Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Favorite Christmas Carol

Maybe I'm rushing the season, but I've been listening to Christmas Carols this weekend. I listened the 90 minute drive to and from my parents' in Maine and went through a few albums and artists as I drove: Il Divo, Michael MacDonald, The Carpenters, Sissel, James Taylor, Take 6, and John Rutter. Quite an eclectic collection, wouldn't you say? And that's just a small portion of the albums I have relating to Christmas!

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,
Long ago.

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,
Jesus Christ.

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
which adore.

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.

Let All Things Now Living

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

We Gather Together

Yesterday, my family and extended family and a few friends gathered together for an afternoon of delicious food, interesting conversation, and beautiful music. This is something we've been doing for decades now, ever since my sisters and I were in college when it was a gathering of families of our friends. Some of those friends have since become in-laws, and so the tradition has continued over these many years.

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

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

I'm thankful for so many things tonight. Almost too many things to count, but I'm going to attempt to shorten them to a top five list:

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!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Long for this World, Longing for the Next

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

Facing the Past and Creating a New Present

I admit it. I have a Facebook Account. I started it to keep in touch with my nieces who are busy getting good grades in college, but who check in at their own Facebook accounts several times a day. I figured I could stay in touch and involved in their life on a daily basis this way, and that has been the case. What I didn't expect was how many other people I would connect, or reconnect, with. Hundreds. Literally. Most of them former students from the four academies where I've taught over the past 30 years (can it be that many?!).

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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Full Moon--The Beaver (or Frosty)

It gets dark so early now! This is the moon already high in the black sky when I left school tonight. As usual, it was a crazy day, although not as much is it sometimes is with a full moon.

I was trying different settings with my camera. I like the design of the the tree branches lit up by the moon behind them...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields
Lt.-Col. John McCrae

"In Flanders Fields" was written upon a scrap of paper upon the back of Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, during a lull in the bombings (as recited to his grandson). It is one of the most famous poems written during the First World War, and has been called "the most popular poem" produced during that period.[1] It is written in the form of a French rondeau. Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote it on May 3, 1915, after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, the day before. The poem was first published on December 8, that year in Punch magazine.

The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders where war casualties had been buried and thus became a symbol of Remembrance Day. The poem is part of Remembrance Day solemnities in Allied countries which contributed troops to the First World War, particularly in countries of the British Empire that did so. (excerpted from Wikipedia)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

By the Rude Bridge

I took a drive out to Concord, MA this afternoon. It was a lovely day for photographing because it was kind of gray and misty making the colors stand out rather brilliantly. First, I stopped at Hartwell Tavern, a place I've driven by many, many times but never stopped to see. As I was walking down the long driveway, taking pictures as I went, all of a sudden a turkey cock emerged from the woods to cross the road with 13 hens following!

I continued along Battleground Road to the Old Manse. I didn't go into the Manse this time (home at different times to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne), but I did explore the garden. There wasn't much left but some cabbage and a few pumpkins.

Next door to the Old Manse, was the Old North Bridge where "the embattled farmers once stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world." This is not the original bridge; it has been rebuilt a number of times. It's still rustic and inspiring.

I went from there to Walden Pond where I drank in the peace still there from the days that Henry David Thoreau wrote about.

Hartwell Tavern

Hartwell Tavern sits along the "Revolutionary Road," the route the British took from Boston to Concord in 1775 . This November afternoon was gray, but beautiful.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Minds to Think and Hearts to Love

Earlier this afternoon, while I was putting the finishing touches on work for the day, I glanced out the window of my office. The rain-drenched woods were beautiful. Birds were flitting about the branches. The sumac was brilliant amidst the yellow and brown of the surrounding leaves. I paused to admire the panorama as nature gathered its strength for the last hurrah of fall. It's November in New England. I love every glorious bit of it! Even rainy days like today. Maybe especially days like today.

I've been watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman for the past several weeks. Let's face it. I'm addicted. I watched it periodically when it originally aired, but didn't follow it regularly. We had boarding at our school at the time, so I was mostly busy elsewhere on Saturday nights. But this fall, I rediscovered it on DVD, and what a treasure! Episode after episode unfolds revealing layers and layers of truth about human nature, some of them warm and comforting, others not so lovely. But all of them, in one way or another, thought-provoking and inspiring.

The episode I watched last night, set at Thanks- giving time, ended with this wonderful prayer, so relevant for today:

Dear Lord,
Let us give thanks to God our Father for all of His gifts so freely bestowed upon us. For the beauty and wonder of your creation, and earth and sky and sea; for our daily food and drink, our homes and family and friends; for minds to think and hearts to love, and hands to serve; for health and strength to work and leisure to rest and play; for the brave and courageous who are patient in suffering and are faithful in adversity; and for all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice, We thank you dear Lord. Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Autumn Beauty

Misty Morning Surprise

Tuesday morning, I arrived at school shortly after 7 a.m. It was a misty morning and just barely light as I drove through the gates. As I always do, I paused to admire the beauty of the campus at first light. That morning it was especially lovely because of the mist and the golden glow of the brilliant, wet leaves on the trees along the edge of the woods. I got my ever-ready camera and took a few pictures, noting as I did that birds were singing from the quiet from the woods.

As I looked around, I noticed that someone was sitting on the front steps. After I caught my breath, I realized that it was one of the early-bird students waiting for someone to come along and let him inside. Crossing the parking lot a little faster than I’d planned, I called out to him, asking if he’d been waiting long. I was glad to hear it had only been a minute or two. “I didn’t mind,” he said, surprising me with his mellow reply. “I like sitting here in the quiet. It’s so beautiful. The birds are singing and it’s kind of cool with the mist and all.” Yes! I thought. He sees what I do each day about our campus: that it’s safe, secure, peaceful, beautiful. It’s especially so in the fall, but it can take be just as wonderful in the spring when the trees are flowering, or the winter just after a snowfall, the kind that piles up all feathery on the branches.

Getting to school as early as I do, you might not think I’d find a lot to appreciate about my early morning arrival. But the sunrises are most often outstanding, and this year’s fall foliage has been spectacular. Everywhere I look, there are sights and sounds that remind me that Jesus is always present. I was glad to discover this week that I wasn’t the only one who found serenity in the beautiful fall palette of the pre-school quiet. I loved that it was a sophomore boy who realized it, too.