Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, June 24, 2010
He must increase; I must decrease.
John the Baptist, Hebrew prophet; the feast day
of his Nativity is today (in the Christian faith).
He is honoured as the “announcer” of the coming
of the Messiah, and recognizing Jesus as that.
Things get intertwined. I like this! It gives me the inner sense that all things are connected – and in the deepest level I believe this, though it often seems not so. In terms of religions, they develop and change, flowing in and around each other, letting go of some things, adding other insights. Ultimately, I believe that all religions were developed by the human community to meet some need or to try and explain some Mystery. Some parts were helpful, some not.
There is a charming Umbrian tradition still kept today. It has its roots in ancient Solstice celebrations. Both summer and winter solstices are “sacred moments” pointing to passage between the world of space/defined time, and the world which is timeless and spaceless. Also, in ancient Rome, the fertility festivities in honor of the goddess Fortuna ended on June 24th. In Umbria today, on June 23, the women gather cento erbe – 100 “wild” greens and plants, and flowers. The primary scents are roses, yellow wild broom, and walnut leaves. The cento erbe are soaked overnight in a basin. The basin must not be brought into the house. It must be left outdoors so the guazza, dew, will enter the waters. It must be done this way because “this is the way our ancestors did it”. In the morning, everyone in the house washes their hands and face with the acqua di San Giovanni. In some families, a ladle of the water is added to the bath water of adults and babies. (Thanks to Anne Robichaud for the story!)
Washing in the water is purifying and protective. That part is ancient. Centuries later, the Roman Church set the birthdate of Jesus on Dec 24/25 to counter the Roman Saturnalia celebration. Then they set the John the Baptist’s birthday on June 24/25 to match the Biblical story that John the Baptist was born 6 months before Jesus. On the Solstice! So, the traditions got intertwined.
But even though the date was in a sense “arbitrary”, there is a nice connection! (Am I surprised!!?) Water! John baptizes Jesus. Jesus accepts the baptism as a sign of purification through repentance; and He is “protected” by the Holy Spirit, who “descends” on Him. The waters of the Jordan may not have been as lovely as the acqua di San Giovanni, but their effect was as sweet and lovely!
There’s the message, from ancient Rome, and from the Festa di San Giovanni Battista – and the Tao says the same thing:
The Mystery of Being, if we enter into it and understand it rightly, pours down upon us like dew a blessing that purifies us daily; and a Spirit which makes us One with all Being washes over us. Our human frailties “decrease”; our sacredness, our wholeness as persons, "increases”.
What a great day!!