Advent Journey: St. Barbara’s Branch

Photo by Secret Garden on

The Catholic Pantheon of Saints is a pretty great thing. I’m a big fan appealing to patron saints when I (or someone for whom I pray) needs help with something – like anything. There are patrons for everything from beekeepers to women in labour; from to accountants to vintners. You have a need, we’ve got a saint for that. And I LOVE that. Anyone who’s been hanging around this blog for more than 12 nanoseconds knows that I quite enjoy the calendar of feast days and memorial days of saints. The calendar evolves, the pantheon grows. That feels like an OK thing. There is a Litany of Saints that RC kids recite, asking for a whole host of saints for their intercession. Some people feel significant devotion to some saints, so when the wheel of ecumenical councils turn, and the  roster of saints on the calendar gets updated and some of the former First String Saints are demoted off the calendar… well… the devoted don’t care, and they continue to celebrate the Saint anyway.

St. Christopher’s Day was a victim of this. But today, the Feast of St. Barbara is another such situation.

St. Barbara was a daughter of a pagan king who converted to Christianity, her dad didn’t like it.  When he arranged a marriage to her that conflicted with the vow of chastity that accompanied her conversion to Christianity. Her dad said she could get married, or she could have her head removed, so she tried to run away. As her father chased her through a wheat field, the wheat grew up around her to hide her escape.  When he eventually caught her, he locked her in a tower to give her some time to reconsider her decision. During the time she was incarcerated, she shared her water with a broken branch from a cherry tree, and, in the days before she was martyred, the cherry branch bloomed.  Her dad, for his trouble, was hit by lightning shortly after her death.

In Germany/Poland/Turkey (where St. Barbara lived, before there was a Germany or a Poland), folks still celebrate the Feast Day of St. Barbara. To celebrate, folks cut a cherry branch from a tree, put in in a vase, and if it blooms by Christmas, it brings good fortune for the next year (If you’re an unmarried woman, it also foretells of a marriage in the next year. Which I guess is good fortune, maybe?)

A few years ago, after Christmas, the God Squad set to work to take down the not-quite-life sized manger and nativity scene, and was removing the amazing floral displays on our altar. One of the woman leading the effort told us that if any of us on the Squad want to take home one (or more) of the poinsettias, to please do. A woman with whom I was un-decorating the Christmas Trees asked what one would do with poinsettias past their prime. I said that you could cut them down to  5 or 6 inch stems, and then just keep them moist and they start growing like gangbusters next summer. She had no idea. And, I mean, you don’t really even have to cut them down. Just water them like any other houseplant on reduced water for the winter, and they’ll come back.

 It’s easy, I guess, to look at a plant and see no value if it’s not green and lush and in it’s full blooming glory. I mean, it’s not like it’s a mystery that there are phases to plant growth. Especially in the Great White North where the summers are hot and the winters are frigid. Even house plants have a dormant period when the light is weaker and growth stops. I have two fig plants that have dropped all their leaves for the winter sleep in my living room, and it’s a joyful surprise when I see the green tips starting to grow in March or April.

This Advent, may I not midjudge the life contained (or not) in withered and atrophied relationships. May my default be always to encourage growth through my words and deeds.

Extra Credit:

The Wheat & Cherry Branches of St. Barbara’s Day

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