Slouching Toward Diligence Day

Nov 17, 2012

I’m just now turning my thoughts to the Thanksgiving Day menu. My parents and brothers and their families will be coming here, since the days of going to my parents’ house are now over for good. So Ron and I will be cooking in our semi-competent, last-minute way. Get used to it, family, because for the next stage of life—I suppose until Ron and I get old and frail enough for one of our kids to take over—we’ll be the ones in our bathrobes early on Thanksgiving morning, shoving a turkey in the oven before anyone else is awake.

It’s a privilege to host, and I’m glad to do it, and yada yada, but I must say, by the time you reach middle age, holidays have rather lost their old magic. Thanksgiving and Christmas were a lot more fun when I was a kid. This is partly because every year felt momentously different from the last—age nine is eons older than age eight, after all. But it’s mostly because, frankly, back then other people were doing all the work. Now the years all blur together in a slurry of sameness as my generation inches slowly toward older age; and as the holidays come round again, I sigh and start a holiday task list—just another set of grinding responsibilities.

Boy, do I sound bah-humbug already. You know, maybe what I need—maybe what we all could use—is a nice fresh start. Something completely different to perk us all up and bring back the magic. How about some entirely new holidays?

So I was thinking, if Thanksgiving is a time to practice the virtue of gratitude, why not some other holidays to promote other Christian virtues? There are plenty to choose from. We could go the Roman Catholic route, and do the “seven heavenly virtues,” which correspond—naturally—to the seven deadly sins: the virtue of humility with the sin of pride, the virtue of diligence with the sin of sloth, etc. No doubt each virtue day would have to be preceded by an evening of indulgence in the corresponding sin, much like Lent is preceded by Mardi Gras (that’s temperance and gluttony right there). I’m sure everyone would appreciate an official “Sloth Eve” before “Diligence Day”—sprawl on the couch and soak in the tub before tackling that list of household repairs in the morning. “Wrath Eve” is harder to imagine, though I suppose it could involve rush-hour traffic, or perhaps mixed martial arts. “Greed Eve” we’ve already got, but it’s more like a six- to eight-week “Greed Festival” and it starts right about now. Charity, currently denied its own day, merely trails along on the greed ride, like sparkly dust behind Santa’s sleigh.

The nice thing about heavenly virtue holidays is that they could easily become interfaith or even New Agey. Evidently, the seven deadlies and heavenlies are sometimes thought to correspond to the seven chakras, like this:

pride                humility           crown

sloth                diligence          third eye

envy                kindness          throat

greed               charity             heart

gluttony           temperance      solar plexus

lust                  chastity            sacral

wrath               patience           root

I don’t understand the chakras, but it does make sense that gluttony and temperance are related to the solar plexus, since that’s the area that tends to expand with the former and contract with the latter.

How would we actually observe something like Humility Day, though? Well, I’m not sure Calvinists even need this holiday since already, on a daily basis, we tend to wear frumpy clothes and think of ourselves as five-foot worms. I suppose we could try to post humble things to each other on Facebook, but you can guess how that would turn out: “I’m feeling so humble and blessed today. God is so gracious and I just don’t deserve my high-achieving and beautiful children, the ones in these photos!”

What about Chastity Day? I really like this idea, just for the countercultural amusement of it. We could observe it in March on the same day as the Feast of the Annunciation—makes sense, eh? For the traditional chastity meal, we’d have to decide which foods are most decidedly non-sexy. Jello? Velveeta cheese? Spam? The relatives could come over and gather all the pre-teens together and have “the talk” with them all at once—embarrassing them as a batch. Everyone would have to refrain from movies and television, except for golf tournaments, which never incite anyone to anything but drowsiness. And of course, the magazine aisle at the supermarket (“Ten Ways to Drive Him Wild!”) would simply be out of the question.

Holidays about refraining from things tend not to catch on, though, so maybe we would do better by imitating Thanksgiving’s success and thinking about religious affections like gratitude that have wider appeal. How about Joy Day, or Awe Day, or Awesome Joy Day? I can imagine families creating annual traditions like climbing mountains or watching sunsets over lakes, ooo-ing and aaaah-ing together in ritual unison. Irritated mothers could scold the children because “We’re supposed to feel joy today, and instead all I hear is bicker bicker bicker!” As for the potential commercial tie-ins—the true test of any holiday—here we’re on firm ground. Can’t you envision the confetti displays at Target, or the TV ads touting educational, awe-related gifts like telescopes? Can’t you see Dad getting frustrated because yet again, he pulls out the May pole from the attic, and all those stupid streamers are tangled because someone didn’t bother to put it away right last year?

On second thought, never mind. Who am I kidding? Any new holiday would eventually, inevitably, devolve into a shallow, commercialized version of itself. Any new tradition would slowly slump toward ennui, given enough mileage on the odometers of the celebrants. It’s the Law of Ritual Entropy. So let’s not spoil perfectly good Christian virtues and affections by turning them into holidays.

Instead, I think I’ll just rustle up some diligence and patience and charity and kindness, and maybe even a little awesome joy, and do my best in the next six weeks to get all the tasks done, love my family, worship the Lord, and maybe even have a little fun.

I have published books on motherhood, Christian spirituality, and language in worship. I write regularly about all sorts of topics for The Twelve, and I teach literature and writing at Calvin College, where I have served on the faculty since 1996.

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