Seven Books for the Seasons

Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.

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This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.

What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve.  And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.

But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.

Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.

THE CHURCH YEAR

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Candlemas  Malcolm Guite

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.

Merry Christmas, Dear Readers

It seems very fitting that Christmas Eve should be on a Sunday, when we gather for worship, wherever that is. A morning to set our hearts right in a posture of worship and thankfulness is a good way to ease into the gift giving and receiving activities before us, whether we gather tonight or tomorrow with family and friends.

As I prepared my head and my heart this morning for church I found Handel’s Messiah on Youtube and through the miracle of livestreaming from my tablet, was able to listen on my Bluetooth speaker while I put on makeup in the bathroom.

Yay, technology.

There are 4 sections in the Messiah oratorio based on scores and scores of Biblical passages. The tenor was heading into a familiar part, “And the glory of, the glory of the Lord, shall be he he he he he he reveal-ed.” He carried out the trills and notes as the music called for and I just shook my head as I listened.

What men and women can do with their voices.

The Messiah’s most recognizable musical passage is, of course, the Hallelujah Chorus. There’s a Messiah Sing-along near our house every year at Christmas time and I’m bound and determined to participate one of these years, just to join in the fun of that chorus. The thought of standing next to other vocalists of all abilities and stripes while we attempt to do justice to the music has always appealed to me.

Of course, we can never do justice to that great music here on Earth, altho’ we may try. It is said Handel saw Heaven itself opened up while he was composing each part. I’d like to ask him about that some day….

My favorite actually-singable Christmas songs change from year to year; sometimes it’s James Taylor’s Christmas or Jewel or Pentatonix or the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree jazz quartet. Then I listen to Josh Groban’s ‘Noel’ or Andrea Boccelli singing with the Muppets and think, “That’s my favorite.” But I forget the classic Peter, Paul and Mary PBS Special recording and there I am humming along with a smile on my face.

They’re all beautiful and inspiring pieces of music, but nowhere near the Messiah. And while I aspire to be able to sing along with Handel (maybe in Heaven?) I am grateful for the more down-to-earth folks that allow me to join them via the magic of recorded sound.

I hope your hearts and homes are full of song and sound this special time of year, dear friends. May I say I appreciate you reading along this year and appreciate your kind words always in this place? I appreciate you more than you know.

Merry Christmas!~

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love,

Jody