Today is the first day of ….

Today is the first day of …

Pentecost 71

 

Today is, for many, the first day of the work week.  It is the first day of the first full week of Olympic events in the Rio 2016 Olympics.  For a few, yesterday was the end of the Olympics.  It was the fifteenth appearance of two sisters playing tennis and regretfully, was also their last for this Olympiad.  The day on the calendar is more than just twenty-four hours.  Just as there are different calendars, there are different ways to live a day.

 

Calendars are organizational tools and the church calendar is no different.  The Roman calendar eventually had twelve months in it, an evolution of other calendars tried throughout the history of the Roman Empire.  The Hebrew calendar has thirteen months in it.  The difference between the two is that the Roman calendar was based on the sun while the Hebrew calendar was based on the moon.  If one assumes a month is four weeks long, then a year of 52 weeks divides into thirteen months very easily.  Of course, the year being 365 days means that those 52 weeks are not going to encompass all the days.  That is why some months on the Roman calendar were longer than others and the decision of which months were longer was often based on politics.

 

The Church calendar, the calendar I use for divisions of topics for this blog, is based upon both the Roman and Hebrew calendars.  It relies on changes in both the moon and the sun.  Christmas, the date of December 25th, was determined based on the Winter Solstice.  During the earliest years of the Church, it occurred on December 25th.  It was considered the birth of the sun because, after the Winter Solstice, the days grow longer and the sun would appear to ancient man to grow.  For the early Christian Church, a group of Jewish believers who recognized the man known as Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Christ, the son of God, the symbolism between the natural “sun” and the religious “son” was too good to ignore.  In more modern times the date of the Winter Solstice occurs between December 21-23 but is now beginning to move earlier to include December 20th.  Christmas, however, has remained a fixed date on December 25th.

 

There are remnants of the Hebrew calendar still evident in the modern calendar, however.  Easter is not a fixed date and changes every year.  The date for Easter is based upon the phases of the moon.  Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Vernal Equinox or Spring Solstice.  The Jewish festival of Passover is also celebrated during this time.

 

Advent is the season on the church calendar that precedes Christmas.  It is the first season of the calendar and the name of it means “coming”.  It may seem a contradiction in terms since most people think of Advent as the season in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus and his birth at Christmas but Advent is the season which is most closely related to the Hebrew people.  It is during Advent that we recognize and remember with our own Advent rituals the yearning of the Jewish people as they awaited their promised Messiah.

 

Not everyone who reads this blog is either Jewish or Christian and I am very grateful for that.  This has theological overtones as well as spiritual discussions but I hope it reflects the universality of the human race.  Not all of my closest friends have had the same religious affiliation that I do and some have had none at all.  I firmly and decidedly believe that such affiliations do not make us good people.  That is determined by how we live, how we treat others.

 

We all have our own uniqueness but we also all have a great deal in common.  I think we can all think of some time in our life where we needed help; maybe even a time when we really, really needed help.  It is those moments of request, earnest and heartfelt requesting that unites us.  We all get hungry, cold, scared, and even sick.  We also all are born with the ability to experience happiness and joy.  Regretfully, while we all experience the conditions of need, not everyone gets a chance to experience the conditions of positive emotion.

 

Today is the first day of life for newborn babies born this day.  It will also be the dawning of a new age for many.  They will undertake new challenges, scale new heights if possible, develop new strategies which will benefit all mankind.  For others, today will simply be the passing of time, another twenty-four hours exactly like that last.  Those people have become complacent in defining their living as simply “chores and bores”.  We might even ask if this is indeed living.

 

Today is your chance to put a smile on the face of someone.  It is a day full of twenty-four hours of potential.  The late photographer and makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin recognized that each of us has the power to make today the best day of our lives.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Today really is the first day of the rest of your life.  I hope you embrace it and all the potential it offers.  You can make today go from ordinary to extraordinary by embracing your life and its potential.  Today I hope you chose life.

 

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Dissimilarly Similar – Pentecost #151-153

Dissimilarly Similar: Pentecost 151-153

Pentecost #151 – One and Many

It is time again to answer some questions and comments.  Thank for you all of them!  First, this Pentecost has been a time to explore the mythologies of the world, the various spirits mankind has believed in since the beginning.  I elected to do this journey into these stories because Pentecost, in the Christian religious tradition, is a season dedicated to the Holy Spirit.  Just as we deliberated the religions of the world last Advent, this exploration is not about converting but about educating and acquainting.  Secondly, to those who have enjoyed reading about these stories, I give a most heartfelt “thank you”.  Thirdly, someone mentioned that one would have to be crazy to believe in these deities, in any deity.  That is certainly your right to consider and hold that attitude.  I remember once, as a teenager in school, we had a marching band practice at the end of the day.  Suddenly the skies opened up and we were instantly drenched.  We had been going over the formations of a new program so no one had their instruments.  Since we were out there without the need to scurry to take the musical instruments to safety, we simply began to frolic in the rain.  A passer-by saw fifty or sixty kids in a field by the school running around and called the local law enforcement, describing our play as “crazy”.  Sometimes what some consider being full of joy appears as insanity to others.  It is all about context and perspective.

Along those same lines is the African Nilotic word “Jok”.  For the ancient cultures of Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, Jok embraced their concept of the divine spirit.  Like anything that has been around since antiquity, Jok has other variations such as Jwok, Juok, Joagh, Joghi, and Joogi.  Jok has also been defined in different ways, again depending on the time period, perspective, and context of the one developing the dictionary or translation.

Throughout time, the many words used as synonyms for God (Who remembers which discussed all of these?) have been widespread and varied.  For some Jok implied the one deity of the Abrahamic faiths, the one we call God or Allah.  For others, Jok means spirits, gods, or even devils.  Mankind has a plethora of contradictory ideas regarding spiritual beings.

For the people whose language was Nilotic, Jok was the word that means the unified spirit of God and the lesser gods.  Jok was personal and interpersonal, local and omnipresent.  Interestingly enough, the same might be said of mankind.  After all, there are people right next door to me and people on the other side of the world, all over the world in fact.  There are people I know intimately and people I do not know.  What is important is to remember that, in spite of our differences, we really are one people, many races but all the family of mankind.

Pentecost #152 – Equal and Different

The Kikuyu tribe has their own word for God – Ngai.  A Kikuyu is a fig tree which is a fertility symbol in both Africa and Asia.  The Kikuyu tribe lives on the slopes of Mount Kenya, a culture that goes back several centuries at least.

The Kikuyu believe that everyone has a spirit which is called ngoma.  The ngoma is said to become a ghost after death, a spirit that can become quite persistent in avenging any wrongs suffered during life.  Burial rituals differ for village elders and lesser members of the clan.  Their myths tells of certain trees which are said to be favored by these spirits and food offerings are often placed at the based of the trunks to appease.

The Kikuyu believe that Ngai will punish those who fail to keep the faith.  Similar to the Roman god Jupiter, they believe Ngai strikes down the unfaithful with lightning.  Many Kikuyu also believe in predestination, which is to say that a person’s live is preordained before their birth.

The god Ngai has a name from the Bantu language which translates as “the Apportioner”.  Their myths tell them that part of creation was the dispersal or apportioning of Ngai’s gifts to all the different nations on earth.  The Kikuyu people received the skill and implements needed for successful agriculture and they are a farming community.  There are today approximately six million Kikuyu in Kenya which makes them the largest ethnic group in the country.  They call themselves Agikuyu, a variation of the native pronunciation “Gikuyu”.  Gikuyu translates as sycamore tree and “agikuyu” means children of the huge sycamore.

The Kikuyu have adapted throughout time.  In the 1800’s their music became influenced by European composers.  More recently cinema and food production have gained prominence in this culture.  The Kikuyu believed that Ngai equally distributed gifts of life to all people.  These gifts were equal yet different.  Many might see a tribe living on a mountainside and think “What could they know?”  To me, this culture has had things and life figured out lone before most of us did or do.  They continue to believe in their myths while moving forward to the future.  Whether you are on a mountain slope or living in the middle of a bustling city, it is not a bad way to life.

#153 – True Riches

While early missionaries to the African continent seemed to catalogue hundreds of “heathen gods”, the cultures of Africa have been mostly monotheistic.  What they also have, though, is a deep reverence for and belief in ancestral spirits.   African mythology is reflected not only in the masks of various cultures but in other artwork and their music.  The masks often reflected supposed faces of various spirits.  Even the fabrics were dyed to reflect mythologies and beliefs.

What is especially nice is that many of these myths have survived and are given life today.  They are reflected in the smiles of Africa’s children and tribal hospitality.   All too often we overlook the joy in religion and spirituality.  The true riches of the world’s mythologies are in the joyous living they encourage.

It may seem that as a native of Louisiana, adopted as an infant, who grew up to become an internationally acclaimed make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin would have nothing in common with African mythology.  However, Aucoin’s philosophy of life really illustrates a recurring theme found in African mythology.  “Today I choose life.  Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain…To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

Each sunrise brings each of us a new day, a new chance to embrace life and live.  Whether a farmer on the slope of a mountain in Kenya or a worker on a tomb in the Sahara, African myths not only tell the story of the cradle of civilization, they tell of the riches of life.