Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. No, Virginia, Santa Claus will not be advancing in Lent Madness 2019. That's because yesterday, in a shocking upset that rocked the North Pole, Zenaida defeated Nicholas of Myra 59% to 41% to claim the final spot in the Elate Eight. (Also, Virginia, congratulations on winning yesterday's national championship in that other brackets-based tournament).
We started with 32 saints and 3/4 of them have been cast out, hanging their halos in shame. Okay, that's not how it works - we're pretty sure the saints themselves don't actually care about our little Lenten game of learning. And each and every one of them has already received their own crown of righteousness. Nonetheless, welcome to the Elate Eight.
Who remains? Well, Zenaida joins Martha of Bethany, Photini, Ignatius of Loyola, Gobnait, John Chrysostom, William Wilberforce, and Pandita Ramabai. One of these remaining eight will be awarded the coveted 2019 Golden Halo.
Things kick off with two Biblical heavyweights as Martha of Bethany takes on Photini. To make it to this point, Martha defeated Mary of Bethany and Nicodemus, while Photini took down Ananias and Tabitha. Don’t forget to click the Bracket tab and scroll down to be reminded of what was written about these two in the earlier rounds.
The Elate Eight is also known as the Round of Saintly Kitsch. After basic biographies, quirks and quotes, what else could there be? Now, there are always some folks who take offense to this approach — we call them Kitsch Kranks. Please remember that this round is not meant to belittle or demean our saintly heroes but to have some fun and gaze in wide wonder at the breadth of devotional practice. So kindly relax and enjoy the spirit of the Madness as we push ever onward toward our goal.
For more about all things Lent Madness, tune in to yesterday's edition of Monday Madness, if for some unknown reason you missed it. This week, among other things, Tim and Scott share the First and Great Commandments of Lent Madness.
Martha of Bethany
As an original disciple of Christ living in the first century, we have no idea what St. Martha looked like, nor much of her personality. Yet, people are drawn to her story and long to close the historical divide. Fortunately, there are many varieties of kitsch available to help us connect with her for devotion or emulation, from the orthodox to the syncretic.
On E-bay, you can purchase this multi-saint reliquary for about $1,300 that includes a tiny, holy piece of both Martha and Mary Magdalene, plus five other post-Biblical saints. What a bargain!
In the early days of photography, devotees dreamed up a new way to bring Martha close to us. These included dramatically staged Biblical scenes such as this one, showing the iconic Mary working/Martha listening scene.
As a novel writer myself, I appreciate the many authors who have chosen Martha as a subject and use their theological imagination to develop her character and explore Biblical themes in depth. I cannot yet personally attest to the theology or quality of writing in these books. However, they certainly have compelling covers that make me want to crack them open and dive in as soon as Martha stops winning in Lent Madness, and I have some time to read recreationally! (Just kidding, vote for Martha!)
And for those in the service industry, for whom Martha is the patron, comes this mini, plastic St. Martha statue, in which Martha holds a ladle and appears before a salver. Surely this devotional item has brought patience and solace to many a waiter while dealing with rude or difficult customers.
This Santa Marta Indio oil is meant for the anointing of the hands when one must overcome difficulties, such as a dragon threatening the town where you live. If you find yourself with that or a similar problem, you can order it online, only $2.50 per bottle! Or you can DIY with recipes available on the Internet.
The Indio oil above shows an offshoot of a Martha devotion I did not know about until I became her advocate in Lent Madness this year. She is honored in Voodoo and other syncretic spiritualities that developed among slaves in the Americas and mix Christianity with traditional West African religion. Martha is revered for her dragon slaying and worshipped as the Dominator, a symbol of female power. While the practices associated with this devotion fall outside orthodox Christianity, the symbol itself is potent: Martha, the friend of Christ and servant of all, is the champion of the oppressed and downtrodden.
Icons in the religious tradition are images of the holy, images filled with symbolism that invite us to venerate the examples of saints in prayer, to be still in the presence of an artistic imagining of a holy moment, and to be drawn closer to God in our prayer with them. The Woman at the Well is one of the most popular icons. The church built in commemoration of her encounter with Christ at the well is filled with artistic icons capturing the holy moment when she and Jesus speak with each other in the Gospel of John. While countless artists have imagined that moment, the icons of this moment bring a precise, ethereal vision for us to pray with as we, too, encounter Christ.
Icons, however, may not fully capture the dimension of the encounter. For those of you who appreciate sculpture, Timothy B. Schmaltz has created this sculpture, available in a myriad of sizes, from extra-large for those hard to fill secluded spots in the church garden to personal devotional size, perfect for a coffee table.
If a sculpture isn’t quite your style, don’t worry. The well that played such a central role in the encounter between Photini and Jesus was likely simple - made from stone and materials easily available in the community. While large stones may not be readily available in many communities, old tires are in constant supply, so you, too, can repurpose tires in to your very own garden well, in Lent Madness purple, nonetheless!
While you’re contemplating the magnitude of Photini’s encounter with Jesus in your lovely garden complete with a repurposed tire well, why not sit a while in this moment. But wait, while the ground is nice, having something to sit on would be helpful. And guess what? There’s a round beach towel complete with fringe that will create the perfect place to meditate on Photini and her witness to the Christian faith.
While her name isn’t recorded in the Gospels, after her baptism on Pentecost, the unnamed Samaritan woman in the Gospels is revealed as Photini, meaning, “the enlightened one.” And after a day of sitting on your Photini beach towel by your lovely well in your garden, wouldn’t you love a nice refreshing beverage served from your very own enlightened pitcher or lighted water bottles, for those times you’ve invited guests to your garden well?
Suddenly, you realize the day is done. The sun is setting and our eyes behold the vesper light. As we sing our praises to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can turn on our Photini nightlight in purple, the official color of Lent Madness.
Of course, Photini’s faith didn’t limit the sharing of the Light of Christ to her homeland. She traveled far and wide in her life to share the teachings of Jesus, enlightening those whom she encountered with the Good News. Not all of us are called to travel the world to share the Light of Christ, but we all can enlighten our neighborhoods for all to see that we, too, are emulating the Enlightened One.
Martha of Bethany vs. Photini
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