Thursday, May 03, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Special Days

I've recently started blogging with a group writing about spiritual themes on the first Thursday of each month.This month our host Violet has invited us to reflect on special days.

I grew up with a bit of a weird combination of low-church evangelicalism and high-church Anglicanism. Throw three different countries into the mix (each with its own holidays), plus more after I grew up, and you'll understand that my experiences of special days in spirituality is a bit of a mixed bag. A few years ago, I posted this piece about how Haitian Mother's Day was treated as a bigger deal in the "aggressively Protestant" church we were then attending than just about any other day of the year, with the possible exceptions of Christmas and Easter. It still makes me smile to remember all the men in the congregation obediently kissing each woman in the room on both cheeks during the service at the leader's request.

I have grown to appreciate the church year much more, as a way of reviewing the whole story of Christ's life each year, rather than just as a wonderful source of days off from school. We start at the beginning of December with Advent, preparing again for Jesus' birth. The other day we had the word "advent" as a vocabulary word in class, both with a lower case a and an upper case one, and one of my students, who is the son of a pastor, told me that he was pretty sure that Advent wasn't a Christian concept, as the vocabulary book claimed, because he had never heard of it before. I found it hard to imagine that he had grown up in the Christian church and attended a Christian school for most of his life, and never heard of Advent. Wreaths? Candles? Advent calendars? I probed, but none of these things rang a bell. To me, though, Advent is especially important because of the terribly busy time surrounding it. I love taking the time to reflect and prepare.

Then it's Christmas, then Epiphany (celebrating the Wise Men visiting the baby Jesus), then Lent, culminating in Holy Week and then Easter.  Next comes Pentecost, or the birthday of the church, and then "The Season after Pentecost" (as my Book of Common Prayer calls it) or "Ordinary Time," as I understand it's often referred to in the Catholic church. That lasts until Advent starts again.  In between there are, of course, special church holidays here and there.  Living in a largely Catholic country, I even get days off for some of them, like Ascension Day, this month.

But then there are the special days that have nothing to do with the church. I have a natural tendency to value anniversaries, made more intense (worse?) by the "On This Day" feature on Facebook, which reminds me of some I would have otherwise forgotten. As the years go by, each day has more and more memories attached to it, both positive and negative. There are days which are important to many, like January 12th, when goudou-goudou struck Haiti.  (Here's a poem I wrote about that one on the 22-month anniversary.) There are days which matter only to our family, like family birthdays. Then there are more private ones, like the day my husband first kissed me.  (He and I talk about that day every year.) Some I hardly even mention to anyone else; I just honor them in my heart. There's the beginning of an important friendship; the day I had a memorable conversation; the day a job was lost; the day a tiny baby was lost: a child known to nobody, a child who had never yet seen the light. That last one is on a day that is special for another reason, a happy one, so I let the happy reason be the important one, and just keep the sorrow to myself.

I said these days had nothing to do with the church, and of course that's true, in the conventional sense. Nobody's going to have a service. But those days matter in my spiritual growth, too. Those are milestones in my life which I look back on, times when God was present with me through joy and sadness. They may be Ordinary Time to everyone else, but to me those days matter, even if commemorated only with a fuzzy photo of my verse-a-day calendar, or a quiet conversation, or a few tears in my shower in the morning.
"My times are in your hands," says Psalm 31, and so I have to believe those days matter to God, too.  On some of them He felt very close, and on others very far away, but He was always there.  And M.S. Merwin reminds me that there's another day coming, an anniversary that passes each year without my knowing it: the anniversary of my death.

For the Anniversary of my Death
by M.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Here's the rest of the poem.

That day, when it comes, will be remembered by a few people, for a while, and then forgotten. As people continue to celebrate the special days of the church year, my personal special days will fade, and people of the future will have other reasons to celebrate and other reasons to be sad.

And in the meantime, "my times are in your hands," the Psalmist prayed, and I pray.  Each day is another chance to grow, to learn, to serve, to worship.  Each day is a special day.

Head over to Violet's place to see other people's reflections on this topic.


Violet N. said...

Thank you, Ruth! What a rich and thoughtful post. We in our church tradition don't acknowledge many days on the church calendar, as do, say, the Anglicans. However, I really appreciate that cycling around and for years on my devotional blog, tried to acknowledge each of those "holy" days with a link to the liturgy for and the opening prayer.

Your mention of the day of one's death caught me quite by surprise. Now there's something to give one pause!

(This little essay is so good, I hope it gets published to a wider audience.)

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, I agree with Violet about the merit of your amazing blog post. Growing up as a faithful Catholic, I followed your liturgical calendar with head nodding and then moved on to celebrate your personal special days. There is sorrow felt on some and joy on others as life is fragile and uncertain. Thank you for sharing your poem on 22 months and the last poem on death. I never thought of death as a special day but now I reflect on how the anniversary of my mother's death is one that I recognize each year.

Irene Latham said...

Ruth, there's much to savor here! Thank you. I love: "Some I hardly even mention to anyone else; I just honor them in my heart. " Mindfulness can be a ritual for sure. xo

Alice Nine said...

You have given me much to ponder. I like how you sorted special days into categories based on their connections. One line really stood out to me: "I just honor them in my heart." There are so many things that fit into that category. As I read, I also recalled the memorial stones beside the Jordan River... and why God had them set them up. Joshua 4:21-24. Special days are days to remember, to visit the "memorial stones."

Donna Smith said...

Advent really isn't a "thing" with many Christians, so I can see where the student would be clueless. This was such a full post here, and I loved reading it.