Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time Memorials (part 1)

"Like the proud mother who is thrilled to receive a wilted bouquet of dandelions from her child, so God celebrates our feeble expressions of gratitude." ~ Richard Foster~

My question is: Do we make the effort to celebrate our gratitude to God at all? Is it part of our spiritual disciplines?

Time was when Christians understood that we need special seasons of gratitute to help us to mark and remember the mighty works God has done for us. Not only was it part of a personal spiritual discipline, but it was part of a communal discipline of gratitude and cultural dominion.

The Church calendar is an amazing combination of marking God's wonderful works in the seasons when they probably happened, and of replacing pagan holy days with the memorials of the True God's interventions in time and space. The Christian holy days give those pagan time marks the meanings they ought to bear.

Two of the most famous replacements are just around the corner: Halloween and Christmas.

For many pagan European cultures, October 31 or thereabouts represented a time when the realms of the living and the dead were open to each other, because it is the night when the day and the night are of equal length, but the night is lengthening. It has often been a night of real fear - and not merely a fear of roaming mischievous teenagers. Even today, Wicca adherents are warned not to despair on this night when they think of loved ones who have died.

The Christian Church replaced this Day of the Dead with All Saints' Day. On this day, Christians remember and honor the heroes of the Faith - the ones who bore many sorrows, who inspire and encourage us in our own sorrows, who resisted evil at their own peril, who were faithful unto death. There is not even the slightest danger of despair in this memorial, for these wonderful role models were sustained by the same God who upholds us.

We remember that even though it looks as though the Darkness will win, we have a mighty God who will light our way throught the darkest night, the longest winter of the soul. And we remember that our God has triumphed over the old gods and powers of darkness which terrified our forefathers.

The practice of sending children out to frolic dressed as those defeated powers is a mockery of those powers. It is God's people dancing on the graves of defeated and discredited gods. We have nothing to fear from those old powers. It is like Miriam and the women of Israel dancing on the heaving shores of the Red Sea, singing of the drowning of Pharaoh's armies as bits of the chariot harnesses washed up at their feet. Trick-or-treating may be viewed as a sort of 'plundering the pagans'.

Trick-or-treating may not be the best way, in our evil day, to celebrate this holy day. But the holiday will not have any beneficial effect unless we express it, unless we tell these tales to our children and teach them what this day means to those who love the LORD.

Many Christians remember the heroes of the Faith particularly in the historic movement to preserve a commitment to the truth of God's Word: the Reformation. October 31 is the day when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, sparking the Reformation.

We celebrate Reformation Day by
  • dressing as heroes of the Faith from every era and telling their stories in a Parade of Saints,
  • letting the little ones play 'Nail the Theses' on the door,
  • reflecting on our aspirations as families and creating Coats of Arms to express them,
  • exploring the wonders of moveable type,
  • feasting a la 16th century,
  • treasure-hunting for 'contraband Bibles' while the Pope's men hunt for us,
  • reinacting the trial of Luther at the Diet of Worms,
  • and singing the great hymns that sustained the church through those dangerous times...
What will you offer in gratitude to your LORD for all His benefits? Will you refuse to celebrate at all? Or will you seize the day to make a memorial of God's goodness, a time to remember and to give thanks for christ's triumph over His (and our) enemies?
If you would like to pre-order a Reformation Day Celebration Kit with instructions, scripts, recipes, invitations, costume ideas and more, send me an email with "Reformation Day Kit" in the subject line.

Next time: Time Memorials (part 2)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Keeping Time

The music twirled and lifted under the spotlighted gaze of the audience in the twilight hall. Beside me, little Anne resonated, feet swinging gently, fingers twiddling tiny conductor’s patterns. Baby Winston bounced in time on my knee. Three rows down, a child who was big enough to know better set up a fuss, “It’s mine!” she whined.

God conducts the music of unfolding history every day for us. Will we pay attention? Will we resonate, keeping time to His patterns? Or will we with our own agendas and our beeper watches set up some other measure?

God’s Creation is set up especially to speak of Him, and the rhythms of time are no exception. The week is explicitly established as a pattern of seven with the cadences of work danced in demonstration by God Himself. Ever wonder who came up with a seven-day week? Why not a neat ten? Genesis 1 and 2. The first work week in history.

When God established a Sabbath day one day out of seven, He explained that this was intended to be our pattern in imitation of Him.

“Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work,…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hollowed it.” (Ex 20:9-11)

And in so doing, He invites us to look carefully at the rest of His work week to discern other patterns of work that we should imitate in order to be effective. I discussed an example of these patterns in Liturgy of Learning.

Can we arrange our time so that our schedules reverberate with God’s messages to us? So that our work patterns remind us that there is a greater Work that we imitate? So that even washing dishes takes on a beautiful dignity? Oh yes!

James Jordan, in his book, Primeval Saints, has a wonderful study of the manner in which worship transforms our work and enables us in turn to transform the broken, ugly and unformed into something more and more glorious.

Jordan points out that God models for us again and again the six-fold pattern for our work.

  1. We lay hold on the world.
  2. We give thanks.
  3. We break it up and restructure it.
  4. We distribute it to others.
  5. We evaluate it.
  6. We enjoy it.
Does this look familiar? It is the pattern of the Creation Week, of the Old Testament sacrificial system, of the Communion service, and (except for the thanksgiving part) it is a pattern that we cannot help but follow. Jordan maintains that if we, as believers, discipline ourselves to give thanks, it is the pattern for dominion, for cultural revitalization. (from Liturgy of Learning)

This can be the pattern for daily life. As you sit down on a Sunday to imitate God in the arranging of your coming week,
1. Lay hold of your lists and calendars.
2. Give thanks for the time you have been given and for the help you have in your children (or co-workers)
3. Divide your work into manageable tasks.
4. Distribute them to the days and hours at your disposal, and to the small helpers at your knee.
5. Consider whether you can really do all that. Does something need to move or be re-assigned to another worker? Or maybe it just needs to be ditched. Leave room to be interrupted. Leave room for God to re-assign His work to you in the measure of the dance.
6. Enjoy the rest that knowing your work will be done decently and in order brings.
Your life will never be the same.
"Has someone seen the life I planned?
It seems it's been misplaced
I've looked in every corner
It's lost without a trace..."

~ Beth Moore~
From the poem: "The Life I Planned "
This week, I hope you dance...

Next time: Time Memorials

Read other great thoughts about plans and time at this week's meme:

Monday, October 02, 2006

What Time Is It?

Moderns have stripped this question to its most mechanistic, petty level. It is only about stopwatches and timetables, never about meaning: What is it time for?

The Christian Year asks us to consider the meaning of time. It asks us how we will "redeem the time....for the days are evil..." (Eph 5:16)

So it's not enough just to answer, 'I have a report due next week.' We really need to weigh, 'If I finish the report on time, what will I have accomplished, for whom and for what purpose?'

The Christian Year sets up seasons of contemplation, which focus in turn on the vast workings of God on our behalf throughout history. This is enormously different from the pagan calendars, which focus on the cycles of nature. There is no sense of progress in the natural cycles. Everything that will happen has already happened for thousands on thousands of years without significant variation.

But the Christian Year points us to the progress of Redemption, the cycle of Promise, Longing & Development, Passion & Atonement, Resurrection, and Contemplation/Kingdom-building. These are the patterns not only of a history that has a center and a climax; these are the patterns of our personal walks with God.

There are several ways to calculate the year, but whether you use the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant version, the basic pattern is the same. Here in a nutshell is the Year:

Advent (four weeks leading up to Christmas)
Christmas (not just one day, but twelve!)
Epiphany (six weeks, beginning on Jan 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas)
Ordinary Time (the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, which vary with the year, since Easter is a moveable feast)
Lent (six weeks leading up to Easter or Resurrection Day)
Easter (six weeks beginning with Easter Day)
Ascension (the Sunday before Pentecost)
Pentecost (the Sunday ending the Feast section of the year)
Trinity (all the rest of the year until Advent, encompassing most of June through November)
Note that in the United States, the last week of Trinity is Thanksgiving - very appropriate.

Next time: Keeping Time

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's About Time

Autumn is hard to miss. Spring is a study in false starts. Summer is a sticky realization that you’re always too hot. Winter makes successive night time raids snuffing out autumn’s embers.

But Autumn is hard to miss. Everything in the garden is ready to harvest – right down to the honey. Suddenly the world is full of golden light. Even the raw, dark rainy days are lit from below by the glow of leaves that have stored sunshine all summer to release it all in a final blaze. The world is full of the satisfied bustle of taking stock and taking care of the increase God has given.

It’s about time to take stock of the harvests of our inner lives as well. I am grateful for this cycle of long, contemplative evenings in anticipation of the holiday season.

What have I sown? What am I reaping? What will be the final value of these investments? Where has God intervened when my strength has failed? What ultimately is important? Why will I celebrate?

The cycle of one week is too short for these reckonings. It is too short to appreciate the large-scale work God is doing in us. But the cycle of a year is just enough. Too short to forget the special Providences we have received, but time enough begin to grasp what they mean.

The Church has appreciated the value of reminding us on a yearly basis of the great things God has done on a universal level. Modern evangelicals have largely forgotten the old Church Calendar. (Didn’t that go out with Indulgences?) But it gives Christians a joyful and disciplined way to remember, to reflect and to revive in hope and strength.

It’s about time we re-discovered time. It really is on our side.

Next time: Re-discovering the Church Calendar


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