Theologian's Almanac for Week of September 29, 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, September 29:

September 29 is Rosh Hashanah this year, the Jewish New Year.  Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year”) is a two-day celebration, often including the sounding of a shofar (a ram’s horn) and eating apples dipped in honey, to usher in a sweet new year.

September 30 is the day in 1452 the first section of the Gutenberg Bible was finished in Mainz, Germany.  Johannes Gutenberg was the youngest son of a wealthy merchant, and his innovations in developing what became the modern printing press - capturing the moves of Medieval calligraphy in separable, movable type - transformed religion, literature, and politics.  Before the printing press, a book like the Bible would take years to produce by hand; Gutenberg’s press made 185 copies, about 50 of which still survive today. The consequent printing revolution reshaped human culture, changing forever how (and how far) knowledge was disseminated, democratizing learning, and making new art forms possible.  Known in its day as “the art of multiplying books,” modern printing was catalytic for the European Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Protestant Reformations. His legacy is carried on today by Project Gutenberg, a group of volunteers digitizing cultural and literary works, making them open and free to the public.

September 30 is also the birthday of writer and concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, born in Romania in 1928.  Raised in a Hasidic community, he learned to love reading by studying the Jewish Bible.  When he was 15, his family was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his mother and sister were killed; his father was then killed in the Buchenwald camp.  Wiesel’s memoir about his experience, Night (1955), has become one of the most widely read accounts of the Holocaust.  Here’s a passage from Night:

“Then came the march past the victims.  The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish.  But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing. And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.  And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished. Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

"For God's sake, where is God?"

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

"Where He is? This is where - hanging here from this gallows..."

Reflecting on Night, Wiesel later wrote, “I must confess that I do not know, or no longer know, what I wanted to achieve with my words. I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer - or my life, period - would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.”  In 1986, in honor of his writing and teaching, Wiesel received the Nobel Prize in literature.

October 1 is the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, born in France in 1873. After becoming a Carmelite nun at the age of 15, she lived only to the age of 24 - but her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, and her direct, simple approach to spirituality were extremely influential. She was eventually named the patron saint of France, and has become one of the most popular saints in the history of the church. Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint in modern times,” and Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor [or Teacher] of the Church, only the third woman to be so honored (the other two are Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila). She was passionately devoted to missionary work, and inspired Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She is also the patron saint of florists and flower-growers, thanks to a remark she made promising to bless those who seek her intercession: “I will let fall a shower of roses.” From this she is also popularly known as “the Little Flower of Jesus,” or simply as “The Little Flower.”

October 1 is also the birthday of Nat Turner, born enslaved in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1800.  He learned to read, studied the Bible, became a preacher who urged rebellion against slavery - and led a revolt in 1831, after a solar eclipse he took as a divine sign.  At his trial, he confirmed he had led the rebellion but nevertheless pleaded not guilty. His Bible is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

October 1 is also the birthday of Jimmy Carter, born in Plains, Georgia, in 1924.  A successful peanut farmer, he got interested in politics after refusing to join a citizens’ group that opposed the integration of schools.  After serving as governor of Georgia, he eventually became the 39th president of the United States. Most Sundays of his adult life, he has taught Sunday school at his American Baptist Church.  Carter once said: “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”

October 2 is the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi, a religious and civic leader born in India in 1869, best known for his role in India’s independence movement against British colonial rule, and particularly for his promotion of nonviolence as a means of resistance and liberation.  He influenced Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s interests in nonviolence; King kept a portrait of Gandhi in his study. Gandhi wrote, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”

October 4 is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, born in 1182, today considered the patron saint of animals and the natural world.  He was a friar - a kind of monk who lived not in a monastery but rather among the poor out in the world.  Here are three ways to honor St. Francis this month.