Monday, December 30, 2013

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

"On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..."
Don't recall what the gift was in the traditional song, but for me
today, the gift was silence...a blessed, blissful silence. You see,
after two days of continuous people, I am relishing the peace
and quiet and alone-ness.

Now, don't get me wrong, or think I am totally Grinchy. I adore
having the family all together...eating together...talking and
playing board games and arguing (friendly, to be sure) and just
being family together. And I wouldn't have the holiday any other
way. But I live alone...have a one-person household. And, for
those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs testing, I am an INFP...
which means that, though I like people, they innervate me, sap
me of strength, use up every ounce of my energy. And this morning,
when the last of my family departed at 9a.m., I was in the throes
of a splitting headache. So, it was back to bed in a darkened
room, sleeping until 2:30p.m. when I awoke, feeling mostly better,
and headed for the shower.

I wanted to include some of the photos I took over the weekend
of my beautiful family...but my little camera has mysteriously
disappeared. I just texted everyone, asking if anyone saw it or
moved it or put it somewhere for safe-keeping. And I figure it
must be somewhere...and will turn up at a future time when I
least expect it. In the meantime, I can turn the images over
again and again in the pages of my memory album, seeing the
smiles, hearing the laughter, cherishing the hugs, reveling in
the beautiful people who make up this family of mine. I can
close my eyes and see the faces of each and all of the grands...
each so wonderfully unique and precious. Come to think of it,
even if the camera never turns up (though I would hate to lose
it), the photos taken just aren't necessary for me to recall each
moment of the weekend past.

But just for today, I am delighted to be alone...far from lonely,
as I catch up with on-line correspondence, write a few notes
in response to Christmas cards, enjoy the flickering flames
in the fireplace, and enumerate the various ornaments on the
tree, recalling their provenance and cherishing the very special
memories they engender. Just for today, I am contented to be
by myself...to BE myself...the introvert who longs for, who needs
the peace and quiet to re-energize...to re-fill my tank with the
ability to be with as well as to simply BE...

So, to my wonderful family- thank you for those two marvelous
days...for your presence and participation...for being who you
are, each and every one of you. Thank you for holding this
family time as important, as essential in your life, as it surely
is in mine. Thank you for putting up with my idiosyncracies and
just plain nuttiness. Thank you for gifting me annually with the
traditional celebration of this holiday which has long meant so
much to our extended family. Thank you for your love and
compassion and acceptance. I love you...even as I enjoy and
appreciate this "recovery time" alone. My life would be incomplete
without you.

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's the Third Day of Christmas...Isn't It?




The third day of Christmas...my tree graces the living room window
and my collection of Santas stand sentinel on the mantle piece.
From the CD player come the strains of my favorite Christmas
music and in the dining room, the table wears its Christmas finery.
In my house on my street, it is indeed the season of Christmas-
and will be for the full twelve days, until the Feast of the Epiphany
on January 6th.

But all around me in this hustle-bustle world of ours, with its
"let's move on to the next thing" mentality, the Christmas music
has ceased its playing...once-lovely evergreen trees are already
at the curb waiting for pick-up...and stores are clearing their
shelves in anticipation of filling them with the trappings of
Valentines Day.

Makes me more than a little sad, all of this rush to have things
over and done. The build-up begins earlier and earlier each year,
it seems, with Christmas decorations in the stores by Halloween,
with Christmas carols playing before Thanksgiving. Perhaps this
over-saturation is why people seem so ready for it all to be OVER.

But the out-of-step Church...at least the Church that adheres to
the liturgical calendar...has only been in the Christmas season
since Christmas Eve. There are nine more days to go...two more
Sundays of Christmas, when we'll be singing carols and hearing
scripture readings about the holy event, celebrating the miracle
and mystery of the Incarnation, affirming God's presence firmly
amidst and within us all...which is really what Christmas is all
about anyway, isn't it? Forget Santa and decorations and all
the presents. The whole reason for the season- as the saying
goes- is that it is the commemoration of, the celebration of, the
reminder of God's loving presence being IN this old world.

Of course, this truth isn't limited to one season of the year- or
it shouldn't be. Every day, our awakening is a reminder of the
reality of that holy loving Presence here and now...a clarion
call that we are to LIVE that love...to reach out to one another,
embodying the loving Presence of the Divine One which dwells
within each one of us...a God not far off somewhere but here...
now...within...without...around...or in the familiar language of
the liturgy, in, with, and under.

Now, I confess that I love the external trappings of this lovely
season...love the decorations and the tree...love the music
and the special foods...love the greetings from friends and
the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. I love the fact that it is
a time of gathering the family to spend precious time together.
And I will be very sad to put it all away, carefully wrapped in
tissue paper, to be brought out next year. But I hope and pray
that what remains will be that sharing of love...the unexplainable
mystery of the Divine incarnated in you and in me...the many
daily opportunities to BE that love...to reach out and affirm our
oneness...to work together for justice and peace so that all
people- ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE- may live fully and hopefully.
That is my Christmas prayer on this third day of Christmas...
and for all of the days to come...that I may hold the wondrous,
miraculous truth in my heart and live it in my life- that God
is LOVE and God is HERE...at this moment...and for all time to
come.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

All Through the House...

Here it is, the night after Christmas, and all through the house
not a creature is stirring...except me, sitting here in front of the
fireplace, enjoying the lighted Christmas tree and the flickering
gas flames, and relishing the silence. All of the shopping for
food is completed...the house is clean from attic to basement...
everything in readiness for the influx of family which will begin
early Saturday afternoon and continue through the weekend.

I am looking forward to the hubbub which will surely ensue...
the cacophony which is sure to result from the mix of eight
children of varied ages, four young people, and eight grown-
ups (more or less, grown up, I mean). Our family- at least
portions of it- love playing games like Outburst and Attack Uno
when we get together, so Saturday evening is sure to be alive
with the shouts, the "ohs" and "ahs" and "oh, noes" which
invariably accompany this enjoyable annual activity. And with
the arrival of the Charlotte contingent on Sunday, the house will
resonate with the voices of the 8 young ones, ranging in age
from 5 to 17, along with my son and daughter-in-law. Gifts and
dinner...coffee and cookies...and, of course, the raiding of the
candy jar, filled always with Hershey's kisses which the grands
like to think they are sneaking (but which are always amply
provided by the grandmother of the house). It will be, I'm sure,
a wonderful family holiday celebration, alive with voices and
noise and lots of laughter.

But for right now, for this very minute, I am relishing the
peace and quiet...the "not a creature is stirring" silence of
my comfortable house. I'm considering making some hot
chocolate, though perhaps I will just head on up to bed, read
a bit, and then go to sleep early. And as I lay me down to
sleep, I'll be offering a prayer of thanksgiving for this family
of mine who are the center of my life...who bring so much love
and joy and meaning to my existence...and whom I cherish
beyond measure. My prayer is that you may also have someone/s
in your life who bring that kind of joy...the very best Christmas
gift of all.
Sister Kathy, brother-in-law Larry

Nephew Wren & girlfriend, Carolyn

Youngest son, Paul

The Charlotte grands

Son, Mark & daughter-in-law, Meredith

Eldest granddaughter, Lindsay

Daughter, Hope

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

O Night Divine...?


Thirty-five years ago tonight, my youngest sister, Rennie, was
killed in an automobile accident as she was on her way to our
family's Christmas Eve gathering at the home of our parents.
It was years before I could get through the singing of "Silent
Night" at the Christmas Eve candlelight service without tears...
without the sense of the shattering of the holy silence of that
night of nights. And though the passing of the years has truly
brought healing, on this particular Christmas Eve, I am filled
with a sense of loss and longing ...a sense of the shattering
of peace...a sense of broken hearts and broken dreams. Yes,
all these years later, I miss her still...and I know my other two
sisters do, too. Rennie, we love you.

silent night?
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright...
except when it isn't...
when the silence is broken by the
dreadful sound of crumpling, smashing steel...
when the calm is broken by the
ominous sound of the telephone...
     "So sorry, there has been an accident..."
All is calm, all is bright...
except when it isn't...
when the calm is shattered by the heartbroken
cry of "No, no, no!"
when the brightness is darkened by the loss,
the forever-after loss of one much beloved...
All is calm, all is bright...
except when it isn't...
when the calm of Christmas Eve becomes
the confusing pain of Christmas Day...
when the brightness of the holy day
becomes darkened with grief and mourning...
Sleep in heavenly peace...
will that ever happen again-
for any of us? And is she really sleeping
"in heavenly peace"? I can only pray it is so...
that we may all, once again,
sleep in heavenly peace.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Aroma of Baking...the Fragrance of Love

What a fragrance...the aroma of cookies baking. My house is redolent
with the scents of chocolate and lemon...Chocolate Layer Cookies
and Lemon Bars, with Cheesecake Dreams and Chocolate Walnut
Crumb Bars to come tomorrow.

I love baking. For me, it is totally an act of love...using longtime
family recipes, handed down from my mother and grandmother,
from my aunt's and long-ago neighbors...precious people who
populated my life through the years and whose presence I
feel each time I don my adoption and begin the prestidigitation,
the alchemy...which turns plain, ordinary ingredients into
melt-in-your-mouth treats, to be enjoyed by family and
friends throughout the holidays.

Several years ago, when I was putting family recipes into a book
for my eldest granddaughter, I came across a prayer, a blessing
for a cook/baker to say...to breathe...before beginning the work,
during the ritual of washing hands. It occupies page one of my
own cookbook and has helped the act of baking/cooking to become
a holy act. May it bless your kitchen and all you do there; may it
be a blessing to you as it has become for me.

Father-Mother God,  sanctify the holy work of my kitchen
as I prepare the life force for those I love. May your vibrant
love pass through my hands and into this food as I prepare
to share your bountiful gifts. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When Will We Ever Learn?

Oxymoronic...that's the only way I can describe the puzzling and
almost vitriolic reactions to President Obama shaking hands with
Cuba's president, Raul Castro. Will this pose problems for Obama,
one news service blares. Should Obama have done this, asks
another. Is there something more behind this, queries still another.
And I am left shaking my head, wondering yet again if our president
can do anything right in the eyes of some people.

Were you critics listening, I am wondering, to the eulogy President
Obama delivered today? Were you watching, as people from nations
all over the globe came together...yes, together, to honor a man who
taught the whole world about the meaning of forgiveness...of
reconciliation. So within this context, on this day of all days, why
wouldn't Barak Obama shake hands with Raul Castro? Why read
something more into it? Why not accept and honor this action as
the only appropriate thing a gracious man would do, under the
circumstances.

When will we ever learn? And will some of the people of this nation
never get past the fact...the indisputable FACT, that our president
is African-American...is, actually, a man of mixed heritage, with
numerous bloodlines running through him from both his American
mother and his Kenyan father. Are there still those of us who are
so threatened by the fact...the indisputable FACT, that those of
us who consider ourselves Caucasian will be in the minority in
this country within the next two decades and already are on Planet
Earth?

And for those who may find themselves offended by my words,
may I discombobulate you even further by reminding you that Jesus,
whose incarnation we are preparing to celebrate, was a Jew...not 
the blond, blue-eyed European seen in so much religious art? The
God of Creation has created a world which is a celebration of
diversity- in the world of nature, in the world of humanity...why not
be part of the joy and wonder and beauty and truth of that?


WE ARE ONE...Fast for Immigrant Families


Even as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace,
including the buying and the wrapping and the sending- there are
countless people- sisters and brothers- whose very lives are being
held in limbo because of the failure of our Congress to take any
action on immigration reform.

When will we Americans- those of us who have the blessing of being
born here (which we usually take for granted)- when will we realize
that our lives, as we know them, with their comforts and affordable
food and clean homes depend upon the hard work of people who are
willing to do work which WE ARE NOT...willing to put forth their very
best effort in the hope that they will be able to make life better for
their families...yet are recipients always of abuse and prejudice from
the very people who need their services, their hard-working hands
and backs and lives.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17th, in Greensboro, NC, there will be an all-day,
water-only fast in behalf of these brothers and sisters,  these
immigrant families, with the participants meeting together and
peacefully demonstrating in front of the Elm St. offices of the local Congressman, Howard Coble. Even if you cannot be there in person
(as I cannot...I'll be on the road, traveling home from Pennsylvania),
you can fast in unity with all those who need our support...those
who need our compassion...those who need justice. Now is the time
to realize...acknowledge...celebrate, that WE ARE ONE.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Silence...and Reflections


A lovely, quiet Advent evening...the fire in the fireplace adding a
touch of warmth and comfort to my beautiful blue living room,
with its decorated tree in the front window and some of my
collection of Santas on the mantle. I have lived with this room for
nearly twelve years, yet I never tire of its sense of welcome, its
sense of being a nest, and its reflections of my life. On the walls,
there are pieces of art made for me by friends: a pen & ink drawing
made many years ago by my dear friend, Mae; a scherenschnitte,
an intricately cut paper design, created by my precious friend,
Bonnie; two drawings of African animals, made by Kenyan artists;
two word-paintings created by a woman in Greensboro; a lovely
photograph canvas of Beatrice and her grandson, Eugene, taken by
talented photographer, Ginny; and my newest piece, a colorful canvas
in acrylics by Rwandan artist and friend, Innocent.

As I sit here, enjoying the silence, cherishing the solitude, I am
filled with such gratitude and amazement for this life I am leading,
this life I have been privileged to lead. Oh, yes, it has certainly
had its share of difficulties; I would be lying to suggest otherwise.
And there have been times when the pain and sorrow seemed
almost more than I could bear. But I have been graced with the
blessing of dear family and wonderful friends who have been my
strength when I had none of my own; who have offered loving
care and acceptance when I needed them most; who have been
my greatest cheerleaders and encouragers; who have been
God-in-flesh again and again, revealing to me Divine Love in all
its glory and beauty and mystery and wonder.

Perhaps it is that we are nearing the end of the year; perhaps it
is simply the holiday season, which always makes me nostalgic,
missing specially those beloved ones who are no longer here but
who loved the Christmas season so much and filled it with so much
joy: my dad; my son, Carl Allen; my sister, Rennie; my uncle, John;
and valued friends, Hank, Mary, Jean, and Teresa, to name just a
few. Perhaps it is that as the year comes to a close and my birthday
looms large, I am increasingly aware that I have far more years
behind me than lie ahead...increasingly aware of the oh-so-rapid
passage of time...increasingly aware that this is not the time to
"put off until tomorrow" but rather to seize the day and do those
things which add meaning and flavor and spice and joy to life...
increasingly aware that taking risks is far more meaningful
than playing it safe.

But if I had to choose just one word to describe how I feel at
this moment in the eternal time of the universe, it would be
PEACEFUL...for this moment, this tiny sliver of eternal time,
I am totally and completely at peace- with myself, with the
world, with the Divine One who loves and accepts, with the
family of humankind of which I am a small but intricate part.
And I wish for you that same holy peace, my friend...the
peace that passes all understanding...the peace that breathes
a "thank you" and understands that life, just as it is, is
enough.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Just for You, Mom...



Today, I baked gingersnaps, in loving remembrance of my mom.
I hadn't made these delectable  cookies since baking them for her
at Christmas 2009, her last holiday with us. They were her
favorites- spicy and slightly crisp- and I baked them for her often,
keeping the cookie jar full so she could enjoy having two or three
each afternoon with her tea.

As I was rolling the dough into balls, rolling the balls in sugar,
and lining them up on the cookie sheets for baking, I was
thinking of her...recalling her pleasure at something so simple.
And Mom did find delight in simple things, never expecting or
demanding that life hand her "spectacular" or even "special".
She accepted what came, what life had to offer, and lived
with and through it all with both amazing grace and dignity.
She was a true "lady", in the old-fashioned sense of the word...
even in her old age, bearing the losses and indignities of
advancing years with patience and a sense of peace.

Because she asked so little, it was a great pleasure to give her
something she enjoyed- thus, the gingersnaps. And as I baked
today, I talked to Mom, telling her that these cookies are my
"gift" to her...and to the rest of the family...in remembrance
of the lovely lady who was Grandma Kay. I love you, Mom.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Watching and Waiting...

First Sunday in Advent...World A.I.D.S. Day...the first day of
December...a convergence of images and ideas and thoughts
as I sit here in the early-morning darkness, awaiting the rising
of the sun.

superstition...
The Ancients, in these ever-lengthening nights,
     lived in ever-deepening fear that
     the light would not return...
     the darkness which enshrouded them
     more and more would remain,
     the earth a cold, unfriendly place where
     neither humans nor beasts could
     long survive.
How welcome firelight and candlelight
     must have been...causing the fearsome
     darkness to retreat, holding the encroaching,
     threatening shadows at bay...granting the light
     of hope amidst cold and dark.
Darkness became the enemy...light the friend
     which promised life...and even in this modern
     age, when superstition has given way to
     explanation, even now, we light the corners
     of the night with perpetual, ever-shining light,
     convinced that somehow we can overcome
     fearsome darkness, holding as it does,
     so much that threatens us...
when all the while, the beauteous light of
     moon and stars is dimmed, and the
     velvet-gloved hand of night which beckons
     us to see the glories and gifts of a darkened
     world is seen only as a fore-shadowing
     of Death's own Spectre...
                  and, with the Ancients, we are afraid.




Mary's waiting...
A time of waiting...
Delighting in preparing for a birth...
Virginal Mary smilingly fecund...
Expectantly maternal, maternally expectant...
Not sure of what will be, only certain
That the child to come will bring her
        both joy and sorrow...in the way of
        all children, everywhere...
                         Welcome, Advent.