Faith Works 10-10-09
Not Just One Day After Another
When Frank McCourt died in July, his fellow Irish author Peter Duffy wrote a tribute that included a quote from McCourt's own work.
Duffy observed in the Wall Street Journal that "To someone like me who grew up in the post-Vatican II church, it's a fascinating glimpse of a lost world. "The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year's Eve," he wrote of his childhood home of Limerick, Ireland. In just a few words, we are transported to a time when every schoolchild knew that said feast was celebrated on Jan. 1."
Frank, whose "'Tis" really ought to be filmed as was his "Angela's Ashes" (let alone "Teacher Man," my favorite of his three memoirs), had the proverbial love/hate relationship with the church of his youth. Whether or not the church he rebelled against as an adult was the church that was when he was an adult is a different discussion.
What Duffy's point affirms about McCourt's remembrance of things faithful from his childhood is the value of a ritual calendar, a cycle of events that mark the turning of the year. Do we really need a "Feast of the Circumcision"? I'm not so sure theologically (although it's a principal feast still for the Missionary Order of the Precious Blood, I recently learned up at Maria Stein).
What the Christian churches in general have lost, with a devaluation of the Christian year, is a sense of sacred time that adds unique meaning to each season and month and week. We just passed through a week with "Ember Days," and I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm one of about a dozen people in the county who knew, or cared.
Do we really need Ember Days? An interesting question. I don't know.
What I do know is that as the church backs away from a ceremonial calendar, the culture seeks meaning and vitality, and makes us up a new one. We've got no Ember Days to mark the cycle of the seasons into worship and devotional ritual, but my son was very excited to see that the seasonal Hallowe'en store opened once again in a vacant storefront. He doesn't expect to go inside, indeed, he doesn't even think he wants to, but the orange sign and activity there confirm for him what the shorter days and cooler wind rattling the dry fallen leaves are muttering all around him.
So what's the Fast of St. Martin, and what's it got to do with Advent? It makes Advent longer, you say, beginning around November 11? Yikes, no thank you. And so the culture builds up a ceremonial moment around events some 90 years ago, and calls for silence in the schools at 11 am, if only for a moment.
I'm not so liturgical to want a big deal over rose colored vestments at Gaudete Sunday: shucks, most Sundays I don't even wear a preaching robe, depending on where I'm filling in that week. What I do miss, what I miss that in many ways I've never known, is a sacred sense of time that can fill every turn of the wheel from Sunday to Sunday.
Here around the Newark Earthworks, we keep finding how the daily practices and giant architecture of the Native Americans who built them kept close track of the sun and moon, and we don't marvel that their spirituality must have followed that awareness. Many folks from around central Ohio will join the pilgrimage walk from Chillicothe up the 60 miles of possible "Great Hopewell Road," from tomorrow down at Hopewell Culture National Park, through our stroll next Friday afternoon (Oct. 16) from Geller Park up 30th St. to the Octagon, between 4:30 and 5:30 pm.
This walk, part of the events of Newark Earthworks Day that actually span the weekend (see http://newark.osu.edu/earthworks), lets us connect our understanding of the seasons, our search for meaning in the movements of the cosmos, and a day and path set aside where they can connect.
As I look forward to following singers and drummers, walking up 30th St. this Friday from Heath to Newark, I look to my own spiritual traditions to ask "how can we keep sacred time every day?" Just a little archaeology into our history turns up quite a few artifacts that still have some life in them.
Rogation Days, anyone?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a unique date on your church calendar at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.