Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Present

I’ve been doing some unusual holiday shopping. I’ve been on the lookout for a few exceptionally insightful or beautiful expressions in word, song, and image about this season of heaven and earth. Something to give us pause. Something to give us hope. Something above the banal. Something that dodges both the polemical and the saccharin. The post this week contains some of what I found.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in the arts. No doubt there’s a lot out there I missed to at least equal what’s in here. My criterion was simple: If I came across something out of the ordinary and it spoke to me, I thought it just might strike a chord in you, too. You can bookmark any of them, so that they can whisper their message again during the year. That’s what makes the message perdure past the momentary “Awww” and brings about the difference in us that it did in the artists who gave it “flesh.”

If you’ve noticed my Facebook wall at any point this Advent, you might have seen the week-by-week “lighting” of this “wreath” that showed up outside PBM’s human resources office when the season began. Like one of Santa’s elves, somebody kept adding a flame and a quote undetected, despite my best efforts to ferret him or her out. Friends on Facebook commented on how beautiful it was. A “Keep It Simple Advent Wreath,” one called it; “a great idea for dorms,” suggested another.

When I ever discovered that Sr. Diane L. Kraus was our artist, I was dumbfounded. One of our co-workers had mentioned her name as a possibility. “Naw,” I declared, “it’s not her style.” As her co-novice (a sister she went through the novitiate with) I figured I knew that much. Oh my. Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth were just as rash. It’s a good thing for the world that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi believed that God lives outside the box. Sr. Diane and I laughed about it, but I wonder how many miracles I miss when I don’t allow myself to  discover something new in someone I know or allow another person to unearth hidden talent…or holiness. Do you ever wonder about that too?

Poetry and Photography
I have a Facebook friend in Belfast, poet and photographer Ann Murray. She has graciously allowed me to use her poetry in the past. Now she’s published a collection in a book entitled Travelling Light: A Book of Days, which is expected at Amazon in early January. (No, PBM didn’t publish it!) All proceeds from sales will go to charity: missions at home and abroad, the Legion of Mary, and others.

As if intoning a psalm, Ann’s “Advent Poem” gradates and blends the shades of Advent waiting and Christmas coming, much as they do in history, liturgy, and the human spirit:

Bless my soul, Lord,
At this time of waiting
And anticipation.

May your word be as benediction
As I prepare the way for
The sovereign child
The Prince of Peace
Whose throne is clay
Whose realm is
The tabernacle of
The human heart
That bids him stay.

Bless my soul, Lord,
At this time of waiting
For the promised one.

Let my creation be
A dwelling place fit for a king -
The Son of God most high
Who comes as light, as joy,
As flame-setter within…

Then, like the shepherds of long ago
I, too, will worship him.

“Someone just broke into God’s iPod.” The comments on YouTube following this moving music score of O Magnum Mysterium are as heartfelt as the work itself. Resist, oh, resist the temptation to slide through it. Let it sing to you.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

I pass over a lot of those well-intentioned essays about the real meaning of Christmas. Many of those I have perused are way too preachy for my tastes. “’Tis the Season To Be Jolly” on Dave Cooke’s blog, 100 Pedals, struck me differently. Dave can talk the talk, because clearly he’s walking the walk...or pedaling it. The Christmas season is not a joyful time for many people, but this is one person who has hopped off the bus and has gained his balance enough to beckon us to join him on his journey. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are all about journeys, too, that beckon us to a relationship in faith that can change our lives and the life of our world.

Finally, you really can’t toast the beauty of the season without its flavors and aromas. Apparently Sister Anne Flanagan, FSP, agrees with me, for on her Facebook wall she just posted…cookies! They’re not just any cookies, you know. They’re my sister’s, and nobody had better have a problem with this blog’s nepotism. I can smell Chicago’s convent kitchen all the way back East here in Boston! When he saw the photo, one of Sister Frances’s friends commented, “Is this a bakery or what? This is what children dream of :-)”

May we enter into Christmas with the senses and sense of children.

The season’s blessings on you and yours!

Photo credits: Anne Flanagan, FSP; Conor Murray: cupola, Holy Sepulcher; Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP

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