Holidays, Holy Days, and Faith

A calendar in the sacristy of St. Raphael’s has an Episcopalian-flavored cartoon for each month. In the first panel of April’s cartoon, a priest is shown with arms outspread, saying “Christ is alive!” The second panel shows him sprawled on a couch, limp with exhaustion, and his wife saying, “The clergy is dead.” I had to add in pencil, “So is the organist!”

As I said last week, I had twenty-four separate pieces of music to prep for this week, and some were a bit tricky. But after so many years in that non-music-making desert, I felt incredible joy at playing Bach’s “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded,” the full harmony complete with pedals. Even if I sometimes stumble badly, I can call myself a musician again.

This year, though, Holy Week coincided with Passover, which got me thinking about religion in general. Not all holidays are holy days; the Fourth of July springs to mind. But the root of the word holiday is holy day, and many holidays still are holy days. Wednesday evening, in the middle of the Christian Holy Week, we shared Seder with friends who invite us each year, and I savor the ritual of the Haggadah as much as the meal itself. (Although Janni’s matzo-ball soup is to die for!)

Many holidays overlap at this time of year, and no wonder: at least in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring, the time when life and the world appear renewed. Those themes recur in all the different holidays/Holy Days that occur in spring, from Easter and the Passover, to Wiccan celebrations of the vernal equinox and the Iranian Nowruz that falls at the same time. Rebirth, renewal, the return of life after the death of winter.

Serving as organist makes me very aware of the church’s recurring calendar, and the symbolism behind each one and its accompanying music. I don’t know the musical traditions for the other holy days that occur in the spring, but I’m quite sure each has its own rich heritage. And for me at least, this is appropriate, as each holiday springs from the same root as music itself: the act, the fact, of creation. Even those who, like a friend of my husband, are devout atheists have to acknowledge that creation exists, though they may not acknowledge a Creator.

Despite being a church organist, my beliefs no longer fit neatly into a particular religious slot. Both Wednesday’s Seder and Sunday’s Easter service were acts of worship for me, and I think I could share worship with almost any group. I might have trouble with Santeria, but that’s because I’m a bit squeamish. The sacrifices of almost any ancient religion would have given me the same problems. But at least in my opinion, the spirit of worship is the same in all. I’ve been known to refer to the Being (or Force or Principle) that began the cosmos as “He, She, It, or They.” But that’s just a shorthand way of saying that this Being etc. is beyond limitations such as gender or number.

These days I’m not sure what label to put on my religion. But I have always had faith in this basic fact of creation, and faith that all our own acts of creation can serve as worship by echoing the greater creation. Acts of creation range from making music, to stringing words together to make a story, to making a killer matzo-ball soup, to making a baby. All of these can be acts of worship, although they aren’t always. (See Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff’s terrific story here to see what I mean.) So this has been a week of joyous worship for me, even if it has been exhausting.

Today, though, I play. Not in the sense of practicing the organ, but in the sense of having some plain old fun. You see, today my husband and I are celebrating another act of creation: it’s our thirty-fifth anniversary. 🙂

So I’ll be hobbit-like and give you all a gift on our anniversary: I wish you all a week full of joyous creation!

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