Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Just for fun, I have to share with you the dog version of "Twelve Days of Christmas" we use at our house....I'll cut to the chase by going to day twelve....

"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
Twelve punt possums,
Eleven rawhide chewys,
Ten rabbits hopping,
Nine snakes a-slithering,
Eight trees for peeing,
Seven stuffed critters,
Six dog biscuits,
Five neutered vets!
Four big bones,
Three cat turds,
Two slow squirrels,
and a collar to keep away fleas!"

Many of the European countries have a legend where, at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals can talk.

I was up late last night, around 1 a.m. heard quite the donkey commotion outside. My two donkeys, Miss Sylvia and Miss Topaz, were out in the moonlight, braying their lungs out. I didn't make out any words of English, but as far as I'm concerned, they were living up to the Christmas Eve legend. So I stood outside and sang some Christmas songs with them. (They seem to have a preference for black gospel, so we sang "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "No Room at the Inn," and "The Last Month of the Year" with them. They continued to bray, I'm convinced they were wanting to sing along.

So the three of us entered Christmas day with "brays and thanksgiving!"

Ya know, I had a sudden realization. As much as I like to talk about Trinity, I've never posted a picture of her on this blog. I particularly like this one. It was taken Dec. 16, a few hours after Sunday services. We had an ice storm, followed by a snowstorm, and I particularly like the icy trees mixed with the snow in this photo.

She's not a particularly big place, but she certainly is a grand old girl, built in 1917. The fun continues, as Mother Nature continues to beat up on Kirksville, every Saturday, like clockwork, keeping me busy with that snow/ice removal stuff. Today was no exception. At 6:50 a.m., when I arrived to shovel her walks, I had to laugh. Across the street, First Christian had their little snowblower dude out. Catty corner and down the street, the Methodists had a four-wheeler with a snow blade attached, cleaning their sidewalks. Trinity just had me and my little shovel. Felt like it was David against the snow Philistines!

I'll end with the picture taken above Trinity's front door. Gotta love those icicles. This is Kirksville winter the way Kirksville winter is meant to be!

Wallace's sermon today centered around today's Gospel text, Matthew 1:18-25, the problem of Mary being pregnant, and it’s not Joseph’s. Well, I was sitting in church thinking of all the legal problems. My first thought was “Wow! What if Joseph had annulled the contract; Jesus would have been a mumzer!” (Yiddish and Hebrew word for bastard. My retired Jewish friend uses the word all the time to describe people who are real shitheads. “He’s a real mumzer.”) So when I got home, I Googled a little and learned some of the “rules” for betrothal in ancient Jewish society, what the problem of being pregnant, but not by the betrothed, or the husband, and the implications of being a bastard in the society of the day.

Technically, there is no specific prohibition in the Torah against premarital sex, which is kind of interesting in itself. However, when you look at the fact the marriage contract as literally a transferal of property, it certainly is of value with regard to the bride price. Ancient Judaism is sorta funny in that regard. Women have rights with regards to sex, marital property, etc. but there are also glaring things that sort of have that “women as property” air to them.

Traditional Judaism strongly condemns the irresponsibility of sex outside of marriage. It is interesting, though, that althought it is considered to be improper and immoral, it is not technically a sin. In fact, to prevent such relations, Orthodox Jewish law prohibits an unmarried, unrelated man and woman from being alone long enough to have sexual relations. But these laws come from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, not from the Torah. They are rabbinic interpretations of the law. But the rub is, once you are betrothed, you’re as good as married and the laws of marriage apply, with the exception that, if you find out you got a damaged bill of goods, you can annul the contract.

Here’s what I came up with about betrothal under ancient Jewish law (thank you, Wikipedia!):

There are three ways for a Jewish couple to become betrothed (Mishna, Tractate Kiddushin 1:1):

1. With money (as when a man hands a woman an object of value, such as a ring or a coin, for the purpose of contracted marriage, and in the presence of two witnesses, and she actively accepts—basically the “bride price”);
2. Through a written contract (shtar) containing the betrothal declaration phrased as "through this contract"; or
3. By sex with the intention of creating a bond of marriage; a method strongly discouraged by the rabbinic sages and intended only for levirate marriages (where the brother marries the widow to preserve family property rights and some sort of status for the widow).

So at the very least, Joseph could declare the contract null and void b/c he had not had sex with her, and she was knocked up. In the worst case scenario, her pregnancy could have been used as proof of adultery, and he could have had her stoned. Pretty heavy stuff!

Mamzer (actually pronounced "mumzer") is the Hebrew word for bastard. Technically in Jewish law that refers to either the issue of an adulterous relationship OR incest. I doubt most people realize how tough it was in ancient times to be a mamzer.

1. A mamzer and his or her descendants are not allowed to marry a regular (non-mamzer) Jewish spouse. He or she is permitted to marry only another mamzer, a convert to Judaism, or (in the case of a man) a non-Jewish female slave. Even today in modern Israel, mamzerim are not allowed to marry Jews.

2. The children of a mamzer, whether male or female, are mamzerim; likewise their children are mamzerim forever. (The old “sins of the father” argument).

3. Mamzerim were prohibited from entering the Temple.

4. They were not allowed to be taught Torah.

5. A mamzer's house and grave were painted white to point him out, even in death.

6. According to a source in Toldot Yeshu, mamzerim in some Jewish communities were shaved bald so they were set apart from the rest of the community in many aspects of daily life. Not quite as bad as being a leper, I suppose, but close.

The topic today made me think about Joseph as a “real man.” A mensch, as it were. Joseph had to be one hell of a true-hearted guy to do what he did. A brave guy. A tough guy. I mean, think about it, in the “What if Jesus had been born in Kirksville?” mode. All the neighbors in Nazareth, you know they figured out Mary was pregnant before she got married. Word would have gotten out somehow. I can’t believe Joseph didn’t confide to someone the predicament. Someone had to get wind of the suspicion that Joseph wasn't the father. People in town are going, “What a wuss. He could have gotten rid of her and got him a REAL virgin. What does he see in that little slut, anyway?” Then, after Jesus is born, you KNOW everyone in town is looking at him and wondering who Jesus looks like. There HAD to be rumors. Who knows, maybe Joseph even had to clobber some asshole with a 2x4 over it now and then when some wise-ass got too smart mouthed.

And you KNOW even Joseph himself had to have his moments where he wondered what kind of fool he was, buying an angel’s statement in a dream. I’m sure he believed the integrity of the dream overall, because dreams are very important to people of that time, but there just had to be the occasional bad day for Joseph in that regard.

So it certainly makes a great “what if” story, and since we really don’t know squat about Joseph historically, it really drives home that he had to be a pretty solid kind of guy!

My dashboard on my computer has a widget that shows how much of the day is "light" and how much is "dark." Here it is on the shortest day of the year for Kirksville, MO. For some reason, that is my favorite widget because it makes me quite happy in the summer when 2/3 of the pie is "light" and it gives me something to complain about when it is "dark."

I realized recently that it's not the darkness that bothers me, it's the fact that it comes too early in the day. This time of year, it's hard to feed my long-eared equines in the light; I usually get home right around dusk. It becomes a race home to feed before I'm feeding animals in the dark. I don't like feeding them in the dark because even the gentlest large animals can get spooked, and the cold weather makes them frisky.

There is something in human nature that makes us recognize this is a time of the year where we need to seek out something of meaning. The pagan Solstice festivals centered around the worry that the sun might not come back. Our pineal glands certainly sense that the lack of light is there. Light deprivation leads to decreased levels of many biochemical substances, including melatonin. With some people, these changes lead to seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes I wonder if the stress of the Christmas holiday season isn't partly simply because our pineal glands are adjusting to less light, and it makes us a little "off our feed."

Most of us realize that we really don't know the exact day of Christ's birth, but for whatever reason we tied it into winter solstice. The "standard" answer is it was to tag team onto pagan festivals as a means to promote Christianity, but I tend to think there is a deeper biochemical meaning to it all. I wonder sometimes if it's simply because we need something bigger than us in the as we sit in the dark, and grump about the short days, something sits beside us that is bigger and gentler and more meaningful--that in that darkness we find meaning and hope.

Well, Northeast Missouri got hit with a snowstorm, a small ice storm, and a big ice storm in the space of 5 days.

I am sort of "the champion of snow removal" at Trinity, for lack of a better term. Our congregation is so small, it makes no sense to hire this out. I enjoy doing it; the only problem is that I have to squeeze it in to either my day off, or before/after work. Simply to prepare for Sunday's service in this mess took three sessions with the snow shovel from about an hour to an hour and 45 minutes each, and three trips to lay down ice melt, including coming in early before services. Then, on top of that, I spent most of my day off pulling off MORE ice on Tuesday, for a Lessons and Carols that eventually got cancelled.

It is one of those things that, when it happens perfectly, no one notices. If it doesn't happen, EVERYONE notices. When people walk up the steps on a Sunday, they don't notice a thing if the steps are clean; they only notice if it's slick.

Sometimes I get down on myself because I don't have the "usual" church service talents. I can't read music. My singing voice has elements of a lighthouse foghorn. I sound silly praying out loud. But I am a dynamo when it comes to snow and ice removal, spackling cracks on the wall, unclogging the sinks or toilet, etc. The problem is, of course, they are all gifts that when done properly, no one notices. It is their LACK that is conspicuous. There is hell-raising when it hasn't happened, and very little attention of any sort when it does. It doesn't carry intrinsic satisfaction except to me, and to the vicar, because Wallace is about the only person who is ever physically "in the neighborhood" when it is happening, and because the vicarage is next door, so he benefits from the snow removal, and he sees my truck when I'm there. He also knows I personally don't care to be publicly recognized for it, and respects that. It just embarrasses me. But it doesn't stop him from thanking me personally with this wonderful earnestness he has.

Why would a person obviously choose a task that has a built-in thanklessness to it? I guess the way to look at that one, is "put yourself in God's shoes." I'm sure at times, as we bounce around our plane of existence, God puts his mark on us, and we never noticed. Perhaps it's the absence that we notice. Take, for instance, our own personal prayer time. There are times it just flows for me, and I don't even think about what all complicated things are happening at the metaphysical level to make that happen. But in those times I feel separated from God because of my own sins, or my weariness, or my inability to put my attention into the matter, I notice the gap. I like to imagine that even God gets frustrated with us, however it is a metaphysical being shows frustration...sort of this patient parental frustration when your child seems a little on the "slow" side at getting a concept.

I also like to imagine that God is "pleased" (again, however it is metaphysical beings show pleasure) when we notice that all this stuff happened around us, without any input from us...and like me, God doesn't care for us to make a public gush of affection about it. He'd prefer we just thank Him personally and earnestly.

So one of my "preparations" this year for Advent is to think about what happens in detail when God makes things "seamless" for us. Not a bad topic for reflection!

I love the Internet. I just discovered that something I have been doing actually has a Latin name and is a whole concept. (Darn. And I thought I was unique or original.)

Over the last several months, I've been spiritually cogitating a lot, trying to figure my "slot" in the world. I'm dealing with the notion of being ok with middle age as not just being a continuation of the first half of my life. I'm dealing with transition issues on my job (learning to now be the "senior" person). I'm dealing with discovering spiritual connections beyond what I'm used to experiencing (as in getting caught up in it, not just spectating.) In other words, I'm searching for peace and stability in the midst of a lot of big and little changes.

Well, turns out that is what the concept of Otium Sanctum--”holy leisure”--is all about. (Amazing the things I can find on the Internet, huh?) Otium sanctum refers specifically to discover a sense of balance in life, an ability to be spiritually at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves.

This does not come naturally to me--a person who prefers to "act" and "do" rather than "sit" and "observantly absorb". For me, there is the tendency to interrupt the process by “doing” something. To “sit still” somehow seems a little “lazy” or “nonproductive” to me (which is why I doubt I’ll ever be anything even close to a contemplative prayer expert, but at least I'm an honest pupil).

However, what I understand about the concept of “holy leisure” is that it’s not “holy laziness”. Leisure can often involve activity. I mean, hey, I play golf for leisure, I walk for leisure, that’s not laziness. That’s physical activity. So really, otium sanctum refers to a state of spiritual activity. To buy into this concept means that there is a certain amount of discipline, attentiveness, and watchfulness. The obsessive-compulsive side of me can appreciate that.

I was feeling guilty about all this cogitation. I wasn't "doing" anything. I tend to make fun of people sitting around "thinking great thoughts". (I could rationalize this by saying "My thoughts aren't that great.") Now, I realize I AM doing something. I'm letting prayer and contemplation integrate these feelings, help me weather these changes. I do notice that as a result of this, I am a little bit calmer, a little bit more at ease. So maybe it IS working and I'm not "doing nothing" after all!



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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