February 2019 Doodles
February is a useless month (my apologies to all those with birthdays in February). Usually it’s cold, windy, and can’t really seem to commit to rain or snow, and so it tries to do both at the same time, and fails. It falls in between the big holidays of Christmas, New Years, and Easter, and honestly, it’s a little bit of a downer.
February is also a weird month. It is the only month with less than 30 days, and it’s the only month in which the number of days fluctuates from time to time. In fact, for most of the human history of calendars, February didn’t even exist, because the winter months were simply considered to be ‘a season’ and there really wasn’t much point in marking time.
Around 700 years before Jesus was born, February and January were added to the 10 month calendar, but even then, the exact number of days in February was wildly inconsistent. Sometimes, it had 23 days, sometimes 24, and sometimes, the year was so messed up by February, official timekeepers would simply add another month after it, just to catch up. It was only in the time of Julius Caesar (about 40 years before Jesus was born) that the standard of 28 days (29 every fourth year) was established.
In other words, February is cold, rainy, miserable, and it reminds us that our measurements of time and seasons are, at best, arbitrary; that our attempts at locking down the movements of the planets and the sun into a perfectly symmetrical system are frustrated by the reality that space and time doesn’t conform to our own sense of how things should be; rather, we have to find ways to adapt to the reality of our world.
Which is not easy to do.
It would be great, wouldn’t it, if we lived in a perfect world. It would be great if everything worked by logic, that reality was, in fact, a sort of grand, unified version of of the metric system, everything worked in groups of 10s, that everything was immediately, identifiably connected to something else, that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything, that there was a discernible cause for every effect, that we could predict, with absolute certainty, how our lives will work out, who our kids will marry, that sort of thing.
But February reminds us that life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the world is capricious. Sometimes things happen, for which there is no logical explanation. Things don’t go to plan. People don’t make rational decisions. Unexpected events cause a chain of unforeseeable consequences, for which there is no-one to blame, and that is hard for us to accept.
Sometimes, we have to adjust our ways of thinking. Sometimes we have to add to our philosophy, sometimes we have to subtract. Sometimes, our ways of thinking and living have to adapt to the way the world is, rather than expecting the world to conform to our own expectation of how it should be. Sometimes we have to let go of our desire for perfection, and understanding, and logic and reasoning, and accept the fact that we are imperfect beings, living in an unpredictable and imperfect world.
And maybe that’s why the ancient Romans decided to name this strange, cold, ambiguous month ‘February’. The original Latin word was Februum, which meant ‘purification’, usually through the use of burnt offerings, and the idea was to reconcile, to purify, the calendar before spring started, before the new year got going again. February was the month in which the debt of time was paid, when the difference between the perfection of theory and the imperfection of reality was patched up, when the fact that we are not able to control time and space is acknowledged, and observed.
And while the ancient Romans were not Christian theologians, I think there is a lot of really great theology going on in this month. We are getting ready for Easter, we are getting ready for the resurrection, we are getting ready for the perfection of Jesus Christ’s return, but we still live in the imperfect reality of this world.
And February is that month during which we recognize and observe that imperfection. February is that month during which the ancient Romans let go of their past, let go their mistakes, and prepared themselves for a new season.
And, despite the fact that Ash Wednesday moves around according to the date of Easter (which is, in itself, a whole different Doodle), it is most often celebrated in February. (Of course, this year, Ash Wednesday happens to fall on March 6, which blows up my entire thesis, but you know what I mean.) As Christians, we too are getting ready for a new season, and Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent are our way of doing that.
Through the symbols of burnt ashes, through a time of somber reflection and reconsecration, we are reconciling the imperfection of our fallen world with the perfection of what has been promised us by Christ’s Passion: all our sins will be taken from us, the burden of our shame will be lifted, and the gap between this world and the kingdom of God will be patched up.
February is not just the month in which our calendars are adjusted to correspond with reality. It is that month in which our souls are prepared to be reconciled with the reality of our redemption.
And for me, at least, that makes the cold, windy, cloudy, yucky month of February just a little bit more bearable.
And hey, at least it’s only 28 days long.