Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. Except for when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Or when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Picks.

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found imbedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus and Gordian martyrs or metals?

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is keeping track of your lack of enthusiasm.

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit was that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of whitetails, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, surprised at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

English: White-tailed deer

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.


Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

6 thoughts on “Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

  1. Well said Shelley! God and spirituality can be found in church but actually lives inside each and everyone of us in thoughts, actions and our daily lives. I love the comparison between the saints and the periodic table LOL….. and the Holy Days of Obligation fib is not too unlike the whoppers that parents tell children to make them compliant!!
    Love this post 🙂

    • Many thanks! As a little kid I was absolutely sure that on any given Sunday if I didn’t show up in church, a large hand with a pointed finger ala Terry Gilliam would lower down from the sky. Yes, way too much Monty Python mixed with incredibly effective nuns. 😉

  2. Good morning Shelley,

    “The voice of Nature loudly cries, And many a message from the skies, That something in us never dies.”

    – Robert Burns, “New Year’s Day”

    I remember, church, our Nun’s (God bless them even though I still have a few ruler hash marks on my shoulders from loosing concentration during CCD too). Meeting God for the second time when I nearly burnt down His church as a young child while playing with the “offering” candles. You may not remember that one but I know Dad does, as does my back side.

    I believe that is when God offer me an out… I believe spirituality is an inner peace; a search for answers of self of who we are and where we came from. Having grown (however some may say I possibly may not have matured on course with age), my thoughts of finding religion is not through man’s practiced organizations (with all due respect to all religions); I too find my answers from nature. Sitting in the duck blind waiting for the first flight of birds to sore by at mach 3 and land 5 yards away just prior the sun’s first appearance as it breaches the cloud bank over the hazy lake. Watching the seasons change, learning how children grow and develop year by year, naturally. If we could just allow ourselves to let go and just be; allow nature (this includes ourselves and our children) to guide us as it has always had everything it (we) need, naturally to develop life, guide our way and take care of all. To stop interfering… just be.

    Lau-tzu refers to in his famous quote from the 40th verse of the Tao Te Ching: ” Returning is the motion of the Tao.”

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploration
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    T.S. Eliot, ” Little Gidding”

    God (Spirit or Tau) is everywhere. Therefore, God is in me. God is in everything I perceive to be missing. I am connected by Spirit to everything I view as missing. Align with Spirit and see that what appeared to be missing begins to show up.

    My church, as is yours, is found in nature and what is around us, in life; not in a set of structured walls where one tells you “forgive us God for we are not worthy.” Ah… pardon me, I am just as are my children, otherwise I believe God, Spirit or Tao would not have given us this gracious gift we call life.

    Keep your eyes, ears and soul open to what is around you in nature. That, is where one finds the meaning and answers to what your soul’s requests.

    There, that’s my Sunday soap box.


    Stoshu 🙂

    • Your philosophy is heady and usually sends me to the library in search of dead men to consult with. You have to remember who you’re dealing with here, Steve. All my wisdom comes from Mental Floss t-shirts. And the occasional reading of tea leaves–although it’s hard to see the letters on them because they are so so tiny. 😉

  3. If spring is about renewal, autumn is the quick and the dead. Unlike the tiny blossoms of spring, whole trees, indeed whole forests, slip gracefully into Joseph’s amazing technicolor dream coat. My favorite season, and sanctuary, by far.


    Sent from my iPhone

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