Wednesday, February 28, 2024

God's Masterpiece

"Sometimes the biggest things God does start out in the smallest, most ordinary acts of daily faithfulness. The things we do so often and with so little fanfare that we don't even think about them anymore. We can spend so much time wondering and worrying if we're fufulling God's primary will for our lives. Yet ultimately, God's will isn't about the things we achieve, its about the people we become. Life is more about how He uses us to make a difference to the people who cross our paths, even while we are just going about our normal, sometimes boring lives.

God's primary will for our lives isn't about a particular job or circumstance. It's not about the city we live in or whether we're married or single. We are in God's will when we awake with a willingness to go wherever He leads that day, to seek Him in the ordinary, and to love and influence the people around us.

Life is what is happening all around us while we're waiting for the thing we hope will give us some inner peace, contentment and joy. But the problem with that is when and if it happens, we usually enjoy it for all of about three and a half minutes. But when we really start to pay attention, we realize life is full of small wonders that can make all the difference in a day, an hour or a lifetime. And those small, ordinary moments are no less holy than the big ones. In fact, maybe they are more holy because it is the million little pieces of our our lives that really shape the people we become.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's, The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf says, "Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I've found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay."

The true joy of life is found in the every day. It's the moments that don't necessarily take our breath away at the time, but often become the ones that matter most. When we look back on our days we realize such moments are the very threads that make up the tapestry of life. Taken together, these seemingly ordinary threads of joy, sorrow, conflict and laughter make something exraordinary. With every small thread, God is carefulyl and thoughtfully weaving a masterpiece."

Church of the Small Things

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Somber, Beautiful Season of Lent

Tomorrow is the first day of Lent. I'll be sharing more about how I am observing this beautiful season of the church year with you in the coming days, but for today, here is a lovely passage on Lent from one of my favorite books, The Dance of Time by Michael Judge. The labyrinth in the picture is just a short walk from my daughter's apartment. Last year I walked it on New Year's Day, and weather permitting I hope to visit it again this weekend as part of my Lenten observance.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts for forty days, in imitation of Christ's self imposed exile in the desert at the beginning of His mission. During this time the faithful are expected to give up vices or pleasurable habits, pray and attend mass more frequently, and meditate on the state of their souls. In medieval times people donned sackcloth, smeared their faces with ash and water, flogged themselves and foreswore most food and drink during the Lenten observance. In spite of its severe customs, Lent is a hopeful time. The word comes from the Middle Earth word, lengten or "lengthen", a reference to the fact that the days grow mercifully longer during this time.

Of course, people being people, all of this Lenten-self sacrifice had to be rewarded before it even began. Throughout Europe for three days before the beginning of Lent, businesses closed, streets were blocked off and everyone headed for church, where they went to confession. Afterwards, kegs were tapped, bottles drained, and sweet meats and other foods, soon to be forbidden, were consumed in a bout of wild merrymaking.

Eventually these pre-Lenten revels became concentrated into the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, called Pancake Day, after the sweet pancakes traditionally eaten during the party. In Medieval France where the day was known as mardi gras, or Fat Tuesday, a vast carnival was celebrated during which an enormous ox was paraded through the streets of Paris, surrounded by common folk dressed blasphemously as priests and nuns. The people banged drums and kettles in an unconscious imitation of a Roman triumphal parade. Years later in France's former debauched colony of New Orleans, the party known as Mardi Gras became America's most famous orgy, and a raucous song in the depths of winter. Eventually, however, in New Orleans as in all christian lands, Lent arrives with the grey dawn of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is calculated backwards forty days from Easter. It is so named because on that day Catholics stand before the church alter and receive on their foreheads a smeared cross of ash from the priest. along with an admonition, that in some churches is still whispered in Latin.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es
et in pulverem reverteris.

(Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust though shalt return.)

The ashes come from a very specific source. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, members of the congregation hold palm fronds, in imitation of the crowds who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem. Afterwards the palms are ceremoniously burned, their ashes collected and stored. They reappear the following year on Ash Wednesday, to be daubed on the foreheads of the faithful. The symbolism of Ash Wednesday's is circular, striking and sublime. A year after the Savior's symbolic entrance into the city, the very ashes of the banners once held forth to honor him now prepare the faithful for the season of His crucifixion. 

- from The Dance of Time
by Michael Judge

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Betsy Tacy Book Club
- Book 1 - Betsy Tacy Discussion

Good morning, friends! I am back from my social media fast and ready to discuss all things Betsy-Tacy with you this morning!

If this is your first time reading this delightful series, I hope you have enjoyed getting to knowBetsy Ray and Tacy Kelly! In reading this series again for the first time in many years, I was reminded of the first time I was introduced to it and how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am happy to report that my enthusiasm has not waned in the least! This series remains one of my all time favorites!

For the sake of turning this post into a short story of its own, I thought I would just highlight a few of the happenings in the first book that I particularly loved.

First off, I just loved Betsy and Tacy's first meeting, and in many ways I so relate to Tacy, especially, who darted at the sight of Betsy running towards her, and then in her own way, trying to push past her shy fears and shouting out her name just as she closed herself safe behind the door.  But of course, Betsy didn't know at the time that Tacy was terribly shy, and not understanding what she said, she mistook it for name calling. My heart always breaks for Betsy in that moment, too, who was so excited to potentially have a friend just her age, only to be disappointed when things not only didn't turn out as she had planned, but mistook her for being rude. Of course, eventually they make things right and all is forgiven.  Being an introvert, I've been misunderstood a time or too, myself, so I'm so glad that Betsy was able to reach a place of understanding, and all the more so as she came to know Tacy better.

There are two other passages in this book that I always find especially sweet and endearing and the first is in Chapter 8 - Easter Eggs. Tacy's little sister, Bee, has just passed away and the two girls have not played together for awhile and Betsy has grown especially lonely for Tacy's company.  In the story Betsy dresses without disturbing anyone and walks over and stands outside Tacy's house.  Eventually Tacy comes out and the two walk together up to their little bench at the top of the hill where they decide to climb a tree. After awhile Tacy begins to open up about Bee's death and funeral. How pretty she looks surrounded by candles, and how sad her mama was, and at some point Tacy started to become emotional. That was when Betsy did what she often does, she begins to tell Tacy a story of how beautiful heaven is, and when Tacy questions whether Bee can see them, Betsy assures her that she can. Eventually they climb up a little higher in the tree and place a lovely purple egg for the birsds to take to Bee in heaven. 

The thing I find particularly lovely about this part of the story is how Betsy, even at her tender age, didn't push Tacy for information.  She simply wanted to be with her friend doing the the things they had always done together, and that created a safe place for Tacy to open up. When Tacy became emotional, the author says that it made Betsy "feel queer", but rather than asking Tacy not to cry or completely changing the subject, Betsy begins to speak of all of the positive things that Bee is now experiencing in heaven, and assuring her friend that Bee is safe and well.

I think so often in life, especially during seasons of grief, even well meaning people can bombard others with the inquistions and their odd way of wanting to know all the details. If you've experienced the death of a loved one, you probably know that after awhile you really do become weary of answering all the questions and rehashing it all. It is good to have a friend who is comfortable enough to sit with you in silence, or even just invite you to lunch and not even bring up the heartache you are experiencing, but at the same time, remains open should you feel the need to discuss it. That kind of friend can be hard to find.

And then later in Chapter 12 - Margarent, Tacy has an opportunity to return the favor.  Betsy has just come home from spending the summer away to find that she has a new baby sister. With the time frame of the first book being roughly 1898 or 1899, I assume that in those days families did not discuss such things as pregnancy, and with Betsy being away most of the summer I suppose it woud have been easy for to have no clue that her mother was expecting. Still, I remember when I read this the first time thinking it was a little odd that Betsy had no idea her mother was pregnant. Regardless, what we do know is that Betsy did not warm to the idea at first, in fact she became quiet upset about it. As was the case when Betsy went and stood outside Tacy's window after Bee's death, Tacy instinctively knew where to find her friend, and, as Betsy had done for her, she did not make Betsy feel she was wrong for being upset. Instead she comforted Betsy with her own experiences of having younger siblings; "You can't keep on being the baby forever," Tacy said. That statement alone assured Betsy. To know that Tacy had once been the baby herself and she seemed ok. Tacy also assured her that even though the baby was funny looking now, it would get prettier, and after awhile Betsy was feeling much better about her new baby sister.

I love that in this part of the story it is Tacy who is the comforter, which is very different than the shy, reserved little girl who often has nothing to say. The author even points this out; "All of the sudden she thought how odd it was that Tacy should be talking like this. Usually she herself did most of the talking.  But now Tacy was doing the talking. She was trying to comfort Betsy. And she had comforted her. All the sore hurt feelings were gone."

I am in season, even this late in my life, in which God is growing me. He has placed me in situations recently where I mayself have been called on to comfort and encourage others, which is as odd a thing for me as I'm sure it was for Tacy. And isn't it lovely how often in life love compels us step out of our comfort zone to be there for another?  I also relate very much to Betsy in this chapter, as well. I was almost seven when my brother was born, and while I had known for awhile that my mother was expecting, I really had my heart set on a sister and recall being visiblly upset when my father came home from the hospital with the news that I had a baby brother. But like Betsy, it didn't take long for me to push past my disappointments. Almost seven years separated us, so we never had a lot in common, but I have many wonderful memories of the things we shared together as children.

So now it's your turn! What were some of your thoughts, favorite chapters, passages as you read through this first book in the series?  Are you enjoing it so far, looking forward to move on to the next book, Betsy Tacy and Tib (who we were introduced at the end). I'd love to hear from you! Just leave your entry in the comments, and then join me here again on Monday, March 4, as we continue the discussion!

Monday, January 22, 2024

A Day of Light: Candlemas Celebrates The Light Of The World

It's been about twenty years ago now that I was first introduced to The Liturgical Year (Year of the Lord), and my life has been so blessed since that discovery. Slowly marking time by tracing the events of the life of Christ through the year has broadened and deepened my walk with the Lord in ways that I could never have imagined, and it all began with Candlemas (February 2). Also known as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and likewise,The Feast of the Presentation of Christ, Candlemas symbolizes the day when Mary went to the temple to be purified with her newborn son and to present him to the Lord. It was the first personal remembrance and observance I made all those years ago, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. It likewise marks the beginning of Spring, although in the Northern Hemisphere you have to look closely to see that change is coming. The shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is The Winter Solstice, which occurs on or around December 21. From that day on the daylight grows until we reach equal hours of day and night on The Spring Equinox, which occurs on or around March 21. The mid point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox falls around February 2, Candlemas.

You might be more familiar with Groundhog's Day, but as with so many of our Americanized holidays and observances, its roots have a much deeper and symbolic meaning.

Depending on what part of the world you grew up in, Candlemas symbolizes a number of different events, or, in our home, a combination of them all.

Under Mosaic law, a woman was viewed as unclean for 7 + 33 days  40 days) after child birth, and as such, could not go into the temple. From the 25th of December, February 2 marks forty days.
See Leviticus 12:2-8, Luke 2:22-24

But long before the Church in Rome began observing the day of purification, other branches of Christianity, such as the Greeks and the Armenians centered their observance around Christ first coming to the Temple, and was known as "the redeeming of the firstborn," or in Hebrew, pidyon ha-ben and is why this day is also known as The Feast of the Presentation of Christ.
See Exodus 13:2, 12-13, Numbers 18:15-16

It wasn't until some time in the 600's that the Roman Church began referring to the day as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So while the Eastern Church focus was more upon Jesus, in the Western Church the emphasis was upon Mary. Today is primarily observed by the Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Though candles didn't originally play much of a factor in the observance, some time in the 11th century the day came to be  commemorated as "The Feast of Light"  based upon the prophecy of Holy Simeon -- the "just and devout" man of Jerusalem who was inspired by the Holy Ghost to know that he would live to see the "consolation of Jerusalem" -- and the encounter with the aged widow, Anna the Prophetess, who lived in the Temple and confessed Christ upon meeting Him.  In Luke 2:32 Simeon referred to Jesus as "the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of the people of Israel." Since ancient times the Church has given special meaning to the candles used in Candlemas as a symbol of the Incarnate Christ: the beeswax is a symbol of His pure body, the wick His soul, and the flame His divinity.

In keeping with the reference to "the light", the tradition of blessing the annual supply of the Church's candles was established. Beeswax candles were blessed by being sprinkled with water and having incense swung around them, and were then distributed among the members.  Today, parishioners bring their own beeswax candles to be blessed. In some churches, the blessing is then followed by a procession in which people carry lighted candles while the choir sings, The Canticle of Simeon. The procession represents the entry of Jesus as light of the world into the temple. Afterwards, church members take their candles home and place them in their windows as a symbol of light during the darkest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, 
In peace, according to Thy word: 
For mine own eyes hath seen Thy salvation, 
Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all the peoples, 
A light to reveal Thee to the nations 
And the glory of Thy people Israel.

Latin Version: 
Nunc Dimittis
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine 
Secundum verbum tuum in pace: 
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum 
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum: 
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, 
Et gloriam plebis tuae Israel. 

You can listen to it, here.

Many families set aside their blessed candles for use on the family alter and for various feast days, as well as during storms and power outages. From the Pieta prayer book comes this prayer to pray while burning a blessed candle during a storm.

Jesus Christ a King of Glory has come in Peace.+ God became man, + and the Word was made flesh.+ Christ was born of a Virgin.+ Christ suffered.+ Christ was crucified.+ Christ died.+ Christ rose from the dead.+ Christ ascended into Heaven.+ Christ conquers.+ Christ reigns.+ Christ commands.+ 

May Christ protect us from all storms and lightning. + Christ went through their midst in Peace, + and the Word was made Flesh.+ Christ is with us with Mary.+ Flee you enemy spirits because the Lion of the Generation of Juda, the Root David, has won.+ Holy God! + Holy Powerful God! + Holy Immortal God! + Have mercy on us. Amen.
Here are a few of the symbols and traditions associated with Candlemas, as well;

Doves are a symbol of Candlemas, as they were offered by Joseph and Mary as a sacrifice at the presentation. Their symbolism is significant, as they were poor and unable to afford a lamb for sacrifice. Traditionally, those who were unable to do so were allowed to offer a pair of doves instead.

In Celtic and Christian tradition, February 1 is recognized as St. Brigid's Day, who among other titles, is the patron saint of Midwifery.  There is a legend (though no biblically supported), that she served as a mid-wife to Mary, and that later when Herod was searching for Jesus, she distracted him so that the Holy Family could escape. In Celtic tradition, Brigid rules fire and water, and at Candlemas we see how the cold is slowly giving way to the warmth. Snowdrops, mentioned next, are also associated with St. Brigid as many believe that they appear wherever St. Bridgid's feet have trod.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are also known as "Candlemas Bells" because, being the earliest to bloom in the depths of winter, and often shortly before Candlemas, though some varieties bloom all winter long in some places. Legend says that they sprang up by the hand of an angel, who then pointed them out as a sign of hope to Eve, who was weeping in repentance and in despair over the cold and death that entered into the world after she and her husband sinned. Because our Hope is Christ, the Light as referred to by Simeon ,it is providential that the snowdrop should bloom so close to this feast day. If possible, gather some Candlemas Bells to bring inside. Legend tells that bringing them indoors before this date is bad luck, and bringing them indoors on this day "purifies" one's house. These flowers, along with carnations, are also the "birth flower" for those born in January.

And while most of us have taken all of our Christmas decorations down by now, some people do hold on to them until February.

The eve of this Feast is the absolutely the last (and best) day for taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the creche, etc. In some Latin countries, the creche isn't just put away, but is replaced with a figure of the Child Jesus sitting on a chair, acting as a sign that it is time for the devotion to the Divine Childhood to give way to a focus on the grown-up Savior and the public ministry, forty days of fasting, and Passion to come.

In any case, when Candlemas is finished, all feelings of Christmas give way to the penitential feelings of Septuagesima and then Lent. The English poet, Robert Herrick (A.D. 1591-1674), sums it up in his poem "Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve" -- and reveals a folktale in the process:

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall:
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind:
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

The very ancient carol, below, also speaks of the departure of Christmas on this day. It is called "I Am Christmas," and was written by James Ryman, a Franciscan Friar, ca. 1492. The reference to Hallowtide (the days of the dead centering around All Saints Day) here refers to the fact that it was during Hallowtide that monarchs used to announce where they would be spending Christmas.

Here have I dwelled with more or lass
From Hallowtide till Candelmas,
And now must I from you hense pass;
Now have good day.

I take my leave of king and knight,
And erl, baron, and lady bright;
To wilderness I must me dight;
Now have good day!

And at the good lord of this hall
I take my leave, and of guests all;
Me think I here Lent doth call;
Now have good day!

And at every worthy officere,
Marshall, panter, and butlere
I take my leave as for this yere;
Now have good day!

Another yere I trust I shall
Make merry in this hall,
If rest and peace in England fall;
Now have good day!

But oftentimes I have heard say
That he is loth to part away
That often biddeth 'Have good day!";
Now have good day!

Now fare ye well, all in fere,
Now fare ye well for all this yere;
Yet for my sake make ye good chere;
Now have good day!

Some likewise view this day as the first official day to symbolize the return of spring, but because our biggest snowfalls in my neck of the woods are often in March and even as late as April, mentally, I'm just not there yet. However, I do keep a phenology wheel and because of that, I am very aware of how the days are lengthening and the light truly is returning.

As I mentioned earlier, Candlemas Day is also known as "Groundhog's Day" in America, the day when, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there'll be 6 more weeks of winter. There is a similar belief in Europe about how Candlemas weather foretells the length of winter. The English have a saying, "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans also have a few sayings about how the weather at Candlemas bodes ill or well for the nearness of Spring:

When the bear sees
his shadow at Candlemas,
he will crawl back into his
hole for another six weeks.

or this one;

If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.

And finally;

If it storms and snows on Candlemas day
Spring will not be far away.
If Candlemas is bright and clear,
Spring is not yet near.

In our home we've used a variation on these poems;

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

But I also came across this lovely little poem just this week, which is so much like the poems we've traditionally used during Advent that I wish I'd found it when the girls were young.  At any rate, if you followed along with my Advent plans last year, perhaps you'll enjoy it.

Candle, candle burning bright,
Winter's halfway done tonight.
With a glowing, we are knowing,
Spring will come again!

While Punxsutawny Phil is fun, personally I much prefer the loveliness of Candlemas.

If you want to conduct an actual Candlemas Ceremony, you'll find an outline here.

- Let children roll and make their own beeswax candles, or if you want to get really adventurous, perhaps make some by dipping them a few days ahead.  Here's a kit for making your own rolled candles, or you and also purchase them ready made. I also love these orange peel candles, so beautiful how so many of the same elements are used in decorations from Advent through to the days before Lent. If you do make your own candles, here's another lovely poem to share with the littles in your life.

“A candle’s but a simple thing, it starts with just a bit of string. But dipped and dipped with patient hand, it gathers wax upon the strand. Until complete and snowy white, it gives at last a lovely light. Life seems so like that bit of string, each deed we do a simple thing. Yet day by day on life’s strand, we work with patient heart and hand. It gathers joy, makes dark days bright and gives at last a lovely light.”

- Light candles and set them in the windows. You can use the electric or battery operated ones that are popular at Christmas for safety.

- Go on a nature walk and try to locate some snowdrops. If possible, bring a few in and put them in a vase.

- This candle ring is particularly pretty, especially with the sun in the middle symbolizing the return of the light and lengthening days.  You could easily make one out of bread dough, even just a small one using birthday candles. There are twelve candles around the outer ring, one of each month in the year and then the sun candle in the middle.  If you want to make it a little bigger, you could use emergency candles which I usually purchase from the dollar store. It might make a pretty centerpiece for your table to share a special meal.

In honor of St. Brigid (whose feast day is actually February 1), many people make a St. Brigid's Cross, but there are other traditions associated with this day, which you will find here.

Food is always a great way to celebrate feast day because we always have to eat. Crepes are by far the most traditional food for Candlemas, and are very popular for celebrating in Europe, especially France.  Both crepes and pancakes are fitting because of their round and golden texture, symbolic of the sun (light).  Whatever you serve, you’ll want to put some candles on the table to celebrate this awesome day. Here are some recipes you might like to try

If you think you can’t make crepes at home yourself, you’re wrong! It’s really every bit as easy as making pancakes. Check out this recipe for the best easy homemade crepes, but if you still find it too intimidating, I've made these buttermilk pancakes a few times, and they are so good.But this year, I've actually got my eye on these Bacon and Corn Griddle Cakes.

But if breakfast food isn't what you're looking for, in Mexico, tamales are the candlemas tradition! But then again, tamales can be a LOT of work, so instead, you could try out one of these.

My personal favorite, Chicken Tamale Casserole, a dish I've made MANY times! So easy, and so good! But if you'd prefer beef, this recipe looks good, too, Tamale Pie.

You could make these Mexican Cookie Rings with the littles in your life and let them decorate them with bright, festive sprinkles and serve them with Mexican Hot Chocolate.  You could also make simple cut out sugar cookies in the shape of a dove, perhaps sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

I also love the idea of this Cardamom Coffee Bread Wreath, it would be lovely topped with some small candles and perfectly fitting!

Well, I hope by now I've given you enough history and plenty of ideas for celebrating! Candlemas is such a lovely celebration, and as with so many other aspects of The Year of the Lord, filled with deep meaning and symbolism.  I hope you will try out a few of these ideas and savor in the beauty of this lovely day with your family.

"A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." - Luke 2:32