Monday, December 31, 2012

Better Than Light

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:  ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied:  ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

I first read that quote the year I had literally gone out into the darkness—quit my job at a school where I was teaching, given up my apartment and gone off to work on my doctorate in an environment about as far removed from my life and lifestyle as possible—the huge and ultra secular University of New Hampshire.  I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew was that I hoped I could succeed in a world I had had little or no contact with until that point.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I had the courage to do it, although if you know me at all, you know I am a risk-taker, always pushing the envelope, so maybe it’s not such a surprise that I would do something like that after all.    Although there were many things foreign and even difficult about the experience for me, I don’t regret having done it.  I also learned a lot, the most important being the truth of those M.L. Haskins lines from the poem “God Knows” in her book The Desert.  Any time you put your hand into the hand of God you are in a better light and on a safer way.

This is nothing new to most of us.  In fact, I think probably most of us believe that a life following close to Jesus is absolutely the best life.  Trouble is, it does no good to hold a belief if you don’t practice it.  If you’re not a thinker and a doer, why bother thinking?  Shocking question coming from one who, as a teacher, is continually exhorting her students to THINK, isn’t it? 

Well, I’ve been thinking about doing for a few weeks, now.  This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about doing, of course.  In fact I often think about doing around this time of year.  It’s the New Year, and one can hardly avoid thinking about doing new things, doing things differently, doing things at all!  At least I can’t. Every year for as long as I can remember—and my sisters say I can remember a long ways back, although it’s getting shorter as I get older—I’ve been making New Year’s Resolution lists.  Sometimes they’re long and detailed lists.  Other times they’re brief but cleverly worded lists—working under the theory that a few resolutions are easier to keep than many.  Omit needless deeds, you know.  It depends on how energetic I’m feeling at the moment…

No matter the form, I find myself thinking a lot during the weeks that surround the New Year.  Thing is, that’s the easy part.  Anyone can think, although they don’t always do it.  It’s the acting on the thinking that’s the real challenge.   That's my goal this year.  To act on the thinking, with my hand in God's.  That is definitely better light and safer than the known way.

The Year is Going

"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true." ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Comparison and Contrast

The difference . . . is huge:  Arizona versus Maine, humming birds to blue jays, sun to snow.  From one week to the next, there is no comparison, only contrast:

Not So Bleak Midwinter

One of my favorite Christmas carols is In the Bleak Midwinter with Christina Rosetti's poignant verses penned in 1872 at the request of Scribner's Monthly magazine for a Christmas poem:

In the bleak mid-winter
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 mid-winter
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 mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful 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 only His mother
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 I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

I love especially the last line--because while that is the simplest and most obvious answer, it is the most complex of all gifts:  the thing that sets us apart from every other living thing, the depth and breadth of our very being, our core, the very reason for our existence.  It's the hardest thing to give as well.  And yet once given, it's plain that there really is no other response possible.

Today's nor'easter is reminding me of this carol.  It is definitely bleak outside for anyone and anything subjected to the pommelling going on out there.  The birds have been buffeted for hours in their flying, feeding, and huddling attempts.  I've been trying to capture them with my camera.  Some are plucky and persevering--the chickadees, juncos, jays, and goldfinches.  The doves, though, seem to be having a hard time, withdrawing into themselves, only surfacing every once in awhile to shake off the snow and then hunker down again.

On the other hand, for this New Englander who only sees snow at Christmas time now--if she's lucky--the snow and wind are anything but bleak.  The stark white of the snow against the rich green of the pines, red of the cardinals, the blue of the blue jays, the black of the juncos, the golds of the goldfinches, the checks of the Harry and Downy woodpeckers, the soft browns of the doves, the grays of the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice--this kaleidoscope of color, this constantly shifting array of feathered friends--is not only not so bleak, it is beautiful.