Lent Madness Redux

Now that Lent Madness 2010 is in the books, I suddenly find myself with more time on my hands. That’s a good thing since it appears to be Monday in Holy Week. I’ll be spending my “day off” writing sermons and proofing bulletins. I’m not complaining — that’s how I always spend Monday of Holy Week. And there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than taking this journey from the Cross to the Resurrection with a vibrant community of faith. Of course, I got the requisite Holy Week funeral phone call yesterday — adding that to the mix for Wednesday.

While I didn’t cast a single vote during Lent Madness, I admit that one was cast from the Schenck household. Our son Ben (who is actually a Benedict — named prior to the current pope!) did cast a vote for his namesake. To his chagrin, Benedict lost to runner-up Julian of Norwich in the Round of the Elate Eight.

All Saints', Briarcliff Manor

I admit I was slightly blown away by the interest in Lent Madness. It started on a whim and then I was suddenly knee deep saintly battles. My intention was to help people learn a bit about the saints — some well-known, some obscure — and to have some fun during Lent. Yes, we’re allowed to have fun during Lent. Especially when it’s coupled with learning.

So, if you’ll indulge me in one final vote, we’ll collectively determine whether we should do this again next year or let Lent Madness die on the vine. Any suggestions for improvements (if we decide to try it again with a new crop of saints) are welcome. Please leave comments.


Lent Madness: We Have a Winner!

With 99.9 % of the precincts reporting, CNN is projecting George Herbert as the winner of the first ever Lent Madness Golden Halo award. Moments ago Julian of Norwich gave her concession speech optimistically telling supporters “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Clearly disappointed after a wildly successful campaign, Julian appeared to be putting on a brave face. She was last seen muttering mystically to her pet cat.

Herbert, on the other hand, was euphoric proclaiming, “Let all the world in every corner sing!” But only briefly. Seeking to maintain his saintly decorum he later told reporters, “I’m just a simple country parson.”

The final day of campaigning was tense, with Herbert clinging to a thin lead throughout the day. In the end, his hymnody prevailed over Julian’s visions. Nonetheless, all the pundits agree that this was quite an upset. Turnout was heavy among Anglican voters and this seems to have turned the tide for Herbert.

In the end George Herbert takes home the Golden Halo and the coveted “Holier Than Thou” title. He snuck past Julian by a mere four votes out of 116 cast. Congratulations to this 17th century priest and poet. To paraphrase one of his Julian and George’s colleagues, he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.

To see the final bracket of Lent Madness 2010 click here: Lent Madness 2010. And thanks for your participation!

Lent Madness Final: The Battle for the Golden Halo

It’s all come down to this. Julian of Norwich vs. George Herbert. A saintly heavyweight vs. a holy cinderella. 14th century English mystic vs. 17th century English priest and poet. Come to think of it, this match could take place on the hallowed grass of the All England Club. But it doesn’t. It takes place right here, right now.

And the outcome is up to you. No pressure though — it’s not like the entire world is watching. Just most of it. At stake? The Golden Halo and the opportunity to legitimately claim the title “Holier Than Thou.”

To get to the championship of Lent Madness, Julian vanquished Absalom Jones, Benedict, Peter, and Francis. George battled past Aidan, Joseph, John Chrysostom, and Theresa of Avila. This last contest was particularly fierce with partisans cropping up on both sides. Leading the charge for Herbert was one Scott Gunn, priest of Rhode Island, blogger at Seven Whole Days, and the Lee Atwater of Lent Madness. Theresa’s boosters included Laura Toepfer, priest/blogger at The Infusion. We’ll see just how nasty the championship gets.

At this point, those who have followed Lent Madness from Round One are familiar with these two saints. I see no need to repeat their histories. That’s why God in vented Google. But, for the sake of prayerful discernment, I’ll include their respective collects:

Julian of Norwich: Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

George Herbert: Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And now I bid you to VOTE! The polls will remain open through early evening on Palm Sunday.

Lent Madness: Theresa of Avila vs. George Herbert

Who will face Julian of Norwich in the Championship? That’s what this match-up between Theresa of Avila and George Herbert will determine. Will it be an all women’s final? Or will George Herbert be able to pull off the upset? So far he’s been the cinderella of Lent Madness. But midnight is soon approaching.

To get to the Final Four, Theresa defeated Bartholomew, Richard Hooker, and Hildegard of Bingen. George Herbert marched past Aiden, Joseph, and John Chrysostom. View the full tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

Herbert’s run has been assisted by prolific (and astute, amusing, etc) blogger Scott Gunn. Father Gunn blogs at Seven Whole Days, a phrase which comes straight out of Herbert’s poetry — “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee”  — and is incorporated into the hymn “King of Glory, King of Peace.”

As we did with the other Final Four match-up, I’m posting a single hideous work of art depicting the saint in question. The medium doesn’t matter — painting, sculpture, stained glass. It just has to be ugly. Or bizzarre as is the case with this representation of Theresa. Okay. Ugly and bizarre. Am I the only one worried that she’ll ruin her white dress?

I’m afraid there’s no bad art of George Herbert. He just doesn’t lend himself to it — which is either a plus or minus depending on your perspective. A bad painting of George Herbert Walker Bush will have to suffice.


Lent Madness: Julian of Norwich vs. Francis of Assisi

Talk about a battle of saintly heavyweights! But that’s what you get when you make it to the Final Four of Lent Madness. It gets harder to just vote and get on with your day. Julian vs. Francis takes real discernment. Or a coin flip.

These two have had interesting paths to get this far. You could argue that Julian had the tougher bracket, defeating Absalom Jones, Benedict, and Peter. While Francis has breezed past Joseph Schereschewsky, Hilda of Whitby, and Aelred. View the entire tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

In the first three rounds we’ve done Biographies, a Quote-off, and Legends & Kitsch. By this point you know something of the four who remain (next up Theresa of Avila vs. George Herbert). So for the Final Four we’ll be examining the saints in art. Ugly art. We’re looking for a single painting, statue, etc. of each saint. And it must be hideous. Any saint can be painted by Caravaggio or Titian but it takes a special saint to be represented in a garden sculpture (advantage Francis?) or clip-art or poorly done stained glass. However this is not to be confused with the prior kitsch category. Got it?

And, while art is in the eye of the beholder, I’m sorry. It’s my blog so I get to be the art critic here. But I hope you use the saintly representations as “icons” into your selections. Here we have Julian of Norwich with her cat. She’s often depicted with a cat but rarely in stained glass. How would you like to sit next to this window in church? I wonder if it’s scratch ‘n sniff?

For Francis, the choices are bewildering. But after consulting the marketing department at Clergy Family Confidential (I’m told they scoured Google images) we’re going with a Francis that appears to be the patron saint of jugglers.


Lent Madness: Final Four

Thanks to all of you we have whittled down the opening field of 32 saints in Lent Madness to the Final Four. Congratulations to Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avila, and George Herbert. You have done yourselves proud and I will give you the day to revel in your accomplishments.

But I also know that simply getting to the Final Four is not enough. You must “press on to the goal,” to quote one of your fellow saints, a fellow named Paul who was not in this year’s tournament. As a coach, Paul also suggests that you  “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” Wise advice indeed.

The match-ups will pit Francis of Assisi vs. Julian of Norwich and Theresa of Avila vs. George Herbert. You can views the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010And may the “best” saint win.

Lent Madness: George Herbert vs. John Chrysostom

George Herbert vs. John Chrysostom is an intriguing match-up in the final contest of the R0und of the Elate Eight. Poet vs. Preacher. Though, of course, on any given day you could toss a coin to determine which one was the poet and which one the preacher. It’s a battle of the eloquent to determine who will face Theresa of Avila in the Final Four.

The aforementioned Theresa advanced by scoring a decisive victory against Hildegard of Bingen 67% to 33%. Click to view the updated tournament bracket: Lent Madness 2010

Legends & Kitsch!

Not much in the legends department for George Herbert. That’s what you get for being a 17th century priest and poet. To add insult to injury, whenever you google him you get a lot of information about George Herbert Walker Bush. But you CAN purchase George Herbert stuff at the gift shop in Bemerton, England, where he served as rector. Poems on notecards, books about Herbert’s life, copies of “The Country Parson.” The kitsch factor is, unfortunately, low.

One curiously bizarre legend surrounding John Chrysostom became widespread in 16th century Europe. Known as the Penance of John Chrysostom, it relates that when John was a desert hermit he was approached by a royal princess in distress. Believing, at first, that she was a demon, John refused to help her. Eventually the princess convinced him that she was a Christian and she would be devoured  by wild animals if he would not let her into his cave. He let her enter, carefully dividing the cave into two halves, one for her and one for him. Despite these precautions, a carnal sin was committed. Trying to hide it, the distraught hermit tossed the princess off a cliff.  Realising the hideous nature of his crimes, John vowed that he would never rise from the ground until his sins were forgiven. Thus he lived like a beast for many years, crawling on all fours and eating wild grasses and roots. In time, the princess reappeared, alive, and suckling the saint’s baby, who miraculously pronounced his sins forgiven.

John is also associated with the bee. Besides his nickname (Chrysostom means golden or honey-tongued) he once said, “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” You’ll spot many images and icons of John with this symbol.


Lent Madness: Theresa of Avila vs. Hildegard of Bingen

Next up: two female saints going at it with a trip to the Final Four at stake. If you were placing bets the currency would be the Euro — we have a Spaniard vs. a German. It’s a battle between mystics of mythic proportion.

In recent Lent Madness action, Julian of Norwich soundly defeated Peter 70% to 30%to advance to the Final Four. Julian will face off against Francis of Assisi for a trip to the Championship. View the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

Legends & Kitsch!

Several miracles and legends have developed around Theresa’s death. She died on one of her journeys through the Spanish countryside in October, 1582. That night, her monastic cell back in Avila was said to fill with a pleasant fragrance. When her body was exhumed 330 years later, her coffin emitted the same heavenly smell. This miracle has been called the “odor of sanctity.” According to another legend, a hand severed from Teresa’s body could perform miracles. Finally, Theresa is the patron saint of, among other things, people with headaches and those ridiculed for their piety.

Hildegard was a woman way ahead of her time — mystic, abbess, author, artist, musician, philosopher. Unfortunately, the New Age movement has horned in on her achievements and has recently made claims upon her. Many of her (very Christian!) visions and her music have been hijacked by New Agers. You can find CDs featuring Hildegard’s music labeled “Healing Chants;” she’s sometimes referred to as a “feminist nun;” and is celebrated as a “female herbalist.” It has also been suggested that migraine “auras” inspired her art.


Lent Madness: Julian of Norwich vs. Peter

The Round of the Elate Eight continues with two saintly heavy weights: Dame Julian of Norwich vs. the apostle Peter. In recent action Francis of Assisi crushed Aelred of Rievaulx by the largest Lent Madness margin to date 87% to 13%. View the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

On to Legends and Kitsch! 

One oddity of the popular Julian is that we really don’t know whether she was actually named “Julian.” Her writings were anonymous and it has simply been surmised that the author was Julian based on the name of the church in Norwich: St. Julian’s. This was where she lived as an anchoress, a hermit living in a cell attached to the church.

But here’s the catch: there was another St. Julian for whom the church was evidently named. This Julian was a popular figure of medieval legend. It seems that Julian, a nobleman, was out hunting one day when he spared the life of a deer that had admonished him. The deer then made the strange prediction that Julian would one day kill his parents. This ended up happening accidentally and Julian resolved to pay penance by establishing a roadside inn for travelers and a hospital for the poor. Thus while Julian of Norwich may have actually been named Julian, there’s a good chance that she was not.

Not much on the Julian of Norwich kitsch front BUT you can purchase her famous saying “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” in a variety of formats including necklaces, bracelets, postcards, etc.

Peter, of course, has the keys to the kingdom. As guardian of the “Pearly Gates” he stands in the middle of countless jokes and cartoons as a sort of bouncer/hotel clerk. It’s safe to say that Peter has made more appearances in The New Yorker than any other saint.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter tells the story of the apostle’s martyrdom. Upon fleeing from Rome to avoid persecution, Peter encounters a vision of Jesus going in the opposite direction. He asks him “Quo vadis, Domine?”  (“Whither goest thou, Master?”). Jesus responds that he is returning to Rome “to be crucified again.” Peter then decides to return to Rome and accept his martyrdom. According to legend he was crucified upside down.


Lent Madness: Aelred vs. Francis of Assisi

The Round of the Elate Eight begins right now! We kick things off with Aelred vs. Francis of Assisi. Aelred’s a bit of a cinderella, having defeated Anskar and upsetting John  the Baptist. Francis stormed into this round by dispensing with Joseph Schereschewsky and Hilda of Whitby.

In the first round of Lent Madness we used brief biographies to distinguish the candidates. In the Round of the Saintly Sixteen our discernment tool was the Quote-Off. But this round calls for something deeper. Which is why we’ll be highlighting legends and kitsch (or L & K in Lent Madness parlance). Any saint worth his or her halo has both of these in spades.

Legends surrounding Francis’ life are abundant, many having to do with animals. It is said that while traveling with some companions he came upon a place filled with birds in trees on either side of the road. Francis preached to the birds and not one flew away, drawn so powerfully to the sound of his voice. In another story, we hear that a wolf was terrifying the townsfolk of Gubbio, devouring men and animals. Francis went into the hills, found the wolf, made the sign of the cross, and commanded the wolf to hurt no one else. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down Francis’ feet. He then brought the wolf into the town and made a pact between the people and the wolf: the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly and in return the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

Compared to Francis, Aelred of Riveaulx is a bit thin in the legends department. In modern times he has become the patron saint of several gay advocacy groups because of his writing on Spiritual Friendship. So in a sense legends have cropped up around him in retrospect. In his writings he actually appears to have rejected homosexuality. Nonetheless, this appears on the Integrity USA website:

“Whereas the Episcopal Church USA meeting in General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 1985, with full knowledge, thanks to the vigilance of the bishop of Newark, of St. Aelred’s homoerotic orientation, did approve for annual commemoration in her liturgical calendar the Feast of St. Aelred on 12 January and did provide propers for the same, Therefore be it resolved that Integrity Inc. place itself under the protection and patronage of St. Aelred of Rievaulx and, be it further resolved that Integrity, Inc. dedicate itself to regularly observe his feast, promote his veneration and seek before the heavenly throne of grace the support of his prayers on behalf of justice and acceptance for lesbians and gay men.”

It’s also hard to beat Francis in the kitsch department. Francis lawn ornaments are a cottage industry throughout the free world. Extensive research tells me that Aelred lawn ornaments are exceedingly rare.