Rabbit! Rabbit!

Altars, architecture, art, Christmas, Creativity, Faith, holidays, hope, inspiration, Light of the World, Marcus Aurelius, Painting, photography, poverty, rabbits, renewal, Roman Forum, Saturnalia, Temple of Saturn, winter solstice

Welcome to December! While I was writing this blog, it was Black Friday in November, when many rabbit families were either shopping in person or online. I once did this with my dear rabbit mother, for she loved to shop. As a child of the Great Depression, the thrill of giving gifts, however small to all her friends, was a joy denied to her while growing up. Today we rabbits aren’t so much into giving gifts, but in sharing experiences. We’re making different choices. We aren’t rejecting our forebears’ decisions, but we have different values. As the writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, everything has its time:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Christmas Gift

The holiday season begins earlier and earlier, or maybe I’m just an old rabbit having a fever dream. Last year the supply chain snafus were the Grinch that stole Christmas. Some of you rabbits may have been in a FIFA World Cup worthy soccer scrimmage last year at a big box discounter while trying to score one of the few PlayStations that managed to make its way from China to America on one of the large container ships that wasn’t lost at sea or stuck in the Suez Canal. The good news is the resulting logjam at the shipping docks has since been cleared and all the major retailers expect to get their holiday goods on time, compared to only 53% in 2021. We rabbits aren’t getting this news, however, so about half of us are pessimistic about being able to find our desired gifts in stock.

On March 23 2021, the containership Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking all traffic going both ways.

As a young rabbit, I learned about Murphy’s law from the “Rambling Wrecks from Georgia Tech, who were all one heck of an engineer.” If you’re not familiar with Murphy, his law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” and the corollary law is “It’ll go wrong at the worst possible time and cause the most damage possible.” One would think these engineers were all chronic pessimists who saw the proverbial water glass half empty, but they would claim they’re just realists. Murphy’s Law simply reflects the natural fact we can’t control outcomes or people. Since the results of future actions can’t be avoided, you always should prepare for the worst and rejoice if the best happens instead.

Murphy’s Laws

I’ve always been fond of Murphy’s Law, but never more so during the holidays. Holiday festivities always include people, activities done only once a year, and often larger, unsupervised groups (often including alcohol), which means Mr. Murphy is often an uninvited guest. How he manages to sneak in, I have no idea, but he’s shown up in my rabbit den or kitchen more than once. Maybe he has an affinity for my rabbit clan, or perhaps he’s drawn to chaos and confusion. I’m not saying my rabbit family is a rowdy bunch, but we’ve always been loud and active. There’s not much difference between a whirlwind, a tornado, and my two brothers.

Grand Rabbit Wisdom

I don’t remember Murphy appearing at my Grand Rabbits’ celebrations, but they were of the generation who believed “little rabbits should be seen and not heard.” I imagine they showed Murphy the door if he dropped by. Likewise, when my mother began hosting the holiday meals, the Murphy drama of “anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time” also never happened. My mom took on a drill sergeant’s precision when she produced the roast beast feast.

Not my tree, not my cats, but same Murphy result

When I bought a little house, Murphy made himself welcome. I invited friends over to decorate the Christmas tree. We stepped back to toast our creation, but the tree crashed forward to the floor, as if it were taking a bow in response. Our toast interrupted, we set the tree upright, tied it to the window handle, and resumed our toast in peace. One day I’ll tell you about my experiences of raking the roof on that little house before the rainy season set in each fall.

Murphy wouldn’t leave me alone. I moved to Texas, bought another little house, and my dear mom and dad invited themselves and my brother’s family over for a holiday feast. She pushed all the potato peels into my starter home’s basic garbage disposal and turned it on. If “Anything can go wrong at the worst possible time and cause the worst damage possible,” my dear bunny mom discovered it.

“I don’t understand; my disposal at home will handle all this.”
“Yes, mother. You have a real, custom house, not a starter home. This is a baby disposal.”

Then we got the wastebasket, the pliers, and I put on my plumber’s hat. We pulled out the clog, drained the water, and put it all back together again. Mom was traumatized. Mom kept apologizing, but I reminded her, “It’s no big deal. It won’t happen again. And we have food to eat. We’ll laugh about this one day!”

Murphy still visits me on occasion. But I’ve learned to prepare for him to limit his damages. This thanksgiving I had a friend for dinner. They made a bathroom visit before they left. When I went there, I found the faucet still running and I wasn’t able to turn it off. Water was all over the floor and inside the original cabinet from 1965. I turned off the water under the sink, thinking I was glad I’d asked my plumber to give me new shutoffs when I put the new faucet in. The old ones had froze shut. I’m now brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink, but that’s all right. I’ll probably have to replace this whole thing, all for the demise of a $5 faucet washer. This is Murphy’s Law in a nutshell. Santa will have to visit Lowes or Home Depot for my Christmas gift this year. I hope I’ve been a good rabbit, as the saying goes. And my stocking is extra big.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday of December, although an estimated $942.6 billion in holiday retail sales in the United States might cause us rabbits to think otherwise. One study found that 60% of workers were more distracted and less motivated as the Christmas holidays approached, with some workers even saying this feeling started as early as November. Likewise, during the holiday time many employees will take off to spend time with family or just to enjoy the holiday. That cuts into productivity as well. We have our own Mr. Scrooge in our rabbit towns too. I have any number of rabbit buddies who need time off to hunt and be alone in the woods for a bit. I begrudge them not, as long as their spouses can take care of holidays uninterrupted.

Postal Worker delivering packages

The coming darkness of the Winter Solstice causes people all around the world to light fires and burn candles to overcome the gloom. We’ve done this for ages and in many places. In fact, humans may have observed the winter solstice as early as Neolithic period—the last part of the Stone Age—beginning about 10,200 BCE. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice celebration dedicated to the Saturn, the god of agriculture, wealth, and time. While it began as a one-day celebration in early December, this pagan festival later expanded into a riotous weeklong party stretching from December 17 to 24.

Robert Macpherson: Roman Forum—Temple of Saturn, 1850s, J.Paul Getty Museum

The Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia around 497 BCE on a site originally occupied by an altar to the god. Due to the link between Saturn and agriculture, the original source of Rome’s wealth, the temple was also the repository for the State Treasury, or the Aerarium Populi Romani, which was located beneath the stairs under the high podium. It also contained the bronze tablets on which Roman law was inscribed.

Saturn with Harvest Scythe

The woolen bonds, which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue of Saturn within, were loosened on the festival day to symbolize the god’s liberation. On this festival day, after a sacrifice at the temple, the people held a public banquet attended by both slave and free persons. An image of the god was placed as if in attendance at this meal, or a lectisternium (reclining on a couch), a tradition which Livy says was introduced in 397 BCE. (Others date this to 399 BCE.) The practice was introduced as a specific emergency response to a natural crisis: extremes of temperature occurring in both summer and winter had given rise to a devastating plague that had proceeded to ravage the population. It was celebrated from December 17 to 23, ending on ending on the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.

Not only were public rites celebrated with all the splendour then available, but Livy goes on to describe the general tenor of the private celebration in the late 1st C BCE (around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ):

“They also celebrated the rites in their own homes. All through the city, it is said, doors stood wide open, all kinds of food were setout for universal consumption, all comers were welcomed, whether known or not, and men even exchanged kind and civil words with personal enemies; there was a truce to quarreling and legal action; even prisoners were released from their chains for those days, and they hesitated thereafter to imprison men whom the gods had befriended.”

Roman coin with a image of of Marcus Aurelius on obverse and on reverse, a lectisternium associated with an atonement meal, c 167/168 CE. Münzkabinett, Berlin

This ritual meal was commonly shared by the worshippers, in contrast to normal sacrifice, which distinguished human from divine portions. In other words, in the Lectisternium the gods were not only present in spirit, but in form, and they shared in the ritual meal.

The question we have to ask is how did Saturnalia move from a feast of appeasement to reduce harm to the people, to the debauchery which most history books write about today? The powers that be tried over the years to limit the length and celebratory excesses of the season, whether they were civic or religious powers. I suppose they had no counselor rabbits to advise them of Murphy’s Law: “Very little work will get done in the holiday season, and what does manage to get done will most likely need redoing in the New Year.”

Beaker with Inscription, “Rejoice Much,” 1st century AD, Eastern Mediterranean.
Glass, 3 1/16 × 2 7/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004.35

By the 1st CE, Pliny, the Roman historian, was holed up in his room during Saturnalia, while the rest of the family celebrated the feasts, hijinx, and tomfoolery. In the 4th CE, the Christian church decided Christ’s birthday should be celebrated in the winter near the solstice, instead of in the more likely time of spring. The first reference to December 25 as the Nativity of Jesus occurs in a section of the Chronography of AD 354 known as the Calendar of Philocalus, which, even by this late date, still identified December 17 as ludi Saturnalia. By this time, some of the traditions of Saturnalia had already transferred into the Christian era. These were the green decorations of holly, a plant sacred to Saturn, in people’s homes; the small gifts of affection for all comers; the feasts; and the welcoming of strangers with fruit treats and nuts. Upending social conventions for a while reminds us God has no favorites, unlike our stratified social structures of the past and present.

Monogramme of Christ (the Chi Rho) on a plaque of a sarcophagus, 4th-century AD, marble, Musei Vaticani, on display in a temporary exhibition at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. / Photo by Jebulon

December 17 was recognized as the date of the Saturnalia as late as 448 CE, when the ecclesiastical calendar or laterculus (“list”) of Polemius Silvius noted it as feriae servorum (“festival of the slaves”), a festival now deprived of its pagan significance. By the eighth century CE, church authorities complained how even people in Rome were still celebrating the old pagan customs associated with the Saturnalia and other winter holidays. The Temple of Saturn was largely destroyed in the mid-fifteenth century, so all that remains today is six of its Ionic granite columns crowned with a frieze thought to date to approximately 30 BCE.

As we approach the solstice time and the season of the Lord’s birth, we give thanks along with the gospel writer of John 1:5—

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Along with all my bunny friends and family, I hope you all remember what my little daughter said about that “Luke guy, who had such a big part in the Christmas Eve service” the year she learned to read:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” — Luke 1:78-79

Holman Hunt: Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock , 1854, Kebel College, Oxford, England

Joy, peace, and Good Cheer,

CORNELIA

Consumers Expecting Issues in Survey on Holiday Supply Chain Issues | Transport Topics
https://www.ttnews.com/articles/consumers-expecting-issues-survey-holiday-supply-chain-issues

Murphy’s Laws—CMU School of Computer Science
https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~fgandon/miscellaneous/murphy/

How Murphy’s Law Works | HowStuffWorks
https://people.howstuffworks.com/murphys-law.htm

Statistics on Holiday Retail Sales 2022
https://www.statista.com/statistics/243439/holiday-retail-sales-in-the-united-states/

The business of Christmas | Hult International Business School
https://www.hult.edu/blog/the-business-of-christmas/

8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World – HISTORY
https://www.history.com/news/8-winter-solstice-celebrations-around-the-world

December Solstice Traditions and Customs
https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice-customs.html

Temple of Saturn – History and Facts | History Hit
https://www.historyhit.com/locations/temple-of-saturn/

(99+) ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’: the origins and development of the lectisternium. | Michael Beer – Academia.edu
https://www.academia.edu/2076041/_Guess_who_s_coming_to_dinner_the_origins_and_development_of_the_lectisternium

Saturnalia: How Did The Romans Celebrate ‘Christmas’? | HistoryExtra
https://www.historyextra.com/period/roman/how-did-the-romans-celebrate-christmas/

Saturnalia
https://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html

STARS AND THE WINTER SOLSTICE

adult learning, art, Astrology, chocolate, Christmas, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Family, greek myths, grief, holidays, hope, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Marcus Aurelius, Ministry, nature, Painting, Philosophy, poverty, Spirituality, Stonehenge, trees, winter solstice

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice

This is a time of year when we look to the night sky for a sign. It’s not for nothing the depths of darkness are the beginnings of hope and our desire for the return of the healing light. People around the world and over the generations of time have celebrations of feasting, family reunions, and honoring their culture’s gods on the darkest day, or the Winter Solstice. The term solstice derives from the Latin word “sōlstitium”, meaning “the Sun stands still”. On the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position, shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and seems to stand still there.

We’re all familiar with Stonehenge, a Neolithic stone monument in England built about 4,500 years ago to track important moments in the solar year. A later custom is the blazing Yule Log, a Norse tradition. The family would drag a huge piece of wood into their house, set it into the main fireplace, and let it burn for several days. It was a type of sympathetic magic to encourage the distant and faint sun to return, reinvigorated. The family often wrote down their desires for the new year as an offering to the gods. These were then burned in the fire. Afterwards, the family scattered ashes from the fire in the corners of every room in the house for good luck.

Hiroshige: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō

The Chinese also have a Winter Solstice festival, which once was a new year’s festival. The family gathers to eat traditional foods, and they honor their ancestors, as well as the old ones still living among them. This poem by Ruan Yue, in the late Northern Song Dynasty speaks of this:

罗袜新成,更有何人继后尘。
The socks for elders are newly woven;
the custom should be handed down.

A later poet of the Song Dynasty, Fan Chengda, had a more optimistic outlook on the dreary and dark days before the Winter Solstice, or perhaps he was using “positive pep talk to reframe his grumpy mind.”

休把心情关药裹,但逢节序添诗轴。
Don’t be thinking about medicines all the time;
write a new poem at the solar term.

I can relate to Fan Chengda, for I find I have difficulty waking up without the sun streaming into my bedroom windows. I’m also more irritable and mopey on these dark days. It’s probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression related to the lack of light in this season. I tend to think dark thoughts, feel more pain, and lose my appetite, except for medicinal chocolate, which I consume under the Tim Allen mantra, “If some is good, more should be better!”

For Medicinal Purposes Only

When I get this type of mood on, the commercial Christmas we see on television and in the movies strikes a discordant note in my soul. I think about the ancient text, which reminds us when the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

What most of us glide right over is Joseph had kinfolks galore in this town, but none of them opened their home to Mary, for she was pregnant before he married her. The innkeepers in town weren’t going to risk their reputations for these two either. Only one innkeeper took pity on them and let them stay with the animals in the stable. This marks the birth of the Christ child as an outsider to his whole extended family, the House of David.

Botticelli: Nativity, 1475

The Magi, or Wise Men, came from the East to visit King Herod, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”( Matthew 2:2)

Herod was worried he would be deposed, so he sent the Magi to find this child, then return and report to him. The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the family was staying. They offered their gifts and returned home, without telling Herod where the baby was. Jesus was an outsider to the Roman occupation which propped up the local kings. He was a threat to the way governments rule the world.

Shepherds are the epitome of outsiders in the Bible, for they live outdoors among sheep and goats, neither of which are clean. In fact, anyone who’s gone camping knows how hard staying clean is. Glamping isn’t camping, and neither is RVing. My youthful experiences in Girl Scout camps of pitching tents and digging rain gutters is the closest I’ve ever been to living on the land. Even then, we had outhouses and cold water showers. The biblical city folk who could keep the ritual rules of cleanliness looked down on the shepherds as a lower class group, or outside of society.

Imagine a group of shepherds sitting around a nighttime fire, eating a simple meal, and chatting about their day or their families at home. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9). I’d be terrified also, as I imagine you would be too! There’s a good reason the first words out of angels’ mouths are “Do not be afraid!”

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Giotto: Nativity at Padua

If ever the outcasts of the world needed good news, if ever the hopeless needed a savior, if ever the least of all needed one just like them, it was these lowly shepherds, who went to find a newborn child lying in an animal’s feeding stall. No fancy crib for the newborn king, no royal robes or golden crown, just ordinary swaddling clothes. He looked just like any other child, except his birth was proclaimed by angels, honored by Magi from afar, and given a place through the grace of a kind innkeeper.

Those of us who will celebrate Christmas with our families, our extended friends, and our relations in a wild, chaotic buzz of coming and going, feasting and drinking, and perhaps exchanging of gifts, don’t know the quiet and holy night when the light of the world entered “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

We keep our homes lit inside and out with megawatts of electric lights, both colored and white. Some of us even cue our lights to blink to seasonal music. Those of us who live beyond the great urban areas, can better see the stars at night, since there’s no light pollution. This is one reason we need to keep our national parks as close to nature as possible, for one day, these may be the only places people can marvel at the bright stars against the dark canopy of the sky above.

Gail: Stars across the Sky

Gail brings her love of the outdoors and her experience as a park ranger to her work. Over the trees, a floating band of stars become a pathway across the night sky.

Mike: Sun, Moon, and Stars

Even if our assignment was stars, that never means “only stars.” After all, the sun is a star, which is very close to us, astronomically speaking. If you’re going to have the sun and stars, you might as well have the moon also. I always say, “Why not?” The Tim Allen rule sometimes applies in art class: “More power!” When you go too far on the Tim Allen scale, that’s when his sidekick Al reminds him, “Sometimes less is more.” Mike certainly captures the energy and joy of the celestial bodies in this painting through the bold colors and strong brush strokes.

Sally: The Cosmos

Sally had an idea in her mind, but no image to look at. She wanted to show the cosmos in motion, as if God were looking down upon it. In her mind’s eye, she imagined this from memory. As she worked on the small canvas, she’d add more paint into the areas which weren’t quite dry and got somewhat frustrated at the paint not bending to her will. As a matter of technique, painting into a dry area is better than continuing to add color to a wet area, since the wet brush picks up the wet layers below that. Mike and Gail, having many sessions under their belts, have already crossed this particular bridge. She also learned something significant. It’s easier to paint something when you can look at it. I think it’s a good start and it holds promise: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

Cornelia: Starry Night

I’m not a fast walker, nor do I get down the road quickly. I’m too busy noting the color of the sky, thinking what colors to mix to get the grey trees of a late December day, or how to paint the towering cumulus clouds of summer. I file these thoughts away in the treasure house of my mind, for one day I’ll need them. I look at the shadows of the leaf clumps on trees, but not at each leaf alone. The tree leaves are communities, not individuals. They exist as groups, so the artist treats them as such.

I’m not sure about others, but many walkers are fixed on their personal best speed, or going a half mile longer. Some people drive to the grocery store and make their list in their head as they go. In the store, they make a new to do list for the home, and once that’s done, they make another list for the next day. The cycle starts all over again. They never once raise their eyes to greet the stars, to note the cycles of the moon, to enjoy the sunset colors, or the sunrise either. They’re probably more productive than I am, but I take time to reflect deeply on the “why of things” rather than repeating the same rhythms over and over. Most people like the familiar rhythms, however, while I question if they still have meaning in today’s world.

Today I saw the Winter Solstice Dawn

In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans thought the stars had a power and energy to determine the fates of human beings. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote in his Meditations: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” From his privileged location, he could identify with the heroic persons in the astrological figures of mythology.

Some people are “born under a bad sign,” or are unlucky in life. Of course, some say we make our own luck, but people born into harsh circumstances lack the same resources to make choices for good. The deck is stacked against them, from living in trauma filled neighborhoods to a lack of quality foods due to a paucity of grocery stores. As Albert King, the great blues artist once sang, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The good news is the bright light of the Christmas star points to the new light, which has come into the world. We hear, amidst the cacophony of commercials and piped in musical carols, the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (60:1).

As a gift, you can listen to the great Albert King sing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” by copying the link below to your browser.
https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=F2IqJtBL6yk&list=OLAK5uy_kRTT9VaZ7Ht_pjIoBhtqhS_99sMi_D5a4

Our art class returns Friday, January 4, 2022, at 10 am. I hope to bring pomegranates, if I can still find them in the store. We’ll make a fresh start in the New Year, so if you want to join, you’ll start where you are. We are a “one room schoolhouse,” so there’s no grade levels with us. We’re all learning and improving from where we are at the moment.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

How to Make a Yule Log
https://www.learnreligions.com/make-a-yule-log-2563006

5 Most Beautiful Chinese Winter Solstice Poems to Appreciate
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/winter-solstice-poems.htm

The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness | CIRES
https://cires.colorado.edu/Artificial-light