Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Not-So-Green-and-Growing Season

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 ;Posted by Picasa


Derek the Ænglican said...

This sucks...I came here to procrastinate; I'm supposed to be writing a section in chapter two about the Church Year and the Sanctoral cycle. I came here to *avoid* this topic!! That having been said... :-D

Ummm, I think I'm gonna be stream of consiousness here for a while (nb: all references to Saint days follow the Winchester Kalendar of about 1000. Sorry.):

*Ever notice that the four great solar days of the year had major festival of the Temporal-Incarnation cycle? So:
Winter Solstice-Christmas
Vernal Equinox-Annunciation
Summer Solstice-Birth of JB
Autumnal Equinox-Conception of JB

*The coincidence of Christian feasts--Christmas and Easter--are often thought of as pagan borrowings. about the recognition of essential principles of natural theology built into them? Did Christians "steal" Christmas from the birth of Mithras/Sol Invictus [the Unconquered Sun] or were these various groups recognizing the return of the light and celebrating accordingly?

*One of the ways that early lectionaries used to count Trinitytide was not weeks after Pentecost/Trinity (octave of Pentecost) but weeks after certain big saints. Thus, the major divisions were
-Sundays after Trinity
-Sundays after Sts Peter & Paul
-Sundays after St Laurence
-Sundays after St Cyprian
If nothing else, this is a *clasical* way of breaking up the green season.

*The agricultural feasts are already there, hiding in the old kalendars: You have the Rogation Days and Lammastide; isn't there something about St Martin's day too? I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting right off the top of my head.

I too have been interested in the folkloric ways of marking time (even those within genuine pagan roots) and feel strongly that we need to get more in touch with the cycles of the God-breathed world than the man-made one. That's just one of the reasons I feel so strongly about morning and evening prayer, especially if you can coordinate them with sunrise and sunset; it's another way of honoring these patterns.

That's it for now, back to work...

Steve Schumacher said...

Dear LC, have you seen the stuff at This is an ecumenical movement sponsored by the Uniting Church in Australia using material mostly prepared by Dr. Norm Habel. Norm taught me Job at Seminary in North Adelaide and has been very influential in the area of eco-theology. He is one of the best lecturers I've ever heard and a deep and profound thinker havine also edited 4 [Ithink] volumes of the Earth Bible, a series dedicted to reading Scripture from an earth perspective.
The proposal is to use 4 Sundays late in the Pentecost season as a season fo creation. There are Oz and US version of the liturgies due to differences in language, ie Wilderness Sunday rather than Outback Sunday.
Norm presented this stuff at a recent in service pastor's training day and it is very much a work in progress where others are invited to contribute ideas as well as better/alternate wording for the liturgies. I've had a few lay folk ask me about it and it is generally being well received aside from those for whom the litrugical calendar is sacrosanct let alone any celebration of God as Creator.
Thanks to Derek for his insights into the variety of 'Sundays after...'. Where would I find more info about this?
Anyway enough procrastination as I have a funeral to preside over this afternoon. Grace and Peace, Steve

LutheranChik said...

Derek: It's called convergence! This happens so often anymore with my blogmates that I'm disappointed when it doesn't.;-)

Anyhow...I agree with you about natural theology. In the pagan subculture, of course, there's a sense that the Bad Christians "stole" pagan holidays; I've also had Christians argue with me that, no, it's the other way around.;-) I'm not interested in going around that mulberry bush anymore; I'd maintain -- and I think I have some theological big guns behind me on this -- that sensing the Divine in the rhythms of life and in the seasons is a universal God thing.

I am very much convinced that seeing the pattern of God in the universe and in our creatureliness is a help, not a distraction, to people -- even urbanites for whom nature means something different than it does to those of us who live in the middle of it.;-) I see that our worship committee at church is planning some sort of harvest-home-type service this fall; I think this is a good thing.

LutheranChik said...

Steve, thanks for the link...I'll have to check into it.

LutheranChik said... just occured to me that this coming Sunday's Gospel lesson dovetails into the late-summer life/death tension I was contemplating.

Derek the Ænglican said... be able to look far enough ahead to Sunday's lectionary... ;-)

Steve--I'm trying to think of an accessible work that would talk about this... There are really few, well okay make that *no* good books written recently on the history and theology of the lectionary (I'll get to it in a few years :-D). The best that I can think of would probably be Walter Frere's book on the Roman lectionary from the first half of the last century. Hmmm. I suppose I could do a post on it at my site...but I wouldn't be able to get to it until tomorrow or the next day. Let me know if you're interested and what in particular about it interests you so I can make sure to cover it...

Tom in Ontario said...

From an essay about Images and Words of the Season for Autumn in Sundays & Seasons:

"The readings of the lectionary in the autumnal months are filled with images of the mature, growing fruit of the Spirit, ready for harvest. We are approaching the close of the liturgical year, and we are drawing to the end of the primary harvest season. The community of God in Christ begins to contemplate what it means not only to be harvesters, but harvest.

"These agricultural associations are not arbitrary. The liturgical year and its festivals grow out of the Jewish calendar, which is deeply ingrained in the harvest festivals determined by the natural cycles of the Northern Hemisphere. There is a distinct turning and change at this quarter of the year, and it is reflected in the scriptural readings used in the worship of the Christian community. What shall be harvested from our lives?"

It goes on and I haven't read the whole thing but I skimmed the first two paragraphs yesterday and today I read your blog and it reminded me of that. Convergence?


Conrad said...

Talking about a hint of chill in the air at this time of year is SO alien to me at this time of year. The LOW this morning was 80. Saturday, my church will be having our "Hot as Hell" festival.

Much of the church calendar & the lectionary really do reflect the changes in the seasons. The problem is that they mirror changes in the northern part of the northern hemisphere.

As much as I love carols such as "The Snow Lay on the Ground" and "In the Bleak Midwinter" We rarely have such weather as early as Christmas in Arkansas, and if you go to the Gulf coast, it never happens.

It is comforting to know that most mainline Protestants are hearing the same Scriptures each Sunday and that they usually mirror those of the Roman Catholics. However, some of them don't work for everyones seasons. I suspect this can really be a big deal for the MAJORITY of the worlds population that lives South of the Equator.

LutheranChik said...

Tom: It's kind of spine-tingly, i'n't it?;-)

Conrad: Yes -- I can see where "In the Bleak Midwinter" loses something in translation in Arkansas, or in the context of a Christmas picnic on the beach in Oz or New Zealand.;-)

bls said...

Speaking of Oz: I think I tend to see this long period of Ordinary Time as a sort of "walkabout."

It's time to wander in the world without the constraints of certain feasts to consider. It's free time to do some freeform thinking, and to do things differently before the Calendar starts up busy again with this holiday and that one, forcing us into a certain pattern. I really like this time of year. I go to Mass just to go to Mass - just to listen to the rhythm of life itself. Things are still happening, but everything is slower. I like that Episcopalians sort of take the summer off; it makes more momentous a return to deeper religious themes.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. This is slow, meandering season - a time to relax and enjoy the world. Incarnational time, in fact, to do exactly what you did last night: go walkabout and watch what happens in the world.

Turn, turn, turn.

bls said...

(This is a beautifully-written piece, BTW.

I'm warning yez: send it someplace or I'm gonna get aggressive wid yez.)

Mark Pritchard said...

You might really enjoy the collumns on food and seasonality and spirituality by a woman at our Lutheran Church:

Tom in Ontario said...

When I was in seminary, each fall when classes resumed we gathered everyone together during the first week to get reacquainted, to introduce new people, etc. The dean usually had some silly question for us all to answer as we went around the circle (What's your favorite fruit?) One year he simply asked us to relate a highlight from the past summer. Well that year we had a visiting student from Australia and her highlight of the past summer was Christmas. It was very funny and she fit in very quickly with that quick wit and good sense of humour.

LutheranChik said...

Bls: Uh-oh...sounds like youse gonna bring somma dem wise guys from Joisey wid youse...[gulp]

Hey, thanks for that link, Mark! And thanks for the hat tip on your blog. (Which I enjoy reading, except that, as a poor lonely gal exiled to the big woods, I have to shield my eyes from your book covers.;-))

LutheranChik said...

Hey, bls -- read this . I'm in. So please don't hurt me. [grin]

Leah said...

I love your paragraph beginning "Another way they get it right..." and need to respond really soon to your idea of thinking about marking this l-o-n-g Pentecost season (another segment of so-called Ordinary Time) in something resembling cruciform style. These days I'm so full of turmoil and its related close cousins, I hardly can move! But I know this coming-up Sunday is OT 22 and we're in year A--I preached last week for 21A and will be preaching next week for 23A. How's that for trying to maintain a little order if indecently so?

Peace be with y'all!

bls said...

I didn't really understand that, LC - the link didn't work.

Does it mean you're writing stuff with them for a web project? If so, cool! Congrats! For Advent? My favorite season, so I'll be looking forward....

LutheranChik said...

Hmmm...wonder how I messed up that link. Anyhow, if you click the link over in the margin to RevGalBlogPals you'll find the post on the website...yeah, it's a collaborative Advent devotional project. I'm looking forward to this. And last time I checked, there were still openings for contributors.

bls said...

Well, I meant the link over there, not yours.

That particular blog entry doesn't really say much about the project - if you already know what's going on, you get it, but otherwise not - so I tried to follow the link to the schedule. It's working now, in any case.

Should be good. What's the gist? You write on the lectionary/Office readings for that day?