Friday, November 28, 2014

Little Feathers: In The Bleak Midwinter

Little Feathers: In The Bleak Midwinter: You probably know that song. It has a haunting melody and beautiful words. And it fits so exactly with the message of my favorite holiday. ...

In The Bleak Midwinter

You probably know that song. It has a haunting melody and beautiful words. And it fits so exactly with the message of my favorite holiday.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago.

The thing is, Christmas isn't about the easy times, the wealthy, healthy years of plenty. Most of the world never sees those times, anyway. How many millions of people live and die without the serenity of knowing there will be enough food, enough shelter for their children? We Americans can be lulled into thinking our first world existence is normal and available to all. But it isn't. And the wasteland of need sometimes has nothing to do what we own, anyway. It can also be a poverty of the spirit for those who grieve, for those who suffer at the hands of others, or as a result of illness or loneliness.

In Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is angry that God put Jesus into the middle of a world with no mass communication, no political calm that would have let his ministry spread without bloodshed. Judas is a very sympathetic character in that play, and that is an unusual twist for many who love to blame Judas. In this play, though, Judas tries every way to figure out how to spare the Jews from Roman wrath, and the only way he can think of to do that out is to have Jesus killed. The Roman occupation was a heavy load for Isreal. The earth stood hard as iron. Water like a stone.

Today is no different. The bleakness of winter lays over our world in war, poverty, oppression, unrest, disease...our earth stands hard as iron. The winter has a grip on every child who is bullied, every tormented soul who can't face another day, every leader who turns a blind eye to the need of the people. Let our hearts not be that hard, as well. Let the hope of love give light. Jesus was love incarnate, and we can be a part of that only if we are willing to let down our guard, give up our own hard-hardheartedness and look at every human as a child of God. That has less to do with religion than with compassion. It has nothing to do with insisting others believe as we do to be acceptable. It has zero to do with politics. It has everything to do with the gospel. Love is, truly, all we need. The Beatles had that right. If love prevails, we all win. It is the only light that can melt this winter that holds the world hostage to its own failings.

I don't recall Jesus ever exhorting us to give each other lavish gifts. Or to build lavish altars, or to hoard our blessings under the delusion they belong to us. In the bleak midwinter of Roman rule, a baby was born who grew up to tell the world that God's love does not belong to one race or one religion or one gender or the current group in power. God's love is broader, bolder, keener, further beyond our ken than any human love can be. We can tap into it, though. We can channel it. There is hope. Whatever we give to the neediest people, to anyone, we have given back to God. That is the warming power that can break the iron grip of winter on the earth. Compassion is the spring, the thaw.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
What can I give him? Give him my heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Little Feathers: Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings

Little Feathers: Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings: Emotions are funny. I knew that I was feeling unsettled about the approach of my favorite holiday, but didn't really get just how unsett...

Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings

Emotions are funny. I knew that I was feeling unsettled about the approach of my favorite holiday, but didn't really get just how unsettled until day before yesterday when I sat looking at a Southern Living magazine while Bob had PT on his new knee. I paged through, looking at Christmas cookies and cakes and garlands that decked the halls. Usually I would enjoy that. I have never (at least that I remember) been stressed about Christmas. It has not been about finding the perfect gift or making the perfect cookie, but about hope and love and grace and family and friends. But on Monday those pictures of holiday perfection just made me want to cry.

I thought at first that it was about leaving the Pegram House, where I have loved celebrating Christmas for the past seven years. But honestly, Pegram was an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. The house itself can't be the thing. It must be the gatherings there. When my dad was in the middle of everything.

This isn't technically my first Christmas without my dad. He died just before Christmas last year. But he had been so sick, and had struggled so, that last Christmas I mostly felt relief for the end of his suffering. I missed him, prayed for him and cried for him, but I knew he was so much better off that it colored my grief at the time.

Where are you, Christmas? In The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the question was asked by Cindy Lou Who. She found herself seeking the old feelings she had around the holiday. But she was changing, as everyone does. She needed to find her new feelings, and find Christmas in them. She was growing up, seeing for the first time the emptiness of the holiday trappings themselves.

Like Cindy Lou, I know better than ever that Christmas doesn't happen "out there". Not on a store shelf, not in a bakery or even in a church. Not even that magical, mystical moment when all the candles are lit on Christmas Eve and the organ quits playing on Silent Night and the beautiful sound of voices lifted together fills the air.

The holidays are long gone when our own children woke us early and could not wait to see what lay beneath the tree for them. The day hasn't depended on five people living in our house for many years. Yet, this year's change seems even more drastic than the empty nest-adjusting years. This year my Christmas, my personal one, is different. And maybe the most helpful thing I have found to cling to is not the narrative of the nativity. Not the centuries old stories of a young mother, a donkey, a baby and star. It is the unchanging willingness of God to meet me in the quiet with a word for me. Sometimes I feel the nearness of the spirit of eternity in the warm arms and love of my husband. Or the hugs of my loved ones. The voice of my mom on the phone. Christmas doesn't happen in a void. And it doesn't happen only in December. Where are you, Christmas? Ah, there you are. Still there, under my solar plexus. In that little unscientific place of solace where my soul rests beside my heart. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Little Feathers: Timely Timely

Little Feathers: Timely Timely: Another one I wrote a few years back. Today seems like a little time warp, so I'm revisiting it. Gee, Time Flies! That sneaky...

Timely Timely

Another one I wrote a few years back. Today seems like a little time warp, so I'm revisiting it.

Gee, Time Flies!

That sneaky, fooling wiggle hand
Sometimes speed demon
Sometimes snail
Can’t see it move at all.

That strict, straight marching hand
Tick tock lock step
Ever striking sharp sounds
Doesn’t sleep, doesn’t stand still.

That fuzzy floating free hand
Can’t pin it down
No digital readout
No sundial on a cloudy day.

Even really smart guys
Even super science girls
Can’t really say
Time…what is it, anyway?

Is it like a calendar?
Little blocks lined up
Keeps days organized
Monday is a school day….yes!

Is it like a star chart?
Who’s right here when?
Keeps us all on our toes
Time for lunch, time for bed!

Scary loud alarm buzz
Sweet old tick tock
Cuckoo bird from Germany
Silent sweeping watch hand,

All tell time or at least
What you need to know
When to stay and when to go
Measuring the hours.

Time in the big sky
Doesn’t jump, doesn’t jerk
Just goes round in a never ending
Never stopping circle kind of way.
Gee, time flies!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Little Feathers: Maybe the Wrong Season, But...

Little Feathers: Maybe the Wrong Season, But...: I wrote this a couple of years ago, and just came across it again. It made me think of fishing trips I've been on, of friends I know who...

Maybe the Wrong Season, But...

I wrote this a couple of years ago, and just came across it again. It made me think of fishing trips I've been on, of friends I know who love to fish, of that little pause in reality, that little wrinkle in the fabric of the cosmos when something takes the bait.

Though it is chilly out and time to think of turkeys, I just had to share.

Too Hot to Fish

“I want to learn to fish,” I said,
He looked at me, and scratched his head,
“You picked a rotten day to start!
Too hot to fish around these parts!”

I gave him my cash and signed my name,
“I’d like to try it, just the same.”
We climbed in the boat and he said, “OK,
 But I betcha nothin’ bites today!”

Just then a bubble gurgled up,
A fishy head was seen below,
“Look there, he’s smilin’! That ain’t right!”
A smiling catfish! What a sight!

The man went wild and grabbed his pole,
“And right here in my fishin’ hole!
I’ll catch this sneaky catfish now!”
He dropped his hook over the bow.

“If I could catch me one of them,”
He said, while sweat poured off of him,
“This sun would cook him in the boat
I’d eat him right here while I float!”

Nothing happened for a bit,
No nibbled worm, no swim-by hit.
“It’s not my fishin’!” he said, real gruff,
 “For fishin’, I got all the stuff!”

He held up his pole with its fancy reel,
He held up his brown wicker fishing creel,
His gesture included his fine tackle box,
And even his fish-themed fishing socks!

“I tell you, it’s not me that’s beat,
It’s this dad gum blazing summer heat!”
Just then he caught my eye, and grinned
“Guess I should be teachin’ you, my friend!”

We trolled to other secret holes,
Though no other fishermen dipped their poles,
Try as we may, in his special spots,
No fish would bite, it was just too hot!

“Sorry son,” he said at last
When shadows cooled us as we cast,
But all of sudden my bobber went splash
And what happened next was worth all my cash!

“It looks like a big one!” He sat up straight,
“We’re in luck now, son, he took your bait!”
I was reeling and pulling, the fish full of fight,
I just couldn’t land him, try as I might.

The man stood up in the boat, and it veered
Wild to one side where my line disappeared!
Into the lake we both went in a flash
With all of the gear and the bait and the cash.

Sputtering up, the man looked around,
“Oh no! My gear!” He said, diving back down.
We brought up the creel and the cool tackle box,
And of course, he still had his fishing socks.

But somewhere in that big old lake
Is a laughing catfish who likes to take
Time and hooks from those who wish
To fish on day that’s too hot to fish!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Little Feathers: On the Road

Little Feathers: On the Road: It is pretty common knowledge that the power to be happy lies within us. That the way to open our eyes and our hearts to the blessings we ha...

On the Road

It is pretty common knowledge that the power to be happy lies within us. That the way to open our eyes and our hearts to the blessings we have been given is so simple, we can be tempted to make it too complex. We can make our happiness dependent on others, on conditions on the far side of our own skin.

It is also common knowledge that life is a journey, a passage to understanding. It can be tempting to combine those two ideas and feel that happiness lies somewhere on down the road. As if choosing happiness now, this minute, is premature.

Almost everyone I know is pedaling as fast as they can. They are juggling obligations and commitments, scheduling in some time for "fun" if they feel they deserve it. I have been hurrying, myself, since last winter, working on that Ghoultide project you may have heard me talk about (my close friends and family may be praying never to hear the "g" word again). I have muscled it in directions that I found out were dead ends, picked it up like a heavy stone and hurried back down that road to try another fork. Much of the past few months, I kept my head down, carrying that self imposed load. It was completed last week, and since then I am kind of floating along, feeling guilty that I'm not busy with something important (don't worry, I am chuckling at what I think is important). Bob and I have been home most of the time, as he had his knee replaced on Friday. In the quiet moments when nothing is happening, I have begun to unwind. And to think. And to pray. And to be grateful.

We live outside of town again, and though I didn't really want to leave the city when we moved last spring, I have come to love the quiet and the stars and the little critters out here. And the fresh air! Until this week, I drove the 80 mile round trip nearly every day, my blood pressure rising as I entered the giant ant hill of activity and traffic that is the big city. Depending on your nature, that bustle can be invigorating, or daunting.  Now I look at my little car and am glad I'm not climbing inside for the 70mph highway trek. I am on a different road. And this one has flowers along side.

There may be nothing new under the sun. Revelations may need to be broken and poured on my spirit over and over in slightly different ways before I can see them. I'm not really dumb, I'm just a human who keeps falling back into the habit of thinking I can control any of those things on the far side of my skin. I can do my best work (and even that can be a comparative trap!) and then muster up the courage to put it out there in the wide world, but I can't control anyone else's reaction to it. I can choose to let that reality keep me from trying, but I know better. I know that the best way to make sure no one likes it is to keep it to myself. But the truth is, I have no desire to spend time creating anything just for myself. So, I'll do that thing that risks rejection. I am compelled by my own nature. So, I remind myself that writing is not a burden, it is an opportunity. It is part of me, and it is ever evolving.

This morning in my quiet time I was reminded again that today is my day. Though I love family gatherings most of all things, I don't need to wait until a birthday dinner or a holiday to be truly happy. I don't need to run toward the next fun thing, blinders firmly in place, ignoring the blessing of this ordinary Wednesday. Moving forward, heading on down the road, does not have to preclude me from seeing this spot in time with the vision I only have when standing still.

I think we must all be trained to think that accomplishing something with our lives gives our time on earth meaning. Getting there faster, in the best car, with the most accolades is hollered from the rooftops as the way to be someone. Someone worthy of admiration. But I think about some of the people I have loved the most in my life, and I see the way that they treated others and themselves was the thing that made them someone. Someone. They were on the road, too. They kept getting older every day, but with a grace born of gratitude. I believe they woke up on an ordinary Wednesday and said thank you. Wednesday wasn't a blur on the way to the important days.

I'm grateful for the journey. I am. I am grateful that I have been given people to love, projects to fulfill the need inside to say something, grateful for the wisdom of others on this road. And today, on Wednesday, Nov 12th, I am grateful that I can stand here a minute and breathe. Maybe I need to remember my road has scenic pullouts where I can just pause and look out there, beyond myself. The bend, the next hill to climb can wait.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Little Feathers: Horses, Donkeys and Mules

Little Feathers: Horses, Donkeys and Mules: Sometimes I wake up with words in my brain, as if my sleeping self knows some stuff that my waking self needs to remember. This morning it w...

Horses, Donkeys and Mules

Sometimes I wake up with words in my brain, as if my sleeping self knows some stuff that my waking self needs to remember. This morning it was a sentence: the fall from a high horse can take your breath away. Well, I said to my sleeping self, what makes you think I'm on a high horse? Sigh. Doh. Most times when I'm so sure I'm right about something that I actually pity the one who doesn't see the truth that I see, bells and sirens should actually be going off to warn me of a coming fall. Do I learn from past experiences as far as humility goes? Sometimes. But, evidently, I'm not done with that lesson because it keeps popping back up.

I used to think that the people who knew the most were the ones who were the smartest. Then I began to notice that the same people who had a vast storehouse of acquired knowledge were sometimes light in the common sense area. Or the creative one. Or the philosophical one. Or they can't fathom how to have a relationship. I came to understand that there are many kinds of intelligence. Athleticism is a kind of intelligence. Some things we call talents are, quite simply, a kind of intelligence. How great it would be if our society valued them all. How great it would be if the teacher who can ignite the imaginations of children was seen as every bit as valuable as the home run hitter. Or the tech support people who can listen to our complaints and figure out a solution with their eyes closed. How about the dancer who holds choreography in their brain for dozens of dances that are never the same, never to be repeated after this performance? Or the musician who can sight read, transpose, memorize thousands of notes. How about the illustrator who reads some words and expands them into a visual representation? You get my drift.

What does this have to do with a high horse? What if we all remembered that the people we encounter everywhere are just as intelligent as we are? What if we knew that the football player who just showed incredible skill, but bad grammar in the after-game interview, was just as intelligent as we are on our best day? What if the politician who said something we desperately disagreed with was given the same dignity to have an opinion that we want for ourselves? That is a toughy for me. There are some people who sound so thoroughly ignorant that I can't really give them the respect I want for myself. But I don't know them. I don't see how they hold their children or sit beside their spouse or mother in a hospital room. I don't see their souls. I can't. But I can't afford to assume I'm better than they are. It is a high, high horse a long, long way from the ground. I can disagree with them. I can even dislike them. But feeling superior is a bad idea.

No matter what you believe about Jesus, he was certainly a model of humility. No prancing stallion for him. He rode a donkey.

Today, when I think about what is real and what is perceived, I want to stay off the horse. If I can't quite manage a donkey, I'll for sure try for the mule. The mule and I are kindred spirits, after all. A little stubborn. Something my sleeping self seems to know better than my walking self.