Posted by: Harold Knight | 08/06/2011

The Feast of the Transfiguration, The Bombing of Hiroshima, Machiavellian politics, and other totally unrelated matters

Last night network news was full of (much deserved) celebration and commemoration of the 100th anniversary (today) of the birth of Lucille Ball. Why not? One could make a case for the proposition that she single-handedly made television—and much of the American obsession with being entertained to death—what it is today. I’m not saying she’s responsible for what entertainment has become but that she helped open the Pandora’s Box of possibilities. Go ahead—prove me wrong.

The networks will not mention that today on the Christian liturgical calendar is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord because it is too sectarian. Not even all Christians believe it’s important. Especially not radical fundamentalist Christianists.

The networks will, however, cover with great rapture (pun, of course, intended) a sectarian event in Houston.

Today Governor Rick Perry of Texas begins his campaign for the Presidency by praying with a crowd of extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christianists in Houston. No discussion of either the menace of Perry’s potential candidacy in light of his flagrant currying of favor with the extreme Christianists or the peril of his mixing semi-official activities with privileging one religion over others is necessary. Those realities should be obvious to anyone.

Anything the man does in public represents, at least tangentially, the State of Texas and promotes his incipient campaign—regardless of his Machiavellian protests to the contrary. If he were to make an appearance at “The Tin Room” around the corner from my apartment, the press and the Christianists would immediately and ferociously denounce him for despoiling his office and ruining his chances of election to be the head of the government he hates.

Not your ordinary prayer response

Not your ordinary prayer response

What, one wonders, is the difference between “The Response” in Houston and “The Tin Room” in Dallas? Both pander to the needs and politics of very specific (seemingly) mutually-exclusive constituencies.

On August 6, 1787, the Constitutional Convention of what would become the United States of America convened for the first time in Philadelphia.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used the atomic bomb for the first time, obliterating Hiroshima, Japan, and killing 140,000 people.

On August 6, 1964, Donald Rusk Currey, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying the climate dynamics of the Little Ice Age (c. 16th-19th centuries), cut down one of the extremely old Bristlecone Pine trees on Wheeler Peak. He was looking for trees affected by the Little Ice Age. He cut down the “Prometheus Tree” and subsequently realized he had chopped down the oldest tree ever discovered. In fact, he had probably killed the oldest living single organism on the planet. The tree was just under 5,000 years old (1).

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

On August 6, 1991, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research

. . . Tim Berners-Lee unveiled a project for organizing information that he called the World Wide Web. Of the many individual projects that went into creating the Internet as we know it, this was one of the most significant steps toward bringing the Internet to the general public (1).

August 6 is not one of those days like July 4 or December 25 or January 3 that everyone is familiar with. However, it does have a history of importance.

On or about August 6, in the 4th century CE, the people of Armenia celebrated the pagan feast of Aphrodite called Vartavarh (roseflame). Legend has it that Bishop St. Gregory the Illuminator (d. 337?) baptized the feast, and, saying that Christ had been shown forth like the “roseflame” at his Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, he made The Feast of the Transfiguration part of the church calendar. It was a second class feast in the Roman church until 1456 when

[Pope]  Callixtus III extended the feast to the Universal Church in memory of the victory gained by Hunyady at Belgrade over the Turks, 6 August, 1456. Callixtus himself composed the Office. It is the titular feast of the Lateran Basilica at Rome; as such it was raised to a double second class for the Universal Church, 1 Nov., 1911 (3).

Lucille Ball, Governor Perry’s Prayer Day, the US Constitutional Convention, the bombing of Hiroshima, the destruction of the world’s oldest living thing, the Voting Rights Act, the invention of the Internet. What a bizarre and fascinating concatenation of ideas and events. I suppose one could find a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated anniversaries for any of the 365 days in a year.

All of this on the Feast of the Transfiguration.  A baptized pagan holiday made an official part of the Roman church’s yearly cycle of remembrances to commemorate victory in war.

The appointed Psalm fragment for use at the beginning of the mass today is Psalm 83:2-3 preceded and followed by a refrain paraphrased from Psalm 18:

Thy lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled.
How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.
Thy lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled.

The Psalm fragment appointed to be sung between the scripture lessons is from Psalm 44, with the “Alleuia” verse from the Book of Wisdom 7:26:

Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in Thy lips. My heart hath uttered a good word.
I speak my works to the King.
Alleluia, alleluia. He is the brightest of eternal light, the unspotted mirror, and the image of His goodness. Alleluia.

The offertory (preparation for the Eucharist) chant is From Psalm 111:

Glory and wealth are in His House: and His justice remaineth for ever and ever. Alleluia.

The world's oldest living thing. Not.

The world's oldest living thing. Not.

Of course, I have one obvious and one ulterior motive for quoting all this churchy stuff. Obviously, I know where to find it (many trips to monasteries for retreating). Show off. Useless information. Ulteriorly, I find a wonderful linguistic paradox in these appointed lessons which speak of light and justice and “image of goodness,” and so on. Paradoxical for today, and paradoxical because they represent the Christianizing of the worship of the Goddess of Light.

Thy lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled.

The bombing of Hiroshima. The invention of the Internet at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The destruction of the world’s oldest living thing to study old living things.  Voting rights and the Constitution.

And a day of (political) prayer for a nation in crisis on these anniversaries.

As is so often the case, my writing is full of sound, if not fury, signifying—I don’t know. Interesting things to think about. I’m left wanting to sing

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh.
(“Help” from Help by the Beatles; released August 6, 1965).
_______________
(1) “The Prometheus Story.” Great Basin National Park. NPS.gov  January 21, 2010. Web. 6 Aug 2011.
(2)  Felsenthal, Julia; Heather Murphy and Chris Wilson. “Happy 20th Birthday, World Wide Web!” Slate.com  August 5, 2011. Web. 6 Aug 2011.
(3) Holweck, Frederick. “Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. Web. 6 Aug. 2011.

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