You have grown up with a liturgy nut. Your life has been filled with the church calendar, but have I ever really told you the things contained in the post that follows, or have I just expected you to absorb them? You'll have your own family in years to come. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. Have I prepared you? I'm not sure. Just in case, here are the beginnings of a church year primer -- (complete with pictures of your mother's childhood church, because while you won't care much about them, I'll find them delightful :) . I suppose that this is the beginning of a project that will be a year in the making...
When I was growing up in Southern California, there were no seasons. Well, that's not entirely true. Really, there were two seasons: cold and hot - otherwise known as smoggy and more smoggy. (Of course, what had seemed cold to me then wouldn't seem cold at all to me now, and they've gotten the smog largely under control, but those things are beside the point.) Oh, and sometimes it rained, and that was an event. I remember my Kindergarten class being given lessons, (in a classroom just steps from the church in these pictures), about seasons. Those lessons involved yellow and gold tissue paper leaves and cotton ball snow, and so on. I also remember that those lessons made not a wit of sense to us, because they weren't a part of our life experience as kids in Southern California.
Anyway, the trees didn't really change, there was no white in winter, and things just sort of--dragged on. There was no cycle to things, you see. I suppose that people from other parts of the country might think that to be wonderful. Certainly, when your father's father arrived in Hollywood long ago from Canada for a visit in December, and found himself in shirtsleeves, he knew that Southern California was the place for him. Nonetheless, a long unbroken stream of sameness can leave one feeling empty. People are meant for rhythms and cycles and transitions and change.
I suppose that's partly why secular culture clings to holidays. Christmas green replaces Halloween orange and is followed by pink Valentines. It gives one a place on a predictable revolving wheel of familiarity, growth, and change with the ever present promise of a return to the beginning again. People live well that way; it brings growth and change, in a setting of security.
People are visual. We know the colors of the secular seasons. We see them on display at the store and associate hopes, memories, and responsibilities with them. The church seasons have colors too. Of course, they are not displayed commercially; they are displayed in holiness on altars and hangings and vestments. They signal seasons of growth, penance and preparation, rejoicing, and remembrance of martyrs- each with its own color and related feasts and seasons.
As I write this on January 5, 2013, we are preparing to leave Ordinary Time with its green hues of growth. We will be entering the penance and preparation of purple -- in this case, the purple of Lent. Some marvelous women display the theme and color of each season prominently on their fireplace mantles. I wish I had done this while you were growing up. It is a splendid idea. but, you are grown, or nearly so, and it is too late for some things to take hold. I can only pass a whisper of the idea along and perhaps you will find it useful as you build your own home culture.
We live in a time of perpetual feasting. We don't want for much in middle and upper class modern Western culture. It can leave us feeling overly satiated. People weren't really meant to live that way, I don't think. This life pattern doesn't require much introspection, self examination, or course correction. The Church is wiser than this. She teaches us balance. She knows that we've had enough of Christmas feasting and that the greatest feast of the Church year, Easter, is approaching.
She tells us that maybe it's time to pare down to basics a bit, examine our lives, make improvements where they're needed, do penance where necessary, and prepare. So, on Ash Wednesday she places ashes on our foreheads to bring us down to the bare basics of reality. "From dust thou art", she says, "and to dust thou should return."-or- 'This is serious stuff. Get with the program.' And then she sends us on a seven week journey to the foot of the cross.
That journey has been compared to the ancient concept of 40 days in the desert. Imagine a seven week walk through the Mojave desert with the knowledge that a cool lake and a kayak wait for you at the end. But first, you need to make the journey. You'll need to figure out what to take -- bare basics, only what you need to survive, and you'll be spending a lot of time alone with God and yourself. It's hard to hide in that kind of situation. You'll be giving things up that you normally enjoy without thinking. You'll appreciate them more when you get them back at the end. On this trip, you'll find out who you really are and what really matters. You'll do a lot of praying along the way--(You've heard the phrase: "There are no athiests in foxholes" right?)--and that is Lent.
There are lots of ways to keep Lent. The four primary categories of observance, though, are:
* Prayer and Spiritual Discipline
* Self Examination and Penance
I'll be posting about each in days to come...