Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Interfaith Days: Ta'anit Ester

Today is the Fast of Esther, or Ta'anit Ester, the Jewish fast on the eve of Purim. Usually occurring on 13 Adar, the fast commemorates the three-day fast which Jews observed in the Esther story (chapter 4 of that book).  This site gives information about the day.

Here is the scripture (NRSV): "Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.

"Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’ When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Interfaith Days: Feast Day of the Wesley Brothers

Today is the feast day of John Wesley and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement and renewers of the church. This site gives a good overview of their work and importance. The picture is from this site.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Interfaith Days: Baha'i Nineteen-Day Fast

Today is the beginning of the Nineteen Day fast in the Baha'i faith, which has a calendar of 19 months with 19 days (periodically adjusted). The Báb, who founded the faith, insisted this sunrise-to-sunset abstention from food and drink for all healthy Baha'is between the ages of 15 and 70. Fasting is acceptable at other times of the year but it is obligatory during this month (with the exceptions of the sick, elderly, pregnant, and others, similar to the Ramadan fast). Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha'i Faith in 1921-1957, writes: "It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul." (From this site).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Interfaith Days: Sunday of Orthodoxy, St. David's Day

In Orthodox Christianity, today is Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, or the first Sunday of Great Lent. The day honors the victory of those who favored icons (iconodules) over those who did not (iconoclasts) at the Second Nicene Council in 787. In Orthodox Christianity, Lent is also the forty day festival prior to Easter (Pascha), but unlike the Western churches, Sundays are included. This icon, from this site, depicts the restoration of icons. See also the Orthodox wiki and this site   

Today is also St. David's Day, an official day in Wales and unofficial in other countries. David was a Celtic monastic who died on March 1, perhaps 588 or 589. He founded a monastery at the present site of St. David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. He was the national patron saint of Wales during the time of the Norman invasion. His day has been celebrated by the Welsh and Welsh diaspora for centuries.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"My Soul's a Shepherd, Too": George Herbert

This morning a Facebook friend paid tribute to poet George Herbert, who was commemorated yesterday in the Anglican Communion, and tomorrow in the ELCA. Herbert died in 1633, just short of his 40th birthday. The founder of the Little Gidding community encouraged him to publish his poems---a witness to the power of encouragement, because Herbert's poems became classics of beautiful, ingenious religious imagery.

Look back through blog posts, I realize I've returned in memory quite a few times to the now defunct Chapel Square Mall, a favorite stop in New Haven, CT. When I first discovered the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the albums I purchased (at that mall's music store) was the Five Mystical Songs, performed by John Shirley-Quirk. That was also my first introduction to Herbert's poetry---and ever after, the music and words give me lovely associations with New England.

1. Easter

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.
Sing his praise without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand,
that thou likewise with him may'st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part with all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name, who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is the best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song pleasant and long;
Or since all musick is but three parts vied and multiplied.
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

2. I Got Me Flowers

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought'st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East.
Though he give light, and th'East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

3. Love Bade Me Welcome

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back.
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungrateful? Ah, my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

4. The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

5. Antiphon

Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing:
My God and King.
The heavens are not too high,
His praise may thither flie;
The earth is not too low,
His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing:
My God and King.
The Church with psalms must shout,
No doore can keep them out;
But above all, the heart
Must bear the longest part.

Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing:
My God and King.

RVW later set another poem, in his Christmas cantata Hodie.

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word: the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.
Then we will sing, shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n his beams sing, and my musick shine.

I return to that song often, throughout the year.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Interfaith Days: Baha'i Intercalary Days
Today (actually yesterday at sunset) marks the beginning of a four-day intercalary period in the Baha'i calendar called Ayyám-i-Há, or "Days of Há". Há, in turn, "is the Arabic letter corresponding to the English H [which] commemorates the transcendence of God over his attributes, since its name "Há" has been used as a symbol of the essence of God in the Bahá'í holy writings." (from this site, which contains additional information about these days as well as the special Baha'i calendar.) These days are dedicated to charity, hospitality, ministering to the sick and impoverished, meditation upon God's attributes, and other good works in preparation to the upcoming nineteen-day Fast. Here is a prayer for these days: See also this site.

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interfaith Days: Clean Monday

Today is Clean Monday, or Ash Monday, or Pure Monday. It's the first day of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Lent. The name comes from the desire to cleanse oneself from non-fasting foods and sinful actions and attitudes. The whole week is devoted to housecleaning and daily confession. The first chapter of Isaiah, which stresses the sins of the people and the promise that they'll be clean again, is the week's theme. But it is also a happy time, in the spirit of Matthew 6:16-18.