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Archive for December, 2011

Christmas Even

We are in Joshua Tree National Park, in a cabin. I’m in front of a fireplace; outside, millions of stars fill a sky darker than I’ve seen in years.

A woodblock creche from India; the woodblocks are similar to ones used for printing patterns on saris.

 

Love the detail from this wooden creche– look at Joseph lifting the new baby high! Such a human moment captured and made immediate in simple wood.

 

And this one, another intimate human moment. The new family, young in the world.

I was trying to remember about starlight– isn’t it true that the starlight we see is reaching us many, many years after it’s already shone? That the stars we see shining, many of them, are already dead?

I’ve been thinking a lot about saints recently, and about Joseph– an ordinary man of the world thrust into extraordinary circumstances. His faith– and faith alone, no angel came to reassure him!– and solid actions nurtured something that has continued to impact us these thousands of years later.

As this year comes to a close, I want to hold fast to the idea that the relationships I form and keep, and the decisions and actions I take, are in place in a pattern or rhythm I can’t always see or know. How frightening! How out of control! And yet, isn’t Christmas–after the waiting of Advent–about embracing the radical unexpected things, with a willingness to joyfully follow a world turned on its head?

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At Our Lady of All Angels Cathedral, in Los Angeles. Love, love, love this contemporary rendering of Mary– she’s a young woman, but graceful and sure. You can see her youth in her face, in her French braid, in her posture.

 

Another youthful, contemporary rendering of a powerful young woman–Joan of Arc. Love her cropped, boyish hair and serious face. Can you imagine the King of France, approached by such youth and certainty, with no regard for his power?

It’s interesting to think about these saints that surround us… they were physical bodies, real people with hungers, anxieties, jealousies, and friends. I think we would recognize more in them than we would expect– surely some bit their nails, stuttered, laughed nervously, touched your arm when telling a good joke.

And then– in this recognition, can’t we see that we might also be called to use our bodies and voices? Frightening to consider how we are daily called.

Angel candelabra in Cathedral.

Angels over their city.

Another amazing contemporary rendering: Felicity and Perpetua.

I pray that I will continue to find moments of recognition with those I meet, both saints and not-yet-saints.

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My grandmother. Last month, I traveled from LA to Chicago to San Fran to St. Louis to Western Mass., culminating in Thanksgiving. Whirlwind! One of the highlights in St. Louis was meeting my cousin’s dear baby and going through a box of old photos of our family.

Here is our grandmother, whose parents came from Scandinavia, in Montana in the 1930s. I had never seen this photo and nearly gasped when we found it. She looks like my grandmother as I remember her, but she is so young, so pretty, so possible. This is before she met my grandfather, married young, and went to England with one child to bear another (my mother) before reaching the age of 20. Before coming back to the farm in Southern Illinois–her husband’s family land–and raising four children in a farmhouse with no hot water until 1977, the year I was born. She also raised, in part, me and my cousins. When I was in high school, she was frying chicken for a local restaurant and driving a school bus. She had gone to beauty school at some point; my mother still has some of her hair equipment.

Also, recently, I spent a day at the Getty with my best friend,

was treated to an amazing Korean meal by a classmate,

experimented with lotus root and other delicacies from the amazing Land of Plenty cookbook for…

an amazing Christmas dinner with my husband. Vintage Advent candle-holder from Etsy, napkins lovingly hand-made in Haiti, plates from a pottery shop in Shelbourne Falls, Mass., chargers from our wedding pattern china.

Today is the shortest day of the year. Doesn’t Daisy in The Great Gatsby say she’s always trying to notice the longest day of the year, and never can? What a sad thing, her youth, her longing for summer warmth and shine (and those shirts!), and always missing it all.

I don’t know what it says about me that I’m noticing the shortest day of the year, but I’m surrounded by Christmas lights, red wine, and plenty of carols and cards. Christmas lights don’t twinkle as well in the light, so I’m thinking that this is the best night of the year to shine.

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