It is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and planner that I am, I'm sitting at the kitchen table with my coffee, wondering what to do about it. So far, I have done exactly two things to mark the day: no, three. I got up. That would be the first important observance of any day, would it not? And then I took the little praying bust of Mary off my dresser and set her in the middle of said kitchen table, as a reminder. Finally, I notice that I am drinking my coffee from a blue-and-white mug which Aelred brought home from the Bi-Lo not too long ago -- he has been collecting dollar mugs from one place and another lately, because the coffee mugs we did have are either broken, or else whatever decoration was on them to begin with has worn down to a kind of grayish dishwasher smudge. These, of course, are the mugs that will never break.
I didn't myself put the coffee in the blue-and-white mug. Aelred made my cup of coffee for me, and I'm fairly sure that he chose this mug not because of Our Lady, but because he knows I like it. And I do. Words fail me to express how much I love cobalt blue. I could so happily be Greek and live in a whitewashed house with a bright blue door, beside a brilliant sea. Instead, I live in a gray house -- it does have a blue door -- by the side, currently, of a sea of red mud, in which the mason wades with his pointed trowel as he labors to finish the porch piers before it rains again. But I think I must be digressing, unless this is actually relevant somehow.
So: Wake up. Mary statue. Coffee. Not a bad start, but not exactly . . . well, you will find no soft-focus photographs here today to make you wish you were having my Feast of the Assumption instead of your own. I suppose not being a near occasion of sin counts for something. Meanwhile, ridiculous celebratory ideas course through my mind. I'm thinking particularly of an altar decoration I saw once, for the Ascension, actually, in our Anglican parish in Cambridge. The young man who had charge of the altar flowers -- having, I think, cowed all the church ladies who used to do them into utter submission -- was of an artistic bent which occasionally . . . Why do I keep trailing off this way? It is an annoying habit.
Anyway, he had made some figures for an Easter Garden display in one of the niches in the church which, I am sure, had formerly housed some saint or other, before the Reformation blew through town and smashed them all. There was a Mary figure, as I recall, and also a Risen Christ, who stood before the empty tomb, hands upraised to display the nail marks, wearing a white cope like a Bishop's. The figure was cleverly done, though the cope inspired some quiet hilarity. At the end of forty days the figures went away -- so we thought, at any rate. Fittingly, Our Lord in His cope made a reappearance, hovering -- I'm not sure how -- at the top of a sort of ceremonial arch of flowers above the altar for the Ascension. Aelred, who had said the early-morning Mass, reported that the Vicar, hurrying in, had glanced up at this spectacle and remarked, with the audible intake of breath which was his characteristic display of strong feeling, that he wished people would consult him about things like this. "It looks Spanish," he apparently muttered as he retreated to the tower fastness of his office.
Myself, I considered Our Ascending Cope-Wearing Lord of the Floral Arch to be an improvement on previous attempts to express the mystery of the Ascension artistically through the medium of flowers. In earlier years we had had what I have always thought of as floral Ascension Trees to the left of the altar: big complicated arrangements of white flowers wired to unreliable wooden frameworks which either fell flat over on their faces during the second reading or else came apart at the middle, so that -- again, during some particularly silent moment -- the bottom half dropped with a bang to the floor, while the top half maintained a miraculous levitation throughout the rest of the service, which might have been symbolic somehow, if you could only recover your composure long enough to think about it. By comparison, the ascending statuette resounds in my memory as a note of absolute dignity -- but then, I am a papist and like Spanish things, so who am I to say, really?
I don't recall that the Mary statue from this set made a similar reappearance on her day, though certainly we celebrated the Assumption. The general idea, though, of people -- or statues representing people -- going up -- comes to mind as something to do today, although I can't think of a place or a way to make a Mary statue appear to vanish into heaven without its being a hundred times more ridiculous than that Ascension display. Somehow just putting Mary on a high shelf and telling people to look up doesn't quite . . . whatever. Again, I'm at a loss for the end of a sentence, the completion of a thought.
All of this makes me glad that it's a Holy Day of Obligation, because we can do that. I'll put a blue cloth on the table, though I have no idea how dinner is going to work: I pick the youngers up from camp at 5, Mass is at 6, there's choir practice after Mass, and the remnant of the Domestic Church which gets to go home will be on its own with the crockpot. Let me reiterate that if you came here looking for liturgical-year inspiration, you will need to look further, unless what you were really looking for was permission to let the feast be what it is in the life of a family: another day of juggling a thousand conflicting things, which you hope will somehow coalesce into a sort of bicycle wheel with God at the hub, but with the expectation that all of it, embodied and limited and human, tends toward heaven in the end. That is the specific hope which this feast extends to us. Mary, being one of us, has been there and done that, and because of her, we bumbling mortals can hope to do it, too.