Detail from “Charité de saint Martin” by Caroline Sorg (1864)
Spiritual intuition has always preserved a clear consciousness of all that waits upon this Birth: the sudden passionate exultation of the angelic world, all its charitable desires fulfilled, all the sacramental manifestation of created things, leading, pointing, to the Crib. Heaven and earth embracing one another: the very being of humanity, its manhood, crowned by this incarnation, and snatched up to a correspondence with the Real. Solemnly announced and long prepared, yet when the hour strikes, when that new life, veritably our own, is seen before us, and “Man stands in the New Birth”: then all that had gone before is obliterated, all gives place to this, to “the wonder of wonders, the human made Divine.”
—from The Spiral Way by Evelyn Underhill
Most of us in the Christian world have come to expect a four week-long Advent each year, starting sometime near the end of November and ending on Christmas Day. In the past, however, Advent was observed during a seven week period in much the same manner as Lent, though with slightly less emphasis on penance. This longer Advent season earned the name “St. Martin’s Lent” because it historically began on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours (November 11th) and ended, just like today, on Christmas Day. It was also called, variously, “St. Martin’s Fast” and “The Forty Days of St. Martin.”1
In an eighteenth century book entitled The Moveable Feasts, Fasts, and Other Annual Observances of the Catholic Church, author Rev. Alban Butler discusses the ancient practice of St. Martin’s Lent, writing,
“[St. Martin’s Lent] was formerly observed, even by the Laity, with Abstinence from Flesh, and with a rigorous Fast, in some Places, by Precept, in others of Devotion, and without any positive Obligation, though universal. The first Council of Maçon, in 581, ordered Advent from St. Martin’s to Christmas-day three Fasting Days a Week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; but the whole Term of forty Days, was observed with a strict Abstinence from Flesh Meat.”2
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were to take up, again, St. Martin’s Lent as a spiritual practice? In recent years I’ve heard of people embracing the concept of an “extended” Advent, but I feel there’s something missing in that gesture if all we’re doing is just adding extra time or extra candles. Advent—like many other Christian feasts, festivals, and holy days—has been almost completely secularized. Many people, even some Christians, think that Advent starts on December 1st, instead of the variable dates of the Church calendar. Perhaps reclaiming a bit of the penitential aspect of Advent would lead to a deeper engagement with the mystery of the Incarnation—Emmanuel, God with us.
st. martin’s example
Advent is about waiting for the birth of Christ, but it is also about waiting for the return of Christ. While we celebrate the first arrival, we turn our eyes toward the second. I plan to observe St. Martin’s Lent this year to try and brush away a bit of the superficial film that the Advent season seems to have accumulated from the secular world. I will take St. Martin’s own life as my lead, and attempt to follow the example of his legendary charity, as we move through the Advent season toward Christmas.
what about the candles?
Truthfully, I am still contemplating how best to approach this aspect of a longer Advent season, but I am leaning toward observing the first three weeks sans (without) candles, and then following the normal four-candle schedule (purple, purple, pink, purple) for the rest of Advent. So, I will eat my fill on Martinmas, and then move into a more penitential space—prayer, almsgiving, and fasting (Monday-Wednesday-Friday)—until Christmas.Note 1
It won’t be easy with all of the Advent-season goodies everywhere, but I suppose that’s part of the point, isn’t it?
If you’re looking for some contemplative reading material to get you through a longer Advent season, I would highly recommend for adults:
And, for children, you might consider:
Note 1 I am a vegetarian, so I abstain from flesh every day of the year. Those who regularly eat meat may wish to abstain during St. Martin’s Lent, as was common practice in prior ages.
Note 2 I don’t subscribe to Anthroposophy in its totality, nor do I agree with everything stated in this book, but this volume contains some of Steiner’s most brilliant insights on the Christmas festival—it’s worth wading into the weeds.
2 George, Maya, Faith and Philosophy of Christianity (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2009), p 284
2 Butler, Alban, The Moveable Feasts, Fasts, and Other Annual Observances of the Catholic Church (London: C. Kiernan, 1774), p 98
“Discovery of the True Cross” by Agnolo Gaddi (14th century)
I saw glory’s tree honored with trappings,
shining with joys, decked with gold;
gems had wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
— from “The Dream of the Rood” trans. Jonathan A. Glenn (1982)
Many Christians celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross—also known as Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas†—each year on September 14th. Holy Cross Day commemorates both the discovery of the True Cross in 320 A.D., and the anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335 A.D.1
Although this feast day was established at the end of the seventh century, its roots lie in the early fourth century, when Saint Helena embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in an attempt to discover the True Cross—the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.2
st. helena’s pilgrimage
St. Helena, who was in her sixties when she made her pilgrimage, had begun her life as a pagan but converted to Christianity later in life, possibly due to the influence of her son, Emperor Constantine I. Constantine fundamentally changed the course of history in 313 A.D. with his issuing of the Edict of Milan, an agreement that gave full religious liberty to Christians.3 Prior to the Edict, Christianity had been illegal and Christians had been subjected to terrible persecutions.
According to the Greek historian Eusebius, at the time that St. Helena arrived in Jerusalem there was a pagan temple dedicated to Venus lying at the top of the hill of Calvary (otherwise known as Golgotha), the site where Jesus Christ was crucified. Helena ordered the pagan temple to be destroyed and an excavation to be undertaken at that location. Three crosses were discovered buried some twenty feet under the ground, but it was unclear which was the True Cross (two other men had been crucified alongside Jesus).4 Legend says that Helena touched each of the three crosses to the body of a terminally ill woman—the wood that healed her was identified as the True Cross.5 Helena took some fragments of the True Cross with her when she returned to Rome.
the building of the basilica
Emperor Constantine ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the newly-discovered site of Christ’s tomb, which was completed and dedicated on 14 September 335 A.D. The church was damaged by fire in the early seventh century. and subsequently destroyed during the rule of the Fatimid Caliphate in 1009 A.D. Reconstruction began about twenty years later, and concern about the long-term safety of the church and the city of Jerusalem played a role in the crusades of the Middle Ages. Though the building and the city changed hands numerous times over the centuries, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has always served as an important site for Christian pilgrims, and today it remains a popular landmark in Jerusalem for visitors of all faiths.6
celebrate with children
Dear Lord, help us to treasure your cross above all things, and honor it in all the small crosses you ask us to carry as we follow you.
—from The Queen & The Cross
Holy Cross Day is a great opportunity to talk with children about Christ’s great love and willing sacrifice, and perhaps to discuss the cross as a Christian symbol. At our house we will be reading a book called The Queen and the Cross: The Story of Saint Helen, written by Cornelia Mary Bilinsky and illustrated by Rebecca Stuhff, which tells the story of St. Helena’s journey to Jerusalem and what she found there. We’ll also be painting unfinished wooden wall crosses that the children can put up in their bedrooms. Although typically baked on Good Friday, hot cross buns are also a perfect food to prepare for Holy Cross Day. Here’s a quick and easy recipe (no yeast involved!):
Hot Cross Buns, adapted from Cooks.com
For the buns
1 c whole wheat or all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c raisins
1/3 c milk
For the frosting
1/2 c confectioners sugar
2 tsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a fork or pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add honey, cinnamon, and raisins and stir gently to mix. Make a well in middle and pour in milk. Stir quickly with a fork and form a ball.
3. Divide dough into 6 round buns and place on greased baking sheet. Cut a deep cross through the top of each bun. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
4. While buns are baking, mix together confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. When buns are done, let them cool slightly, and then apply frosting in the shape of a cross on the top of each bun.
†Rood, from Old English rōd, crucifix, pole
1 “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” by Fr. Don Miller, OFM, www.FranciscanMedia.org
2 “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross,” www.CatholicNewsAgency.org, 9/14/17
3 “313 The Edict of Milan” by David F. Wright, www.ChristianityToday.com
iv “The Finding of the Cross,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.CCEL.org
v “Helen,” The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints by Tessa Paul (Lorenz Books, 2014), p 94
v “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” www.ChurchoftheHolySepulchre.net
The Homely Hours is featuring a guest post I wrote for their Book of Common Prayer in Daily Life series. Click on the image below to read my thoughts (link is also at the bottom of this post).
My dad has always been great at off-the-cuff prayers. No matter what the occasion—Easter dinner or just a family meal—he can pull together a prayer on the spot that is both authentic and meaningful. I am not blessed with my dad’s talent for spontaneous prayer, but I can still offer up words of praise or petitions for intercession, thanks to the Book of Common Prayer. . .
Read more via The Homely Hours.
For years and years I struggled just to love my life. And then the butterfly rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life too much,” it said, and vanished into the world.
Lent—that penitential season of the Church year that precedes Easter— has arrived, and I thought it might be nice to offer some ideas for observing this special time with children. Below you’ll find two crafts focused on the concept of metamorphosis, which I feel works really well as a metaphor for the Easter story, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also serves to illustrate the central tenet of our faith: Like the mystery of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, the mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection makes it possible for all of us to be transformed into something magnificent and beautiful, too.
Lent & Easter Garden
Creating an Easter garden with children is a wonderful way to experience the miracle of the Resurrection. At the beginning of Lent, or anytime before Holy Week, fill a shallow planting dish with garden soil, then add rocks, a twig for a “tree,” and a small clay cave to the scene. On Maundy Thursday, sprinkle some wheatgrass seeds on the soil, cover with another layer of soil, and water generously (keep moist by watering daily). On Good Friday have children make a caterpillar from clay, wrap it in gauze, and place it in the cave. On Easter morning, parents can replace the caterpillar with a beautiful tissue paper butterfly. The wheatgrass seeds should pop up right on time—the dead and empty garden will burst into life overnight.
Lent Vine Table Runner
To construct this table runner, you will need a piece of thick, white fabric (I used a small linen table runner I bought at a discount store), a few colors of green plus some black acrylic paint, a paintbrush, and a smooth, flat rock of some kind. Paint a green vine with green leaves, sweeping back and forth from side to side, with one leaf for each of the forty days of Lent. The last three leaves are painted black, to represent Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The rock is painted the same color as the green leaves on just one side, and once that first layer is dry, a caterpillar is painted on top of the green background. If you’re not artistically inclined, you can just use a sticker. The other side of the rock will remain unpainted.
Throughout Lent the caterpillar will travel to a new leaf each day. On Maundy Thursday, the rock will be turned over to the dark, unpainted side and will remain that way as it moves through the next two days. On Easter Sunday, parents can remove the rock and leave in its place a beautiful butterfly. This could be a picture of a butterfly, a paper cutout, or even some sort of decorative object (available at most craft stores).
Creating plant-based natural dyes is a magical experience, and it’s actually easier than it looks! There are a lot of tutorials out there, and I read many of them, but the following instructions are based completely on my own process. My son absolutely loved this activity. For him, it was a real “Little Red Hen” moment: He planted the marigolds back in June, watered them all summer, harvested the flowers, picked off the petals, stirred the pot, and then put the silks in the be dyed. He claimed the first one as a cape for himself, and it looks beautiful rippling in the autumn wind. The other silk I kept for myself, to ring my vase of Michaelmas daisies and just to enjoy throughout the season. I have a lot of dye bath left over, and plan to use it to dye some worsted weight yarn as a Christmas gift. Don’t be afraid to give plant-dyeing a try—marigolds are an easy way to get your feet…or should I say hands?…wet!
In a large bowl mix up your mordant: I used two tablespoons of alum per half gallon (8 cups) of water—make sure all of the alum is dissolved. Soak your un-dyed silk in the mordant for several hours (mine soaked while I was at work, about 6 hours total). Harvest fresh marigold flowers—you’ll need about 4 or 5 cups of petals to make a vivid dye. Fill your dye pot about 3/4 full with water and add the marigold petals. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for at least an hour, stirring and smashing (gently) the petals periodically. You will notice them cook down quite a bit! Strain the petals as best you can from the dye bath—it’s okay if a few remain, as they won’t affect the dyeing process. Add your silk to the pot and submerge fully. Continue to simmer silk in the dye bath for another half hour or so, and then remove the silks from the pot (don’t pour out the dye bath because you can use it again, though the second round of dye may be less vivid). Rinse the silks gently in first lukewarm and then cold water until the rinse runs clear. Line dry or tumble dry on low, and then iron to give the silk a nice sheen.
We are very lucky to live in a part of the country where a wide variety of summer fruits grow in abundance. A couple of years ago we planted some raspberry bushes in our yard, which we hope will someday be good producers. In the meantime, we have lots of local farms where berries are the main event, and some even let customers pick their own. Our little guy is very fond of berries so we thought it might be fun for him to have the experience of going berry-picking. We chose Monadnock Berries for its spectacular view of Mt. Monadnock, and we were not disappointed (with the view or the berries!). Picking berries with family and friends is a quintessential summer activity that should not be missed. Note: there was quite a bit of “sampling” of berries happening, as well—nothing compares to the flavor of blueberries right from the bush!
I picked over three pounds of blueberries in just under an hour, most of which I put in the freezer for later in the year when I want a taste of summer. Freezing berries is easy! Simply rinse berries in a collander, dry them lightly, and then spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze berries for a couple of hours, and then transfer them to quart-size ziplock bags and put them back in the freezer to store. If you want to use your berries right away, I highly recommend making blueberry crisp and then topping it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream—truly a summer treat that can’t be rivaled! Here’s a recipe I like to use (can be adapted to use with any type of berries, frozen or fresh):
Blueberry Crisp, adapted from a recipe by Williams-Sonoma
4 cups berries
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter
3/4 cup rolled oats
Preheat an oven to 375°F. Grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish with butter, or spray with vegetable cooking spray. Spread the berries evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the lemon juice. In a bowl, using a pastry blender or fork, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter and rolled oats until well combined. Sprinkle evenly over the berries. Bake until the top is golden and the berries are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Serve hot or warm, with ice cream or whipped cream!
America celebrates its birthday on July 4th each year. Typically, it is a festive occasion, with fireworks, parades, and barbecues. All of this is fine, and it is nice to celebrate during the good times. However, there is also a gravity to the day, often overlooked amid all the excitement, and the deeper meaning of this holiday is worth exploring.
Much has been said about the American Revolution and its aftermath, but I’d like to suggest two exceptional pieces on the subject, both of which are excerpted in the July 2016 newsletter.
Below is the full text of a speech given by Mark Twain more than a century ago, enumerating the steps that were necessary to secure the America we know today. For Twain, our Fourth of July is not a stand-alone event, but one which occurred as the natural result of an impulse that began with the Magna Carta, a document created more than 800 years ago that attempted to hold the king accountable to the law, and to protect the rights of all free men.
The American Society in London gave a banquet, July 4, 1907, at the Hotel Cecil. Ambassador Choate called on Mr. Clemens to respond to the toast “The Day We Celebrate.”
MR. CHAIRMAN, MY LORD, AND GENTLEMEN,—Once more it happens, as it has happened so often since I arrived in England a week or two ago, that instead of celebrating the Fourth of July properly as has been indicated, I have to first take care of my personal character. Sir Mortimer Durand still remains unconvinced. Well, I tried to convince these people from the beginning that I did not take the Ascot Cup; and as I have failed to convince anybody that I did not take the cup, I might as well confess I did take it and be done with it. I don’t see why this uncharitable feeling should follow me everywhere, and why I should have that crime thrown up to me on all occasions. The tears that I have wept over it ought to have created a different feeling than this—and, besides, I don’t think it is very right or fair that, considering England has been trying to take a cup of ours for forty years—I don’t see why they should take so much trouble when I tried to go into the business myself.
Sir Mortimer Durand, too, has had trouble from going to a dinner here, and he has told you what he suffered in consequence. But what did he suffer? He only missed his train, and one night of discomfort, and he remembers it to this day. Oh! if you could only think what I have suffered from a similar circumstance. Two or three years ago, in New York, with that Society there which is made up of people from all British Colonies, and from Great Britain generally, who were educated in British colleges and British schools, I was there to respond to a toast of some kind or other, and I did then what I have been in the habit of doing, from a selfish motive, for a long time, and that is, I got myself placed No, 3 in the list of speakers—then you get home early.
I had to go five miles up-river, and had to catch a particular train or not get there. But see the magnanimity which is born in me, which I have cultivated all my life. A very famous and very great British clergyman came to me presently, and he said: “I am away down in the list; I have got to catch a certain train this Saturday night; if I don’t catch that train I shall be carried beyond midnight and break the Sabbath. Won’t you change places with me?” I said: “Certainly I will.” I did it at once. Now, see what happened.
Talk about Sir Mortimer Durand’s sufferings for a single night! I have suffered ever since because I saved that gentleman from breaking the Sabbath-yes, saved him. I took his place, but I lost my train, and it was I who broke the Sabbath. Up to that time I never had broken the Sabbath in my life, and from that day to this I never have kept it.
Oh! I am learning much here to-night. I find I didn’t know anything about the American Society—that is, I didn’t know its chief virtue. I didn’t know its chief virtue until his Excellency our Ambassador revealed it—I may say, exposed it. I was intending to go home on the 13th of this month, but I look upon that in a different light now. I am going to stay here until the American Society pays my passage.
Our Ambassador has spoken of our Fourth of July and the noise it makes. We have got a double Fourth of July—a daylight Fourth and a midnight Fourth. During the day in America, as our Ambassador has indicated, we keep the Fourth of July properly in a reverent spirit. We devote it to teaching our children patriotic things—reverence for the Declaration of Independence. We honor the day all through the daylight hours, and when night comes we dishonor it. Presently—before long—they are getting nearly ready to begin now—on the Atlantic coast, when night shuts down, that pandemonium will begin, and there will be noise, and noise, and noise—all night long—and there will be more than noise there will be people crippled, there will be people killed, there will be people who will lose their eyes, and all through that permission which we give to irresponsible boys to play with firearms and fire-crackers, and all sorts of dangerous things: We turn that Fourth of July, alas! over to rowdies to drink and get drunk and make the night hideous, and we cripple and kill more people than you would imagine.
We probably began to celebrate our Fourth-of-July night in that way one hundred and twenty-five years ago, and on every Fourth-of-July night since these horrors have grown and grown, until now, in our five thousand towns of America, somebody gets killed or crippled on every Fourth-of-July night, besides those cases of sick persons whom we never hear of, who die as the result of the noise or the shock. They cripple and kill more people on the Fourth of July in America than they kill and cripple in our wars nowadays, and there are no pensions for these folk. And, too, we burn houses. Really we destroy more property on every Fourth-of-July night than the whole of the United States was worth one hundred and twenty-five years ago. Really our Fourth of July is our day of mourning, our day of sorrow. Fifty thousand people who have lost friends, or who have had friends crippled, receive that Fourth of July, when it comes, as a day of mourning for the losses they have sustained in their families.
I have suffered in that way myself. I have had relatives killed in that way. One was in Chicago years ago—an uncle of mine, just as good an uncle as I have ever had, and I had lots of them—yes, uncles to burn, uncles to spare. This poor uncle, full of patriotism, opened his mouth to hurrah, and a rocket went down his throat. Before that man could ask for a drink of water to quench that thing, it blew up and scattered him all over the forty-five States, and—really, now, this is true—I know about it myself—twenty-four hours after that it was raining buttons, recognizable as his, on the Atlantic seaboard. A person cannot have a disaster like that and be entirely cheerful the rest of his life. I had another uncle, on an entirely different Fourth of July, who was blown up that way, and really it trimmed him as it would a tree. He had hardly a limb left on him anywhere. All we have left now is an expurgated edition of that uncle. But never mind about these things; they are merely passing matters. Don’t let me make you sad.
Sir Mortimer Durand said that you, the English people, gave up your colonies over there—got tired of them—and did it with reluctance. Now I wish you just to consider that he was right about that, and that he had his reasons for saying that England did not look upon our Revolution as a foreign war, but as a civil war fought by Englishmen.
Our Fourth of July which we honor so much, and which we love so much, and which we take so much pride in, is an English institution, not an American one, and it comes of a great ancestry. The first Fourth of July in that noble genealogy dates back seven centuries lacking eight years. That is the day of the Great Charter—the Magna Charta—which was born at Runnymede in the next to the last year of King John, and portions of the liberties secured thus by those hardy Barons from that reluctant King John are a part of our Declaration of Independence, of our Fourth of July, of our American liberties. And the second of those Fourths of July was not born until four centuries later, in, Charles the First’s time, in the Bill of Rights, and that is ours, that is part of our liberties. The next one was still English, in New England, where they established that principle which remains with us to this day, and will continue to remain with us—no taxation without representation. That is always going to stand, and that the English Colonies in New England gave us.
The Fourth of July, and the one which you are celebrating now, born, in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, 1776—that is English, too. It is not American. Those were English colonists, subjects of King George III., Englishmen at heart, who protested against the oppressions of the Home Government. Though they proposed to cure those oppressions and remove them, still remaining under the Crown, they were not intending a revolution. The revolution was brought about by circumstances which they could not control. The Declaration of Independence was written by a British subject, every name signed to it was the name of a British subject. There was not the name of a single American attached to the Declaration of Independence—in fact, there was not an American in the country in that day except the Indians out on the plains. They were Englishmen, all Englishmen—Americans did not begin until seven years later, when that Fourth of July had become seven years old, and then, the American Republic was established. Since then, there have been Americans. So you see what we owe to England in the matter of liberties.
We have, however, one Fourth of July which is absolutely our own, and that is that great proclamation issued forty years ago by that great American to whom Sir Mortimer Durand paid that just and beautiful tribute—Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s proclamation, which not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also. The owner was set free from the burden and offence, that sad condition of things where he was in so many instances a master and owner of slaves when he did not want to be. That proclamation set them all free. But even in this matter England suggested it, for England had set her slaves free thirty years before, and we followed her example. We always followed her example, whether it was good or bad.
And it was an English judge that issued that other great proclamation, and established that great principle that, when a slave, let him belong to whom he may, and let him come whence he may, sets his foot upon English soil, his fetters by that act fall away and he is a free man before the world. We followed the example of 1833, and we freed our slaves as I have said.
It is true, then, that all our Fourths of July, and we have five of them, England gave to us, except that one that I have mentioned—the Emancipation Proclamation, and, lest we forget, let us all remember that we owe these things to England. Let us be able to say to Old England, this great-hearted, venerable old mother of the race, you gave us our Fourths of July that we love and that we honor and revere, you gave us the Declaration of Independence, which is the Charter of our rights, you, the venerable Mother of Liberties, the Protector of Anglo-Saxon Freedom—you gave us these things, and we do most honestly thank you for them.
In the Roman Catholic church, the month of May is devoted to a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason she is sometimes called the Queen of May—she is given the title “queen” in Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faith traditions, as well. Traditionally associated with the birth of new life, May is a natural month to celebrate the Mother of God.
There are many Roman Catholic traditions associated with Mary in the month of May, but perhaps none so beautiful as the “May Crowning,” also popular in the Orthodox Church, in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church receives ornamentation on May 1st. Garlands of flowers are a popular choice. May Crowning can also be done by families at home. A crown is constructed of wire and children could add flowers and leaves to it. Once finished, the crown could be placed on the head of a Marian statue, or secured around an icon of Mary. Children will also enjoy making flower crowns for themselves, a long-standing spring tradition and perfect for wearing to a May Day celebration or gathering.
Another activity that can be done with children is the construction of a home May Altar. If you already have a designated altar area, the addition of flowers and imagery showing the Queenship of Mary would be a nice addition. This could also be done with a nature table. If you don’t have a home altar or nature table, May is the perfect time to set aside some sacred space in your home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, home altars can be a place for prayer, reading Scripture, journaling, or enjoying daily devotionals. Even a tiny space can become sacred by its use.
For those that enjoy spending time outdoors, planting a Marian garden might be the perfect activity for the month of May. Dating to medieval times, the practice of dedicating a garden space to Mary was revived in the early twentieth century. A statue of Mary, alone or holding the baby Jesus, is central to the Marian garden. Mary has long been associated with flowers, and has been linked to the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” from the Song of Songs. More than 30 flowers and herbs are associated with Mary, including: Lilies of the valley, peonies, violets, irises, columbine, lavender, and marigolds. Nurturing plants is a wonderful spiritual practice, and a Marian garden is a calm, serene place to engage in prayer and contemplation.
For a wealth of information about Mary visit www.udayton.edu
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
— from “The True Dragon” by Brian Patten
The Feast of Saint George is celebrated in Western countries on April 23rd each year. As the patron saint of their country, George is particularly popular with the English (and those anglophiles among us who love their culture, history, and “valleys full of light”). Though nothing certain is known about George’s life, there are some “facts” that are generally accepted. St. George was born in the third century A.D. in Cappodocia (modern-day Turkey). Raised in a Christian home, George joined the Roman army and served in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. When confronted by the emperor and asked to renounce his faith, he refused. He was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed in Lydda, Palestine on 23 April 303 A.D.
The most popular legend connected to the life of St. George is his defeat of an evil dragon that was terrorizing the countryside. This story became wildly popular in England, mostly due to the publication in the fifteenth century of a book called The Golden Legend. George’s signature look—a suit of armor and white shield emblazoned with a red cross—grew out of this legend. The romantic image of St. George rescuing a fair maiden from a terrifying monster is in line with the medieval masculine ideal, the miles Christi or “knight of Christ.” Though obviously not an entirely factual account of a true historic event, the legend of St. George and the dragon has deep roots in Christian theology: The Church (the knight victorious) triumphs over the horrors of evil.
At our house, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an English-style tea party and a reading of St. George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges and beautifully illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman. This year we made Cream Tea scones (see recipe below) and sipped Twinings’ Prince of Wales tea. We served everything on some beautiful English china I got at a second-hand store. As always, I’d like to stress that celebrating the Christian year should be fun, meaningful, and strengthen our connection to God—no need to get stressed or break the budget. The beauty is in the mess.
Happy St. George’s Day to you and yours!
Cream Tea Scones adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 12 scones
3 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
additional heavy cream, for brushing on scones
additional sugar, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Sprinkle the vanilla over the dry ingredients, then drizzle in the cream, tossing and stirring gently all the while and adding just enough to make a cohesive dough. There shouldn’t be any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, but the dough shouldn’t be particularly sticky, either.
3. Divide the dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.
4. Brush each circle with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
5. Place the two circles of dough on the baking sheet, and cut each into 6 wedges. Pull the wedges apart a bit, leaving them in a circular pattern with about 1″ space between each wedge.
6. Bake scones for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown and baked all the way through.
Serve warm, split and spread with a bit of sweet butter and jam or preserves.