Archive for December, 2007

Christmas musings…

December 26, 2007

Happy Second Day of Christmas, one and all…in this house we keep Christmas as a season: 12 days! I didn’t get either a partridge in a pear tree or two turtle doves from my true love, but still…

Christmas Eve we got home from church at 1 a.m. with hoarse throats, due to 9:30 choir rehearsal, 10:30 hymn sing, and then 11:00 Eucharist, but it was a lovely evening nevertheless. We slept in: got up at 7 a.m. instead of 5 or 6, and still got out to feed the sheep at about 7:30, the usual winter time…For the past few days I’ve had this premonition about one of my oldest sheep, Elnora, and kept looking to see her dead. Christmas morning, I wasn’t preoccupied with those thoughts, looked out on the winter paddock, and there she was, dead. She was not particularly old, just 11, but has had a rough life in places, beginning with her birth. She, however, has borne me one single followed by 8 sets of twins, all healthy, all well marked with lovely fleece, none with problems, none with fused horns, even though she had fused horns on one side, AND she was very sweet and very friendly…in short, I will miss her. Her remains are now resting comfortably, and beginning the path to returning to earth in a compost pile we keep just for that purpose each year. Next year (not THIS coming Spring) she will be one with the rich “black gold” of the compost, and will grace our gardens, living on in the veggies and flowers of summer.

We went to Cedar Hill, the nursing care/assisted living facility 10 minutes from here where John’s mother has lived since she broke both hips in two separate falls where she had been living. Her mind had been getting ever weaker, and we knew it was only a matter of time: since she can’t remember she has broken hips and can’t walk without a walker and tries to get up (how she broke the second hip one week after the first), she needs to be in a place where there is nursing care, and she needs to be seat-belted into her wheelchair. She has been, near as I can tell, however, the happiest I’ve ever seen her in her life, as if, when losing her memory, she lost some terrible childhood pain that distorted her ability to be happy, and no longer weighed down with that pain, she is free to be cheerful, kind, and caring, to extents I’d never seen before in her. It is a real pleasure to visit with her, though conversations are limited to short sentences, or she loses the subject while meandering around in the predicate. Yesterday was Christmas, however, and it is a time that people feel loneliness most during the year…at least, I found that to be the case when I was working as a parish priest. We walked in and as she saw us, she burst into tears, which appeared to be of happiness because we were there. She knows us…I think. At least, most of the time she knows John, and she knows I’m there to see her, though often she’s not entirely sure who I am. Sometimes she thinks John is his father or her brother, as well, but mostly she knows he is her son. Anyway, she had her little crying jag and then we had a good visit, including a lovely dinner. This place has a wonderful tradition of inviting families (2 people per resident; they are a small facility with limited space) to come for festive dinners on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Generally, 4-8 families come: they set up family tables in a couple of the activities rooms, complete with tablecloths and decorations, and serve up a very decent meal to their guests. It is as if the family is out to dinner at a restaurant on special occasions. We have gone for every one of those dinners, so we can have a special family time with John’s mother. It is good. I can’t say enough positive about this Cedar Hill place: in my working days, I had to visit many such facilities and I’ve never seen one as nice as this. Still, there is a bittersweet element to such a place and such a time of life for these folks, most of whom did NOT have family with them. There are one or two other residents we’ve become close to, and our heartstrings are pulled when we see them eating in the regular dining room without families. I think they separate the ones with families visiting so those without families there don’t feel so bad. Most of their minds are weak enough so that hopefully, without the reminder of the other families sitting right there, it doesn’t register too much that they are alone.

The rest of the day was quiet, and included naps. And now it’s the second day of Christmas: I have gifts to wrap for the grandkids in anticipation of their visiting, and today I have lunch with a friend. The celebration continues.

And as I look out the window, I see that it is light enough to see out there at 7:09, the days are getting lighter and brighter, Spring WILL come…but after the cold of winter which will undoubtedly very soon descend upon us. Those ever lengthening days will remind us that this, too, will end. Enjoy the season, no matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Channukah, Kwanza, Solstice, some combination of them,…or just life and light.


Ponderings and one liners on social responsibility

December 18, 2007

Yesterday, at the massage therapist, for my next to last visit, I saw two things which I’ve been pondering, in light of the Navajo rule of life that says we live to create beauty.  First, on my way in, getting out of the car, I heard a sound, from a bird, between the caw of a crow and the cluck of a chicken…I looked around, and there, not 10 feet from me in a small treelet, not ten feet high, sat a pileated woodpecker.  I’d seen their nests before, even had had a glimpse of one flying away, 50 or 60 feet back in the woods.  But this close: s/he (I confess I don’t know enough about these birds to tell the males from females) just sat there voicing this mournful song, and I wondered what s/he was crying about, or to whom s/he was calling.  Mating season?  No idea.   It made me think of all the birds and the predictions about their patterns of life and global warming.

On the way out I saw a bumper sticker on one of the three cars in the lot not mine. It said:  Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?  It hit me between the eyes and has stayed there ever since.

I got home to find an email from an acquaintance who seldom actually writes but often sends me those smarmy emails that are sentimental religious cant for the most part.  This one had an animated Jesus, (looking like a harmless, brainless, chinless wonder, by the way) walking around the world, pondering the flowers, I guess.  There was no strength in the image: this man looked most like a hippie who’d just finished his “pot” and was singing in the rain or something.  The  idea was you were to forward it to everyone, which would forward the idea of Christ in the world.  I was immediately struck with a different image of Christ at Christmas, one maybe not quite so docile and harmless.  I pictured him in hospitals holding the hands of the dying and those in pain.  I pictured him in the homes of Iraqi parents whose children had been injured or killed in the slaughter going on in that country.  I pictured him in bunkers and dorms of soldiers on both sides, holding soldiers as they labored and struggled with the conflict between obeying orders and “Thou shalt not kill”, guilty and fearful: fearful of being killed, fearful of killing, fearful that they’d never see their families again, fearful that they’d never recover psychologically from what they are being asked (told?) to do, fearful for their minds.  I pictured Christ comforting the hungry.  And the lonely.  And the homeless.  And then, it dawned on me: WE are the only hands and eyes and ears and hearts Christ has on earth.  Christ was born, not so we can have lovely birthday parties called Christmas, wax sentimentally about little babies in mangers, and spend millions on unneeded gifts for our families and friends.  Christ was born to show us the possibilities inherent in being human, to contradict the theology that said humanity was a cesspit of sinfulness, for if God became human, being human couldn’t be all that bad, could it?  So now, given all this, I think to myself, how am I called to be those ears and eyes and hands and heart, this Christmas and in every day of my life from this day forward?  In small ways and large…a heavy thing to ponder…

A friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that her pastor never preached the gospel…only social responsibility.  Is there a difference?

Warning: ranting religious freak ahead!

December 7, 2007

Okay, here’s your warning: this is going to be a sort of religious post, so those of you who get nauseous at such things, skip it now!

Yesterday, I was forwarded a message from some well meaning religious person about a book, “The Golden Compass” and how it was a dangerous book, now made into a dangerous movie, whose goal it was to make atheists out of our children and kill off God.  Now, that book was recommended to me by a sixth grade boy I had baptized as an infant, many years ago.  That same boy found the book profoundly important in his life, helped him see the evil in the world and the rights of children not to be abused by adults.  He is now a high school senior, very involved in his church, very faithful and responsible, partly, possibly because of that book.

Anyway, this forwarded message claims the author, Phillip Pullman is an avowed atheist who wants to kill God, so we need to be on guard against him, fight him, so he doesn’t kill God, and other rubbish….all quoting that Dobson fellow who is so big on the “family”.  Now, I respect people wanting to care for and love their children and guard against inappropriate literature, but maybe they ought to be guarding against OTHER stuff, not this book.  This book is about some adults who act inappropriately to children, and about two children who rise up to address the situation.  It has some strange parts: the kids make friends with a polar bear, there’s a magic knife that cuts through the air and allows them to escape into other realities when pursued by the bad guys, and there are lots of bad guys…who are clearly defined as bad guys, as good is clearly defined as good.  There is struggle on the part of the children to understand the situation, the adults in their lives, discern good from bad, etc.  The book is part of a series of three. I read the second, but not the third.  From the forward sent, the third has in it Adam and Eve killing off God…well, allegorically, didn’t they do just that?  Didn’t they blow the whole God and us relationship and their cosy little cottage by the sea in the Garden of Eden by choosing to know the difference between good and evil?  Doesn’t the Orthodox church call it the “happy fault”: that is, they came to know the difference between good and evil, they grew up, God related to them differently, more as compassionate force helping them to be God’s hands and heart in the world, rather than the all knowing, all deciding, all powerful chief honcho father. (Which seems to me to be the keystone to the Dobson family schtick: powerful, all knowing father knows best.) They didn’t “KILL” God, they killed their relationship with God, and it was replaced by one that eventually was seen as more mature and adult.  They took responsibility for their own lives, felt their own pain, lived in the world, and not in fantasyland.

It absolutely amazes me that people can believe that a human can “kill” God!  It seems to me to be the apex of arrogance;  don’t these people, who claim Jesus as Lord to the point of Jesusolotry, remember that the last time someone tried to kill God, he rose again, and saved the entire world in the bargain, and became king of kings and lord of lords…at least according to their professed theology…of course, they restrict God even there, disallowing God to do his/her saving, unless humans agree to it, keeping the control in the hands of the humans, not God, playing their trump card: in their world, God is NOT in control, humans are.  Listen: if you are blind and in the road, and a big truck is coming, and I see you and see the truck, and flag the truck down so it doesn’t run you over, you are saved, like it or not.  You didn’t have to assent to it.  It was my desire to save you and I did.  Salvation, if you read the bible carefully, and think it through, is, in my opinion, and the opinion of many theologians of more bulk than me, a done deal.  The choice comes, not in being saved (as my son said at age 10, “Mom, if everything Jesus did was perfect because he is perfect, and he died to save us all, then how can we not all be saved?”) but in sanctification, which is all too often thrown in the same basket with salvation and messed up.  Our choice is in whether we accept that there is a God and that that God enriches our lives by that God’s presence, or rather our noticing of that God’s presence in our lives, the awareness of the holy and sacred and numinous: it turns our lives from black and white to technicolor and does require our cooperation.  Even scripture speaks of eternal life (salvation) AND abundant life (sanctification) separately.  We just don’t notice.

Now, the trick is, of course, if you are now seeing in technicolor, you do see all the beauty more clearly and your life is enriched, BUT you also see the blood and pain and suffering in living color, and are therefore, more obligated to respond to it, not out of duty, but out of compassion and love.  That’s also part of a more enriching life, a life not lived in oblivion in the Garden of Eden, but out in the world, where there’s toil and pain and loneliness as well as joy and praise and love.

For those who buy into the God-scene (which has nothing to do with salvation, mind, that’s a done deal), there is an invitation to deeper, more meaningful life, but a life which requires a more adult response, a sense of reality, a sense of compassion, along with the responsibility to also keep the joy of playing, which is the closest thing to praying I know: a living in the moment, a joy in today, this minute, this environment, this activity.

I can’t speak to the third of Pullman’s books, nor to his hatred of C.S. Lewis, the nice, safe darling with his Narnia series, of “good” Christian families.  I personally am not terribly moved nor influenced by C.S.Lewis, (and I know, if you’re an Episcopalian, that’s the sin against the Holy Spirit: oh, well, I believe I am forgiven!) so I can forgive him being turned off by him as well.  But I would recommend “The Golden Compass” to any sixth grader, and talk with him/her about it, and help him/her to see the depths of the book, the challenges in it, and the opportunities for growth in compassion and responsibility in it’s pages.

Okay, now I feel better.  Got that off my chest.  Have a great weekend.

Snow, cold, and Advent music…a quiet day at home!

December 3, 2007

A few minutes ago, I got out the Christmas/Advent music, which only gets played during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and put on one of my favorites: John Rutter and Carols from Clare College. Lovely and lyrical. It is starting to brighten in the west, first time all day, by which I assume the snow is going to stop soon. It’s been snowing all day, having started with ice in the night. It seems to me there’s 10 inches out there. The sheep are happily moving around, some in the shed, some outdoors. Here’s a photo of them:


Many have just come into the shed because I threw out some fresh hay for them.

Looking from the sheep paddock up toward the house:


As I sit here at the computer and gaze out the side window next to me, I see the viburnum which is so beautiful at all times of the year: the bright reddish leaves in spring, with blooms of a deep maroonish color opening to mauve flowers, the orange/red leaves in the fall, with the berries, and in winter: branches coated with snow with berries hanging down (at least the ones not gotten by turkeys or other birds!):


The reflection in the photo is because I took the photo through the window glass.

So, what have I been doing all day?  I cancelled all my medical appointments, because I wasn’t confident driving with only one strong hand.  And I have a miserable cold, so I’ve slept and lazed around a lot!  But I’ve also been reading and have worked a bit on two pairs of socks.


The top one, with black background, I did so I could write down the pattern in easily understandable language for my massage therapist.  (I don’t use patterns for socks anymore; just figure out the steps as I go).  The bottom one, all blue and orange, is probably going to be a Christmas present, haven’t decided yet…It’s not much, compared to my usual pile of projects, but with my recovering wrist, I am a bit slower than usual. I am also working on a sweater but just doing the bottom at present which is just straight stockinette stitch in the round, nothing very exciting to see a photo of.  When I get to the yoke and the pattern…and I still have that poncho from my own jacob yarn to finish.  I have the two panels done; now I have to sew them together and put the edging and collar on…not sure when that will happen. I’ve also made a set of placemats and am working on a wall hanging with variations of log cabin pattern in the quilting department.

Ah, the brightness to the west appears to be yielding a little peak of the sun…it is still snowing, but not much, and the sun is peeking through in the far distance.   I think the storm is passing.  Soon, Doug will be here with his giant snowblower, attached to his tractor, and in 10 minutes, he’ll have “plowed” the whole 500 feet of driveway.

Time to think about making Christmas cookies…not the 100 dozen I used to make, but maybe 25 dozen…have to enlist the help of neighborhood kids to help since my grandkids don’t live nearby.