One good thing has come about from ‘social distancing’. Every morning my husband and I take a walk together, something we never did in the past. This morning we walked along one of the irrigation canals that meander through the nearby pecan groves. Although spring is apparent in our neighborhood, the pecan trees are still dormant. They won’t come into leaf until May. Soon the canals will be filled with water from the Rio Grande River; the gates into the groves will be lifted; and the trees will be flooded with life-giving water.
Our walk always ends up at the local Post Office. I wait outside while my husband checks our box. We always see someone we know and wave at a distance.
Have you ever heard that the date for Christmas (December 25) was selected to coincide with a pagan holiday? Don’t believe it. The calculation is actually based on Scripture.
Every year on March 25, the Church celebrates the day when the Angel Gabriel announced the conception of the Christ to Mary. March 25 is exactly nine months prior to December 25. To see how the date for Christmas was calculated, first we need to go back to September 25, when the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. (Remember, during the Annunciation to Mary, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth has also conceived, and Elizabeth is in her sixth month. See Luke 1:36. September 25 is six months prior to March 25.)
September 25 fell at the end of the Jewish season of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (The date for the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It varies from year to year, falling in September or October.) During the ten day period prior to the Day of Atonement, Jews amended their behavior, prayed, repented, and gave to charity, in order to seek forgiveness from God.
According to Luke 1:9, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary to burn incense. The Jewish priests could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. (See Ex. 30:7-10.) Gabriel says to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” (Luke 1:13)
So, here is the timeline:
September 25 – Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.
March 25 (six months from September 25) – Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary.
June 24 (nine months from September 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist.
December 25 (nine months from March 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Every year in my Discalced Carmelite Secular Community, we draw names to pray for each other and to pray for the priests, deacons, and religious in our diocese. We also draw the name of a virtue to practice during the year. For the last three years, I have drawn the virtue of fortitude. The first year, I thought, that’sinteresting. The second year, I thought, what a coincidence! This year, when I drew it again, I realized that I needed to give the virtue of fortitude some serious thought.
Pondering this virtue, I used to think of it in relation to the unpleasant tasks I needed to complete. Don’t give up, I would tell myself. Practice fortitude! Now, as my husband and I, along with so many others, must ‘shelter in place’ to avoid the Coronavirus, I realize that fortitude also pertains to all the things we would like to do but can’t, at least for the foreseeable future. In a way, ‘sheltering in place’ is a desert experience. We are separated from all the unnecessary activities with which we often distract ourselves.
The cacti in my garden practice fortitude better than I have ever done. In recent years, I have not paid much attention to them in favor of whatever was blooming in the garden. Yet, they have continued to survive, and even to thrive.
Earlier this week I drove up to the Sacramento Mountains in Southern New Mexico for a little R & R and ‘social distancing’. For several days, Sierra Blanca disappeared under low-hanging clouds and intermittent rain. I could only admire the trees from my window. At night, pine needles from a nearby branch scratched my roof as it swayed in the wind. This morning, finally, I opened the door to clear sky and crisp mountain air.
A few hours away where my husband and I live at a lower altitude, spring has already appeared in the blooming trees and a multitude of weeds that would like to take up permanent residence in our yard. But here at the higher altitude, spring comes a little later. Yet, on my afternoon walk, I managed to spot a few dandelions, a patch of blooming clover, and the little purple darling pictured below.
A couple of decades ago while on a family visit to Wisconsin, I stumbled upon a lovely crucifix in an antique store. The entire piece is hand-carved from a single piece of olive wood, and it’s only six inches tall. I couldn’t believe my luck when I bought it for a song! Over the years I have owned several crucifixes, but this one has always been my favorite. I marvel at the skill of the unknown artist, but even more at the artist’s obvious love for the Crucified Lord, as demonstrated in the detail and beauty of the carving. I have no idea how old it is. Perhaps the artist is already in heaven, smiling down every time I take it off the wall and hold it in my hands while I say my prayers.
Last week I had the good fortune of attending some meetings at El Carmelo Retreat House in Redlands, California. It had been years since I had been there, and I was looking forward to the scent of orange blossoms from the groves that surround the buildings. I was a little disappointed as Lyft drove us up the winding road through acres of orange trees ladened with last year’s crop, but no blossoms. However, the freshly-squeezed orange juice for breakfast the next day was more than enough compensation.
The following afternoon, I took a walk along the Way of the Cross. To my delight, I found four trees anticipating spring. They were covered with orange blossoms while still ladened with last year’s crop. The scent was intoxicating!