Category Archives: Holidays and other fun times

A mother’s touch

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

“I don’t know why God chose to enter the world as an infant; there are many possible reasons, I’m sure.  But I like to think that maybe it’s because God, too, wanted to feel the warmth of a mother’s touch.” 

– from Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses

A blessed Mother’s Day to all.

Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

A rerun of a post from — wow — 2011.  I guess I’ve been blogging for a while, haven’t I?

January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the three Magi who journeyed to find Jesus.    This marks the last of the twelve days of Christmas, though frankly, Christmas has felt like a  distant memory to me ever since I started back to school earlier this week.  Setting the alarm and getting up at dark o’clock is a real holiday buzzkill.

But enough complaining.  Since it’s the Epiphany, I’m going to get all spiritual here and talk about one of my favorite poems, “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot.  I’ve read lots of his writings over the years, notably his very long poem “The Waste Land,” which we studied for a few weeks (it’s that kind of poem) in  a college seminar class.   Eliot is not someone I read often, though a lot of his imagery makes me swoon with delight.  But “Journey of the Magi” — well, that’s one I read and re-read every holiday season.

It’s narrated by one of the Magi, reflecting on his trip to find the infant Jesus.  It wasn’t an easy trip; there was lots of sacrifice, and discomfort, and “times we regretted/The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,/And the silken girls bringing sherbet.”  And then, finally, he and his fellow travelers find the place where Jesus lives, and they see him, and he describes it as being “satisfactory.”

But then … in the last stanza, there’s a question, which goes right to the heart of the poem: “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”  And when you read the poem, you see so clearly how this journey has changed the narrator.  Things that were once comfortable are not so comfortable anymore.  His old life doesn’t feel quite right.  After the sacrifice and hardship of the journey, a journey which has  changed him without him even realizing it, he no longer feels at home in the life he used to lead.

That’s pretty much the Gospel message right there, isn’t it?  If we let ourselves be changed by the Incarnation and by the presence of  Jesus, it’s bound to feel a little uncomfortable.  The Gospel message challenges us to color outside the boundaries of our lives, to journey further into love and sacrifice than we’d go on our own.   Maybe this means letting go of grudges that we would love to nurse forever.  Maybe it means giving time or talent to serve people who can’t help themselves.  Maybe it means giving those of a different political or theological stripe the benefit of the doubt instead of shunting them into the category of Other. Overall, it means having a generosity of spirit, which is something that I often fail at doing.

But I try; I really do.   And though I haven’t encountered Christ in his infant form, as the Magi did, I encounter him every week at Mass.  I meet him over and over in the people who cross my paths — at work, at home, in the mall, everywhere.   And in every encounter, I’m challenged to let the old, petty me die so that a new, more generous me can be born.  This is a lifelong process, honestly.  It is a lesson that I learn and re-learn and re-re-learn.  And this poem is one of the ways — an especially beautiful one, at this time of year — that I am reminded to keep on trying.

(Note to poetry geeks: on this website you can listen to a recording of Eliot reading his own poem.)

My Imperfect Advent Wreath (subtitle: Take That, Pinterest)

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It doesn’t look like an Advent wreath, I agree.  It has none of the traditional greenery, fresh and piney.  It has only one squat candle in place of four gracefully lovely tapers. It does not have the decorative pinecones or ribbons or glitter or faux snow that one finds on other, superior Advent wreaths made by crafty-er women than I.

But it’s still an Advent wreath, and it was the best I could do at six o’clock on the first Sunday of Advent.  It represents the labors of my husband, who gamely stopped what he was doing and hauled large Sterilite bins of Christmas decorations down from the rafters of the garage so I could find the little gold circlet for the candles.  It represents the labors of yours truly, who dug through ornaments and Nativity sets while the kitchen timer was going off, hissing at the kids, “No!  We are not decorating for Christmas yet!” as my son started pulling nutcrackers exuberantly out of the bins.  The turkey meatballs got overcooked as I searched in vain for the Advent candles, only to be reminded by my husband that I threw them out last year when, after years of use, they were bending outward in banana-like curves, which is disconcerting, especially when they are lit.

The wreath represents last –minute scrambling, in other words, which pretty much defines my life these days.

But you know what?  It all turned out fine.  I found an old purple Yankee Candle under a thin layer of dust on the back of the TV armoire, and I pressed it into service (“At least we only need one candle,” Scott said.)   With a helpful little book of Advent reflections and two willing boys to read it (actually, one willing boy and one who was more interested in making a telescope out of paper with which to view the flame), we all four gathered around the table for a few moments of quiet candlelit reflection redolent of Garden Sweetpeas, which I know is not a traditional Advent smell but which is nice all the same.

And I thought about how, so often, life presents us with a choice.  We don’t have the time or resources to do something perfectly, so we have to choose either to do it imperfectly, or not to do it at all.  And it is mighty tempting to choose the second option.

I fall into that way of thinking, often not just during Advent.  I don’t have lots of time to spend on writing a letter to a sick relative, so I don’t send one, when in reality a few simple lines on a card would mean a great deal to her.  I’m too tired to sit down for a long session of prayer, so I skip it entirely, even though a brief decade of the rosary or a few quiet moments in God’s presence would mean a lot to God, and even to me.

Advent is just starting, and I know that – like every Advent prior to this one – I won’t be able to engage with it as fully and completely as I would like.  But rather than making that  a reason to write off the season entirely, I am going to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and good is good enough.  My Advent evening prayers may be brief and I may fall asleep while doing them, but I am going to do them all the same and forgive myself when I nod off.  My Advent wreath may be spare and bare, but we’re going to light it anyhow.   We may not be able to gather around the wreath every single night for a family prayer, but we will do it on Sunday at least, and the gathering and praying, imperfect as it may be, will be holy.

Because at the heart of all Advent traditions is the desire to prepare for the birth of the Savior, a baby who came into this world in the most humble, imperfect, non-Pinterest-y way possible.  He was a baby whose parents had to cobble things together as best they could, in that cold unfriendly foreign place, and yet – in the end – all that mattered was the encounter with Love incarnate.

May that truth guide me this Advent, and beyond.

November is …

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November is …

…leaves turning orange and red.

….needing a comforter on the bed.

…darker evenings, more indoor time, more indoor play — a time of year when there are even more toys all over the floor than usual, but somehow, it’s cozy.

…planting bulbs in hopes of a colorful spring.  (There’s always such suspense around bulbs, isn’t there?  Will they bloom, or won’t they?)

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…praying for and remembering the dead, in keeping with Catholic tradition.  I like listening to this setting of the Litany of the Saints all year, but especially this month:

…finally having a fire in the fireplace.

…pulling out some of our favorite Thanksgiving books and reading them with the kids.  Something about Cranberry Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Is Here!  always makes me feel happy.

Cranberry-Thanksgiving

 

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…Pumpkin everything.  Somehow, it seems premature to eat it until November.

…Warm, comforting drinks, like this chai I made the other day.  My friend Hemali gave me a jar of mixed chai spices to use – peppery, sweet,  and wonderful.

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What does November mean to you?

You’re a grand old flag

Happy Fourth of July!

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