Showing posts from December, 2007

Wishing the Cliche a Happy Death

"Sarah's gone." My husband addressed the back of my head as I worked at the computer. He was just back from the library with a few videos.

"What do you mean, 'gone'?" I asked without turning around.

"Dead." He was on his way up the stairs. "She died on Thanksgiving."

Sarah was a neighbor I would see regularly because I walk every day and she walked her dog every day. She was always good company and good conversation. Working at the public library in a small town, she was always good for some gossip. Seeing each other was always a pleasure, however brief.I knew her the way people know their neighbors--intimately and not at all.

A slender woman who had smoked, her habit left her with a grievous cough that grew like a black cloud that eventually engulfed her. After a week in hospice care, she went home to her brother for Thanksgiving and died there.

It's strange, humbling, and eerie to come home from a short vacation to find out someon…

Weekend Snapshot: Rainy Ride Home

Breath becomes the fog
That blends the warmth of this car
With darkness, with light. Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: a Healthy Child

I took my daughter for her annual physical two days after Christmas. She is in perfect health from head to toe.

This is great news considering this is a child who gets a little itchy even to be in a room with fruit and vegetables. Yes, indeed, the carbohydrate queen is thriving at nine.Her health is this week's blessing.

As a healthy child, my daughter's biggest concerns are fitting in her fiction reading, clarinet playing, movie watching, sports playing, and sleeping into her routine. At this rate, her life promises to be good and long.

I especially appreciate this blessing because our lives have been touched by the lives of parents whose children suffer from Tay-Sachs Disease, AT Disorder, and Downs Syndrome. The only certainty in the lives of these parents is that their children will die young and that they will be with their children every step of the way of their foreshortened lives.

I can't begin to imagine what that must feel like. I image a life haunted by grief, yet w…

Review: 'Water Horse'

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is mythology at its very best. In it, the Loch Ness monster takes center stage in a tale set on a country estate in Scotland during World War II. Little Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) is "confused," according to his mother Anne (Emily Watson), because he hasn't accepted that his father died in the war; Angus awaits his beloved father's return.

During this wait, a regiment of soldiers and a new handyman land on the doorstep of the manor house of which his mother is head housekeeper and bring World War II to the child's everyday life. They pull him out of the past and future and squarely into the brutal present of selfish, self-centered adults who see him less as a little boy than as a problem to be solved or put by for another time.

Angus doesn't mind, though, because he's not eager for their attention. He's got to look after the Water Horse, which he names Caruso. This is the sea creature that hatched from a huge egg he …

Skywatch Friday

As dawn becomes the day
So year follows year--
Silent as a rising moon,
Silent as the sky--
Until day is gone, and night,
Folded into shadows
Full of dreams and long.
This is your life, a song.

Skywatch Friday

Thursday Thirteen No. 14: Fairies

From Ireland this Christmas came Fairies, a book of 12 art reproductions of famous illustrations of these diminutive, magical beings. This big, beautiful book provided a visual feast on this special day.
Since she as three, my daughter has enjoyed being a flower fairy, making homes for them in the woods, and reading about them. To her already vast store of knowledge this wonderful book added the following.
The Artists
1. The Victorian Era was the heyday of flower fairy art.

2. The public's interest in fairies coincided with a growing interest in the occult and spiritualism.

3. Artists of the time were also looking for a change in theme from classical and biblical subjects.

4. Though painting nudes was taboo during the Victorian era, artists such as John Simmons got around this dilemma by painting fairies.
5. Artists during this time paid close attention to detail, being sure to depict plant and insect life accurately.

6. The beauty of the fairies can entice humans into their world, from…

Wordless Wednesday: The Eyes Stay Young


Ever Wonder about the Star of Wonder?

If you've ever wondered about the star of wonder, you might want to check out this week's Religion and Ethics newsletter by clicking here. Reporter Kim Lawton talks to professors and an author who have explored the star as a cosmic occurrence, a miracle, and a literary myth.

Ronald Kaitchuck, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State University, Indiana, says there is ample scientific evidence to suggest a number of like possibilities about the starscape at the time of Jesus birth. For the past 40 years, his department at Ball State has offered a Christmas show about the possibilities surrounding the Star of Bethlehem.

"Three of the major planets appeared fairly close together in the same part of the sky. That'd be Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. And then, just a year later, we know from Chinese records there was a nova--an exploding star," Kaitchuck says.

At the same time, in College Station, Texas, law professor and evangelical Christian Rick Larson points out t…

Weekend Snapshot: God Bless it!

Actor and writer William Kinsolving read Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" at the Gunn Memorial Library in Washington, Connecticut, on Friday evening. His apt and sensitive rendering of 30 characters in this classic Christmas ghost story was spellbinding. These are two of the library's windows.

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time . . . as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'" (Scrooge's nephew Fred, "A Christmas Carol")

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: My Daughter's Choir

This week's blessing is my daughter's choir.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Choristers Academy at St. John's Parish on the Green in Waterbury, Connecticut, sang to the homeless children and adults of Waterbury who attended the Christmas party of Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries. This is an annual event during which the children each receive a toy for the holiday. My daughter and her peers went to church straight after school, donned their cassocks and stoles, and schlepped through the slush across Main Street to sing in the vast hall of the city's First Congregational Church.

The church was packed with hundreds of people of every age waiting to see Santa and receive a gift. Listening to kids from the church across the street wasn't on anybody's mind. The hubbub and hustle of this throng nevertheless stopped when the kids sang the first words of "Hashi Venu" a cappella.

For a few blissful moments a church full of people whose lives were framed by doi…

Had a Bath Today?

Had a bath today? Showered yet? Thirsty? Do the plants need a drop?

Before you touch the tap, consider:
drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions;Florida doesn't have nearly enough water for its expected population boom;the Great Lakes are shrinking;Upstate New York's reservoirs have dropped to record lows;homeowners in the Southeastern US have been using dish and bath water to flush toilets and water plants;in the West, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year.The US government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess. Rising temperatures are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Rising seas could push saltwater into underground sources of freshwater. Paved over areas of land prevent groundwater from penetrating the earth to recharge aquifers.

It's the same everywhere. Australia is in the mi…

Skywatch Friday: At Dawn

At dawn
Make all things new with
Earth, air, water and fire, and
This truth: it is good.
Skywatch Friday

Thursday Thirteen No. 13: Bells

I heard a girls' choir sing the "Carol of Bells" last week at a Christmas concert. On the way home, I heard "Silver Bells." Out for a walk, I heard sleigh bells shaken by a golden retriever who wore them on her collar. All the bells were magic. Bells, bells, bells. What about bells? They've been around for a long time:

1. Bells have been used by different civilizations in religious rites even before the development of a written language. The first bells were cast in China 4,000 years ago, and

2. The first Christian churches to have bells were in Italy around 500 AD, where the Benedictine monks in the Campana region learned how to cast them.

3. They are mentioned in Exodus as part of Hebrew worship, and ancient artwork shows them decorating the robes of priests.

4. Handbells were the first bells to have appeared in England, the Romans using them to summon their servants.

5. The ringing of bells became the means of telling time. Priests rang the bells before wor…

Wordless Wednesday: Pretty Mama


Who Stands Where You Stand?

Do you have any idea which presidential hopeful supports the issues you care about? is a website that can help you find out which presidential hopeful shares your concerns and has actually said or done something in the interest of those concerns.

The site will ask you to identify your concerns from among the major issues on which we vote--education, health care, the environment, and so on--and then identify where you stand on some related issues. In a matter of seconds, you'll find out which three candidate wannabes come closest to where you stand.

Click another button, and you can read up on what this politician has said and done about this issue.

Glassbooth is easy, objective, and worth five minutes. The site will save you from wading through editorials, sitting through news programs, and sifting through news stories. Glassbooth's site identifies itself as "a nonprofit organization that is creating innovative ways to access political information."The…

Weekend Snapshot: What's Old is New is Old at Christmas

You age but do never weary--
Are you man or Elf? Magic itself?
Alone in the cold year after year
Making gifts from the dreams that drift
Seen and unseen from hearts evergreen.
Giver of gifts from hearts that dream.
Alone in the cold year after year
Neither man nor elf nor magic itself
But all at once and one and all and everywhere;
We call you by name and you know our hope.
Alone in the cold, you know our hope.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Snow

I slipped into my daughter's bedroom Monday morning to kiss her on the forehead before I left for work. She did not open her eyes, but she stirred a bit; I crept out before I disturbed her slumber. Looking at her in that brief moment brought to mind my memory of the first time she smiled at me.

She lay in her crib that stood where the bed stands now. She just more than two months old and had awoken from a nap--the only nap she would ever take in a crib. I came up to get her, and she stretched out and smiled at me. Her eyes were still blue, and her toothless smile sweeter than any I had ever seen before or have seen since. Her face was full of the bright peace that comes with a good rest. There was nothing else to do that winter but be with my baby.

"I hope it snows this week," I said to myself as I got into my car. I wanted a snow day off from school. Then, on Tuesday, Bill the Security Guy at our church told me he doubted we'd be back on Thursday for choir practice be…

A Light Moment on the Road to Christmas

Christmas is serious business--for the faithful who ponder its spiritual significance as well as for the merchants who have made of it a business.Still, too much seriousness is just too much.

So I was relieved and I laughed hysterically when I came across this list of carols and mental disorders this week on Beliefnet. I hope you'll laugh with me.

1. Schizophrenia: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

2. Multiple Personality Disorder: "We Three Kings Disoriented Are"

3. Dementia: "I Think I'll be Home for Christmas"

4. Narcissistic: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing About Me"

5. Manic: "Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and....."

6. Paranoid: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me"

7. Borderline Personality Disorder: "Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire"

8. Personality Disorder: "You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Go…

Skywatch Friday: Free of Expectations

Where to, the birds
And where now, the squirrels?
Where, too, the dogs and feral cats
To prowl around the trees now.
No leaves--Where have they gone?--
To interfere with the embrace of sun and limb--
But where is the sun?
The tree lives in silence and soft light
And stillness,
Free of expectations.
Stand still, too. Stand still in the peace.
Like the tree, you are free
And you stay.

Skywatch Friday

Thursday Thirteen No. 12: Chrismahanuhajj--What?

Chrismahanuhajjukas is the word my young cousins invented to capture the strange December phenomenon of making this month about everything. This is the word that includes everything but says nothing and means even less. The school-age kids see that when when we try to please everyone with all the right answers all at once, we wind up with nothing.

Thinking about this the other day, I disassembled the word into its constituent parts and did some hunting around for other December holidays. This is a special month for many faiths, all of which have special days that have their own integrity and are beautiful in their own right, like Christmas. Like Christmas, they deserve to be seen for what they are. Here are a non-Christian holy days that occur in December alongside the many Christian ones:

1. Christian: Advent (December 2, 9, 16, 23)
This is the Christian time of preparation for observing the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest November 30 and is the beginning of t…

Wordless Wednesday: Timeless Dolls

Click here to learn more about these dolls.
Wordless Wednesday

Christmas in Connecticut Long, Long Ago

Treats of exotic oranges and nuts at the bottom of stockings, ice cream made by hand or brought in on the train, tables laden with roasted turkeys and homemade pies, houses full of grandparents and uncles and cousins and aunts, sledding on scraps of cardboard, gifts of dolls and toothbrushes, games, and more dolls....

From the local woods came the plentiful greens that children twisted and shaped into the garlands that adorned the local churches, where townspeople might attended worship at 5:30 in the morning or in the evening. There young people put on pageants, lit candles, and glimpsed Santa....

Such is the stuff of Christmas in early 20th century Connecticut as it is remembered by the people who made a life here. There words are recorded as part of the Oral History Project of the Gunn Historical Museum. Excerpts of the project's interviews with aging locals are part of the museum's "Memories of Christmas in Washington" doll and toy display running now until Decembe…

Weekend Snapshot: The Elf Shoe

One little elf left his shoe on our shelf
Long before Christmas day.
His red little toes matched his cherry nose
And he couldn't come out to play
Till Santa came back on his sleigh and his pack
To take the shoe back after a milk and cookie snack!
How the elf did play on Christmas Day!

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings Sunday: Light

A long time ago I lived in Ireland in Belfast, County Antrim. I loved the winters there. They were damp and cold and oh so dark. I loved winters because being out in them made coming in to the fireside all the more appealing. Whether I came in to company or quiet, the fire was warm, the light soft, and the peace wonderful.

At the onset of winter, which begins the day after Halloween in Ireland, up would go the Christmas lights in the City Center. They glowed in the soft light of sometimes foggy evenings in that wonderful city full of old, dirty buildings that recalled a prosperity long gone. The Christmas lights were a source of joy, though. They really were Christmas in that city full of people who had no money in their pockets. Christmas really was about the light.

Walking around my own little neighborhood the other evening and taking in my neighbors' displays of light, I felt the same strange peace I often felt in Belfast even when the Troubles were intense. It seemed to me then…

What is Christmas but Finding Yourself Another Year Older?

"What is Christmas but finding yourself another year older but not an hour richer?" said Scrooge in the shape of my role-playing 9-year-old nephew Alex last Saturday. He had just seen a production of A Christmas Carol at the Shubert in New Haven, Connecticut.

Alex wore his magician's top hat, a black tunic, and a snowman's felt scarf; and he shook a broken plastic saber--a stand-in for a walking stick--as he thundered the words of the famous Victorian cheapskate.

And there he had me: Christmas finds us another year older but not an hour richer.

I couldn't think of an apt reply. He usually role-plays the big elf we all know and love as Santa; here he stood as the very antithesis of that selfless Spirit.

Before I had my coat off, he gave me my stage directions: "Ask me about the poor people, Aunt Sandy."

"Okay, Alex. What about the poor people?"

"Are there no prisons? No workhouses?"

"Scrooge, are you going to be a grouch all day, or w…

Skywatch Friday: Window Like a Mirror

Transparent mirror
Reflecting the universe
On a small room.
Skywatch Friday

Thursday Thirteen No. 11: No Fear

The Gospel, the story of Jesus's life, is a lesson in how to live together--how to take care of each other. It's not for us to find fault but to find beauty and to wonder. After all, it is the story of a Teacher who summed up his life's work with the command: "love one another." Reading the Christmas story as Luke tells it, I was struck by the number of times he uses the word "fear"--a word that can mean reverence when it does not mean dread. Here are 13 references to fear in the Gospel written for all people everywhere:

1. The angel addresses Zechariah in the temple: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.You will have joy and gladness...."

2. Gabriel to Mary: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And will bear a son..."

3. Mary's Song of Praise: "the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is h…

Wordless Wednesday: Window into Virginia


Review: 'The Luminous Word'

I received an Advent gift of Jan L. Richardson's The Luminous Word from friends at Wisdom House last week. It is a handmade devotional booklet that considers Mary's experience as the bearer and bringer of the Word into the world. It also reflects on Joseph's experience as a brave taker of risks that the Word might live. Richardson's text then considers how we might do the same in our lives.

It is a wonderful devotional that makes real and immediate the Christmas story, particularly how it appears in the early pages of the Gospel According to Luke.

These words with which Richardson closes her meditation are a glimpse of the spirit with which she writes: "I have lived with this ancient story, the story of the coming of the Word into the world, for a long time. I've been fascinated with it ever since I first figured out that it's not the story of a meek woman resignedly accepting God's designs upon her but rather a woman who willingly opened herself, who …

Weekend Snapshot: Be not Afraid

The angel speaks: "Be not afraid."
To comfort? To command.
The angel speaks in light that is not light
That is nothing but light
Words that are not words
That are nothing but light.
Fear not, says the angel.

This is the lectern in the Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Poetry

"You know how you just have a memory of looking up and seeing a face looking over your crib and then remember nothing until tenth grade?--I have one of these early memories where I'm in the back of my parents' car...."

So said the American poet Billy Collins--our poet laureate from 2001to 2003--in response to a question about the influence of his childhood on his poetry in a 2006 interview with Guerinca Magazine.

This kind of response is typical of Billy Collins and characteristic of his poetry. He has the gift of expressing the magic and mysterious aspects of life in the most ordinary of terms so that the loftiest of literary arts takes on the voice of you and me.

In his poem "Lanyard," for example, he reflects on creating a lanyard at summer camp and giving it to his mother, the woman who gave him life and made so many sacrifices for his benefit. Here are the final two stanzas:

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two…

Review: 'My Dog Skip'

My Dog Skip is the movie for people who don't get dog people. If you don't understand how some folks can live with dog hair in the house, embarrassing sniffing, and a relentless walking regimen, watch this movie. You'll get it long before the credits roll by.
My Dog Skip is about Skip and a geeky misfit of a kid whose pup helps him mediate the strange and irrational world within just beyond the front door of the family home.

Skip's winsome ways, fearless loyalty, playful spirit, and honest love win him a place in the heart and bed of his human friend Willy Morris as well as a revered place in Yazoo, Mississippi, where Willy is growing up.The movie is based on Willie Morris's memoir of his childhood.

Starring Kevin Bacon as Willy's remote and dispirited father, Diane Lane as his capable and sensitive mother, and Frankie Muniz as Willy, My Dog Skip is about living up to the loyalty of your friends despite your setbacks and failures. Not everyone can do that.