Friday, December 15, 2017

Haruf (Rhymes with Sheriff)

Salida, Colorado

From across the street, the quartz display at the
Crystal Shop looked like a lighted Christmas tree . . .
and right next door, Ferraro's cute Italian restaurant!


Learn more about Salida (aka Holt),
hometown of American novelist
Kent Haruf (1943 - 2014)
on my my current post

"Not the Husband, Not the Father"

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker


****************

read favorite passages
from all the novels
on my book blog

"Everything by Kent Haruf"

@ Kitti's Book List

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Be Realistic: Expect a Miracle!


“The economy of heaven
Looks for fiestas and fireworks every day.
Every day.
Be realistic, says heaven:
Expect a miracle.”


~ from the poem “Not the Millennium” ~
~ by U. A. Fanthorpe ~
found in her book of Christmas Poems: BC - AD
given to us last year by Auntie Jan

Speaking of miracles, as I was looking over Christmas cards from the past few years, I pulled out a couple from people who had begun their letters with passages that were completely new to me, though from familiar authors.

First came these miraculous lines from E.E. Cummings,
sent by my friend Mary Alice:

Miracles are to come.
With you I leave a remembrance
of miracles: they are by
somebody who can love
and who shall be continually reborn,
a human being.”

Second, no surprise that my friend Tammy, a poet herself,
chose these lines from Richard Hugo:

"I almost forget: he'd do anything for you. Love him
for what you might have become
and love him for what your are, not that far
from him. We are never that far. Love
everyone you can. The list gets longer and shorter.
We're seldom better than weather . . .
Don't be sorry, for him or for self. Love the last star
broken by storm. And love you. You hold it together."

I came across an analysis of Hugo's teaching legacy that concludes with the entire poem and this editorial comment:

"Since we are today, a writing community, or at
least a village of writing teachers, let me conclude this essay
with Hugo's 'Villager.' I can't help imagining it's exactly what
he would like to say to you."

What's wrong will always be wrong. I've seen him lean
against the house hours and glare at the sea. His eyes say
no boat will come. His harsh throated seemingly
good natured mother bends her back to the soil
and there at least all grows well. When I speak with him
his eyes move away to the sea and I imagine
the red in his face from drink is also from
some ancient tribal shame. To him I'm wealthy.
When we talk, I know how wealthy I am.

The police have him on file: petty theft.
I'm certain he steals to make up for the nothing he finds
every day in the sea, and to find money for drink.
Some days a woman picks him up, a sister I'm told,
takes him away and houri later delivers him back
passed out. Next morning again he's propped against
the house, the tide out in his eyes. I imagine
his sister, if that's who she is, knows that oblivion
is what he must have often to survive.

I have much to tell him. And nothing. I'd start
with the sea. I'd say, there was another sea something
like this long ago, and another me. By the time
I got to the point he'd be looking away and be right.
No two hurts are the same, and most have compensations
too lovely to leave. At night, a photo glows alive
inside him when his mother' s asleep and the cops
aren't watching. It lights up in the dark
whenever he looks hard and by dawn has burned out.

I almost forget: he'd do anything for you. Love him
for what you might have become
and love him for what your are, not that far
from him. We are never that far. Love
everyone you can. The list gets longer and shorter.
We're seldom better than weather. We're nearly as good
as a woman we met in passing once at Invergary.
Don't be sorry, for him or for self. Love the last star
broken by storm. And love you. You hold it together.


[See Making Certain It Goes On:
The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo
, 415 - 16]

Alumbrados Medellín 2016
Medellín's World-Class Christmas Lights

See more photos
from last year's pre - Christmas trip to Medellin

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Blue Willow Santa


Charming Christmas Editions
of my favorite china patterns,
Blue Willow and Chinese Legend:
Blue Santa and Blue Star by Spode


Singing in the Streets

I had almost forgotten the singing in the streets,
Snow piled up by the houses, drifting
Underneath the door into the warm room,
Firelight, lamplight, the little lame cat
Dreaming in soft sleep on the hearth, mother dozing,
Waiting for Christmas to come, the boys and me
Trudging over blanket fields waving lanterns to the sky.
I had almost forgotten the smell, the feel of it all,
The coming back home, with girls laughing like stars,
Their cheeks, holly berries, me kissing one,
Silent-tongued, soberly, by the long church wall;
Then back to the kitchen table, supper on the white cloth,
Cheese, bread, the home-made wine:
Symbols of the Night`s joy, a holy feast.

And I wonder now, years gone, mother gone,
The boys and girls scattered, drifted away with the snow-flakes,
Lamplight done, firelight over,
If the sounds of our singing in the streets are still there,
Those old tunes, still praising:
And now, a life-time of Decembers away from it all,
A branch of remembering holly spears my cheek,
And I think it may be so;
Yes, I believe it may be so.


Leonard Clark, 1905 - 81
English poet and anthologist
[See also This is the Night: "Hallowe'en"]

Christmas Poetry from Saint Faith's, Great Crosby
(near Liverpool, UK)
Blue Willow Santa ~ Tree Ornament

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sad Advent


Pausing on Pearl Harbor Day
to acknowledge not only the War Dead but also the reality
that Advent is not all fun and games for everybody.

These sobering anecdotes from my friend Len always haunt me. He lends a touch of humor but also a sense of sadness for his aunts and the anxiety that they should not have had to carry in their hearts. At this time of year, I worry about the so - called arc of justice, fearing mightily that it might never bend as far as we had hoped.
SENTA KLOZE
Every year during this season I recall the briefings we children were given by the older relatives on how to interact with the world so we would not inadvertently encourage pogroms. My Aunt Dottie explained that Santa Claus (pronounced "Senta Kloze") was the same as Jesus; we rehearsed giving a hearty greeting to any apparent non-Jews we passed ("Happy Kratzmus!"). She was the family comparative theologian.

MURRAY KRATZMUS
When I was a child in New York City, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was one of ever-increasing anxiety. Our most knowledgeable family experts on the subject, my great-aunt Dottie and great-uncle Irving, used every opportunity to explain the dangers and reinforce the rules we needed to follow to avoid inadvertently sparking a pogrom. Even if we followed the rules, someone else might set off a spark. It was always advisable to have a valid passport, a packed suitcase, and cash stashed in small accounts in savings banks near train stations and ports. If we were in their house when this was said, Uncle Irving would bring out their two small suitcases and passports as ocular proof they followed their own advice. When my two oldest great-aunts died, sisters who had never married and who lived most of their lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, they were found to have over a hundred savings accounts scattered through all of the five boroughs.

The rules came annually but in random order, depending on the moment and what teaching opportunity presented itself during this perilous season. The most important rule: don’t ask any questions about the details and characters or you will be spotted by someone who will take your name and you will be blacklisted. You students: if forced to sing holiday songs or make holiday art projects, follow the instructions (do not ask questions about the characters or stories, remember; the teachers get bonuses for reporting suspicious children to the authorities). Be sure to destroy the art projects secretly away from your home. Don’t make eye contact with people ringing bells at store entrances, especially if they are wearing uniforms. If you see three nuns walking towards you on the sidewalk, cross the street, turning around in the opposite direction if necessary; don’t run. When you see crowds of non-Jews all dressed up on Sundays during this month, try to avoid getting close enough to have them notice you; don’t run away. If it can’t be avoided, you can blend in by shouting. “Murray Kratzmus!” Aunt Dottie would lead us in rehearsing the best way to deliver the shibboleth, in her best attempt at non-Yiddish pronunciation. The entire room of listeners, all ages and varieties of relatives, would cheerlessly practice repeating, “Murray Kratzmus!”

All during this period, when there were only five television channels, we were exposed endlessly to broadcasts of the inexplicable seasonal movies and holiday specials. What a relief it was to safely survive that perilous time, to celebrate our returning to normal, low-level worry, with the Family Dinner at the Palace of Wong.


PASSPORT
On March 15 2017 Len writes: Another too-timely memory from March 2016 (during the primaries!):
I needed to renew my passport (coincidental timing; its expiration was set ten years ago, so not Trump related). This process reminded me of my older relatives and their worries. Some of them always carried their passports ("just in case," they said). Some of them had gotten into the habit of having many savings accounts so that cash and documents would be available if needed (the winners in this category, as far as I know, were my ancient aunts Gertie and Rose, who lived in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn and had over one hundred savings accounts spread across all of the boroughs). My parents were baffled by anyone choosing to travel to Europe. When I returned from my first summer in Europe (two months in Paris and London) my father said he it was incredibly brave of me to travel by myself there. He associated Europe with the notion of fleeing.

After reading of memories so bittersweet, it seems that only the saddest holiday music is appropriate, compositions of longing for lost innocence, childhood belief, and a certain touching faith in the permanence of life as we know it:

Bert Kaempfert's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" & "Children's Christmas Dream" from one of my dad's favorite albums Christmas Wonderland

Henri Mancini's "Carol for Another Christmas"

Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas"

***************************

Cultural historian Stephen Nissenbaum (b 1941) offers a surprisingly optimistic view in his lively analysis of America's excessive, obsessive mid -winter holiday:
"Actually, though, it is clear that the book began earlier still, with my childhood fascination for "The Night Before Christmas," whose verses I recited over and over when December came around. For me, growing up as I did in an Orthodox Jewish household, this was surely part of my fascination for Christmas itself, that magical season which was always beckoning, at school an in the streets only to be withheld each year by the forces of religion and family. (I once decided that Christmas must mean even more to America''s Jewish children than to its Christian ones.) I can remember, one Christmas Day, putting some of my own toys in a sack and attempting to distribute the to other children who lived in my Jersey City apartment house: If I couldn't get presents, at least no one stopped me from giving them away, and in that fashion at least I could participate in the joy of what, much later, I would come to think of as the 'gift exchange' " (from The Battle for Christmas, ix).
Fresh things for the season:
pineapple and pomegranates from the store;
pumpkins and rosemary from our garden!
[Calendar above by Liz Underhill]

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Advent

It's true, the buying and sending and receiving of Advent Cards does not play a vivid part in our Christmas culture; but that has never stopped me from making at least one set every year, for sending to my mother, and sometimes a second set for my friend and fellow Advent - observer Cate. If you would like to receive or send the set seen below, just let me know! They have been featured, week by week, on my blog before, but I thought it would be nice to see them all together on one post!
First Week of Advent
Hope, Prophecy, Discovery, New Landscapes, Quest for Truth
and -- last but not least -- Clearing Away

Second Week of Advent
Peace, Bethlehem, Sparkling Skies, Charming Gardeners
and -- last but not least --
finding the most gracious in the most common

Third Week of Advent
Love, Angels, The Fire of Hospitality, The Flame of Charity
and -- last but not least -- Entertaining Unawares

Fourth Week of Advent
Joy, Shepherds, Spreading the Light,
Sharing, Doubling, and Reflecting
and -- last but not least -- seeing in a new way

Happy Christmas

Thanks to my spiritual advisors
Katy and Peter for a number of these ideas.

And to my sister Peg, who wrote:
"I've heard that Edith Wharton quote before
and now I want to work on being the mirror."
And to my friend Cate for saying: "I LOVE them! They are beautiful. Are you putting a set on your tree? I think they would look nice there. You did a great job. Where did you get the idea? You are so creative! I always wish we lived close enough to make cards together."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Small Opening into the New Day

Goodbye November, Hello Christmas, Hello Moon!

What To Remember When Waking
~by David Whyte (Dec 30, 2013)

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

For this poem and more,
please see my current post

"Cyber Monday"

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

Monday, November 27, 2017

Lo, We Abhor Not

Playing now . . .

My friend Cate and I had to laugh when we read / heard about the detrimental effects of hearing too many happy holiday songs too early in the season. We're the exact opposite, always ready for a therapeutic "Jingle Bell Rock." I'm sorry for those who can't bear it, but as for me and my house, we will serve Christmas Music!

A few years back, I didn't hesitate when asked the curious question: "What is the soundtrack of your life?" Easy! It's all Christmas music, all the time: Karen Carpenter, Arthur Fiedler, Henry Mancini, Lawrence Welk, John Williams, Stevie Wonder, Ida Zecco.

As October gives way to November gives way to December; as Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas, I begin craving all the old familiar tunes! I don't even need to jot down any specific favorites, because I love them all --
well, with a couple of brief exceptions. First of all, I believe in the separation of church and state and gynecology. Thus, my beliefs require that I omit the lines "offspring of a virgin's womb" ("Hark! the Herald Angels Sing") & 'Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb" ("O, Come All Ye Faithful"). Nor am I alone in finding these to be some of the worst Christmas carol lyrics ever. Second of all, "Baby It's Cold Outside" -- just say no!
But aside from having to work around these sexist glitches, the melodies bring back the good old days and the harmonies restore my faith in humankind.

Presents from Cate

Around this same time last year, I wrote to Cate: "I'm trying to feel festive about taking all the Halloween things down to the basement and bringing up all the Christmas decorations. But somehow I just feel so sad -- about Thanksgiving being over and missing the boys; about my mom and getting old; and about the election and wondering if the Messiah will ever come to this Earth.

"On the bright side, I'm listening to all the Advent CDs you put together for me -- the gift that keeps on giving -- and listening to Carole King's "Beautiful" --
'I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby
If there's any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try
You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart . . . '

Cate replied: 'The Messiah is here. Inside of each of us who trusts the Divine. Here in faith, here in love, here in you. More later.'"

I also had to share with Cate a related observation for the Advent Season, from the Rev. Peter Bunder:
"Jesus did not come so that we could spend the entire month of November and December racing around like crazy, getting ready for Christmas. He came to give us the same message that the angel Gabriel brought to The Virgin Mary: Blessed Are You Among Women!" [see also Labor Day & Annunciazione]
Yes, that's it! That's what the incessant Christmas music tells me -- that I am blessed among women. But I guess for some, the music tells them to race around like crazy. Sad! As for Cate and me, we are ready and have been for months now. Bring on the music! We abhor it not!

Holly Happy Days! ~ "There's Still My Joy"

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sugar Cane

Just in case you didn't get enough
sugar on Thanksgiving Day . . .

Allegory of Sugar Cane, 1884

by French - born New Orleans artist, John Genin, 1830 - 1895
Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection (1997.20.1)
"Along with King Cotton, Louisiana boasted other natural resources and agricultural products, such as sugar, rice, timber, salt, and seafood. By the 1880s, cotton, sugar, rice, and produce exchanges had been built in New Orleans. And following the discovery of oil near Jennings in 1901 and the extraction of sulphur near Lake Charles in 1905, mineral resources began to play an even greater role in the state's economy."

Need a sugar rush to get you going again?
Here's an energizing pick - me - up tune!
Sugar Cane: A Ragtime Classic Two Step, 1908
by American composer and pianist, Scott Joplin, 1868 -1917

And from the Philippines,
a sugarcane legend about finding
heaven on earth in the simple things . . .

. . . such as
Beata's meringues and apple fritters!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Talking Turkey


Every year around this time, my friend Kathie tells the pre - Thanksgiving, story about the time when one of her daughters had to call the 1 - 800 - Turkey - Talk - Line and was advised to throw out the entire bird due to an oven mal - function. Reading her account of that event is a holiday tradition for me now because it "normalizes" my sad memory of inadvertently leaving the freezer door ajar when the whole family went to Chicago a few days before Christmas (in 2013) to see Wicked. Imagine my dismay to get home and realize that everything had been defrosting for 72 hours by the heat of the light bulb inside the freezer.

Ben and Sam were not sympathetic to my cries when they ran down to the basement and discovered the cause. They said, "Mom, this is nothing; we thought one of the cats had died!" They grabbed a big garbage bag, tossed everything in, and drove it over to the nearby apartment complex with a dumpster (so all that rotting food -- including two turkeys -- would not be in our backyard trashcan for the rodents to tear into).

Ben went to the store and bought everything new for Christmas dinner; and Sam cheered me up by saying, "Don't feel bad, Mom, nobody wanted to eat that food anyway" (in reference to my summer's worth of frozen garden produce -- squash, zucchini, okra, green tomato puree, rhubarb, and so forth). Sigh! The best laid plans . . .

Kathie writes: omg, Kitti, what a great (or something!) story! Your boys responded perfectly! And I'm really flattered that you are now making my post about Christina part of your holiday tradition. I know she'd be flattered as well!

Wishing everyone a happy, high - cal . . .

. . . and guilt - free Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cairn


A cairn is a human-made stack or mound of stones, assembled from prehistoric times to the present, usually as a memorial, landmark, or spontaneous work of found art representing balance and harmony with nature. One might appear as a guidepost on a hiking trail, as a mile - marker on a walking path, or atop a hilltop to indicate the skyline. I came across the one above in a local cemetery -- and the one below on a wellness website.



Here is my little stack of
literary stones for today:

A couple of days ago, I quoted poet Philip Booth:
“I think survival is at stake for all of us all the time. … Every poem, every work of art, everything that is well done, well made, well said, generously given, adds to our chances of survival."

Which in turn reminded me of this Tennessee Williams quotation that seemed so befitting a year ago:
"The world is violent and mercurial - it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love - love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love."

Which made me think of the closing stanza of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach":
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the word, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Which then brought to mind what my friend and mentor Nancy wrote in her Harry Potter Christmas letter several years back:

"Even if you haven't read
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,
you surely know Harry's life was saved by love."



As well as this gem
from Nancy, a card featuring
one of my favorite quotations from E. B. White:

Inside, Nancy writes: "Informed women have to keep talking, asking questions, challenging, encouraging others to think. . . . The woman depicted on this card, incidentally, is the true me."


I wondered for a minute of it was E. B. White's wife, Katharine Sergeant Angell White; or maybe the Queen of England, or maybe just an anonymous model from the archives, who represents "the true us."

Nancy's wise words, written in mid - June 2016, became our watchword a year ago in mid - November 2016 when our hopes for the presidential election were dashed. In January 2017, Nancy offered further encouragement:
"It has helped me a lot to find a group of like - minded women. My advice is to go to Washington and join the women's March. There is still time. In any case, find something that speaks to your most important issues and volunteer. No time to despair. We must be strong: Warrior Women! Get out of your head and emotions and Act! Righteousness and love have kissed."

In closing,
"let us be true to one another" . . .
"for we live in a perpetually burning building!"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Survival is at Stake

In this picture, our Nation's
capital looks as pretty as Paris!


Some Words to the Wise
for these Troubled Times
1. As poet Philip Booth reminds us: “I think survival is at stake for all of us all the time. … Every poem, every work of art, everything that is well done, well made, well said, generously given, adds to our chances of survival."

2. As Oscar, from "The Office" warns us: "It's a very dangerous time. The coalition for reason is extremely weak."

3. As Samuel Beckett observes in his novel Watt: "Times are hard, water in every wine" (27).

4. As Woody Allen cautions: "Mankind is facing a crossroad -- one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction -- I sincerely hope you graduates choose the right road."

5. As the school principal tells Billy Madison: "what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

For more thoughts concerning
the first year of Trump's presidency,
please see my current post

"Water in Every Wine"

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Leaves & Lace

~ From Inside Looking Out ~

"The heart of Autumn must have broken here,
And poured its treasure out upon the leaves."


Charlotte Fiske Bates
American poet and essayist, 1838 – 1916

******************

"There is always one moment in a day
when I think my heart will break. . . .
It may be when you turn and look down
a blazing autumn road or it may be when you
see your house under great ancient trees . . . "


Gladys Taber
American naturalist and columnist, 1899 - 1980

~ Same Tree Seen From Outside ~

P.S.
Check out these beautiful seasonal blogs:

Stillness at Cherith & Irish American Mom

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Black & White

Challenge: Seven Days.
Seven black and white pictures of my life.
No people. No explanation.


Day 1 ~ Black & White Drawing of Brigadoon:

Day 2 ~ Black & White Drawing of Cockroach:

Day 3 ~ Black & White Skeletons:

Day 4 ~ Black & White House
Complete Modern Home No. 115:

During graduate school ~
I lived in one that looked like this:

Another college rental ~ Summer 1978
This odd little duplex has been torn down
for a long time but it used to be so cute!

Day 5 ~ Black & White Backyard ~ Christmas 1966
For My Sibs & Cousins:


Day 6 ~ Black & White Plum Tree:

Day 7 ~ Black and White Chariton
First Issue:

Bonus Days
Black & White Wise & Foolish Virgins

I Wall Street Journaled our photograph!
See preceding post: No Goats, Only Sheep

Monday, November 6, 2017

No Goats, Only Sheep

Breakfast at Good Shepherd

I have to completely agree with business writer Brett Nelson who wrote that the phrase "'Come To Jesus Moment' Is The Most Annoying Business Expression On Earth." I understand that the concept has some currency in the common parlance, with connotations of humor and threat; but if you were subjected to the real thing as a child and urged repeatedly to "come to Jesus," it is not even remotely funny, and the threatening aspect falls sickly flat.

In his essay, "Salvation," American poet Langston Hughes explains it much better than I ever could. For anyone who was not brought up in an evangelical tradition, he provides a glimpse of the impact that fundamentalism can have on the heart of an impressionable innocent child; he makes the point that trying to force kids into some kind of mystical religious experience might make them more cynical rather than increasing their faith. His description certainly rings true to my experience. I did not come across his essay until I was an adult, but it made me feel less lonely and bizarre about my religious upbringing in the Church of the Nazarene -- such a strange way to be raised, such a harsh thing to do to a kid or to an adult.

Hughes writes: "My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her. I had heard a great many old people say the same thing and it seemed to me they ought to know. So I sat there calmly in the hot, crowded church, waiting for Jesus to come to me. . . . And I kept waiting serenely for Jesus, waiting, waiting - but he didn't come. I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened."

Like young Langston, I decided long ago that if I kept waiting around for a conversion experience or a personal relationship with God, I'd end up waiting forever. Perhaps it is a matter of personality or maybe it's "just my nature" to doubt or be unmoved by emotional appeals to the supernatural, while other people have a deep response to those methods. In the Church of the Nazarene, experiencing these emotions was the central act of faith, so I always felt really excluded -- a goat, not a sheep -- because I never felt the hand of god move or heard Jesus speaking to my heart.

Though I realized early on (by age 10) that it would never work for me, I stayed in the church, trying to remain in favor with my family, until age 26. With huge relief, I finally resolved not to do that anymore and started actively seeking another path. I was committed to the insistence that religion has to make some kind of sense, and to finding a church where human intelligence is valued, rather than the hypocritical "please leave your brain at the door" attitude that I resented throughout my formative years. I knew that I would never want my children subjected to the criticism and judging and unnecessary shame of Protestant fundamentalism.

First, I tried a couple of campus - oriented Unitarian services -- very academic; then I visited a big impersonal Methodist church once or twice because it was just a few blocks from my house and easy to walk to. Next came Notre Dame during the Hesburgh years, where, not surprisingly, I met many Catholics, including Gerry. While at Notre Dame, I attended various masses with friends of mine around the campus from time to time (some fancy in the Basilica, others in dormitory lounges or at the Grotto). I never really felt that Catholicism was for me -- too exclusive and sexist and every bit as judgmental as the Nazarenes, but I liked the liturgical nature of the ceremony, which was new for me after all those years of touchy - feely protestantism.

Maybe it's a literary thing, but I decided then to cast my lot with ritual and liturgy. I like doing things like reciting or singing or listening to certain prayers, poems, psalms, hymns because I like those words, and I like the act of singing or choral reading or just hearing certain words or phrases. For the duration (5 minutes) of hearing someone sing "Ave Maria" or for the duration (2 minutes) of reciting the Apostles' Creed, I feel convinced of meaning, grace, history, connection. I can easily believe that the world's most beautiful words, songs, and buildings have all been created to the "glory of God," even though I'm not entirely sure what that means. What I'm willing to do (and maybe this is my "faith") is to accept that sense of fulfillment and participation as a worthwhile act in itself.

When Gerry and I decided to marry, I was willing to join the Catholic church, despite my misgivings that once again I would be considered a goat instead of a sheep. For a variety of reasons, however, this was not to be our fate; but that's another story -- a rather long one -- for another year.

Instead, we decided to try St. John's Episcopal, in Lafayette, and immediately felt welcome. There were our neighbors from across street, who we did not know attended there! There was the couple from Gerry's work who often hosted the book group that we had recently joined -- we didn't know we'd see them there. As you can see, it seemed like a perfect fit, even before the fact. Around the same time, the Purdue Episcopal Campus Ministry advertised for an office administrator, and it became an even better fit! I enjoyed that job -- working for Peter and Nancy back in our Wesley Foundation Building Era -- for 3 1/2 years; and -- between Good Shepherd and St. John's -- the Episcopal Church became the center of our life at Purdue.

Gerry and I had a couple of months of pre-marital counselling with Peter and had our wedding service at St. John's in September 1989. A few months later, we officially joined the church and have been attending ever since. After Ben was born, my tolerant and understanding boss allowed me to bring my little one to work with me every morning. Ben became the Good Shepherd Office Baby, doing such an excellent job in this role that before long he was promoted to Office Toddler! I stopped working at Good Shepherd only because we re - located to Philadelphia. While there, we attended three Episcopal Churches -- St. Mary's on the Penn campus, St. James' in the suburbs, and St. Peter's right downtown where Ben and Sam served their time as choristers.

After 11 years in the City of Brotherly Love, we made our way back to West Lafayette and back to Good Shepherd, just in time for Ben and Sam to join Friday School, where they met the Knapp brothers Chris and Brendan. Hey, I remembered these boys being born -- Chris a few months before Ben, and Brendan a few months before Sam, back in the early days when I had worked at Good Shepherd! And now, in one of those uncanny life - affirming parrallelisms, they were all reunited -- in the same grades at school, in the same confirmation classes; Ben and Chris as roommates at Purdue, Sam and Brendan as best friends at West Side. If that's not church family, I don't know what is! At Good Shepherd, there is never any doubt that we will find people with similar interests, values, and notions of humor and social justice.

In conclusion, I would like to share some inspiring, inclusive words that I have been fortunate enough to hear spoken before communion, inviting all -- not just some -- to the table. I am nearly moved to tears by such unexpected generosity of spirit:

The first is: "None forbidden, none compelled."

The second is: "All who seek the truth are welcome here."

These kindhearted and introspective invitations stand in stark contrast to the many excluding, forbidding messages that I have heard proclaimed at various churches over the long years. "None forbidden, none compelled," is so much more respectful than the typical agenda of restrictions and requirements. And how refreshing to welcome "All who seek the truth" rather than only those who tread the exact same path. At Good Shepherd, I have been able to apply these two pre - communion blessings as personal mantras and continually strive to internalize the inherent value they assign to individual integrity and spiritual quest.

At Good Shepherd there are no goats, only sheep.


Following in the footsteps of my son ~ Sam,
I gave the above presentation yesterday morning
as part of Stewardship Sunday
at The Chapel of the Good Shepherd
The Episcopal Campus Ministry at Purdue University

I drew from the following recent blog posts:
1. July 14 ~ Born Only Once
2. July 28 ~ O Ya - Ya of Little Faith
3. August 14 ~ None Forbidden, None Compelled
4. September 10 ~ Soul Searching

P.S.
I do feel a little bad about using goats
to represent the negative aspect.
They don't deserve that! After all,
they are innocent, just like the sheep!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Allerseelen

Four Trees / Vier Baume, 1917 ~ Egon Schiele, 1890 - 1980

From Missouri Photographer Jay Beets:
"Trees in the Sunrise two mornings ago . . .
the painting reminded me of them . . . "


All Souls' Day / Allerseelen

Place on the table the fragrant mignonettes,
Bring in the last red asters,
and let us talk of love again,
as once we did in May.

Give me your hand, so that I may secretly press it;
and if someone sees, it's all one to me.
Just give me one of your sweet glances,
as once you did in May.

Flowers bloom and spread their fragrance today on every grave;
one day in the year is sacred for the dead.
Come close to my heart, so that I can have you again,
as once I did in May.


by the Austrian poet Hermann von Gilm (1812 - 1864)
set to music in 1885 by Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)

This beautiful song for The Day of All Souls first came to may attention in the 1984 film of Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano, which takes place in Mexico on November 2nd, aka: All Souls Day or Allerseelen; The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos.

Alternate translation for stanzas 1 & 3:

Place on the mound sweet mignonette before us,
The last red blooming asters hither bring
Let memr'y's charm our early love restore us
As once in Spring.

How sweetly blooms each grave with fragrant flowers
Sacred to all souls of our dead, this day,
Come to my heart, through all the blessed hours
As once in May

In his eerie "November" dirge, contemporary American Tom Waits provides an interesting comparison to the German love song. As von Gilm hearkens back to May at the conclusion of each stanza, so Waits calls out to April for rescue from bleak November's skeletal imagery:


November

No shadow
No stars
No moon
No care
November
It only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That's the color of bone

No prayers for November
To linger longer
Stick your spoon in the wall
We'll slaughter them all

November has tied me
To an old dead tree
Get word to April
To rescue me
November's cold chain

Made of wet boots and rain
And shiny black ravens
On chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
You're my firing squad
November

With my hair slicked back
With carrion shellac
With the blood from a pheasant
And the bone from a hare

Tied to the branches
Of a roebuck stag
Left to wave in the timber
Like a buck shot flag

Go away you rainsnout
Go away, blow your brains out
November


Tom Waits, b 1949
Singer-songwriter, composer, actor, poet

Related Article for
Día de los Muertos:
"A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’"