Category Archives: Holy Days

Ash Wednesday, first day of Lent — February 14, 2024

Bible connection

Read Isaiah 58

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?

All about Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the deep season of Lent. If you attend an  observance, you will probably be given an opportunity to take the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes collected by burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms.

The symbol is meant to remind us of our need for repentance, the need to turn and go in a new direction. We make the ashes out of the palms we used last Palm Sunday — the palms that symbolized our hope in Jesus being a triumphant king. As ashes, they remind us that we often get things wrong and we often need to turn around, to repent and concentrate our attention on how to depend on God in our lives more actively.

Like the people in Jerusalem who greeted Jesus during his final entry into the city, we all want Jesus to be a visible, easy-to-know-and-follow king who is always the winner, always leading a joyous parade. But as we all know, that parade from last Palm Sundayas is true with every Palm Sunday parade, leads not to our easy discipleship, but instead to the cross, where something far deeper than our desire to win is won for us.

We can’t live lives marked by Jesus and stay on the surface of things, following rules, trying to appear right and be good. Jesus told the Pharisees those aspirations were just not a viable option. He said such an ambition would be a delusion because our hearts are the problem. We need something new to happen at the depths of us. Jesus is calling for a new way of being altogether. We must go to the heart of things and to the heart of ourselves, turn away from our ideas of what’s best and turn to the Living God. That pursuit makes Lent one of the wonders of the year.


A word from Rod for those who feel too bad to be involved in Lent: [link]

Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot

Some Catholic teaching on Lent for beginners.

Renovare books for Lent.

A minute and a half from the Anglicans on Ash Wednesday.

A Lutheran pastor tries to make sense of it for the kids:

What do we do with this?

If you are not eager to attend an observance, make yourself do it. If you can’t go at night, go in the morning to one of the Catholic or Episcopal rites. Lent is a season for getting your body to go the direction of your faith. Wear the cross.

If you have not prepared for Lent to begin, now would be a good time to do it. Maybe you should get on Amazon (or go wherever) and buy a cross to wear all season — or make one! (The kids might love to do that). You can try on all the traditional disciplines of Lent (especially the fast). But if you sit with Jesus for a few minutes it might become obvious what this year’s observance should be about for you — go with your inspiration.

13 things you can do to stay of the Lent pilgrimage

  1. Take the weekly readings from Sunday wprship and chew on them all week in the daily time you set apart to be with God. You could use 2POAPT.
  2. Check your church’s calendar and make a commitment for which meetings you will attend, then go to the meetings. This is a bigger deal than we think, usually. Going to a meeting gets our body in line with our convictions.
  3. Try a new spiritual practice. Go on a personal retreat. Try 20 minutes of contemplation every day. Study a book. Saturate yourself in a book of the Bible each week, reading it as many times as you can.
  4. Ponder how you use money. Maybe pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a charity that makes your heart warm.
  5. Take something on: A weekly letter to someone. A daily random act of kindness. Sunday phone calls to important or needy people in your life. Hold that dinner party you thought about.
  6. When you first sit down in front of your computer, or at the very end of your workday, try a 10-minute guided prayer from Sacred Space daily prayer.
  7. Buy a new cross of icon to use for Lent and give to someone on Easter.
  8. Instead of turning on a streaming service for your next binge-watching session, read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.
  9. Unplug from your phone or turn off your car radio on your commute. Let the silence jar you until you are acclimated to being yourself with God in solitude.
  10. Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed or prayer chair. Try a book by Edward Hays.
  11. Think about a habit that has kept you from being who God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
  12. Tap into your creative side somehow. You could try coloring as a way to pray. Write that song or story or poem.
  13. Read the works of mercy Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-46. Put His teaching into practice by choosing and act or two of service you can offer during Lent.

Mardi Gras — February 13, 2024

Bible Connection

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth — 1 Corinthians 5:8 

All about Mardi Gras

Like Gideon’s trumpet (Judges 6:33-40), the season of Lent calls all the tribes together to resist the enemies of God. Though we seem weak, we are strong because God is with us. The most unlikely weaklings will dance in the street in the face of the powers attempting to dominate them. Mardi Gras is appropriately uproarious, if you see it right. In some sense, to be a Jesus-follower is to be a fool, to use your clowning to unmask the powers-that-be who pretend they are very serious entities when, in fact, they are just a breath and have a master.

Lent has rarely been see the way we just mentioned. The Eve of Lent became a time to hold off the inevitable, even to mock and diminish the authority of the spiritual season “imposed” on everyone which begins on Ash Wednesday. In Europe, the church of the Middle Ages had a lot of power to impose the rigors of an enforced fast during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Before the fast began, people partied and did things they shouldn’t do in order to get those things out of their system before they committed (or were forced to commit) to doing the things they should do.

Lupercalia — Andrea Camasei (1635)

Most historians believe Mardi Gras was brought to the Americas by the French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1699, but the origins of Mardi Gras go back much farther. According to, Mardi Gras resembles February celebrations from ancient times:

“According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman [festival of] Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.”

German Fasnacht costume. Calling Richard Twiss!

Many Protestants give the “side eye” to such cultural accretions to their holy days (Santa and the Easter Bunny, included). Perhaps the enculturation of Christianity was a mainly crafty political move when Christians took over government authority. But maybe that was not all. Maybe Jesus followers trusted Jesus to redeem and use the pre-Christian celebrations. You’ll have to decide. In Philly, Mardi Gras is often for getting drunk, whether people are giving up alcohol for Lent, or not. You’ll have to decide.

One of the things many people did (and still do) on Mardi Gras was eat all the foods they wouldn’t be seeing for a while during their Lenten fast. “Carnivale” means “putting away meat.” In Pennsylvania Dutch territory a “fastnacht” came to be the name of a donut instead of the title of the day (as in Fast Night or Lent Eve). The holiday came to mean “the day we use up all the lard.”

Unfortunately, “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras in French) came to be a day to store up as much of the past as possible, so one could endure the season of moving into what is next. Instead of being shriven on Shrove Tuesday, many people are just like Peter, trying to keep Jesus (and themselves) from going to Jerusalem.


The news gave a priest 5 minutes to explain Mardi Gras and the whole season:

What do we do with this?

If Christians don’t lead in the joy, are they hiding their light under a bushel? Do we really believe loving and sharing space with people will contaminate our holiness? That’s not too incarnational. What does it say about Jesus if we withdraw?

Jesus’ journey to the cross is the ultimate pilgrimage into what is next. Let’s respond to the trumpet and move with him. Let’s keep in mind his concerns, so we don’t get stuck in what is merely human. There’s nothing wrong with being human, of course, unless we don’t have in mind the things of God. If people think you are a fool, that might be a good thing.

Getting drunk, like many in the Philadelphia region will be doing, is a short-cut to being a fool and rightly considered foolish. It is not the kind of foolishness we’re talking about.

Martin Luther King National Holiday — January 15, 2024

A national holiday rarely intersects with the Christian calendar. But Martin Luther King is so precious to us that we are including his national “birthday” as part of our observances.

Image result for mlk day

Bible connection

Read Deuteronomy 15:1-15

However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.

All about the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed into law the legislation that made a day honoring Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday. Reagan did not support the legislation. He opposed the King holiday because he thought King did not deserve to be so honored. Plenty of people at the time shared that opinion, and plenty of people still do.

There is, after all, exactly one other American so honored, and that person is George Washington—not Lincoln, not Jefferson. (The third Monday in February, the day we call “Presidents Day,” is officially, as it has always been, in honor of Washington). Giving Martin Luther King Jr., a man who never held public office, an honor that had been reserved exclusively for the father of the country, was a  very loud statement, one that a very conservative president preferred not to make.

Reagan objected because he believed that another federal holiday would just create more government bloat. The King holiday would become the tenth national holiday that came with a paid day off for all federal workers, the cost of which the Congressional Budget Office estimated at $18 million per holiday in 1983 dollars. To those who objected to the cost of the new holiday, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, whose conservative bona fides were no less than Reagan’s, said: “I suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, followed by a century or more of economic, political and social exclusion and discrimination.”

Reagan Shaking Hands with Coretta Scott King after Signing Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Bill | Robert and Elizabeth Dole Archive and Special Collections

Luckily for the president, the legislation was passed with veto-proof majorities, making his threatened veto a non-issue. So on Nov. 2, 1983, in a Rose Garden ceremony, Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law with Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, by his side. This is often listed among his accomplishments.

Reagan’s point was not without logic. The original impetus for the holiday came from labor unions with large African-American memberships that sought a paid day off on MLK’s birthday in contract negotiations. And though legislation creating the holiday was a landmark in American racial relations, all the creation of a federal holiday practically does is give a paid day off to federal government workers. It does not give the day a spirit or a meaning.

Many of the people who had worked diligently for years collecting signatures and petitioning legislators to create the King holiday must have experienced a “What now?” moment when they achieved their goal. They had insisted on having an “official” holiday. They were not interested in Reagan’s counter-suggestion that the King birthday be observed like Lincoln’s, which is to say, without closing government offices. But if the King holiday were to keep true to the spirit of the man whose life inspired it, then it had to become more than just another three-day weekend.


In 1994, Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Congressman John Lewis of Georgia authored the King Holiday and Service Act, with the intention of transforming the King holiday from a vacation day into a day of civic participation and volunteerism; from what had been a “day off” to a “day on.” President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law on Aug. 23, 1994.

The Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has often been cited as the nation’s largest King Day event: (website). There is no doubt Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King left his mark on Philadelphia. His journeys to this city are noted and marked and his wife Coretta authorized the only chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence in Philadelphia.


PBS Studios: [link]

Here is a recent article that gives some perspective on King’s reputation [link]

What do we do with this?

Pray through the Deuteronomy passage, whether you are “rich” or “poor.” What is God saying to you?

Get involved in one of the many service projects being planned!

Epiphany — January 6

Bible connection

Read Matthew 2:1-12Matthew 3:11-4:4 .

“The Journey of the Magi” (1894) by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him….

epiphany at the baptism

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

All about this day

Epiphany is a Greek word that means “manifestation,” a “revelation.”  The holiday celebrates two manifestations of God:

  1. The magi rejoice when they see the star and worship Jesus to whom the star leads. They present gifts to God, who is revealed, born in the baby. God is with us in our bodies. 
  2. When Jesus is baptized and John the Baptist reports hearing the voice of God naming Jesus as his own Son. Jesus is public revealed as God with us. God is with us in our sin.

In the history of the church, the holy day called Epiphany went two routes. As the church became  separated during the turbulent time after the fall of the western Roman Empire in the late 400’s, the churches in the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean developed separate identities. You can trace them through the Eastern “Orthodox” churches and the Roman “Catholic” church. In the Roman Catholic Church, Epiphany is usually celebrated on the Sunday between January 2-8. If you want to follow the traditional twelve days of Christmas, you celebrate it on January 6. The orthodox Churches have the same idea but on different days.

The different days came about like this. In the late 1500s Pope Gregory declared a new calendar to correct the inaccuracies in the old Julian calendar (which dated to Julius Caesar in 45BC). The Gregorian calendar added 12 days to the year and reset the functional spring equinox to March 21 so Easter could be properly observed. Most civil authorities eventually adopted the calendar, although it took 300 years for Greece to conform.

Some Orthodox Churches still date events according to a revised Julian calendar. It is part of their identity. So many, but not all, Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near what is January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. As of 2012, there is a difference of 13 days between the modern Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar. Those who continue to use the Julian calendar or the equivalents mark December 25 and January 6 on what, for the majority of the world, is January 7 and January 19. For this reason, many people in Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Moldova celebrate Christmas on what is, in the Gregorian calendar, January 7.

All this goes to show that being revealed is not that easy for God! Being born among humankind is subject to our politics and science. We might consider the date to celebrate  Epiphany to be more important than the reason for the celebration! We might divide up the church over an obvious change that needs to be made in the calendar just because we do not respect the person who suggested the change. It might take us a long time to get to the place we should have started: worshiping at the manger and hearing the voice of God at the baptism.


An article with a lot more:

Young man tells us to look for the “hidden” Jesus on Epiphany. [link]

A priest describes the manifestations, or “epiphanies” of the Lord we celebrate during the Epiphany season

Taylor Swift’s pandemic nurses/Guadalcanal soldiers song could easily have Jesus getting born and baptized into our mess. She often has wisps of faith in her music. “Soon You’ll Get Better” from the Lover album voices her feelings about her mother’s health crisis: “Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus too.” What do you think? 

What do we do with this?

Appreciate the epiphanies experienced by the wise men and John the Baptist. They happened a long time ago, but that history is yours, too. It happened to the whole human race when it happened the first time! We are invited into what God did in Jesus when we remember and allow ourselves to be part of the story.

Appreciate your own personal epiphanies. God has become known to you in many ways, large and small. The Spirit of God is revealed in creation, in the stories about how others know and serve her, in teaching and practical applications of the Bible, in the people of the church, and in our personal experiences with God spirit to Spirit. Maybe you could write an account of how you had an “Aha!” moment, how you came and worshiped or how you heard the voice of God.

Twelfth Night — January 5

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst (ca. 1622)

Bible connection

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5: 14-16 (TEV)

All about Twelfth Night

The twelve days of Christmas traditionally end with the celebration of the eve of Epiphany on Twelfth Night, January 5th. The church generally begins its feasts on the eve of the day (like Christmas Eve or Hallowe’en). Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus as the Savior of the whole world as first shown by the coming of the magi. Twelfth Night is the time to remove the festive decorations, leaving just the lights on the tree for one final evening to emphasize the Epiphany theme of Jesus as the Light of the World.

Sing this song with your family or roomies as you take down the decorations!

In England in the Middle Ages, Christmastide was a season of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was forever solidified in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his most famous stage plays.

On this last day of Christmastide, we finally get to the last verse of our song! On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Twelve drummers drumming.

According to the thought that this song has a secret meaning for Catholics to use in catechizing children and converts, the “twelve drummers” stand for the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed, which is a short summary of the points of faith a person should affirm before they are baptized.:

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].
  5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. the holy catholic (universal) Church,
  9. the communion of saints
  10. the forgiveness of sins
  11. the resurrection of the body
  12. and life everlasting.

Kazimierz Sichulski, “The Homage of the Three Kings,” 1913
Kazimierz Sichulski, “The Homage of the Three Kings,” 1913

What do we do with this?

Pray: Fill me and my home with light. Make me and our church the light of the world this year.

Some people eat their Epiphany cake as part of the Twelfth Night celebration. Baked into the  cake are three hidden coins, nuts, or beans. Sometimes they give crowns to those who find the objects hidden in the cake, making them “kings” or “queens” for the evening. They can “rule” over the party. I’d ask them to grant crowns to everyone as one of their first acts. If you follow the Austrian custom of burning incense (an ancient symbol for prayer) to “welcome the three kings,” the “king” can lead a procession throughout the house as you ask God to bless your life this year in the various rooms. Take the procession outside, if you like, and bless the whole neighborhood!

We don’t need to perfectly know how to pray. But we do need to trust the Spirit to pray in ways that are deeper than we understand. We can surrender to the connection God is making with us and others as the light of Jesus floods the world with hope and goodness. The Quakers have specialized in that kind of silent, trusting prayer.  Like they often do, meditate through your acquaintances and spend a good amount of time lifting individuals and whole groups “into the light.” 

10th Day of Christmas — January 3

IHS monogram, with kneeling angels, atop the main altar, Church of the Gesù, Rome.

Bible connection

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  — Philippians 2:9-11

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. — Romans 10:13

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. — John 14:14

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. — Acts 2:38

Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.  — Acts 16:8

‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. — Colossians 3:17

All about the name of Jesus

On the 10th day of Christmas, many Christians venerate the holy name of Jesus. Most denominations let this observance occur on one holy day a year, but in the early 1500’s some people devoted every day to the holy name and even built church buildings to emphasize it (as in the picture above). Devotion to and veneration of the IHS monogram, derived from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (and sometimes also interpreted as Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus savior of humankind) dates back to the early days of Christianity, where it was placed on altars and religious vestments, ornaments and other objects.

Here is an evangelical example of  praising the name of Jesus 

The literal name “Jesus” is not inherently powerful; it is powerful because of Jesus Christ, the person, God incarnate, who made a way for our salvation.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray in his name:

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (in John 14:13-14).

Some misapply this verse, thinking that saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer results in God always granting what is asked for. This is essentially treating the words “in Jesus’ name” as a magic formula. If you have tried it, you know that is not so. We come to God in the name of Jesus like anyone approaches a person who might not be open to them if they did not have the proper connections: “Open up in the name of the law!” or “Joe sent me” or “Here are my references” are examples. Praying in the name of Jesus shows respect and acknowledges that we come into the presence of God by the work of Jesus. Coming in our own name or in the name of something else could be dangerous to our spiritual health!

Leaping Lords advertising a charity concert in England.

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Ten lords a-leaping

We have also been following the popular Christmas carol through Christmastide. Again, the history of the carol is somewhat murky. The earliest known version first appeared in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth With-out Mischief. (A first edition of that book sold for $23,750 at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014).

Some historians think the song could be French in origin, but most agree it was designed as a “memory and forfeits” game, in which singers tested their recall of the lyrics and had to award their opponents a “forfeit” — a kiss or a favor of some kind, if they made a mistake. Many variations of the lyrics have existed at different points. Some mention “bears a-baiting” or “ships a-sailing;” some name the singer’s mother as the gift giver instead of their true love.

The idea of the song having secret meanings to help suppressed Catholic children understand the catechism has been well debunked [Snopes got involved]. But we’ve been playing with that, anyway. The ten lords a-leaping could stand for the Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. Do not make an idol
  3. Do not take God’s name in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. Do not murder
  7. Do not commit adultery
  8. Do not steal
  9. Do not bear false witness
  10. Do not covet (Exodus 20:1-17)

Why shouldn’t you know the Ten Commandments, anyway?

What do we do with this?

Pray in the name of Jesus: I bow my knee before the name above all names. I repent of my past in your name, Jesus. I call upon your name for my future. Whatever I do, I seek to be worthy of your name.

If you have never memorized the ten commandments, here is your chance.

We are not an “honor” society, and we prize coming in our own name, according to the rights we have as free people whose ancestors have died to give us our freedom. That’s part of the American myth. So the subservient humility of today’s readings may be a bit lost on us. We may not receive the honor of coming in Jesus’ name and we may not give it by assuming we can come in any other name, as we choose. Consider what you do when you pray, especially.

9th Day of Christmas / The Cappadocians — January 2

Related image
The Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianus and Basil of Caeserea.

Bible connection

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. — Galatians 5:22-26

All about the Cappadocians

On this day of Christmas many people traditionally celebrate the main members of the radical group known as “the Cappadocians:” Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-379). They both died in January and, as in life, they gravitated together and are remembered together on this day. May we be radical Jesus followers and loving friends like they were! Like in our time, their era was full of partisan controversy and fragile political and church relationships. They not only stuck together, they brought other people together.

Basil and his older sister, Macrina, received the best education of the day. Basil was ambitious and decided to become a teacher of rhetoric which would have provided the highest available salary at the time. His sister convinced him that his ambitions would just be replaced by further ambitions. He listened to her, was baptized, simplified his life and worked in the local church. He stayed close to his sister, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, his cousin, Amphilochius, and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (they are known as the Cappadocians).  Within a decade he was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. As bishop, he fought against the Arian heresy and wrote many influential works on the Trinity and the Incarnation, as well as a rule of life for monks that is still used today.

Gregory of Nazianzus, while traveling as a youth, met Basil while studying in Athens. While Basil was determined and impulsive, as well as brilliant and a bit intimidating, Gregory was sensitive, patient, more introverted, and sometimes indecisive. Basil was drawn to public speaking, Gregory to poetry and speculation. But they teamed up for a brilliant teaching series on the Trinity that sealed their public reputations and their friendship.  At one point Basil deceptively pressured Gregory to become a bishop, which he did not want to do. This strained their friendship, but they rebuilt it.

In one of his sermons, Gregory said this about the beginning of their relationship: “When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper… The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning.” When Basil died, this was Gregory’s epitaph: “A body might as well live without a soul, as me without you, Basil, beloved servant of Christ.”


Here is a nice summation of who these good people were and why they are important [link]

Morwenna Ludlow deftly sums up the Cappadocians and the theological issues of their times (that impact ours, still) in ten minutes. (If you want the rest of Timeline, you pay):

You might be interested in the geography of Cappadocia and the famous people from the 400’s [link]

View of the circle backed by a line of tall trees, bracken in the foreground
The “Nine Ladies” on Stanton Moor

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Nine ladies dancing.

The catechists who were supposedly using “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song to teach persecuted Catholics said these nine ladies represented the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: love,  joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22). These go along with the ambition of Basil’s and Gregory’s life and relationship, don’t they?

What do we do with this?

Memorize the fruit of the Spirit until you can sit back with your eyes closed and meditate on each of them.  Which of them calls to you? What would you do in 2024 to gain and live out one of them more fully? Tell one of your spiritual friends about your ambition. Gregory would have written such a person a vulnerable letter.

Both Basil and Gregory got their truest ambition fueled by solitude and study.  Hopefully you have a Macrina in your life to tell you to ramp back your anxious grasping so you can listen for your truest calling. Is there any way to get more time with God into your schedule?

It is a dancing day. Have you ever heard this old carol: Tomorrow  Shall Be My Dancing Day? It is not only interesting, it is a good one to help you twirl around the room a bit with the spirit of nine ladies dancing in the Spirit.  Shake out some coldness of body and heart.

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

It goes on…

8th Day of Christmas — January 1

Illustration in the Menologion of Basil II (c. 980)

Bible connection

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. —  Luke 2:21

In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. – Colossians 2:11-15

All about the circumcision

New Year’s Day is also, among other things, the traditional Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. As today’s reading notes, on the eighth day after his birth, Joseph and Mary  had Jesus circumcised in line with the command given to Abraham to do this as a sign of the covenant God made with him and his descendants. On this occasion Jesus was given the name the angel Gabriel had given Mary: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” The circumcision of Jesus was first time Jesus shared humanity’s suffering as he was made part of the people of Israel, subject to the Law of Moses.

But as the second of today’s readings shows, the “eighth day” has a larger meaning that includes all of us in a new “circumcision.” The resurrection of Jesus was the first day of the renewal of creation!—”He is risen” echoes the Creator’s voice over the void: “Let there be light.” Jesus rose on the first day of the week which became the first day of the new creation. This first day coincides with the day of the week he was circumcised, the eighth day.

Paul makes meaning out of how these days go together. Like Jesus lost some foreskin to be made a member of the Old Covenant, all of us who are raised with Jesus lose the record of our sin, kept by the law. What’s more, we lose the domination of the rule of evil, kept at bay by the Lord’s triumph. We live in a New Covenant. From the blade to his foreskin to the blade in his side, the blood of Jesus we drink makes us one with him as he became one with us.  We lose our death and are remade alive in Christ. This is the main reason we keep the first day special each week. It is the first day when Christ rose, but it is also the eighth day when we, and creation, were born again and named the children of God.

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me…Eight maids a-milking.

The wonder of being new with Jesus is especially good news for the poor, who always get the worst treatment by the law and the rulers. It is the poor who enter the children’s song we have been exploring on this day:  “Eight maids” is an odd present and watching them milk would make an odd parade float. It implies a herd which requires a lot of servants; so that is quite a gift to poor farmers!!

In the “secret” meaning of the song, the catechists were supposedly teaching children to remember the eight “beatitudes” (Matthew 5:3-10):  Blessed are 1) the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

At the time this ditty was written, there was no job much lower than working in the barn. A female servant used as a milker meant she did not have much value to her master.  But as today’s reading shows, she has a master who values her with his very life! Jesus disarms the authorities, and the poor are especially blessed. Today they lead the Christmas parade.

What do we do with this?

Pray: Jesus the poor and Jesus the risen, lead me into the fullness of the eighth day.

We love the idea of memorizing the beatitudes. Have you ever done that?

The first day/eighth day symbolism is rich. In an era when capitalism runs 24/7 and doesn’t really care what day it is, we lose the rhythm of the earth and our own bodies. We don’t keep the weekly marker of the Sabbath and often lose the value of holy days and seasons. Today might be a good day (or at least sometime this week) to mark the calendar with the times you don’t want to miss this year. This could include the birthdays of your friends and family, but it would certainly include the birthday of Jesus and the new creation! How about organizing the coming year around your life in Christ as a member of the body rather than trying to fit that meaning into your “time off?”

Be poor: a helpless baby being cut according to an arbitrary principle, a milkmaid stuck in the barn, a human accosted by the rulers of the air and the age. Those are the kind of people who get saved. Be risen. Be saved.

7th Day of Christmas / Sylvester — December 31

“Gift of God Bar” by Jean Lacy

Bible connection

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right. – Romans 5:15-19 (The Message paraphrase)

St. Sylvester I, Pope - Information on the Saint of the Day - Vatican News
Pope Sylvester I

All about Sylvester (285-335)

There is probably not a more “pagan” holiday than New Year’s Eve (not that some Christians don’t try to redeem it). If you are likely to go off some deep end, it might be wise to avoid tonight. If you feel strong enough to have some fun with the national celebration of making it through 2023, enjoy!

As a day in the church year, the 7th day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Sylvester, who was Emperor Constantine’s buddy and the pope who presided over the church becoming legitimate in the Roman Empire, along with managing some major building projects! [Irish video] The church calendar does not have a slot for New Year’s Eve or Day — that would more likely be Easter, if you need one, since there’s a beginning to celebrate! The traditional church calendar begins with Advent.

In Europe, some places call New Year’s Eve “Silvester.” In several languages New Year’s Eve is known as “St. Sylvester Night” (“Notte di San Silvestro” in Italian, “Silvesternacht” in German, “Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre” in French).

Sylvester was leading the church when the Arian heresy came to a head [link to video about Arianism]. During Sylvester’s time, the church held big meetings of its leaders to clarify their theology in relation to Greek/Roman philosophy about how Jesus could be God and not just another created being.

Many people are content to leave the “how?” of the Trinity mostly to mystery and deal with the “fact” of relating to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul is looking through the Jesus lens, not the metaphysical lens, when he says in today’s reading,

“If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”

That is experience-based arguing.


Francsican Media bio

Jean Lacy died in March of 2023. [art above]

Seven Swans A'Swimming | Why I didn't think of this original… | Flickr

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… seven swans a-swimming. 

The undeserved gift of grace from love that transcends understanding is what Christmas is all about. So, it is appropriate the “secret” meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas has SEVEN swans given on this day.

In terms of extravagant gifts, seven swans would definitely be what rich people have gliding regally in their private lakes. When the carol was written, most people considered swans to be the most graceful and beautiful fowl of all. Supposedly, the English Catholic catechists (who were forbidden to teach publicly) said the seven swans represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. Others take elements of Bible spiritual gifts lists to make the main seven gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy). Regardless of your list, the idea is to enjoy these gifts of grace moving in your life, as valued, serene and confident as a swan on God’s lake.

What do we do with this?

Pray: God gifting yourself in Jesus, I receive you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Arians who believe Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God. They specifically argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.  Our era tends to solve the problems of heresies and pluralism, in general, by ignoring people or saying everything is fine as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. But our view of God matters. Your view may not be too metaphysical, but what is it? How do you see God, when you are just reacting, not thinking real hard? May weI suggest a Jesus lens, regardless? [About the Arian crisis]

Answer this question from the reading today: “Can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” Journal what you are imagining. If you grasp the gift with both hands, what will that mean in 2024? 

6th Day of Christmas — December 30

Image result for the holy family
“The Holy Family” (2007) by Janet McKenzie

Bible connection

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. – Luke 2:15-16

All about the Holy Family

Today’s reading provides the picture of the iconic family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Almost everyone, Christian or not, has seen a  painting or a card depicting this group. In Roman Catholic culture, today is the Feast of the Holy Family, designed to focus everyone on the spirituality of the home.

In Eurocentric Christianity, this veneration for the Holy Family as a group, did not arise until the 1600’s and was not officially recognized until the feast day was formally instituted in 1921. That was also about the time the phrase “nuclear family” was coined to define the basic, normal family grouping in a capitalist society. The feast was originally celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany but was moved to the Sunday after Christmas in 1969, to bring it within the Christmas season, the most family-oriented season of the year.

Both the Catholics and Protestants have been obsessed with the health of the family as  capitalism has done all it could to fracture it in the name of enriching it. The Church’s focus has often left unmarried people, people from broken or foster homes,  and people who don’t fit into hetero-normative relationships feeling like second-class members of the Church, all the while Jesus never marryied and Paul suggested it might be better if one did not.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to have a very “fertile” day in the midst of the Christmas celebration. It is, after all, a celebration of miraculous conception and the birth of the Son of God! The incarnation overturns the propensity of spiritual people to long to be without a body by affirming the goodness of the body as a fitting place for God to dwell and affirming the miraculous experience of sexual ecstasy, conception and birth. The incarnation is all about reclaiming and restoring the good, reproducing creation.


An intereview with Janet McKenzie, the artist of the painting above. [link]

Six Geese Laying in the Roadway | I got this shot as I was l… | Flickr
Six geese laying on the road

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… six geese a-laying.The song we have been including in our Christmastide prayer makes a lot of sense on this day, wouldn’t you say?

In the “secret” meaning of the song the six geese and their eggs represent the six days in which the Lord made the world. So it is an apt verse for today because 1) The language used to describe the beginning of creation  in Genesis 1 is related to a bird brooding over her eggs. 2) It is good to put our celebration of procreation in a song, since Job 38 asks where we-who-question-God’s-goodness were “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly children of God shouted for joy?” These angelic “morning stars” appeared in the heavens again to shepherds when Jesus was born and again sang for joy over the new creation.  Advent was all about “brooding” and Christmastide is all about the joy of birth.

What do we do with this?

Pray: Open the eyes of my heart so I can see what you have done and sing for joy over the new creation.

Christians often look askance at people who can’t love their families. So let’s assume you have already considered how that area of your life is going — how you relate to mom and dad, how you are a mom or dad, and whether you live as a beloved child of God. If not, pause here.

Let’s spend some time singing with the morning stars. Recall one of the Christmas songs that have now stopped playing wherever religious songs are still played. Let it play over and over in your mind or in your ears, until you stop resisting it and go with its joy. “Joy to the World” is a good choice. Let it impregnate you with some goodness. Here are suggestions for new carols to move with which might not be in your repertoire: The Huron CarolTu scendi dalle stellaDaystar Carol.