The Indomitable Seasons

“Once, the annual cycle of the season must have seemed eternal and indomitable. The year moved from the birdsong and flowers of spring through summer’s work of harvesting and husbandry to autumnal stock-taking and into the icy challenge of winter. Every year was different, but the pattern of the seasons was consistent – a consistency powerfully strengthened by a rich calendar of proverbial lore, annual rituals, and frequent festivities. Although the weather and the seasons actually had an element of unpredictability from year to year, they were nevertheless yoked to a calendar that marked their characteristics and their progress with absolute certainty.

But now everything is changing. The seasons are blurring, they no longer have such apparently distinctive beginnings and ends…Once common cultural references are forgotten, and twenty-first-century British society is becoming ever more remote from the social and economic realities of rural life.” Nick Groom, The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year, p. 25

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It has been just over one year since I entered a life of parish ministry.

Lately, after noticing that this year has seemed to pass the fastest of any other year of my life, I have been reflecting on the passage of time and how this has changed for me in the last few years..

Before becoming the Rector of the parish I serve I spent 10 years in the post-secondary world as a student. There’s a great deal I miss about that life but what has been the most jarring is how much I miss the structure of the year and the passage of time as a student.

Perhaps my longing for this way of marking the passage of time exists because in my heart it reminds me of connections to friends and learning, communities in which I lived, and a time that was so quickening and beautiful for me. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I long for it simply because it was a kind of regula and order imposed upon my life and by which I could mark the seasons.

Not only was I subject to the passage of the academic year, but I was being shaped by the rhythm of the liturgical through my involvement in the campus chapel.

There is something comforting about subjecting oneself to an external force like the seasons, there is something deeply comforting and harmonious about their indomitability and power.

A few times over the last year I have visited a friend’s family hobby farm and had a taste of life lived there and it has made me envious. There life is lived in complete subjection to powers beyond our control, like the weather and the seasons. The year is marked out by ritual tasks that must be done. Thanksgiving always brings with it the knowledge that the pigs will need to be slaughtered; December means the time of  Christmas tree harvesting has come; and at a certain point in the Spring it is time to turn the garden beds.

There is a great beauty in being governed by those forces and necessities, of the repetition and ritual that comes with the passage of each year.

The church has her own calendar and way of marking the passage of time, but the sad fact is that so much of the church suffers from a tragic amnesia about itself.

Modern lectionaries and church calendars have diminished, and in some cases destroyed, the inherent logic and beauty of the way that the church, for millennia, marked the passage of time.

Take for example the feasts of St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas the Apostle. It would have been very clear to people who lived in closer relation to the natural seasons that there was a reason why we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist at the Summer Solstice and St. Thomas at the Winter Solstice – John announces at the time when our days begin to darken that he, “Must decrease so that He may increase,” until we find ourselves on the darkest day of the year when St. Thomas is turned from the darkness of doubt and we begin our journey back towards light.

With modern calendars having moved the Feast of St. Thomas to July the subtle beauty and distinction is lost.

In my parish we use the modern calendar and lectionary but it means very little to anyone. We no longer have access to the church seasons like the -gesimas that bring so much more meaning to Lent, nor are we privy to the joys of Epiphanytide, or Whitsuntide, nor Rogationtide. Our church year has simply been parcelled out into large chunks of either Ordinary Time or something slightly less ordinary.

In the last year we have recognized church festivals such as Rogationtide, the Ember Days, and Lammas Day, even if only through little ways. We live in a heavily agricultural and rural province where most people are, at most, only one generation removed from farming so these are all parts of the church calendar that people connect with, but there is still so much left to rediscover.

 

Here in the Rectory we are trying to reclaim some practices and habits that will help us to live more in relation to that indomitable and governing structure of the seasons both natural and liturgic: we recognize and celebrate the daily offices from the old calendar and lectionary, we will be preparing our yard for growing food next Spring, we will be eating more seasonally, I allow myself to be subject to the natural rhythms and seasons of the fish in my fly fishing, and I will be brewing beer through the winter using flavours and ingredients fitting the seasons.

They are small steps, but it is an attempt to reclaim that which has been lost through our distance from rural life, from the ancient rhythms of our church, and from allowing ourselves the felicity of having our lives governed by forces wholly external to us

The Finches – Wendel Berry

The ears stung with cold
sun and frost of dawn
in early April, comes

the song of winter finches,
their crimson bright, then
as they move into

and then against the light.
May the year warm them
soon. May they soon go

north with their singing
and the season follow.
May the bare sticks soon

live, and our minds go free
of the ground
into the shining of trees.

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Mothering Sunday & Rectory Hospitality

One of the things that my wife and I have been discovering since arriving in the parish in September is that the parish loves being invited into the rectory.

We have welcomed parishioners in to the rectory for a few social events, but also for a couple of council meetings that I’ve hosted here alongside a shared meal.

We have a sitting room and my study on the main floor, and so I’ve met with people in both of those places as well.

One of the reasons that I think people like it so much, aside from the fact that it’s most often in connection with food and fellowship, is that it communicates a collegiality between rector and parishioners.

We moved into the rectory wanting it to be a place that was, in some sense, a shared space. It is of course our home, but it doesn’t belong to us. It is also a kind of neutral-ground, neither one church nor the other, and not the parish hall. It stands apart from other physical spaces in the parish in that it is a dwelling, but we see it as nonetheless a shared place for fellowship.

Clergy can be overprotective of their privacy and their time, and rectories are often places that get shuttered, and the parish locked out, since it becomes the place of refuge away from the parish and daily work.

Our hope is that in opening it and offering the kind of hospitality we do, it will actually shape our relationship with those in the parish, and the relationship of parishioners with each other, such that we don’t seek refuge or respite from one another but a truer fellowship.

Here are a few pictures from our Mothering Sunday open house that we held this past Sunday.

Burying the Alleluias

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Our Alleluia Casket

On Sunday at St. John’s Church (one of our two points) the Sunday School “buried” the alleluias.

The original plan had been to do this outside, but with -15° temperatures, frozen ground, and no snow, it had to be done inside.

The “Burying of the Alleluias” is an odd but lovely liturgical practice with medieval roots, though the practice of putting a stop to the word alleluia during penitential seasons likely goes back further.

The idea is that our halting the singing or saying of the word alleluia in church for the penitential seasons is marked by a simple ceremony of hiding or burying a depiction of the word itself, thus burying the word and restraining ourselves just a little bit until we can look into the empty tomb on Easter morning and shout it with unrestrained joy.

I was a week late doing this–properly the burying of the Alleluias should be done on Quinquagesima, the week prior to Lent 1, but due to a large number of kids being away, we opted for a Lent 1 burial.

I prepped them two weeks earlier by giving a children’s talk on the upcoming season of Lent, and by having them colour some legal-sized sheets with the word “Alleluia” on them, but left what we would do with them a surprise.

On Sunday (Lent 1) I brought in a wooden chest that would serve as our casket and had some Lenten-purple cloth to line the inside.

At the Children’s time I was delighted when I asked one of the boys to explain to his brother, who had been absent the week before, what they had coloured. He replied, “but, I am not allowed to say the a-word.” Clearly these kids are listening.

One thing that I was not able to track down was any kind of standardized liturgy for burying the alleluias, I suspect because there isn’t one. It is not a common practice, and those that do seem to come up with something appropriate on their own.

I did manage to find a few things that I compiled into a burial liturgy that looked like this (combined with Children’s time):

Children’s Talk

What does alleluia mean?
What is Lent?
Why do you think we stop saying the Alleluia during Lent?

Two verses of Alleluia Sing to Jesus are sung by all
Children process (if possible) to burial place

Priest: We are now entering into the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we remember that  Jesus gave up his life for us. We give things up in our lives sometimes, so that we can be like Jesus and offer a small sacrifice of our own.

Here in our church family, we give up saying the word Alleluia—which means, “God be praised”—so that on Easter Morning, when we can see that Jesus rose from the dead, we are able to say Alleluia (God be praised) with our whole heart.

For now, we bury these Alleluias as a symbol that on Easter morning our joy will rise with Jesus, when he rises from the dead.

Children place their alleluias in the casket, leaving it open.

Priest:  Alleluia, May the good angel of the Lord accompany you,  and give you a good                            journey, that you may come back to us in joy, Alleluia.

May Alleluia, that sacred and joyful word, be heard from the lips of all people.

May this word, which comes from the mouth of angels, come from our lips as well on Easter morning.

And may the joy that you express yield fruit in our hearts by helping us to grow in love.

Priest: Let us pray.

Lord God, our creator, as we bury this sign of praise and
thanksgiving, help us to give up all those things that stand between
us and your love and to walk with Jesus on the road that leads closer
to you.  We give up our Alleluia for 40 days so that, when we come to
Easter, we may with joy proclaim you our Savior in our hearts and with
our voices.  Amen

This is just one, obviously more kid-friendly, way of conducting the Burial of the Alleluias; I took most of my cues from Modern Medievalism, and modified some of what they provide. I would be very keen to see more formal versions.

On Easter morning we will unearth these Alleluias and they will adorn the rood screen during our family service, and later festoon the walls of the Sunday school room.

What I liked about it in terms of a teaching lesson for children was that it reinforced both that Lent is a time when we put things away, when we have to exercise some self-restraint, but also a time when we look forward to when we can bring these things back and enjoy them once more.

It helps to reinforce that the feast and the fast do not stand alone; each depends on the other, and each is an equal part of our penitence, and our joy.