by Linda McMillan
Uh-Oh… just about the time we are enjoying our Great Fifty days of Easter along comes a triduum of penance. How could that be? Well, chalk it up to a series of very unfortunate events in the 5th century and Charlemagne.
In 470 a series of disasters struck the city of Vienne, France. Bishop Mamertus did his best to guide his diocese as it went from one disaster to the next: There were earthquakes, for one thing, floods, and storms, then the king’s palace burned down, disease killed all the cattle, and there were the wolves… hungry wolves.
Poor Mamertus! He knew he had to do something, so he called for a three-day period of prayer, fasting, and repentance leading up to the day of Ascension. He is reported to have said:
“We shall pray to God that He will turn away the plagues from us, and preserve us from all ill, from hail and drought, fire and pestilence, and from the fury of our enemies; to give us favorable seasons, that our land may be fertile, good weather and good health, and that we may have peace and tranquility, and obtain pardon for our sins.”
It might have become a colorful footnote in Christian history except that it worked so well. All the disasters plaguing Vienne ended immediately. Legend now has it that Mamertus even stopped a fire raging through the city of Vienne simply by praying. Soon, other bishops followed suit and they too began observing a three-day period of penance just prior to Ascension, you know, in case things should start to go bad in their own dioceses. The Council of Orleans, meeting in 511, made it a requirement the Frankish part of France. And Pope Leo III reluctantly adopted it for the whole church in the 816. Leo had not wanted to introduce days of penance into the Great Fifty celebration, but he was convinced by Charlemagne and a compromise was struck. The observation would continue, but without the fast, on account of Easter.
Thus, the modern church has these three days of minor litanies called Rogation Days.
Rogation comes from the Latin word for asking, because on this day we ask for deliverance from calamities, and in particular we ask for protection for our crops.
Here’s the thing, though, I don’t have any crops. About the closet thing I have to a crop is a bucket of dirt with some decorative foliage in it. It is thriving and does not require any prayer, just a little sunshine. I am growing other things, though: I am growing trust among my colleagues, I am growing friendship with my neighbors, I am trying to sustain a frail little crop called my family. I have planted the seeds of a new relationship. I am growing hope, optimism. I hope I am growing in grace, in love.
Some of my crops are doing well, by the way. Others could use prayer, and all my crops deserve a good going over. In reviewing the things I want to grow in my life, I found a few things that had gotten pushed aside, things which require some nurture if they are to bloom and produce fruit. I may have to let a field lie fallow for awhile, even though I don’t really want to.
The other thing I found while inspecting my crops is that I have some weeds. This happens to all farmers so I am not too worried. Jesus even said that it was OK to let the weeds grow up alongside the fruit-bearing crops. I don’t want them to take over, though. I tugged on some of the weeds, and some of them came out quite easily. Others were made of stronger stuff, what my good friend Exa used to call, “That hateful old Iron Weed.” The roots go down deep, and I will have to deal with that in a different way.
There were also some insects in my garden, good and bad. I found people and events which eat the tenderest leaves of my hopes and plans. But I found others who are pollinators. They encourage growth. So, I am taking note of what’s helpful, what gives life and energy… and what does not.
What about you? What are you growing in your life?
This is the time when we pause from our celebrations and take stock of what’s working and what’s not. We can bring all these crops — and the weeds, and bugs too — to the one who makes all things grow.
As you take stock of what crops you’d like to grow in your life allow the petals of your heart to unfurl, as trusting as a rose, and ask God to show you how to tend your garden.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai
Some Notes of Possible Interest
These next three days: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the minor litany.There is also a major litany, which has altogether different origins and was observed last Sunday.
You may also hear the minor litanies called the Gallican Litanies because they started in Gaul.
You can read about some modern Rogation observances here:
These celebrations observe the Beating of The Bounds which is a more recent innovation, but harkens back to a more ancient time. At least among my friends, this is the most popular aspect of Rogation observance.
It’s OK to have some weeds in your garden
Today is also May Day, It is Orthodox Easter, it is the 8th day of The Omer, and the 35th day of The Great Fifty.