Gathering around light is common. We circle a campfire, draw close to our fireplaces, light candles at special dinners and ceremonies. At times we are drawn by a need for warmth, or to increase our ability to see, but often we focus on a candle’s flame seeking illumination beyond seeing… for inner glow. It is then we become not so much like a candle fly, inching closer in puzzling confusion and risking injury as like a firefly, able to fly in the dark and to show light.
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When she was barely two, Maddie Claire could sing Amazing Grace. Perfect tune. Amazing enunciation. My choir director would have been proud of her consonants and vowel sounds. We, knowing the song, and understanding with awe and reverence the theology, smiled and praised her musicality, realizing that most of the words were not words she attached meaning to other than for the pleasure of singing them. Maddie turned four last week. She uses her large vocabulary for more than singing and talking…she asks questions. A lot of questions. Since the birth of her baby sister, Jordann, Maddie has been interested in the beginning and growing and arriving of babies, and last week asked her mother the time honored question about where babies come from.
“Where was Jordann before she was in your tummy, Mommy?” Her mother, knowing that Maddie was not ready for a total fact finding answer, wildly searched her database of acceptable answers and answered “the grace of God”. Satisfied for the moment, Maddie went about her job of being a big sister, and, I imagine, Michala relaxed in relief that the matter was tabled for the time being.
Today, Maddie and her Daddy were painting a wall in the bedroom. As she started to leave the room she told her Dad “If you need anything, just call my name.” He answered, “What name should I call you?” Maddie chided him, “You know my name, you have always known me since before I was in my mommy’s tummy.” Jeremy continued, “ And where were you then?”
To which Maddie solemnly replied, “I was swimming around in grace!”
It could be that Maddie is growing in her theology. Amazing. Grace.
Last week, when straightening the house before bringing my husband home from a hospital stay, I brought the first few roses to open since early December inside to brighten the table by his chair. A rosemary sprig completed the little bowl of multi-colored blooms…all from the same bush. These roses, named Mutabulis, are different colors at various points in their budding and blossoming, darkening with age, instead of fading. Single petals open soft yellow, changing through peachy coral to rich pink and finally dusky crimson. Flowers of all these colors will often be on display at the same time, looking as if a host of varigated butterflies has settled on the bush. C. S. Lewis said “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” I can stand on all four sides of this huge rose bush and see a different color rose each time. I know this is due to this old rose’s roots as well as by what they are nourished. I believe I am hearing that the sort of person I am is due to the same things.
When I picked the flowers for Joe, they were the first and only to open. Today, only 2 weeks later, our three rose bushes in the corner of the back yard are putting on quite a show.
“Hush”, the baby in my arms says with a proud smile, feeling power in using a word that produces result.
She has no malice, no judgement of my singing.
She only learned “hush” yesterday and is exercising cause and effect.
Will I do it again?
Happy work, this making music and hushing.
“Hush”, I hear God whisper.
Do I obey?
Is there compliance in this dance, too?
I begin a different song.
“Hush”, I once more hear the prompting.
Then, when I have understood,
He begins the song and we sing together.
We have been having
epiphanies, like suns,
all this year long,
And now, at its close
when the planets
are shining through frost,
like music in the bones,
and the heart keeps rising
at the sound of any song.
An old magic flows
in the silver calling
of a bell,
high and clear,
the death knell
of our old year,
the new appearing
of Christ, our Morning Star.
all our bell throats.
every clapper tongue,
Stun the still night!
Jesus himself gleams through
our high heart notes
(it is no fable)
It is he whose light
glistens in each song sung
and in the true
coming together again
to the stable,
of all of us: shepherds,
sages, his women and men,
common and faithful,
wealthy and wise,
with carillon hearts
stars in our eyes.
~ Luci Shaw
Once Upon a Christmas
The Carols of Christmas
Each year during Advent and Christmas I enjoy many of the same carols I sang when I was growing up. But I also love learning new ones, which are mostly really old! I have a lovely Christmas songbook given to me by my son, Ben. In it I find the traditional favorites as well as many that have become well loved if not as familiar. The following is one of those. The origins of this old carol apparently lie in the southern part of France. I am strangely attracted to it, and like to think that my French great great grandparents might have taught this to their little girl who later came with them to the United States and was my great grandmother. Although she died when I was a baby, perhaps she even sang it to me and rocked me. I feel it so.
Whence comes this rush of wings afar,
Following straight the Noel star?
Birds from the woods in wondrous flight,
Bethlehem seek this Holy Night.
Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here,
Into this stable, poor and drear?
“Hastning we seek the newborn King,
And all our sweetest music bring.”
Snow falls rarely on the Texas Gulf Coast. Yesterday it snowed all day! In this season of Advent, several beloved carols ring with mention of winter cold and snow. In the Bleak MidWinter…snow on snow, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming. As the words of the songs drifted through my mind, snowflakes drifted and settled onto an antique rose in my garden named Maggie. This rose is the only one I know whose fragrance is sweeter when it is cut to bring into my home. One single bloom was bejeweled with snowflakes.
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.
~ Fourteenth-Century German Melody
This verse, Sixteenth-Century German
Today, on my last birthday that will be sixty –something, I think of the gift of time, and the changes that come in this time in my life. In this quiet hour as I sit looking at my garden changing into its autumn dress, I consider what the dormant fruit trees and absence of bright blooms says about these growing things. They are different now from March or May or the heat of August, but those of root and permanence survive their winter and will bring heartspring with leaf and bud, even new fruit in a few months.
In the garden seasons I see beginning and changing and, yes, some endings. But the story of the seasons begins a new verse with its cycle of renewal and rebirth. In my autumn self my roots remind me of this larger cycle of hope and grace. I love my November birthday!
“Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.” ~ Giovanni Giocondo
A year ago, we readied our home and garden for a celebration. Ben and Kristen were to be married on November 1, and they chose to have their rehearsal dinner here. Hurricane Ike had just done great damage to the Texas Gulf Coast, and although many downed trees and fences dotted our neighborhood, we escaped with minimum damage. So we picked up, propped up, and prepared for some new planting. Along with pumpkins, pots of chrysanthemum, and burgundy snapdragons, we planted kale and cabbages to fill in bare spots, giving autumn flair and flavor to the back yard. The dinner was delightful, their wedding was wonderful, and with the new Mr. and Mrs. off to Belize for their honeymoon, we continued to enjoy our little cabbages.
The bronze and russet mums quickly faded. But the cabbages soldiered on, gathering strength in the cooler days, and surviving even the few frosts our mild winter brought. Their sturdy purple and green leaves brought color to the drabbest day, but as the heat of summer months continued, they shot up on stalks that began to resemble some prehistoric lizard. It was time to pull them up, but I noticed a few tiny shoots near the base that looked like a little mustache, so I cut them off there instead. I think they are growing again, just like the lizards that loose their tails!
Oh yes, the cabbages went to church on Sunday instead of the compost heap. We used them with branches of herbs for centerpieces at a salad lunch after services.