Saturday, December 24, 2016

// the christmas ornaments //

The Christmas Ornaments

via pinterest 

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to miss little things. Seemingly unimportant things. To hurry by the displays of ornaments, tugging children away before they break something - is that little glass trinket really $12?!

Away you rush, leaving the sparkling trees behind without noticing a little white tulle clad, balletic fairy hanging and twirling on the limb of a silver, tinsel tree. Nor do you notice a handsome, bright nutcracker just across the aisle, standing-or dangling - at attention, on a green tree decked in festive color. It certainly would never cross your mind to look close enough to notice their tiny faces, frozen into wide-eyed stares that had been fixed on each other since the beginning of the season.

Until the day before Christmas Eve. A little old lady wrapped in a thick, warm sweater hobbled in from the frigid parking lot and paused at the dazzling display of trees. She had just found out that her daughter and grandchildren were coming home for Christmas and she wanted something special to brighten up the house. She selected a tube of bright, shiny balls, some tinsel and colorful lights and a twinkling yellow star. Then she looked around for something more- and her eyes fell on the fairy and the nutcracker. A smile split her soft, wrinkled face as she gently took them from their trees and went to make her purchases. Her grandson would surely love the soldierly nutcracker. And her little granddaughter would be entranced by the fairy, she just knew it. 

So, the nutcracker and the fairy went home with her. She lived in a little house on a quiet side street. In the living room, amidst bookshelves, squishy, comfy chairs and old rabbit-eared TV set, stood a little evergreen tree. She set down her bag of trimmings and dusted off her record player. It took her a little while to sort through her stack of old records but eventually she found her Christmas ones and started them spinning. Bing Crosby’s deep, homey voice filled the house as she began trimming the tree, humming along to the tunes in her crackly voice, worn like her records but still lovely. Slowly but surely, the tree was transformed into color. The nutcracker and the fairy went on last of all, side by side near the top of the tree. Satisfied, the old lady brewed some tea, and sat admiring the tree and watching a TV program before heading to bed.

The next day her daughter and grandchildren arrived in a whirl, with all the noise and bustle that holiday visits bring. Bags to be unpacked, presents to be set under the tree, treats to be eaten - but the tree didn’t go unnoticed. The little girl had scampered over to look up at it, reaching up to try to touch the fairy before darting away again. After the hubbub had died down, the grandmother led them over to admire the tree properly, showing them their special ornaments with pride. Even the daughters sad, lined face lightened a little as the tree unlocked memories of carefree childhood Christmases. Before long the sky grew dark and they all dressed up and headed off to the church for Christmas Eve service. Not a sound could be heard in the house. Outside, snow began to fall.

When the family returned, the little girl was asleep and the boy nearly so. They were both put to bed and the mother and daughter soon followed suit. The still, silent living room was filled with the blue light of the moon, peeking in fits through the clouds. The clock was ticking…tick…tick… until it was the last minute of Christmas Eve. Then the hand touched midnight.

We’ve all heard the tales of magical things happening on Christmas night. Animals gifted with speech, a fat jolly man and his reindeer traveling around the world in record time, or Christmas trees growing, wooden toys coming to life and mouse armies waging war in living rooms. And while it’s hard to say whether any such stories are true, it is certain that if any night in the year feels like something special is about to happen-could happen - it’s Christmas. Deep down we all sense the wonder of this night of nights when the supernatural really did touch earth, once upon a time. When stars and angels sang, when kings brought treasures. Is it any surprise, then, that so many stories have been told about fantastical adventures happening? Or that we, no matter what, always hold in our hearts a childlike belief in this ‘magic’ of Christmas? 

What happened as the clock struck twelve? No flash of light or chime of bells. If anything, only a deeper hush in the already silent night.  Then something stirred, barely audible even had there been anyone awake to hear. Like a breath, or the stir of a breeze, the tree seemed to quiver, inhale and exhale. Then, near the top of the tree- a movement. A glisten of moonlight on sparkling tulle. A flash from martial, golden trim. 

With a graceful gentle movement, the fairy stretched her arms to their fullest, then swooped them down like bird wings. The nutcracker briskly brought his gun from his shoulder and then held it across his chest. Both looked around, wondering and blinking, then turned toward each other. 
The strings that had held them captive had melted into nothing, like snow in spring. The warmth now was not that of the season, but of the heart. The nutcracker set aside his gun. The fairy smoothed her skirt. He held out his hand, and she took it. An old music box, sitting on a bric-a-brac shelf, began to play a Christmas Waltz. And, together, they began to dance. The tinsel glistened, a draft stirred the sheer, pale curtains. Outside, the sliver-edged snow clouds parted and the stars in the dark sky were like a mirror to the ice and the lights below. 

They didn’t speak. No words were needed, really. Just the moment- the music-the magic. This brief time would have to last for forever. It was their forever. Even when the gentle ring of the music box faded and they were held fast to the tree once more, even when they were tucked into darkness for another year- in their hearts they would dance together until the next Christmas Eve. And then the next. Just as the world, each year, seems to slow into a loving dance and become blanketed with peace and light, the ballerina and the nutcracker would find the promise of love each year. Just as people, trapped in our endless solar circuit, in wars and tears and darkness, can see- for one moment each year- the star’s eternal light, they would be able to remember what it means to be real. What it will be. What the angels really meant when they sang-

‘Peace on Earth’

xx merry christmas everyone. as a side note, I haven't been able to get out of my mind the awful contrast between our Christmas and that of the people of Aleppo. I can't put words to what this juxtaposition makes me think or feel- but pray for those people.  xx

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

// parable of the tiny kernel //

There was a man who searched for many years to find something that was worth his life's work. He began to grow jaded, disillusioned with what the world had to offer. In disgust, he moved to the country  taking a little, secluded farmhouse and completely abandoning the brilliant, scholarly world he had once inhabited.

While he was cleaning out the barn, deep within the feed bin he found one, tiny kernel. Seized by a sudden impulse, he took it out and planted it, placing markers around it so he would remember its location. He didn’t think much more about it but continued his labors, tending it occasionally when he found many weeds grown up or if the weather was dry. Later in the year, it sprouted and grew into a tall, vivid stalk of corn. He ate one piece and was astonished by the satisfaction he found in its flavor. He saved the rest to plant the next year.

When it rolled around he did so. Instead of just one plant, several grew. This went on over the years until his original kernel had multiplied into enough to feed a village. Then he had enough to spread across the countryside. Eventually, his variety of corn had become so well known it was in demand around the world.

By now, the man had grown old. And he realized that, at last, he had found the truth for which he had sought. 

A little kernel can grow and touch the world. Tiny bits of truth, kindness or corn can have an impact far beyond their size if one only takes the time to cultivate and spread them.

Monday, December 12, 2016

// shower thoughts (or, ''tis I, your friendly neighborhood AWOL blogger') //

John Singer Sargent
I was thinking about the medieval crusades, and how they relate to the modern crisis concerning Middle Eastern/Muslim immigrants and terrorists. You hear a lot, from the left particularly, about accepting Muslims, that they aren't all terrorists. And they have a point. Hateful attitudes and biases about those who adhere to Islam and are Middle Eastern are just as wrong as hateful attitudes and biases about anyone. There is a difference between caution and suspicion.  Christ died for everyone- in fact he did so wearing brown skin and the dust of the Middle East caught in his beard and on his feet. Something to think about, eh?

But anyways, here are two of my cents, for the consideration of folks on BOTH sides of the story.

Let's go back in time, shall we?

Throughout the Middle Ages, Western Europe staged many crusades against the Muslims in the East. For ostensibly religious reasons, knights rode into battle to reclaim the Holy Land, displacing those who lived there and disrupting their way of life. With them came peaceful merchants who were prepared to settle down and integrate with the culture. This-these people- was what the majority of Muslims knew about Western Europe.

Now, put yourself into the shoes of the Muslims- when you though of Western Europeans, would you automatically think of those peaceful merchants? I know I wouldn't. In fact, we still look back at the Crusades and our minds instantly create an image of knights fighting exotic warriors. Their mental reaction would be fear, suspicion, a natural distance from these foreigners who were well known for their destructive actions and their religious motivation against those who believe differently.

Sound familiar? Uh-huh.

'So what?' you might think. Well, so we need to learn something from this.

***(cue total digression. You know you've missed my digressions.)***

I think- in fact, I see all too often on FB etc.- that Americans in particular look at history through this weird, nationalistic lens. As if all 6,000 years of human history center around the United States. Maybe I'm misrepresenting- maybe people don't actually think this way. Maybe it's just me- maybe I'm more aware myself since taking a history class. But it just seems like there is a wide-spread tunnel vision among Americans that leads to the belief that America is the greatest country ever, that our experience is somehow unique among all other peoples and civilizations of the world. And if you study history at all, with an open and critical mind, you'll find that presupposition totally destroyed.

I've never been a patriotic, nationalistic type- I thought it was silly and idolatrous before seriously studying history. But when you look back at the broad sweep of human history, at the 'great' civilizations that rose and inevitably fell- they all sort of shrink. 'Great' loses it's meaning, in a way. What really is the measure of greatness when even that which we call 'great' is completely fallible? Is gone in a matter of centuries- spans of time that look so vast until they are put into perspective of millennia. Even smaller when compared to eternity. Great is an entirely subjective term. With too much thought it becomes a nearly meaningless term, humanly speaking.

Ok, all this to say that when we study history more objectively, we can gain insight into ourselves and others. We can apply lessons learned about human nature and political situations to our current experience. This example- looking at the way Westerners would have been viewed by the Muslims during the crusades- can help everybody. It can help us remember that individuals among any group vary greatly, and although we must use caution, we should still seek to inspect each person as a person even when we must keep their background in mind. It can help those who cry 'intolerance' to see that fear is a very natural reaction when any group causes a threat to any other group. And it helps us all to realize that our world, here and now, is not really so different from any other age. We're still human. We're still sinners in need of grace. Sinners that don't do what we should, most of the time, even when we've accepted grace.

We need to put ourselves in other's shoes in order to better understand how to live in our own.

So there you have it. I actually posted!! I don't know if this is coherent... I want your feedback and opinions! I am sorry I've not been active- truly sorry- but I'm not going to offer excuses. It's just life, you know? Perhaps on Christmas Break I'll even make the Q&A video!