Phil James, of Dappled Thoughts, recently sent us a booklet on Michaelmas he wrote for his grandchildren. We are so impressed by this booklet and are very excited that he is letting us share it with you! We know you will really appreciate both his reflections on angels and what they mean for our understanding of reality, in addition to getting a glimpse into his family’s Michaelmas traditions. Thank you, Phil, for sharing this with us!
Why is Michaelmas one of your family’s favorite celebrations?
Honestly, I think it’s because of the fantastic nature of the menu. Once a year we eat roasted dragons tongue (which tastes a lot like pork). That’s obviously notable. And while it’s not unusual for friends to be at any of our celebrations, somehow Michaelmas developed so that the inclusion of friends in the evening became a necessary ingredient.
Also, Michaelmas is a gate of sorts. We leave the unique charms of summer behind and prepare for All Hallow’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas’s twelve days and Epiphany. This means the crispness of fall, college football, spooky things, roast turkey, gifts, Glogg, carols, late boardgame nights, great grandparents and… well, the year is just weighted on this end with our favorite things.
What does your family’s Michaelmas celebration look like?
The night always involves the friends of our children. It is a fun night. It has a purpose, but it is not a scripted or solemn affair. No need to stress. We begin with a prayer that recognizes the occasion of the feast, and then move on to the feasting. In our house the recipes are only served on this night, and as I mentioned the ‘exotic’ meal is a large part of the uniqueness and fun of the celebration.At some point, we take time to discuss the occasion of the feast. We’ve used the summary provided in the book; other times we’ve winged it. After the dishes are cleared, we bring out the Dragon Bread dough. Our Michaelmas celebrations have always included a Dragon Bread Contest. Teams compete to shape, decorate and bake the winning Dragon. The evening always finishes with our Family’s Michaelmas Hymn.
How would you suggest using the booklet? Would you read the meditations in the days up to Michaelmas?
The truth is that my suggestions for the booklet are untested. In the past we’ve always been together with the children and grandkids on Michaelmas; but the family is growing, and so good (although sad) adjustments need to be made (that’s what my wife keeps telling me, anyway). I wanted to encourage my kids to continue with the tradition in their own homes. The booklet is an attempt to aid them with their own children- all of whom are still very young.
I tried to summarize some of the key ideas swirling around the celebration with a short ‘chapter’ for each. I imagined the meditations being read to the grandkids on the days leading up to Michaelmas- perhaps at dinner or bedtime, but if the schedule doesn’t work out, doing so afterwards would work too. I hoped some simple discussion would follow. I peppered in a few questions to help with that.
What are the key Michaelmas concepts that you think parents should be teaching to their children?
There are many, and I’ve tried to draw attention to some of them in the booklet, but one in particular stands out to me. I’m not most keen on how Michaelmas will affect my children’s understanding of angels in the narrowest sense. I’m more interested in how their understanding of angels will affect their vision of themselves, and trees, rain and frogs.
Mortimer Adler championed ‘Angels’ as one of the great ideas in the famous Great Books of the Western World series that he edited. He received a lot of flak for that. He persisted because he knew from his reading of the Western Canon that a study of Angelogy was uniquely important to our stewardship of the inheritance we’ve been given. It matters to our humanity.
Mindless bodies are hardly surprising, but a bodiless mind… well, that’s trouble because the possibility runs afoul of just about everything our society ‘knows’ to be true at the most foundational level. C.S Lewis said that the thought of a return to paganism was a happy one. By this he meant in part that Modernity suffers from a particular blindness about reality. Where mankind in general recognized that physical reality is a mystery- merely the tip of an iceberg, which includes (and signals the presence of) real ingrained meaning and unfathomable spiritual reality, Modernity argues that unseen ‘realities’ such as personal consciousness, beauty, goodness, love, truth etc. are really nothing more than the subjective (i.e. unreal) gloss of physical stuff. Only stuff is really real; because that’s all there is. Everything else is the subjective fabrication of minds that are themselves ultimately impersonal processes of stuff. Such a commitment is deeply dehumanizing. Lewis’s point is that it is uniquely so. To that I would add that it is just plain silly. Silly enough that its adoption can only be understood as a type of madness. An evening with my grandkids will reveal that. There is no illusion of personality, beauty and wonder there. Each of these is as truly present as is that slobbery cheek. Only a mad man would deny it.
Now all of this might seem too much to communicate to children, but an evening with my grandkids will also demonstrate that it is something that they already understand. They call me “Uh-Oh”, and delight in playing tricks on me. When frightened they scurry into my arms for protection. They have no doubt that ‘I’ am really there, but they are as likely to talk to the dog, robin or rose as they are to talk with me. They already know that there are things present, which no eye can see. We don’t have to teach our children that the world is really (really) enchanted, personal and meaningful. We simply need to preserve what they know to be true. Of course after climbing out of the hole dug for us by Modernity, it is a great and necessary blessing to teach them of the one who makes it true.
In our society Mom and Dad purposefully setting aside an evening to affirm their own belief in angels is about as odd as it gets. Hard to think of a better endorsement than that.
Click here to download the Michaelmas Booklet for Families.
Phil describes himself as a wondering Mere Christian. Committed to the foolishness of divine glory as revealed in the face of Christ. The husband (Oh, happy thought) to Sandi. A father of six. Grandfather of five. Befuddled reader, aspiring prophet of corporeality, and chili dog’s (fully loaded) greatest advocate.