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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(October 26 to November 1, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton
THIS WEEK, C.S. Lewis reflected on autumn and the afterlife. We’re also marking anniversaries of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the Wall Street crash 80 years ago and an ancient charter of human rights. Theravada Buddhists mark a day of sharing—and on Saturday night, goblins and ghosts appear! Sunday is All Saints’ Day for many Christians—and all across the U.S. people reset clocks! Read all about these events and observances below …
TUESDAY, consider the undertones of autumn—as C.S. Lewis did. On this date in 1963, he penned a letter to a friend and remarked, “Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons; and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But, of course, like autumn, it doesn’t last.” As C.S. Lewis was coming to the end of his life on Earth when he composed this letter, he may have been contemplating a life after death.
Although C.S. Lewis was raised in the Christian faith, he left religion early in life; it wasn’t until decades later, in 1931, that this famous Christian writer turned back to his childhood faith. Historical accounts credit a lengthy discussion with author J.R.R. Tolkien with sparking Lewis’ return to Christianity. Perhaps most famous for his seven-novel series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis possessed such an influential ability in his writing that he even converted wife-to-be Joy Gresham to Christianity. Today, the C.S. Lewis Foundation preserves his work.
WEDNESDAY, it’s been 90 years since Congress enacted the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition—13 years of legal attempts to ban alcohol.
Here’s a National Archives resource page for teachers on Prohibition—and here are images and other online materials from the Library of Congress.
In retrospect, the Volstead Act had been a long time coming. Nearly a century earlier, many Americans had grown worried by our nation’s consumption of alcohol. The American Temperance Society was founded in 1826. (The majority of members of temperance groups were Evangelicals and Christians, many of whom gathered in local churches). A few years later, the Women’s Christian Temperance Society pledged to someday both prohibit drugs and alcohol and raise public morals.
Hollywood tends to focus on the crime that sprang up around Prohibition, but the battle was waged on a spiritual front as well. Billy Sunday, a baseball-player-turned-preacher, spoke to thousands about his support for a dry America. However, many Americans refused to give up alcohol. There were even cases of people posing as priests and rabbis—hoping to get their hands on wine used in sacred rites.
Rebellion against the law rose steadily, and government officials found it increasingly difficult to enforce the prohibition. The Volstead Act failed, and by 1933, the 18th amendment had been repealed.
Also on WEDNESDAY, some Christians recognize Milvian Bridge Day, the day when the Battle of the Milvian Bridge occurred between Constantine and Maxentius. Constantine came out of the fight victorious, and according to the chronicles of Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, this marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.
Traditional accounts say that Constantine and a few of his soldiers were inspired in the battle by an earlier vision of God—which moved them to place the sign of the cross on their shields. A fresco depicting this battle was painted by Giulio Romano and other assistants of the artist Raphael. “The Battle of the Milvian Bridge” is located in the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican.
The Battle of the Milvian Bridge remains a topic of controversy and skepticism—even among Christians—but it remains an annual opportunity to reflect on the role of religion in war.
THURSDAY, many Americans will recall a famous TUESday 80 years ago. In 1929, October 29 was “Black Tuesday,” the date often associated with the largest stock market crash in the history of the U.S. (taking into account its aftereffects and full extent). The financial crisis actually began on October 24, 1929, called “Black Thursday,” but it continued to worsen until Tuesday, when the bottom really fell out on Wall Street. The Great Depression followed.
The 1920s were years of great prosperity and wealth in America, leading many to falsely believe that the “good luck” would continue for decades. By November 13, 1929, the date that stocks hit their lowest point, the market had lost more than $30 billion. The revenue lost in the American economy matched what its government had spent on WWI.
While churches at the time had long seen a decline in membership, the Great Depression brought an approximate 5 percent increase in attendance, historical records show. Clergy were greatly disappointed. Whether it was because Americans had lost hope in light of the stock market crash, had little time for God in the midst of their financial ruin or were simply listening to leaders such as Father Charles Coughlin on the radio instead, there was no real religious revival after the Crash as some hoped.
In light of today’s economic recession, have you changed your religious commitments or perspectives? What do you feel we have to learn, if anything, from those who survived the Great Depression? Send us an Email with your thoughts.
Also on THURSDAY, reflect on your human rights! It was on this day in 529 B.C. that Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, created the world’s first charter for human rights. Now, October 29 is known as International Day of Cyrus the Great.
Cyrus the Great ruled the largest empire the world had seen until that point. He’s also noted as the first Zoroastrian Persian emperor. Cyrus was known for his influence on military leadership strategies, including “Diversity in counsel, unity in command.” It was through this perspective on leadership that Cyrus developed his respect for the existing customs and religions of the territories he won.
Historically, Jews respect Cyrus for his decision, after he conquered Babylon, to allow Jews to return from exile.
In hopes of bringing peace to mankind, Cyrus claimed his goal was to be a liberator, and many scholars agree that he created the first Charter of Human Rights in history in the Cyrus Cylinder (pictured above at left). The Cyrus Cylinder, a molded artifact of clay inscribed with Babylonian cuneiform, holds an account by Cryrus that discusses the need to protect the “honor, prestige and religious beliefs” of all nations he conquered.
Currently, the Cyrus Cylinder is on display at the British Museum. According to an article in the Payvand News of Iran, the British Museum is refusing to loan the Cylinder to Iran’s National Museum due to the post-election political situation in Iran. Read the details of this British-Iranian tension here.
SATURDAY, some Theravada Buddhists begin to honor a millennia-old festival known as Kathina (the date of this festival varies greatly by region, often falling sometime in October or November). During Kathina, monastery residents mark the end of the three-month rain retreat and the faithful celebrate harmony while gathering with family and friends and offering cloth to the Sangha.
According to Buddhist scriptures, a group of 30 monks were once traveling to see the Buddha, so they could spend the rainy retreat with him. Unfortunately, the rainy season began before these monks could reach the Buddha, and they were forced to settle where they were. When the rainy season ended, the monks finally reached the Buddha. To cheer up his followers, the Buddha suggested they share the task of gathering cloth to make a robe that would be presented to one of their own. Once the monks had gathered enough cloth, they began stitching together the pieces on a frame known as a kathina. Since that time many years ago, many Buddhists have offered cloth to the Sangha, or collective members of the monastery, at the end of the rain retreat. After the reception of the cloth, members of the Sangha work together to create a robe, presenting it to one of their own upon completion.
SATURDAY evening, get out those pumpkins and shout “Trick or treat!” Whether you honor it as All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween or Samhain, October 31st at sundown means something just a little spooky to just about everyone.
Country after country around the world marks this night as one of importance, from the ancient Celtic New Year’s festival to the events of the Egyptians, pre-Spanish Mexicans and residents of the British Isles. The Celts (who were once spread across Europe) called Oct. 31 Samhain, origianlly translated to mean “Summer’s end,” and Wiccans and Pagans still call it that.
Perhaps most evident in today’s culture is the connection of this eve with the dead. For many cultures, Oct. 31 was—and for some, still is—the Feast of the Dead. During this night, it’s believed that the dead can return to the land of the living. In ancient Ireland, the great burial mounds were opened on Samhain, and lighted torches lined the walls of the mounds so that the dead could feast with the living.
Since the Celtic view of time was cyclical, they believed the New Year was a night that existed outside of the circle of time. Thus, Samhain was the ideal time to look into the future. Jack-o-lanterns are believed to have originally been used to scare away evil spirits, ghosts and demons on this night of the dead. Trick-or-treating can be traced back to the offering of food and drink by the Celts to the spirits of the dead. As foreign influences became more prominent in the Celtic culture, people began dressing as creatures of horror (ghosts, skeletons, mummies, etc.) and begged for foods and drink.
Looking for some fresh family ideas this year? Click here for fun Halloween recipes, crafts and party ideas! If you don’t find anything to your liking, don’t get too scared, because this Halloween Web site from Hershey’s is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth—no tricks required.
SUNDAY morning at 2 a.m., it’s time to move your clocks backward! On this date in 2009, Daylight Savings Time ends and Standard Time begins. According to some sources, the onset of Daylight Savings Time saves energy; however, this topic is hotly debated and often varies by region and climate. The concept of Daylight Savings Time originated with Ben Franklin, and today, DST and time zones are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Also on SUNDAY, it’s All Saints’ Day for Christians. Also known as the Feast of All Saints, millions of Christians spend this Sunday honoring all saints—both known and unknown—throughout the church’s history. Generally, Christians believe that departed saints are connected in communion with the living.
Historical accounts date All Saints’ Day back to the second century. When Pope Boniface IV received the Pantheon as a gift from Emperor Phocas, the Pope dedicated it as the Church of Santa Maria, in honor of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. Pope Gregory III declared the day to be in honor of all saints, and Pope Gregory IV made the day official, in 837.
According to Christian teaching, the night before All Saints’ Day presents an opportunity for Christians to rejoice in the fact that evil spirits pose no threat to them.
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