Maybe you’ve heard that saying, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt but which she might or might not (probably not) have said. I’m not sure you have to do it every day, but it’s not a bad idea to push yourself a little at least every so often. Today’s hard thing: A constructive critique session with a bunch of other photographers who shared their work and made suggestions for improvement. The good news: I didn’t suck. It was really helpful, in fact. Then I stopped the way home and took this shot of Fonthill, mad genius Henry Mercer’s home—er—castle, made of poured reinforced concrete. A very interesting building, but I would have gone mad myself if I had to live there.
Some thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the day set aside as a national holiday honoring the preacher and civil rights leader.
When we honor Dr. King, we pay tribute to his courage as a preacher and a leader in standing up against the racism that has caused so much suffering and so damaged us and our nation through its history. I also remember all of those Americans, named and unnamed, who stood with him in condemning the evil of racism and demanding change. It took a lot of courage to do that back in the ‘60s, and it still takes that kind of courage now, as racism and white supremacy are once again becoming acceptable in our society. We seem to be losing our ability to think critically and recognize racist ideas and statements for what they are.
I found this simple little chart interesting and thought-provoking:
Where are you on the scale? It matters. Will you take a clear stand against racism and white supremacy, like those who stood with Dr. King? Because it matters. If you don’t speak against it, you might as well say you’re for it.
Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
~ from the Book of Common Prayer
Would our Sunday School attendance go up if we tried this approach? We do have a fermented product to offer, but a fresh find every week seems unlikely. Part of the appeal, after all, is finding ourselves in the eternal sameness of it.
January 6, Feast of the Epiphany.
The wise men wanted to know where the new king of the Jews had been born, and Herod, frightened, told them to search for the child and bring him word when they found him.
Jesus is still challenging the politicians, all these many years later. Some will also say they want to “go and pay him homage (Matt 2:8),” but do they really? Or, like Herod, is their real concern for their own power?
Do you hear that dream voice that spoke to the wise men, the one that says to resist the deception and live by the true Light.
Snow day, again: I’m enjoying the warmth of another fire and the glow of the Christmas tree lights as I watch the snow fall outside. We set out for an important appointment this morning and turned back once we realized that even here on Main Street, which is flat and tends to get plowed first, it was a couple of inches thick and slippery as anything. Baby, it’s cold out there!
With a day of enforced semi-idleness ahead, I’m tempted to begin putting the Christmas decorations away—but I can’t. I was raised to believe that would be wrong: the Twelve Days of Christmas and all that. In our house when I was growing up, the tree went up on Christmas Eve, and not until after we kids were all in bed when we were little. It didn’t come down until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. As the years went by those rules were stretched so the time the tree was up was sometimes longer, but never shorter.
And I am a child of “how we’ve always done it.” A child of ritual, and remembrance.
These rituals matter not for themselves, but because they connect us with something larger than ourselves. At church we reach for the Mystery that is so hard to describe in words, and so present to us believers when we reenact those things we have always done. At home we remind ourselves that our ties to family and friends who have gone before us live on even when they’re gone—as we are connected, and they through us, to other lives that will follow.
Part of the joy of the Christmas season is rekindling our awareness of these connections, but along with that joy comes a degree of sadness. For some reason this season, I’ve been hit hard by the sharp poignancy of doing what we’ve always done, in the absence those who taught us to do it that way. Inklings of my own mortality, perhaps.
Seeing my aunt’s handwriting on a silver Christmas bell music box she gave us back in the ‘80s. Taking out ornaments that have hung on our tree for so many years, and on family trees before that. Imagining what my mother would say about a meatless Christmas dinner. Hearing the whistle of the local tourist railroad and remembering my father laboring through the evenings of Advent to set up the Christmas garden, the display of Lionel trains running through little plastic towns that filled our basement.
My brother has the trains now, but I have the faded Santa that hung on the tree in the home where my grandfather grew up. He’s the man in the black and white photo. It hung on my childhood tree as well, and lives most of the year now in a small box with a handwritten note stuck to the lid: “No one touches this ornament but Mom!” (Apparently the past is too fragile to be trusted just yet to the future.) The shiny Santa beside it is more recent, but it’s been on our tree for some years now. I suppose I got it as a way of putting myself in the picture.
Putting myself in the picture here and in future, that is. I am the child in the old photo. My two grandmothers are right and left in the top row. Looking at it again with fresh eyes, I think I see a resemblance to the one on the right, who always seemed so old to me but is younger in this picture than I am now. (Please don’t say I resemble the one on the left—though I have to say that my memories of her aren’t nearly as fierce as the picture.) That’s my mother on the left beside me, the aunt of the silver Christmas bells on the right. I’m not sure, but I think it must have been taken in the back yard of my first home in Baltimore.
I don’t remember the occasion, but of course it was just a moment of time. They’re all gone now, except me. The fierce-looking grandmother was dead within a decade. The one I resemble lingered for years in the living hell of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the pain of nostalgia is a yearning not just for the past, but for an ideal past—if only we could go back and fix the way things turned out for them.
We can’t, of course. We live in the now, observing those rituals that raise happy memories, and making our own traditions when that seems better—delicious meatless lasagna for the vegetarians among us, for example, in place of the Christmas turkey or roast beef of years gone by. Creating new rituals, and maintaining the ones that feed us. Cherishing our connection to things past, but not letting them define us. Knowing that no matter how tightly we’re tied to past and future, we must be ourselves in the present.
Still, I won’t put the decorations away before Saturday.
Advent wreath, late afternoon sun.
One of the unexpected pleasures of spending as much time in church as I do is seeing the place at times other than Sunday morning, watching the light change through the day and the season, selectively illuminating details we sometimes overlook. And in the silence, becoming aware of that presence we often overlook in the busy-ness of worship. Of course I mean divine presence, but something more, too. Our own faithful presence over months and years leaves something cumulative behind even after we leave, I’m convinced of it.
Today turned out to be that one day a year when I let down my resolve and bu a sweet at Starbucks, indulging myself in a slice of the iced gingerbread that appears there only during the holiday season.
The first bite always produces an instant sugar rush, a not especially pleasant warning that I shouldn’t do this often. Then comes a rush of memories.
I think of the seminary adjunct who introduced me to Starbucks gingerbread, someone I didn’t spend much time with but whose teaching is with me still. I remember the out-of-season gingerbread served at the informal gathering for parents and kids days before my son started kindergarten, our first introduction to a community in which my family would be grounded for years to come. Those kids have kids of their own now, and we still see many of them. I’m reminded that my mother occasionally made gingerbread, and for some reason it wasn’t until I was grown that I realized how much I had always loved it.
Memories, so many memories, and what comes back most especially are all these people I associate with the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.
Remembering these things is healing. Revisiting good times, recalling love, reaffirming that happy things past also are still with us now. Reminding ourselves of the fundamental truth that life is a gift, and it is good. And even in this season of Advent, when we embrace the darkness to remind ourselves of the promise of light, letting go of what doesn’t matter to remind ourselves of what does, there is healing in this simple indulgence of a single thick slice of iced gingerbread.
See the full community Advent calendar at http://adventword.org