Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

Wassail! Waes hael! May health, love, and joy be yours in the coming year.


Monday, December 22, 2014

A Spider at Christmastime

How the "Legend of the Christmas Spider" Saved My Sanity

Christmastime, 2011
Mom, I can't eat my lunch until you kill the spider on the ceiling!

It's OK. It's pretty far away from you. And it's really little.

Mom, stand on something and get it!

I've been sick, kiddo. I'm not going to climb on the bench or I'll get dizzy. If the spider gets down to the wall let me know and I'll take it outside.

Mom, it's going to get me! 

We can't kill spiders unless they attack us because of the Christmas Peace. (Ancient Norse custom coming in handy here as a stalling tactic.)

Mom. Mom! MOM!

Maybe it's a Christmas Spider. We'd better leave it alone.


Do you know the "Legend of the Christmas Spider"?

A long time ago, when the Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were asleep in the stable with the baby, when suddenly an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph that they had to get up right away because King Herod was sending soldiers to kill the Baby Jesus, and they should hide in Egypt until it was safe. Joseph woke up from the dream and got Mary and Jesus ready and put them on the donkey and they left Bethlehem in the night.

Mary was so tired though from having a baby that she needed to rest, so they laid down in a little cave by the side of the road. Herod's soldiers nearly caught up with them and were getting close. A little spider in the cave could see that the holy family needed protection, so he spun a cobweb to cover the cave to hide them and the soldiers passed by. Baby Jesus was safe! And ever since then, a white cross has appeared on the back of certain spiders at Christmastime to thank them for this good deed.


Let's see if it has a white cross on it's back. Maybe it's a Christmas spider!

Maybe. If it gets close enough for us to see, we can check. But in the mean time, how about you just move to the other end of the table?


This is a mash-up of at least two stories: a saint's legend from Sixty Saints for Boys and assorted stories about the Holy Family interacting with flora and fauna, such as the rosemary plant being gifted with its white flowers turned to blue in gratitude for being a drying spot for Mary's blue cloak.

Storytelling is a skill that every parent should keep in their back pocket, if only to keep yourself from going bonkers. At least you can amuse yourself making up a story while trying to get your child to stop whining about this or that for three minutes.

Best case scenario, you've redirected your child's temporary state of dissatisfaction with life to a long term deposit into their treasure bank of imagination and knowledge, or at least contemplation of what a strange person mom is and what did it mean? Either way, it buys you precious moments of peace.

This is also how I know I am turning into an old woman. I'm going to be that tiresome old person who makes every one stop and listen to a long-winded and fanciful explanation for why the yew tree is the symbol of both long life and death, or why blackberries should be picked before September 29, when all they really want to know is whether the bus is on time and which stop to get out at for Target.

I managed to get out and mail Christmas cards and packages this morning. Half of us are still under the weather, but it's the under-15 half, so the oldest and I are getting back to normal and Christmas preparations are underway. I also discovered a packet of gluten free lebkuchen I had squirreled away for the holiday, so things are looking up.

Wherever you are, and whoever you may be, I wish you Peace. May you know the peace of Christ at Christmastime and always.

Keep watch! Christ is coming!
Prepare! Christmas is coming!
Rejoice! The Lord is near!
He is coming to dwell with us.
Come, let us adore him!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

Fourth Sunday in Advent and the Shortest Day

It certainly feels like the "days are hastening on," heading so quickly into Christmas it's like we are on a runaway train. I have done little to prepare for the holiday since coming down sick during midweek. Well, at least my shopping was pretty much done, the rest can be done online. I can order groceries online as well. We have a lot of movies to watch at home. The house is fairly clean and with all this down time, everyone is catching up on laundry.

Homemade vegetable soup with plenty of garlic and red pepper
What I have "prepared" for Christmas dinner so far.
Gluten Free Christmas Pudding (individual serving size for $8) and
Gluten Free Panettone (might serve two to four for a small bite).
Both from Amazon.
Sunrise at 7:57 a.m. and sunset at 4:17 p.m. Only 8 hrs and 20 min of daylight today. Apparently, this is the longest night ever in the history of earth. But never fear, from here on out, the day length will increase by a few minutes each day.

In some ancient calendars, there are only summer and winter; spring and fall are just brief transitions between the two. Today may be the "first day of winter" by modern reckoning, but it was considered midwinter in former times.

Winter, 2008
Christina Rosetti's famous midwinter poem captures the feeling of this point in the season, when the days seem harsh and the dark hours endless.

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.

The rest of the poem can be read here: In the Bleak Midwinter.

Christina Rosetti, 5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894
Later, this poem was set to music. Here is my favorite performance of In the Bleak Midwinter, performed by Corrine May. I like the simple setting, a few folks gathered to listen in a tea shop, with the lights of busy traffic speeding behind her. Very mid-winter-ish feeling: cold outside and yet warm inside. Another beautiful performance is in the Doctor Who special "A Christmas Carol" by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, but that's a different kettle of fish.

Ha HA ha
Today's O Antiphon: O Oriens

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Today's Mass readings are about King David wanting to build a house for the Lord, to move the tabernacle from a tent to a temple. The desire of the people was to keep God with them always. God promised to dwell with them and a temple was built, and later destroyed, and rebuilt and destroyed again. God kept his promise to dwell with us, not just the Hebrews but all people, through Mary, and her little son Jesus, in whom God became flesh.

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!

Keep watch! Christ is coming!
Prepare! Christmas is coming!
Rejoice! The Lord is near!
He is coming to dwell with us.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Come to the Table

Advent Ember Saturday
Anticipating the Holy Day that is coming soon

Prayer (fourth O Antiphon)

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God's eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Maybe you, like me, are missing loved ones around the Christmas dinner table, After my husband died in 2010, every time I sat down at the table all I could see was who was missing. To me, it seemed to symbolize what our family could never be again, gathered around the table with father at the head, mother at the foot, and children on both sides.

So for a while, we ate at the kitchen counter or in the living room, on the couch by the television. I've since bought a new table (the old one is now my work table in my office) and this is the first Christmas since his death that it feels like we have hit a new normal, where the overwhelming feeling isn't that someone is missing. That wound is still there, but it has healed over, and we can have a Christmas at home without it being very painful.

I think.

We're still five days away, right? Emotions have a way of sneaking up on you. Even when your head says you are okay, your body can be acting otherwise. But I don't have that feeling of dread I did the past four Christmasses, so I think it will be fine.

Christmas cards ready to go...but feeling too bleh to get to the post office.
Maybe Monday.
I was thinking about my intention last night, to light a candle and pray for the souls of my loved ones. I have a little collection of new votive candles, left over party favors from my son's first communion, actually. I had the idea this morning to make small name labels for each one and set them on the dining table (though they move to the sideboard for the actual dinner) as a way of visibly including their spirit at our Christmas celebration. I will light each one and remember that person with love.

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." --John 1:5

Today is the last of the three ember days of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. The first was Wednesday, the next was yesterday, Friday, and you can read about them in those blog posts. The ember Saturdays are for anticipating the celebration of the upcoming holy day. This is not a hard one, there is plenty to do to get ready. In former days, priestly ordinations were held on ember Saturdays, so perhaps including your local priest, seminarian, or other clergy in your prayers and when you write Christmas cards or make holiday party invitations, or put together a nice care package for him to say thanks for all he has done over the past year, would be a kind way to participate in this tradition.

Natural world: tomorrow is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and also a new moon.

Folklore: today's weather was cold, overcast, and sometimes foggy, with rain in the evening. We will see if this will bring us a similar March.

Tomorrow is the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The big day is almost here, whether we are sick or in good health, ready or not, here it comes.

Illus. by Jeanyee Wong, from The Cherry Tree Carol, 1951

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Ember Friday

Focus: conversion of the heart; prepare for Christmas with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Put a bird on it.
Christmas is very near, less than a week is left in Advent. The kids are on their last day of school. The shopping must be finished. Packages must be wrapped and mailed. There is a menu to be planned and a lot of eager hungry relatives to be fed. It is easy to get caught up entirely in the frenzy of preparing that comes with the holidays.

The ember days remind us to orient ourselves to the spiritual first and focus on the joy of Christ's coming. In quiet observation of the natural world, we can see that all of creation is filled with signs from God, from the obvious beauty of a clear bright winter day where the snow sparkles in sunlight, to the hidden beauty of a nut tree gone to sleep for the winter in preparation to bear its fruit next year.

As we continue our work throughout the winter months--because even during vacation, children must be fed and dishes must be washed and laundry must get done (or whatever your daily work might be)--we ask the Lord to bless our labors, and put them in his hands for his own use.

Bless my reading, and thinking, and drawing, and writing, Lord; may these activities lead me to holiness, and if they do not, then direct me to other work.

Chapel window at Glacier National Park
Natural World
Sunrise today was at 7:54 a.m. and sunset will be at 4:17 p.m. Only 8 hrs and 22 minutes of daylight. The moon is just a sliver of light, waning crescent and only 7% visible. The longest night of the year is just two days away. This year there will be a new moon on Dec. 21, so the night will be very dark indeed. According to a little internet research, this happens about every three years.

In folklore, today's weather predicts next February's forecast. The weather today was 45'-50'F with very heavy rain showers before noon, a sunny/partly cloudy midday and back to rain for the evening. A cold and changeable February would be no surprise.

Prayer (contemplation, praise, thanksgiving, petition)

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Root of Jesse's stem,
sign of God's love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Apparently, in ancient days, there was a folk belief that the souls in purgatory might appear on ember Fridays to those faithful relatives who prayed for them, to thank them for their prayerful intercession and beg for continued prayers. Some countries have their Halloween-like traditions during this time of year, where children go begging for treats or giving them, and the spirits of those who have passed away are remembered.
Kitchen window icon
I need to pray for my loved ones who have died (or rather, they depend on me to pray for them). As a convert, this is a practice I did not grow up with and am still learning. I appreciate the quarterly reminder of ember days to not forget the poor souls in purgatory. I will light a candle for each of them tonight, and for all those living persons who have asked for prayers recently, and thank God who has "come to save us without delay!"

Fasting (penance)
Keeping in mind that observing ember days at all is optional, there is no requirement to do anything. But if you wish to, you may. On a normal Friday, Catholics are asked to make an act of penance; the traditional way is to abstain from meat. But you can also do something different. Make an examination of conscience and pray the act of contrition, go to confession (if available today or tomorrow). A little bit of fasting before all the Christmas feasting begins makes everything feel balanced, I think. Temperate.

My "Word of the Year" for 2014
Almsgiving (charitable good work)
I am grateful that I always have food enough in the pantry to feed my family. Today would be a good day to make a donation to the church, either from the cupboards or financial, to help those who do not have enough for their families. This is probably something you do already, but the Ember Friday is like a note that says, "Don't forget the poor and needy!"

Our advent wreath in 2009.
Tomorrow is the last of the ember days for Advent. They come four times a year to bring in the seasons with prayer and reflection, so if you missed this one, wait a few months and it will be time for the next embertide.

"Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie."

3rd Week of Advent {pretty, funny, happy, real}

Like Mother, Like Daughter is one of my favorite blogs. When I want to read something inspiring and see something beautiful, I head over there to browse the new posts and re-read the archived ones. Leila and family are amazing folk. Every Thursday they host a round up of posts based on the theme, "pretty, funny, happy, real." So here is my post for the third week of Advent.

1. Pretty
Does a house ever look better than when it is decorated for Christmas? 

Our piano is in the kitchen.
The little tree over the piano is so cute. I set out all of our Christmas sheet music to encourage caroling, and other festive activity. You can only hear "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" and "What I Did For Love" so many times before you need a little change from Broadway ballads.

Yes, the tree is blocking the doorway.
There are two entrances, and it's okay for a few weeks.
Our Noble Fir in the living room looks nice, if I do say so myself.

2. Funny

I finally found a use for the last piece of Justin Bieber Christmas wrapping paper.

Occasionally, I block off the windows of the office doors so I can wrap presents in secret.
Christmas cards are coming in a slow trickle. For a while, business cards were outpacing personal cards, but I have about 12 or 15 altogether now. Trying to get my own cards out today...!

3. Happy

That's my #1 girl in green.
Caroling party at our house. It turned out that the retirement home was already booked, so they caroled in the neighborhood. One of my favorite things!

Joy to the Gnomes!
Happy spots in the front garden, even though almost everything is asleep for the winter.

The saffron bulbs have finally sprouted!
They went in the ground a year ago with nothing to show for it til this month.
They must be biennial.
4. Real

My oldest kiddo (yes, the one that went out caroling) is sick. We'll have to cancel weekend plans and hopefully exchange some tickets for other days during winter break.

Thanks for visiting! Check back this evening for my post on this Ember Friday in Advent.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

O Wisdom

I hoped to get this post up yesterday, but it was a crazy busy day with no time to edit. So here is what I was thinking about yesterday.
Ember Wednesday in Advent

Reflect & orient oneself to the coming season

Today is also the first of the seven "O Antiphons" sung on the seven evenings before Christmas. The first is O Wisdom (O Sapientia).

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Holy Wisdom
The ember days begin with a devotion to Mary. I am thinking today of the wisdom of Mary, whom God gifted with a clear unclouded intellect, since she was preserved from sin from the moment of her conception (what we call her Immaculate Conception). Mary possessed great wisdom and when the angel appeared to her offering her a part in God's plan of salvation for mankind, she said yes, where Eve had said no. I am thankful for her yes, and my prayer is to also say yes to how ever God is calling me to act and speak.

Olive Harvest
In some parts of the world (in Europe: Spain, Italy, and Greece are the top olive producers), the olive fruit is finished harvesting now, ensuring valuable oil (for cooking, for lamps, for use in holy oils) for the year to come.

Olives are harvested in the autumn and winter. More specifically in the Northern hemisphere, green olives are picked at the end of September to about the middle of November. Blond olives are picked from the middle of October to the end of November, and black olives are collected from the middle of November to the end of January or early February. In southern Europe, harvesting is done for several weeks in winter, but the time varies in each country, and with the season and the cultivar. (Wikipedia) 

In Northern countries, it would make sense to give thanks for the olive harvest as well, since olive oil is used to make chrism and other anointing oils throughout the world. I used some olive oil in my cooking tonight for the caroling party.

This harvest has the least strong tie to British, Celtic, and Scandinavian cultures (unlike the grape and wheat harvest), which are my personal areas of interest. It is interesting to try to think as an ancient or medieval northern person would have. What would I be saying prayers of thanksgiving for in December, if I lived 200, or 500, or 1000 years ago?
Think back over the past three months.
What blessings have your received?
How has God provided for you?
Natural World: ember days are set aside to give thanks for blessings received in the past quarter year and ask for God's continued providence

Winter is the traditional time that animals were slaughtered, since the fresh meat was more easily preserved by the freezing air. Some fish and animals were harvested earlier and preserved by smoking, drying, or salting. Useful animals or animals not yet ready for eating were kept fed throughout the winter from the summer's harvest of grain.

As a modern person, I can give thanks for:
  • the animals that provide our food.
  • that I have a full pantry.
  • the people that raised the crops and animals, preserved the food for me and made it available at my convenient local grocery store.
  • that I have a warm home, shelter from rain and snow and cold, heated with electric and gas.
  • the love of God that sustains us and provides for all our material needs
Sunrise today was at 7:52 a.m. and sunset will be at 4:17 p.m., just 8 hrs and 26 min. of daytime. Moon is a waning crescent at 20% visible. The winter solstice is nearly here.

If folklore regarding weather prediction were true, based on observation of today's weather, January 2015 will be rainy and cold. (No surprise there.) Friday and Saturday's forecasts seem similar, foreboding a dreary wet February and March.

December 1 sunrise

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love;
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

In the busyness of all the holiday preparations, some times there is just not time to eat, or to eat properly. If you would like to observe this optional day of fasting, here are some simple ways to begin:
  • eating things that were not my first choice 
  • eating left overs that no one wants
  • eating less than you want
  • eating later than you wanted  
  • eat without complaining 
  • waiting to eat without getting "hangry" 
Opening my home to friends and family, feeding them, entertaining them. Hospitality is not always something I want to offer, especially when I am feeling behind on other project. But...again, do it anyway. And do it without complaining. Think about every guest as a weary Mary and Joseph coming in to Bethlehem looking for place to rest.

On the way to Bethlehem
Keep watch! Christ is coming.
Prepare! Christmas is coming.
Rejoice! He is near.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

St. Lucy Day

How do you celebrate St. Lucy's Day? Do you call it Sankta Lucia or Lussidag? Do you think of her with a crown of candles and tray of saffron buns or bearing a martyr's palm and plate of eyes?

Lucy was a real person, a Christian in the classical era during the times of persecution, and such an ancient saint naturally has had meaning and customs added to her feast day over time.

There are dozens of articles you can read on the internet about her story and later legends, about how her feast day (December 13) became associated with the winter solstice in the far north, and her light-bearing symbolizes the promise of the return of summer in the middle of deep winter.

I want to offer just what I am thinking about this year, as a person who is neither of Scandinavian nor Italian descent (the regions most associated with Lucy's veneration), but who welcomes Lucy into my winter days of remembrance for many reasons.

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

A hero, virgin, martyr, saint
There is no disconnect between Lucy as martyr for Christ and a symbol of the return of the sun in winter. They are the same thing, understood on the spiritual and natural levels. 

A bringer of light in winter
[These are the day's readings in the Catholic lectionary (if you're protestant, you might hear slightly different readings, since Sirach is not used in later Bibles). I'm using them here as a framework to meditate on, not as any kind of biblical proof for Lucy in the Bible or anything. Of course not, she is just one of many early Christian saints, who become special to certain peoples over time. I think God planned it that way. He knows the best ways to speak to every kind of person, in every time, in every language. Lucia, of course, means "light" and her feast day (the day she was martyred, of her death) is marked on the old calendar's winter solstice, before Gregorian calendar reform.]

Reading 1: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11

In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you 
and who falls asleep in your friendship.

Lucy, like Elijah, became a sign to a people. It was a thousand years ago when the Norse peoples were first evangelized (around 1100 AD), and probably a few hundred years later until the story of Lucy made its way from Sicily to Scandinavia. Over time, the connection was made between the celebration of winter solstice and the saint's story. Today, when the region, and much of the world. has forgotten most of its Christian era, the promise God made to love mankind and establish his reign over all the world is still current, still true, still full of hope. Scripture is wonderful that way. It is timeless, applying to the past, the present when it was written, today, and for the future.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19

R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power.

R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
Take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.

R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.

R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

When I read this psalm, and think about the Scandinavian people, I think of  Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset and her quest for truth. Her novels (the most famous is Kristin Lavransdatter) are about women and men realizing their own faults and facing them unflinchingingly; seeking truth outside themselves, looking for honesty in romantic relationships and seeing one's self clearly as a mother, father, wife, husband, son, daughter, and ultimately as a child of God. Sigrid was raised agnostic and modern, she chose to become a Christian (a Catholic Christian in Lutheran Norway in the 1930s) and separated from her husband because of this choice (he had been married before and his first wife was still living).

Lucy may have been raised a Christian or converted later in her childhood, but at some point, she decided to dedicate her life to Christ completely. She vowed to live as a virgin and give her bridal dowry to the poor. Her intended fiancee was angry and had her arrested, and ultimately tortured and killed because she would not change her mind to give up her faith.

These brave women remind me that we all have to face difficulties in life, whether they are little ones that seem trivial (saying no to gossip, or finding that you've been gossiped about) or big ones, such as they faced. Knowing the Truth and keeping the Vision in front of us helps us to bear the hurts, both big and little, and also to confront the pain we may have inflicted on others.

Alleluia Lk 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
All flesh shall see the salvation of God.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

These are the words of John the Baptist. 
And Lucy says them too with her flames and crown, with the witness of her life.
Yes, Lucy lights the way.
A light in the midst of winter to remind us of summer's return.
A light in the darkness that points us toward the coming of Christ.
St. Lucy Day is a reminder to prepare, in the same way that St. John the Baptist says "prepare!"
Christmas is coming, the Lord is coming. The winter will end, and the sun return.

Do you know about the tradition called Ember Days?

They are seasonal days of penance held after certain dates on the calendar leading up to the traditional quarter days (Christmas, Annunciation, St. John's Day, Michaelmas).  These days are set aside for prayer, for the blessing of the earth and our human care of it (preparing, planting, growing, harvesting), for fasting and thanksgiving.

St. Lucy's Day is the marker for the Advent Ember Days. This coming Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the Ember Days of wintertime. Her day reminds us to prepare ourselves for Christmas, through prayer, confession, charity, love for others
The tradition of Lucy bearing the saffron buns is a remind of her generosity to the poor. Whether you hold the tradition today by having the oldest daughter in the house bring coffee and pastries to the family in bed before dawn, or you attend a community service to hear seasonal songs, watch the star boys, handmaidens and Lucy process with candles and enjoy treats in the church afterward, the point is to remember Lucy's charity.

If you live in an area with no such ceremony to participate in, an act or gift of charity on this day is in keeping with the spirit of Lucy. Actually, an act of charity should always be part of any feast day or saint's day remembrance.

I also use this time as reminder to get to confession before Christmas, whenever it is available during Advent. The schedule at the parish church may be a little different than usual because of all the different activities going on, so make sure to check before you go. The Friday of Ember Days is traditionally a day of abstinence from meat or other penance, and Ember Saturdays were often the days of priestly ordinations. Doing something nice for your local priests or seminarians, and offering prayers for them, would be appropriate on this day.

The Ember Days this week are December 17, 19, and 20th.

Gospel: Matthew 17:9a, 10-13
As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. 
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

The story of Lucy's martyrdom is not pleasant. Most Catholic images of Lucy show her with a plate of eyes, some with the martyr's palm, and fewer with a sword stabbed into her neck, or with bleeding wounds of any kind. John the Baptist was beheaded and his head placed upon a plate to please Herod's niece as punishment for preaching against the world and for repentance and Christ.

Lucy is one of thousands of martyrs to suffer in a similar way, and like all of them, she also calls us to repent of our sins, to love others, and to love Christ, to look for the light in the midst of winter, and have faith in the return of the sun.

Lucy belongs in my winter tradition because she reminds me to
make ready, 
light the lights! 

Christmas is coming!
Christ is coming!

How different those two phrases are, and yet they are the same. 

So there is my very long meditation on St. Lucy's Day, and I am sure I have more to learn and incorporate into my devotional life as the years go by. This year, at my house, there were no saffron buns or candle crowns, but we did observe St. Lucy's Day in other ways that are also part of the tradition, bringing light into the darkness, giving love to others and giving thanks to God.

You can see how we've celebrated St. Lucy in the past in my post called Winter Saints.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2nd Week of Advent {pretty, funny, happy, real}

Like Mother, Like Daughter is one of my favorite blogs. When I want to read something inspiring and see something beautiful, I head over there to browse the new posts and re-read the archived ones. Leila and family are amazing folk. Every Thursday they host a round up of posts based on the theme, "pretty, funny, happy, real." So here is my post for the second week of Advent.

1. Pretty: It's one of my favorite things every year, choosing a pretty Christmas card to send out to family and friends. Last year, I sent out almost 200 of them. I didn't have enough of the card I'd chosen ("Christmas Night at the Hermitage" from the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA) so I had to fill in with a few cards of other types.

This year I'm not sending out quite so many cards, but still, it's a day's work pretty much to get them all addressed, signed, stamped and mailed, not to mention writing the messages inside or at least composing a short letter to print onto the card. To save myself time, I picked up these colorful Madonna and Child cards that caught my eye during the after Christmas sales. Less than $2 a box!

First Choice
2. Funny: And yet...while I liked these cards, they didn't quite have that zing! factor to them that made me feel happy about sending them out. They're perfectly nice, maybe a little cartoonish. I love the bright jewel colors though.

To me, a card is a gift. Not just a piece of paper sent out of obligation or a dated formality. Sending a card is an opportunity to share something beautiful with the receiver, along with your kind and cheerful message inside, of course

Maybe you feel you don't have great taste in choosing cards, or know much about art in general. I encourage you to find a card that catches your eye, even if you don't understand why, pick something that you think is beautiful, or creative, or gives you a good feeling. Try not to just pick a box of cards that makes you think, "hmm, this will do, and it's on clearance." That is pretty much what I was thinking with my first choice.

Back up cards left over from previous years.They might even be from the grocery store. No, these won't do either.

The geometric igloo is cute, but "warm wishes," ugh.

Five more boxes of Christmas Fairy cards sitting on the window sill.
I liked the glitter and overall colors, but looking at this card for a while, it feels a bit melancholy.
I don't want to send sad Christmas cards.
Can I return them? Probably not.
I almost forgot about these. Twenty different vintage cards.
I forget what I was going to use them for. The kids? To give to teachers?
Save them for another year...hmm.
3. Happy: But then I thought...hey, I'm an artist! Maybe I should, like, you know, draw something. Something bright, festive, personal, unique... Like that cool winter liturgical calendar I finished yesterday. You can read more about the process of drawing it here.
Angel, Madonna & Child, Bright Festive Colors?
Sounds like Christmas Card material to me.
And it's useful!
And there's even evangelization happening all over it!
I'm so thrilled with finally discovering the obvious solution to the Christmas Card blahs, that I am sitting down at my desk to scan in my drawing...

Finished artwork ready to scan!
The curved painting of Mary is also from the New Camaldoli Hermitage, I think it's called Our Lady of Big Sur.
It doesn't seem to be available on the website currently, which is too bad.
I love the California coastline in the background, the hills all covered in wild golden poppies.
...and while I'm here, I can show you a few ornaments and knick knacks I have sitting around my desk currently. Last year, I hung this multi-colored garland around my bedroom door, but this year, I hung it over my desk to enjoy it even more, since basically I am at my desk half of the day and not standing in my bedroom doorway admiring the mouldings as much as I'd like.

I like a little creative crazy around me.
I have quilted ornaments made by aunts and grandmas, a Hawaiian angel, a red metal heart made by my little sister and a white felt heart made by me, the cork from our wedding champagne, and a set of 
Nutcracker characters I first hung on my dorm Xmas tree.
Over here, is my college pennant and a picture of me graduating from college and even a paper nativity scene I bought in college and have managed to keep all these years. Below, is a picture of my favorite writer I read throughout college, C.S. Lewis. College, college, college. Oh, there's my diploma back there too.

I printed a photo of Lewis from the internet and glued it to some English-y floral scrapbook paper.
He's British, he won't mind.
Over on the other side, are some even older pieces. I bought the beeswax angel at a medieval faire a million years ago. I am always amazed that this one is still in one piece. Though, as I was untangling it from last year's garland, for some reason, I set it in my back pocket while I was working, and it sat there all day, warming against my posterior and ended up curved, but not broken. Not sure how to make it flat again without ruining it.

I made the red ornament with my mother in 1976 or so for Valentine's Day and the little Swiss cottage on the shelf belonged to my great-great-aunt, and it's one of those picture window clicky things.

In the center are two angels, one made by my great-grandmother out of tin cans (Depression era crafts) and one from my mother. Behind that is my original master calendar wheel, drawn on the back of a desk calendar page.
So, there's my desk. Now, back to working on this year's card....

4. Real: The wireless scanner won't talk to my computer. Argh. Off to the copy store I go. Still have 14 days til Christmas anyway, right?

Wireless technology, I love/hate you.
One advantage of greeting cards: they don't have internet connection problems and you never have to troubleshoot them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drawing Quarters

I've been working on the next installment of my liturgical calendar drawings, Winter 2015. I originally thought this would be the last of them, since it would make a complete year. I figured why go to the hassle of drawing the same framework every three months, just make something more perpetual and be done with it. But then I realized that I enjoy the process, it is actually a kind of meditation on the year, and I can imagine choosing different bits of each quarter year to illustrate every time. So, this will not be the last! The proportions may move a bit and which saints' days I include may also change from year to year.

The first was Spring 2014, which covers Annunciation (March 25) to Midsummer (June 24).

Spring 2014
The drawing is an Easter Vigil procession. Every time I look at it, I see the one goof, the date of Corpus Christ should have been June 22. This drawing was published in Soul Gardening Journal.
There's a lily for Annunciation/Lady Day and water droplets to represent baptism for St. John's Day/Midsummer (for St. John the Baptist). Flowers for May Day, a little rock covered tomb for Holy Saturday. Some other little symbols for some of the Sundays.

The second drawing was Summer 2014, which I drew and colored and posted to SGJ's facebook page.

Summer 2014
I am pretty happy with how this one turned out. I added more detail about the quarter days, since these are pretty unrecognized in the USA. Summer runs from St. John's Day to Michaelmas, with Lammas in the middle as the cross-quarter day. The drawing is of two women on a walking pilgrimage. This continues the theme across the bottom of the picture, first the Easter Vigil procession, then the continuation of pilgrimage through life.

For the saints days I included, I made the men's days red and Mary's days blue (also St. Ann's and St. Hildegard's, who are included because they are family patrons). I drew a little loaf of bread for Lammas and a St. John's Wort flower for Midsummer, along with an Aster/Michaelmas Daisy for Michaelmas. I added different kinds of green leaves for the Sundays of Ordinary Time.

Third is another black and white drawing, published in Soul Gardening Journal's most recent issue. Unfortunately, my scanner made kind of a mess of it and it was reproduced really small in the journal, so a lot of the detail did not come through.  

Autumn 2014
This drawing was really tricky to plan out. There are so many saints' days and important feasts in Autumn, plus I realized that Michaelmas and All Saints' Day are really not that far apart from each other, so the arrows of the calendar wheel had to be adjusted slightly. Every three months has 13 Sundays in it, but each quarter has slightly more or less, making some creative rearrangement necessary.

I really liked the decision to make the saints days stars in the night sky, and All Saints is a cloud, because of the "cloud of witnesses." I wish I had made the Nativity arrow bigger and easier to read. I liked the overall effect of the stick figure Christmas scene at Bethlehem. I included a few phrases from hymns and scripture as I thought of them while drawing.

For the fourth and current drawing (unfinished), I knew I wanted the background to be a wintry sky of some sort. It covers the period of Christmas to Annunciation (Dec 25-March 25) and Candlemas is the cross-quarter day (Feb 2). I included a bit more explanation of the quarter days template, since it is not the usual way Americans think of the calendar. If people have heard of it, it is either from old English novels or from neopagan holiday articles. The Quarter Days and Cross-Quarter Days are part of a seasonal calendar system that fits nicely with the Christian liturgical calendar. 

Winter 2015
I'm not quite sure if I will do more to this or not. Sometimes the calendar drawings are so busy, I wish I'd left them more plain, but I do like having the Sundays colored to match the vestment colors, so there are always going to be a few more colors included in the drawing than I would generally prefer. I tried to keep it simple by only including a few extras outside the Sundays: Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Valentine, St. Patrick and St. Joseph. Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Ember Days are there too. As well as the arrival of spring. There are six Sundays before Candlemas and eight Sundays from then to Annunciation, so again, a little tweaking necessary to make the dates all fit properly.

I love the wintry sky blended colors. I'm happy with my cartoon of Mary Hodegetria (She shows the way) and even the little angel with the strangely curled trumpet. I added even more verses that popped into my head as I worked on this, with the theme of stars, sun, moon. January 1 is a holy day that sort of sneaks up on you, and so it does in the drawing too, as a little gold cloud to begin the new year. At the bottom right, Annunciation/Lady Day reads "nine months to next Xmas!" Pretty much it is always either almost Christmas, during Christmas or going to be Christmas again soon it feels like! ha ha

When this is finished, I may share it on the Soul Gardening Journal facebook page again for their readers to enjoy, as I don't think they'll be publishing another issue until Spring.

You can roughly see what all four drawings would look like if pieced together (if Blogger is cooperating). For the next drawing, Spring 2015, I need to take the time to make a scan of the finished black and white before I color it in (if I do). Or I could do the entire year in one go. Hmm....