Let us strengthen our hold on forms we still see.
Let us say: This once stood amongst us, in the midst of our destiny,
of all that destroys, our failure to see the way we should go was real
and drew stars down to it from the heavens’ sure depths.
—from “Seventh Duino Elegy” by Rainer Maria Rilke
Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This solemnity is so important to the Church that it supersedes even the regular Sunday liturgy. As its name suggests, this is a feast that celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist, that strange and haunting figure crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord!”
It is no accident that we celebrate John’s birth at the time of the summer solstice, opposite the birth of Christ at the winter solstice. John said, “He [Christ] must increase, and I must decrease.” Indeed, at the summer solstice the light peaks and then begins to recede, decreasing day by day until the arrival of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Past generations would have celebrated this day with great fanfare, beginning with the great bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Now this day, and its season, are largely forgotten outside of the liturgical sphere.
Regardless, here we are at the start of St. John’s tide, such a special time of the year. I like to gather St. John’s wort, which blooms in this season—like my medieval forbears, I tuck a sprig above every window and door (better to keep evil out and goodness in). I also like to dry some cuttings to use as the hay in the manger of my nativity at Christmas. Usually I have to drive out to places where I have seen these plants growing in the wild, but this year a veritable miracle occurred: I found a patch of St. John’s wort growing just a few hundred feet from my house on a sunny bank at the entrance to my neighborhood, a place it has never grown before. I was able to gather several armfuls as well as dig up a few live specimens to plant in my own yard for next year’s harvest—and all of this was done on the feast day itself, such a blessing!
I would be remiss if I did not mention that St. John’s Day is also very special to us because it is my son’s Name Day (Zane is a variant of John)—there are many saints called John, but John the Baptist is the one he chose to be his patron saint. To celebrate we had cake and I said a blessing for him. You might like to do this for your children on their name days.
In closing, I thought I would share a meditation for St. John’s tide, cobbled together from different lectures given by Rudolf Steiner that are contained in the book St. John’s: An Introductory Reader (2007, Sophia Books)—I’ve indicated the pages on which each bit of the material can be found. Wishing you all a blessed St. John’s tide, and a happy summer!
Now let us examine what is left lying in bed [when we fall asleep]. What happens to it? It suddenly becomes plantlike. Its life is comparable to what takes place on earth from the moment when plants sprout in the spring until the autumn when they die back. This plant nature springs up and puts forth leaves in the human being, as it were, from falling asleep to waking. We are then like the earth in summer . . . [and] between falling asleep and waking is our summer . . . for during sleep we resemble blossoming, sprouting plant life, like the earth in summer. (pp 9, 10)
People of olden times sensed how different the air and warmth became around St. John’s time, at the height of summer, how these assumed something of the quality of plant life . . . They were aware in their perceptive feeling of a quality of ‘greening’, blossoming, and fruiting coming towards them not from the earth but descending from the surrounding atmosphere—air and warmth, themselves—and assuming a plantlike character.
Thus the festivals had a wonderful, intimate, human content. A question was sent forth into the divine, spiritual universe; and people received the answer because—just as we perceive the earth’s greening, fruiting, and blossoming today—they sensed something plantlike streaming down to them from the otherwise merely mineral air. (p 33)
This was the season which people perceived as the time of divine and moral enlightenment. And above all, what they wanted to obtain from the heavens as ‘answer’ to their performances of music, poetry, and dance was an earnest revelation from the heavens of moral guidance and impetus. (p 37)
John the Baptist . . . prepares the way for the Christ impulse. We can see him preparing the way for the Christ impulse, and we can see how he really appears to us as the one whose words characterize this impulse, saying: ‘Change your disposition. Do not look back any longer . . . but seek the kingdoms of heaven instead, in your innermost being!’ John the Baptist characterizes the true essence of the Christ impulse. He is a herald of Christianity in a truly wonderful way. (p 47)
. . . [This is] a true picture both of our current condition and the mission of St. John: To purify our longing so that more and more of . . . the world of spirit . . . can enter us. To decrease so that he can increase. To sing, humanly, but then fall silent, and listen with every fibre for the answer which resonates from the heights and depths of our being. (p 91)
The writer does not simply give us what he thinks or knows; he gives us himself.
—from “Style and the Man” by John Burroughs
While poking around the backend of my WordPress account, I recently discovered several of my old blogs from 2007-2010. Truthfully, they’ve been “hidden” for years, so I forgot they even existed—and what a treasure trove of me there was to re-discover there! I’ve blogged under several site names over the years and typically abandoned one for the next, but the consistent theme of all my blogs has been me wrestling, semi-publicly, in some small way with the big questions of life. Although my posts were very sporadic during those early years, I decided to import them all here, so that I can have one, whole, continuous blogging record from when I started until the present day.
If you’ve been reading and writing blogs for as long as I have (apparently almost eleven years), you will have noticed that blogging has pretty much died. The mass extinction of blogs seems to have reached its peak sometime around 2015: First came the exhaustion and disillusionment of the bloggers whose monetized blogs straddled the line between compensation and exploitation, then came the “Is everyone having fun on social media without me?” phenomenon that effectively killed those still standing (hardly surprising given that Facebook went from 1 million to 2 billion active monthly users between 2004 and 2018).
It has been really disheartening to watch as blogs I used to love—or had the misfortune to discover three or four years too late—shifted their creative focus to social media silos, where no one owns their content and everything they produce is then sold back to them in some form or another. Gross. And the ephemeral nature of the internet in general, and social media specifically, means that if these “platforms” close up shop, all of that content will be lost, irretrievable—every memory, every family photo that you diligently documented on Facebook will be gone in the blink of an eye. The Wayback Machine doesn’t archive social media, but it does archive blogs.
Amid all this bad news, there is one interesting ray of hope: Many of us who started blogging more than a decade ago are still doing it. Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer amount of work we have put into, and continue to put into, these virtual spaces over the years. Regardless of our reasons, we keep coming back even when we know a lot of folks are no longer visiting our blogs, and if they do visit they are skimming rather than engaging (as we all do these days). We keep making beautiful pictures with professional-grade cameras, and painstakingly edit them in Photoshop, knowing that nearly everyone who actually sees them will do so on a tiny iPhone screen.
One might rightfully ask: Why bother? I can only answer for myself, but being able to look back on my life through my own thoughts and pictures is an incredible gift. And, I think this may be true for others, as well. Over the years, the posts of my favorite bloggers have become less frequent, but more sincere. Their blogs have matured with them, becoming more personal, more philosophical, more reflective—less about “projects” and “tutorials” and “shop updates” than about living. It’s really quite beautiful and inspiring. Of course, sometimes my older posts make me wince a little with embarrassment, but I think that’s a pretty common experience for those of us who make things to be seen. As John Burroughs noted, publishing requires being exposed.
And, exposure can be a good thing; it’s an integral aspect of the web. Back in the day, new bloggers sought exposure through inclusion in the “blogrolls” of more popular blogs. I found so many of the blogs that I still read and love from some blogroll or another, but you rarely see them anywhere today—like so many of the visual and functional aspects of websites, blogrolls largely died out with the advent of mobile technology. As an extension of this love letter to blogging I’m bringing back my blogroll, and I’ll be adding to it over the coming months—you can find it in the sidebar (desktop) or at the end of this page (mobile).
Come what may, I plan to continue blogging for the foreseeable future—perhaps you will consider joining me? Trust me: If you can post on Facebook, you can use WordPress (or Blogger or Typepad or Squarespace . . . ) and I’d love to add you to my blogroll 🙂
Le blog est mort, vive le blog!
Out of the nursery and into the garden
where it rooted and survived its first hard winter,
then a few years of freedom while it blossomed . . .
developed strange ideas about its height
and suffered the pruning of its quirks and clutters,
its self-indulgent thrusts . . .
Its oldest branches now, the survivors carved
by knife blades, rain, and wind, are sending shoots
straight up, blood red, into the light again.
—from “The Cherry Tree” by David Wagoner
It was my birthday this past weekend. Now I am 37. My husband and I were in Boston on an unrelated errand, and the morning of my birthday dawned bright and clear. From our hotel room I could see the city coming to life—teams rowing up and down the Charles River, ducks arriving and departing, cars zooming hither and thither.
After attending to our obligations, we had the late afternoon and evening to ourselves, and we spent it strolling along the river where, overnight, a profusion of blossoms had sprung up out of the veritable desert of early spring in New England to cover what seemed like every branch and every inch of earth along the riverbank.
Everywhere we went we could hear people wondering aloud, “Has that tree always been here?” while they trained their cell phones and cameras at the shocking sprays of pink petals—in spring, mother nature wants to be noticed. The beautiful weather and the beautiful flowers, and the opportunity to stroll along the riverbank at the golden hour with the man I love . . . who could ask for a better gift?
At 37 I am longing a little bit for change—I feel restless. No doubt change will come, though probably not in the form I expect. In the coming year I hope that, despite life’s constant pruning, with each new day I will endeavor—like the cherry tree—to put out fresh shoots and grow toward the light.
Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring.
If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature,
if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep,
if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you,
know that the morning and spring of your life are past.
Thus may you feel your pulse.
—from the journal of Henry David Thoreau (1859)
Harsh words from Mr. Thoreau, but I will tell you this: I could not have more sympathy with morning and spring if I tried! But, my sympathy is cloaked with impatience—when will spring truly arrive? Even the plants are anxious, I can feel that. The iris and lily sprouts have popped their heads up out of the soil, but they’re unsure whether or not the time of growth has come. Most mornings they seem to huddle together in an attempt to keep warm. Even the chives are plodding.
I’ve been doing what I can during this protracted gloom, raking up the detritus of winter storms, pruning (hopefully correctly) our pear trees, checking on this, that, and the other thing in the yard. But, still, mother nature makes me wait. Perhaps the ‘early’ Easter is to blame for the dissonance I feel—the Resurrection has come but the world slumbers on, oblivious to the miracle that has transpired.