Author Archives: ginny

Do you hear what I hear? — Praying with the carols

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“Favorite Christmas Carols” is the book on my mother’s piano. Its paperback cover shows a 1960s-era drawing of Victorian carolers singing by lamplight. There are a few elongated circles scribbled on the cover, courtesy of my cousin Tim who, thirty years ago, spent several happy minutes alone with a pen and my mother’s sheet music. 

The pages are fragile with age, and are splitting from the binding. But within those covers are sturdy, beautiful memories of family Christmases, of singing carols around the piano with relatives and friends.

Simple line illustrations decorate each song. “O Come Little Children” shows a boy and girl on rocking horses, near a sign pointing the way to Bethlehem (“They won’t get very far on those horses,” my sister and I used to quip). “Go, Tell it On the Mountain” features a man standing on a jagged cliff, stretching to touch to a faraway star.

I know those images and lyrics by heart. I adore that book. Every year that I can remember, it has heralded the season of Christ’s birth, filling my mind with song.

Even today, I’m a Christmas music junkie. I delay my indulgence until after Thanksgiving (I believe in giving that beautiful holiday its due). But when Black Friday comes, I’m never at the malls. I’m at home, happily sorting through CDs of Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and the Harry Simeone Chorale.

Though I love “Rudolph” and “Marshmallow World,” I have a particular affinity for the religious songs that we sang around the piano. They ground me during a season that feels far too frenetic. Though I try not to be caught in the spin cycle of holiday stress, I always am. Trips to the mall and post office, December weekend traffic – the immediate needs of the season can creep like frost over the windshield of my vision, obscuring my view of the Incarnation.

But listening to a religious carol – “Silent Night,” John Rutter’s “The Angels’ Carol,” or my father’s favorite, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming “— can melt those distractions away. Those songs always help my harried holiday self settle on the beautiful mystery at the heart of the season. My favorite way to pray during December is to curl up on the couch and listen to those songs, staring at the fireplace or a lit candle, letting that wavering light and those waves of music seep into my bones and saturate me with the beauty of Christ’s coming. The songs restore and renew me, always.

And now that my son is three, I’m realizing that the carols are not just for me. As I wonder how to help Matthew find Jesus among all of the tinsel and gifts, I’m learning anew the power of music. In the car, at home, my son hears what I hear. Just as these carols sank into my bones years ago, so they are sinking into his: one little child learning about the birth of another little child, the sweetest story ever set to music. 

Yes, this is one from the archives, from 2009 (!).  But though my youngest son is now older than Matthew was when I wrote this, my love for carols hasn’t abated.  And my mom still has the book of Christmas songs on her piano each holiday season.  

Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Mary

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My kindergartener came home with what is perhaps one of the most adorable crafts ever: A paper “tilma” like the one in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I loved it not just for its cuteness, but for the fact that it reminds me of my dear friend Mary: one of Our Lady’s biggest fans.

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of G.  It is also the third anniversary of Mary’s death.  I miss her so much; at random moments a huge wave of Mary-nostalgia will wash over me, and the fact that she died so young feels so cruel and awful.

But thinking of the significance of December 12th always helps.   When you are forty-seven, no day is a good day to die, but there is such comfort in thinking about how it was on this very special feast day that Our Lady wrapped her starry cloak around our Mary and took her home.

So I smile at Luke’s little paper tilma, and I can feel Mary smiling at it too.   And I’m grateful for the chance to pause and remember two beautiful women on one sad, beautiful day.

A Christmas stick and old Saint Nick: Two new holiday books for kids

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Every mom knows the experience of having her child unwrap a birthday or Christmas toy, only to find that the child has more fun playing with the box it came in.   It’s a near-universal experience, one that points to a certain truth: Kids need fewer toys than they think they do (or than we think they do).

It’s a tough truth to live by, though, especially this time of year when ads and store windows try to convince our kids that they need more.  That’s why a book like The Christmas Stick (written by Tim J. Myers, illustrated by Necdet Yilmaz) is such a welcome one.

In this colorful new picture book, a spoiled young prince receives a stick for Christmas.  He’s not sure what to do with it at first — it gets ignored as he focuses on the other, flashier toys — but then as the novelty of those toys begins to fade, he turns to the stick and finds that it’s a lot more fun than the others.

A stick can be a sword!  It can be a lute!  It can be a giant’s club!  The book shows the prince letting his imagination rip as he explores all the possibilities of a simple stick.  In the end, he also learns about kindness and giving in a lovely little twist in the plot.  It’s  an utterly charming book, with a message that we can’t get enough of this time of year.   It just may inspire you to wrap up an old broom handle as a gift for your kids and see where their imagination goes.

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A while back, my son and I thoroughly enjoyed the book Saint Francis and Brother Duck by  Jay Stoeckl, OFS .  This year, together we’re reading his new book Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra.  Like its predecessor, Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra is a graphic novel about the spiritual journey of a saint.  Like its predecessor, it also features an adorably-drawn animal sidekick to help convey the story of the saint in question.  The mouse in this book is full of personality, cheeky and smart and frequently challenging Nicholas to explain his life choices  in a way that allows for the saint’s beliefs to unfold easily throughout the story.

The book moves along at a nice pace and is a very engaging and colorful introduction to the saint upon whom Santa Claus is based;  I particularly like its message about generous giving to the poor.  It’s a great read for kids eight and up (and for their parents, too — I’m learning a lot about Saint Nicholas that I didn’t know before).

Both The Christmas Stick and  Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra were review copies courtesy of Paraclete Press, which publishes all sorts of great spiritual books for kids and adults.  Check them out — I promise you’ll find something you like.

Finding God with the senses, Early December edition

Mary with her mantle of snow.

Mary with her mantle of snow.

Finding God in all things?  You betcha.  Here’s how I’ve been glimpsing God’s goodness lately.

SIGHT

We spent Thanksgiving week in upstate New York. So did Winter Storm Cato.  The effects were cold, but dazzling.

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I love those winter sunsets … glorious.

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You can barely see Otsego Lake out there.  The hills beyond the lake, so green and visible in summer, were totally veiled in mist.  There’s such an austere beauty about a snowy landscape; it’s like nature’s version of a black-and-white photo.   In the lovely book Stillmeadow Sampler, about life in rural Connecticut, Gladys Taber writes, “I do not know why white seems more pure as a color than green or blue, but so it is, and the countryside in winter has a purity we never see in any other season.”  I think she has a point.

TASTE

The other night, having run out of wine, I cracked open a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider.  And its snappy, apple-y flavor made me recall Christmases as a kid.  It was the treat we’d always have on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; I recall sipping it slowly from one of my mom’s orange juice glasses, savoring it as long as I could.  Those were good times.

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HEARING

I’ve been listening to Christmas carols a bunch lately (yes, I know it’s Advent, but that never stops me) and hearing these tunes again for the first time in a year is such a welcome thing.  They remind me of Christmases past; they get me in the right mood for the miracle of Christmas Present.

One of my favorites is the  beautiful carol by John Rutter called “What Sweeter Music.”  This video is terrific because it also shows the lyrics, and the words are almost as lovely as the tune.   The song never fails to move me, even in the middle of the holiday hubbub.  We all need peaceful pauses like this, quiet moments to reflect on the wonder of God becoming man and dwelling among us.

How are you finding God this week?

Blog tour: “Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms” by Jennifer Grant

 

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A few years ago, frustrated by my inability to add  prayer to my busy morning routine, I came up with the perfect solution.  I call it “prayer by stealth.”

It involves pouring myself a cup of coffee and taking it back to my room and closing the door.  The kids don’t bother me because they assume I’m getting dressed for the day, which I am – but before I do, I sit down with my warm mug at the prayer table and take five minutes to read something.  Sometimes I read the Mass readings for the day; sometimes I open a devotional book.  Whatever it is, those five stolen minutes restore my soul, a soul that – in the way of most modern moms – is already harried at 6:45 AM.

So when I read the introduction to Jennifer Grant’s new book Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms, I thought to myself: She gets it.

Grant writes:

Wholehearted Living is a book of short, daily readings for women whose season in life affords only limited time for contemplation.  It’s a “pause” button for mothers who want to take a break from talk of juice boxes and snow pants in favor of confronting their fears or reconnecting with their dreams.

It’s for moments when you feel drawn toward the divine, as well as for those times when you feel like your frailties are holding you captive and you really just want to stand in the corner, face the wall, and scream.

Oh, yes.  She gets it.

This is a terrific book, this collection of daily meditations.  I like it for its accessible structure: there is one page-long reflection each day, with a meaningful quotation and an invitation to take the subject of the reflection into your daily routine.  I like it for its focus on real mom-life, with all the joys and challenges thereof.

Most of all, I like it because Grant – a mother of four  – doesn’t  focus every entry on the experience of motherhood.  She has entries that cover other areas of  life, including friendship, spiritual life, marriage.

This speaks to me.  We moms are more than just moms; we are women trying to honor and nurture the other roles in our lives as well.  Often, these other roles are given short-shrift, lost in the day-to-day demands of parenting.  Grant’s insightful reflections affirm that we are also dreamers, friends, aunts, sisters,  pray-ers, romantic partners.   The result is a book that is wonderfully affirming of all the many facets of a woman’s life. (And because I myself am on the other side of forty, I really appreciate that the book reflects the experiences of a mom in midlife.)

All in all, Wholehearted Living is  both inspiring and down-to-earth, a book that meets modern moms right where they are.   It’s a book that is full of heart, yes — but it’s also full of brain, and wit, and soul. Highly recommended.

Wholehearted Living is available through the Loyola Press website, on Barnes and Noble.com, and on Amazon.com.