Theologian’s Almanac for Week of May 5, 2019

Theologian's Almanac Week of May 5 2019

Welcome to SALT’s “Theologian’s Almanac,” a weekly selection of important birthdays, holidays, and other upcoming milestones worth marking - specially created for a) writing sermons and prayers, b) creating content for social media channels, and c) enriching your devotional life.

For the week of Sunday, May 5:

May 5 is Cinco de Mayo, commemorating not Mexico’s Independence Day, as is often mistakenly thought, but rather the unlikely victory of an outmatched Mexican fighting force over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  France went on to win the larger conflict, occupying Mexico for a few years - but the earlier battle became a point of Mexican pride and a symbol of resistance against colonial aggression. In the 1960s, Mexican-Americans activists claimed the day in the context of the Civil Rights Movement.  And in the 1980s, beer companies heavily commercialized the holiday in the United States, coming under criticism for promoting racial stereotypes along the way. Many today call for a recovery of Cinco de Mayo’s roots in anticolonial resistance, civil rights, and social justice.

May 5 is also the birthday of Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, born in Copenhagen in 1813.  Largely unknown outside of Denmark during his own time, his work was rediscovered in the twentieth century, and has widely influenced not only theology and philosophy, but also psychology, literature, and literary criticism.  Here’s a taste of Kierkegaard’s lively, provocative, often ironic style:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

“Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

May 8 is the birthday of American poet Gary Snyder.  A practicing Buddhist and environmental activist, Snyder spent several years living on a small island in the East China Sea, mediating daily.  He then spent more than a decade in Japan studying Buddhism, living in monasteries and, because those monasteries had no books, at times renting a nearby apartment to catch up on reading and writing.  Asked what Buddhism has taught him about poetry, he put it this way: “Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick - don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits.”

May 8 is also believed to be the birthday of poet Phillis Wheatley, born in West Africa in 1753.  Kidnapped at the age of eight and put on a slave ship, the Phillis, she was sold to a prominent tailor in Boston, John Wheatley, and was manumitted in 1778 - two years after George Washington invited her to his headquarters to meet her, so impressed was he with her poetry.  She rarely wrote about herself or her life as a slave - with the notable exception of “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” a poem in which Wheatley pointedly admonishes “Christians” that “Negroes,” too, may “join th’ angelic train.”

May 8 is also the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, an English anchoress who experienced a vision in 1373, and wrote about it in Showings or Revelations of Divine Love - the earliest surviving book by a woman in the English language.  

“And in this he showed me a little thing,” she wrote, “the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.  In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

Her most famous line may be her most consoling: “but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”

May 11 is the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death in 1981.  Marley’s lyrics are often shaped by his Rastafarian theology, and his songs - both political and romantic - are peppered with references to “Jah” (the Rasta word for God).

May 11 is also the day in 868 that the Diamond Sutra was published, the world’s oldest printed book (a scroll, actually) bearing a publication date.  It’s a collection of Buddhist teachings (“sutra” means “teachings”) with the full title, “The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusions.”  In 1900, a Taoist monk discovered it in a sealed cave along the Silk Road, where ancient monks had collected holy scriptures of various religions from travelers and pilgrims passing by.