Friday, January 6, 2017

Twelfth Night

Oh come, all ye faithful........

This post is later than I intended, as matters (both weighty and enjoyable) intervened, and I was not so efficient with my day as I meant to be. I have an Italian's priority: when I ventured out into the mad,frozen, treacherous world (we had snow, followed by rain, followed by a wee bit more snow, and then a hard freeze) to brave the crowds of  ski-crazy visitors to our fair city, I remembered basil and tomatoes, apple cider and chestnuts. I forgot the sand bags, which can be got for free, and which I should have grabbed in anticipation of yet more rain, on top of yet more snow, in a place already half-flooded from the first taste of such a mix. 

But ah well. It is the last day of the Long Christmas, and it seems good to finish off with another quote from The Christmas Chronicle, this time concerning the Magi:

The ancient "Calendar of Saints" from Cologne offers, for the year 54 AD, the following interesting account of the Magi who visited the Infant Jesus at Bethlehem: "After thy had undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospels, the three Wise Men met at Sewa in the year of Our Lord 54, where they celebrated the feast of Christmas in common; whereupon, after the celebration of the Mass, they died."

Tradition ascribes their deaths to martyrdom. That excellent website, "Hymns and Carols of Christmas" has a good deal of information concerning the Magi in the notes for "We Three Kings." You should definitely scroll down and read it.

Lastly, this antiphon from the Christmas Mass, in the Byzantine Rite:

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world. Through it, those who had been star-worshipers, learned through a star to worship You, O Sun of Justice, and to recognize in You the One who rises and who comes from on high. O Lord, glory to You!

(Hat tip to Molly for the words!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

To the Professor!

Its that time of year again - January 3rd, the birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien, and then time when all good Tolkienists raise a cup of cheer and toast "To the Professor!"

I had a nice little bit of Whisky, in my nice little Scottish quaich, and after giving the toast promptly at 9 pm, sat me down to drink my drink, and read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as it has become my annual Christmas book - a lovely thing in Middle English (this particular edition courtesy of the Professor) and a modern translation of the original text.

(You can see my Tolkien Society bookmark, one of the old Merry and Pippin bookmarks given me by a good friend for Christmas, many more years ago than I care to remember, the new Tree of Gondor earrings that were a Christmas gift this year, and the clever Elven brooch I made of a soda can, a couple paper clips and a Sharpie.)

Since we are still within the 12 days of Christmas, I thought it might be well to finish off this post, with this video:

A Christmas Chronicle

I very seldom buy things on a whim. Generally, if I am spending money on something, it is because I need it, or (after a good deal of thought) have decided that I would like to own the thing. Books are one of the few exceptions to this - especially of they are selling for a good price. A Christmas Chronicle by Aloysius Horn was one such impulse buy. It was for sale for $7.00 and I figured it was worth that to have some Christmas reading. It was an excellent investment - a rather delightful mishmash of legends, traditions, and historical tidbits about the celebration of Christmas, from the early days of Christendom, to fairly modern times. They are all short little articles - seldom more than a page, often merely a few paragraphs, but they make for fascinating reading. One of the little stories concerned a certain Saint Romanus the Melodist. (First of all - the Melodist?!? How cool a title is that? How can you not like Saint Romanus right off, with that title attached to the end of his name?) I shall give the story in full: 

To the last part of the 5th century and the first part of the 6th belongs St. Romanus the Melodist, who has been called the greatest of the Greek hymn writrs. 80 of his hymns have survived to our day. He was a Syrian Jew who when quite young, converted to the Christian faith. Later, he became a decon in the church of Beirut, and during the reign of  Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) he moved to Constantinople. It was here on Christmas Eve that Our Lady appeared to St. Romanus in his sleep and gave him a roll of paper, saying, "Take this paper and eat it." From what the saint could later recall, it seemed to him that he did what h had been directed to do. Then he awoke and in great exaltation of spirit went to the Church of the All-Holy Mother of God to assist in the Christmas Liturgy. When the Gospel-book was about to be carried solemnly into the sanctuary, he went up into the deacon's ambo or pulpit and extemporaneously recited his new Christmas hymn:

This hymn, said to be the first of its kind, is still sung in the Christmas Offices of the Byzantine rite, and until the 12th century, it was solemnly sung on this festival at the banquet in the imperial palace by the combined choirs of the greatest churches in Constantinople, Santa Sophia and the Holy Apostles.

I can only imagine how incredible that must have sounded, and what a beautiful tradition that was. There is something delightful about hearing a song of such antiquity, composed as it was, in a fever of inspiration, and with such a tradition associated with it, and knowing that it is still sung at Christmas Mass.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Forth and Fear No Darkness

A Welcome to 2017

2016 was an odd year. There was much happiness in it - a marriage; a couple births; a family trip to Disneyland; my trip to Ireland; very good friendships; the curious sense of reprieve and renewed purpose that came after the election. There was also a good deal of strife in it. Battles which were thought to have been won, had only been stalemated, and had to be fought again; difficult decisions, with bitter aftermaths; misunderstands; anger. If I had to summarise the year in one word, I think I might have to fall back on 'discouraging' - or possibly 'disheartening'. However, though some of that strife is following us into the New Year, I find myself standing upon the first day of 2017, with a feeling of hope. Not, mind you, the sort the is brightly optimistic - the sort that takes a good hard look at things and still choose to trust, and wait, and keep courage. 

I would be hard pressed to explain why exactly. It is something that has been sort of perking along deep inside me for the last month or two - a feeling that God is both testing His people, and also showing them great compassion. A sense that, to quote St. Paul, "Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation." It isn't really that I expect a sudden reversal of fortune and all to run smoothly, but rather a sense that things could have been so much worse, and that I had better attempt to be as generous with God as He has been with us. However, there is nothing like a good dose of The Lord of the Rings to make concrete those half thought-out ideas. My family and I finished out the year with a 3 night marathon of Lord of the Rings watching. It is a good movie to end a year. Perhaps and even better way of starting it - which, given that we finished The Return of the King at 5 minute before midnight, we practically did. It is magnificently full of ordinary people doing the right thing, because it is the right thing, and it doesn't matter what happens afterwards, it has to be done. It is full of Hope, bright as stars, sharp as swords, hard as stones - the sort of hope that makes one stay the course, even when it is hopeless, that makes modest Heroes and Knight Errants. It is full of Grace, of Courage, of Purity and Innocence, and Goodness. When was the last time you thought of dying for Beauty? Or faced a battle of any sort, knowing that there was no victory in it and fighting it anyway, because you must, and to refuse to fight would be a worse defeat than death? It is rather amazing that such a story should have been made in our day and age.

It had a good effect on me. It is responsible for the shift from merely wanting to be disciplined, and show God I appreciate is Goodness, to deciding to greet the new year, and all the joys and troubles it brings with it, with Hope. To be like Sam, and see re-crowned kings, and untouched stars in the midst of the black of Moria. To be like Boromir and Faramir, who were willing to die for Beauty and Light and Music. To be like Theoden, who says, "no more dispair" on the eve of a battle he fully expects to lose. To be like Frodo and bear my burden as well as I can, like Merry and Pippin, whose courage is unexpected - like laughter in the dark. I will fall, I expect - Boromir did, and Theoden did, and even Frodo did after a fashion - but falling is not failing, and I hope to be like them in getting back up, and trying again.

I have made New Year's resolutions for the first time in memory. I have toasted in the New Year with good whisky, and a prayer for the grace to be true to this course. There is joy in it, and it is oddly humbling. So here's to 2017!

Enjoy an old New Year's Day song, and a Happy New Year to all!