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Ash Wednesday 2018 Stardust Ritual

Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day this year, and what better way to “ground” Lent than with a holiday reminding us of the importance of love, family, community. The official liturgical readings and Valentine’s Day cards focus on the human family; this would be a great year to expand our inclusion of all people to  the rest of creation.

“Brothers and sisters,” the 2nd liturgical reading begins, and we usually think of human ones. Let’s stretch it to include thoughts from Pope Francis, who begins Laudato Si’ by quoting St. Francis: “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (par. 1) Pope Francis adds in the next paragraph: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf Gn 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” Those who receive ashes on their foreheads on Feb. 14 profess their belief that we are, indeed, dust, made from earth.

image_540_1But that dust, too, had a beginning. If Earth is our Mother, generations of exploding stars are our ancestors. Everything has come from elements resulting from their death and new life. Our Solar System and everything in it developed from a shimmering cloud of stardust elements like calcium, carbon, and hydrogen resulting from a supernova explosion. Thus everything on Earth is made of stardust elements.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians traditionally receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads to remind them that they are dust. The following ritual is meant to enrich this realization by reminding us that we are dust only because we are stardust!  (For a two-sided pdf copy of the following ritual, please contact terrishcj@aol.com.)

STARDUST RITUAL

Needed: one candle and a dish of dirt (or glitter, representing stardust). Decide who will read what.

Leader: To begin, let us pause to recall past times whenashes_6329cp we have received ashes on our foreheads and heard words like these: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Remember how that influenced your practices during Lent.  

Pause to Reflect.

Carry those thoughts and graces with you now, but place them in a larger context: the context of the entire universe and its amazing 13.8 billion-year history. After billions of years, thanks to the divine Mystery living and acting in our world and in us, stars formed and died in the process of bringing Earth to existence. We became part of this blessed creation. We are connected to all life; all life is interconnected and interdependent; we have a role in this sacred story!

Light candle. 

blastReader One: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated by the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents. (Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato)

Reader Two: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of [an exploding] supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” . . .  I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . . (The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp)

Reader Three: Dust particles are suspendedimages in the air at all times, unnoticed until sunlight bathes them in radiant streaming light. In this warmth, the specs sparkle. No one who cares about shiny furniture is unaware of what dust can accomplish, just by being. Nothing is insignificant in our universe!

Litany of gratitude:
•  for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
•  for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly more of the heavy elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy, We are grateful.
images-5•  for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants, clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine, We are grateful.
•  for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices, We are grateful.
•  for those who lobby to prevent mono-cropping, toxic fertilizers, and the use of GMO’s that endanger the earth, We are grateful.
•  for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish], We are grateful.
•  for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth, including Pope Francis, and for his encyclical Laudato Si’We are grateful.
•  Add as you wish.

Reflection:
Jesus, too, was stardust! Jesus, too, died to give new life, as each seed must do, as we will each do. How might we connect the creation  story with our Lent experiences this year? How might our Lent resolutions reflect our call to care for E/earth?

Pause to reflect, and then share.

Blessing of soil (or glitter):
May this soil (or glitter), which dates back billions of years images-2and which took over 4 billion years to form on Earth, keep us humble — humus is the Latin for soil. May it remind us of who we are and how vitally we interconnect with the rest of creation. May we deepen our awareness of our bonds with all creation.  Amen.

Individual blessings, using soil (or glitter):
Depending on the number of participants, either divide into pairs, each member blessing the other with soil from the center bowl, or form a circle and pass the bowl of soil, each blessing the person on his or her right.

100_1230Thank you, (name), for bringing your starlight into my life. I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for all of creation. (Add anything you may wish to say at the beginning of our Lenten Journey.)

Extinguish candle. 

Socialize.

Christmas and Migrants

Two Christmas stories ring out for our attention this Christmas season:

#1: We read that Joseph and his pregnant wife were forced from the security of their home in Nazareth because a selfish leader insisted that people travel to their ancestral home town for a census. Mary’s pregnancy exacerbated this disruption in their lives. And when they arrived after their challenging journey, they were turned away until someone (Who? Why? How?) found a spot fit for animals that  they could share.

#2: According to Scripture, after Jesus was born, they had to travel again, this time as refugees fleeing for their lives. They endured the trip to Egypt, possibly not knowing the language, hoping to find fellow Israelites and raise their child in safety even though they were part of an unwanted minority.

Allowing for Bethlehem’s being overcrowded, Egypt’s not wanting foreigners, resources being scarce, and “the other” being judged a threat, one hopes that the travelers found some welcoming strangers along the way.

Since these stories wound up in Scripture (see note at the end), one assumes Mary and Joseph shared them with their son as he grew up. Perhaps they caused Jesus to be more alert to the messages in the Hebrew texts calling for aliens to be welcomed. Perhaps it was these memories that resulted in the famous passage in Matthew:

For I was hungry and you fed me … homeless and you gave me a room ….

This message is not political, nor is it exclusively Christian. Jesus did not belong to a political party nor sign on to “liberal” causes. Forget politics here. Jesus is telling us that caring for refugees is an essential duty, period. This message is in all religions, but practiced by some better than by others. “Nones” also care about other humans. Those who believe that “Nothing is itself without everything else,” as Thomas Berry said, know that we are intrinsically bound to each and every refugee.

How many men, women and children are refugees today? 

First, remember that the numbers consist of real people with real names, loving families, and at least half are children. The total is over 65 million — so difficult to imagine! Comparisons might help: Lebanon has c. 6 million people; NYC has c. 8 1/2 million; the state of California has c. 40 million; Italy has c. 59 million.

What countries accept refugees?

Numbers vary each year, but the top host countries by number of refugees taken are Turkey and Pakistan. The top countries by percentage of their population in 2015 were Lebanon, with c. 210 refugees for every 1000 Lebanese inhabitants and Jordan with 90 refugees for every 1000 Jordanian inhabitants. (The US accepted 0.84 per thousand citizens! Our population is c. 326 million. How many would we take if we were as welcoming as Lebanon?)

Why do people leave their homes?

People flee due to war; famine; religious, sexual, and/or racial persecution; climate-related floods, droughts fires; physical threats from gangs and oppressive governments; stagnant economies. They have no choice but to risk leaving.

What risks must be considered before leaving everything behind?

Before leaving homes, families, work, possessions, language, dreams, religious communities, beloved land — refugees know their travels will be not just difficult but dangerous. Many die. (According to the International Organization for Migration, 22,500  migrants have died or disappeared since 2014.) Women are often raped. People can be sold into slavery and trafficked. Smugglers can take their money and leave them stranded or dead. At best they might face years in refugee camps. Food and shelter can be minimal. Those with “pre-existing conditions” face special hardships and lack of medication. Children lose their childhoods plus adequate nutrition and schooling during their best learning years.

 Possible New Year’s Resolutions

If today you hear a “still, small voice” within, harden not your hearts. Here are some possible actions:

• Ask your members of Congress to accept and support migrant families here in the United States and around the world.
• Support the organizations that help refugees. Three of many:

– UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
       – Catholics Confront Global Poverty (an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services)
– Catholic Refugee Services
• Ask your mayor/ city leader to establish a policy of welcoming those who contribute to the well-being of the city. (For Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance,” see https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press…)
• Pope Francis asked that every Catholic parish be responsible for one refugee family. I am proud to say that my parish — St. Gertrude, Chicago — adopted two Rohingya families that waited eight years in a camp before being accepted in the US. We are eager to adopt more families, but since refugees are officially not welcome in the U.S., our right to practice our faith is denied!

• In January, be attentive to these opportunities to remember migrants and refugees — as well as those trafficked while attempting to migrate:

        January: National Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Month. Also Poverty Awareness.

        Jan. 1: World Peace Day. Pope Francis chose “Migrants and Refugees” as the theme.

        Jan. 7 – 13: National Migration Week

        Jan. 11: National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

        Jan. 17: World Day of Migrants and Refugees

The plight of refugees is not limited to one month, but we can make a difference for them by acting during January.

Note: In the interest of updated theology, I add this excerpt from an article by John J. Collins, professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School: “You have a text in the Book of Hosea that says, ‘Out of Egypt, I have called my son.’ In the Book of Hosea, the son is Israel. It means, ‘I brought Israel out of Egypt.’ If you now look at it, and you say, ‘But God’s son is the Messiah, and the Messiah is Jesus,’ well, Jesus must have been in Egypt, and we didn’t know about it. You get the story of the flight into Egypt, which gets into only one out of four gospels.”

Winter Solstice Prayer 2017

Winter Solstice occurs between the 20th and 23rd of December, the time when the ancients thought the “sun stood still” (which is the literal meaning of “solstice”). The date was determined by people living in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the longest day of the year, and far from cold and dark.

We know that the sun’s apparently-changed position each day is caused by the rotation of the Earth as it circles the Sun on a tilted axis. At the December Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning farther away from the sun than at any other time of the year.

unknown

Earlier members of our species had no knowledge of this fact. As the days became shorter, people were often frightened. Those who believed that the gods organized the travel of the sun might have initiated rituals so the gods would return light to their days. When, in fact, the following days became both longer and lighter, people in ancient times rejoiced and created traditional ways to celebrate.

Some ancient rituals survive to the present day, but many religious groups celebrate the coming of light by adding their own religious significance. When Christians began to celebrate Christmas, those in the Western church felt it was appropriate to “convert” the pagan solstice celebrations in order to honor the Light of the World. Eventually the Christmas date in the West was established for December 25th, and the solstice always precedes it. (The Eastern church chose January 6th.)

For a 3-sided pdf of just the prayer, contact terrishcj@aol.com.

Winter Solstice Ritual 2017: Celebrating Light

Advance preparation: Prepare hymns, readers, and soy or beeswax candles (See, e.g., gulliverscandles.com) for the centerpiece and for participants. Organize refreshments for socializing. Begin with minimal light. Adapt to suit your preferences.

Reader 1: On this longest night of the year, before the light overcomes the dark, sit in the dark and think about the importance of darkness. Bless mushrooms that grow in the dark and honeysuckle that sends its luscious scents into the night. Be grateful for the darkness that soothes us to sleep, the darkness that animals require for hibernation.

Reader 2: Give thanks for sheltering dark places: the rich earth where seeds germinate, the caves that harbored our ancient ancestors (and where some of our sun gods were born), the cellars that keep us safe from tornadoes, the wombs that provide our first nourishment. Acknowledge the darkness of suffering, which can deepen our appreciation of life and strengthen our connection to one another. (Reading 1 and 2 from In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth, Patricia Montley, Skinner House, 2005)

Close your eyes and relax. Let us praise the loving Mystery dwelling with us in our wondrous garden in our galaxy. Let us ponder the wonders of both darkness and light.

Reflection time

Hymn:  “Song for the Winter Solstice”(Pauline Le Bel, YouTube) or  “Long Is Our Winter” sung as a round (words below), or any appropriate hymn:
Long is our winter, dark is our night, O come, set us free, O Saving Light! (2X)
Come, set us free, O Saving Light! O come, dwell among us, O Saving Light!

Reader 3: Let us be grateful for Brother Sun, lauded by St. Francis because he “brings the day and the light You give us through him. How beautiful he is, how radiant in all his splendor. Of You, Most High, he bears your likeness.” Let us be grateful for the fusion that causes Sun’s energy. Fusion is unlike anything we experience on Earth, though scientists are trying hard to replicate the process. Fusion in stars created the stardust that resulted in each of us and everything we know on Earth.

Reader 4: In the beginning, there was silence. In the beginning, there was darkness. In the beginning, there was no-thing . . . but in the silence, darkness, and nothingness, we believe that there was Love.

Reader 5: This love infused every religious tradition of people throughout Earth’s history. In our time, many religious and secular groups include light in their December celebrations. For example, Hanukkah – the eight-day festival of lights — and Christmas each use candles to show respect for light.

Reader 6: Some Native American and Aboriginal groups also observe the Winter Solstice. They associate different beliefs and rituals with it. The Hopi tribe celebrations are “…dedicated to giving aid and direction to the sun which is ready to ‘return’ and give strength to budding life.” Their ceremony is called Soyal. We remember the many dedicated people who endured the cold and dark at Standing Rock in North Dakota and in other locations to protect the sacred land and water presently being threatened.

Reader 7: Let us celebrate and honor the gift of fire. UnknownFire has held mystery since the first Flaring Forth.  The fire’s heat warms us and gives us light. Fire is used to purify and to cook food that nourishes us. It symbolizes the presence and love of God and a passionate love of life, of others, of all creation. Lovers speak of the fire of love in their hearts.

All: May the power, warmth, passion, and mystery of fire be given us. May its radiance permeate deep within our spirit. 

Light the center candle. As ready, individuals light their candles from this center candle. When everyone has lit a candle, individuals read petitions. Add or subtract as wanted. After each, all respond: Let us give thanks.

~ For the original Flaring Forth, for the searing explosion that began all we know of the Universe, Let us give thanks.

~ For the collapse and explosions of the supernovas that delivered to the Universe new elements that would “one day sparkle as life, as consciousness, as memories of beauty laced into genetic coding.” (The Universe Story, p. 61), Let us give thanks.

~ For the Sun that dominates our solar system and that makes life on Earth possible, Let us give thanks.sun_viewed_through_camera_lens

~ For the distance Earth stays from Sun, for Earth’s axis, for the gravitational spin assisted by our Moon, Let us give thanks.

~ For the many positive ways humans have harnessed the fire of the Sun to keep warm, to see, to grow food, to cook, and for those working to sustain healthful food and energy systems, Let us give thanks.

~ For our ancestors who, eons ago, celebrated the longest night of the year and the promise of brighter days, Let us give thanks.

~ For the birth of Jesus and the enlightenment he brought to the world, Let us give thanks.

~ For our Christian brothers and sisters preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth, Let us give thanks. 

~ For our brothers and sisters of other religious beliefs who celebrate their special days this season, Let us give thanks.

~ For those living and dead who have enlighten the world by their example and teaching [Pause to name them if desired.], Let us give thanks.

~ For being alive to celebrate this solstice, and for beloved friends and relatives whose memories warm our hearts, Let us give thanks. 

Add as desired.

Reflection time

Optional sharing: Why is Light an appropriate focus of unity for all people everywhere?

Hymn: Any appropriate hymn or song.

Together: Today, day begins to take back the night. I wish you all the warmth of lengthening of days; light for heart, mind, soul, and body; radiant smiles given and received; and the dayspring to guide your feet onto paths of peace. (France White, SHCJ)

Extinguish candles. Socialize.