THE ENGLISH AND THEIR CAKES

THE ENGLISH AND THEIR CAKES

I’ve been blessed to travel to England at least ten times, and that doesn’t count the little stopovers for a day or two while going somewhere else.  I studied English Literature at the undergraduate level and have studied English history and particularly English theology; thus, I enjoy my time in England immensely.

What absolutely bowled me over on one of my last trips to England with a group of my students and choristers, however, is something I ought to have noticed long before.  The English are really, really into their cake.  I don’t know how I missed this on all the other visits I’ve had over there.  Of course, the search for English “real ale” might have something to do with it, or the search for the perfect steak and ale pie, or fish and chips. I really found myself mystified by this heretofore unknown (to me) fact about English cuisine, and also that I’d never caught on to it before. . . 

They love their cakes in every shape and size, like the giant piece of really amazing Lemon Cake—the really tangy lemon kind that the sugar in the frosting complements so nicely. I found this in the local bakery in Sherborne during a deluge that turned the medieval streets into rushing rivers and seemed to challenge God’s promise that accompanied the rainbow.   The little cinnamon apple cake–only an inch high, but bursting with homemade goodness at Tom’s Cakes in St. Ives’s, Cambridgeshire was worth the wait I had until any shop had opened in that picturesque little town.

The supermarkets in England are filled with the same decent-to-really-bad cakes as are the supermarkets in America.  The real difference, I find, is that there are many more options of decent and really bad cakes in England.  I sampled a number of supermarket cakes and of the homemade variety in Church “potlucks” in England on this last trip in particular.  This was definitely one of the places that awakened me to the reality of the English and their cake.  Church dinners are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to what people really eat.

I mentioned my new epiphany about the English to a number of priests that hosted us throughout England.  Father Mark Amey chuckled and said, “Why of course!  The English must have their cake.  After all, we’re a nation that drinks a lot of tea.  Certainly you’ve heard of tea and cake, yes?”

And so my humiliation about missing the obvious continued.  I do think, however, that the fact that I didn’t drink so much tea on this last trip helped me to understand this reality about cakes.  You see, I found myself a bit more tired that usual on this trip (some dear friends have suggested age and leading a troop of young people all over England might be the problem), and thus, I was after what I’m used to: deep, dark, strong coffee.  I’ve never tried before, really, because coffee was just plain unavailable in England.  This trip, however, showed me that coffee is bursting upon the little island so long known for tea.  My newfound friend, Arthur Barnard, near the Peak District, brewed an amazing cup via french press, but finding a really good cup of coffee is still somewhat difficult.  But, with all the options, I tried and tried. I found myself at little cafes and bakeries in the mornings, and this, of course, led to cake.

And so, with all the amazing places we visited, the amazing music we heard, the amazing people we met, and the out of the way hikes we had, I learned about cake and the English.  One of my favorite moments in England, however, I have to admit, was sitting in an old castle and having a lovely homemade apple pie covered in custard.

HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN

Ghouls, ghosts, and witches, warlocks, and spooks of all kinds. These, along with every sort of Disney princess and comic book hero, seem to be the common theme of the average Halloween celebrations in American culture today. Of course, many rural places add a harvest theme to the celebration, and if you want truly scary stuff, it wouldn’t all that hard in our current culture to find a very active occult world on All Hallows’ Eve.

But for all that, All Hallows’ Eve is exactly what this evening is about, and apparently, always has been. Let me explain: October 31 is the eve of All Hallows’ Day. All Hallows’ Day is known more often as All Saints’ Day. Hallowed is an older word, and most people know it from the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” It means sanctified, or made holy (and comes from the Greek word, hagiázo). A related version of the word is hagios which is often translated as “saint.” 

So All Saints’ Day is the festival celebrating all the sanctified, or holy ones—those who were set aside by God as His holy children. This is not a reference only to “Saints” as in Saint Augustine of Hippo and all the other saints names that we have on Church calendars, but saints as in all those who have lived the Christian life and gone on to be with God to wait for the final resurrection of the dead. So Halloween actually comes from the Church. All Hallows’ Eve was contracted to Hallowe’en, and eventually, lost the apostrophe, and most now just spell it as Halloween.

Many today believe in pagan underpinnings of Halloween, and the often ghoulish trappings of the celebration—especially the occult activities happening on this night—help to solidify that opinion. In the 19th century, the academic opinion grew that Halloween was rooted in the Celtic Festival of Samhain. In turn, this academic opinion bled into the general public, particularly in America. Ronald Hutton, in his The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, notes that one 19th century English academic’s theory about Samhain being the Celtic New Year “was further popularized by the Cambridge scholar, Sir James Frazer. At times [Frazer] did admit that the evidence for it was inconclusive, but at others he threw this caution overboard and employed it to support an idea of his own: that Samhain had been the pagan Celtic feast of the dead.”

Frazer’s argument for this is a bit sketchy. He argues that November 1 had been dedicated by the medieval Church to be a festival of the dead, and therefore it could be surmised that this had “been a Christianization of a pre-existing festival.” Hutton notes that Frazer “…admitted, by implication, that there was in fact no actual record of such a festival”(1). In fact, we know very, very little about the Celtic Samhain.

We are more certain, however, that the Celtic peoples of the British Isles were Christianized by the 600s. Of course St. Patrick converted the Irish in the 400s. St. Ninian was the first missionary to Scotland in the middle 400s and converted the southern part of the land. St. Columba worked among the people of northern Scotland in the 500s.

All Saints’ as a Feast Day celebration was well established in the Eastern and Western Church by 400AD.  St. Chrysostom (d. 407) assigns it a definite day, the First Sunday after Pentecost (which is fifty days after Easter), and it is still observed on that day in the East.  In the West, the Feast day did not become firmly established until about 610. “From then on an annual commemoration of ‘All Saints’ was made on 13 May”(2).  The date was changed across the Western Church by order of Pope Gregory IV in the 800s.

The idea that the Bishop of Rome changed the date for the Feast of All Saints’, for all of the Western church, so that the very small Celtic part of the Church (furthest away from Rome, in fact) could take dominion of the Celtic Festival of Samhain, when that Festival or whatever elements of it were left to a culture that had been Christian for 200-400 years had never caused one complaint from Church officials(that we have record of), seems to be a very far stretch. 

Without getting into the extra evidence that Hutton points out, let me quote his conclusion: “This [evidence] makes nonsense of Frazer’s notion that the November date was chosen because of ‘Celtic’ influence: rather, both ‘Celtic’ Europe and Rome followed a Germanic idea….” Cambridge Historian Mary Beard writes that “a large proportion of [Frazer’s] The Golden Bough  is inadequate, as well as irrelevant…”(3). Essentially, Frazer’s arguments have been dismissed for a long time in the academic world, but are still the backbone of popular belief in the culture of our day, so that many Christians fear that Halloween is really pagan and that Christians should not be involved at all, or involved guiltily at best.  Many non-Christians are convinced that Halloween has nothing to do with the Church, and neo-paganism is pressing this point, often veering into the truly frightening world of the occult.

The simple truth is that the Church should reclaim her heritage, and own the truth with beauty and goodness, and should celebrate Halloween as the Church has always celebrated, with the liturgies and prayers and devotions associated with the festival.  How much and what kind of parties are up to the discretion of the Church and her people.  How many of the pagan traditions from the old world that still cling to All Saints should be used is also to be chosen wisely.  But really, who wants to ban apple-bobbing because it has folkloric roots in predicting future love, finding a husband, and likely in being a female fertility rite?

____________________

Endnotes:

1 Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996, ch. 34.

2 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 42.

3 Beard, Mary. “Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of The Golden Bough.” Modes of Comparison: Theory & Practice. Ed. Aram A. Yengoyan. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 2006. 161-87.

HOLY WEEK

HOLY WEEK

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem!” With these Gospel words on Quinquagesima Sunday, the Church declares the Season of Lent to be a journey toward Jerusalem, toward the passion of Christ.  Holy Week is certainly the climax of that journey, beginning on Palm Sunday when we arrive at Jerusalem with Christ. Together with Resurrection Day, these eight days of Holy Week and Easter take us through the entire scope and sequence of the Gospel of God. “Death does its worst but Christ is victorious.”

In order that we might understand the intent of this holiest of weeks, the Book of Common Prayer offers an extraordinary series of feast days and propers. These propers call us to remember and to celebrate Christ’s suffering on every day of the week. The sequence of Gospel readings found in these propers provides the most complete and perfect representation of the Gospel found anywhere in the Prayer Book. 

Beginning Palm Sunday and continuing through Maundy Thursday, the whole church reads together the account of Christ’s Passion from each Gospel in order, beginning with St. Matthew and ending with St. John. But the Collect appointed to be read every day of Holy Week keeps our minds focused on that which lies through and beyond the Passion: “Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection.” This play of Collects and Gospel readings calls us to be patient as Christ suffers, that we may be joyful partakers of Resurrection.

It should come as no surprise that this week of feasts—so full of joy, sorrow, glory, pain, faith, denial, triumph and crucifixion—should build up great and rich traditions that go beyond the pages of the Prayer Book. Many of those traditions are worthy companions of Anglican Prayer Book Catholicism.

Palm Sunday, as the name implies, rightly begins with the Blessing of Palms, complete with a reading of the Triumphal Entry, followed by a procession into the Church with shouts of Hosanna. This glorious procession emphasizes the true character of this Feast Day by its shocking contrast with the Palm Sunday Eucharistic Gospel. Traditionally, after that glorious entry, when the Crucifixion account is read, the deacon and all the people fall to their knees in stunned silence at the announcement of the death of Jesus.  Only after a lengthy period of silence and with great effort does the deacon arise and resume the Gospel. As St. Bernard says, “Who ought now to put his hope in the inconstancy of temporal glory, when even in the Author of time and the Creator of the universe he beholds so great a humiliation after so great an exaltation? For in the same city, in the same week, Christ was one day received with a glorious procession and divine honours, and on another subject to insult and torture….”

Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are rightly celebrated as solemn Eucharists, the emphasis being upon the remembrance of the Passion of each Gospel narrative. St. Mark’s Gospel is read over two days, emphasizing Christ’s physical sufferings more than his actual death. We will dwell on his death later, but now we remember that his suffering is propitious. “By thine agony and bloody sweat,…” as the Prayer Book says.  And there is no substitute for patience on these days. We are called to be like St. John who, in great love and faith, followed Jesus every step of the way toward the cross.

Maundy Thursday is simply stunning. The Feast is a celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  It begins with a simple ceremony of Foot Washing, following the mandate of Jesus. The celebration ends with the betrayal of Christ into the hands of the enemies, marked by the Stripping of the Altar. In this powerful ceremony everything of beauty and value—including linens, banners, crucifixes, artwork, and candles—is removed from the sanctuary. What cannot be removed is covered over with black material. The altar is washed in preparation for Good Friday. Finally, a large, rough hewn wooden cross is placed at the entrance to the Sanctuary. It is time to offer the sacrifice. The priest and the entire congregation leaves in silence and unease, many stopping to kiss the foot of the cross as they exit.

Good Friday is the most sober celebration in human history. On this day we are called upon to contemplate the grotesque suffering and death of our Savior and to find joy and gratitude. This is, after all, why we call the day Good Friday. Although the Prayer Book provides Eucharistic readings for the day, it is not common to celebrate the Eucharist this day, unless in some parishes, with the reserved Sacrament from Holy Thursday. Instead, most parishes gather for either a series of meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ or the Stations of the Cross, or the very traditional service of the Litany followed by the Ante-Communion, often followed by the Reproaches.  Many parishes set up prayer vigils or round the clock reading of the Scriptures which continue until the announcements of Easter morning. But the emphasis of this day and of Holy Saturday is quiet contemplation of the death and burial of Jesus Christ. That quietness is only broken with the joyful sounds which begin to rumble at sundown on Holy Saturday, when Holy Week ends and Easter begins.

PREPARATION: THE PRACTICAL SIDE

PREPARATION: THE PRACTICAL SIDE

This Lenten Season, it is my hope that I will learn and grow in spiritual disciplines; that my family will learn and grow in the same; and also, of course, that my students and parishioners will be sanctified in the practice of those disciplines which the Church, through the wisdom and guidance of God, has placed before us for our edification.

I hope that the Lenten articles published on Earth & Altar this season have or will stimulate your thinking, challenge your living, and encourage your spiritual life with discussion regarding those disciplines and practices used for years in Christ’s Church.

I would like to take a small space here to remind you of the practical considerations of Lent.  Please remember that all the spiritual preparedness in the world to meet our God on a Sunday morning will not mean a thing if we don’t actually get up early enough, groom and take care of ourselves and our children (if we are so blessed), get in the car, and actually arrive to participate in the worship of Almighty God.

Similarly, if we do not prepare for the high holy days of the Church year, we will not be ready.  Remember that much of that preparation is practical.

There are really only two seasons of the year which become difficult to participate in if we do not adequately prepare: Christmas and Easter both have back to back days of obligation.  Instead of looking at those seasons with trepidation when it comes to realizing the practical necessities involved, please consider looking forward to them with joy because of your good preparation.

When I started serving my first parish, Christmastide was for years a season of exhaustion and sickness.  Of course, being the Vicar, I didn’t have a choice to decide not to attend service Christmas morning. I actually was always glad and thankful to be in God’s house worshipping Him during that busy time despite being sick. My lack of preparation, however,  took its toll on my health and contentment.

To solve my problem, I used common sense and started preparing better in a practical sense.  That’s not to say I’ve figured it all out.  Christmas and Easter are still especially busy seasons and I am usually very tired, but I am, of late, quite a bit more healthy and able to enjoy God’s blessings more fully.

All this to encourage you to prepare for Holy Week and Easter not just spiritually, but practically.  Of course, it is really all part of the same life—there is no division between our physical reality and our spiritual reality.  Yet, please take the time to think through the practical end of Holy Week.  After all, there is a service every day.

How are you going to make sure the daily things of life don’t get in the way of your worship?  I have to take care with my schedule that week, not trying to do too much so that I might focus on the worship of God Almighty.  I encourage you to the same.

Holy Week worship is beautiful and amazing—please don’t miss a day of it because you’re not prepared!

A WORD ABOUT COLORS

A WORD ABOUT COLORS

When traditional Anglicans think of Lent, they usually see it in purple. Certainly, purple is commendable and was long a nearly universal practice. However, the Anglican cleric Percy Dearmer records rich traditions and ancient practices which can inform the church and help Anglicans recover a fuller Anglican practice. Two of Dearmer’s insights concern Lent and Holy Week.

According to Dearmer, ancient practice in England was to use a Lenten Array throughout the season. This collection of vestments and paraments was made of unbleached linens of simple design and limited adornment. This natural material and simplicity emphasized the austerity of the season. In recognition of this ancient practice, many suppliers of church goods have begun displaying Lenten Arrays for purchase. As it turns out, these newfangled Lenten Arrays may have more historical precedence in Anglican churches than does purple.

Concerning Holy Week, Dearmer records that the ancient practice was to use “scarlet” as the liturgical color. This may be related to the fact that in ancient times, what they called purple we would call scarlet or magenta. In other words, ancient purple tended to red (think of your bishop’s magenta shirt which we all call purple) while modern purple tends to blue. At any rate, many Anglican parishes around the world have recovered the use of “scarlet” during Holy Week as reflected by Ordo Calendars which show red as the color for Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday. (Some places use white on Maundy Thursday to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.) Black is the color of Good Friday and until sundown on Holy Saturday.

Dearmer also points out the diversity in use of liturgical colors. Although liturgical colors have been utilized since the most ancient times, which colors were used and when each color was applied was always very fluid and locally appointed. Uniformity in use of liturgical colors is a relatively recent standard.  According to Dearmer, uniformity didn’t arise until after the Reformation, and perhaps not until after the Oxford Movement of the mid 1800s.

So while purple may be the “traditional” color of Lent, there may be even older traditional options yet to be discovered by hard-working Altar Guilds.

RISEN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN FILM BELOW THE MARK

RISEN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN FILM BELOW THE MARK

By Jared Tomlinson

Gregorian chant. Byzantine iconography. Gothic architecture. Renaissance polyphony. The Inklings. For most of the past two millennia, Christians have been at the forefront of the world’s aesthetic life. And then the twentieth century arrived.

During the twentieth century, especially its latter half, Christians traded their leading role for cheap imitation of the rest of the world’s artistic output. The results speak for themselves. We had Johann Sebastian Bach, now we have Hillsong. We had C. S. Lewis. Now we have Frank Peretti. And we have Christian movies. God, forgive us for Christian movies.

The latest is a flick called Risen. It tells the story of a Roman tribune ordered by Pontius Pilate to investigate the disappearance of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The most disappointing thing about Risen is not that it’s a particularly bad film—it’s certainly better than most of the faith-based fare on offer. No, the most disappointing thing about Risen is that it could have been a pretty good one.

Really, it should have been a pretty good one. It was written and directed by Kevin Reynolds, who made an excellent adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo in 2002. It boasts considerable acting talent in its leading man, the formidable Joseph Fiennes. But, it’s not. And here’s why.

Risen cops out. Midway through, it abandons the promise of its premise to pander to its target audience. Clavius, the aforementioned Roman tribune, spends the first half of the movie playing the detective. He tracks down disciples. He interrogates. He is determined to find the truth, and the body of Jesus, before it has decayed beyond recognition. But the more he follows the evidence, the less sense the whole thing makes to him.

Throughout this part of the film, Risen largely succeeds. It places before its audience a confounding mystery and beckons them to join Clavius in solving it. Then, all of a sudden, it spoon-feeds him the answer to the mystery (and with him, the audience)! Following Mary Magdalene, he finds himself in the upper room with the disciples, in the company of the resurrected Christ.

Clavius spends the latter half of the movie as a sort of thirteenth apostle, present for the majority of Christ’s post-resurrection ministry, even witnessing his ascension. The film invites its target evangelical audience to participate with him in this exciting time, seemingly for the purpose of provoking the reaction, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to have been there!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Christian. I believe that following the evidence leads to a resurrected Christ. But this is just bad storytelling. What good mystery solves itself halfway through? By copping out, Risen doesn’t just fail to tell a good story, it fails to be a thought-provoking film, content with leaving the Christian viewer feeling good about his faith, and the non-Christian thinking, “Maybe something strange did happen two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. But, I’ll never know. I’ll never burst into the upper room like Clavius and see him myself.”

So, I stand by my initial reaction: Sorry Christian friends, Risen was not a good film. If you’re interested in art that challenges and doesn’t simply pander and try to make you feel good about being a Christian to get to your wallet, try Calvary, Tree of Life, or To The Wonder.