Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making the New Year Bright

I've spent this evening playing word games with my sister, watching TV Land's count down to the number one I Love Lucy show of all time (the one where she and Ethel work at the candy factory), and counting my blessings. In an e-letter that came to my mailbox today, the writer suggested four pillars for making the new year a good one: gratitude, faith, laughter, and outreach/service (my single words summarizing her paragraphs).

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

Courage and Breaking Habits

More reason to choose "Courage" as my Word of the Year for 2009. I opened the e-mail that arrived in my mailbox this morning from Simple Truths and this is the headline: "Breaking a habit starts with courage, ends with discipline, and is fueled by desire." It included the following about habits:

I am your constant companion.
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 it automatically
I am your servant.
Who am I?
I am a habit.

Oh my! How did they know?!!! Guess I'd better start looking for my courage!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolution Musings

I've spent some of this day thinking about how to organize (once again) my life in a way that is both comfortable and manageable. I've done this many times, of course, but never seem to keep myself on track. One of the bloggers that I like to read (Autumn Cottage Diarist) wrote about something she was trying to get, or keep, herself focused: vision boards and treasure maps. Visualizing what it is you want to do, want to become seems to be a good tool to getting you to that place. Of course it's one thing to see, it's another thing to do...

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, 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

The Stockings were Hung...with Care

I drove north through a light rain this afternoon, but happily arrived at my parents' on dry pavement. Fortunately, it was warm enough so the roads were not slippery. so it was a trouble free drive. There wasn't even any traffic, unlike yesterday. I love my parents' house at Christmas time. They use lights and greenery beautifully throughout their house, so everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes.

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

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

Silent Night, Holy Night

One of the pieces the instrumental group played in church was Silent Night, a beautiful arrangement of the Manheim Steamroller's version, featuring my niece on the cello. I had never heard it before, and it took my breath away. It was so sweet and poignant. So right for a service celebrating the gift of salvation and eternal life. Here's the original instrumentation, also beautiful. But I have to say, the deep mellowness of the cello as the soloist was something special...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkuh, #400, and SNOW!

I failed to notice when I posted on Friday that it was my 400th entry in this blog! It kind of crept up on me when I wasn't looking, I guess. It's kind of amazing to me that I've accumulating that many entries, as I wasn't always that regular in posting. Others I know are much more prolific. I respect their ability to share on a daily basis. My goal is to write more in the coming year. It's good for me, if nothing else.

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

Tell it over again

I’m one of those people who believe that there’s a lot to be gained by visiting something over and over. There are a number of things that benefit from such repetition. Good music, literature, movies, and historical venues all improve each time you listen to, read, watch, or explore them. And so do we. Each time we open a book, each time we hear a piece of music, each time we see a movie, each time we wander the grounds of a historic site, we are different. Between this time and last time, we have gone through experiences that have changed us, given us more breadth and depth, brought us to a new understanding of who we are and how we fit into the world we live in. We get that change from our past experiences and bring it to our current ones. And that, in turn, makes each of those experiences unique, even if they are somewhat the same. This is why it’s good to go back to things that moved us in the past. We will see more than we saw before because we are different. We will also see more in ourselves than we saw before because we are no longer the same.

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

O Come, O Come Immanuel

Facebook is a really cool connector! Tonight, I found another student from 30 years ago. He was a sophomore when I last knew him. Now he's a 40+ professional Christian musician. He doesn't know where, when, or how he was born, but was found in a garbage can some days after his birth in Korea. He was adopted and brought to America and eventually ended up at the boarding school in Michigan where I started teaching. Here is a movie he made about his beginnings:

And here's a video of what he's doing now with his life, making beautiful music:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice Storm!

Weather was terrible today. I got a call at 5:15 this morning from our 1/2nd grade teacher saying that trees had gone down in her yard (one fell on the house and took out her electricity). Another teacher called later to say he'd been on the road for awhile and had not moved more than a foot. He didn't come to school either. These two live north of us where it was more icy than the "just" rain we were having.

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?

What Sweeter Music

One of the things I love best about Christmas time is the music. I especially love the carols. Originating from the French word caroller, meaning to dance in a circle, the word eventually came to mean not only dancing, but also lyrics set to music, particularly about the Nativity. They were first introduced into church services by 12th century writer and church man St. Francis of Assis (of "Lord, Make me an Instrument of Thy Peace" fame).

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

High on Haydn

It snowed over night. Not enough to get excited about. Not even enough to cover the ground. Just enough to tease you, to let you know winter is on its way. Another sign that winter is on its way is the proliferation of Christmas concerts, both amateur and professional. I enjoyed one of Boston's oldest traditions: the Handel and Haydn Society's annual weekend of Messiah performances. I went on Saturday afternoon with my high school piano teacher who came to town just for that.

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

Blasts from the Past

I feel over- whelmed tonight with friendship. The internet is a miraculous thing to me. I have no idea how it works, but it's such fun! Tonight, I've been "talking" with students from my first years of teaching simultaneously, even though one is in Michigan and the other is in Oregon. At the same time, I was playing games with my sister and instant messaging her all the while. Crazy! Last night I reconnected with others from grade school and my early high school years. It's been so interesting to find out what has happened to each of them since I last saw them, decades ago.

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!