Advent has come and gone again. Christmas day, too, and now we count down the last of the twelve days. For more than a week, in many cases, trees (real and artificial, green, pink, white, silver, plastic, aluminum) have been taken down and thrown out or packed away with the rest of the decorations. We spent the four weeks of Advent gradually lighting candles to symbolize the coming of the light of Christ into the world. It seems a shame to snuff it out so soon, much as Scrooge tried to do with the Ghost of Christmas Past (but that’s another story, and another tradition). So, as part of our family’s tradition, we keep the candles (or what’s left of them) burning – at least for a couple of hours – every night until Epiphany.
One of my own personal Christmas traditions has been to listen to the live broadcast of the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College, Cambridge. I missed it this year but, fortunately, have a copy of the festival from 1998 or 1999 to listen to. I know that by the middle of December I’ve heard about enough of “Santa Baby” and “Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey” and been beaten into submission by holiday themed commercials (especially for cars, and even more especially for Lexus’ “December to Remember” sale). But even now I am still a little sad to have the season come to and end, and to pack away the decorations, and the festival of lessons and carols for another year.
In three months’ time we will celebrate the same light in a different way, at the Easter Vigil. Fortunately, at least so far, Easter hasn’t been completely overtaken by commercialism (don’t see any Easter car sales commercials, do you?). And I can look forward to hearing the Exsultet by candlelight again.
I’ve been back home from Milwaukee for a week and a half. So why am I posting now? Well, truth be told, it’s partly in response to my mother saying, “So I’ve been waiting to see more about your trip to Milwaukee on your blog.” Really? Well, then, I guess I’d better get to it.
Problem is, I tend to have ideas for blog posts and sometimes write them down along with a couple of thoughts in the moment. Those are the ones I feel guilty about when I don’t end up writing full posts. I come back to them later and… wait, wait… nope, nothing happening. The post ideas that vanish before they are even half-formed in my head are just casualties of the fleeting thought process. The ones I later delete because they are no longer timely or what I thought I had to say no longer has any energy behind it are the ones that make me feel bad.
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
Bearing this in mind, my Lent will be about continuing to “make better habits, one choice at a time.” Beyond laying a foundation for better eating habits, there are other things I can take the opportunity to work on, improving bit by bit, trying not to be completely discouraged by the little setbacks that will inevitably happen – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
If you’re giving up chocolate, coffee, dessert, video games, Facebook (not Facebook!!), or something else, consider also “fasting” from a bad habit – just one – and “feasting” on making one positive, lasting change.
For about thirty-five years Richard Gladwell hosted “With Heart and Voice” on public radio. I was a regular listener for fewer than ten years until Maine Public Radio mucked around with the schedule. During my years as a regular listener Richard was a welcome companion on Sunday nights, sharing his seemingly endless collection of choral and organ music while I listened and wrote in my journal. Feeling somewhat adrift over the last few years I have been reaching out, and back, to those things that seemed to keep me most anchored, including “With Heart and Voice.” It wasn’t until last week, looking around for one of those anchors, that I discovered that Richard had been diagnosed with brain cancer earlier in 2009 and died only a few weeks ago, on October 15.
While “With Heart and Voice” often followed the liturgical calendar it was not, and is not, a religious program. Regardless, it would be impossible to deny the role of the church in the creation of what is, in my estimation at least, some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring music ever written. Of course, this presupposes that you find choral and organ music appealing, but I am glad to have enjoyed the music – and the words – Richard Gladwell shared with his listeners for so long, and that I have come to hear so much more of that music. Every time I listen to “Trumpet Tune in D” by David Johnson I will expect it to be followed by a familiar voice. If you’re not familiar, you can hear WXXI‘s tribute here.
Jewish people around the world mark the end of the High Holy Days tonight with the conclusion of Yom Kippur at sundown. Though it seems odd – be patient; hopefully the connection will become clear – tonight seems an appropriate time to revisit something I first read about six weeks ago.
In Divine Intimacy, a collection of Christian meditations on the interior life written by a Carmelite, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, more than fifty years ago I ran across a phrase that has stayed with me since reading it back in August:
I have had enough of being the plaything of vain, deceitful things.
(see entry at Catholic-Pages.com for the whole article)
The rest of the entry expresses a hope in forgiveness to make a new start. Like I said, this has been stuck in my head, just kind of bouncing around for the last few weeks. I think of all the ways I allow myself to be distracted, to be a little too enamored of some things, and way too enamored of still others. It would be easy to be discouraged, to despair, even, of ever being able to change if it were not for the possibility of starting again. But I am reminded, and remind myself that every day is a new day, every moment a new moment, the new day and the new moment offering a new chance.
Wishing friends a happy (Jewish) new year (L’Shana Tova!) and thinking about the days of Yom Kippur and erev Yom Kippur, the days on which one asks forgiveness of God and, before that, forgiveness of each other kept this meditation fresh in my mind. After living with it for a while I feel like I have finally been able to put it into context – to forgive and be forgiven, to get up and start again.
Much is being said today, and will be for the next few days, about Ted Kennedy on the occasion of his death. There are many sources, and many voices more knowledgeable than mine about his contributions to American political life as a long-serving U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What I have found most striking in the remembrances so far is his perserverance, his commitment to many causes on behalf of ordinary people that we consider part of our birthright today – civil rights, education, health care, employment rights. That a man born into as close to a royal family as this country has had in generations would spend his life in the service of those less fortunate, to fight for the cause of common good, and to do it with passion, energy, and inspiration remains an inspiration for us even though he is gone.
I still believe in the American dream. Not the house, 2.5 kids, and a dog, so much as the Big Dream – that people can and do make a difference, that we can be inspired, that we can strive to be better than we are and move ever closer to fulfilling the principles on which this nation was founded. And when he said, “for all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die” I believe this is the dream he meant.
Thank you for your life, your service, your example, and your inspiration. Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy.