From 06/08: What’s the spiritual season? Holidays & milestones from St. Columba to Feast of Corpus Christi & Flag Day

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(June 8 to 14, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

This week, we’ve got some intriguing holidays—Corpus Christi and a remembrance of St. Columba—plus there are a couple of milestones worth noting in the years-long effort to improve racial relations.

TUESDAY is a fascinating milestone in racial attitudes within organized religion. Mormons mark the anniversary as the Revelation on Priesthood, a day in 1978 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the priesthood to black members. (Here’s an overview published by the LDS church itself. Then, Wikipedia offers more historical details and excerpts related to the landmark decision.)
    Newsweek magazine’s Ken Woodward reported on the mood in Salt Lake City that day—just 31 years ago (the photo at left is of the temple there): “The revelation caught noontime pedestrians in Salt Lake City by surprise. One man who had turned his portable radio to a church-owned station, called excitedly to knots of workers from the church headquarters: ‘They’ve just announced blacks can get the priesthood!’ James Dawson, one of two black members of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, told fellow Saints: ‘My faith is strengthened, I am very happy.’”
    What’s so fascinating about this now? In most predominantly white American denominations, black congregations tend to be segregated from the rest of the membership. Mormons claim to have achieved significantly more diversity than other churches through its centralized system of guiding new congregations.

TUESDAY also is the feast day of St. Columba, the 6th century saint whose dramatic life, wisdom and attention to the sacred arts led to the establishment of one of the world’s great centers of pilgrimage: the Isle of Iona in the Atlantic Ocean off Scotland (shown at top).
    Here’s a fairly detailed Wikipedia overview of his life with helpful links. But, if you want to learn more about the worldwide Iona Community, visit that homepage here. The Iona Community also maintains a page about Iona Abbey, which includes contact information for pilgrims—although most abbey scheduling is completed a year in advance.
    Ron Ferguson, an Iona writer, describes the spiritual impact of Columba’s life this way: “Columba would retreat … as Jesus would retire to a mountain or desert. But prayer and reflection were balanced by involvement in the world’s affairs. Columba, whose lineage might have allowed him to become High King of Ireland, acted as powerbroker between warring dynasties and tribes. Holiness for him was not in being separated from the world but in being separated for God in the world, a commitment which called both for involvement and reflection, as it does today.”

THURSDAY is the Feast of Corpus Christi observed primarily by Roman Catholics celebrating the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, meant to recognize Jesus’ introduction of the Eucharist into the church on Maundy Thursday, during the Last Supper.
    Here’s quite a range of sites to explore if you care to learn more: The BBC marks both of the main dates for Corpus Christi (in England and Wales, it’s on Sunday); there’s Wikipedia’s overview; then we also spotted this unusual look at Corpus Christi in medieval art from a college English course online.
    Each year, an enormous Festival of Corpus Christi is held in Granada, Spain. The festival begins the Monday prior to Corpus Christi at midnight, marked with the lighting of thousands of light bulbs, and continues through the following Sunday. Contests, bull fighting, artistry and more flank this festival—and many gather for the annual procession of life-sized mannequins. Each year, one tailor in town dresses the Tarasca, a mythological creature from a legend about St. Marta. Festival-goers eagerly anticipate the Tarasca’s dress each year, a dress whose design remains a secret until the festival.
    Visit this site for more information about the festival, or to hear “La Reja,” a traditional Corpus Christi song.

SUNDAY, Baha’is mark Race Unity Day. (Mormons aren’t the only religious group recalling milestones in racial relations this week.) Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith, asked his people to “Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.” Here’s a Baha’i summary from a couple of years as an example of the observance.
    In 1957, the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States declared Race Unity Day the second Sunday in June to call awareness to he need for acceptance of all races. Baha’is believe that racial prejudice remains the most difficult moral issue to be overcome in America today. Here’s a Vision of Race of Unity, a statement from the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.
    Keep an eye out for local observances in your area, which may appear on different days to accommodate local schedules. A city-wide Race Unity Day has been held in San Antonio, Texas, for more than a decade. This year, that event is July 18.

On SUNDAY, Americans will be seeing red, white and blue! On June 14, 1885, a 19-year-old teacher instructed his students to write an essay about the significance of the American flag, thus beginning the string of events that would end in the establishment of Flag Day. When this teacher was 50 years old—in 1916—President Wilson established this day as a national observance. Today, the National Flag Day Foundation works with communities to preserve the history and significance of this day. (Here’s another proudly flag-waving site dedicated to the annual observance. And, here’s Wikipedia’s overview, the source of this 1917 Flag Day poster at right.)
    During the week of Flag Day, Americans are asked to fly their flags in front of homes, businesses and other buildings. Many citizens salute the flag by attending patriotic events, such as the Flag Day parade in Quincy, Massachusetts, a parade that began in 1952 and continues today. The largest Flag Day parade is held each year in Troy, New York, and typically attracts approximately 50,000 viewers.
    The Betsy Ross House, a museum in Philadelphia, has long hosted old-fashioned, all-American festivals on Flag Day. This year, the Flag Festival 2009: A Turn of the Century Celebration will draw visitors from around the country.

SUNDAY also is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, for Orthodox Christians. If you’re thinking that this sounds similar to the word “Halloween,” you’re right—Western Christians celebrate this feast day on November 1, the day after All Hallows’ Eve.
    On this day, the faithful are asked to recall the sacrifices and works of saints and martyrs in church history, and to perform service in honor of those who came before them. A day to remember saints has been a part of Christianity since the fourth century.

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