From 05/11: What’s the spiritual season? Ice saints, bonfires to honor a sage, wondrous memories of “Stevie,”

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(May 11 to 17, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

Weather is changing! Flames are leaping! Stevie Wonder’s singing! It’s quite a week. Here’s all the seasonal news for this week …

ON MONDAY, we’re all hoping spring flowers are here to last, but there’s a fairly obscure religious observance today that reminds us how often our ancestors marked the seasons with elaborate patterns of holidays. This is—taaa daaaSt. Mamertus’ Feast Day in Catholic tradition. He’s the first of the Ice Saints, whose springtime feast days were associated with traditional weather forecasting in central Europe. In May, winter still can sting in that region. So, ice on St. Mamertus’ Day was not a good sign for spring flowers. These were pessimistic peasants, apparently, because even if St. Mamertus showed up in sunny style, they still looked for ice on days devoted to St. Pancras (May 12) and St. Servatus (May 13). Basically, if you live in the northern states, watch out for fragile flowers this week. (And now you know the story of the Ice Saints, too.)

ON TUESDAY AT SUNDOWN, Jews break from the solemnity of the weeks between Passover and Shavu’ot to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a holiday that honors the end of a plague and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. According to the Talmud—a record of rabbinic discussions central to the Judaism—24,000 of the great Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague for their disrespect toward one another. On Lag BaOmer, this plague ended, and Rabbi Akiva began teaching only five students; one of these students, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, went on to teach the mysterious Kabbalah portion of the Torah and to write the base of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, in the second century. Upon his death, the rabbi asked that the day be “the day of my joy.”
    Since it’s reported that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai shed incredible light onto both the Torah and the Jewish people—and, according to the Zohar, his house of teaching was filled with intense fire—it is customary to create and dance around bonfires on Lag BaOmer. During the day, families spend time together, children participate in parades and bow-and-arrow games are often held. The greatest festival occurs in Meron, the place of Rabbi Shimon’s tomb. Hundreds of thousands of Jews pay their respects to the rabbi each year on this day, and the elaborate festivities continue both day and night.
    Eager to try a customary Jewish recipe on this day of happiness? Give it a shot with one of these links: this first recipe makes browned onion kugel, and this second link leads to cranberry apple kugel.

ON WEDNESDAY, get out the birthday candles for Stevie Wonder who turns 59 years old!
    Despite his blindness, Stevie Wonder signed with Motown Records at the age of 11 and already was a nationwide hit as “Little Stevie Wonder” at age 12. He’s been performing and wowing audiences ever since. Here’s his Web site with news about his career.
    We’re marking his birthday in the Spiritual Season column because in addition to a host of awards, honors and millions of recordings sold around the world—his contribution to American culture is truly spiritual. His 1976 double album, “Songs in the Key of Life,” changed the way recording artists thought about their work—and where their reflections on the world could carry them in popular music. That album shows up on many lists of historic moments in music.
    Variety Magazine honors him for “a mindset that would continue with his efforts to initiate the Martin Luther King national holiday, end apartheid in South Africa and form the 1985 ‘We Are the World’ fund-raiser to combat hunger in Africa.” The magazine also credits him as an innovator in electronic music who “blew audiences away” as a technical virtuoso and who sang in “a voice that seemed to summon all the angels from heaven.”

ON THURSDAY, Jews observe the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, thus creating the first Jewish homeland in more than 2,000 years. On this day more than 60 years ago, the British Mandate over Palestine expired, and the Jewish People’s Council proclaimed the state’s establishment at the Tel Aviv Museum. The United States recognized Israel’s statehood that evening.

ON FRIDAY, two rocks of society are honored: Families and peace officers. While most families provide children a safe environment in which to grow, peace officers continue to maintain this atmosphere as children become adults.
    The International Day of Families—established by the UN—deems 2009’s theme as “Mothers and Families: Challenges in a Changing World.” The Division for Social Policy and Development encourages the annual observance of this day, and submits information about families to governments, UN Information Centers and more. This year’s theme shines a spotlight on the need for better prenatal care in undeveloped countries and the need to help prevent domestic abuse. Spend some time today brainstorming on how you and your family can make a difference, and read the Secretary-General’s full report, available in a PDF file via this link.
    On October 1 of 1962, John F. Kennedy officially designated May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day to honor those who gave their lives or became disabled in the line of duty. Many communities hold services in honor of these officers, and some cities open their facilities for public tours and activities. And you may want to check out this article from Police Chief Magazine.

, read (or perhaps recite) some Emily Dickinson. She died on this day in 1886 at the age of 55. A frail woman with an immense talent for contemplating life through poetry, Dickinson wrote almost 1,800 poems during her lifetime. She was an introvert, though, and not even a dozen of her poems were released while she was alive.
    Dickinson is well known for her poems on death and immortality, but she also wrote specifically religious verse about the Bible and the words of Jesus. In fact, some of her poems are directed to Jesus. Visit to read a poem about the Nativity.
    There’s also an active Emily Dickinson International Society, whose annual meeting will take place July 31-August 2 in Canada this year.

THEN, ON SUNDAY, here’s a bit more Christian trivia to celebrate: Remember St. Mamertus from Monday? The Ice Saint? Well, beyond helping to predict the weather, his big contribution to church history was the creation of springtime observances called Rogation Days. The odd term comes from a Latin word that meant “to ask.” In traditional Catholic and Anglican parishes, people may still mark these days beginning Sunday and mainly observed early in the week May 18 to 20. Through the centuries, the main “asking” involved the natural world—asking for a blessing over fields and prayerfully asking for the health of the village’s farms. Never heard of it in your branch of Christendom? Well, here’s a collection of Rogation liturgies.

FINALLY, ALSO ON THIS SUNDAY, you may want to prayerfully mark the 55th anniversary of Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, a ruling that declared racially segregated schools unequal. This ruling was a turning point in American human rights. (Here’s an overview of the famous case.) The Earl Warren court unanimously handed down the ruling on May 17, 1954. The photo at left shows Thurgood Marshall, in the center, when the ruling came down in his clients’ favor. Throughout his career as a lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court, Marshall won nearly all of his cases. He was named to the court in 1967.

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