10 Ways to Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox

10 ways to celebrate the autumnal equinox

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been sharing our experiences with trying to live more in tune with nature and the seasons. It can take some effort these days in our climate-controlled world, so I try to be intentional about observing and celebrating the changes of the seasons, especially on the equinoxes and solstices.

The autumnal equinox is a time for gratitude and celebrating abundance as we bring in the harvest. Like its sister, the spring equinox, the autumnal equinox the day of the year when day and night are perfectly balanced; but this time it’s just about to tip towards darkness.

Throughout the many holidays rooted in this time of year — shared by pagans, Jews and Christians alike (Mabon, Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, etc) — you can find universal themes of abundance, thanksgiving, and sharing. These themes are made so much more real when you actually participate in your food production and preservation. I’ve been blessed to spend quite a bit of time in the last weeks harvesting and canning food from the garden, and all those bright reds and oranges and yellows (tomatoes, pumpkins, squash) just make my heart want to sing with gratitude.

Anyway, this year we had a wonderful time celebrating the autumnal equinox with friends. Here’s what we did, as well as a few additional ideas for celebrating the coming of fall.

Visiting the local bird sanctuary to feed the migrating geese

feeding geese

We seriously love this place. At Jack Miner’s bird sanctuary, we can come see the Canada geese who are making their way south for the winter (and the injured ones who are staying there permanently) and feed them barley. I’ve been taking Lydia for the last few years so she’s really comfortable with these large birds. It’s a great opportunity to talk about birds and migration, too! We went with a group of friends which made it extra-fun.

Visiting the Pumpkin Patch

celebrating the autumnal equinox - visiting the pumpkin patch

straw balesRight down the road from the bird sanctuary is a family farm that sells pumpkins, gourds, straw bales, corn stalks, and other wonderful, natural, autumnal decor. So after we spent some time with the geese, we drove down to admire and buy some pumpkins. Some people wanted pumpkins to carve; others to make pie. It was lovely to walk among all the beautiful pumpkins and take pictures and try to decide what we wanted to take home. I already had a bunch of beautiful pumpkins from my family’s garden, so I just got a straw bale.

Decorating the Threshold

autumn wreath

celebrating the autumnal equinox - decorating the threshold with straw and pumpkins

This has become my central and favourite way to celebrate the changes of the season. (Calling it “decorating the threshold” sounds so much more official than “swapping in the new wreath on the front door”). I love having my front entrance reflect the seasons. I put up my fall wreath and set up a pretty little spot with the straw bale and pumpkins. (I like my decorations to be multi-purpose, so after the season is over the straw will go into the chicken coop as bedding and the pumpkins will be roasted, steamed, and turned into muffins.) I get a reminder of how beautiful and bountiful fall is every time I walk through the door.

Decking the Table

Creating a centerpiece using candles, gourds, leaves, and Indian corn is a great way to bring nature to the table (I did this last year). I might try this table runner using fallen leaves yet, too. Or, if you have a seasonal tablecloth, the equinox is the perfect time to bring it out!

Feasting with Seasonal Foods

Autumn dinner: BLT spaghetti squash and fried zucchini

I try to eat seasonally for most meals, so this wasn’t a real stretch. When they think of fall food, most people think of cabbage, apples, and pumpkin; but I just made what was already on my menu plan for the week: BLT spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce. I added fried zucchini as a quick and simple side. All from my family’s garden. (To drink, we had gingery kombucha, which tastes a lot like apple cider to me.)

Saying Prayers of Gratitude

Since thankfulness is a universal theme in autumnal/harvest festivals, it makes sense to express gratitude to the Creator of all things. The equinox is a perfect time to pause before a meal, as a family, and consider all the things we’re grateful for.

In addition, I love this prayer by Kathleen Jenks. (I cannot for the life of me find the original source. Anyone know?) It seems so appropriate to consider the fragility of life as plants begin to wither and fall. I think it’s so important to instill in our children a sense of responsibility and awe for the created world.

“As autumn returns to earth’s northern hemisphere, and day and night are briefly, but perfectly, balanced at the equinox, may we remember anew how fragile life is —- human life, surely, but also the lives of all other creatures, trees and plants, waters and winds.

“May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest, may earth’s weather turn kinder, may there be enough food for all creatures, may the diminishing light in our daytime skies be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance in our hearts.”

– Kathleen Jenks, Autumn Lore

Fall Nature Table

fall nature table

fall nature table - pinecones, acorns, little white pumpkins

This is a common Waldorf and Montessori practice, and one that I’ve only now started up. The idea is to keep an area in your home — a shelf, table, windowsill, or in our case, the top of a cabinet — for setting out seasonal objects from nature. It’s a great place for children to store the treasures they find outside. I felt the equinox was the perfect time to set it up.

I mounted our spider-web prints on the wall above, as well as our fall-themed watercolour cards. I set out a basket of little white pumpkins we inadvertently grew (but aren’t they adorable?!), Indian corn, and some pine cones and acorns we gathered last year. Over time, I hope to add leaves and other items (our trees haven’t really started changing colour yet). Lydia likes to incorporate these items in her play, and I encourage it. Apparently unicorns love to eat white pumpkins.

Other Ideas:

Fall-Themed Sensory Table Bin

I haven’t done this yet, but I was inspired by this post by Marking the Seasons about seasonal sensory bins. I want to get back into using our sensory table and this seems perfect. I’ve purchased a big bag of red lentils and I just need to add some fun fall items for some sensory play.


Instead of pumpkins, picking apples would be a great way to kick off the new season. We might try this later this month.

Drying Apple Slices

I got this idea from the book Heaven on Earth, and I want to try it yet. It sounds like a fun, kid-friendly way to preserve apples for the winter: thinly slice apples and then thread them and hang them to make an apple garland, where they can dry naturally. It’s decorative and functional!

Leaf Crafts

There are endless ideas for crafts using leaves, corn cobs, and other natural fall elements. Pinterest is exploding with ideas. One that I want to try yet (once the leaves start actually turning) is this beautiful leaf bunting. Or these leaf suncatchers.

You can also follow my Fall Pinboard for other ideas! I’m always adding more!

You might also like to check out how we celebrated the summer solstice and why we might want to, from a Christian perspective. I also share how we celebrate the spring equinox.


Our Solstice Celebration

Ideas for Celebrating Summer Solstice -- simple crafts, activities and food

I hope everyone had a happy Summer Solstice!

Ours was positively wonderful. It fell on a Saturday this year, so we had lots of opportunity to simply revel in the  extravagance of summer and sunshine this time around.

I wrote a bit about why we choose to celebrate the summer solstice (and other solar festivals) on the blog last year. I continue to learn more about these “natural holidays” (as I tend to call them), and to try new things as we develop some of our own family traditions around the Christian year as well as the natural one.

The main reason I want to celebrate these days is because I long for my family to maintain a deep connection with and appreciation for the natural world. The more connected children feel to earth, the more likely they are to care for it as they get older. I want my daughter to experience continued awe and wonder and love and familiarity with God’s glorious creation, so that she will always feel compelled to care for and protect it.

And I love fully experiencing the seasons as well. It makes me feel more whole and grounded.

So here are a few things we tried this year, to help us connect to the beautiful world around us.

Our New Solstice Traditions

The day before solstice, we made different kinds of suns out of homemade modelling clay (I used this recipe). Summer solstice is all about celebrating the light and the extravagance of sunshine on the longest day of the year.

Making clay suns - Summer solstice traditions

I completely and shamelessly stole this idea from here.

I’d purchased a sun-shaped cookie cutter for this purpose some time last year. Of course Lydia had to add faces.

Clay suns for summer solstice

clay suns for summer solstice

They had to dry overnight.

The next day (Solstice day!) we painted them with red, yellow and orange paint.

Painting clay suns for summer solstice



According to folklore, Midsummer Day is the most potent day to collect herbs. So we went outside and harvested some lavender from the flower bed, which was  JUUUUUST at the right time to be picked. I brought some in to dry (it makes the house smell amazing):

Lavender drying - harvest on summer solstice!

And I also used some in our Summer wreath.

Summer Solstice Wreath

(I made a wreath out of grapevines last year; every season I just switch out the decorations by weaving in natural elements from the season. This time I put in lavender and wild clover, and wrapped it in gold ribbon to represent sunlight. Super-simple.)

I like the idea of “decorating the threshold” for each season by changing up the wreath on the front door.

While I harvested the lavender and clover, Lydia picked and ate mulberries, which seemed solsticey enough.

picking mulberries

We also brought nature inside by filling a vase with wild clover. It’s not super-fancy, but it makes our table smell so divine.

Flowers to celebrate summer solstice

The next day (Sunday), we had a big party! We invite a bunch of our friends and their kids over for barbecue, and to just enjoy the long summer day.

The kids played in the kiddie pool . . .

kids in pool

We grilled some of our pastured beef on kabobs on the barbecue. . .

grillingAnd feasted! (I tried to keep with the red/orange theme for the decor).


solstice feast

ice cream

And the kids loved watching the chickens, which was fun.

watching chickens

We were going to have a bonfire, but most of the kids had to go to bed before the sun went down, so that didn’t happen this year. Another year!

That was our solstice celebration!

Have you ever celebrated the solar festivals? I’d love to hear how!


My Eco-Friendly DIY Advent Wreath

DIY advent wreath (eco-friendly!)

As regular readers know, I’ve slowly been trying to incorporate observances of the Liturgical Year into my life, to help bring more consciousness to the Holy. (As a Mennonite/Evangelical, it’s been a challenging undertaking.)

This year, I was really eager to start using an Advent wreath during the season of Advent. (For newbies like me: an Advent wreath sits on a table — usually your dining table — and holds four candles, for the four weeks of Advent. You generally light them before dinner, along with a prayer.)

Starting out, I knew I wanted a few things.

First off, I wanted to use beeswax candles. Conventional paraffin candles are always problematic, as they fill the air with toxins as they burn; but I especially wanted to use something safer when it came to candles we’d be burning near our faces and our food. I didn’t like the thought of inhaling carcinogens as we prayed and meditated on the coming of our Lord.

I was delighted to discover Toadily Handmade Beeswax Candles (via Carrots for Michaelmas. Thanks, Haley!), a small business that also makes Advent candles. I purchased a set of the Advent Tapers.

Yes, they cost way more than dollar-store candles. But beeswax is known to emit negatively-charged ions and actually clean your air of allergens and toxins (rather than further pollute your home). Plus they smell nice and aren’t made from petroleum, a gross, non-renewable resource. Moreover, the rest of my wreath was basically free, so I don’t mind the extra cost for the candles.

homemade advent wreath

(If you’re curious about the symbolism behind the candle colours, read more here.)

Second, I knew I wanted to make my own Advent wreath. In part, because I don’t even know where you could get an affordable Advent wreath; and second, because it seemed like a fun and easy project. (Random side note: isn’t it a little strange that we could probably all name a dozen places from which we could buy a Christmas tree in the month of December, but probably not a single place where we could get an Advent wreath? Lame. Our traditions are kind of messed up.)

Anyway, I searched the internet (especially Pinterest) for some DIY ideas, and found a bit of inspiration.

I came across a lot attractive wreaths that had a styrofoam base. Others used plastic foliage or flowers. I didn’t love the idea of using nonrenewable resources like that. Again, it didn’t feel right worshiping the Prince of Peace using a tool made from materials that contributed to the destruction of the world he came to save.

I went to Hobby Lobby to look for materials and candlesticks, but wasn’t totally satisfied. I only came home with a $4 10-inch grapevine wreath (which I could have made myself, because I have wild grapes growing in my back yard. If I could do it over, I would take that route — I’m slightly unhappy with the realization that the one I bought was probably shipped over from China. Totally unnecessary.)

I decided to get creative and use as many natural, recycled, and/or scavenged resources as possible. Besides, I remembered that Advent wreaths were originally made from things like evergreen branches, and in fact there’s a lot of symbolism attached to using greenery. (Evergreens symbolize continuous life. The circle of the wreath represents the eternity of God and the everlasting life found in Christ. Together, the wreath is meant to remind us of eternal life.)

Since I couldn’t find any candlesticks to my liking, I found an old glass honey jar and anchored my candles in it with Epsom salt (to give it a snowy effect). I decorated it with some unbleached cotton cooking twine.

I went into my back yard with some pruning shears and gathered some greenery — some juniper and holly branches. I didn’t need much.


Then I just wove the branches into the grapevine base to create a full, green wreath.

It looked a little plain, so I dug out my stash of autumn stuff — pine cones and acorns I’d gathered on our nature walks — and hot-glued a few here and there. (Pine cones and other seeds also symbolize immortality).

I set the candle jar in the middle, and voila. My very own Advent wreath!

advent wreath

This year, we’re using the prayers I found here. They’re very short and simple, which is perfect when you’ve got a hungry toddler present at the table. These prayers also use language we’re used to, so we don’t feel like imposters trying to be Catholic.

And while I’m bragging about my crafty accomplishments (because that’s SO Jesus), allow me to show off the wreath I made for my door:

Christmas wreath made from all-natural materials

For this one, I did use grapevines from my back yard, as well as more juniper and holly branches. I hot-glued a few pine cones and acorns, and tied on a wooden letter Q with some raffia that fell off my autumn wreath. We ran out of branches with red berries, so I walked down the street and stole some berry branches from a neighbour’s yard. Just like Jesus would do. Wait, what?

*Please note that I am not an especially crafty person. Anyone could do this, I’m sure.*

Do you use an Advent wreath? Where did you get it, or did you make yours, too? What prayers do you use?

6 Reasons to Wait Until December to Celebrate Christmas

6 Reasons to Wait Until December to Start Celebrating Christmas

It’s mid-November and Christmas trees and wreaths have been popping up in our neighbourhood for a while now already.

Not in our household.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I went through a stretch of time (after marriage but before kids) when I lost my enthusiasm for the winter holidays; but since having a daughter of my own, my childhood excitement for Christmas has totally been re-invigorated.

But we’re not quite ready to drag out the ornaments and reindeer wrapping paper. Not yet.

Instead, we prefer to start preparing for Christmas on the first day of Advent (which this year is December 1st). Here are a few reasons why:

(**But first: Please note that this post only expresses my OPINION and personal PREFERENCE. I am not telling you what is the RIGHT WAY to celebrate Christmas. I know people have REALLY BIG FEELINGS about this kind of thing, and I have no interest in telling anyone they’re doing it wrong.**)

I don’t want to shortchange fall.

Autumn is such a gorgeous and fleeting season. The colorful leaves, the cool air, the snuggly scarves, the scrumptious fall foods. I want to savour it for as long as I can.

November is still gloriously full of autumnal wonder – I’ve been enjoying the last of the pumpkins, squash, leeks, and broccoli from the garden. Just yesterday we spent our first afternoon playing in the leaves. So many people say fall is their favourite season. So why the hurry to jump into winter?

Fall decorations

playing in the leaves

There will be plenty of time to enjoy the winter festivals in December. For now, I’m still enjoying this season.

I personally feel that it diminishes the magic of the season when we force it to drag on so long by starting too early.

For me, too much of a good thing — even Christmas festivity — dilutes its potency. In my opinion, two months of stretched-out merry-making is less extraordinary than a few weeks of concentrated magic.

In other words, I find that saving something special for a limited period of time makes it more precious and mysterious.

Some people seem to suggest that the true Christmas-lover is the one who wants to dive headfirst into the festivities as soon as the first chill hits the air. But I personally feel that the true mark of devotion is a careful and restrained approach. It includes lots of waiting and reveling in the anticipation of future joy.

I believe that the best way to show your reverence for something is to carefully limit it. The work we put into waiting for something only makes it more delightful when we finally get to enjoy it.

There really isn’t enough decent Christmas music to go around for two months.

Seriously. The vast, vast majority of this peculiar genre known as “Christmas music” sits somewhere between uninspiring and downright atrocious. I do not understand why we, as a culture, completely abandon all standards for good music when the beginning of winter rolls around. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas? I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus? WHY DO THESE SONGS EVEN EXIST? These songs should never have even been recorded, let alone be put on every music loop in every mall in North America for the last four decades.

There is some good Christmas music out there, of course, and I get a thrill out of hearing these few albums every year. But my rule of thumb is that if it’s not good enough to hear the rest of the year, it’s not good enough to hear at Christmas time. And not a lot of music makes the cut for me.

I intentionally stay out of retail stores as much as possible during the two months preceding Christmas just to avoid hearing the horrible, horrible music playing on the speakers. I am not going to bring it into my home, especially before December.

Most Christmas decorations lose their luster pretty quickly.

old christmas decorationsimage source

So personally, I’d rather enjoy the decorations in their prime by setting them up only weeks before Christmas, so they’re still glittery and fresh by Christmas day.

I Prefer the Advent Approach.

For folks who observe Advent, the weeks before Christmas are treated as a time of anxious anticipation for the long-awaited arrival of our Lord. The weeks leading up to Christmas are hushed and expectant as we prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming.

Christmas Day is when we start to celebrate. The Lord is come! Traditionally, Christmas was celebrated for twelve days after Christmas, not two months before. December 25th is when the feasting begins.

This stands in stark contrast to the common view of Christmas as the last day of celebration. I have heard people say that Christmas is the most depressing day of the year, because it marks the end of the celebration. This seems backwards to me. FINALLY the Messiah is here to save us! Light the fire, bring out the feast! NOW is the time to break out the rum and eggnog, to join hands and sing.

Since I know I can’t get everyone to join me in reviving this tradition, I’m happy to take a modified/combined approach. I’ll decorate the tree and watch Christmas movies before December 25th. But I do prefer to emphasize the spirit of anticipation before Christmas and the spirit of celebration on (and even after!) Christmas Day.

And for me, Advent marks the ideal length of time (four weeks) to prepare for celebrating the birth of our Lord. Any longer than that, and it loses its excitement.

I Want to Correct the Unhealthy Imbalance Between Holidays.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been confused about why Christmas is so much more important than any other holiday.

Of course the birth of Christ is good news for the whole world. God is with us! But it’s only good news if he truly is the Messiah, come to save us and defeat death.

But how long do we spend celebration Christ’s resurrection in the spring? A weekend? How many people (outside the liturgical churches) even notice the beginning of Lent? Where are all the Easter decorations and songs and feasts and movies?

In short, Easter doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of attention Christmas does, though it marks just as important an event in the Christian year. This bothers me.

And the greatest oversight, in my opinion, is that of Pentecost. Jesus’ birth was the first phase of God’s redemption; the second phase was ushered in with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that through the Holy Spirit, we would do even greater things than he did. Pentecost is quite possibly an even bigger deal than Christmas and Easter combined.

The church was born on Pentecost day. The spirit of Christ now LIVES IN US. And how do we celebrate?

Really: how do we celebrate? I am not aware of a single Pentecost tradition. (That’s why we tried to start one this year.)

I prefer to spend more time and energy reviving these under-celebrated holidays, instead of adding to the over-hype of Christmas.

Christmas is wonderful, but it doesn’t mean much without Easter. And if it weren’t for Pentecost, we would still be alone. These holidays need at least equal representation. (And I’m working on it.)

How about you? When do you start to celebrate Christmas? How about the other holidays?

A Christian Celebrates the Summer Solstice

Ideas and Reflections on Celebrating the Summer Solstice from a Christian PerspectiveImage by James Wheeler, via Flickr

Happy Solstice, everyone!

If you hadn’t noticed, today is the longest day of the year. It’s time to celebrate!

Here in Canada, cold and darkness dogs us for far too long. But today we celebrate the warmth and light of summer.

I’ve been talking a lot this year about observing holidays — both natural and Christian — in order to become more conscious of the spiritual part of me. I’ve been making a conscious effort to be more aware of the sacred, and to infuse my daily and seasonal rhythms with reminders of who I am and Who I belong to. This has included the solar festivals (i.e. the equinoxes and solstices), at which time I reflect on the blessings of my Creator, and celebrate his creativity and lavish generosity.

So. Back to the solstice.

I did a bit of research to get me started. Turns out the word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): on the solstice, the sun seems to stand still for a moment before beginning its long descent into sunset.

I love how Magpie Girl explains the solstice, in her e-book Celebrate the Light: Magpie Girl’s Guide to Summer Solstice:

Unlike the Equinoxes – which are all about sharing nicely between day and night — the Solstices are shameless in their extravagance. There is no talk of balance on the Winter and Summer Solstices! Loads of Dark, or buckets of Light. There is no in between.

On the Winter Solstice the Darkness lays long upon the earth. We light wreaths and make feasts in the hope that we can cajole Mother Nature into giving us back the Light. When the scales finally tip and Light returns at the Summer Solstice, we run outdoors and dance like mad with relief! When we reach the longest day of the year, joy overtakes us and we spin around with our arms stretched-wide to soak up every last ray of sunlight! (It’s a good day for whimsy.)

I totally get that feeling of relief when it comes to summer, and I love the idea of devoting a day to whimsy. (We Christians have a hard time embracing whimsy, don’t we?)

As Magpie Girl explains, summer is a good time to celebrate

  • clarity and light.
  • fertility and abundance.
  • joy and abandon.

Around the world and across cultures, people have history of feasts and fertility rights in connection with the longest day of the year. Common symbols include the sun (obviously), fire, flowers, herbs, wreaths and circles.

Looking at it from a Christian angle, I embrace the solstice as a time to celebrate God’s extravagance, and to express gratitude for spiritual joy and clarity.

As Fiona put it, “I’m going to celebrate the light that shines in the darkness, the light that darkness has not overcome.”

Celebrating the Solstice

I also gained a deeper understanding of the Solstice, and found some ideas and inspiration, from this post from School of the Seasons:

This is a traditional time for a bonfire which is lit as the sun sets.

Flowers and May Day wreaths are tossed into the fire. They burn and die just as the heat of the summer consumes the spring and brings us closer to the decline of autumn and the death of vegetation in winter. As we begin the decline, it’s important to remember that the wheel of the year is a circle. The spring will come again. The sun will triumph over the darkness again. Thus, the circle is an important symbol. Wreaths are hung on doors.

Midsummer also has overlap with the Christian Year. According to School of the Seasons:

Midsummer’s Eve is also called St John’s Eve. The official version says that St John was assigned this feast because he was born six months before Christ (who gets the other great solar festival, the winter solstice)…

Other midsummer symbols also accumulate around St John. He’s the patron of shepherds and beekeepers. This is a time to acknowledge those wild things which man culls but cannot tame, like the sheep and bees. The full moon which occurs in June is sometimes called the Mead Moon. The hives are full of honey. In ancient times, the honey was fermented and made into mead.

This is a traditional time for honoring water, perhaps because it plays such a vital role in maintaining life while the sun is blazing overhead. St John baptized with water while Christ baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Don’t you just love all how all that beautiful symbolism intertwines?

Ways to Celebrate

Combing the internet for some inspiration, I found some fun, easy ideas for observing the Summer Solstice.

  • decorate your house (doorway, windows, table) with images of the sun
  • Put together a wreath covered in green grasses, flowers, and fresh herbs for your front door
  • pick summer flowers and take them inside
  • Eat seasonal foods (greens and strawberries, anyone?) outside
  • Light at bonfire as the sun goes down

As for us, this year we’ve kept it simple. (Especially since, you know, I only got to planning it this morning . . .)

solstice door

  • I intertwined some green grape vines into an old wreath for my front door.
  • I harvested some fresh lavender (herbs are supposed to be their most potent at midsummer), and hung that from my wreath.
  • I cut out some suns from construction and tissue paper and stuck them on my front door.
  • Tonight, we’ll take our dinner outdoors and feast on a roasted chicken with a side of strawberry-spinach salad, fresh from my parents’ garden.
  • And in the evening, hopefully we’ll light a bonfire and toss in some fresh lavender, remembering that the seasons go round and round, summer consuming spring, summer fading into fall and finally winter; but the sun prevails, and darkness will not overcome it.

More ideas:

What do you think of celebrating solar festivals as a Christian? Have you ever celebrated the summer solstice? Any ideas to share?

Remembering Julian of Norwich

Today (May 13th) is the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite historic female role models.

Julian was an English anchoress who lived from 1342 to around 1416. As an anchoress, she voluntarily vowed to remain permanently enclosed in a cell adjacent to the Church of St. Julian (from which she gets her name), to devote her life to prayer. When she was struck by serious illness at the age of thirty, she received sixteen visions that centered on the crucifixion of Jesus. She later wrote about these visions in the text now known as Revelations of Divine Love. She is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics and the first English woman identified as an author.

I had to read Julian’s Revelations as a part of a seminar in Medieval Literature  for my Master’s degree. I had the privilege of reading it in its original Old English, which is fun because it’s so different from modern English that feels like you’re reading a whole new language, but similar enough that you don’t have learn a whole new grammar to understand it. Out of all the texts I studied in university, this book has probably had one of the most profound and lasting effects on me. Julian’s visions of Christ are some of the most soothing words I have ever received.

Julian is best known for having received these words from Jesus:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

She’s also well known for likening Christ to a mother:

And our Saviour is our very Mother in whom we be endlessly borne and never shall come out of him.

Julian’s vision of God is supremely loving and has no wrath in him whatsoever.

All in all, I just find Julian to be a kick-ass woman and remarkable role model. The first female English author! Devoting her life to prayer in a cell! Wow. What an inspiration.

If ever I were to get a tattoo (and I won’t — DON’T WORRY, MOM), it would almost certainly be that line from Julian’s Revelations about how all will be well. I even know where I would put it: along the edge of my foot, where I would see it every day as I put my feet on the floor to meet the morning. (The alternative text would be the passage from Revelation in the Bible where God says, “I am making all things new.”)

I am a person who needs regular reminders that this story of the universe ends well.  I am easily led to believe that the universe is a dark place and that God was careless when he decided to create anything, because there is just no way all this evil and suffering can be redeemed. I need regular reminders there is, in fact, a benevolent Storyteller behind the events of this world, and he has a glorious happy ending in mind, the likes of which we can barely begin to fathom.

Reflections on Julian’s Revelations: How Is it Possible that All Will be Well?

I don’t understand mysticism. Neither my Mennonite nor my Evangelical backgrounds leave much room for mysticism.

I don’t understand the visions Julian received. I have no way of knowing whether they were really from God, or just the mad ravings of a dying woman. All I can say is that they feel right. (And they don’t, in my understanding, contradict Scripture.)

Julian struggled with how it could be possible for all to be well when the church teaches that there are many souls who are eternally damned. I can relate to this struggle. She questions Jesus, saying: “There be many evil deeds done in our sight and so great harms take that it seems to us that it were impossible that ever it should come to a good end” (ch. 31).

But Jesus tells her that he has a great secret “deed” in mind that we cannot fathom, but which will manage to make all things well. Julian hints at universalism (i.e. that all people will ultimately experience  salvation), but suggests that God will accomplish this without contradicting the church’s teachings on damnation.

“But what the deed shall be and how it shall be done, there is no creature beneath Christ that knows it, nor shall know it till it is done,” Julian explains. * She refers to this great deed as God’s “privy counsel” or secret plan.

There are two parts to God’s plan for making all things well: The first involves “our Saviour and our salvation,” and “this blessed part is open, clear, fair, light, and plenteous, for all mankind that is of good will shall be included in this part.”* In other words, this is the part that is revealed to us in Scripture, in the doctrine of salvation for all members of the Church. The other part, however, “is hidden and spared from us, that is to say, all that is beside our salvation. And that is our Lord’s privy counsel.”*

When Julian wonders how this can be possible, Jesus reminds her,”That which is impossible to thee is not impossible to me. I shall save my word in all things (i.e. I won’t contradict my words regarding damnation) and I shall make all things well.”* He later promises her, “Thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

I, too, am deeply comforted by this notion of a secret deed which Christ has hidden away, which will blow us all away and will make sense only when he has done it.

I don’t understand any of it, but I have decided to trust that however he does it, God will indeed make it so that all will be well.

And I’m grateful to that medieval anchoress for having the courage to share her revelations with the world.

*(All quotations are taken from Julian’s thirteenth revelation, and are my translation.)

A Christian Celebrates the Spring Equinox

sprout 2

Today is the Spring Equinox.

(Sorry — I wanted to write/post this a lot earlier, but the munchkin is not feeling well — i.e. incredibly whiny and clingy — and I didn’t get the chance.)

If the equinox is completely new to you, here’s a quick explanation: astronomically speaking, the equinox is the day on which  the tilt of the Earth’s axis is neither away from nor towards the Sun, but completely parallel, resulting in a night and day length that are the same. (The same phenomenon occurs again in the fall). We mark this as the first day of spring.

I’ve been longing to observe  the turnings of the season for years, but have always managed to miss them somehow.

The solar festivals (i.e. equinoxes and solstices) are generally considered pagan holidays, but I believe that they hold plenty of promise and meaning for Christians as well. After all, we believe that God designed the seasons. Most Christian holidays, festivals, and rituals were borrowed, adapted, or inspired by pagan practices, anyway.

So today, at last, I want to do a little something to celebrate the birth of spring. Here are a few (admittedly scattered) reflections and ideas.

Remember, I am BRAND, BRAND new to this, so more experienced celebrants might find this amusingly simple.

What’s so special about the spring equinox?

As I was browsing the web for ideas and inspiration, I came across this explanation from School of the Seasons:

[On this day], Day and night are equal, poised and balanced, but about to tip over on the side of light.

Isn’t that poetic? Today, the light and darkness are equal. The scales are balanced . . . but tomorrow, the light begins to grow. Light is about to win over darkness.

The author also notes, “Just as the dawn is the time of new light, so the vernal equinox is the time of new life . . . We are assured that life will continue.”

We see it in the pale green spears hiding underneath last fall’s fallen leaves. We see it in the newly-built nests.

Light. Life. Birth. Hope. It’s all here.

These things are common and relevant to all of us; but they hold special meaning for Christians, too.

As Magpie Girl points out,

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, “God creates” is the first thing we know about our source and our maker.

And that’s why spring is important to us: as we watch green sprouts poke out of the dark earth, and deep red buds swelling on the tree branches, we remember this primal truth about our God.

God creates.

It only makes sense, then, that this is also the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. The Creator of all things has the power to bring life out of death. Withered bulbs send forth new shoots. Cold, bare branches begin to burst with new buds. Amphibians crawl out from the mud; mammals awaken from their slumber; birds return from their southern detour.

The dead rise from their tombs and walk.

Death is not the end.

In summation, the spring equinox celebrates the following:


These abstract ideas are commonly represented by flames, mirrors, eggs, seeds, and flowers.

So taking all these ideas into account, how can we celebrate the Equinox?

For starters, here are a couple of (very simple) decorating ideas I culled from the internet. Creating an environment in which to reflect on these truths seems, to me, like a good place to start.

branches buds eggs candle

  • Gather tree branches, covered in buds, and arrange them in a vase or pail with water to encourage further blossoming. Make this your table centerpiece. If you have the time, energy, and resources, decorate your “tree” with springy ornaments — flowers, coloured eggs, etc. (I would love to eventually expand this practice to a full-fledged Easter Tree ritual).
  • Also decorate your table with other emblems of light and life: candles; mirrors; a glass bowl of water with flowers/leaves floating on top; eggs; etc.
  • Use the colours red and green: red, to represent the blood of sacrifice, and green, to represent new life. (I know these are currently considered Christmas colours, but they seem more appropriate as Easter colours to me.)

I intend to light a candle at dinner and pray this short prayer that I wrote (with a brief passage adapted from the Catholic missal):

We pray, O Lord, that this candle may continue endlessly to scatter the darkness of this night. May it be received as a sweet fragrance and mingle with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find its flame burning, that Star which knows no setting, which came back from Death. Christ is like the morning Star because he descended into Death and emerged again.

And so, someday, will we.

We are reminded, today, by the light of this candle, that the Light will win over Darkness.

God: we thank you for these things: Light. Birth. Creation. Resurrection. Hope.

We thank you, that you have hidden reminders throughout your Creation — reminders that morning follows night; that spring follows winter; that resurrection follows death.

Today, we celebrate green shoots and red buds. We celebrate eggs in nests, as they contain the promise of new life. We celebrate swollen pregnant bellies, babies, and children, as they represent our future.

You are the author of all good things, the source of hope. As the season turns to spring, we remember. We praise you and thank you.

Do you have any special ways you celebrate spring? Do share!


Reflections on the Epiphany

magi stained glass

Note: I mentioned in my Word of the Year post that I wanted to observe the Liturgical Year to some extent this year. In honor of Epiphany this Sunday, I offer these brief reflections.

Ever since I was a little kid, I remember going to church on Heilige Drei Konige  (a.k.a.  Three Kings’ Day a.k.a. Epiphany). I always hated it, because (a) church at the Old Colony was incredibly boring, since I didn’t understand the German sermon; and (b) we had to miss a day of school if it fell on a weekday. As a kid, I loved school, so this was a travesty; moreover, it made me a weirdo, missing school to go to church when nobody else did except the other Mennonite kids. In high school and university, missing school meant I had to catch up on school work the next day. Boo.

(This year, it falls on a Sunday, meaning I heaved a big sigh of relief for nerdy Mennonite kids everywhere).

I never understood why the heck we celebrated that day. So three wise guys came and visited baby Jesus and gave him so weird (and very impractical) presents. That hardly seemed like a reason to miss school and go to church. Lots of cool things happened in Jesus’ days; we didn’t celebrate all of them. Why not celebrate Jesus Turns Water Into Wine Day, or Jesus Visits Zaccheus Day, or Jesus Curses the Fig Tree Day? (These aren’t real holidays, right? I’m new to this whole Liturgical Year thing…)

I never got the significance of Three Kings Day. That is, until I read about it in Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. According to the authors, this day is important because we celebrate the civil disobedience of the Magi. These early rebels defied the violent, earthly king (Herod) to honour a different kind of King entirely — a humble baby, born of a peasant girl, come to save the world by loving and dying.

If you think about it, these mysterious Gentiles from the East are an inspiring example to us. We’ve been called to be a peculiar people, members of a Kingdom not of this world. Though the world is ruled by fearsome kings, with the power to slaughter a whole village of innocent babies just to eliminate the threat of a competitor, we are called to follow a different kind of King. A meek and humble King. An all-powerful King who made himself vulnerable, who enters into our pain and suffering.

I find myself in confused awe: who were these guys, anyway? How did they have to confidence to defy such a king as Herod, when all they had to go by was a star in the sky and a dream? (And, honestly, how did they even muster enough zeal to make the trip in the first place?! That’s a long, uncomfortable trip by camel.) What in the world gave them such courage? Were they CRAZY? That Herod was INSANE, murdering his own relatives left and right. Like, seriously: who sees a star and think, “I bet if we follow that star, we’ll find the Lord of the Universe, and we won’t let anyone stop us, not even a ruthlessly violent king”?

This Epiphany, I’ll be re-reading the story, and I want to take some time to learn a bit more about these mysterious men. I want to spend some time reflecting on their mad courage. Because if I’m going to be crazy, I want to be crazy like the Magi.

(But don’t worry. I won’t be celebrating with acts of civil disobedience merely for the sake of civil disobedience. But I can’t promise I’ll go out of my way to avoid it, either…).

Have you ever celebrating the Epiphany? What have you done?

Photo credit: therevsteve

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