Today is St. John’s Tide, or the Festival of St. John. We celebrate this in the Steiner schools with a story about John, some songs, and a meal of fruit, nuts and honey. In our church, The Christian Community, this festival lasts four weeks.
What is this festival about? First, it is the festival of the human being—-not just any man but an extraordinary human being—-which is what John the Baptist was. Can you imagine being put on earth with the task of preparing the way for the coming of the Christ? I would probably turn back. But he faced it squarely, even if it did mean the end of his earthly life. He knew what his destiny was and fulfilled it with love.
St. John’s Tide is also a harvest festival; a celebration of the summer solstice. Ancient peoples, watching the sun reach its highest point at this time, lit evening bonfires to encourage it to shine and ripen their crops. We come dressed in flaming colors when we celebrate this festival. Some parents have even built real bonfires for their children to experience. I like to think this is a symbol of an inner harvest—a flame that drives us to be better, to purify the old, no matter what our circumstances are.
The message of St. John is clear: Change. Change your thinking. Make straight the crookedness in your soul and in your thoughts. Remove all the obstacles that have kept you stuck in negative cycles. Strengthen the will through spiritual work. In short, get your act together and be all that a human being ought to be.
I think this is particularly relevant today given the way things are in our country. The dissonance is deafening. We are such a Catholic country but also one of the most corrupt with probably one out of every two Catholic husbands fooling around with their Catholic girlfriends (or Catholic KTV girls) while their Catholic wives grin and bear it. Shudder. Let’s not forget the very Catholic president who prays fervently but calls (probably Catholic) Garci on the side.
Change yourself. Make things right, even if the path is difficult and unpopular, because you know that’s what needs to be done so that good can permeate the earth. That’s what John stood for even if it cost him his head. He knew his life meant serving others to make a better world possible. It was his destiny, he saw it clearly and accepted it fully. He met it with strength and grace.
I find these lessons simple yet so profound. If we go by his example, we have an idea of what it means to be human—-to be a vessel through which Christ’s work can be fulfilled. Sure, it no longer means moving rocks and stones that lie on his path the way John did; nor does it mean baptizing people in the river so that they awaken to who they are and change their ways. But it means making a conscious effort to change what we can about ourselves—things we already know must be changed– not just for ourselves but for others. Being a man means being faithful to the demands of the spirit, awake to our life’s task, guided by the courage to go for it. Being human means to harvest and transform the gifts of the earth within us to make our lives matter for mankind.
These are but a few thoughts to help us reconnect with the Christian festivals and discover what they mean for us. John the Baptist was a special man—but a man nonetheless–just like you and me. We celebrate his life and strength by cultivating that which can be extraordinary in us. A bountiful inner harvest to all!