Online workshop this Friday — join me!

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Are you a Massive Mary Fan, the kind who brakes for pictures of the Madonna and Child and who can sing all verses of “Hail, Holy Queen” by heart?

Are you someone who thinks, “I know everyone always talks about how great Mary is, but I’ve never really had much of a connection with her”?

Wherever you are in your relationship (or lack thereof) with Mary, I’ve got an invitation for you.   I’ll be giving an online workshop this Friday, January 27th at 9 pm Eastern Time.   The topic is Mary and Modern Women, and I’ll be looking at Mary from five angles that speak to women today.  It’s put on by Blessed is She, a great website to check out every day of the year.

If you are a member of Blessed is She, it’s totally free. If you aren’t, it’s $15.  Check out the details on the website.

Hope you can make it!  (and if you can’t join in live, check the site — you can watch them after the fact, too).

A life well-lived

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Here’s a truth: you can plan all you want, but sometimes, life just doesn’t deliver what you expect.   We certainly learned that this year, when the Christmas we got was very different from the one we wanted.

The boys and Scott and I flew out to upstate New York a few days before Christmas, planning to spend the holiday with Scott’s dad Bob, and Scott’s sisters Terri and Kathy.  Ever since Scott’s mom’s death in 2014, Bob’s health had been declining, but he was hanging gamely on.  But when we arrived on the 21st – his 84th birthday – he had a bad cold and cough.  The next day the doctor recommended that he go to the hospital.  He died there early the next morning.

It was not the Christmas we meant to spend.  Instead of family time together, doing the classic Moyer Happy Hour – drinks and snacks about 5, one of Bob’s favorite traditions – we met with a funeral home, packed up his apartment, and sifted through the many photos and clippings to figure out how best to capture his life in an obituary.

Grandpa Bob and Matthew

Grandpa Bob and Matthew

But as awful as it was, we all agreed that there were blessings there, too.  We were all in town when he died, not in various parts of the globe as we usually are.  We’d had a chance to see him and celebrate his birthday.  And it was a chance to process his life and our loss together, instead of separately.

It’s quite a life, too, by any measure.  A native New Yorker – from Glens Falls – he loved the East, and knew a great deal about local history.  He and Joan raised their three kids in Oneonta, a small town in Otsego County.  Over the years, he became involved in banking, eventually serving as  CEO of Wilber National Bank and, later, as director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.   He served on more boards than you could name, donated his time to countless volunteer organizations, and believed passionately in the power of community.  He loved Oneonta and being in a place where you know people and they know you.

Bob was also a man of deep principle.  I remember Scott telling me years ago that his dad, before retirement, used to get mildly frustrated with some of the federal regulations affecting banking.  This was because Bob himself would never do anything remotely unethical, and he tended to assume that other bankers were the same.  Regulations are not necessary if everyone has the customers’ best interests at heart, as Bob always did.  If only there were more people like him.

Bob was also a military man, a member of the Air Force who also flew Air National Guard missions in the 1960s and 1970s.  I remember him telling me about the years he was stationed in France in the 1950s, and how his name – Robert Moyer – was pronounced by the French people he met, with the accents moved from the first to the second syllables.  (“Ro-BEAR  Moy-YAY.”)  I often use his name as an example when I talk about poetic meter with my students, explaining the difference between trochees and iambs.

I wish I’d talked to him more about his time in France.  It must have been quite a difference place in the 1950s than the France I knew in the 1990s; I suspect he had some good stories to share, and I regret not asking him.  I guess we always think we’ll have more time.  I should know better by now.

Bob loved talking, reflecting, thinking.  Up until the day he died, his mind was sharp and curious and he was always “noodling,” as he’d say, over some world problem and how to solve it.  In the last years of his life, after he lost his beloved wife of 54 years and was dealing with the resulting grief, he settled into the habit of lying in bed at night and reviewing the many blessings and gifts of his life.  They were many, and I suspect Joan topped the list.  He was crazy about her, as is evident in photos of their early years and their later ones, too.

Bob and Joan

Lovebirds Bob and Joan

One of my favorite memories of Bob is when they came out to visit us back in 2008.  The two of them went out for a romantic dinner one evening at a restaurant near our house.  It’s a place up in the hills, with an impressive view of the Bay Area city lights. After they returned back to our house, I asked if they liked the view.

“Oh, it was beautiful,” said Joan, her face lighting up.  “I sat facing the windows.”  She talked for a while about how much she had enjoyed the ambiance, the food, the service.

As she spoke, Bob was looking at her with a smile on his face.  When she had finished, he said one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard.

“I just looked at Joan,” he said simply.  “That’s my favorite view.”

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Three days after Bob’s death, after a day of sorting and organizing and the arrangements that follow a death, we all took a break and watched “The Sound of Music.”  I thought not for the first time about the wisdom of the Mother Abbess’s words, when Maria is worried about her feelings for Captain von Trapp.  “Maria,” she says, “The love of a man and woman is holy too.”

Bob got that.  He showed us the holiness of being a good husband, and good father, and good grandfather.

And for all his many accomplishments in the public sphere, for all the influence he had on his community and on the lives of his clients at the bank, I think his greatest achievements are his three children. And I know my life has been forever changed, and utterly blessed, because Scott had a dad like him.

Bob and his kids

Thank you, Bob, for everything.

 

WAY more than three wise men

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My family subscribes to the theory that you can never have too many nativity scenes.   The nesting dolls, the little Peruvian one, the set carved out of wood from the Holy Land: they’re all on display this time of year.

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If you have to have a surplus of something, this isn’t a bad thing to have, is it?

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Happy-almost-Christmas!

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Angels in words, pictures, and music

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Along with Santas, elves, and reindeer, angels make a big appearance this time of year.  And yet unlike many of the other characters associated with the holidays, angels aren’t Christmas-specific.  In fact, as a new book points out, they  are fascinating beings whose presence in the Bible can point us toward a fuller understanding of God’s work.

All God’s Angels: Loving and Learning from Angelic Messengers (Paraclete Press)  is one of the loveliest books to cross my path this year.  Each short chapter focuses on an angel story from the Bible, everything from Genesis to Revelation.  In pithy, wise reflections, author Martin Shannon meditates on each story and what it reveals about angels, about God, and — ultimately — about our human selves.  I love the approach; I’ve never before read these Bible stories and thought about the angels as anything other than peripheral figures, so I found the new perspective fascinating.

Each chapter is illustrated by a colorful reproduction of a work of art, everything from a Byzantine mosaic of the angel guarding Eden to Eugene Delacroix’s famous picture of Jacob wrestling the angel.

Delacroix's classic image

Delacroix’s classic image

These pictures are powerful complements to the chapters, particularly because Shannon also comments on the artwork, pointing out little details that help emphasize the mood and meaning of the story.

Between the words and the art, this book is a glorious celebration of these mysterious beings who end up on our Christmas trees and coffee mugs but whose history and involvement in salvation is so much more rich than it seems.  It’s a lovely, inspiring little book and would be a great Christmas gift for anyone looking for a dose of inspiration.

And if you want to fully immerse yourself in all things angelic, read the book to the strains of this lovely song.  It’s one of my favorite carols of all time, courtesy of John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers.

Enjoy!

 

 

When all else fails, try nature

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Marin Headlands, Marin County, CA

Like many of you, I’ve been spending the last two weeks looking desperately for peace and a quiet mind.  I’ve found a few things that help. Writing is one; wine is another. And getting outdoors into the beauty of creation has a healing power like nothing else.

I’d like to share with you two places I’ve found God lately.

One is a county park not far from where I work.  It’s the place where Scott proposed to me lo these fifteen (!) years ago.   And while the hillsides are light brown most of the year, we’ve been fortunate enough to have rain this fall, and everything is a brilliant spring green.

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There are oaks here, and bay trees which give out a wonderful fragrance.  There is poison oak turning a beautiful red and lots of deer, who graze unconcernedly as you walk by.  Off in the distance you can see Silicon Valley and the bay.

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It’s a place so dear to my heart, and on a crystal-blue day like this, with the earth still soft from the recent rain and the air smelling so sweetly of oak and bay, it’s much easier to breathe here than anywhere else.

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The next place is in the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco.  The boys went there on a Cub Scout Hike, and it was the kind of day where rain gave way to wonderfully dramatic skies, with clouds over the ocean and fog hugging the hills.

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We hiked from the estuary to the coast, then up a rather significant hill to a WWII bunker up on the top (a hit with the Scouts).  Along the way we passed an honest-to-goodness cove far, far down below, in which water was churning and roiling about and moving a log as if it were a toothpick.  The whole setting was all very Poldark. I half expected to see Cornish smugglers unloading a ship down below.

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Channeling my inner Demelza

Channeling my inner Demelza

It was balm for the spirit: being out by the water, seeing impossibly large waves form and crash onto the beach, smelling salt and soil and the cleanness that only comes from a good rain, seeing the birds wheel and glide over the estuary and the hills.  At every turn there was a view that makes you think about the Being that made all this, in its glorious splendor, for the rest of us to live on and with.

I’m home now, with sore legs and good memories and a renewed conviction that time outside is always the best choice.

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