Today is a new moon, on October the fifteenth of 2012, a Monday. We don’t think of new moons in our modern age, although we might still observe a full moon just because we like the way it looks or we equate it with a time when people act oddly. But it used to be that a new moon once had significance.
Since the Hebrew year was marked as a lunar year, the new moons would mark the beginning of a new month, and had the spiritual significance of new beginnings, considered Holy convocations in some instance; especially the first new moon of the new year.
There are questions about just what constitute a “new moon”. In the Lunar calender that didn’t seem to be so much of an issue since it was defined as”The New Moon is the beginning or the first day of the month.” We can guess that it is the transition from the full moon to the crescent, presumably with a specific point, such as the visible crescent. However it was, the moon at the beginning of its new phase was the beginning of a new month and so the “beginning” had a certain importance.
During the New Moon observance in ancient Israel the shofar was the blown. It was holy, a Sabbath Day. Worship, singing, and sweet incense was burnt to mark the observance.
A beginning was an important event, taken seriously, entered into joyously.
Today is the change from the month Tishrei to Cheshvan and it has two days set aside:”two Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) days for the month of (when a month has 30 days, both the last day of the month and the first day of the following month serve as the following month’s Rosh Chodesh). So the two days celebrated this month are the 16th and 17th of October.
People are somewhat schizophrenic in focus during the holiday season. On the one hand they want to spread cheer, be jolly and bright, and lighten each others day; on the other hand they get stressed with the effort, become pushy and grumpy, if not outright hostile. They drive more erratically, become exhausted with their efforts and worried about their budgets…. unless…
Unless they slow down, meditate on the soul edifying meaning of the Christmas message, focus in on the good and loving messages that sprout everywhere during this season.
There are many things to rob us of joy, no doubt, but the magical thing about Christmas is the way God’s ways are given a chance. We just want to Believe. We want to believe in peace and good will towards men, we want to believe in the power of kindness and the meaningfulness of sacrifice and loving acts.
In those moments when our cynicism is held in suspension, and the doors of our mind open -just a little bit- to believe the best, hope against hope, and allow God a toehold inside the darkened rooms of our worries, striving, and daily concerns; in those moments we experience a little of something that is very rare in our world.
True peace. True altruism. Selfless sense of things greater than ourselves.
It is not magic really, but it feels like it, in the way that it springs so quickly and readily into blossom. Start spreading seeds of kind words, smiles for no reason, genuine thanks and listening with attention, and watch for the effect, on yourself if no other.
Think of something to encourage in the people you meet. That you appreciate how they do their job, that you love their laugh, that you are thinking of how much their friendship means.
Christmas gained a reputation as being a special time of year, one full of tenderness and charity. That didn’t magically happen, though it might seem so. It was the fruit of the believing acts of generations of those who made concerted efforts to be kinder, better, more considerate people during the season in honor of the Christ Child.
I started an online Advent blog sometime in 2006. Something like one of those old fashioned Advent calenders like my grandmother used to send me as a child, each day holds a devotional thought and a picture. Over the years I chose different themes and some years included childrens activities or Christmas recipes. Our family uses them for the daily Advent times ( admittedly we sometime have to “catchup”).
This week marks the beginning of the second week of Advent when we think of the gospel message of Peace.
The scripture passage of Jacob’s dream of a ladder stretching between heaven and earth follows the account of Jacob’s greatest crisis: when he had deceived his father into giving him the blessing that had rightfully belonged to his older brother.
In the midst of his struggles he must have longed for peace and reassurance. God spoke to him in this dream of the promise that had been given his forefathers, but practical Jacob saw his need of God in terms of food, clothing, and protection.
Jacob was losing his father and the only home he had known, was he now looking to God as his father?
Eventually Jacob would make peace with his brother, and would be blessed beyond the subsistence level he asked of God at this time. What was revealed to him in this dream of the stair or ladder which the angels of God were ascending and descending? Much later, to his disciple Nathanael, “Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” ”
Some Christians speak of “open heavens”, a place where God is especially accessible. Jesus makes it clear that He is the place. “I am the door”. Do you need a direct line to heaven?
Christ whom we celebrate during this Christmas season opened that direct line through himself. Like Jacob, we may find ourselves under that open heaven looking at the stairway to heaven.
DOWN drop the painted leaves;
The world lies stripped and wounded, cold and bare;
Piled are the golden sheaves;
And past is every object sweet and fair.
Now faded are the flowers
And grass on sloping hills and tranquil dales;
And songless are the bowers
Where lovers came and breathed their secret tales.
The fruits are ripe and gone;
The fields have lost their wealth and vernal cheer;
The stars throw smiles upon
The full-armed gleaners of the harvest year.
Winds come with chilling breath;
Rains fall, and brooks from woods begin to rise;
Gloom fills the realm of death;
And birds take flight for warmth of southern skies.
There’s nothing bright nor fair,
Save fields of wheat that wear their cloaks of green;
There’s nothing in the air
But chill, where rays of gold and love have been.
The seed of change was sown
Through months, by viewless hands, in field and town;
And Autumn, near his throne,
Lets fall his crowded horn and brazen crown.
The fire burns on the hearth,
Where tempting fruit and charming books abound;
Love opens springs of mirth,
Where radiant hopes and bubbling joys are found.
The skies hang cold and gray;
Among the hills the winds begin to blow;
Herds strike their homeward way,
And earth grows white and strange with flying snow.
Yesterday, we used the unusually warm and sunny November day to visit the hills of southern Ohio. The trees were largely bereft of their leaves, the stubborn oaks holding their last few browned leaves, washing down in the silent forest, like lazy snowflakes that will soon be coming.
We feasted at Bob Evans restaurant before heading home.
It was a day to savor.
We usually think of New Year’s Day as the time for new beginnings, but the year has several entries for a new beginning. Easter week is one of these, as well as the new school year, which coincides closely with the time of Yom Kippur.
Many of the symbols or icons of Eastertime elicit thoughts of new starts, like baby chicks or Easter eggs. Springtime is a natural new beginning as all of nature rises from the dormancy of winter. I seem to have posted it everywhere, but when I found an article from the Harvard Business Review on “How I Became An Optimist” it started a revolutionary beginning of the year for me. I might have had resolutions at the beginning of 2011, but to have a practical set of actions that will create new neural pathways in my brain seems even better. In sum, the article steps to more optimism follows author Tony Schwartz ritual :
“to get out of bed when I awoke, go to my desk, and write down what I was worrying about — just the facts. Next, I wrote down the story I was telling myself about those facts. Finally, I worked to conceive a more realistically optimistic story I could tell myself, based on the same incontrovertible facts.”
Of course, in thinking about Easter, it isn’t the steps we take to improve our brains or lifestyle that most impacts us. It is what Christ has done for us that makes a completely new life, and not just turning over a new leaf. Think of the newness of that! What I love about adding in ideas of creating new thought patterns is the way we have overlooked that in our Christian theology, and how it brings it back into proper perspective. We have a new birth and become new creations through the resurrection of Christ, and nothing can imitate or replace that; but we also have a need to renew our minds. What, in our lives shows us how to renew our minds? It isn’t just a one step process. So much deconstruction goes on in Christian theology that old admonitions to “read and believe the Bible” can be lost under the pile of confusion of a complex modern world.
Some of these simple procedures and scientific trivia facts almost seem tailor made to resurrect them for us.
For Schwartz, it seems to have been almost effortless and surprising,
I did this every morning, dutifully, for several months, and it usually made me feel at least a little better. I also began to notice that the negative outcome I initially imagined rarely came to pass.
Finally one morning I woke up, and as usual, a challenging issue for that day came into my mind. This time, however, before any negative story could take its usual place, a more realistically optimistic one occurred to me, effortlessly.
Something profound had occurred. In the days ahead, it was if my whole center of gravity had shifted. I felt like the sun had finally broken through the clouds and it was there to stay. What happened, I believe, is that through my ritual, I ultimately created new neural paths in my brain.
We languish for years in thought patterns that defeat us, and become convinced that we are somehow “made this way”, when there are ways we can change ourselves and our thinking with taking what seems like “baby steps”. The “just do it” simplicity of placing one foot, or in this case “one thought” in front of the other to create new pathways to follow. I believe that if I retrace some of these steps advised, I will at the very least find some strength that comes from a new way of thinking and the optimism it can build to give a kickstart to change in the year of 2011.
More New Thoughts
And what about that brand new concept in the New Covenant of “resting” in the finished work of Christ? That is spoken of at Easter, and it is an idea that is so foreign to us that it maybe the greatest revelation involved in Martin Luther’s insight of Salvation being a matter of Faith. We start out with the concept of grace which works by faith…. but how often do we devolve back towards trying to work our way into the good graces of God? What steps can we take to form new rituals of thinking about that? And to create an understanding of the paradox that we do the works of God while resting from our own.
This is food for thought while we finish the fasting of Lent and begin the feast of Easter.
Today I am giving thanks. Real heartfelt thanks (which is what I should give to God everyday) derived from the reminder of a National holiday. I have a mixed bag of circumstances, and that has seemed the rule for me, rather than the exception; but whatever our circumstances, whether we are without a job, under financial strain, struggling with family breakups, isolated and overlooked, however challenging some of those circumstances seem, one thing is constant. God is always worthy of our thanks and praise.
You Lost Me
If that statement lost you, you will never find the key to turning around your situations in life. If you believe that the momentary difficulties you face or the disappointments in your life are the only defining factor of your emotions, efforts, and mental outlook, then you have little hope of stepping into a different road. You sit in your blockaded path, or as that famous little book,”Who Moved My Cheese?” puts it:
Old cheese is old behavior.
What we really need to let go is the behavior that is the cause of a bad relationship, and move on with a better way of thinking and acting. The New Cheese is a new relationship with the same person.
Repeating the same behavior will just get you the same results.
What does that have to do with thanking God? When we get angry that God isn’t giving us the usual amount of cheese in the place we are used to getting it, we want to blame him and sit there angrily. When we really should be thankful that we get any cheese in the first place, and start using our senses ( given that we come to them) to find a new course, and new place- or new situation. Giving thanks to God for what you have now, and what you have had previously sets you up in a position to move forward, to understand that your best ally in a life worth living is the God who made you. That is hard to do if you don’t believe God is good, and that He loves you. But “counting your many blessings”, is one of the most powerful ways to get out of the funk you are in, and come to the realization that there is so much that is good; the good simply being eclipsed by your momentary barriers, disappointments, and losses.
This can be perceived as a gimmick or as a principle, but being grateful is one of the best alternatives to being stuck in life. I can’t quantify how much a mental attitude impacts the arrangement of conditions in our lives, or what we as individuals can do with those, but there is enough evidence that people often make their own reality by the choices that they make with their attitudes.
OK, What’s God Got To Do With It?
At some point, it will be apparent that it isn’t all about you. For many, that is where an effort is made to blame someone. Anyone else, but ourselves; although some of us sit blaming ourselves. The trouble being that this never gets us anywhere different. Which is the whole problem. That someone else is going to make a difference for us getting beyond our present situation. The “No man is an island” idea lights up for us. It isn’t that only others are somehow responsible, and thus to blame, but the dawn of the idea that we are synergistically combined in our ability to help or hinder one another.
Some are willing to get to this conclusion and gratefully recognize the help and influence of others. But eventually, if we pursue the stream to its source, we will find something, Someone, greater, to whom we owe thanks. And if we discover the source of our “cheese” supply, perhaps we will also discover the help we need for turning our difficult circumstance around. Perhaps we come to realize that it is more about the whole of life than the finding of the “cheese”.
Giving thanks today is more than an expected exercise. It is more than indulging ourselves in our good fortune, and more than a temporary reprieve from the negatives in our lives. Giving thanks is the pathway to opening ourselves to new understanding of the good resources of our lives, the good we have enjoyed, and the goodness that is yet to be discovered in life. It is also the entry into the courts of God, if we wish to find something more than the futile cycles of our own machinations. Giving thanks can do more than turn circumstances or our attitudes around; it can turn our whole selves around. To face what direction? The God who loves us.
See if it isn’t so, for you, too. Giving thanks is a beneficial action. It will be beneficial to the extent it is implemented. Give thanks and see your mental outlook change; give thanks for people in your life, and see your relationships change…if only in how you relate to others; give thanks for all the things that you previously took for granted, as a habit of your character, and see if it does not lead you into a place of greater spiritual insight. Just see.
So, today I am deeply thankful. My troubles haven’t changed through this, but I have, and I know that this is the best hope of something different for tomorrow.
I can see how good God has been to me, and it gives not only comfort, but hope for better things to come.
And I appreciate those who have been a part of my life, have done me good turns, who have highlighted where I need to change, and who are instrumental in whatever way to making my life an experience. I am thankful for the experience. God bless you all who are a part of that.
“Passion” is a big buzzword now, especially on the internet and in marketing. I don’t know if most people are prepared to be passionate in our culture today. I know it seems I am conflating the meaning of Christ’s Passion, but let’s look at these things for a little while.
If the word passion connotes anything in the English language it is certainly intensity. Intensity in focus and in emotion, and that relates to all uses of our concept of passion. In the sense of Easter week it follows the height of Palm Sunday’s celebration of Christ on Earth through the sorrowful depths of the Crucifixion to the triumph of the Resurrection. That probably plays on every emotion a person might have, in some way, Joy and Jealousy, Love and Betrayal, Injustice and Fear, Relief and Sorrow… to just name the most obvious.
I’m not sure our emotionally medicated, mind distracting, self-absorbed society is ready for such passion. We love the idea of being sold-out for causes, wholeheartedly given to lifestyles, immersed in our job or interest, and so we talk about passion, but rarely live it. And those who do give themselves in such a way are “too much”, too restrictive, and too narrow for those who simply love the lip service of living a passionate life.
The old idea of “the Passion”, the one kept alive in churches with traditional rituals that center on such things, is from the Latin term for “suffering”. When you are passionate about art or gardening, or music, the idea of suffering for it is divorced from the contemporary viewpoint. We want our passions pain-free. We want our religion pain-free, or at least contained in its symbolic church boxes. But the kind of love that God showed the world was one of such intense suffering for it that whether in sight of it or removed by unbelief and centuries… we turn our faces from it. It is too painful to even glimpse for more than a second’s flash of revelation.
And yet that is what Easter week calls to us, the would-be disciples of Christ, those desiring to be loved and cared for by the Great Shepherd, those who want justice in the world, and healing for their wounds. “Look at the cross”. Any of all the possible sufferings that mankind is subject to cries out for a release. And in return, Easter calls us to view the incredible cost of suffering that lifting such a weight demanded. The release is there, and cost a terrible, terrible price. We are struck at the enormity and how impossible a debt we had incurred. We have to face the pain that we inflicted.
Originally Advent was a preparatory time somewhat like Lent- it’s liturgical colors of purple and violet calling up penance, fasting, and repentance. We have exchanged that for the often forced gaiety of prolonged Christmas celebrating. No wonder we get tired! I like downplaying the secular clamor and rush for as much quiet soul-preparing contemplation as possible, which is definitely not easy, going against the flow as it is.
It impresses me how relevant the Gospel of Christ is despite our best efforts to distort it. I think that the difficulty of depression and disappointment many have at Christmastime is due to the distortions of unmet expectations. This whole frantic jolliness is not in line with the Gospel or the Christmas story as it is recorded in the Bible, and it is very out of sync with how people really live.
It is not practical to expect that we will somehow go back to a penitent period of preparation for Christmas, and for many of us who have had a ‘born-again’ experience, we won’t look at Christmas as a time when we visit the “Christ Child” in some sort of time warp, but we will, and can approach Christmas with a little more solemnity and awe than the ubiquitous Santa’s and screaming ‘buy it all’ mentality would have it. Continue reading Advent and Penance