Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Many Faces of Christmas...

Confession: in this different and difficult holiday season, I have been
unable to get into the "Christmas Spirit". Part of it is due to the fact
that I have been coping with a particularly nasty upper respiratory
bug since December 7th- only now beginning to feel like myself...to
have any energy at all. During those weeks, I found myself unable
to read- eyes burning, no powers of concentration- instead binge-
watching "Madame Secretary" and coughing- and coughing and
coughing. Finally saw the PA last Friday, was diagnosed with a sinus
infection (which I had already self-diagnosed) and have been taking
an antibiotic ever since, plus having my sleep aided and abetted by
a powerful cough medicine, thanks be. I had not slept through the
night for nine consecutive nights due to the coughing and I NEED

And so, today, feeling like ME for the first time in two weeks, I
began doing things to help me get into the spirit of the season,
only to find that Christmas this year (perhaps every year, but
especially in this year of our Lord 2016) has many and varied
faces, not all of them expected or joyful. As I went through my
day, they began revealing themselves in ways both surprising
and heart-rending...and humbling. Perhaps you've seen some
of them, too.

*the joy I can imagine on the face of my Rwandan "son" when
he receives the birthday/graduation gift I sent via Western
Union this morning, the combined gift of a number of amazing
and supportive and caring women.

*the beautiful baby-face of the newborn daughter of a precious
Rwandan friend in Kigali.

*the deeply-grieving face of a friend who told me, after our chance
meeting at Harris Teeter, that her daughter had lost her baby after
only two month of pregnancy, a baby much desired and longed-for.
There will be empty arms for this family this Christmas, even as the
rest of us celebrate another birth. And this dear woman is also facing
the first Christmas since the death of her husband earlier this year.

*the can't-look-at-without-weeping faces of the children of Aleppo,
Syria, as they are experiencing what no child should ever have to

*The smiling, beautiful, healthy faces of my grandchildren gazing
back at me from my refrigerator door.

*the faces of the dear departed in my family, ever-present for me
on the small credenza in the upstairs hallway, this year's addition
my sister, Kathy.

 *The incredible smile on my own face as I gazed at the beautiful,
special Christmas gift commissioned for me by my eldest grand,

And even as I baked the first of my Christmas cookies, listening to
favorite holiday albums on the CD player (yes, I am hopelessly
old school), my mind and heart were filled with all of these faces of
Christmas, and I find I cannot look away, cannot stop the tears from
falling, cannot stop my heart from breaking again and again as joy
and sorrow mix as surely as the snickerdoodle ingredients in my glass
mixing bowl. Even as my house is redolent with the odor of fresh-
baked cookies; even as the mantle and windows are alight, offering
a welcome; even as the fireplace is aglow with a comforting, warm
fire, I am aware of the melancholy which is creeping over me,
stealing away the joy I am supposed to be feeling, these five days
before Christmas- but don't.

And so, tomorrow evening, I will go, with bowed head and heart, to
the Longest Night Service at our church, a service of prayer and
comfort designed especially for those of us who are struggling with
Christmas this year. There, I will join with others to be the Body of
Christ in this place, fully aware that the precious Baby in the Manger
we so delight in welcoming also became the Man of Sorrows, the one
who enters into and understands our pain. And in that truth, I can
rest and find peace. Perhaps you can, too. A blessed and peace-
filled Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2016

This and That...

I've been going through some of my journals and notebooks
lately and have come upon poems which were written at a
variety of times in a variety of places. So, dear reader, I
thought I would share them with you, as a gift for your
Advent pilgrimage.

hope springs
   so many re- words...
   so many beginnings again
   speaking in tones both soft and sweet
   both truthful and terrible
re-minding me
   that life moves ever onward
   with many stops and starts
   and new beginnings which are not new
   at all but simply are placing one foot in front
       of another yet again-
              in re-signation
                   and in hope.

taste and see
the soul can only
be spoken of in
a whisper...in
picture-language and
it cannot be grasped
but flows like sand
through your fingers,
like a stream of living
water through your heart,

speaking of a Source
beyond all your knowing,
your small rivulet joined
to the roaring universal
river pressing relentlessly
and joyously onward to
the waiting, receptive Sea.

taste and see...
drink deeply...
be refreshed and renewed-
   she whispers her invitation
   in the dream-world between
   sleeping and waking
now, arise...
begin a new day
bathed in the holiness
of this moment.

how, then, shall we pray?
if all of life is linked, the atoms of each living thing
entangled with the other and the other and the other
in one holy enmeshing of existence, then
instead of asking God to intervene, to alter things
to our desires, to change the ways in which the
very nature of the world unfolds, perhaps we need to be
aware that in the linking lies the medium through which
our prayers may more- my hope and love and caring moving
through the essence of creation to reach your mind and heart and life.
the connections are already there, forming the very fabric of our lives,
the gift of the wisdom of the Infinite Mind, the Ground
of Being, the Creator of Life & Love-
      my prayer is my way of being linked-
                                      of giving love-
                                      of wishing peace & blessing
                                      even as I myself am
                                                      being changed and blessed.

the adoration of the magi
"The human creature does not
live by bread alone..." so the
wisdom of the ages tells us.
Our souls long to be fed by
what will never fade away-
though in this time of want and
deprivation, so many stomachs
cry for food and heads for shelter
and hearts for safety. Yet, in the
midst of want and need, a
yearning rises...for beauty,
for the gifts of music, poetry,
and art of every sort...for the
impractical necessities
without which our spirits starve.

The voices of the wise of every
age and culture, rising in
collective resonance, tell us that
to value only practicality is to
deprive ourselves of that which
truly feeds our humanity,
which makes life a worthwhile
pursuit- a taste of chocolate
on the tongue, roses in winter,
a good book, a child's painting,
kindness, respect, reverence,
laughter, joy...reflection of the
beautifully impractical gifts of
the Magi as they knelt in
adoration before a child,
recognizing in him the presence
of the Divine, acknowledging
in him the holiness of the Human.

taking time
Once upon a time,
in old Anglo-Saxon days,
"haste" meant "violence"...
and as the days are hastening
by toward the holy festival of
Christmas, we are hastening
to complete just one more task,
buy just one more gift, send just
one more care, attend just one
more party, the days marked by
the all-too-familiar litany of
doing violence to ourselves- to our
hearts & minds & bodies- as meals
are eaten on the run, or not at all...
and tempers fray when lines are long
and courtesy gives way to curtness...
as multi-tasking becomes the order
of the day, a struggle to keep a multiplicity
of plates in the air...as time becomes
the task-master driving us, with every clock
the accusing enemy chanting

Where, oh, where, is the slow,
awe-filled anticipation of Advent?
Where is the silent, solitary moment
to sit before the fire and think of those
beloved ones no longer here? Where
is the mealtime shared, by candlelight,
with one we love, satiating body & soul
with food & laughter? Where is the quiet,
early-morning walk to feel the frigid air
and hear the hymns of the birds? Where
is the pause to listen, really listen, to the
oft-told stories of the elderly as they
recite the rosary of their cherished memories?
Where is the moment of just breathing in,
breathing out, pausing in gratitude for all of life?

Dear friend, there is still time...
time to go slowly-slowly-slowly...
to walk in awe-filled peace to
the manger...to the cusp of the
awaiting new year.
Will you make time?
             take time?
or only make haste?

Blessings. Advent blessings. And peace.