Category Archives: seasons

[top 10] reasons to observe the religious calendar

10. any excuse to celebrate!
i have a friend who told me once that one reason she participated in the religious calendar was unabashedly because she loves to celebrate. that resonated with me as a lover of all things parties, & i have indeed enjoyed the preparations & celebrations thus far this year. [our purim feast is one great example.] i thrive on planning a party, inviting friends over, & sharing good conversation & laughter. the religious calendar has given me increased opportunities to do just this!

9. to experience something new
as a student of life, i believe one tenet to guide our “studies” must be the willingness to experience new things on a regular basis, even the proactive seeking of new things, & sometimes doing something new just for the sake of the experience & the story. experience enriches our lives, teaches us important lessons, gives us something to share with others, & helps us grow. when we shy away from a new experience, it is usually due to fear, fear of the unknown, & fear is the enemy of the student of life. we must not let our fears prevent us from living life to the fullest.

8. to learn more about our faith heritage
christianity has a two-thousand year history, & before that it is steeped in thousands of years of jewish history & practice. this is our heritage. to understand Christ’s teachings, i must understand the religious audience to whom He spoke & His own life as a jew. to understand the current state of the church in its various sects & traditions, i must know our history, too. in looking to our future, we must first know where we’ve been to understand where we are going. knowing our faith heritage will enrich our current faith walk.

7. to identify with global christian community
millions of christians worldwide observe the religious calendar. [the same is true of jews observing their religious calendar.] it creates a sense of solidarity among us collectively & within each of us individually when we know there are others all over the world saying the same words, praying the same prayers, reading the same scriptures, meditating on the same thoughts. we become unified by our focus. we become thoughtful of one another. we remember we are not alone.

6. to establish new corporate traditions
i could write a whole post on how my particular faith tradition could learn & grow from incorporating some of the practices used in other churches, at least on occasion. but i’ll suffice to say for now that we can all learn from one another, always. just as no individual is perfect, neither is any organization of individuals. every church has need to reflect, to reevaluate, to learn, & to change in some way to more live like the body of Christ.

5. to reevaluate secular holidays
this is something shane claiborne writes about regularly, & his thoughts have affected my own views. as citizens of the kingdom of God, we define freedom, value, sacrifice, leadership, power, & a host of other concepts radically differently from our surrounding culture. these new ways of thinking should also affect our living & celebrating. while there exists a memorial day, an independence day, & a presidents’ day particular to america, when/how to we celebrate ultimate sacrifice [Christ’s on the cross], true freedom [found in Christ], & authentic leadership & authority [Christ’s as King]? do we hail one kind of holiday as more important than the other kind? should we? what are our reasons & motivations? how should we as christians look different from this world? i wish i had more answers than questions, but it is very important to question & to think on these things.

4. to establish new holiday traditions
there are many holidays we celebrate that have both religious & secular histories & traditions. observing the religious calendar helps us review what secular practices are beneficial & fun, & which ones need to be done away with. observing the religious calendar also helps us learn about new beneficial & fun traditions that we can begin. for example, i have a friend who shared her how grandmother includes easter eggs within the normal egg hunt that contain slips of paper with scripture references written on them. once their family gathers back together, after the eggs have all be found, anyone with a scripture egg reads that passage aloud for everyone. there are hundreds of creative ideas for bringing our minds back to the purpose of these holidays — some are unique to specific families & some are common in various faith communities — & we can learn from them.

3. to enrich our personal faith practices
we have probably all been encouraged by various teachers to have a “quiet time” with God each day. but how that quiet time is shaped is unique to each person. for years, i filled it with just bible study from a bought workbook. bible study comes easier to me than any other faith practice. as i’ve grown older, i’ve tried to add in areas that i need desperately to grow in, like prayer. over the years, i’ve used various tools to help me learn how to pray — informative books on prayer, devotionals that lead you through prayer, prayer journals, prayer lists, prayer schedules. all have taught me something, even though not all have been useful to me in the long-term. and what works for me may not work for you. this year, i added a daily liturgy [common prayer for ordinary radicals] & have been tremendously blessed by the practice. observing the religious calendar has helped me expand my understanding of personal quiet time but also ways to practice my faith in the rhythms of every day life beyond that set-aside morning hour. and so i continue to grow towards Christ as my quiet time evolves & as my daily routine includes putting my faith into action, too. [discalimer: i am not as consistent as i would like to be in having my quiet time or going through the prayer liturgy every day, so please don’t be fooled by my speaking in general terms! still, God is faithfully growing me every time i do choose to spend with Him.]

2. to live by kingdom seasons & rhythms
i’ve written about this before in my post on marking my time by a different calendar, but shane claiborne says it better than i, & this portion deserves reposting:

every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire’s traditions… but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars… the church’s calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a “christian” calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the “secular” world… the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God’s story at the center of our lives and calendar… without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God’s kingdom down — on earth as it is in heaven.

1. to become increasingly centered on God
this is mentioned in the quote above, so i won’t belabor the point. but this is ultimately the reason for observing the religious calendar because ultimately this is the purpose of our lives — to become ever more focused on God, growing closer to Him, becoming more like His Son, & being Him to a dying world.

readings for HOLY WEEK

as i participate in the lenten season, i have found myself increasingly excited about holy week. the anticipation is palpable. one practice i’ve wanted to incorporate into my experience of the week is reading through the passion week in the gospels. i looked several places to find a “reading plan.” and i never found one that was comprehensive, for lack of a better word. so, i did my own trek through the pages of my bible to figure out the passion week. hopefully, my list is decently accurate. i will be reading through all four gospel accounts this year, but in the future, i may just go through one writer’s accounts. i thought i would post it here for anyone else who would like to follow along, too. have a blessed holy week!

saturday:
>> matthew 26:6-13
>> mark 14:1-9
>> luke 7:36-50
>> john 12:1-11

palm sunday:
>> matthew 21:1-11
>> mark 11:1-11
>> luke 19:28-44
>> john 12:12-19

monday:
>> matthew 21:12-17
>> mark 11:12-19
>> luke 19:45-48
>> john 2:13-22

tuesday:
>> matthew 21:18-27
>> mark 11:20-33
>> luke 20:1-8
>> john 12:37-50

wednesday:
[nothing specific is recorded for this day, but these passages are appropriate.]
>> matthew 24
>> mark 13
>> luke 21:5-37

thursday:
>> matthew 26:17-75
>> mark 14:12-72
>> luke 22:7-65
>> john 13:1 – 18:27

good friday:
>> matthew 27:11-61
>> mark 15
>> luke 22:66 – 23:56
>> john 18:28 – 19:42

saturday:
>> matthew 27:62-66

easter sunday:
>> matthew 28
>> mark 16
>> luke 24
>> john 20:1 – 21:25

[a different calendar] PURIM

so when i talked about how one of my goals for 2013 is to observe the religious calendar, i have always meant both the christian calendar & the jewish calendar. at least, any holy days from these two calendars that have some significance & application to my walk with Christ.
ever since i went through beth moore’s esther bible study a couple of years ago, i have wanted to celebrate purim.
purim is a feast day celebrated by the jewish people in remembrance of their deliverance from the evil haman. the story can be found in the book of esther, also known as the megillah. they were threatened by an edict demanding their destruction & annihilation because of haman’s anger & pride. they were saved by God’s providence, as He worked through a man of integrity named mordecai & his courageous niece, the queen at the time, esther. when the bad news came, it was a season of repentance & returning to the Lord for the jewish diaspora in babylon. after they were victorious against their enemies, they feasted & celebrated. mordecai then wrote to all jews in the land that they should observe this same day annually with feasting & celebrating, & also by giving presents of food to each other & gifts to the poor.
there are four main requirements for purim:
1. the reading of the whole book of esther
2. a celebratory meal
3. giving gifts of food to friends & neighbors
4. giving to the poor
purim is not considered a sabbath feast, so you can carry on with business as usual the day of if it falls on a workday. as with all jewish days, it begins at sundown the night before & continues until sunset the next evening. some people will fast that day before in remembrance of the fast that esther called for. traditionally, jews will gather at the synagogue that first evening to hear “the whole megillah” read. my favorite part about this is the “blotting out” of haman’s name — whenever haman’s name is said, everyone is supposed to make noise so you can’t hear it. this is done by booing & hissing, noisemakers, &/or the stamping of your feet. you can even write haman’s name on the soles of your shoes so that as you stamp your feet, his name is literally blotted out! and you cheer for mordecai when his name is read. “cursed be haman!” “blessed be mordecai!” the next day, the people gather to hear the book of esther read again & party it up with a feast, costumes, plays, drinking, laughing, & giving gifts. it is suggested that each adult must give two gifts of food to two different people, & each adult must give generously in some way to two different people in need.
with all this in mind [plus much more information from beth’s study than i can keep in my leaky brain or recount here], i decided to have a purim dinner party.
last year, our dear friends bob & nan had us & three other couples over for passover. it was one of the most enriching experiences of my christian walk. shaun & i decided to invite our eight “passover peeps” to celebrate purim with us. we kinda waited till the last minute to do this, so only bob, nan, chuck, & betty were able to come. but did we ever have fun, the six of us!
before we gathered for the feast, we each found ways to give to others in need, whether it be through money or a visit or a meal. and we each brought gifts of food to exchange with one another.
here is a glimpse of the meal in pictures:
[it’s important to set a fine table.]
[blue & white are associated with judaism & mordecai.]
[we used our fine china for the first time ever.]
THE FEAST:
forgive the funky pictures… most were taken after the dinner!
FIRST COURSE:
i forgot to get a picture of the potato dumpling soup…
[sugared almond salad]
[homemade challah, traditional jewish braided bread]
MAIN COURSE:
[chickpea fritters served with tzatziki, a cucumber dill yogurt sauce]
i also forgot to take a picture of the roasted veggies:
sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips & red onions with rosemary & feta]
[poppy seed fruit salad]
[more challah]
[wine & cider — this is a scuppernong cider made in my home state, north carolina.]
you may have noticed the meal was vegetarian. i chose that so we could be kosher[ish] & still use dairy products like the tzatziki & feta cheese.
in between the dinner & dessert, we read the whole megillah! we passed the bible around & each read one chapter until we had completed all ten of them. we would often pause between chapters to talk about things that struck us or questions we had. bob is very knowledgeable about the bible & a great teacher, & every one else at the table is an avid student of the bible, & i learned so much from them! i’ve never laughed so much while reading the bible. between trying to pronounce all the strange names & the blotting out of haman’s name, i believe we captured the raucous spirit of purim! we booed & hissed & stamped our feet sometimes every time haman was said. for us christians, having never experienced purim before, it was quite the unique experience in scripture reading. we told bob we thought it should be a continued tradition in his sunday bible class!
[the megillah, the only book in the bible with no mention of God!]
DESSERT:
[the buffet set for dessert & coffee]

there are not many foods that are guaranteed purim feast traditions. nuts, seeds, & dried fruits are favored [seen in the sugared almond salad, chickpea fritters, & poppy seed fruit salad]. and there is one item that no purim feast worth its salt would be without: hamantashen. it means “haman’s ears” or “haman’s hats.” according to historical record & legend, a person of position like haman would likely have worn a triangular hat. as for his ears, they are referred to as “twisted” for not listening to God. hamantashen are triangular cookies with some sort of fruit filling [or chocolate sometimes].

[hamantashen filled with cranberry-orange marmalade & peach preserves]
[dried fruit: dates, mango, & figs]
[chocolates topped with caramel & sea salt]
i don’t have pictures of our gifts that we exchanged, but i loved it! there were homemade cookies & bars, maple chex mix [which shaun had to restrain himself from eating in one sitting!], wine, cheese & crackers, & more.

we had a fabulous experience celebrating purim with our friends! as to its spiritual significance as a christian, here are some things we reflected on: God is still present in our lives today, even when He isn’t “seen.” He still delivers us by His mighty providence. celebration is important. taking the time to remember all the times He has rescued me, provided for me, & blessed me is a vital faith practice. every time i recount what He has done in my past, i am better able to believe He will be with me in my present & future. i can have faith when i can’t see Him, when i feel like my prayers are going unanswered, when the unknown future is scary, & when i feel threatened by the enemy. when we remember & celebrate these experiences with God in our lives, we set up a memorial stone unto Him. just like samuel did when the israelites got the ark of the covenant back from the philistines. 

“thus far has the Lord helped us…” and He will help us again!


[a different calendar] ASH WEDNESDAY

i hope you have been preparing for the lenten season with me! i’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on & journaling about the questions posed by rachel held evans last year regarding lent. [she has a new post for lent this year that includes ideas for children & families.] i thought i might share with you the questions i pondered & my thoughts in part on them.

when i wake up on resurrection sunday morning, how will i be different?

i want to be acutely mindful of the real experiences Christ endured as He went to the cross & died for me. i will be desperate for the celebration of His resurrection & the hope it brings me for new life in Him. 
 

is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? how do i address that habit over the next 40 days?
 
 

is there anyone in my life from whom i need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?
 
what practical steps can i take to carve out time each day for contemplation?
i use a prayer liturgy for morning, midday, & evening prayers [common prayer for ordinary radicals]. i have not been good about stopping for midday prayers, so i’ve got my locket with the liturgy tucked inside back around my neck, & it will be my constant accessory these next 40+ days.

what spiritual discipline do i need to improve in or want to try?
fasting, hands down.

what are some things in my life that i tell myself i need but don’t? can i give one or two of them up for 40 days?
stuff. just lots of stuff. i’m going to take advantage of this season of remembrance, repentance, & return to God to declutter not just my spirit but also my surroundings. i hope to donate much of what i get rid or to sell some items & donate the money to those in need somehow. i hope i have the courage to give up many things that i want to keep…

why am i giving this particular thing up? how does giving it up draw me closer to God & prepare me for easter?

i’m giving up things i already own to rid myself of the weight that ties me to this temporal world. i believe it will draw me closer to God by showing me in very visible & tangible ways that He is all i really need. my spirit can become lighter from worldly concerns while it experiences the heaviness of the spiritual realities that are the passion. and when easter comes, my spirit can be buoyant in every way!
what am i going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?

i thought a memory verse would be appropriate. i’m on the siesta scripture memory team with living proof ministries this year, so my next verse [for february 15th] will be 2 corinthians 9:8 [ceb] — God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. that way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 




is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature of my fast with others or keep it private?
i want to share something i’m doing that you can do, too — 40 days of water. this is a way to tie our personal spirituality to communal justice. you can join me & hundreds of others who are giving up all beverages except tap water [& in my case, occasionally a tea bag thrown into a mug of hot tap water!] for the lenten season in an effort to raise money for digging wells that provide clean drinking water to people in uganda. you track the beverages you would have drank [drunk?] each day & the money you saved in not doing so. each sunday [feast day, in which you get to drink whatever you want again], you donate your saved money to blood:water mission. i think this is a beautiful way of remembering what Christ came to live & die for — all people — to bring to earth love, reconciliation, abundant life, freedom, truth, & justice. you can find more information & join the throngs here.

what do the ashes mean to me this year? what does baptism mean to me this year?

having not grown up in a church that practiced lent, i don’t know what the ashes actually symbolize. i’m tempted to look it up, but i thought it might be better to record my thoughts first. ashes remind me of the legend of the phoenix – the mythical bird that dies in a burst of flames & is reborn from the ashes. it recalls to me the refining fire of God, in which He burns up all that is impure in me. then, i am created a new creature with a new heart, ever more in His image. “imago Dei — who i am & am becoming.” baptism represents much the same idea, but i think of a continual cleansing so that i live the resurrected life, even here & now. from the ashes, through baptism, i am in the present & powerful kingdom of God here on earth.
i have since researched lent & ash wednesday more, & i have learned that the ashes [which in the catholic church are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year’s palm sunday] represent our mortality — “for dust you are and to dust you will return” [gen. 3:19] — & the act of mourning over our sinfulness — in the spirit of sackcloth & ashes often mentioned in the bible in association with mourning. i think this is beautiful symbolism, & so i have also chosen to dress simply & in black today. it’s a far cry from sack cloth, but it is a visible reminder to me all day to be mindful of my need for repentance & God’s grace.

and then we can’t forget the actual ashes! i thought about attending a catholic ash wednesday mass today, but i decided to keep with a little tradition of my own instead. you may think it’s sacrilegious, so i’m asking you ahead of time for your grace & understanding as i explain this little ritual.

in past years, i’ve explored 12 classic spiritual disciplines throughout the year [with the guidance of richard foster’s celebration of discipline], & each year, i [theoretically] spend one month focused on confession. [please don’t be impressed — i’m far from consistent in how i practice these disciplines & am a poster child for failure.] one ritual i’ve come to establish & enjoy during that month is the writing out of my sins each day, then burning the piece of paper to symbolize how God blots out my transgressions. i used to do this in my fireplace, but one day when i was perusing my local thrift store, i found a beat up copper basin that i decided to use for this daily confessional. it’s been such a horrifying eye-opener to spend time trying to remember all the ways i messed up in a day. and while it’s been painful, it has been good. i’ve come to practice it long beyond the month i spend focusing on confession, although i haven’t been very consistent in it until this year. as part of the prayer liturgy i’m using, evening prayers include a time for confession, so i’ve been a little better about practicing the listing & burning on a daily basis.

today, i spent time reading the account of Jesus’ baptism & subsequent 40 days in the wilderness from matthew 3 – 4:11 & one of the penitential psalms, psalm 51.

then i listed alot of sins…

and i burned them while rereading psalm 51.

it’s no catholic mass, but it has meaning to me!

then, [& here’s the potentially sacrilegious part], i used the ashes from the past year as the mark of the cross for my forehead. because while i think it’s really neat to use last year’s palm leaves for ashes, those don’t have a particularly personal meaning to me. the ashes in my coppen basin do… they are a visible reminder of every sin i’ve confessed that God has wiped away, a symbol of His mercies, which are indeed new every morning.

may God bless you as you remember, repent, & return on this ash wednesday!

[a different calendar] preparing for LENT

we have just a week until the lenten season is upon us! for those who follow the christian calendar, the two big seasons of the year are lent & advent. 

i never grew up celebrating either of them, & i didn’t even know the words “lent” & “advent” until i was in high school or college. when i learned about lent, it was reduced to being defined as giving up something for a few weeks before easter. ok, fasting’s good, so that’s neat. but that’s all i ever thought of it.

i’ve given up things a couple times in the past for lent, but i don’t feel like i’ve ever fully participated in it. as i observe the religious calendar this year, i want to get to the heart of each holy day & season. i want to understand how they draw us closer to God, enrich our faith, & keep us more mindful of the kingdom at all times. in recent years, i’ve learned more about the spirit behind the lenten fast & the season as a whole.

it’s somewhat ironic to talk about preparing for lent because lent is itself a season of preparation. starting on ash wednesday, many christians spend 40 days, not including sundays, preparing for easter. [easter is another holiday i never really celebrated growing up, except easter egg hunts & ham for lunch.] while i believe that in partaking of the Lord’s supper, christians remember the death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus Christ every Sunday [at least in many traditions, including mine], i also understand the benefit of setting aside one day a year to particularly celebrate this most important event of all time. and the lenten season is a time for moderation, fasting, confession, & other spiritual disciplines, all to help us focus acutely on the life & death of Jesus in which He suffered & sacrificed for us & taught us a better way of life. then it culminates into a glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection on easter sunday! [it is important to note that lent is never mentioned in the bible, but it is a long-standing tradition in the history of the church, & it is based on many practices like repentance, mourning in ashes, fasting, & prayer told of repeatedly in scripture.]

i don’t want to just “do lent” come next wednesday. i want to prepare for it these next few days. and i invite you to prepare with me. as a guide, i’ve chosen to ruminate on the 40 ideas for lent compiled by rachel held evans. she has done this for the past few years, so you can find several lists on her blog. i imagine she’ll put together another for this year, but i’m going to work off of 2012’s list. i like how she has broken up her suggestions into four categories: questions to ask yourself, book recommendations, disciplines/fasts/rituals, & meditations. i believe partnering this with prayers for guidance will help me be intentional about lent & benefit from it to the fullest extent.

i’ll post again wednesday about where God has led me in my preparation & how i’ll be participating in this important spiritual season. i’d love to hear your suggestions & if/how you plan to practice lent!