Romantic love and marriage

For St. Valentine’s Day. . . .

Did you realize that romantic love, as it blossomed during the Middle Ages, was originally nearly always outside marriage (e.g., Dante and Beatrice) and often adulterous (e.g., Lancelot and Guinivere)?

And did you realize that romantic love was brought into marriage, both as a precursor and as a fruition, by the Reformation?

See C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1958), pp. 13-15, , and  Justin Taylor, “Martin Luther’s Reform of Marriage,” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 2005), pp. 239ff.

When Christmas was Epiphany

The Lutheran Witness, under the new editorship of my former student Adriane Dorr, has gotten to be a really good magazine.  If you are one of the many former subscribers who stopped taking it, renew your subscription.  Anyway, a recent issue has an article on Epiphany that was quite an epiphany for me.  We had discussed the origins of Christmas.  Epiphany, it turns out, was celebrated long before Christmas in the church.  Actually, the birth of Christ was one of the “epiphanies,” or revelations of the Son of God, that the season celebrated.  From the article by Terence Maher:

Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, but it’s largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did that happen?

By the late fourth century, Epiphany was celebrated on Jan. 6. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the kings—epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation”—but also the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including His birth.

It’s not that there wasn’t Christmas. This is Christmas as well as a celebration of all the other events in the life of the young Jesus up to and including His Baptism and first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. In short, it’s a big day!

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

The article also says how Vatican II changed Epiphany into a moveable feast–one of those floating holidays–so that in the Church of Rome, there are no longer necessarily 12 days of Christmas!  (Would that  Roman Catholics would be more catholic in their practices!)  And other interesting and illuminating facts.

The “I have a dream” speech

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Clarence Jones, an aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., recounts the background of the famous “I have a dream” speech, which really is a spectacular piece of oratory.  According to his account, Dr. King worked on a policy-type speech, showing it to a number of different individuals and getting their input.  But when he actually got up there at the Lincoln Memorial to speak, the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was in the crowd and said, “tell them about the dream!”  Dr. King then improvised the speech, turning it into a sermon, which gave it its power.

See On Martin Luther King Day, remembering the first draft of ‘I Have a Dream’.

I remember, growing up in small town Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing side-by-side water fountains, one with a sign for “whites” and one with a sign for “coloreds.” The town swimming pool was only open to black people on Wednesdays, after which the water would be changed for white people to swim in the rest of the week. I don’t know if black people were allowed to vote, but they certainly were not in much of the South.

I also remember the Civil Rights Movement and the change in the sentiments of that small town. It was, first of all, an application of transcendent morality to the treatment of black people. I recall vividly the appeal to Christian ethics and how churches of all stripes were exerting leadership. I remember how moved people were by Dr. King’s principles of non-violence and non-resistance. The Civil Rights Movement triumphed by simply winning people over.

The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King was not just a political fight; rather, it was a moral crusade. It changed both political parties. It was predicated on moral principles being objectively valid. Churches exerted moral authority.

So Martin Luther King Day is a holiday that conservatives, as well as liberals, can celebrate.

Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.

Other epiphanies

In light of the definition of “epiphanies” in the post of that name, what are some epiphanies that you have had? An epiphany is an experience that conveys an idea, a conviction. It is not merely an experience but is rather a moment of realization, usually provoked by some personal and sometimes very subtle event.

For example, I remember when I was in college, coming home from the weekend and going to my father’s farm (a hobby with him, we not being farmers). He had planted some strawberries and I picked one and put it in my mouth. It was delicious, in its sweetness and tartness and texture a taste of perfection. And it flashed on my mind that this external world is somehow aligned with me. Existence is not absurd or random or meaningless, as I had been taught in some of my college courses. It had a meaning. I didn’t particularly know what it was at the time, but eating that strawberry was an epiphany for me.

When I was in Estonia while it was still a part of the Soviet Union, I had an economic epiphany when I changed $20 of hard currency and received an engineer’s monthly wages in rubles in return, only to go into a shop to find nothing for sale. It hit me then that free enterprise economics is far superior to a socialist command economy, nudging me away from the liberalism of my birth. I also had a political epiphany there, shaking hands with a poet who had just gotten out of a mental hospital where he had been consigned for years for writing a poem criticizing Communism. I realized then the power of writing and the utter evil of totalitarianism.

I wonder if our beliefs are shaped more by our epiphanies than abstract arguments. At any rate, now it’s your turn. What are some epiphanies when the light, of various kinds, dawned on you?

Journey of the Magi

Consider this poem, Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Go here to listen to a recording of Eliot himself reading his poem: Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – Poetry Archive.  (And notice what happened to his St. Louis accent after going off to England!)

Now, class:  What is the meaning of these images in the second stanza: the three trees on the low sky; the vine leaves on the lintel; the hands dicing for pieces of silver; the empty wine-skins?

What is the meaning of this statement in the third stanza:  “I had seen birth and death,/But had thought they were different”?


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