Theologian’s Almanac for Week of June 9, 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, June 9:

June 9 is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church.  Check out SALT’s commentary on Pentecost here.

June 9 is also the birthday of the novelist and peace activist Bertha von Suttner, born in Prague in 1843, the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Suttner became a major figure in the peace movement of the day, publishing a bestselling novel, Lay Down Your Arms.  She and her husband, Arthur, were devout Christians, and established the League Against Anti-Semitism in response to the pogroms and growing antisemitism in Eastern Europe.  True religion, she wrote, is “neighborly love, not neighborly hatred. Any kind of hatred, against other nations or against other creeds, detracts from the humaneness of humanity."  For a short time she had served as administrative assistant to the industrialist Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by inventing dynamite and developing weapons of war - and she maintained an extensive correspondence with him until his death. She is widely credited with influencing his decision to include a peace prize among those he established with his fortune, and in 1905, she became the first woman to be awarded it, and the second female Nobel laureate ever (the first being Marie Curie).

June 10 is the day in 1881 that Leo Tolstoy began a fateful pilgrimage to a nearby monastery.  His great novels - War and Peace and Anna Karenina - had made him rich and famous, but he felt a hollow emptiness in his life, and fell into a deep depression.  Then one day, alone on a walk in the woods, he had an epiphany: “At the thought of God, happy waves of life welled up inside me.  Everything came alive, took on meaning. The moment I thought I knew God, I lived. But the moment I forgot him, the moment I stopped believing, I also stopped living.”  The monastery became for him a place of spiritual retreat, at which he worked out the implications of his conversion. He decided to renounce meat, sex, alcohol, tabacco, and expensive clothing.  He wanted to give away all his money, too, but his wife, Sophia, reminded him that they needed at least some resources to raise their 10 children!

June 14 is the birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Connecticut in 1811.  The daughter of Lyman Beecher, a well known Congregationalist minister, Harriet’s ministry would take a literary form: in 1852, her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, became a national sensation. One of the bestselling novels of all time, the novel was for many an eye-opening, unsparing, tragic depiction of the evils of slavery, and a vision that helped galvanize the abolitionist movement.

June 15 is the day the Magna Carta (or “Great Charter”) was sealed in 1215 in the English meadow of Runnymede.  Members of both the nobility and the church had grievances with King John, and so they pressed him to address them, and at the same time to guarantee certain rights to his subjects.  The document itself, written by Stephen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, included several ideas that would go on to influence later legal charters, including the U.S. Bill of Rights: that the church should be free of governmental interference; that the monarch should be subject to the law and not above it; and that no one shall be seized, imprisoned, or exiled without due process of law.

And June 15 is also the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, born in Japan in 1763.  He became one of the masters of haiku, a poetic form using 17 Japanese characters grouped in three distinct units.  His subjects were often common, everyday details, the small wonders of daily life - and the success of his work is largely responsible for the popularity of haiku today.  He often explored spiritual subjects from down-to-earth, relatable vantage points, with both insight and a twinkle in his eye. Here’s one of his classics:

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
    killing mosquitoes.

Elizabeth MyerComment