Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Can I Help You?


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About a week ago we marked the last autumn festival day and began our move into winter. In American culture that festival day is usually called Halloween, but it is similar in nature to the Celtic Sahmain and the Catholic All Saint's/All Soul's day festivals. It is the end of the year, the last harvest of animals, the time when the veil between the land of the living and the dead is thin and the beginning of the cold and dark winter season.

I marked the holiday during my last week of Outdoor School in both festive secular and a more religious manner. On October 31st we had a really fun Halloween party that included carving pumpkins, searching for beads in bowls of gross "guts", a haunted house and costumes. The four of us Field Instructors made capes out of space blankets and were Super Field Instructors all day. Too much fun. The next day the classes, all from Catholic schools, invited a priest to come and conduct an All Saint's Day mass. I made the time to attend that as well.

Taking the communion by amioascension
I have only attended Catholic mass one other time in my life, in the spring of 2005 when Pope John Paul II died. That was at the Catholic church in Ashland, Oregon and I remember the feeling of awe in looking at the program realizing that people all over the world were saying the same words, hearing the same scriptures, engaging in the same rituals as I was and that the older gentleman next to me had been doing these same things for decades. That kind of ritual and continuity are so very attractive to me, but that's another story for another time. This mass was different because it was in a lodge at a camp and the other attenders were 12 year olds. The nun who was their teacher actually did a really good job of reviewing some of the important parts of the mass which was helpful to me. I knew that mass was a reenactment of the last supper, but she explained it very clearly. She also introduced the topic of saints and how they become saints. During the scripture reading portion of the service a number of kids participated by reading singly or by being a part of a chorus of readers. It was interesting to see how into the whole process some of the kids were and how "along for the ride" others were.

It being an All Saints Day mass, the priest gave a homily about saints who are not yet canonized and the priest read a story about a man in a homeless shelter who acted as a saint, even as he was so in need himself. The priest was a bit of a doddering old man, but he asked the kids to share examples of people they know who are unrecognized saints and many of them had wonderful things to say about neighbors and grandparents. In summary, the priest reminded us that Jesus didn't ask us how smart we are, or how perfect we are, he only asked us to help each other. That was how he lived, and that is how he asks us to live.

Food Not Bombs by Ann Arbor Free Skool
There is a flip side to this idea of generosity and assistance. There are times when we are the ones who need to be helped, and it can be even harder to accept help than it is to give it. I saw this in action a couple days later when I was at the Food Basket, the little grocery store in the town near camp in the early morning. A woman, buying family groceries and struggling with her cart and walker, was terribly embarrassed that her card wouldn't go through. The checker was trying to be helpful but a line was building up behind the woman. The man directly behind her was a bicyclest, one of the many who do medium to long distance trips along the coastal highway, and clearly better off than the woman buying groceries. He tried to offer to pay for her things, handing the checker the cash but the woman just wouldn't accept his help. She insisted that there was money on the card and finally ended up not getting everything she had picked out so that she could afford it with the money in her purse. This interaction reminded me that it is not enough to help, but we must also come to terms with being helped in the winter. The woman could have graciously accepted the gift and been able to use her grocery money for other things, or even buy groceries for someone else next week. Instead, she got caught in her insecurity and shame and could not allow the bicyclist's generosity to flow into her life.

(one of my very favorite camp songs, sung this week at camp) 

There's a big river flowing, it'll be there tomorrow
It's time we should be going, there's no time for sorrow
The stars will light the way back home, the song will keep the fire
Remembering the days we've roamed, the song will lift you higher

So sing for the river, and sing for the stars
Sing for the friends you've made, wherever they are
Sing to bring you back again or to take you away
Sing a song for me my friend, sing for today

There's a big river flowing, and it's always in motion
It carves out its journey, on down to the ocean
Now you can choose your path alone, and take it to the sea
Remembering the song's your own, the song will set you free

So sing for the river, and sing for the stars
Sing for the friends you've made, wherever they are
Sing to bring you back again or to take you away
Sing a song for me my friend, sing for today

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Trick or treat by Mark J P
It is now winter, the cold dark time of the year when resources begin to run short. Thinking about how to help and how to be helped is natural at this time of year and one of my favorite parts of the Waldorf autumn and winter festivals is how they ritualize and make concrete this impulse to help. The autumn festivals begin with Michaelmas, at the Autumn equinox, when we receive a spark of heavenly light from God's own warrior. At Martinmas, in early November, we nurture that spark in lanterns and honor a man who cut his own cloak in half to help a person in need. As we get closer to Christmas, we light more lights, spend more energy giving gifts and energy to help each other through the dark time until the cosmic light is reborn at solstice and Christmas. By St. Brigid's day, or Candlemas, in early February our own lights are feeling weak and worn, but the light is taken up by the earth again as spring begins it's rebirth. Honoring this feeling of needing to help and encouraging us to take steps to actually help are important reasons for these winter festivals.

How did you celebrate this Autumn-turning-to-Winter festival? Do you have a tradition of jack-o-lanterns and trick or treating or do you do a different celebration? Have you been feeling the pull of the season of giving? Do you have trouble letting generosity into your life? Happy All Saint's Day, Halloween, Sahmain and winter!

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Halloween 2010: Doggy Heaven (still chokes me up, years later) and The Power of the Dog and Martinmas

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