Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Irish Sea from Iona ~ July 2006


May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work that you do
with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal
to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert,
approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

John O'Donoghue
Anam Cara -- Spiritual Blessing from a Celtic World

Friday, December 29, 2006

What We Don't Know

The Polar Bear has written a great entry on the topic of our tendency to believe that we understand each other when, in fact, we don't "really know." We think that our own limited experience, leavened with a hefty dose of uninformed opinion, endows us with authority on the lives of others. Polar Bear's plethora of examples caused me to think of a few of my own:

Too young for love? I fell head over heels in love for the first time at the ripe old age of eleven, with the result that my innocent adoration of the smartest boy in the class was dismissed as puppy love. Really dismissed, as I discovered a couple of years ago when I stopped by to see him and my father stared at me blankly when I said, "You don't remember how crazy I was about him? You don't remember how, in that pre-feminist era, I dreamed of becoming Mrs. Adams?" (Morticia, to be exact.)

I went to visit the man in question because I ran into his younger sister and learned where he is. He has been massively disabled by disease and spends his days staring at the television in the nursing home bed to which he is confined. Nevertheless, the wit and intelligence I remember from sixth grade are still lodged in his head as is, I found to my surprise, his memory of me -- the little girl whom an 11-year-old boy could never have admitted to "liking."

That first kiss, engineered over Spin-the-Bottle (which, as we all know, "doesn't count") was long ago, but the feelings were strong enough that I haven't forgotten them.

*****

Too old for grief? My father has been widowed three times and divorced once. After his wife died two years ago, he told me that in some ways it was harder than it had been when he was 28 and lost a child as well, or when he was 38 and lost a wife for the second time in a decade. "At those times," he said, "I had young children to think of, and work to hang onto. Now. . .what?" He has filled his life with his interests and the companionship of friends, but he is not too old to feel the devastation of an empty home in which conversation and laughter once reigned.

*****

Too stubborn for reality? A few nights ago when visiting extended family, we were treated to my brother-in-law's and 14-year-old niece's views on the idiocy of rebuiding New Orleans. "How stupid can people be?" asked the young lady. "They can do whatever they want, but don't ask me to insure it with my tax dollars!" exclaimed her father.

My mild references to NOLA as a significant port city, critical to our economy, and to the fact that it is HOME for thousands of people, made no impression. But then my own 19-year-old daughter began to talk, and her uncle and cousin fell silent.

"When I was volunteering there last spring," she said, "we were working on one house and a guy came around and asked us to talk to a lady at another house. So we walked a couple of blocks and there she was, with all her stuff piled outside, insisting that she wanted to keep it all. 'Ma'am,' we said, as gently as we could, 'you can't keep it. It's all mildewed and ruined and it will make you sick. We really have to take it away.' And she sat there and watched, staring at us, as we put all her wordly possessions into bags to be carted away. She was LIVING ON HER PORCH."

(That would have been six or eight months or so after Katrina.)

*****

No, we don't know.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Post Holiday Strike of the Infernal Intestinal Whatever


The image? A new favorite. Very lovely, I think. It was once part of the choir screen at Chartres Cathedral but was removed and BURIED when architectural fashion changed. Apparently its burial saved its life; it was rediscovered and is on display in the crypt below the cathedral, one of the few places we did not go this summer. I didn't feel any need to pay to see the relic of Chartres: the shift which Mary allegedly wore when giving birth to Jesus and the reason why the cathedral has been re-erected repeatedly after the various fires that have destroyed it. If I had known about this sculpture, I would have gone downstairs ~ oops! guess we'll have to go back.

It was a nice but exhausting couple of days, ending rather abruptly earlier today:

* my father visited for two days en route to my stepsister's in Chicago for Christmas. We enjoyed his company tremendously, although I was unable to manage much in the way of hostessy behavior -- I slept through an entire morning and then there was all that shopping. . . .

* a Christmas Eve morning service, a Christmas Eve evening service with the whole family at our previous and magnificent Methodist church (see yesterday's picture), a Christmas Eve party at which we learned that some members of our close circle of friends had been felled by an intestinal virus that the rest of us began to await with trepidation, and a midnight service at our Presbyterian church which my son and I attended together. The Lovely Daughter's response the next morning, when I commented on how odd it was to be packed into a church at midnight with so many people whom I had never laid eyes on before, and how some of them were sitting where I usually sit: "So did you tell them to take their finicky faith and move it to another pew?!?" (The Lovely Daughter, one notes, was not in attendance herself.)

* a lovely time opening presents on Christmas morning with children who no longer rise at 4:00 am to ascertain that SC has been by, whose wants are simple, and whose gifts to others reveal thoughtfulness and generosity

* one last afternoon of cleaning and preparation

* a dinner with friends of two decades (excepting the several brand new victims of the intestinal menance), sitting and conversing for hours and remembering years when we were lucky to grab five minutes of adult conversation. Among the children are seven born in the summer and fall of 1984, meaning that there were years when among the 30-40 people present were seven four-year-olds, and then seven five-year-olds, and then. . . you get the picture.

* the boys and a friend from kindergarten onward conversing in the kitchen as we fell asleep sometime after midnight. The morning revealed that they ate leftover stuffing from the fridge instead of the dish I left out for them, did not refrigerate the latter, and left the doors unlocked when they went to bed. At least they unplugged the tree lights, so the house still stands.


* a trip to the in-laws, shortened by the arrival, at 2:00 this morning, of the puke-every-hour-or-so thing. After much discussion of what to do when five adults get sick/are about to get sick, three of us have come home, having decided to make the drive before we couldn't, and two of us are asleep three hours away. If they can't drive tomorrow, their grandparents will keep an eye on them but will, I hope, stay physically away and not succumb themselves. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Real Candles at Midnight

Christmas 2006
Thanks to the son of friends for the photo!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas! (Posting Early)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness ~ on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fourth Sunday of Advent: It's Christmas Eve!

If you are celebrating Christmas, may your day be full of the holiness and joy of the light.

If you are celebrating Festivus, may your day be full of laughter and music and light.

If you are celebrating Chanukah, may your day be full of promise and liberation and light.

If you are celebrating Kwanzaa, may your day be full of community and energy and light.

If you are enduring loss and loneliness, may the darkness herald the light that will come again one day.



*******

And may you all have better luck than me! I was at the grocery at 8:00 this morning, picking up the free range turkeys who range no more and other last minutes requirements for tomorrow's feast. I tried to add two bottles of Spanish wine to our collection (I've been purchasing a couple of bottles every day for the past week as I have slowly filled the kitchen with goodies) in honor of the son who spent the last two summers in Barcelona, only to be informed that wine cannot be purchased before 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. I was dressed and ready for church, and thinking that Jesus, as I recall, drank plenty of wine, and I was, I'm afraid, a bit out of sorts at this revelation ~ but hey, I'm glad that our legislature is on top of all the many needs of our state. A prohibition on the purchase of wine before 10:00 a.m. on Sunday certainly tops my list!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Advent 21: Almost

California


The Vatican


Chartres



In Which Changes Are Recorded

We have lived in our house for nearly 23 years.

When we moved in, I loved that wallpaper with the little country pattern, rust on cream.

What was I thinking?

Who on earth was I?

I was a lawyer, with twins on the way (I didn't know that there were two when we moved in on the coldest day of at least the decade) and plans for the perfect suburban life.

Needless to say, that life did not exactly materialize.

And so now I want bold color, I want the ocean, I want a background for photographs of Iona and Chartres.

We haven't unearthed the chairs and dishes yet. But we'll find them today.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Year of Churches

I've been thinking about that "Why church?" question that I want to address in the new year, and I've taken a look back at where I've been this year. It's been rather an amazing twelve months. (Most of these images enlarge reasonably well with a click.)

December 24, 2005: The United Methodist Church to which we belonged for many years and where we still spend Christmas Eve. When the congregation raises its 500 candles at the close of the service, the sight from the balcony is awesome.

The Chapel of the Martyrs, Paris, July 7, 2006: I spent an hour in this place where St. Ignatius and his first companions made their first vows together, thereby creating the Society of Jesus. I was nearing the end of my year long Ignatian Retreat-in-Everyday-Life experience, and I count that as the most moving hour of my personal 2006.

St. Chappelle, Paris, July 7, 2006: We visited in the late afternoon and returned for a Vivaldi concert that night. Listening to The Four Seasons in St. Chapelle was the perfect ending to a moving day.


Chartres Cathedral, France, July 2006: I posted many of my Chartres images last summer. Each time I look at them, a different one captures my imagination. I've already noted that one of the things I love about a great cathedral is the way in which it incorporates everything. Look at all the different forms stone takes in this one corner on the south exterior!

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, July 2006: There are few experiences comparable to spending a day in the shadow of this extraordinary building. Of course, Notre Dame de Paris is awfully symmetrical, in contrast to the glorious conglomeration that constitutes Notre Dame de Chartres.

Iona Abbey, Scotland, July 2006: A completely different encounter with the sacred. From the Druids to the Celts to the Benedictines and Dominicans to the Calvinist Reformers to the Iona Community ~ we have all been there and it seems that we all still are.


Glasgow Cathedral, July 2006: Another day in the company of Catholics and Protestants, with an afternoon spent in a solitary walk around and through a cemetery full of Celtic crosses and Reformation proclamations. A rather exhausting place to be, actually, for someone whose idea about differences in belief is that we are called to handle them graciously and generously.

Ursuline Convent Chapel, southern Ohio, September 2006. I was there for a reunion with my boarding school classmates of 7th~9th grade. Who could have imagined the journey that I was beginning there, that sullen Protestant girl sitting in the pew and glaring at the priest through the endless Latin of pre-Vatican II masses?

******

Oddly, the one church of which I have no photographs at all is the one to which I belong and where I spend so much time! I'll have to rectify that situation this year, now that I have smashed the travel bank to smithereens.





Advent 19 and 20: Mary and Elizabeth

Chartres Cathedral * July 2006


In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

(Luke 1:39-48)

*****

After the longest night, light.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's Coming! (Dedicated to Kathryn)


Tonight.

The longest night.

My last name gives me reason to believe that my love for Celtic voices is lodged in my DNA. And last night I discovered a delightful example of the bridge between contemporary and long-ago Celtic expression
here, thanks to a blogger who is able to claim a much closer and more distinct connection than the one I imagine.

Turn up your sound, take a few moments, and
enjoy!

The days will begin to lengthen and the dark will recede ~


(Images: Iona, July 2006)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Advent 18: Christianity: Does It Work Anymore?

I can't do this topic justice in the few minutes I have allotted myself this morning, but I want to sketch the basics so that I can come back to it in the new year. . . .

The setting: Mexican Restaurant, Post Women's Service of Lessons and Carols.

The cast: Two of the four young ladies who have been friends since first grade and are now college sophomores. (The other two aren't home yet.) Three of the four moms. Representative of Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations.

The service just attended: Nine lessons and carols, with a nod to the King's College, Cambridge original, but revisted with scriptural and other sacred writings and songs honoring the Biblical story through the experiences of its women. A Lessons and Carols which honors Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Tamar, Mary and the other Marys, Martha, Rahab, and others.

Main points of the conversation, largely prompted by one of the moms and largely responded to by me, with some morning-after commentary also by me:

Point I: The stories are meaningless to me. Who are these people and who cares? I don't like big stories about people from thousands of years ago. Talk to me about the guys on Mount Hood, or the entire family of four just killed in the plane crash. What are their stories? Who were they and what mattered to them?

Response: But they are all the same stories. They are all stories about who people are, how they live and what they care about, who they are before God and what matters about their existence.

Response to response: Well, why don't we talk about that, then? That's what I want to hear and talk about.

Note:
As meaningful as the metanarrative of Christianity is to some of us, to others of us it is just so much nonsense. If we can't make it come alive in the story of men who risk and lose everything on Mount Hood, then it's not a story for all time.

Point 2: Christianity is so ethereal. All this spirit stuff. I want the real stuff.

Response: What I have been thinking about over the past year is how earthy and bodily Christianity is. Christianity is a religion for real humans with real bodies and physical concerns. Look at what happens: birth and crucifixion, body and blood. People talk about the meek and mild Mary, but she has long been wrapped up in blue robes with her gentle hand on a sweet baby. Men, in particular, have seldom talked about her in terms of courage and physicality. But unless your experiences were very different from mine, there was nothing meek and mild going on when you were giving birth.

Note:
We don't talk about what really happened. We all share in the life experience of Jesus or, more accurately, he was here to share in ours. But we do keep him at a distance.

Point 3: None of it makes any sense. What kind of God would bring his child here only to send him to his death? Today we would call that child abuse. The story is no longer one for our time.

Response: But the story is about God breaking into our world, about how there is a dimension of space and time (or maybe something else) beyond what we can describe, a dimension that we can grasp in some small way even though it makes no sense in the ways we ordinarily look at life.

Note:
There was general agreement at the table that we are surrounded by the Divine ~ but also anger and resentment that that sense mostly eludes us and that the church and its stories do little to alleviate our feeling of disengagement.

Point 4: We need to talk more about our own present. There was a brief period in the service tonight when we were invited to share with one or two people the names of women who have served as spiriutal mentors in our lives. I would have liked to have heard the whole group on that. And there was another part where we prayed aloud -- and all the prayers, for women and children far away and in pain and terror and loss, by this group of very privilged women sitting in warmth and comfort, rang false to me. I wanted to pray about the realities of our lives, but I felt that that would be out of place.

Response: Agreed. I would have liked to hear what every woman there had to say in response to the first question and I had wanted to pray for every one of our daughters. As I had looked around the room, I realized that I knew the names of the daughters of all the women there who are in my generation ~ but it did seem out of place to pray for them, all safely in jobs and colleges and good schools, at that particular time.

Comment: Ignatius made the argument four centuries ago that we come to God through our experience and imagination, and so we do. Protestants are found of arguing for the primacy of the Bible, but if the post-service discussion last night revealed anything at all, it was how critical it is to our apprehension of God that our experience be honored, and how difficult it is for good and generous people of the 21st century to grasp the import of scripture in the absence of reverence toward who they are, who they have been, and who they are becoming.

Well. That was one sacred and challenging and envigorating evening. And one way or another, all be be well and all will be well. (Julian of Norwich) The story is always unfolding.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Advent 17: The Wise Women

Night before last, Husband, Chicago Son, and I went to the traditional Kings' College Choir Service of Lessons and Carols at our church. It's one of the most powerful evenings of music that we share, beginning with that solitary a cappella child's voice singing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City, a hymn that then morphs into the sounds of full choir and congregation and brass. We had all new readings this year, which is how I came up with yesterday's posting of the Denise Levertov poem.

I think you can listen to the whole service from Cambridge
here. The readings there are probably somewhat more traditional.

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of going to the airport to pick up the Lovely Daughter and one of her best friends, a young lady she has known since Montessori first grade, who also goes to college in Oregon. Although they usually drive themselves these days, it was a delight to taxi them home, as I have on occasion for thirteen years now.

And in a little while, both girls will join me at our Service of Womens' Lessons and Carols. I posted about this event last year, so for tonight I'm just going to do a repeat. It's worth reading again.


"Long ago, women of wisdom from all over the earth began to gather together: mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters, cousins and aunts. They converged in order to witness and to midwife the birth of a holy little girl-child of mid-Eastern descent . . . perhaps an Iraqi.

This was distressing to the Herods of the earth, who are ever distressed and fearful when women gather together: the male Herods because of their fear that someone might displace them, and the female Herods because someone else might be the fairest of them all. The Herods asked the wise women where the child was to be born: 'Return and tell us,' they said, 'so that we may worship too!' (In other words, give us your wisdom.")

The wise women went on and found the place and helped the birth to come about. And they brought with them gifts -- corn, squash, beans, and bread -- these symbolizing the interconnectedness of all of life, gifts that could be used to feed the whole world.

So instead of the ancient gifts we've been told were brought -- gold for royalty, frankincense for worship of divinity, and myrhh for the embalming of the dead -- these women brought other gifts. Instead of royalty, they brought humility. Instead of worship, they brought partnership. Instead of death, they brought the knowledge of how to live.

And when they had offered their gifts, knowing that they dare not go back to Herod and to the old ways, they made their home with this child. . . and thereby came home in a different way.

Because of that, there was no slaughter of the innocents -- and no Rachel weeping for her children."

(Image: Giotto, 1304-1306)


Monday, December 18, 2006

Advent 16: Annunciation by Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc

We know the scene:
the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book;
always the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador,
standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience.
No one mentions courage.

The engendering Spirit did not
enter her without consent.

God waited. She was free to accept or to refuse,
choice integral to humanness.

____________________________
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from in dread,
in a wave of weakness,
in despair and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

______________________________
She had been a child who played, ate,
slept like any other child –
but unlike others, wept only for pity,
laughed in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence fused in her,
indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

only asked a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness;
to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity;
to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power –
in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air,
a Man-child needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,

Spirit,
suspended,
waiting.

____________________________
She did not cry, "I cannot,
I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.

Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent 15: John the Baptist

While I have been absorbed (see previous post) by Mary and her story, I have, in fact, given some thought to that wild man, John. My Jewish students were asking me about the practice of baptism the other day, and I was telling them that I have only ever seen one full-immersion baptism, in a river, no less. Several years ago as the kids and I were enjoying a post-tubing-trip swim in a quiet and narrow section of the French Broad in North Carolina, a small church group arrived to use the outfitter's river access as a baptismal font. The fully clothed minister and several of his congregation waded right in to chest depth. (Feeling a little awkward, we stayed out in the middle of the river until the event was concluded.) That's the closest I've gotten to a John the Baptist scene.

But I digress. As I said, I'm much more engaged by Mary this year, as I was last. But I started thinking that Caravaggio must have painted John the Baptist. He would not have missed a subject of so much dark and light. And indeed, he did not. Herewith, some artistic renderings of today's subject ~ (and, as you can see, I managed to find one with Mary, too):

Bouguereau, 1875

Caravaggio, c. 1610

Moscow School, 1560s

da Vinci, 1513-1516

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Advent 14: Moving On

The Annunciation
Henry Ossawa Tanner


I was getting restless a couple of days ago. What happened to the Annunciation and the Magnificat? The Big Stuff? How long were we going to wander around in Isaiah and with John the Baptist? Not that I don't love the beauty and magnificence of Isaiah. But this is turning out to be the slowest Advent ever. So I scrolled ahead and found what I was looking for ~ but it doesn't show up this year until CHRISTMAS EVE.

Well, I'm moving on. I want to look at Annunciation art. I want to think about Mary.

Last year about this time I came to the realization that the Mary we think we know, the demure, humble, and modest young woman of Nazareth, probably bears little resemblance to the real Mary. It seems to me that the Mary so often portrayed in art and music and story may represent the blind misreadings of a patriarchal church of the subsequent 2,000 years more than she does the real girl who found herself in something of a predicament and decided to honor the gift and the challenge.

Just think about the fourteen-year-old young ladies you know and imagine the attitude it would take for them to stand up to parents, fiance', extended family, and friends in Mary's circumstances. Imagine the courage. Imagine the sense of being enfolded into the wildest plan God could imagine and recognizing the pivotal role you are being asked to play. Imagine bearing God's peace and justice into this world.

Imagine the light.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Advent 13: Lights

It's taken me all night, but the outdoor lights, mostly blue and green with a little pink on the dogwood to one side, and the tree lights, the big old-fashioned brightly-colored ones except for the star with white lights on top, are all up. James Galway music is on. The husband is almost finished painting the dining room ceiling, which I guess means the sanding is behind us and the plaster dust has finally settled. Everywhere.

But it doesn't matter because I've just been outside. I always forget about the wonderful moment when I go across the street and look at the lights shining around the porch and from the tree through the front windows.

Magic.


And, let's not forget:

Happy Chanukah!

Vent Rant I Can't Stand It Whatever

I don't know what on earth I am going to do if I ever get really sick. Cancer or something. That little trip to the ER a couple of months ago? OK, I was in unbelieveable agony and so I am glad there was someone there to shoot me up with something. I'm equally glad they told me to go home four hours and $1400 later. But the regular kind of medical visit? COUNT ME OUT.

I have just had my third experience in the past six months of waiting over an hour to see a doctor for something that, once the MD-person actually materialized, took all of 15 minutes. Today it was a new gynecologist. I was forced into making an in-person appearance because I need a mammogram and, therefore, a prescription for same. (With my doc of the past 20+ years, a phone call was sufficient. I did go to see him on occasion, but I stretched the guidelines to the outermost limit and then some. I figure he agreed with me that we spent enough time together during the two days it took the Lovely Daughter to get here.)

This new doc was very nice and I am sure she is an excellent physician. I was sort of looking forward to beginning a new relationship with a doctor, since I am reaching That Age Where Things Change and, with my tried and true OB leaving the scene, it would be nice to develop a sense of confidence in someone else.

Not likely.

When a doctor is already more than an hour behind when she sees you, she isn't looking for the drama or stories a medical history reveals. Overdue twins? A vbac at a time when 95% of women were signed up for a repeat section, no questions asked? A major surgery and a minor one? All old, old stories. I myself am passionate about stories and what they reveal about the characters therein. Mine tend to reveal someone with something of a stubborn streak. Someone who might lie to get what she wants. But, as I said, they're old stories.

However, what about that little rise in blood pressure? What about those one or two little nagging concerns you mention? What about the fact that, if the doctor paid attention, she could easily see that you are working on practically a hypnotic trance to get yourself through this little visit?

I hate it. I HATE GOING TO THE DOCTOR. I cannot think of one single thing about a doctors' office or a hospital that I find remotely tolerable.

I'm thinking that my good health is a precious thing, indeed, and I'd better stay this way.
This amazing work of artistry is brought to you by the folks over at Quotidian Grace, where the author of that illustrious blog suggested a need for the sappiest Christmas Song Ever. In addition to QG and GG, the inspired lyricists include Psalmist, Presbyterian Gal, Rev Dave, purechristianithink, and Toby Brown.

Pets Need Christmas, Too: A Sappy Christmas Song

C'est Fini!

~cue the steel gee-tars~
And grab your hanky.

The Sappy Christmas Song is dedicated by Gannet Girl to the memory of Gretel, The Noble Dog, who surely would have walked away in disgust.

Pets Need Christmas, Too

'Twas lonely at the manse that Christmas Eve
As the pastor's dog waited under the tree
Buster's health was failing fast
When an angel came and asked
"Hey there Buster, I come to lift
Your sorry state with a heavenly gift"
She drew out a biscuit from her robe
And held it under Buster's nose.
"Smell this old friend, isn't it fine?
Guess what! It's 'Doggie Communion Time!!!

"Pets need Christmas too....
Just like me and Yoooooou....
When Santa lights Jesus' birthday cake......
Pets need Christmas too................

But the offering of that angel bright was not yet done,
For as soon as she had begun,
She served old Buster a dish of wassail true
And then, the dog did feel his strength returning,
Just then, with a flash of silken fur
The minister's cat, with a lordly purrA
nd a silver bell hung around his neck,A
nnounced, "No eggnog?! What the heck?

"Pets need Christmas too....
Just like me and Yoooooou....
When Santa lights Jesus' birthday cake......
Pets need Christmas too................

But cats are notoriously intrepid and brave
Especially when it's that eggnog they crave
And this one, with feline grace and speed
Leapt to the counter with little heed
For the cookies and cakes impeding her glide
And toward the vast bowl of eggnog did slide.
and drank deeply with kitty glee
and headed off to climb the Christmas tree

Pets need Christmas too....
Just like me and Yoooooou....
When Santa lights Jesus' birthday cake......
Pets need Christmas too................

But the nog had been spiked with whiskey,
(The pastor was not baptist, you see,)
Making the kitty rocky on his feet,
And seeing not one but two trees.
In one was her own dear mama
Dead these years gone by
She was hit in the road by an eggnog truck
And lives with that Lion in the sky.

Pets need Christmas too....
Just like me and Yoooooou....
When Santa lights Jesus' birthday cake......
Pets need Christmas too................

So I sing this sad song from the kitty stockade,
Awaitin' the hangin' tree:
I'm guilty of my sainted cat mama's death,
And as sorry as a drunk cat can be.
Dear Santa, if you're hearing my song,
Give my mama a message from me.
Tell her I'll look for her at the pearly gates,
And we'll go climb St. Pete's Christmas tree.

Pets need Christmas too....
Just like me and Yoooooou....
When Santa lights Jesus' birthday cake......
Pets need Christmas too................

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Advent 12: We Are Still Waiting


"I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do

I wore my coat, with golden lining
Bright colors shining, wonderful and new
And in the east, the dawn was breaking
And the world was waking
Any dream will do

A crash of drums, a flash of light
My golden coat flew out of sight
The colors faded into darkness
I was left alone

May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do."

*********************

Tonight I celebrated Advent by going to a production of Joseph in which three of my students have lead roles. They were FABULOUS!

If you know this musical, the tunes will adhere to your brain as soon as you read the lyrics and will replay for days. That's certainly been my experience as the kids have talked about their work over the past few weeks.

They, of course, don't see it as an Advent production. But Advent is about the powerful movement of the Divine. So Advent it is.

"You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good."
Genesis 50:20

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Advent 11: On the Question: Why Church?

Glasgow Cathedral


I came across this a few days ago, and it presents part of the answer:

"The postmodern mind is haunted. A great religious tradition is the home of wisdom. It is the public locus in a culture where the great eternal, spiritual questions are kept alive and kindled. Kept clear of unworthy answers, they invite each epoch to journey toward the inner and outer frontiers of its possibility and potential. This is the enthralling task of theology: to probe those frontiers anew in each generation. Never was there such possibility for ground-breaking conversation and exploration. But it is not happening. The hunger is intense. The keepers of the treasure are frightened, discouraged and blind to the nourishment of which they are custodians. The hungry ones now think less and less of revisiting religion as the granary of divine nourishment. The keepers of the food and the victims of the hunger pass each other by with little recognition of the enriching possibilities they have to offer each other."

John O'Donohue
Spirituality as the Art of Real Presence
Here

Commenting

Apparently there is yet another glitch in blogger beta. As far as I can tell, you cannot comment on a beta blog if you are signed into Blogger but have not switched to beta yourself.

The solution seems to be either to switch to beta (forced mass marketing) or to sign in under a different server than the one you use for Blogger.

Or just send me a comment and I'll post it myself.

I was wondering whether I was simply boring everyone into disappearing.

There are other commenting glitches, too, even when you are on beta, but they seem inconsistent.

It's a pain. This is approximately the first anniversary of the Great AOL Advertising Debacle that brought many of us to Blogger in the first place. At the time, I was as frustrated by the glitches in the system changes that made it impossible for me to post anything at all for several days as I was irritated by the advertising. And here we are again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent 10: Reprise

I guess I was thinking about the same things last year as this. We got the tree tonight and it's shaking itself itself down in the living room, and I told the Lovely Daughter over the phone that it was already here ~ which saddened me a bit but did not perturb her in the least.

From last year about this time:

At this particular moment, I'm listening live to the Christmas Vespers concert from my boarding school in western Massachusetts. My son made it home from Chicago tonight and, as I waited for his flight to arrive, I reflected on how things have changed. If I were a teenager in the Connecticut Valley, I would be in a candle-lit chapel participating in a concert of haunting beauty and anticipating my own flight home. But now when I go to the airport at holiday time, it's to pick up and drop off -- my own Christmas traveling days are long behind me.

For the last couple of years I could deny it, but this year I can't: all three children have gone and we are the ones at home, anticicpating their return. It's an odd feeling. They all have lives, activities, friends, far from us. We've never met either of our sons' most important girlfriends of the past couple of years. When they come back, they spend some time with their best friends of those Montessori years past, the closely knit group that numbered only 15 by the time they graduated from eighth grade and headed for six or seven different high schools ~ and then they are eager to return to the lives they have created as young adults.

I found myself thinking tonight that maybe we should have had the tree decorated and waiting for them. It's always been a family tradition that the five of us choose the tree together, with much squabbling over height and width, and then decorate it over the course of a week. But Christmas will be only a week away by the time the Lovely Daughter returns -- maybe it's time to revamp that tradition and create a festive atmosphere to welcome them home.

I'd like to turn the clock back at least a few years.



Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent 7, 8, 9 ~ It Goes By Too Quickly

Christmas Eve 2004

It has occurred to me that this is the last year in which we can count on all three of our children being home for Christmas. The guys will probably (one hopes!) both be employed by this time next year; the Lovely Daughter hopes to be studying in Europe. As Jobs and Significant Others and Spouses and Grandchildren gradually become realities, the committments of these past two decades will be transformed. Already we are abandoning our family tradition of choosing the tree together, and instead making plans to get a tree tomorrow night and set it up before the kids come home next week-end, so there will be more time to enjoy and less need to run around once they are here.

This time of life reminds me of when they were tiny: as soon as you thought you understood what was going on and found routines and systems that more or less worked, everything changed and you had to devise a new plan. Next year may see them in Chicago, France, and the Czech Republic. Or not. And the year after that? Completely unpredictable.

*****

On the I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas front: the plastering is completed and looks great, but the thin layer of dust covering walls, furniture, poinsettias, piano, and Baby Jesus and entourage? Not so much.

*****

On
The Friendly Beasts front, the following conversation took place between my neighbor (on the other side from the previous neighbor) and me this morning:

Neighbor: You know your soffit is falling down on the front corner.


Me: Yes, I know.

Neighbor: That's how the squirrels got into our crawl space. We can hear them up there. They've made nests in the insulation.

Me: Sigh. I had, actually, been thinking about the squirrels.

Neighbor: We chopped all the branches away from our gutters. I was watching today, and the squirrels seem unperturbed. They just ran up the trees by your house instead, and into your attic.

Me: Actually, I couldn't think of anything else to say about the disturbing presence of the squirrels. My neighbor's daughter, who lives in Germany, is in the same condition that I was 23 years ago, expecting twins, so we turned to that much more cheerful topic.

*****

I notice that the lyrics to The Friendly Beasts are not inclusive of squirrels.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Second Sunday of Advent

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" (Luke 3:1-6)


I just got back from a Messiah presented by a small but magnificent orchestra playing the baroque instruments for which Handel originally wrote. Such an evening! And the words of Isaiah are ringing in my ears.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Advent 5 and 6: Have You Seen a Child?

I've been indulging in one of my favorite holiday pastimes and listening to a recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors (while I washed down the kitchen floor in a house where plaster dust reigns supreme -- okay, no evening is perfect).

Amahl was a favorite in a childhood that was on the short side. We must have seen it on television once or twice in the 50s, and my father took my brother and I to a production in Cincinnati in the early 60s. I'm guessing 1962, as I remember that I promptly memorized most of the score from the record album jacket. I sang it to myself over and over as I wandered the dusty paths around the Florida cottages where my brother and I spent much of the following March with our grandparents while our father was off marrying Stepmother No. 1. I was nine, and the marriage was an unwelcome one from my perspective.

Oddly, Amahl, maybe because of his own status as a child of loss and resiliency, never lost his magic for me. For years I insisted that my own children settle down to watch a video production each December, and a few years ago we all went to see a wonderful production at the Institute of Music here. It never grows old.

If you aren't familiar with this little operetta written for children, I urge you to pick up a CD and sit down for an hour to listen with the script in hand. From the humor of the impoverished young boy who can't bring himself to come in from the night where he is mesmerized by "a star as large as a window," moving across the sky "like a chariot on fire," to the frustration of the skeptical mother who tells him to try telling the truth "for a change," to the perplexing arrival of the three kings, among them Caspar with his box of beads and stones and licorice, to the mixed motives among the small cast of characters that finally yield up the first miracle of Christmas -- it's a wonderful production.

And
the haunting quartet sung by mother and kings (click on number 14) captures the essence of the moment both out of and in time that we celebrate this month:

Have you seen a child the color of wheat, the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild, His hands are those of a King, as King he was born.
Incense, myrrh and gold we bring to his side,
and the Eastern star is our guide.

Yes, I know a child, the color of wheat, the color of dawn.
His eyes are mild, his hands are those of a King, as King he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or gold, though sick and poor and hungry and cold.
He's my child, my son, my darling, my own.

HappyHolidaysHappyChanukahMerryChristmas


A question about holiday greetings elicited a number of comments on the PresbyBlog site, most of them lighthearted. My own vignettes on the subject:

The topic of appropriate greetings actually comes up for me all the time, since I teach in a Jewish school. It seems clear to me that it would be the height of rudeness and insensitivity to wish a Merry Christmas to someone who finds in Christianity a flat negation of everything she holds dear. On the other hand, I think it's a gesture of generosity to extend the appropriate greeting to someone who celebrates an event that you do not. Some of my students wish me a Merry Christmas with great warmth. Others tell me that it is halachically (legally) forbidden for them to do so.

A couple of mornings ago I walked in to work from the snow humming music from the Messiah that had been playing on my car CD. The front hallway had been decorated with rather an abundance of huge construction-paper dreidels hanging from the ceiling. Dreidels and an off-key "For unto us a child is born..." ~ that's my day.

The other night I asked the janitors, neither of any evident religious persuasion, whether they celebrate Christmas. They both do, and laughed about being in the minority where we work. "OK," I said. "I'm just looking for people to whom I can say "Merry Christmas" at the appropriate time." I admit it; I miss it. That same night one of the men on the personnel committee at church came to a meeting directly from work wearing a tie decorated with Christmas trees. That would just not fly at my place of employment ~ although I do wear a lot of Celtic jewelry and no one comments. I think most people have no idea about the symbolism, although I know for sure that one person does.

I love Christmas lights. Like many parents, we used to pile our jammied-kids in the car one evening during the holidays and drive them around to see all the lights, including the extravaganza at the local lighting company. I've always loved late-night drives during this season, thinking about what the lights represent. And then a few years ago I was reading a Chaim Potok novel in which one of the characters thinks, as he walks home through the city streets one Christmas night after school, that each light represents to him one of six million fellow Jews murdered in the Holocaust. You might find that a bit extreme if you're not Jewish, but it's seldom far from my mind, the thought of what might have happened to any of my own students had they been born two or three generations earlier. So I still love Christmas lights, but now there's a certain inner tension that I balance as I gaze at them.

Tension. I guess that's what we don't appreciate during the holidays. Christmas or Passover; we want interactions among strangers to go smoothly and meals to go well. It's not so easy, but I persist in believing that the way to make it easier is to acknowledge the complications.

So . . . for my winter photo today, I'm avoiding both my own advice and monotheistic celebrations, and going with the Greeks, as revived in the cemetery where I walk.

And it's Friday. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hired!

We have some really, really good news around here. Several days ago our eldest son (yes, even with twins, one is older then the other) received a much desired job offer. For a real job. The kind where you get up every day and go to work doing some kind of adult thing with computers and you get paid and have benefits and a Future with the Company. The kind that required two interviews and, prior to those, the purchase of a suit and overcoat and dress shoes.

I keep thinking about the little blond boy who used to spend entire afternoons on construction projects in the backyard sandbox, running into the kitchen ocasionally to advise me on his progress or ask about the finer details of engineering.

He didn't reveal nearly as much about his job search. It's such a grueling process, especially for someone whose natural inclination is to shy away from self-promotion and group interaction. Occasionally he would ask us questions, revealing that naivete about the work of work that we all experience as we leave school, and reminding me how many mistakes I made in what now seems like another lifetime. Luckily for him, he is already a far more deliberate and thoughtful person than I could ever be.

One of the most delightful aspects of the whole situation for me is to see our faith in the value of a liberal arts education vindicated. Several people have asked whether our son has majored in business or computer science. We live in a world in which people increasingly seem to see college as a trade school, with certain majors as a necessary foundation for specific areas of employment, but in this household we tend to embrace the luxurious vision of learning for its own sake, with the confidence that having learned to learn is the most important product of an academic education.

Of course, there are some specifics one should learn. One should, for instance, learn where to look. In a University of Chicago newspaper I picked up over Thanksgiving, a professor noted that it might have been of benefit to us all had the current President been familiar with
Thucydides' Melian debate before he embroiled us in war in Iraq. At Chicago, discussion of Thucydides is considered an essential of the first-year core experience, and my ninth grade world history students receive at least the most minute of introductions to his work. Yes, we are elitists around here. It would be better for the world if Mr. Bush shared a touch of that tendency in the form of curiosity and rigor of learning.

When we were visiting colleges, this son gave serious consideration to Davidson in North Carolina. Our tour guide mentioned that one of the major banks in the South was particularly enamoured of Davidson art history graduates, with one of its executives having concluded that they could teach anything at all about banking to a young person who had survived the Davidson art history curriculum.

My husband, who has spent thirty years in computer architecture and commercial management, takes a similar approach. These days, almost every technological skill is obsolete as soon as you have mastered it. The critical skill is to be able to master a new one.

For the record, the newly-employed-almost-graduate has taken plenty of higher math along with his endless sequences of courses in philosophy and civilizations. He does know how to learn across a wide spectrum of fields, despite his major in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine. So it's a pleasure to see that the company for which he will go to work lists among the majors of its new hires fields like Greek, Dance, English. . . and pretty much everything else. I hope that list means that he has found a good niche.

As for his mother, she is still working on learning how to pick up the books that represent that insistence upon the luxury of learning. They are EVERYWHERE.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent 3 and 4


I love having smart and talented friends who happen to be eloquent writers as well.


All I have left to do tonight is refer you to what Cynthia has to say about the church thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Saga Moves to the Exterior

If you have been following this distressing but scintillating tale, you know that my husband thought that plaster, paint, and dining room would make a good Advent combination.

So.

Today I'm standing in the drive giving my neighbor some mis-delivered mail and he points upward in the general direction of our roof and says, "Have you noticed that?"

Ice pulling down soffit and flashing. Rotted wood dangling from what was once a portion of the corner of the gutter.

Hmmmm.

"No," I said. "I have not noticed that, and I plan to continue not noticing it."

*****************************

I'm trying to remember the year we came home from an extended family holiday week-end to discover that the entire front gutter had come down. The first call was to the electric company, since it had brought wires down with it, and said wires lay waiting in live and murderous wait across the driveway. The next call was to the insurance lady, who said, "If you call again, you are going to lose your coverage." To which I said, "I am not responsible for the tornado last summer or the tree limbs that landed on the car, and I did not knock the second floor bathroom into the kitchen, and I did not spend New year's Eve pulling the gutter down onto the porch."

What I can't remember is whether we found anyone to replace the gutter during the winter or whether we had to wait it out till summer.

******************************

The theme song for this particular Advent episode is In the Bleak Midwinter.

Advent 2

OK, now I'm behind. Not on my interior Advent, but on writing about it. I got so engrossed in the plaster-and-paint issues yesterday ~ which only goes to make the point. Advent occurs in the midst of all the muck.

Some brief notes from yesterday, illustrated via the Iona nunnery, gone since the Reformation:

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD!"
~ Psalm 122:1

Much that was is lost. For none now live who remember it.
~ Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

A lot of my friends are mystified by the church thing in my life. Maybe I will write about that at some length after Advent. For now (since I am a day behind!) I will just say that it's a mystery to me, too. I do not have my friend Lynda's string of pins for thirteen years of perfect Sunday school attendance. I do not look like Mrs. Osteen in a pink suit and pearls. I schlep around in my jeans and clogs, nails always breaking off ~ and I have a life hugely full of the light of faith.

The church, whether you are thinking in terms of buildings or community, concrete or ineffablility, long ago past or paint-splattered present, is a repository for that light.

Barbara Brown Taylor has a wonderful sermon in which she speaks about a visit she made to the ruins of a church in present day Turkey (I think), and about her understanding of what can happen to a building and its community. A community and its building.

I can't entirely explain it. But tending that light is a good thing. And remarkably, even when the buildings turn to ruins and the community vanishes, the light remains.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent for Atheists (or, Dining Room Saga II)

I am not getting involved with the dining room, except for choosing colors.

In case it is not clear, I think December is sufficiently full absent any major projects, especially major projects that have already waited at least a decade for anyone to embark upon them anyway. I was thinking that just cleaning up and decorating the house and planning the annual meal extravaganza and interacting with our kids, plus taking time for a couple of movies and concerts, would constitute a full plate for one little holiday month.

As far as the colors are concerned, I am hoping it will look something like this blog. I am thinking about the colors of the Maine coast and the Algonquin wilderness. Two of the little jars on the kitchen counters have Yarmouth Blue and Nantucket Fog as names ~ maybe I will choose on that basis alone.

In the meantime, I have to say I got a chuckle out of QG's thought that we couldn't do Christmas if the dining room were torn up. We live in the City of Homes Under Demolition. A couple of years ago there was a full page spread in the New York Times Home section about a woman who was writing books and making LOTS OF MONEY off the fact that her house was not "done." "Most people wouldn't put up with this," she said. "The exposed ceiling, the wall knocked down to studs and lathe, the second floor leak down the newly painted first floor room."

I laughed hysterically as I called all my friends. "We could be RICH," I said. "There are people who think the way we live is noteworthy. Unusual, even. They pay good money to read about it. Money that could go to contractors."

So I'm probably going with the idea that someone at work floated this morning. "Bare plaster walls?" she said. "Tell everyone it's a Tuscan villa."

OK, Paul. I need to find those Italian cooking babes you wrote about, Rachel and Francesca. I'm thinking that this Christmas dinner will be one for the record books. We all know I can't cook, but I bet I can persuade my friends to bring stuff that matches the Tuscan walls. Lots of Italian food and lots of Italian wine.

And so far it seems that we are inviting atheists who don't celebrate Christmas, Jews who can't celebrate Christmas, members of the Church of Christ who won't celebrate Christmas, secular Christians who celebrate Frosty and Santa as Christmas . . . OK, par for the course. Bring on the wine. It all sounds exactly like the kind of gathering Jesus would attend.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Dining Room Saga

No tree yet. No lights. No gifts. No menu plan. I am beyond proud of myself for having picked up and vacuumed the living room today so that I could plunk poinsettias on the mantel and put the nativity set out on the piano. A touch of the season: a bit of living green, red, and white. My little carved figures, including shepherds with all kinds of instruments and sheep, as well as ducks, geese, and a turkey. I could invite someone into my front room and not pass out from embarrassment.

While I was foolishly engrossed in a Desperate Housewives rerun tonight, my husband ripped all of the paper off the dining room walls.

I am speechless. Perhaps I will simply remain in that state for the next 22 days. I think that might be best.

Advent 1 !

I just got back from a discussion of next Sunday's lectionary. We spent about an hour on this little phrase, so I'll just leave it here:

"...the dawn from on high will break upon us..."
Luke 1:78

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Advent D

This is it -- the last pre-Advent Day. Tomorrow it will be Advent 1.

I read something a few days ago, perhaps in our church bulletin, about Advent as a time of preparation reflective in some ways of the nesting instinct many women feel toward the end of pregnancy. I say "many women" because I myself recall no such instinct. Perhaps if you are pregnant with twins, meaning that by month seven you have reached the size usually achieved at month nine and are therefore staring down two MORE months in which your lungs and bladder have been squished into the tinest of somethings no longer resembling functioning organs, or if on Day 270 you are still unable to retain much of anything in your tummy (I could describe the effects more graphically but, in deference to the season, I will restrain myself), the concept of nesting is an elusive one. At any rate and for whatever reason, it wasn't something I experienced.

Today, however -- a different story. All you have to do is look at the disastrous consequences of my decision to reorganize our library and you will see that there is some serious nesting going on. Or you will see that the reason I never grasped end-of-pregnancy nesting is that the entire enterprise is simply beyond me.

Unless it's the
monk parakeet variety. In Hyde Park, where we visited our University of Chicago son last week-end, a squadron of monk parakeets took up residence some decades ago. Huge green birds who pass over your head in dive-bomber formation. And they build the most astonishing nests! They live in community, in massive and messy structures that look as if they could bring down trees or transformer poles with just the slightest of additions.

So I am a monk parakeet nester.

And it turns out that nesting, even my newfound version, is relevant to Advent. I received an email from an online friend today in which she mentioned that her Church of Christ does not recognize Christmas as a Christian holiday. Of course, I immediately plied her with questions, but my fascination with religious practices is unquenchable and well known, so I'm sure she's not surprised that I've already done my own search. I found one site that offered an explanation mostly in terms of the pagan origins of our Christmas celebrations, origins that render Christmas decidedly “un-Christian.”

Well, yes. The Romans and the Druids and I suppose other peoples as well had more to do with the dating and practices of Christmas as we know them today than Jesus and his parents did. But, with all due respect accorded to the good folks of the Church of Christ, I can’t claim to be perturbed in the slightest by those historical realities. Christmas is about something so spectacularly beyond our concept of space and time and, paradoxically, so completely enmeshed within our earthly existence and very human lives, that a little confusion over its celebration is to be expected.

Which makes Advent all the more important. Somehow we have to find a way, in four short weeks, to balance the excesses of money, gifts, and food in which we are about to partake against the birth of someone who is about to say, “Sell everything you have.” We have to balance the extravagance of our music and decorations against a chilly night on the outskirts of a small town. We have to balance our intellectual and scientific achievements against the appearance of a star that no one can explain.

It’s not surprising that we are a bit confused, or that our attempts to satisfy all those contradictory impulses render our solutions about as orderly as those of the monk parakeets, who remain under the impression that they are in the rain forest rather than Chicago and behave accordingly. (Probably a good thing, given the blizzard of the past few days. Those parakeet condos may have saved them.)

Luckily for us, the weeks ahead are for preparation, not perfection. Luckily for me, anyway. I realize that other people are better at all of this. Me? I need to create a lot of room ~ a wild nest for a wild event.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Advent C

Several weeks ago, I was asked to make a contribution to the Presbytery Advent devotional booklet, and so I did. I have no idea what happened to my submission ~ whether it was ever received or whether the booklet has been published. So it's possible that this piece of writing is out there somewhere. Or not.

****************************************















Reading for Today: Leviticus 19:34
______________________________________________________
Meditation:

As a teacher in an Orthodox Jewish school, I often find myself in the role of the stranger. Last Passover was no exception, as I was invited to a Seder by one of my students.

I could see that my presence created a bit of stress. All of our hopes as we prepare for such an occasion are heightened when the celebration is a religious one and the guests follow a different faith tradition. What if they don't like the food? What if they are bored or, worse, offended, by the religious rituals? We have often had Jewish guests for Christmas Dinner and, when Christmas and Chanukah have overlapped, we've lighted Chanukah candles and Christmas candles. I've always felt that everyone was happy to be there. But you never know.

For the record, let me say that I was indeed happy to be at the Seder. I learned a lot. I was inundated with various copies of the Haggadah, the "telling of the story" that serves as a guide for the fifteen steps of the meal. My favorite was one illustrated with copies of medieval illuminated manuscript pages -- I hadn't even known that Jews as well as Christians created those exquisite book illustrations. And as I engaged in the readings and conversation, with a family fluent in Hebrew generously tolerating passages in English whenever my turn rolled around, I also quietly observed the meal from the point of view of a Christian who had just left her own Maundy Thursday church service in which the Last Supper was celebrated as a communion.

When I left the Seder at nearly 1:00 am, under the full Passover moon, another family was emerging from a house across the street, going home after a similarly lengthy celebration. I felt much as I do on Christmas morning, when my son and I typically return from a midnight service along the several streets in our neighborhood where luminarias have been lit along entire blocks and left to burn all night. There is something deeply profound about participating in a ritual that is being celebrated around the world, whether among your own people or in fellowship with another.

Whether we are host or guest, citizen or stranger, we have much to learn from one another as long as we are willing to risk extending ourselves across the usual boundaries.


Prayer:

Holy God, You stretched far and wide beyond your usual dwelling places in order to join us as Host and Guest, Lord and Stranger. Remind us that it is the example of your Son in our midst that we seek to follow each day. Amen.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Advent B

I am really liking my pre-Advent Advent. I have a bright and shiny new journal (the kind you write in with a pen LOL!) and I have a candle on my desk and it's dark when I get up in the morning, so I have a lovely space and time before the day takes over.

And the
Ephesians readings this week are perfect. Never in a million years would I have chosen Ephesians for the week before Advent, but I am completely absorbed by the wideness and wildness of their call. We squabble with such smallness in the church ~ when we are urged to a faith of such abundance.

There's some good online stuff available for Advent, most of which I have found via the
Presby bloggers site . I already love the Creighton Praying Advent site (Jesuits, of course) and I'm looking forward to reliving Iona via the Celtic and Nature Advent Calendar, which apparently won't open until Sunday ~ some folks just can't get into the pre-Advent Advent spirit. And today I bought a King's College Choir Lessons and Carols CD, which I guess is more Christmas than Advent, but I'm obviously working on avoiding rigidity.

The end of my teaching day was focused on the First Crusade ~ but in my interior world the focus was on the abundance reflected by the lights of Chanukah and Christmas, rather than the violence that persists in their wake. Wisdom and revelation.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Advent A

I decided to start Advent today.

I am really grateful for Advent this year. I need a long period of introspection and time to pull myself inward and together. I need to find a way to be quiet and at peace during this season when the malls jump up and down and beckon, when I am surrounded at work by Chanukah, and when my dining room wall lies bare to the studs. You would think that I would be well practiced in those activities, after a year's Ignatian Retreat and months of writing my way toward seminary. But for the past four months I have had to share so much of whom I am in ways that have pulled me in so many directions, always knowing that the resolution still lies months in the future, that I feel quite at odds with myself.

So I decided that I could not wait until Sunday for Advent to start.

One of today's lectionary readings is
Ephesians 1:3-14. The mysticism of Paul has somewhat recently been brought to my attention, and here it is. To us through Christ, outside space and time. A good place to start Advent, even though it isn't Advent yet. A place for internalizing Presence and coming to terms with fragments of plaster. A place from which to look out and beyond as a way of moving inward.

A place from which to launch preparations.

Gratitude (Round Robin Photos)






Today's Round Robin Photo Challenge asks us to “Show us what you are thankful for. Show us what made this year special. Family, an inspirational person, a place you got to visit, a new family addition. Show us what made you thankful this year.”

I have a lot of possibilities for such a list, but this morning I'm limiting myself to Chartres Cathedral. As far as I'm concerned, a cathedral has everything ~ God, us, faith, history, prayer, war, music, light, darkness, joy, despair, clarity, chaos, solidity, spirit ~ and Chartres is the best one of all. I still can hardly believe that I had the good fortune to spend two days there in July, wandering around the village, along the river, and in and out of the cathedral, trying to soak up every image of stone and glass and light and color that I could possibly absorb. Some of the links to my visit still work, I think, but here is a repeat of a few of the images.