August Celebrations

My chronicles for 2019 are stringing together rituals and Christian celebrations on Bornholm and in our life. After sharing the sacredness of our marriage and the rituals of clearing out in order to transform our farmhouse and convert the former farming buildings into a retreat centre, I introduced you to the Scandinavian tradition of jumping the fire on Saint-John’s Eve at the beginning of summer. There is still another month of summer to go before the Autumn equinox and the warm sunlight summer days and the white nights have faded. I want to tell you something about the August celebrations I have enjoyed in my life that have also found their way to my Bornholm life. The first is Saint Lawrence’s night (10 August) and the second in the Assumption of Mary (15 August).

Both of these catholic feast days are very much celebrated in Southern Europe and they are important pointers during the summer months and holiday times.  I have taken part in many festivities in Northern Italy during my first marriage when we used to go back “home” to the Alpine region close to Torino where the family originated from. On Saint Lawrence’s night we would go out to gaze at the starry night looking for shooting stars, voicing our wishes and highest aspirations in the silence of our hearts. Then, we would count our blessings as the shooting stars rained above the range of mountains. Saint Lawrence happens to fall in the most popular meteor shower of the year when the Perseid cloud, visible from mid-July to late August, is at its peak.

I am in contact via Facebook with a distant relative of my former husband’s family. Angelo is a mountain farmer who still lives in the valley and is keeping up many of the old farming traditions. He posts daily reminders of ancient traditions, both pagan and catholic, that chant the seasons and rhythms of a harsh life farming in the Alpine mountains. On the 10th of August he reminded us to lift our eyes into the sky and to connect to the longing in our hearts. On the 11th of August he reported his disappointment as a very cold and cloudy night prevented spotting the promised shooting stars.

So where is the link between Saint Lawrence’s night and Bornholm? The answer is in the round church of Østerlars. In former catholic times, the church was dedicated to Saint Lawrence and Østerlars translates, very literally, as East Lars, Lars or Lasse being the Danish of Lawrence. Visitors to our church can read about this and are shown the symbol of the church, a gridiron reminding us of Saint Lawrence’s martyr; he was burned to death by the Roman prefect for distributing alms to the poor. The round church of Østerlars is an important signpost in my present landscape reminding me of other places I come from and their traditions. I feel the interweaving of all my life experiences and the bridging from the past to the future. The more I let this in, the richer the tapestry of life that unfolds.

After observing the Heavens descending on Earth as stars fall upon us, we move into celebrating the Assumption of Mary a few days later which is about the Virgin Mary’s direct accession to Heaven without having to go through the ordeal of dying, thereby linking Earth to Heaven with an ascendant movement. In the catholic tradition, Mary is doubly virgin, representing both a virgin procreation and birth and a virgin death, having been spared the usual unpleasantness of human experiences.  Celebrations of the Virgin Mary date back to the 18th century, probably in an attempt to honour women in a world dominated by masculine power and hierarchies. All around the Mediterranean the 15th of August is a very sacred day and much respected. Whether in Greece, Italy, Spain or Portugal, all public life stops in order for families to gather together and commemorate the mother of all mother’s, a bit like at Thanksgiving in the USA. It is a time for giving thanks, for expressing gratitude and for honouring the work of all women and mothers who keep alive the family links and stand for kinship.

For the past year we have been regularly holding Taizé-meditation services in the round church. The service comprises singing traditional Taizé songs leading to a time of silence and stillness. We also read sacred texts and send out our prayers and blessings into the world. This summer’s edition happened to fall on the 15th of August and when I mentioned that this is a special day for Catholics, Meghan, our parish priest, decided to align our Taizé service with the celebration of the Assumption of Mary. We have many Polish visitors on the island, many of whom are devout Catholics, and I often notice them signing themselves as they enter the church or making a genuflection before sitting in the pews.  I was sure that they would appreciate an opportunity to honour their traditions in a particularly strong Lutheran landscape, one that might have forgotten its Catholic past.

The Assumption of Mary Taizé-meditation service was a huge success and the church was packed. We had chosen songs that honour the Virgin Mary and we read Mary’s song from the Gospel of Luke. I felt very moved when Meghan asked me if I would read the texts in English after she had read them in Danish and it was an honour to stand with her holding this beautiful ceremony. Somehow the whole setting felt fitting acknowledging all the women who pour their love and energy into keeping alive the Church, despite its shortcomings, and support its ongoing transformation and alignment with higher consciousness.

In Italy the 15th of August is also known as Ferr’agosto (the August holidays), a time for resting after the hard work in the agricultural world that dates back to the Romans. It is said to mark a change in the weather when the first signs of autumn seep in with storms, rain and early morning mists. A certain sadness lingers around Ferr’agosto as people prepare to return to work and children to go back to school. Normal life is rekindled with its routines and well-known paths. I am definitely noticing this shift as tourist decrease on the island, the days become noticeably shorter and I am less concerned about watering the garden. Having spent so much of my life in education I can feel the special taste of beginning a new academic year, a mixture of excitement, expectancy and apprehension.

As I ponder on this, I am tempted to ask myself what are the qualities I have honoured over the past months? The dreams I have nurtured? The challenges I have willingly embraced? Who is this new and resourced person walking a path that aims to bring Heaven down on Earth, and to live by higher consciousness?

And you? What experiences of the summer months will be supporting you in your next steps?

Sending you  many blessings on your ongoing journeys and much love,

Nicky