealthy families would offer up a lamb, but poor families would offer “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24) It’s hard for me to read that verse and not start thinking of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” As a child, I had a book that outlined Christian symbolism to each of the gifts in the song. I’m not sure how accurate that children’s book was, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that the two turtledoves point to this story. 

Simeon and Anna both saw Jesus at the temple and declared that he was bringing “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Maybe it’s the temple or the prophecy of light that connects the Presentation of Jesus to the blessing of candles. Traditionally, people can get beewax candles blessed on Candlemas. I think it’s an odd time to get candles blessed, right in the middle of winter. But really, the whole day jolts us out of the cold monotony of the season: there’s the trip to the temple, the purification of Mary, the offering of turtledoves (or their pigeon equivalent), the blessing of candles, prophecies, and cute 40-day-old infant. In a time that seems so, well, ordinary, there is a whole lot going on. 

Candlemas is also the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  So it is no coincidence that it is the same day as Groundhog Day. The anticipation for spring has begun, even if it is still weeks away. Ash Wednesday can be as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. This year, the groundhog saw his shadow, which according to folklore mean six more weeks of winter. Seeing as Ash Wednesday isn’t until March 5 this year, I’m inclined to think that the groundhog is liturgically-minded. 

Note: I just learned that some people leave up Christmas decorations until Candlemas. I am so using that loophole next year.