Theologian's Almanac for Week of November 3, 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, November 3:
November 6 is the birthday of American poet Anne Porter, born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, in 1911. She wrote poems avidly as a young woman, often on theological subjects or inflected with a spiritual sensibility, but submitted only a few for publication. She and her husband, the painter Fairfield Porter, were active in the New York art scene of the 1940s and ’50s, and he painted many portraits of her over the course of their life together, living on Long Island and raising five children. After Fairfield’s death, Anne turned again to her poems and began revising them anew. A dear friend, the poet David Shapiro, secretly showed the drafts to a press - who promptly offered to publish them. An Altogether Different Language appeared in 1994, when Anne was 83 years old; it was named a finalist for the National Book Award. The title poem is a meditation on St. Francis’ little stone chapel in Assisi:
“An Altogether Different Language”
There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.
What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.
November 8 is the birthday of American activist and writer Dorothy Day, born in 1897. After a time as a radical journalist and activist in New York City, she converted to Catholicism and, along with the French Catholic activist Peter Maurin, began a publication called The Catholic Worker devoted to issues of justice, poverty, and human rights. The first issue, in 1933, cost one penny - and it still does today. In that inaugural edition, Day wrote that the paper was “For those who are sitting on park benches in the warm spring sunlight. For those who are huddling in shelters trying to escape the rain. For those who are walking the streets in the all but futile search for work.” The discussions provoked by The Catholic Worker led to the creation of “houses of hospitality” in New York City and across the country, where people without homes, especially women, could seek shelter, companionship, and assistance.
About her life’s work, Dorothy Day said: “What we would like to do is change the world - make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute - the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words - we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
Her autobiography, The Long Loneliness (1952), is a modern classic. She said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the Psalms.”
November 8 is also the day that Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was founded in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1837. In those days, though there were 120 men’s colleges in America, there were no equivalents for women. Mary Lyon, a teacher and chemist, thought that ought to change. She wrote to a friend, “It is desirable that the plans relating to the subject should not seem to originate with us but with but with benevolent gentlemen. If the object should excite attention, there is danger that many good men will fear the effect on society of so much female influence, and what they will call female greatness.” But the men she hired to fundraise couldn’t get the job done - so Lyon did it herself, raising $27,000 from 1,800 donors in churches, farms, sewing circles and other gatherings. Mount Holyoke’s inaugural class was 80 young women, some having travelled for days to reach South Hadley. Each brought a Bible, an atlas, a dictionary, and two spoons.
November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass” in 1938, when German Nazis provoked, coordinated, and permitted assaults on Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses. Hitler and Joseph Goebbels used the murder of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew as a pretext for the attacks, intentionally arranging them to look like spontaneous demonstrations. They ordered the police to allow the violence, and firefighters to put out fires only if they spread to adjacent, non-Jewish properties. Whether out of fear or bigotry, virtually everyone cooperated. It was the first mass incarceration of Jews in Nazi Germany; many consider Kristallnacht to be the beginning of the Holocaust.