Unlike so many pictures of babies, the one featured on this Christmas card shows me in a particularly thoughtful mood. I love the way the light is shining on the bassinet and my hand is resting on the paw of my stuffed kitten. I have that wonderful slouched position of someone who has just mastered sitting up but has to balance her head’s weight against that of her body.
Lost in thought in 1947, lost in thought tonight as I look back over many, many Christmases. Our country is going through some tough times. Inflammatory rhetoric fills the news. In 1947 the country was taking a deep breath after a long siege of war in the Pacific and in Europe. But we had unleashed the bomb, and our lives had become more perilous than most of us knew.
I have spent my whole life with the specter of nuclear war as a back drop. I mourn the reality that my grandchildren are now hearing talk of intensifying that threat. Tonight I pray for peace. I pray that cooler heads will prevail. I pray that we can lay down our weapons and spend our money studying peace.
I treasure my collection of miniature Nativity sets. Because they are small and relatively inexpensive, friends buy them for me when they travel. I have sets from Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Ecuador and Peru. I enjoy the many different cultures’ visions of the Christ child’s birth. Here the birth is attended by llamas! I also love the hands that enclose the scene, reminding me of a song I sang once “he’s got the whole world in His hands.”
The fireplace mantel has room for the assortment. It’s a gentle reminder that in my tradition Jesus came for all people, not just the privileged.
In the reading for today, the fourth Sunday in Advent, I heard a wonderful phrase in the Gospel from Matthew. The account tells of Joseph learning that Mary is pregnant. He intends to separate from her, since the baby isn’t his. “Such was his intention,” the text states. Unfortunately for his plans, he is given a different message. While I think that angels look nothing like this image, I do think the depiction of Joseph represents his situation pretty realistically. He really had other plans!
Whatever your faith, and whatever texts you read in your tradition, I think we can all recognize those times when we had “an intention” and life sent us in a different direction. I intended to have several children: I had one. I intended to always be in a two parent household: I spent 11 years as a single parent. I intended to remain close friends with someone: she raged at me and stopped speaking.
Now I hold my intentions a little more lightly. We really don’t have complete control over our lives. We need flexibility to deal with the reality that we meet. We don’t have to spend time in the “if only” unless we decide to spend all our time looking back. And sometimes reality is much better than our “best intentions.” After all, when I finished the Gregg summer school course, I intended to never type again. And then they invented computer keyboards!
Here in New England we have just had our first bout of snow. It was only a few inches, just enough to give us time to find our mittens, hats, scarves and boots from the dark recesses of the closet where they had taken refuge earlier in the year. The little playhouse in the background is snowed in. The fence mid-yard forms a barrier between the dog’s yard and the play area. With the next snow, she will be able to walk over it. A bit of our red canoe still peeks out behind the garage, reminding us that the lake once thawed. And poor St. Francis, surrounded by zinnias in the summer, now sports snow for a hairpiece.
Seasons help me recognize parallel shifts in my own life. I need dormant times too, times to regroup, slow down and become more contemplative. Winter, with its short days, encourages me in these pursuits. And Advent is a time for reflection and stillness.
The roads are a mess as they always are after the first snow. Even the plow drivers have to get back in the groove. And people need to remember how to drive on ice and snow. By the next onslaught we will be back in the pattern of winter. Going out early to clear off the car(the garage on the left of the picture houses tools and the snowblower, leaving no room for the car!), salting the steps, clearing the sidewalk. We will once again yell:”Take off your boots before you come in here!”
Then spring will come along and startle us with buds and breezes. We will have forgotten all about it, so convinced that winter would never end.
When I was a teenager and my parents were loudly arguing in the room below me, I used to tune my bedside radio to a station in San Francisco, 600 miles away. Late at night, I would hear a very repetitive prayer go–it seemed–on and on. It was very soothing, though I really had no idea of what it was. I would fall asleep to its calming words. I was unchurched and really didn’t even think to ask anyone about what I was hearing.
Fast forward 30 years and I was praying in a place in Portland, Oregon called The Grotto. It is a lovely sanctuary open to all. I found the quiet very grounding. One day I heard a group of mainly Philippine women saying that same repetitive prayer while holding strings of beads. Then the woman in front of me turned around, handed me one, a lovely amber string of these beads and said, “I am supposed to give this to you.” She handed it back to me and went back to prayer.
By then I was Christian, but I had heard horror stories about Catholic prayer practices which supposedly prayed TO Mary, as if she were God. But it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The sequence of prayers included a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and five repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It was, as far as I could tell, theologically sound.
Fast forward another 20 years and my next door neighbor, newly widowed, asked if I would join her once a week to pray the Rosary with her. So I printed out the prayers, picked up my amber beads and went to her house that Tuesday. We meet each Tuesday morning and pray the prayers. I still get flummoxed occasionally, worrying that I am counting wrong, which definitely interrupts the contemplative nature of the prayer! But when I can drop down into the repetition, it has the same calming effect on me that it had 55 years ago.
Now when I get to Mass early (God’s sense of humor leading me to Catholicism over my Protestant friends’ dismay) I see others quietly holding the beads and moving their lips silently. I feel grateful remembering how important those beads were so many years ago.
If you want to learn more go to http://www.rosary-center.org. (As always, I respect many traditions, and I have no interest in proselytizing; I’m just sharing my perspective.)
Back in the “olden days” girls all had to learn to type. Since my high school curriculum was full of academic classes, I had to take typing in the summer. We learned using the Gregg method. I never got a job where I needed to type. That’s because I was never hired after I took the timed typing test and got a word count below what was needed for the job. The timed test made me nervous and I made many mistakes, all of which reduced my count. In those days, there was no auto-correct, so all mistakes had to be carefully “whited out” with a little brush. If the paper was important, it had to be mistake free, since the white out was ugly. I used to use so-called erasable paper in college which still left a tell-tale smudge but beat having to type the whole page over.
Then, after graduate school, I never needed to type again. Until computers! Who would have guessed in 1963 when I sat in that hot summer school classroom learning to touch type that I would use the skill on a keyboard.
So now I touch type on my Mac. I can easily correct errors with the handy delete key. It alerts me if I make a mistake by underlining it in red. I don’t have to use carbon paper to make duplicates. I can push a button and a printer makes as many copies as I need. I impress all the younger hunt-and-peck typists in my life with my touch typing skills.
I miss the “ding” that the typewriter made when it got to the end of the line and needed you to return the carriage back to the left margin. If you have no idea of what I am talking about, I refer you to the You Tube video titled “Typewriter Training “Basic Typing I:Methods.” (I don’t yet know how to embed a video link)
Now if I could only get my fingers to write instant messages with the same dexterity!
Before I talk about photo bombing, let’s notice how I look like a 102 year old Eastern European lady in this photo!
My granddaughter introduced me to the term “photo bombing,” when you jump into someone else’s photo, uninvited. Here my dog Cinder seems to be trying to claim the foreground of the photo. At least her rear end is trying to nudge me out.
I think the President-elect is doing the equivalent of photo bombing my tranquility and self-regulation. I will be calm, grounded and optimistic, secure in my faith and surrounded by those who love me and then BAM–I walk by an insane headline such as “Trump says no one is sure about climate change.” Disregulation, internal argument about the truth, frustration, despair creep in. This happens when I least expect it, such as waiting in line at the drug store.
So I am trying to let God photo bomb me instead. I am mindful of the hawk that sits up on the power pole, pulling me out of my funk, restoring my calm. I watch the long line going to Communion and my faith is buoyed. I see my husband standing on the ground cleaning the gutters with a hand made vaccum device worthy of Rube Goldberg, and I remember that he promised me he will stay off ladders because he loves me.
I welcome such interruptions of joy, light, peace, and love. Keep them coming God.