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Archive for February, 2010

TO KEEP A TRUE LENT

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg�d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ; ’tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

— Robert Herrick

The delightful thing about quoting other people, particularly poets (and I don’t know quite what is going on here, but I seem to have a thing for the poet Herrick) is that they put these things so WELL. After that little masterpiece above, do I really need to say anything more about Lent?

Ah but I will..bit by little bit..and first, the big one, fasting and abstinence.

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The Great Dust Up

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Today millions of Christians will hear those words said to them as priest, minister, or pastor imposes ashes upon their foreheads to symbolize their repentance for their sins. For that is the discipline of Lent (from the German Lenz meaning “Spring”), repentance, as well as prayer, almsgiving, and ( more on this later) fasting.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

As a child I hated Lent. It was no fun. It was gloomy; it was dark. Fun bits of the liturgy were missing. (“Alleluia” and other phrases of praise such as “Glory be to God on High” are omitted from the liturgy  during Lent.) There were no sweets. Lent told me life was dreary, hard, and sad.  It told me I was nothing, and I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with my favorite season of the year.  Lent was nothing like Spring, the embodiment of joy. The only good thing about Lent was that it was followed by my favorite holiday. And it made me really, really want Easter to come. So when Lent came, I gritted my teeth and went through.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

But when I was a child, I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. Now that I am an adult, I have come to (Can one say it?) enjoy Lent. There is something restful in realizing that I am dust, and to dust I will return. There is something special about a season that make us realize that while we are  in the world we are not of the world even though we are of earth, for we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

When I was about 12, I started embracing the disciplines of Lent.  I’ve kept them better some years than others. I never keep any of them well, but  the older I grow (and I do it seems grow only older) the more I appreciate not only the necessity of Lent but its blessedness. So I look forward to hearing tonight as the pastor’s finger crosses my forehead with the startling soft ash of burnt palms, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

May you, my fellow dust bunnies, have a blessed Lent.

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Fritzl the Fasching Ferkel and Friend

Some years I do Carnival up right. This year was not one of those years. But last year…

Oh there was plenty of mindless gluttony this year (emphasis regrettably on mindless. Gluttony is so much more interesting when mindful.). And, as I intended to do a lot of posts leading up to Carnival (ha), lots of baking. But there was not the planning, execution, and general joie de vivre of last year’s effort , which starred our friend to the left, Fritzl the Fasching Ferkel, but it’s not every year a girl can ginger up the energy to cook a pig and a slew of Viennese desserts. Unless the girl is Austrian in which case apparently she cook pigs, waltzes through the night, and still shows up for work every day at 8 AM. And she keeps it up for a MONTH AND A HALF. Wow.

Curiously, exactly what Carnival is and when it starts is a matter of some debate. What is not a debate is when it ends. It ends at 11:59:59 on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Known as Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, in French and Shrove Tuesday in English, the last day of Carnival is your last chance to shove those foods into your mouth and belly that were traditionally  forbidden during Lent: to wit meat, eggs, and dairy. Hence the traditional pancake dinner in England, which does use up those last bites, but to me always seems a bit…well…lame. I like pancakes as much as the next girl, but really? Is that the BEST you can do for the big blowout?

Can’t you at least do…a king cake? This big brioche cinnamon roll is the treat of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and if you don’t have time to follow the traditional recipe, you can always cheat and dress up two tubes of Pillsbury Cinnamon rolls as I did to the right. Equipped with a glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus, nothing says lovin’ like empty calories topped with sugar sprinkles!

Even the reportedly dour Swedes whoop it up with semla, a sweet bun whose inside are usually ripped out to then be replaced with a mixture of almond paste and whipped cream. Swedes often eat semla in a abowl of warm milk, and I urge you to follow this excellent example, but do remain mindful of the story of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden who died of digestion problems ofter consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, topped off by the consumption of 14 semla, the king’s favorite dessert. It’s Carnival, but even gluttony has its limits.

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END now the white loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.

This is it, mes enfants, the absolutely LAST day of Christmas.  No excuses, returns, or exchanges.

Candlemas is the Feast of the the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of the Virgin Mary.  Under Jewish law, a woman was unclean after giving birth. For 40 days after the birth of a son and 60 after the birth of a daughter she was not allowed to worship in the Temple or indeed mix with the public. When the period ended, she was to present herself in the Temple and be ritually purified.  She would also offer a sacrifice to God. A lamb, if she could afford it, or as in Mary’s case, two turtledoves (but not a partridge in a pear tree, but now you know why there are 2 turtledoves in the song.)

But it’s what happened at the Temple that makes this outing interesting. I’ll let Luke tell:

“22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[b]), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[c]

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

So there you have it. Candlemas may be the most meaningful feast day of which you have never heard.

Traditionally in secular liturgical culture, the day was celebrated by getting in your last licks of Christmas.  As Herrick observed the white bread and the Christmas pie say bye-bye, and…

Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench’d, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where ’tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.


Most of you likely don’t have yule logs, but there are other ways to say farewell. I find it is a good last day to listen to Christmas music and will giving one last glorious go to Praetorious’ “Mass for Christmas Morning” until, God willing, next Christmas morning.

Also you can do like the French and eat your crepes. The French traditionally ea crepes on Candlemas as they remind the French of the sun.  And why not? I say cordially. Crepes are easy, delicious, and popular with the youth. Eat up!

And be not sad…we’re officially in Carnival where the fun never ends!!!!

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Barm Brack for Brigid

Barm Brack

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Candlemas Eve

Is your Christmas tree  hanging on to its last needle in the  corner?  Is the thing upon your door the object formerly known as a wreath?  Get them down before the  goblins come…

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

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