What week after Pentecost is it?
Bet you had to look it up. (I did.)
Like a trip down a long stretch of rural two-track, we’re on the winding road to the end of the Church year; a journey where we, having encountered the Word made flesh in the course of the Advent and Christmas seasons, and having lived through the Word’s earthly suffering, death and ultimate triumph in the Lenten and Easter seasons, internalize that story and live it back out, individually and collectively as the Body of Christ.
That’s the way it’s supposed to go, anyhow. But I fear that the long Pentecost season -- largely unpunctuated, in these days of truncated Church calendars, by festivals and commemorations that might give more form and focus to our faith walk at this time of year -- tends to dull the edges of both our inner spiritual lives and our response in the world.
Last night I took my evening walk around our wooded neighborhood. I felt a hint of chill as the sun slipped away, noticeably earlier than it had last week. The air was redolent with the scents of ripening fruits in the forest undergrowth and late-summer roadside flowers – but also with the ferment of dying vegetation. I noted that the foliage around me was looking the worse for wear this time of year; tattered, galled, some leaves even beginning to turn color. Restless birds – some older, some visibly younger, smaller, less steady – sat on overhead wires. My trek became a multisensory meditation on the truth that late summer is the time of greetings and goodbyes; of gathering in and emptying out; of success and failure; of new life and sacrifice. I thought of areas of spiritual growth and fruition, and areas that need healing attention or even pruning, in my own life, the life of my parish and the life of the Church.
Once upon a time, back in my early 30’s, I was a pagan. I’m not being metaphorical; I really was, for a few years. I was not a particularly good pagan; I’d call myself a skeptipagan, someone who was in it largely for the poetry and ritual and folk psychology of it all, because it felt empowering on a number of levels, because it respected and celebrated the created world and because I’d embraced the political philosophy that if history hasn’t treated you well, then you may as well make up your own, because everyone else has. The novelty of this new spiritual path wore off after awhile and eventually I slid into postmodern irreligiosity, at which point I found my previous interest in neopaganism cringeingly embarrassing; I chalked it up to some sort of delayed adolescent acting-out or pre-midlife crisis. It all seems so long ago now; indistinct, shrouded in a cloud like a scene out of The Mists of Avalon.
But, even these days, from my profoundly changed perspective, I think that my old friends get it right in some ways. One of those ways is their acknowledgement that, as enfleshed creatures on this planet, we live according to the rhythm of days and months and seasons. Many Christians, especially spiritual children of the Reformation, seem so terrified by anything even remotely capable of suggesting pantheism that any talk of integrating the rhythms of earthly existence into our spiritual lives sounds dangerously syncretic – forgetting, of course, that we share a faith heritage with Judaism, whose rituals and holy days integrate a celebration of our earthly lives with worship of the Sovereign of the Universe, and that until fairly recently in history our own worship had a greater connection to the land. (Even in the austere and otherworldly minded church of my youth, we recognized Soil Conservation Sunday each year.)
Another way they get it right, I think, is in recognizing the power of mindful, integrative, full-participation ritual. The first days in August are a time, on the pagan calendar, to simultaneously celebrate the firstfruits of the harvest and to recognize the death that is necessary to sustain life; so you might bake a loaf of bread in a human shape and eat it, to act out that cycle; alternatively, you might weave a corn dolly out of ripened stalks of grain, to bury in the ground later; you might adorn a personal altar with jars of summer produce you’ve canned, or with the results of creative projects you’ve started in the early part of the year; you might make a donation to an organization that saves heirloom seeds or feeds the hungry. You spend time thinking about the things in your life that have borne good fruit, that should be celebrated and nurtured, as well the plans and activities and attitudes in your life that haven’t been fruitful, that shouldn’t be held onto into the darkening of the year, that need to be let go of now; you create ritual actions that illustrate this process of personal inventory.
With all that in mind, my question to readers: What are your ideas for ritually marking the time during the long Pentecost season in a Christocentric, cruciform manner that also acknowledges the world as we experience it (and as Jesus experienced it) in creative, evocative ways? How do we keep the green in the green and growing season, and help it bear more fruit in our individual and corporate lives?
"Cornfield at Ewell," William Holman Hunt, Tate Gallery