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Monday, February 02, 2009

Cross-quarter Day

In most circles, today is known as Groundhog Day. If old Punxsutawney Pete over there in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, it means winter will soon end.

Before you snicker and guffaw, Olde Pete has actually has had a 75% accuracy rate. Not bad for a rodent, and probably as good if not better than Al Roker.

The Olde Farmer's Almanac I keep in my bathroom says that this celebration, primarily in North America and Canada, probably derived itself from this old Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Yes, today is also 'Candlemas Day' - the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. When I was growing up in the Church of Rome, it also meant that women who had recently given birth were brought to the church to be 'cleansed', which even my mother and aunts found to be insulting. Thankfully, that odious little 'tradition' was dropped soon after Vatican II.

Today is also 'cross-quarter' day. Betcha didn't know that, right? Nah, in this crowd, you probably did.

That's the day half way between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. Ancient Celts used to celebrate it as Imbolc, one of the four principal feasts of the Wheel of the Year, which is still celebrated by neopagans and wiccans.

It then became the the Celebration of the goddess Brigid, which eventually became the Feast of St. Brigid of Kildare.

I love one of the stories of St. Brigid, the daughter of a Druid priest and a mother who converted to Christianity, who became a RC nun and established several convents in The Olde Sod of Ireland. Apparently, when she was being made Abbess, the bishop read from the wrong liturgy and actually made her a bishop.

When told later by one of his assistants what had happened, he reportedly said, "What I have done, is done. Let it be." So Brigid, it is said, is the first woman to be a bishop in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Some churches still note this feast with the 'Blessing of the Throat' with an amazing contraption that looked like huge forceps with a lit candle on either end of the tong. It was then placed near the throat and prayers were said. My grandmother always told us that this was done because "Catholics eat fish on Fridays" and this was a special blessing so we would never get a fish bone caught in our throats.

NOTE: Roberta pointed out in the comment section, that the blessing of the throat is in honor of St. Blaise, not Brigid, whose feast is on February 3rd.

Which goes to the point of this post: There is something in the DNA of human beings that is naturally inclined to ritual. Long before the church laid claim to them and only allowed certain people to preside at them, there were rituals.

It's just what we do, and when we don't have them, we'll invent them. We also love magic and mystery, and rituals point us to realities beyond ourselves - to something bigger, something greater.

The Primates of the Anglican Communion also gather today in Alexandria, Egypt for their meeting this week. I understand all 38 of them are present. What with the Covenant and the paper on the 'new Anglican Province' being presented by Duncan, Himself, it's bound to be a hot time in old Alexandria Town this week. And, I'm not just talking about the weather.

I hope they all remember our human penchant for ritual and mystery. I hope they remember that there are realities beyond themselves - something bigger and greater even that Primates.

I know. It's a long shot.

Perhaps we can create our own little ritual involving a rodent who can predict what the Anglican Primates will do. I'm thinking 'Mickey Mouse' might come out of the 'Magic Kingdom' and if he sees Pluto digging a hole under the 'Magic Castle', it means that schism is near. If he doesn't, the Anglican Communion will be held together for another year - even if that's just with bubble gum, bailing wire and a whole mess of prayers.

Actually, I hope they remember the story of St. Brigid of Kildare. The Holy Spirit will have Her way, despite our carefully scripted thoughts on paper and best intentions and precious rituals.

I hope these bishops find the grace to say, "What I have done, is done. Let it be." You know. Take a little responsibility for their actions. Create a new 'pure' province, if you must, and then take your miters and leave. Gracefully. Leaving us both to worship God, however we imagine God, in the beauty and holiness and peace of the rituals of our own creation.

And, if you believe that will happen, I've got a little guy named Punxsutawney Pete I want you to meet. Everybody thinks he can predict the weather.


Brother David said...

Well, I will be a monkey's uncle, this 123 ABC guy is really starting to piss me off! Is this not the second time he has invited Duncan to the Primates Meeting?!?!

I think that he is trying to get the folks used to him being there.

ROBERTA said...

oh my! you do bring back some deeply buried memories - the blessing of the throat!!! hadn't thought of that one in years! my mother was especially fond of that particular ritual because she sang and her throat was very important to her. for some reason i am remembering a St. Blaise? is there a connection here?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oops, you're right Roberta. It IS St. Blaise. I'll have to look up her Feast Day, but I remember it being in February.

EYouthWNY said...

Ummmm, I don't wish to be seen as overly anal (especially following the convention thread, lol) but....


Punxsutawney PHIL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hmmm . . . Pete or Phil . . .I'll have to check. I could have sworn I heard Pete this morning. My apologies in advance if I'm wrong.

PseudoPiskie said...

One of the newsreaders this morning did say Pete. He was wrong. It is Phil. Jay and I are Pennsylvanians. harumph. snicker.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, okay, so it was Phil, but I KNOW I heard "Pete". Thanks for confirming that, Kirke. I thought I was losing it there for a minute.

Frair John said...


Apparently +Duncan has been scarce at the meeting. He's just not there so far. +++Rowan didn't invite him (despite claims tot he contrary), and teh GAFCON types havn't yet produced him.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for the update, Friar John. You must be reading 'orthodite' blogs. I only have one kevlar vest left and I'm on my last pair of asbestos pumps, so I'm waiting until there's breaking news before I go over there.

Fr Craig said...

EK - you are absolutely right about ritual. We crave it, I think because so much of our lives are out of control. It is one of the reasons I do not despair for the future of sacramental and liturgical churches!
And, it is Phil - as in 'Philadelphia', even though he's much closer to Pittsburgh...
6 more weeks of winter, by the way... sigh.

Paul said...

When I was at St Cuddy's we blessed all the candles for the coming year on Candlemas and I blessed throats but not with a device, simply with unlit candles held crosswise over the throat.

Humans need ritual and crave it if denied. We need more public ritual, so let the creative liturgical minds work on it - remembering that primal stuff and ancient roots beat made-up stuff nine times over.