Wednesday, December 31, 2008
For me, these are easy things, as they fit into my everyday life pretty easily, considering I work at a Christian school where I am grateful every day for the kids who make me laugh and the colleagues with whom I pray and serve. But she also suggests keeping a gratitude journal where we spend 15 to 30 minutes a day freely contemplating the things we appreciate and are grateful for in our lives. This forces us to focus on the good things and let go of the trials and frustrations.
Her discussion of faith cited studies that confirmed the healing power of prayer, and not just prayers you pray for yourself, but those you pray for others, too. Having many times experienced the power of prayer, both in my personal and professional life, I do not wonder at, or doubt, these studies.
And so, as the waning minutes of 2008 tick away, I am counting down the top five blessings in my life. And while I'm contemplating them, I am also offering up a prayer for continued health and wholeness in this new year.
5) I am grateful for the opportunities that come my way to make a difference. I pray that I do not fail to notice or follow up on them.
4) I am grateful for the friends in my life, both near and far, old and new. I pray that I can be as much a blessing to them as they are to me.
3) I am grateful for the work I've been given to do, for the people I work with, and for the way God has blessed us in that work. I pray that we will continue to grow in scope and influence.
2) I am grateful for my family, for our close friendship, for the relative good health of each. I pray for continued health and happiness for years to come.
1) I am grateful for the gift of life, eternal life, that we celebrate at this time. I pray that my life, and the life to come, will not disappoint the One who gave His all for each of us.
Happy New Year! Make it Bright!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I am your greatest asset or heaviest burden.
I will push you up to success or down to disappointment.
I am at your command.
Half the things you do might just as well be turned over to me,
For I can do them quickly, correctly, and profitably.
I am easily managed, just be firm with me.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with the precision of a
machine and the intelligence of a person.
You can run me for profit, or you can run me for ruin.
Show me how you want it done. Educate me. Train me.
Lead me. Reward me.
And I will then...do it automatically
I am your servant.
Who am I?
I am a habit.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Another blog I was reading today suggests choosing a single word to focus on instead of making a list of New Year's Resolutions. She says that narrowing down what you want to work on makes it more manageable, and more likely to be accomplished.
The idea of a vision board is a little bulky for my already too-small space. I'm trying to de-clutter, not add to it. The blogger had a solution for that, though, and that was to make a vision journal instead of a board. And, in a way, I've been working on such a thing for the past several years, I just haven't put it together. So...perhaps that's something I can do.
But I have to admit to liking the one word idea best. You can take it out and look at it anytime, anywhere...in your mind or on paper, whenever needed. To that end, I've been trying to figure out what word I would choose. Christine Kane has a long list of words to choose from and one that I like is "Courageous." Have the courage to stick to it, whatever it is that I need/want to do, and not waiver, not give in...kind of goes along with our school theme this year that says "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
There's something in me that does not want to yield. In theory. And yet I give in all the time to things I don't want to do. I've got to fight that tendency. I've got to have the courage not to yield.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Our family has several traditions that have developed over the years, especially since my sisters got married and then had children. Christmas Eve, they go to their in-laws and I go to my parents. The three of us usually have soup and homemade bread for supper, then we listen to music, open presents, and watch Christmas programs.
In the morning, we have a light breakfast and then wait for everyone to arrive in the early afternoon. We open presents, have watercress soup and homemade rolls and breads, play games, listen to music. We all spend the night, sleep late, have brunch and open stockings on Christmas Day.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Until I wander'd through the world
I did not know that even in Bethlehem,
Falls the white, soft snow.
Then I did imagine how
A morning long ago
Reflected light from all the land
Flooded through the door
And lit the spidery rafters
Above the sleeping child
Whose eyes were lifted up to a mother mild.
And such a radiance was around
On ass and munching cow
Some said because
A child was born,
And some because of the snow.
Herbert Read (1893-1968), From Moon's Farm
Published as set to music by Alan Ridout, 1963
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
This weekend our church celebrated Christmas and Hanukkuh in the same service. I thought it was a profoundly beautiful service that not too many people enjoyed, thanks to heaps of snow pouring down from the sky. We had wonderful music (that included my sister, her husband, and two children, all cellists) throughout the service.
Then a Russian scholar of Judaism talked about the origin of Hanukkuh and connected it to the Messiah and Salvation. It was fascinating. He brought with him a handwritten scroll of the Torah that took nearly two years to write. It was very old (don't remember how old) and fragile, but we were allowed to see it up close.
It had started to snow Friday afternoon and didn't stop much over night until early morning. Then it started again in the afternoon and kept on snowing all night and all day. It's still snow, in fact. Many things were canceled becasue of the snow, but not the Patriots' game. If you watched it, you saw how crazy it was out there. I went to a game once, years ago, in the snow. We had sleeping bags and heavy blankets to keep us warm, but there were some who didn't have as much protection. And still they stayed. My eyes watered so much, and then the tears froze on my face and my feet were blocks of ice, in spite of the covering we had. But did we leave? Of course not! That's a New Englander for you =)
All the same, school is already canceled for tomorrow. That's because it has now turned to ice on top of all the snow and is very dangerous. Tough, yes. Wreckless, we're not.
Friday, December 19, 2008
There are books that I reread over and over, books I know by heart in places because I’ve read them so many times. Some are books I teach, others are books I read just for myself. There are several that I both read for myself and teach because I think it’s important for others to know them too. One such book is the Bible. In English Literature, we study it both for its meaning and its method; from a spiritual as well as literary perspective. It stands up well, either way. And students respond to it’s beautiful message of love and the language that delivers that message.
A favorite story from the Bible is the one we embrace at this time. The story of Jesus’ birth is wonderful, any way you look at it. I like it straight from the King James Version. But I also love it through the music of Haydn in his Messiah, and in the words of others, including Marjorie Holmes in her inspirational novel Two from Galilee. This is a little book I read fairly often at Christmas time. It tells the story of Jesus from His parents’ perspective, simply yet profoundly. I’ve read it so many times I’ve gone through two books, underlining lines that speak to me, lines I want to remember, ponder over later. The ones that haunt me most are those where Joseph tries to analyze the meaning of true love even while he exhibits its meaning in his own life. “To suffer that others may live, as Mary had suffered in birth. To deny oneself for those who are dearer to us than life. That is the true union of those who love. And that—that in the end was what would bring man back to be united with his God.”
In my mind, that’s what Christmas is all about: revisiting the meaning behind all the activity, year after year, finding new meaning, bringing us back to be united with our God. This Christmas, I invite you to tell the story of Jesus to your children, your friends. Tell it over again to all who will hear. Tell them what it means to you. Put it in your own words, making new its meaning to you. Put it in your own rhythm and rhyme, making unforgettable music of that song in your heart. Put it down on paper to reread another day, another year. Learn and grow from it. And tell it over again and again. It’s that good a story. It’s that important a reality. Jesus came to earth to give us Hope and a Future. He has promised that our life with Him will result only in good. He lived a life on earth, showing us that it could be done. That’s the story you can tell, over and over again.
Monday, December 15, 2008
And here's a video of what he's doing now with his life, making beautiful music:
Friday, December 12, 2008
My parents, on the other hand, started losing power at 11 last night and didn't get it back until 1 this afternoon. Luckily, they have a fireplace and camp stoves and lanterns to see them through. My sister in central MA lost electricity and still doesn't have it. One of her colleagues had a tree go down on her house. No one got hurt, but it's going to be a mess to clean up.
On the other hand, even though it is destructive, the ice is quite beautiful. The pictures here were taken in my parents' back, front, and back yard. Rather magical looking wouldn't you say?
Many of my favorite carols were first poems written by English poets, now set to music. As I've mentioned before, Christina Rossetti is a favorite of mine and many others, but perhaps the work of a lesser known poet (at least to the general public), is that of 17th century genius Robert Herrick. Best known for his carpe diem poetry, he also wrote this beautiful carol that was first presented to the king.
My favorite setting of it is John Rutter's, maybe because I've had the privilege of playing under his baton a number of times, but I think more because of the peace that overcomes me when I hear the music and contemplate the impact of the gift of salvation that is implicit in the birth of Christ. For me, there truly is no sweeter music we can bring than a carol celebrating our Savior's birth.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
The concert took place in Boston's Symphony Hall, one of the finest concert halls in the world. It was, as you might expect, wonderful. This was the full Messiah, all 2 hours and 45 minutes of it. Truly inspiring. The soloists were quite good. We liked the men especially. The conductor, a guest from England, was beyond interesting to watch. He literally shaped the sound we heard, using every part of his body to do so. It was a riveting performance in every way.
Photos from the Handel and Haydn Society's website
Friday, December 05, 2008
Earlier today I had a message from a classmate in 8th grade. He is now a pastor in Wales, of all places. And even earlier a student who graduated 10 years ago came back to give a chapel talk to the students. In the 10 years since he graduated, he's made and lost millions, but just recently found his focus and is now a lay pastor for an area church. Such fun to see the current students learning from graduates!
The student from Michigan was in the very first American Literature class I ever taught 30 years ago. His family built boats (still does). Three years ago, he and his own family went to Peru to build a unique boat, a floating church for a congregation that lives on the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. Coincidentally, I took our senior class that year on a mission trip to the same region in Peru and we saw the church that this "boy" helped build. We literally missed each other by days. Another student in that first class was along on the trip as a doctor. I would love to have seen them, but it was quite satisfying seeing their work and hearing the excitement of the people as they talked about their new place of worship.
[I'll not mention, but briefly, that the internet was also re- sponsible for all but destroying my computer last weekend and it took the entire weekend to get it back (that and $145 to the guy who restored it properly...). It's a love-hate relationship I have, I guess.]
Pictures are of Lake Titicaca, Peru...taken in December 2005. These people literally live on straw islands that float in the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world. The floating church is docked for the moment, but it can float from island to island as needed, just like a boat! Pretty cool!
Sunday, November 30, 2008
With so many artists trying to put their own spin on some of the same carols, you would think that I might favor one over others. And while that may or may not be true, one thing is for sure, I do have a favorite carol. I was surprised to discover that I was not alone in my choice. The BBC Music Magazine took a poll of 51 of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts. Lo and behold, my personal favorite carol was also theirs! Christina Rossetti's In the Bleak Midwinter tops my list and theirs. If you've ever heard or sung it, perhaps you understand why:
In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and Seraphim
thronged the air;
but his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
What can i give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him--
Give my heart.
Pictures were taken in my parents' back yard this morning.
We sang this hymn in church this weekend. Katherine Davis'
words are quite beautiful and fitting:
Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the creator triumphantly raise.
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who still guides us on to the end of our days.
God's banners are o'er us, His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night.
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished
As forward we travel from light into light.
His law he enforces, the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine;
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim him divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration a Song let us raise
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving:
"To God in the highest, Hosanna and praise!"
Friday, November 28, 2008
This time was special because we were celebrating two major "decade" birthdays: the 90th birthday of the oldest of the group and the 80th of my mother. To honor them, we had a mini-concert of string, piano, harp, and vocal music. We closed it out by singing We Gather Together.
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing.
He chastens and hastens to make His will known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing
Sing praises to His name, He forgets not His own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining;
Ordaining, maintaining His Kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were on our side, all glory be Thine!
We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader Triumphant,
and pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord make us free!
I've sung that hymn many, many times throughout my life, but I never took the time to find out what it was all about until this morning when I looked it up. I was surprised to discovered that it was not an American hymn, but rather a Dutch hymn written about when they were fighting for independence from the Spanish in the 16th century. At the time, they were forbidden by the Catholic king to worship as they chose, so the words "gather together" were particularly meaningful for them.
The hymn appeared in American hymnals in 1903. It was the first hymn in the first hymnal of the Dutch Reformed Church in North Amerca, but it wasn't until it was chosen for inclusion in the national hymnal of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1935 that it became better known. During World War II, the words "the wicked oppressing" were connected with the Nazis and Japanese.
For Christians, we are always under siege from some evil force. Perhaps now, more than ever. I am thankful for the Leader Triumphant who is our Defender still.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
My students. I had a wonderful class with the seniors today. We are studying Renaissance poetry right now and my plan for the 80 minute period was to focus on sonnet writing (they had one of their own due). I always start the class period with a journaling prompt that I come up with in the 20 minutes or so prior to class. For some reason, I decided they should write a quick poem about the moon, and I played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as inspiration for them. While they were writing, I starting thinking about where artists get their inspiration and all of a sudden the class evolved into a full-length discussion on artistic inspiration. The conversation ranged from Picasso's Guernica to basketball player's creativity on the court. I showed them Sting's Sister MoonYouTube video that was inspired by a line from a Shakespeare Sonnet they had learned this week. And they shared what inspires them to write. I was totally inspired by the time the class was over!
My colleagues. I have some great, caring, deeply spiritual co-workers. It's such a pleasure to work with each of them. We all like each other. We enjoy spending time hanging out, talking, laughing, praying together. It's pretty amazing.
My family. The kids are growing up. It's hard, yet wonderful, all at the same time. The girls are bringing their boyfriends around this holiday. The boys are more talkative. They all like being with the grown ups. It's a pleasure and inspiration to talk with them. My sisters are my best friends. My youngest sister calls me every morning while we are both driving to work, and my other sister volunteers at school, so I see and talk with her every day, too. My parents are still on their own, still making an impact in their neighborhood, still showing me the way to be a gracious, generous force.
The stark beauty of post-autumn New England. This year's fall was one of the most beautiful in recent memory. I was hoping it wouldn't end. And yet when it did, what has replaced the fiery glow all around is the interesting textures of shape against shape, leafless branch against steel gray sky. Striking in a different way.
The music in my life. It's not just the fact that my family is musical, or that we have many musical friends, although that's enriching enough. It's not only the opportunities I've had to travel and the people I've met as a result of being part of musical groups myself, although that's been enriching as well. It's the peace that comes from listening to, from sharing, from playing that music.There is much more, but these are the things that have been foremost in my mind this day, as I've experienced blessings from each of them in specific ways today.
May you and yours give and receive blessings in a special way tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
~Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Longevity runs in my family. Both sets of grandparents lived into their 90’s; my mother’s mother until she was 96, my father’s father until he was nearly 100. Several greats lived into their 90s; one was 100. Both my parents are 80 (or soon to be); my mother has three siblings approaching 90 and my father’s brother is in his mid-70s. Barring accident, it would be logical to assume that my sisters and I have every reason to expect to live that long as well.
Part of me likes this idea, especially if I still have all my faculties in my 90s the way the majority of my long-lived relatives did. But there’s no guarantee on any of this. No guarantee that I will live that long, no guarantee that I will not sink into my dotage without a coherent thought in my head, no guarantee that I will even see tomorrow, never mind another 40+ years.
And then there’s the issue of the quality of life on earth, even now. As I get older, things seem to be getting worse in general, but even more so morally and spiritually. Maybe it’s just that I am becoming more and more aware, maybe it’s because things actually are getting worse. But that’s why there’s another part of me that kind of shrinks from nearly doubling the years I’ve already lived. I’m not so sure I want to hang around and see life as we know it deteriorate even more.
As a Christian, though, I know there is something more for us, sooner rather than later. As a Christians, I have a hope, an assurance, a very concrete and specific plan of escape. Robert Herrick’s Carpe Diem poem (“Seize the Day”) embraces the philosophy that we should make the most of our time now because time passes quickly and we don’t know how much time we’ll have. But he stops short of saying what happens next. He doesn’t say what Christians know, that there will come a day when we no longer have to worry about the quality or quantity of life.
The seniors wrote Carpe Diem poems this week. I was impressed with their clear realization that they are just passing through this world, and that there is something more and better for them if they put their lives in God’s hands. “God has a plan! Seize the day. Put it in His hands!” wrote one young man. And a young lady wrote, in part,
Let new ideas begin to sprout.
Try new approaches, do not doubt.
The world is falling at this pace.
We should live merry, filled with grace.
Live today as it was your last.
Don’t rely too much on the past.
Ayer is gone. Today resides.
The world will soon have to decide.
The world, indeed, is falling at a fast pace. And while it may be in my genes to last a long time, I am longing for the next world already. I am longing for Jesus to come right now. I love that I work in a place (a Christian school) where I can, as another young lady wrote, “Get to know the Lord Whom us adores.” Let us each “Hold fast to the Lord, come what may. Seize the day, young souls, seize the day!”
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Oh the sweetness of a note in my inbox asking how I'm doing, if I'm still teaching, reminding me of something from another place, another time. Oh the dismay of realizing that these "kids" are no grown up with children and grandchildren (a few of them!). I've loved that when they ask "remember me?" I do. I've loved catching up, seeing pictures of babies and spouses. i've loved playing Scramble and Word Twist with 'kids" I used to give vocabulary quizzes to each week!
A curious thing about this facebook set up is that once you are friends with someone online, you get to see who their friends are. Even curiouser has been the discovery of such things as the daguther (from Oklahoma) of a 4th grade classmate of mine (from Ohio) who is good friends with our former chaplain (from California) and the young woman (a graduate of our school who commuted from New Hampshire and now travels around the country with her evangelist husband)! Their college alma mater was the common denominator between the three of them (and while my classmate and I also attended this univeristy, it was at different times from each other as well as the three young people).
It is a cliche to say it's a small world when referencing my world. It's also a truism. it choulsn't surprise me anymore, how connected we are in small and big ways. Everywhere I've ever been in the world (literally), I've found someone I know or who knows someone close to me. School has always been the connecting point, one way or another. Christian schools all of them. And even though quite a number of these kids I'm reconnecting with are no longer part of the church that used to connect us, they feel a connection to the Christian schools they attended for a year or more several years in their past. Enough so when they see a face from that past, they reach out and ask to reconnect, to create a new present as friends. I have yet to turn down a request.
It's the same way with God. It can be years between conversations but He will always accept if we ask to be His friend. he will always be glad to see our name attached to that request. And it will be as if we had always been talking. How cool is that?
Photos: My current school in eastern MA, my former schools in Maine, central MA, central Michigan, and my current school again.