A Star

An 8 point star quilted by Mary Clyde Terrell (1887-1977)

Today is a day for Solstice musing. A day containing the moment of turning, the marking of winter, the promise of returning light. I want to dwell on that promise and write about darkness and light – but I am drawn to a Crazy Quilt made by my maternal grandmother.

I often bring it out at this time of year because it reminds me of her, of a country Christmas, a scraggly fence row cedar cut for decorating, of homemade gifts and family coming back home for Christmas. As I spread the old quilt out, I admire once again all the love in the repeated patterns and random pieces. I love the briar and feather stitches adorning patches of fabric scraps left from sewing clothing or even the pieces of old clothing. A Crazy Quilt usually uses the fancy cloth from an old church dress or something worn for a special occasion. Some of these quilts have silk or velvet or satin. Grandma used what she had.

So I will use what I have as well. For the first time in all the years I have had this quilt, I am seeing a new message in the pattern. If I only look at a few patches at a time, I miss the bigger picture – the pattern of the 8 point star. Stunned by a new perspective, I am called to the symbol of this star. An 8 point star is the symbol of a compass. It speaks of navigation and direction.

This fourth week of Advent, I feel the cadence of pounding hearts and plodding feet – Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem, the wise men who saw a star that was so different it sent them on a distant journey. I imagine their desperate need for direction and how they sought it. Grandma’s 8 point star reminds me that I have a compass, that I will be given the navigation I need for Advent, for Christmas, and beyond.

One Stitch at a Time

My niece, Sharon, made this warm scarf for me and mailed it from Colorado. Not this year. A few weeks ago she had a stroke. I am thankful she had good medical treatment and am told she should regain lost mobility and speech. She will work intentionally on all that is required to do that, just as she knit these pieces of vividly colored yarn into a whole piece, one stitch at at time. One piece at a time. One color at a time. The result is lovely, wrapping me in soft reassurance that I am loved.

Advent is like that. One stitch at a time in what seems an uncertain plan. Busy days when stitches get dropped or I feel unraveled.. Changes in the way I thought things would look. A row of different color. But I know that stitch by stitch, step by step, the gift is coming.

“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,

Lead Thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home –

Lead Thou me on!

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene, – one step for me.”

John Henry, Cardinal Newman

Advent Candles and Carols

We have finished lighting the 2nd Advent candle, the candle of Faith. Mary believed that although she did not know or understand the mystery, she trusted God. I placed the book of carols I first wrote about in 2009 on the piano. Pain prevents my sitting for very long to play right now but I want to make these beloved familiar songs real with my fingers again. What music speaks to your Advent longings?

The Carols of Christmas

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Each year during Advent and Christmas I enjoy many of the same carols I sang when I was growing up. But I also love learning new ones, which are mostly really old! I have a lovely Christmas songbook given to me by my son, Ben. In it I find the traditional favorites as well as many that have become well loved if not as familiar. The following is one of those. The origins of this old carol apparently lie in the southern part of France. I am strangely attracted to it, and like to think that my French great great grandparents might have taught this to their little girl who later came with them to the United States and was my great grandmother. Although she died when I was a baby, perhaps she even sang it to me and rocked me. I feel it so.

Whence comes this rush of wings afar,
Following straight the Noel star?
Birds from the woods in wondrous flight,
Bethlehem seek this Holy Night.

Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here,
Into this stable, poor and drear?
“Hastning we seek the newborn King,
And all our sweetest music bring.”



Return

These months of not writing have not been time without keeping stories .. There are many, some tucked away only in my mind, a few kept as drafts, waiting for time to bring them out to finish and post. This is one of the latter. As we open boxes to begin putting on our home’s Christmas dress, this picture and comment call me. I labeled the draft “for Christmas 2021.” That is a hopeful label. Into this second year of pandemic, I see that on June 18, 2021, I left one small paragraph and the photo.

. The manger was empty for over a week . Now the baby has returned. Our littlest angel, Oliver, likes to hide him in all the decorations. There is a story or two there. This morning the profound reminder to me is that Jesus didn’t stay in the manger. And that he comes to me in every way I need and is coming back in ways I can only imagine.

The speaks of hope because in the middle of a difficult time, I looked forward to the expectant waiting of Advent and Christmas.

I last posted here at the beginning of Lent. Now we have already gathered around the table for Thanksgiving and Advent begins. Tonight, we stood together to light the candle of Hope. Nora placed the first Advent figure, a little shepherd boy, on our old wooden Advent calendar. Our thoughts turned to the word “hope” and why we need it. Oliver, who just turned 5 on Friday, blew out the candle. The story begins again.

As Lent Begins 2021

Snow, Ice, and Roses. This Peggy Martin climbing rose is rightly nicknamed “Survivor Rose.”

At the beginning of this week, our Monday morning began with 14 degrees after a night of freezing rain and snow – very unusual on the South Texas Gulf Coast. I took this blurry photograph from my window, glad for the reminder that we too can survive, even bloom in hard times. That day ended for us with no power, no water, and unreliable cell phone service. We were cold but thankful to be in our home with our son and his family, with a gas cooktop that allowed us to cook. Our power outage lasted 24 hours, unlike the case for so many across our state. But closed roads contributed to severe issues as deliveries for keeping stores and gas stations stocked came to a halt. Almost a week later we are beginning to warm and dealing with broken pipes, boil water alerts, and shortages for prescription supplies. It has been just over a year since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic. As Lent begins, I am keenly aware I am not the only one who is praying this prayer.

Dear God,

In this season of Lent, we’re reminded of our own difficulties and struggles. Sometimes the way has seemed too dark. Sometimes we feel like our lives have been marked by such grief and pain, we don’t see how our circumstance can ever change. 

But in the midst of our weakness, we ask that you would be strong on our behalf. Lord, rise up within us, let your Spirit shine out of every broken place we’ve walked through. Allow your power to be manifest through our own weakness, so that others will recognize it is You who is at work on our behalf. We ask that you would trade the ashes of our lives for the beauty of your Presence. Trade our mourning and grief for the oil of joy and gladness from your Spirit. Trade our despair for hope and praise. 

We choose to give you thanks today and believe that this season of darkness will fade away. Thank you that you are with us in whatever we face and that you are greater than this trial. We know and recognize that you are Sovereign, we thank you for the victory that is ours because of Christ Jesus, and we are confident that you have good still in store for our future. We thank you that you are at work right now, trading our ashes for greater beauty. We praise you, for you make all things new. In Jesus’ Name, 

Amen

Prayer written by Debbie McDaniel

Finding Joy

Instead of resolutions each new year, for a long time now I have chosen a word. One word. A word that will help me focus, reflect, center, and enable direction in all the challenge a year’s days can bring. It usually takes me awhile to choose a word, but I have always understood why it was a necessary and helpful word by the end of a year. Last year my word was Savor. I will be honest in saying that I understand now why that word was crucial for me in 2020 – a year of worldwide pandemic and social isolation that included friends and family dear to me, changes not ever before imagined, further loss of Joe’s vision, serious illness and hospitalization for me, economic and political deterioration, wildfires and hurricanes. I needed to pay attention, focus on savoring the immeasurable blessings in my life that include dear and constant caring as we live with our youngest son and his family and receive reassurance and encouragement by phone and media from our other two sons and their families. This year with all its roller coaster experiences, I felt some resistance as a new word kept coming to mind. The word is JOY. At first I had some thought that this was because the word is everywhere at Christmastime. But slowly I realized I must choose Joy.

Practice Joy. Receive Joy, Scatter Joy. In my morning reading, I have been using Jan Richardson’s art and words. This morning, this poem was my gift from her writing.

A BLESSING TO SUMMON REJOICING


When your weeping
has watered
the earth.
When the storm
has been long
and the night
and the season
of your sorrowing.
When you have seemed
an exile
from your life,
lost in the far country,
a long way from where
your comfort lies.
When the sound
of splintering
and fracture
haunts you.
When despair
attends you.
When lack.
When trouble.
When fear.
When pain.
When empty.
When lonely.
When too much
of what depletes you
and not enough
of what restores
and rests you.
Then let there be
rejoicing.
Then let there be
dreaming.
Let there be
laughter in your mouth
and on your tongue
shouts of joy.
Let the seeds
soaked by tears
turn to grain,
to bread,
to feasting.
Let there be
coming home.

Used by permission from the author, Jan Richardson

The Threshold of Epiphany

Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas

a day for remembering the visit of the Magi

a time of discovery

finding what they were seeking

we are not told how they lived out their discovery

only that they returned by a different way

I believe choosing a different way was not only to avoid Herod

but because they were beginning a new journey

.  They had come to, and crossed a threshold.

I, too, am crossing a threshold

 I am moving from one place in my life to another

I do not know where my steps take me

but I trust that light will be given me for the way

Don’t Miss This

Our Advent wreath this year reflects our circumstance and time. 2020 will long be remembered as a year of limited going and doing, as well as simplifying. In our kitchen we use what we have instead of making a trip to the store for ingredients missing in a recipe. Having groceries delivered to home or curbside means planning ahead and accepting what comes in the order as substitutions for items not available. Sometimes it means not getting everything on the list. When I looked through the candles we had stored, traditional colors of Advent candles left from last year looked short and fully dripped. So we used what we have, different colors. We keep the meaning of each candle as we light it with brief reflections. Our grandchildren sense the wonder and mystery in the flames and only a word or two. Tonight we light the 4th candle. The candle of love, reflected in the eyes of a child. We seek the whole mystery. We receive all we are given and wait. We find a gift here, in upturned faces. Look! Don’t miss this!

How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.

Phillip Britt, from Water at the Roots, 1947

Advent 2020

This is now the second Sunday in Advent, 2020. Yesterday Nora asked why the Advent calendar and Advent Season with four candles to light are not the same. A thoughtful question for a 6 year old. It always helps to think about where we are with calendars and seasons. This year is very different. Many phrases used during this season contain the words “together. gathering.” This year, the Covid 19 pandemic has shifted many all over the world to a different consideration of the words. But the season and its meaning stays. The story is both old and new. We wait this year in different circumstances, but the reason changes only in its greater need. For Joe and me, our greater age and lesser health means I took this photo in the foyer of our church 2 years ago. I have not been present there at a worship service in over 9 months. I miss this sanctuary. I miss our friends. Worship on Sundays has meant online viewing. But there is no lack of evidence of God’s presence and sufficiency for and with us. Living with Ben and Kristen and Nora and Oliver means we also always have family around us. The rest of our family keeps close, helps us, and encourages. We are loved.

ADVENT

THE HOUSE LIGHTS GO OFF and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. 

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. 

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. 

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. 

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor. 

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.  

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner

Discovery

Step softly, under snow or rain,
    To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
    That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
    On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
    And we know all things but the truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
    And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
    The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
    Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
    And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
    With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
    That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
    And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
    And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
    (…We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
    Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
    The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
    And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
    And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
    That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
    To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
    For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
    Through the snow and rain.

G.K. Chesterton