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Coming Together Again (the “missing” Wednesday post) October 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Religion, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 29th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”

 

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 18:20

 

“Even very subtle actions—like moving together in time—can exert a significant effect on the mind. We see synchrony in almost every religion the world over: Buddhists and Hindus often chant together in prayer; Christians and Muslims regularly kneel and stand in unison during worship; Jews often sway, or shuckle, when reciting prayers together. These actions belie a deep purpose: creating connection.”

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– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

Speaking of coming together to celebrate an ending that is also a beginning… today, September 29th, is Michaelmas (in the Western Christian traditions), also known as the Feast of the Archangels. In England it is one of the “quarter days” – along with Lady Day on March 25th, MidSummer on June 24th, and Christmas on December 25th – that mark the changing of the seasons (in accordance with the solstices and equinoxes). These religious festivals marked not only the seasonal changes, but also how the changing seasons changed the business of the day. Michaelmas, for instance, marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new farming cycle in the Christian community, much like Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah distinguish time in the Jewish community. As a day with religious and (some would argue) secular intersections, Michaelmas was also the time, traditionally, when people hired servants, bought and sold land, and/or paid debts. For some (even in the United States), it still is. In modern times it has also become associated with elections and the beginning of legal, financial, and academic terms/semesters.

The angels and their roles as messengers (Gabriel), healers (Raphael), and defenders (Michael) are documented in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Christian Old Testament), as well as in Islamic texts. However, they are honored in different ways in different religions and traditions. Saint Michael the Archangel is the leader of the heavenly armies and the highest ranking defender against evil. As such, he is connected to the “pilgrims” or “Church Militant,” Christians on Earth who are struggling to live a righteous life. In the United States, Saint Michael is also the patron saint of police officers and the military. Thus, today is celebrated by some Catholics with a Blue Mass (for all public servants).

In the Roman Catholic tradition, this feast day is now known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The Archangel Uriel/Auriel (who is sometimes seen as the Holy Spirit or the agent of the Holy Spirit), is also named in some traditions. In the Anglican Church, Michaelmas is officially known as the Feast of Saint Michael and All the Angels. For some Lutheran Christians it is a principal feast day. Eastern Orthodox traditions do not observe Michaelmas, but they do celebrate the archangels on November 8th. There are at least two other celebrations of Saint Michael (plus at least two others that were associated with other angels). The honoring of the archangel Michael dates back to the 4th century AD.  

“3 They never rest nor sleep as we;
Their whole delight is but to be
With Thee, Lord Jesus, and to keep
Thy little flock, Thy lambs and sheep.”

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– quoted from the Michaelmas hymn “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise” by Philip Melanchthon (translator: Paul Eber)

While Michaelmas was once a Holy Day of Obligation, which required the observant to attend mass and refrain from “unnecessary work,” this day has become more about tradition than ritual. One Scottish tradition is to harvest and eat carrots, which serve as symbols of Michael’s trident and shield. People in Pennsylvania have celebrated Michaelmas as Goose Day since the late 18th century, a tradition that can be traced back to the Old Country – although some people now substitute other fowl and most do not still believe that doing so will ensure their financial stability in the year ahead.

Legend has it that when Saint Michael banished Lucifer from heaven the “poor” devil fell on a blackberry bush and cursed it (awhile doing some other unseemly things) and therefore it is considered bad luck to pick blackberries after Michaelmas. While many still bake blackberries into a Michaelmas pie, they may or may not realize that the custom was once the way people ensured the blackberries were eaten before “Old Michealmas Day,” which is based on the Julian calendar and falls in October. (For some, Old Michaelmas Day is the last day to pick blackberries.) Finally, it is traditional to hide a ring in a Michaelmas pie, but – like the baby or the coin in the Three Kings cake – people now do it more for the fun of discovery than the possibility of impending nuptials.

People still enjoy making and/or eating St Michael’s Bannock, a sweet bread – and some of the treats may even be blessed and distributed to the poor in honor of a loved one who has died. However, they may not always be made as they were in the old days. Traditionally, the scone-like cake was made by a family’s eldest daughter, using grains grown in a family’s field and held together by sheep’s milk and lamb skin from the family’s flock. Each element, including the baker’s identity, was considered symbolic and associated with the family’s future prosperity (not to mention progeny).

Speaking of progeny, it is the custom in many Catholic and Christian communities to name a child after a saint when that child is born on said saint’s feast day. Ergo, children born today are sometimes named Michael, Mikail, Michaela… or even Miguel. In fact, Miguel de Cervantes is believed to have been born September 29, 1547, in Alcalá de Henares, Crown of Castile (near Madrid), Spain. The author is so acclaimed that Spanish is considered “the language of Cervantes” in some literary circles. While he wrote a number of novels, poems, plays, and farces, Cervantes is primarily remembered (especially outside of literary circles) as the author of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha). The novel is considered the first “modern novel” and is the second most translated book in the world – after the Bible.

Here’s a 2021 post about how Don Quixote’s fascination with windmills and the fair Dulcinea parallels Patanjali’s teachings on how the mind works and how we can work the mind.

“‘Now look, your grace,’ said Sancho, ‘what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.’

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‘Obviously,’ replied Don Quijote, ‘you don’t know much about adventures. Those are giants – and if you’re frightened, take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them.’”

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– quoted from  “Chapter Eight – the great success won by our brave Don Quijote in his dreadful, unimaginable encounter with two windmills, plus other honorable events well worth remembering” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

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“4 The ancient dragon is their foe;
His envy and his wrath they know.
It always is his aim and pride
Thy Christian people to divide.”

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– quoted from the Michaelmas hymn “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise” by Philip Melanchthon (translator: Paul Eber)

 

If you saw kids running around with toy swords on September 29th, (or leaving a toy sword by their door so that it will be turned to gold) they were obviously fighting dragons, not tilting at windmills. As I mentioned before, there are lots of ways that traditions overlap and are deeply connected even though they seem very different on the surface. The similarities and common threads become obvious when traced back to their roots. For example, the story of Saint Michael the Archangel battling the Lucifer is often depicted in art – and recreated by children during Michaelmas – as the story of how Saint George (also known as George of Lydda, a Greek Christian in the Roman army) tamed and slayed a dragon in order to stop human sacrifices. The dragon story dates back to the 10th century and sounds a lot like the pre-Christian legends about Jason and Medea, Perseus and Andromeda, as well as the story of David and Goliath. Ultimately, it is the story of good overcoming evil. Therefore, it is not surprising that people like Austrian philosopher, social reformer, and architect Rudolf Steiner would see parallels between Saint Michael’s battle and the battle that serves as the back-story (or the story-within-the-story) described in the Bhagavad Gita.

One of Rudolf Steiner’s many contributions to the world was an educational philosophy that served as the foundation for the Waldorf schools, the first of which opened in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. Waldorf education, or Steiner education, is featured at thousands of schools, homeschool communities, and special education centers, and around the world. Steiner considered Michaelmas the second most important festival (second only to Easter) and it is celebrated at Waldorf schools as “the festival of the strong.” Michaelmas, this simultaneous ending and beginning, thus becomes a day when people celebrate and honor inner strength – much as people in the Jewish community do when they say, “Chazak,” when they finish a book of Torah.

Is it a coincidence that Simchat Torah and Michaelmas coincided this year? Not at all. But the fact that it did brings awareness, again, to the power of coming together and the power that each and every one of us has inside.

“Quiet I bear within me,
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong.
Now will I be imbued with their glowing warmth.
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve.
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being
When by my steadfast striving
I become strong
To find within myself the source of strength
The strength of inner quiet.”

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– “Inner Quiet” by Rudolf Steiner

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[NOTE: In previous years, I have focused more on the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes and started off using a Cervantes-focused playlist for the 4:30 practice, which is also available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “01162021 Quixote’s Zamboni”)]

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”

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– quoted from “Chapter Nineteen – An account of the second discourse that passed between Sancho and his master: the succeeding adventure of the corpse, and other remarkable events” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

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Many thanks to LW for sharing some of her passion and wisdom after Wednesday’s practice!

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