traditions

First of the Month

'Pinch Punch ... first of the month!'

Ever heard that saying?

When I was at school we used to say that to each other on the first day of the month ... and today of course is July 1st ... so appropriate to share this greeting with you I think?

But where does it come from?

Well, some stories say that it has its origins with George Washington, one of the founding fathers and the first president of the United States of America.

Apparently, during his time as president, on the first day of each month Washington would meet with Indian tribes and supply fruit punch with an added pinch of salt.

This became known as ‘pinch punch on the first of the month’.

How this developed to the childish tradition of actually punching and pinching someone while chanting that little ditty is beyond me ... but hey... it's interesting. Well I think it is.

And appropriate to share it this month in particular because in a couple of days - July 4th - the USA will celebrate Independence Day, after which Washington took up his presidency.

SO ... a new month lies ahead ... and here's something inspiring to set us on our way!

Have a great July everyone!

 

First day of July

 


Summer Prayer

About this time of the year in the northern hemisphere of our planet, it's the longest day of the year.

Between about June 20 and 22nd there is more daylight than darkness, more days of sunshine hopefully because it's the moment when the path of the sun is farthest north. For those of us north of equator, it's the beginning of what is called 'astronomical summer'! Otherwise known as 'Summer Solstice'.

And this year the beginning of that season ... midsummer ... is today -  June 21 - when give or take the UK will enjoy around 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising before 5am and setting around 9.30pm.

Summer Solstice (and actually Winter Solstice which here falls on or around December 21st) has always had cultural,  spiritual and even religious significance for humankind. Many cultures assign importance to the elements and the seasons and so this is a time for celebration, holidays, festivals and rituals. In many countries and regions this is associated with religion and even fertility as the Summer Solstice marks the time when crops are growing, nature is thriving and people are enjoying the goodness of life and are optimistic for the future. 

At places like Stonehenge - the circle of prehistoric Standing Stones on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire in England - ceremonies to mark the rising of the sun on this day have been held for thousands of years, as people recognised the religious significance of the mysticism of creation.

The Summer Solstice was and still is a marker for the year and the rolling out of the seasons. Neolithic humans may initially have started to observe the summer solstice as a way to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. We know that in Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice corresponded with the rise of the Nile River so it helped people to predict the annual flooding, and that was obviously related to the viability of their crops along the banks of the river, and the potential harvests later in the year. If you fancy reading more about this time of year there is loads online, including a great website hosted by the History Channel.

But the significance of days like today transcends nature. Before humans understood how the earth interacts with our sun and why the days of light and darkness differ according to the seasons, this period of long days of daylight would have been connected with mysticism and powerful messages about the universe. The word Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still) ... this day it would have felt as if the sun was motionless in the heavens and so it would have had some spiritual significance and traditions and behaviours developed around the day.

According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the Summer Solstice so in order to ward these off, people would wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers. Some midsummer traditions involve dancing around the 'maypole'. Bonfires were lit, also to help banish those demons and evil spirits. Ancient 'magic' was thought to be strongest at this time of year and those bonfires were also thought to lead girls to their future husbands - again linked to that sign of fertility. 

The Summer Solstice is often associated with the ancient religions which pre-date Christianity and were closely aligned to nature and the seasons. And regardless of whether we are people of 'faith' or not, the Summer Solstice is a time when we can appreciate the warmth of the sun and the potential in our world, and be inspired for the future.

I could have given you all kinds of quotes about Summer Solstice today ... there are masses online ... but I found this prayer which, as a person of faith, says it all for me.

Enjoy this long day everyone!

And if you're in the southern hemisphere ... be assured that as you are now halfway through your 'winter', summer is on its way!

Summer Prayer

 

 

 

 


May God give you .....

This past week I was having a conversation with a friend and in usual fashion, we chatted about anything and everything. Work, frustrations, our health (physical and mental health) ... and along the way the subject of Celtic Christianity came up.

Rather random, I grant you, but it's once again made me think about the ancient faith of many of our British forefathers and mothers, a spiritual tradition and theology which is connected not just to God but also to the earth and nature, the elements and the natural environment around us. 

I love this tradition and the sentiments and prayers which come out of it. These days you might often see these defined and described as 'Irish' blessings and prayers, but many of these come if not directly, then indirectly from the Celtic tradition. The fact that many of these blessings are based on very old spiritual traditions inspires me as I realise these prayers have been spoken silently and out loud for many hundreds of years by the faithful. They have brought inspiration and comfort, challenge and affirmation in equal measure.

I don't know anything about you, dear reader, or how you are feeling right now. But what I've learned down the years is that God sometimes gives us a thought which, without knowing it, will help someone else if passed on.

So today I bring you one of those blessings and trust it will bring you whatever YOU need.

Be Blessed Today!

 

Sunday blessing


Happy St George's Day!

Today is St George's Day!

St George is the Patron Saint on England and so, actually, today could be considered the country's 'national day', except for a lot of people it will just pass them by. Some do 'celebrate' but it's not great partying like, for instance, St Patrick's Day in Ireland. 

Flag of st georgeToday, though, the flags will be out boldly displaying the red cross of St George which has been an emblem of England since the late Middle Ages. Of course, it's also part of the Union Jack which brings together emblems from all the British nations which were designed in when that flag was created in around the year 1606.  

But the story of St George goes back a lot further than that.

Down the centuries we've heard the story of George and the Dragon.  St George slayed ... well, a dragon. That's how he became famous. Right?

Well no  ... sorry to burst your bubble ... but it's a bit of legend!

We actually know little about George, the real man. Tradition says he was born around the year 280AD in a place called Cappadocia, an area that is now part of Turkey. He was born into a Christian family and George followed his father's profession and became a soldier in the Roman army.

He rose in the ranks to eventually become a member of the elite Praetorian Guard.  This was a highly esteemed unit of the Imperial Roman Army whose members served as personal bodyguards and intelligence for Roman emperors. George served under the Emperor Diocletian.

Over a couple of centuries since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith had grown and although persecuted especially in the very early days, believers had begun to gain some legal rights. But during the reign of Diocletian and other emperors who served concurrently and around the same time  -  MaximianGalerius, and Constantius - a series of edicts were issued which rescinded those rights. This Diocletian Persecution has gone down in history as one of the most severe periods of oppression. One of the central features was that Christians were forced to comply with Roman, pagan, religious practices, including sacrificing to the Roman gods, and it was death for those who refused.

George was among the leading Christians who protested this persecution of his people and he did refuse to deny his faith, so Emperor Diocletian ordered his execution. He was was to death, allegedly beheaded, around April 23 in the year 303 AD, in Palestine, in a place called Lydda, now the town of Lod in Israel. His bones are buried in his tomb in the Church of Saint George, in Lod.

George was first written about a couple of decades later, around 322 by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, and over the following centuries he became of of the most venerated saints and martyrs in Christianity. His story apparently made it to England in the early 700s and he was made patron saint of England in the year 1098, after soldiers at the Battle of Antioch claimed they saw him and he came to their aid. That battle was one of the early conflicts in what became known as the 'Crusades'  - a period of nearly 200 years when the medieval Christians fought Muslim rulers for control of what we now know as the Holy Land.

To mark his life, Saint George's Day is traditionally celebrated on 23 April, but it's interesting to note that it's not just in England that he's venerated. He's also the patron saint of Ethiopia, the country of Georgia, Catalonia and Aragon in Spain, the city of Moscow in Russia, and in several other states, regions, cities, universities, professions and organizations. 

And what about that dragon story?

Well the legend of Saint George and the Dragon was first recorded in the 11th century. It reached Catholic Europe by the 12th century. And one version goes something like this. 

A fierce dragon was causing panic at the city of Silene in Libya, and every day the people gave two sheep to the dragon to stop the creature killing the whole population. But when the sheep were not enough, or ran out, they turned to human sacrifice to satisfy the demands of that dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by the people themselves, and eventually the king's daughter was selected. The monarch hoped someone else would step forward, but no one was prepared to stand in the place of the princess. 

Brave George was in the city and he saved the girl by slaying the dragon with a lance. The king was so grateful that he offered him treasures as a reward for saving his daughter's life, but George refused the gifts and instead he gave it all to the poor. People were so amazed by his bravery and kindness that many of them converted and became Christians.

It's a story which takes several forms and is actually attributed to different people and saints across time, including in the pre-Christian era. It's a legend known in many parts of the world and is familiar as being part of folklore called the Golden Legend. By the 15th century it was a popular story in England, thanks to a translation by William Caxton.  Among other things Caxton was a writer, He's credited with introducing the printing press into England in 1476 and he became the first person to sell printed books.

But was it true?

Well, maybe, but only if you believe in dragons...!

However, in Medieval England the tale of an heroic Christian soldier coming to the rescue of a beautiful princess suited the whole idea of courtly love, chivalry and the creation of social order. Think the mythical legends of King Arthur and his knights. It's similar stuff. 

There are, of course, many notions and theories of what it all means but the one I like is that the tale of George and the Dragon epitomises the enduring story of the fight between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness.

Fables such as these go back many many thousands of years and can be found in numerous ancient cultures. Many of our relatively modern 'fairy' tales often contain these deeply moral and philosophical lessons.

The legend may also have more of a solid foundation in the Christian faith which the  real George followed. The story may also reflect his fight against the evil of the persecution of early Christians and the execution and martyrdom of faithful ones like George himself, and the power of Jesus Christ to overcome evil and death.

Whatever the case, it's a great story.

So - Happy St George's Day!

 


Holy Week

So yesterday was Palm Sunday ... the start of what in the church we call 'Holy Week'!

As I said yesterday, when Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, there were many in the crowd who welcomed him and who truly believed in him.

His followers, his 'disciples', had spent three years with him. They knew him well. They had heard him preaching and teaching, performing miracles. They were among those who had come to understand that Jesus was more than a man. They would have been among those who were coming to believe, or hope, that he was the 'Messiah', the Chosen One promised by God down many millennia, who would come to save the People of Israel.

There were those, too, who had been healed by Jesus, those who had seen those miracles, had heard him preach and had hung on his every word. They believed he was special. A 'Master', a 'Rabbi', a man who they could follow, with his message of peace and love and fairness.

And there were those who, perhaps, saw him a leader who would stand up to the Roman authorities who ruled the people with an iron fist, and who would also defy the religious leaders who also wanted to ensure a compliant population. As Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, this group might have wondered why he was riding on a donkey and not a white charger like a hero should. But they may well have thought that this event heralded historic revelation and revolution. This group didn't really know much about the person who was Jesus, even if momentarily they wanted to believe in him. 

However, within a few days, a confusing, an astonishing few days, those crowds who cheered him on the road to Jerusalem would be screaming for Jesus' death. His friends and disciples would desert him, he would be mocked and tried and killed by those who feared his influence and the claims that he might be the Messiah, and the rumours that people thought he might be a king, or the Son of God.From Triumph to what some thought was Disaster, writer Cathy Le Feuvre thinks about the events of Holy Week !

And all in the space of a week.

Now, I'm no theologian. People much cleverer than I will, I'm sure, be able to explain the significance of Holy Week over the next few days.

But I wanted to start the week trying to give you an inkling of this important final week in the (earthly) life of Jesus because it appears that each moment ... from the day he took that donkey ride through the Jerusalem city gates to the moment he perished, nailed to a cross like a common criminal ... each day was full of significance.

And I found this brilliant photo ... this 'Holy Week Treasure Map' outlining the events of these days. It sort of tells the tale...

But if you fancy reading more about it - there's a brilliant book called the Bible .. the New Testament has the story!

HolyWeekTreasureMap-HQ

 

 


Mothering Sunday

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (2)So today in the UK, the British Isles and many other English speaking nations is 'Mothering Sunday'.

Otherwise known as 'Mother's Day'.

If you go to any card shop you may be hard pushed to find a 'Mothering Sunday' card ... but sometimes they are there, if you are eagle eyed. I know because every year I rummage endlessly through the card racks to find one.

My Mum loves a Mothering Sunday card.

So given that not many people call it that, you might be wondering about the title of this blog and the picture.

Well, it's because the day was called 'Mothering Sunday' LONG before people started calling it 'Mother's Day'.

The history goes back to the Medieval times in Britain, to the Middle Ages. 

The fourth Sunday in Lent, 21 days before Easter Day, was also known as Laetare Sunday, or 'Mid-Lent Sunday' and it was a day when Christians could have a break from the fasting which was required during the Lenten season, the preparation for the holy festival of Easter. So it was a bit of a celebration day. The faithful were encouraged to make it even more special by attending services at their 'mother church', the place of worship where they were baptised. That might have involved travelling home for the day. 

In the Middle Ages, the Mass or church service on that fourth Sunday in Lent included several references to mothers, and so the day became one also to celebrate not just the 'mother church' but mothers in particular.

The tradition of coming 'home' to church on this day lasted for centuries. By the mid 17th century this annual journey had become known as 'mothering'. And traditions developed down the years. Mothering Sunday became a day when servants, especially those working in domestic service in big houses, were given this day off to go home to see their mothers and family members ... and attend church, of course.

From 1908 in the USA a 'Mother's Day' was introduced as a way of honouring motherhood, although this was being celebrated on the second Sunday in May. And in the UK, perhaps not coincidentally, something called the Mothering Sunday Movement was created in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, to try to revive the importance of the day.  

By the 1950s Mothering Sunday was being celebrated across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, still on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and that's where it remains to this day.

But increasingly, the day has lost it's spiritual context and the American influence means it's now almost exclusively called 'Mother's Day' ... hence my annual rummage in card shops.

And like in the USA, the day has become more and more commercialised. Cards, flowers, chocolates and other treats are bought in vast quantities. Lovely, but expensive.

Nowadays, including in the church, the day has also become a time not just to celebrate people who are actually  'mothers' but those who are mother figures and it's sometimes also a general celebration of women and their achievements.

While Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is a lovely day, it can be hard for some people. Those who yearn to be a parent, to give birth to their own children but have been unable to do so can find the annual celebration of 'mummies' really difficult. For those who have lost babies, even many years ago, this can be a very sad day. It can be a very poignant and painful day for people who've lost their mothers, and those who didn't have a strong and loving mother figure in their lives.

It's a complex day and I try never to forget that.

But today, if you'll let me I will just take a moment to thank my own Mum ... the best mother in the world.

On this Mothering Sunday I thank God for her. I thank her for all her love and for the many sacrifices she made for me and my brothers, and for just being an inspiration to me.  And I just want to say ... 

I love you Mum!


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!

Today is St David's Day!

And if you're from the country of Wales, if you're Welsh, or part-Welsh (as I am) this is an important day.

On March 1st every year the people of Wales, and those of Welsh heritage wherever they are in the world, celebrate their patron saint. 

My Mum is Welsh so in our family we've always known about St David's Day. But it was when I spent my final two years of schooling in Wales that I realised how passionate people are about their saint, their history, their culture and their language. 

DaffodilOn this day, people wear the traditional symbols of Wales - daffodils or leeks - and enjoy traditional Welsh food ... my favourites are Welsh cakes which are like little griddle pancakes. Yum!

But who was St David?

Well in the 6th century, he was a Bishop of a place called 'Mynyw', which is the modern day St Davids, a city in the county of Pembrokeshire  in the southwest of the country.

David (Dewi) was born in Wales, although there's no clear evidence as to the year that happened. It is known that he was a celebrated teacher and preacher and that he founded monasteries and churches in Wales - St David's Cathedral is situated on the site of a monastery he founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire - in 'Dumnonia' (a kingdom in the southwest of England) and even Brittany in France. David is even believed to have visited the ancient religious site of Glastonbury

David established his own Monastic Rule, a system of religious and daily living for monks, and one of David's main rules was that when his followers were tilling the soil, THEY had to pull the plough themselves, rather than animals. Monks living by the Monastic Rule of David drank only water and ate only bread with salt and herbs - no meat, and certainly no beer. They were allowed no personal possessions and while David's monks worked in the day, they spent the evenings reading, writing and praying. 

So, why is David's feast day March 1st? 

That's the day when it's thought he died. As with his birth, there's a question mark over what year that was. Some say 601AD, others 589AD. 

David was buried in St David's Cathedral and his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Invading Vikings removed the shrine during the 10th and 11th centuries but in 1275 a new shrine was constructed, the ruined base of which remains to this day.  

Although St David had been a popular saint in Wales since the 12th century, his religious feast day didn't become a national festival until the 18th century. And it's on March 1st every year that Welsh heritage people celebrate the man who now is their patron saint. Children especially are encouraged to celebrate as they learn about their history, and they often head to school for the day dressed as coal miners or in the traditional Welsh woman costume, with the girls often wearing a leek in their lapel. I remember at school one girl wearing such a BIG leek, a huge green vegetable, that it covered her whole chest and ... boy did it smell (like onion).

But why daffodils, and why leeks ? 

Well the leek became a symbol of the Welsh spirit because one legend says that St David advised his people to wear leeks in a battle against the Saxons. It was the days of hand-to-hand combat and wearing the leek meant that they would be recognised as Welsh by their compatriots in the heat of the battle - so no chance of someone killing a fellow Welshman! That's just one of the stories, but leeks were a popular food for many centuries and were also used for medicinal purposes, and the link with St David's Day is thought to be especially through the Tudors, who had strong Welsh roots and heritage.

And the daffodil?

This lovely yellow blooms appears in early Spring, around the time of St David's Day and it's just a joyful flower, isn't it?

But the floral link with Wales is fairly recent really and is thought to have been adopted as an alternative to the leek in the early 20th century, by which time the wearing of vegetables on your coat on March 1st had become a bit of a joke. Welsh politician and elder statesman David Lloyd George, who was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, was said to be an advocate of the daffodil being used as a symbol of his Homeland.

The Welsh are a proud people and on St David's Day that pride is more obvious than ever.

If you're not aware, the country (now called the Principality) has its own ancient language. Welsh is a Celtic language - with links to the ancient Celtic Britons - and although for centuries Welsh was the common language of the people, it did fall into decline in the early 20th century as English became dominant. However in the 1990's the value of the native language was formerly recognised for its importance to the Welsh culture, heritage and future, with The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998  regulating that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, where sensible and possible.

These days there's Welsh speaking media, the language is taught in schools, as well as there being educational establishments where Welsh is the predominant language for conversation and teaching. I read recently that as of September 2020, it was reckoned that about a third of the population of Wales could speak the language and more than 15% spoke Welsh every day. It's been a real success story for the reinvigoration of a mother language that could easily have died out. And if you visit Wales, you'll see signs everywhere in Welsh and English.  

I know just a few words of Welsh ... passed down through my Welsh heritage ... but I'm no expert.

So, finally, today I could say 'Happy St. David’s Day!

But I instead will sign off by wishing you ...  'Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!'

 


Bouônjour!

Today is International Mother Language Day.

So let me tell you about a language you may never have heard of.

It's called Jèrriais and it's the mother language of the island which I call home - Jersey in the Channel Islands.

So if you don't know where that is or what it is ... Jersey is an island within the British Isles (not the United Kingdom) and it's a self governing Crown Dependency.

Most importantly from the perspective of today's thought, Jersey is closer to France than England. Actually it lies just 12miles (19km) off the Normandy coast and around 100miles (160km) from the south coast of England. Most days, but especially on a good day, you can see the coast of France clearly from Jersey's East Coast!

Jerriais 2So, with France so close, it may be no surprise to hear that Jersey's mother tongue is a version of French. Jèrriais is an ancient form of the Norman Language. It's often called "Jersey French" or "Jersey Norman French" but this gives an impression that it's a dialect of French, a 'patois' - but it's not. It's a language in its own right. As is it's closest 'sister' - the native language of nearby island Guernsey - Guernésiais - and the other Norman languages including those across the water in France. And the language of SarkSercquiais, is descended from  the Jèrriais brought by the Jersey colonists who settled Sark in the 16th century. There's a commonality between Jèrriais and those Norman languages and there's a growing relationship between the speakers of these languages, all of which are in danger of dying out, but they are all different languages.

Over the last few years working at BBC Radio Jersey, the local station for the island, I've connected with the Jèrriais-speaking community. Every week, at the moment, I work with native speakers who record a weekly 'letter' - La Lettre Jèrriaise - which is broadcast just before 7am on a Saturday morning and is also posted online on a special languages podcast called 'Voices'. You can also get it via the Learn Jèrriais website,

In 2019 I made a radio series to coincide with the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, when I worked with the Jèrriais teachers at the L'Office du Jèrriais. I learnt 20 phrases in Jersey's mother tongue.

It was a challenge, but it was fun, and more importantly it helped me to reconnect with my own family history, and my own Dad who was native Jèrriais speaker. Although he didn't teach us the language - my mum was not a Jèrriais speaker - I remember hearing him speak the language with his family - my aunts and uncles.

That was common in the mid 20th century, when the language had fallen into decline.

What I've learned is until the 19th century, Jèrriais was used as an everyday language by the majority of people living in Jersey and even up to the beginning of the Second World War more than half of the population could speak the language. In fact, it was often used during the Occupation of Jersey 1940-1945 when the German enemy occupied Jersey and the other Channel Islands - it was not understood by French or German speakers!

But Jèrriais was consistently falling out of favour, with English becoming the dominant language. It was no longer used in schools, or business. French and English was used in the law, but not Jèrriais. Eventually it's decline was such that it is now officially listed as one of the world's endangered languages!

However, in recent years Jèrriais has had a resurgence. There's been investment in education, and it's now taught in local schools, and adult classes and conversation groups are also held. The teachers and the L'Office du Jèrriais are central to that, and there's also now a Jèrriais promotion officer for Jersey Heritage.

In 2019 the States of Jersey (the Government of Jersey) voted to put Jèrriais on signs when they next need to be replaced, with English translations underneath. It's also now an official language in the States Assembly alongside English and French.

This is all really down to the persistence of native language speakers. Down the years, stalwarts of the language made great efforts to keep it alive. in 1912, thJersey Eisteddfod introduced a Jèrriais section - that still exists today. The L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais was founded in 1951 and they launched a quarterly magazine a year later. The Le Don Balleine Trust  was established in accordance with the will of Arthur E. Balleine (1864–1943), in which he left funds for the promotion of the language.

Jèrriais dictionaries go back to the 19th century but in 1966 the Dictionnaire Jersiais–Français was published to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest of England, based on meticulous research by Frank Le Maistre, who's family are still champions of the Jèrriais speaking community. This was followed by a Jèrriais–English dictionary, Dictionnaithe Jèrriais-Angliais.

Another individual who did a huge amount to promote the language was a certain George d'la Forge. 

Jerrias book coverGeorge was born in Jersey but after the First World War moved to the USA and became a successful businessman. But he had been raised speaking Jèrriais, and never forgot it. After he took early retirement in 1946 he returned to Jersey for a holiday, and later spent months every year in the island. He was a prolific writer in the Jèrriais language, and took the pen name 'George d'la Forge' based on the home he lived in as a youngster. He wrote around 900 articles for the Jersey Evening Post and also contributed to many other native language publications.

George's surname was Le Feuvre - and he was a distant cousin of my father. As a young child, I remember visiting 'La Forge' when 'Uncle George' was spending a summer in Jersey, and living as he always did in his very basic small family cottage. Later, when we were living in Kenya in East Africa Uncle George visited us. I remember then my Dad and him chatting away in this strange language, which I sort of recognised as French, but not. Jerriais 1

Uncle George d'la Forge was a great man and in recent years, at a book sale, I managed to get hold of a bound copy of some of his articles.

One day, when I've learned a bit more of the language,  I'll read it in Jersey's language, the mother tongue of my father and my family down the centuries.

Meanwhile, I'll make do with the few phrases I know and which I learned during the 20 in 2019 challenge. If you fancy learning a bit start by going to Learn Jèrriais (learnjerriais.org.je)

The title of this piece is 'Bouônjour'  which, if you know any French at all, you'll recognise as being similar to 'bonjour'... hello!

But I'll end with this sign-off ...

À bétôt  - Goodbye

À la préchaine - Till the next time!

 


What to give up

So this week we've been thinking about the start of Lent - the period in the Christian church which prepares believers for the sacrifice and celebrations of Easter.

Yesterday I ended my daily thought by asking what it was we might be thinking about 'giving up' for the 40-days of Lent. But I also asked whether instead of depriving ourselves of things we love, perhaps it might be worthwhile thinking about what we could START doing instead.

That would certainly be in the spirit of the Lenten season, when we may be setting time aside to think about our relationship with God and what might be the plan for our lives, and how we might make our world a better place all round. 

Today I share this thought with you ... I found it online on IrishAmericanmom.com 

Thanks to you, whoever you are! It's really got me thinking about how we can turn the negative into positive, not just in our actions but also in our thinking.

What-To-Give-Up


Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

It's the beginning of Lent, the period running up to Easter.

And it's a peculiar name for a day isn't it?

So what's it all about?

Ash Wednesday is marked every year exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday. Now I know what lots of you might be thinking - Lent is a 40-day season isn't it? Well it IS, but Sundays don't count during the 6-weeks (ish) preparation for the Christian festival.

The 40-days of Lent represent  the time that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness, before he began his three year ministry. Before starting that awesome task, he took time out to think and prepare himself. In that desert, he fasted and when he was at his weakest he was tempted by (and he resisted) Satan. For Christians down the centuries the same period of time has been set aside for fasting, reflection, repentance and, finally, celebration on Easter Day.  Lent is a time for believers to contemplate the life of Jesus, his ministry, his death and resurrection. Central themes of Christianity. And to consider their own relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, and how that impacts on their lives.

Lent has also become a time when many people, including those who wouldn't say they are religious at all,  also give stuff up ... but more of that another day.

What about today - 'Ash' Wednesday? Why is it called that?

Well the title comes from the fact that on this day certain Christian denominations follow the tradition of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshippers - usually in the sign of a cross.

Today is all about repentance at the start of the sacred season which will culminate in the weekend when first we commemorate the death on a cross of Jesus Christ, and three days later we celebrate his coming back to life - his resurrection!

The ashes for today's special church services are made by burning the palm leaves or crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations. There's something significant about that, isn't there? The palm fronds were waved by a crowd as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem at the start of the final week of his earthly life, but within a few short days that same fickle crowd was yelling at the authorities, calling for Jesus to be put to death, to be crucified! The fact that these symbolic palm leaves become the focus of repentance on Ash Wednesday is something powerful.

Ash Wednesday services are traditional mostly in the Roman Catholic and some Anglican churches. They are usually solemn masses or church services which include long periods of silence for private prayer and reflection, and Scripture responses in which the congregation is invited to participate. Much of the focus is on confession, communion is taken and then worshippers are invited to come forward for the imposition of the ashes. 

Ash wedensdayThe priest will dip a finger into a bowl of the palm cross ashes and then the ash is rubbed, in a cross pattern, on the forehead of the person receiving them, accompanied by these words ...  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I don't come from a Christian tradition where Ash Wednesday is marked in this way, but I'm told it's a very moving service, a time when one can really look into oneself, really reflecting on the purposes of life, and the things that need putting right in yourself. The congregation, I'm told, leave the church in almost complete silence, taking that confession and reflection into their lives outside of the building. 

And the most amazing thing is that people don't immediately rub off the ashes which have been placed on their foreheads. They bear the mark for the rest of the day. That's a witness to the world of the start of this holy period of Lent, and a reminder to us all that sometimes we need to stop, and consider what God has done for us and what we are doing for him.

So, if today you spot someone with a dark mark on their forehead ... you'll know what it's all about.

And I, for one, will take the opportunity today to start my Lent journey with reflection, confession and prayer. And even if I'm not bearing the mark of ash on my forehead, I hope I will walk through today, and indeed through the Lenten period, with that spirit in my heart, in my behaviour and in my relationships.