Archive for 2005

Keeping Christmas

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

    “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”   Luke 2:19

My sister-in-law had a very sweet post this morning on the pleasures of this quiet week after Christmas.  In my family, ‘Christmas week’ has always been filled with almost as many sweet traditions and comforting rituals as the holiday itself…New Year’s is as much a last hurrah for the Christmas season as a celebration of the coming year.  I’ve always held these last few fleeting December days with such tender regard–my husband all but has to shield my eyes from discarded Christmas trees on the side of the road!–that I parcel out the precious hours like choice jewels.  And so I thought I’d peek in from a happy round of journaling and new books and frolicking kittens and tea by the fire with my dear ones to offer this little snippet I wrote a couple of years ago:

The twelve days of feasting and merriment that accompanied an old English Christmas hold a rather touching attraction for those of us who feel that it’s all rushed by too quickly.  Richard Swenson, commenting on our present-day haste in his book Margin, states, “Calendar congestion and time urgency have robbed us of the pleasure of anticipation.  Without warning, the activity is upon us.  We rush to meet it; then we rush to the next; and the next.  In the same way, we lack the luxury of reminiscing.  On we fly to the next activity.”   But does Christmas really have to be like this?  Do we have the courage to brace up against the torrent of the rest of the world that is trying to hurry us along towards winter ski trips, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, summer vacations?  Is it possible to continue to keep Christmas in the days following the 25th?  I believe that it is, and not only possible, but necessary to fully receive and cherish all of the gifts that this season is laden with.  “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”  It would do us all a lot of good simply to keep and ponder that one small verse for a while.  What things will we remember this particular holiday for?  What are some ways that we can draw our loved ones around us and preserve the magic of the season for a time?  Let the Twelve Days of Christmas be a springboard for ideas, as you consider ways to savor, to reminisce, to truly keep this Christmas.

 

A Happy Christmas to All!

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

"Many merry Christmases, friendships,

great accumulation of cheerful recollections,

affection on earth, 

and Heaven at last for all of us!" 

Charles Dickens 

Nine Lessons and Carols

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Through the clear wintry sunshine the bells this morning rang from the gray church tower amid the leafless elms, and up the walk the villagers trooped in their best dresses and their best faces—the latter a little reddened by the sharp wind: mere redness in the middle-aged; in the maids, wonderful bloom to the eyes of their lovers—and took their places decently in the ancient pews.  The clerk read the beautiful prayers of our Church, which seem more beautiful at Christmas than at any other period.  For that very feeling which breaks down at this time the barriers which custom, birth, or wealth have erected between man and man, strikes down the barrier of time which intervenes between the worshipper of today and the great body of worshippers who are at rest in their graves.  On such a day as this, hearing these prayers, we feel a kinship with the devout generations who heard them long ago.  The devout lips of the Christian dead murmured the responses which we now utter; along this road of prayer did their thoughts of our innumerable dead, our brothers and sisters in faith and hope, approach the Maker even as ours at present approach Him.

Alexander Smith, Christmas 1862 

It is these very sentiments that have led us–following a positive yearning for tradition and beauty in worship–to partake of the Advent services this Christmas season at a catherdral downtown known for its Anglican-styled worship.  The best service of all was this past Sunday’s Evensong, the famous Christmas Lessons and Carols beloved by Anglophiles the world over.

Every Christmas Eve we tune in to the live BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in Cambridge.  The Bidding Prayer, which remains unchanged from the service’s inception in 1918, always touches me to the point of tears.  But when the officiant reaches the line, Let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, my eyes invariably well up and spill over.  I think of my own loved ones who now reside among that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh.  And I muse in wonder on the generations of my Christian forbears who received with gladness the same Gospel which has redeemed both my soul and theirs.  I always seem to see in that brief moment a passing flash of the greatness and vastness of God’s kingdom.  And so it was with sincere delight in being able to participate in such a service for ourselves—minus the gorgeous British accents—that we sat last Sunday afternoon in the hushed cathedral, poring over the program and waiting with bated breath for that first airy solo to fill the vaulted spaces above with the tender strains of Once in Royal David’s City

As the service progressed, each lesson built upon the one before, unfolding the Gospel story from Genesis through to the great and mysterious testimony to the Incarnation in the first chapter of John; each reading ended with a ceremonious Thanks be to God which I echoed fervently in my own heart.  The carols interspersed leant a pageantry to the beloved tale, from ancient Orthodox hymns to the friendly familiarity of Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  I saw birds hastening with the glad news of Christ’s birth; a crude stable filled with wondering beasts and lit by the light of a single star; a winter’s morning blossoming like the spring.   

The service ended quietly, with a silent Retiring Procession and a soft organ voluntary, and we left the cathedral in whispers.  It was so worshipful in its sheer beauty and reverence, and refreshed our hearts and minds in a profound way to keep this yearly remembrance of our Lord’s birth.  I’m quite sure that yet another tradition has been instituted in our household.

For an offical history of the Nine Lessons and Carols service, see the King’s College website here.

And be sure to check your local public radio listing for the live broadcast this Christmas Eve.  You can hear a recording of the famous opening hymn here.  (Click in Once in  Royal David’s City.)

Glad and Golden Hours

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

A very dear friend of mine has made the distinction this Christmas season between ‘Bustle’ and ‘Huffing About’: the former bearing pleasant connotations of bright-cheeked shoppers and cheerful productivity, and the latter something quite unbecoming if not downright undignified.  She sent me this quote from ‘Father Tim’ of Jan Karon’s latest ‘Mitford’ book:

I believe if I were charged with having a goal, it would be to live without fretting—to live more fully in the moment, not always huffing about as I’ve done in recent years…to live humbly—and appreciatively—with whatever God furnishes.

I just love Father Tim.  He always speaks to the very essence of the matter, and with such humble sincerity that you can’t help but cherish the wisdom of his words.  And these in particular I’ve taken very much to heart this Christmas season.

This same sweet friend joins me and another in a yearly triumvirate of holiday accountability and prayer.  We three share a passionate sentiment for Christmastide and all its tender joys; we view the month of December as sacred in its entirety, and at least two of us weep when the Christmas tree finally comes down—after New Year’s, of course!  But as women of like passions we face like temptations.  As lovers of beauty and order we battle with the mockery of perfectionism.  Energetic and excited over plans we’ve been dreaming of for eleven months we are always taken aback by the onslaught of holiday possibilities.   Treasuring the birth of our Savior as the most unfathomable miracle of all time, we still confront the barrage of distraction and derailment our culture is only too willing to supply.

But the knowledge that I’m not alone—in my sweetest joys as well as in my struggles—has given me courage to keep true to the desires I have for a peaceful, Christ-centered Christmas.  The advice and encouragement passed round the table at our little pow-wow back before Thanksgiving is still refreshing my spirit with gentle nudges throughout my days.  I see their raised eyebrows in my imagination when I’m tempted to stress over non-essesentials.  Their emails and phone calls have been the Lord’s own whispers of love to me.  And the prayers of such godly women ‘avail much’.

But their greatest gift has been the silent example of their lives, which has bidden me to sit quietly at the feet of Christ each morning and savor the wonder of His coming to dwell among us.  And that single thing has already made this Christmas the best I have ever known.  Perhaps it is simply the knowing of Him that comes of such stillness, but I seem to see His beauty everywhere I look this season: in the first light of a winter’s dawn sparkling and glittering over a frost-encrusted world, the bright rays slanting through the cedars and the golden mist stealing up from the pasture; in the shining crowns of holly perched on the brows of all my pictures and the gorgeous shining tree all spangled with tinsel and fragrant with gingerbread; in the miracle of friends and relations and the miracles He’s wrought in our family just this year…

Tuesday was a day of Bustle.  It was a busy day in the midst of a busy week, and I realized at its close that the only thing that kept it from careening along in a frenzy of huffing was the slim cord of a prayer taught me by an older friend long ago: Gather my thoughts and order my steps.  From a round of crucial errands He did order my steps, providentially, by an insatiable craving for a peppermint mocha from Starbucks.  Who should I run into in the parking lot but my mother—actually I almost ran over her; she went back in with me and we sat chatting over pleasant holiday things for nearly an hour, pretending that we both didn’t have miles to go before our tea at home that afternoon.  It was a pause that refreshed, and that sent me on my way with a smile on my face.  I dashed all over town: my favorite tea shop for some Winter Garden tea for a special visit next week; an enquiry after Christmas crackers; one last gift for two dear little friends ages three and-a-half and five and-a-half.  And last of all, my wonderful farmer’s market, bright with beautiful seasonal produce—crates of clementines, fragrant pineapples, pomegranates, kumquats, lady apples, forfelle pears—and fairly glittering with imported holiday goods.  I wandered dazzled as a child among the colorful aisles, savoring the excitment of such once-a-year treats as Wensleydale cheese with dried cranberries and real English bangers and blood oranges.

Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t read or quote the third stanza of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, which never ceases to pierce me with its poignant entreaty:

Oh ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow:
Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing!
Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

What a timely word for a tired age! 

All too soon this precious holiday will join the ranks of Christmases past whose memories lie too deep for words.  And my sweet friends and I will sit together over our ‘Twelfth Night Tea’ and sigh over how sweet it was, and discuss what we’ll do differently next year, and share what precious things the Lord taught us as we celebrated His holy Advent.  And we’ll do our very best to keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts.

Merry Christmas from Pip and Wemmick

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

 

Mamma has been so busy around here that she hasn’t had time to post, so we thought we’d just pop in and let you know what she’s been up to.  The house is full of wonderful smells, and there’s greenery and ribbons everywhere for us to play with!  Two days ago two pretty ladies came over to meet us; but they also stayed in the kitchen for a LONG time with Mamma making so many Christmas cookies that it looked like mountains of yummy treats.  We think that they had tea, too, but we were napping then. 

In the den there’s a wonderful tree all sparkly with lights and tinsel and dangly things for kittens to knock off and roll across the floor!  It’s so much fun–and there are big gingerbread men and candy canes hanging from the branches that Caspian tells us are delicious, but Mamma must have accidentally hung them too high because we can’t quite reach them yet.  Maybe we’ll be that big by Christmas.

When it gets dark outside, Mamma and Daddy sit by the fire and listen to records and play with us.  Last night they had something they called roasted chestnuts that smelled so good!  They didn’t seem to like them very much, though, because they kept throwing them in the fire and Mamma said something about that being her last attempt.  But we LOVED the melted butter with cinnamon, and even after Mamma took it away we kept licking our noses for one last taste.

This is going to be an extra busy week around here, and we’re sure that Mamma will want to come and type on her computer, but we heard her tell Daddy last night that she was afraid she wouldn’t have a lot of time.  (It might have a little something to do with us, too, but we’re not quite sure.)  Anyway, we just wanted you to know where our Mamma was, and that she’ll peek in as often as she can, and that she hopes all of her readers have a very happy week full of fun Christmasy things. 

xoxo from Master Pip and Mr. Wemmick 

p.s. We just love our new home…we found out today that there’s an UPSTAIRS!  Caspian wags his tail whenever we get close to him, and Josie doesn’t hiss at us anymore.  Lucy still growls a little…we all had a party for her last night to celebrate her two year anniversary here, but she wouldn’t come out from under the chest in the den, even when we toasted her.   Mamma says she needs more time.  We can’t imagine why–we’re so cute. 

And there’s a new goldfish in the bowl on the big table in the front hall.  Her name is Clara.

Mrs. Miniver Makes a List

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

Here is that touching little snippet of Mrs. Miniver’s life that I alluded to earlier.  It’s especially dear after an evening of wrapping Christmas presents by the fire…

We Were Only Going to Get One…

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

But after all, everyone says that two kittens are easier! :)   I think they’re certainly happier…and we’re completely taken with these new members of the family.  Introducing Mr. Wemmick and Master Pip…

 

 
Philip says that everyone should have kittens at Christmas! :)

Anticipation of the Advent

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

The season of Advent is all about anticipation.  It is a looking-towards, a longed-for event.  Children should not be the only ones who can hardly contain their excitement at Christmas.  We are celebrating what hundreds of years of God’s people could hardly dare to dream about, and the excitement building up to this blessed time should be representative of the long centuries of waiting that went before this miraculous Unveiling.  Unfortunately, in our culture, anticipation is a lost art.  We don’t feel like we should have to wait for anything, and, consequently, Christmas decorations go up in the stores in October and people feel disorganized and harried if their homes aren’t decked out to perfection by the first of December.  By the 26th, traditionally yet another holiday in the twelve days of Christmas, they are ready to be done with it all.  But in the ages so sentimentalized in our books and cards there was no such rush.  Fir trees were cut and hauled in from the woods on Christmas Eve, so fresh that it was safe to use real candles on them.  Greens and berries were brought in to garland over doorways and pictures, and delicious aromas from the kitchen created an environment of warmth and cheer in the days leading up to Christmas.  We can learn from this early simplicity to enjoy each and every act of preparation, to make them stepping-stones of anticipation. We can decide that what we don’t have time to enjoy we don’t have time to do.  Life is much easier for us in many ways than it was for our forbears, but simplicity has become much harder.  We must seek for it earnestly, and inquire of those who have found it, but our pains will be infinitely rewarded.

 
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
 
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

 Thirteenth century
tr. J.M. Neale

Blogs of Beauty

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

Dear Sallie at Two Talent Living has been an on-line mentor for me in many ways…from her first post that I read, Practicality and the Death of Beauty, I knew that I had found a true kindred spirit.

Right now she’s running the loveliest contest over on her site, the ’2005 Blogs of Beauty’ awards.  I think that it’s such an inspired idea, and a marvelous way of encouraging all of those ‘lady bloggers’ out there who take so much time to create a bright spot of beauty and edification on the web.  And it’s also a great introduction to other Christian women we might not have ‘met’ otherwise.  Nominations have already been accepted, and voting on the finalists closes Tuesday, December 6th at 8:00 PM, so go on over and take a look at all of the different categories…I hear that many of them are still ‘neck and neck’!  (And thank you to whoever nominated me. :) )

In the same vein, my sister-in-law and I were talking yesterday about the great potential of the internet era to give women a voice and to connect them on a heart level, perhaps in a way that hasn’t been seen since the days of horse-drawn carriages and community barn-raisings.  She said that her husband has observed that the automobile has very likely contributed more than anything else to the break-down of strong female networks of compassionate instruction/experience and daily interaction, particularly for the woman at home.  I think he’s right–and the revered poet T.S. Eliot apparently did too, as this passage from his sublime Choruses from ‘The Rock’ attests:

What life have you of you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbons roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motorcycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.

In closing I am reminded of one more stirring passage from Howards End:

This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years.  It may be followed by a civilzation that won’t be a movement because it will rest on the earth.  All the signs are against it now, but I can’t help hoping, and very early in the morning in the garden I feel that our house is the future as well as the past…

 

“We Give Our Hearts to Dogs (and Cats) to Tear”

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

There came a grim day in November with nothing at first to distinguish it from other days.  But in mid-afternoon Gentleman Tom gravely got down from the cushion of Great Grandfather Nehemiah’s chair and looked all about him.  Judy and Pat watched him as they made the cranberry pies and turkey dressing for Thanksgiving.  He gave one long look at Judy, as she recalled afterwards, then walked out of the house, across the yard and along the Whispering Lane, with his thin black tail held gallantly in air.  They watched him out of sight but did not attach much importance to his going.  He often went on such expeditions, returning at nightfall.  But the dim changed into darkness on this particular night and Gentleman Tom had not returned.  Gentleman Tom never did return.  It seemed a positive calamity to the folks at Silver Bush.  Many beloved cats of old days had long been hunting mice in the Elysian fields but their places had soon been filled by other small tigerlings.  None, it was felt, could fill Gentleman Tom’s place.  He had been there so long he seemed like one of the family.  They really felt that he must go on living forever.

No light was ever thrown on his fate.  All enquiries were vain.  Apparently no mortal eye had seen Gentleman Tom after he had gone from Silver Bush.  Pat and Rae were mournfully certain that some dire fate had overtaken him but Judy would not have it.

"Gintleman Tom has got the sign and gone to his own place," she said mysteriously.  "Don’t be asking me where it might be . . .Gintleman Tom did be always one to kape his own counsel…I’m not denying I’ll miss him.  A discrate, well-behaved baste he was.  All he iver wanted was his own cushion and a bit av mate or a sup av milk betwane times.  Gintleman Tom was niver one to cry over spilt milk, was he now?"

from Mistress Pat by L.M. Montgomery

With a very loving tribute to our own dear gentleman tomcat, Calvin.