Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen 2008!


So, on this seventh day of Christmas and final day of the year, we wave goodbye to 2008 and stay up late to greet 2009....

The kids and I drove "down the hill" today as they had gift cards and Christmas money burning holes in their respective pockets. After I saw Dr. Burns, our chiropractor, and picked up a check from his receptionist for work Keith has done at her place (she is sooooo pleased and even showed us photos from her camera of his work), we continued on with our long list of errands....

-- Henry's (natural food store) for yogurt and freshly-baked French bread to go with our soup tonight

-- Our Credit Union, to deposit the check into our account

-- Target, where we ate our packed lunches in the car before going in. The kids were given gift cards to Target. I bought TicTacs, while B and T bought Bionicles and E found a new purse and candy canes on sale.

-- GameStop, where we looked but didn't buy.

-- 99 Cent Store, where E stocked up on peppermint sticks (she's our peppermint girl!) and I bought two pairs of brown socks so I don't have to keep rewearing the one pair of brown socks I currently own. B also stocked up on peppermint sticks -- these are the big ones that were being sold 4 for $1.

-- Payless Shoes, where I saw a great purse (olive green suede) on sale for $8 but restrained myself.

-- WalMart, where E bought the third Twilight book, B and T bought more Bionicles, and J bought a small Star Wars figure.

-- Guitar Class for J, while E read her new Twilight book and T & B built Bionicles. I wrote a little in my journal until Dru came, and we chatted.

-- WalMart again, where E purchased the 4th Twilight book that she realized she could afford after all, and T helped J buy the Star Wars set he really wanted. I bought Chex Mix for our New Years Eve family party tonight.

So after eating chicken vegetable soup with French bread tonight, we'll settle down with board games to wile away the time until 2009 arrives. We'll see if B makes it. Keith has to leave for work by 8:15 tomorrow, so he'll be heading to bed by 11 PM or so. And then tomorrow the kids and I are headed up the mountain to play in the snow and play more board games at the cabin with my parents and my brother and his kids. It should be a fun day.

So, auf wiedersehen 2008, and tag 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Sixth Day of Christmas and Favorites of 2008



A Happy Sixth Day of Christmas to everyone!

As I'm taking the kids "down the hill" tomorrow to spend some of their Christmas money, today is the day that I'll look back on 2008 and list "a few of my favorite things." 2008 has not been an easy year financially (to say the least), but it's been a good homeschooling year, a good writing year, and a good friendship year.

Homeschooling has been fun -- I just love spending my days with my kids, most of the time. ;) I would love to have one day off a month to sit in a coffee shop and write, but otherwise, we're doing fine. E is a bit behind in her chemistry experiments (which she will be remedying this week), but we're up-to-date in everything else and are enjoying most subjects. I haven't yet found a solid astronomy book for the boys, and as I know little of the science myself, it's our one weak point. But the boys are always reading science books on their own, so they're doing fine.

I feel quite successful with writing this year, having a poem published, completing NaNoWriMo (50,000 words of a novel in a month), and publishing a few stories for our small town monthly newspaper. I've made little progress on my BIG work, mostly because of lack of research time. In my new Rule of Life, I'm trying to clear half an hour a day for writing, either my novel or my non-fiction work on liturgy. And blogging has been going well, with nearly 5000 hits here since last March. Not a huge readership, but I'm quite pleased to have you along on the ride and am astonished that anyone at all reads my little meditative meanderings.

Friends have been wonderful this year. Judith continues to love me, even when I had to resign my secretarial duties with MECAC (our local arts council). We celebrated 50th birthdays of Kitty and Linda, Kitty's with a day at the beach and Linda's with a lunch at Olive Garden. Our Logos Literary Group at church has been wonderfully fun as we read and discuss very divergent writings. I miss the Lady Bereans, the Tuesday morning Bible study I've participated in for years, but I've become closer friends with Dru of Alpine Anglican, plus Sheri and I have enjoyed a spiritual retreat or two. (And I still owe Kitty one in celebration of her birthday in August.) The Lake Murray Women's Retreat was a highlight of my year, as always, with highjinks and fellowship mixed with time for reflection and prayer. And Facebook brought all of my friends closer, despite the computer issues caused by viruses on my laptop that Veneta resolved for us.

But now onto some favorites of 2008. Not all of these movies, books, and music came out this year, but I experienced them this year and declare them as my favorites.

Favorite Movie: Mamma Mia!, 2008

Favorite New TV Show: The Mentalist, CBS

Favorite Returning TV Show: House, MD, FOX

Favorite Novel: Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James, 2008

Favorite Nonfiction Book: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, 1934

Favorite Devotional Book (besides Bible/BCP): The Divine Hours in Three Volumes by Phyllis Tickle, 2000 (link takes you to only one volume of the three)

Favorite Blog:
The 10-Minute Writer

Favorite Website:
Act 3 Ministries (John H. Armstrong)

Favorite Social Networking Site: Facebook

Favorite Song: "Our Last Summer" from Mamma Mia!, sung by Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan

Favorite CD: Mamma Mia! Soundtrack

What are some of your favorite things/activities/etc. of 2008? I'd love to read yours ... and get some new ideas for books to read, movies to see, devotionals and websites to check out.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fifth Day of Christmas and Saint Thomas Beckett


(Image from "Just a Slice" Flickr page, located through Google Images)

In addition to today being the Fifth Day of Christmas (I'd take five golden rings right now, thankyouverymuch), today is also the Feast Day of St. Thomas Beckett. The candle above in Canterbury Cathedral marks the place where St. Thomas was murdered by henchman of King Henry II, who apparently mistook his frustration at Thomas to be an order for the Archbishop's murder.

Here is the Saint of the Day from AmericanCatholic.org:

St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170)
A strong man who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.
His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs. Nevertheless, he was made archbishop (1162), resigned his chancellorship and reformed his whole way of life!

Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favored by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral.

Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.

Comment:
No one becomes a saint without struggle, especially with himself. Thomas knew he must stand firm in defense of truth and right, even at the cost of his life. We also must take a stand in the face of pressures—against dishonesty, deceit, destruction of life—at the cost of popularity, convenience, promotion and even greater goods.

Quote:
In T.S. Eliot's drama, Murder in the Cathedral, Becket faces a final temptation to seek martyrdom for earthly glory and revenge. With real insight into his life situation, Thomas responds:

"The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."


Although I found the above image via Google, Keith took an almost identical photo when we were in England in 1988. I loved Canterbury: the gigantic cathedral visible from everywhere in the town, the school kids in their plaid uniforms streaming out of their schools, the quiet of the cathedral and the hollows in the stone steps where perhaps millions of pigrims over the centuries crawled on their knees to the shrine of St. Thomas. And being the medieval scholar (a nice word for "fanatic") that I am, it was the place that Chaucer's famous cast of characters were heading to "on pilgrimage" and they told their (sometimes) notorious "tales" to while away the time on their trip from London to Canterbury. Some of the Canterbury Tales seem so modern that it's difficult to believe that Chaucer died in the year 1400.


As I spent a little time yesterday, reveling in research time now that my laptop is again Internet-worthy, I checked out some doctoral programs. Two caught my attention, but only one is a low-residency program. Living in England for a year (or a few) has always been one of my Big Hairy Audacious Goals (B-HAGs). The doctoral programme in English at the University of Kent in Canterbury is a dream programme, enabling doctoral candidates access to the historical and literary documents of the cathedral; however, it requires full residency for three years (full time). A dream, but such a lovely one! The doctoral programme in English at the University of Wales, Lampeter, can be accomplished almost totally from home as it requires just one short residency of two weeks at the beginning of the programme and then the rest can be done via electronic means. Doctoral candidates choose an area of research that matches with a research area of the professors (and Old and Middle English is one of them!), and a research PhD mostly from home is indeed possible. This university, established in 1822, seems to be the "real deal" and may be a possibility in five to ten years if I decide to pursue doctoral studies.


Back to Canterbury: the cathedral awed me, and, even in photos, still awes me. Its sheer size is daunting enough from the outside, but inside it's even more spectacular, especially considering its age. The surrounding roofs barely visible in the above image are all five to six stories tall, and the cathedral looms over them all, a beneficent giant guarding the town.

So today I think of St. Thomas, willing to stand up for what was right even when he knew the truth tolled his death knell, and of Christ whom we celebrate on this fifth day of Christmas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holy Innocents and Fourth Day of Christmas

Although today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, it is not a particularly joyful day. December 28 marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children aged two and under, who were ordered to be killed by the paranoid King Herod "the Great." Most Biblical historians seem to believe that only about twenty children were murdered as a result of Herod's inhumane order, but even the death of one child would make this day one of sorrowful remembrance.

Yet this event was foretold in the Old Testament as Saint Matthew tells us in his gospel, Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV), which is also the Gospel reading for this day:

13 Now when they [the Wise Men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.”


The Collect for this day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy Holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today is also a day wherein the Church remembers those who have never had a life outside the womb through abortion. At the lovely California Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside is a lovely memorial park/graveyard with stones dating back into the early 1800's to the present day. And along one wall is a large plaque reminding us of the millions of Holy Innocents who have perished via abortion, reminding us to pray for their mothers, sometimes children themselves, who have also suffered, often for years and years afterward.

The "Coventry Carol" of the 15th century also reminds us of the slaying of the Holy Innocents which we recall today:

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child
By by, lully, lullay, thou little tiny child
By by, lully lullay

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By by, lully lullay?

Herod, the king
In his raging
Charg├Ęd he hath this day
His men of might

In his own sight,
All young children to slay

That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Third Day of Christmas and Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the Third Day of Christmas and also the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist; following is the Collect for the Day:

Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being illumined by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. John's is my favorite Gospel, perhaps my favorite book in the New Testament. John's Gospel reveals Jesus the Divine so wonderfully as it focuses on Christ's last week on earth as the Son of Man. His prayer for unity among His followers in the 17th chapter is perhaps my favorite chapter, with the sixth chapter a close runner-up. I love how St. John refers to himself throughout the Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and that he relates how Jesus, hanging on the cross, entrusted His Mother to St. John.

The daily email from americancatholic.org relates this information about St. John the Divine (as he is called to distinguish him from the many other Johns who became saints):

It is God who calls; human beings answer. The vocation of John and his brother James is stated very simply in the Gospels, along with that of Peter and his brother Andrew: Jesus called them; they followed. The absoluteness of their response is indicated by the account. James and John “were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21b-22).

For the three former fishermen—Peter, James and John—that faith was to be rewarded by a special friendship with Jesus. They alone were privileged to be present at the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemane. But John’s friendship was even more special. Tradition assigns to him the Fourth Gospel, although most modern Scripture scholars think it unlikely that the apostle and the evangelist are the same person.

John’s own Gospel refers to him as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2), the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and the one to whom he gave the exquisite honor, as he stood beneath the cross, of caring for his mother. “Woman, behold your son....Behold, your mother” (John 19:26b, 27b).

Because of the depth of his Gospel, John is usually thought of as the eagle of theology, soaring in high regions that other writers did not enter. But the ever-frank Gospels reveal some very human traits. Jesus gave James and John the nickname, “sons of thunder.”

On the first Easter, Mary Magdalene “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him’” (John 20:2). John recalls, perhaps with a smile, that he and Peter ran side by side, but then “the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first” (John 20:4b). He did not enter, but waited for Peter and let him go in first. “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8).

John was with Peter when the first great miracle after the Resurrection took place—the cure of the man crippled from birth—which led to their spending the night in jail together. The mysterious experience of the Resurrection is perhaps best contained in the words of Acts: “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The evangelist wrote the great Gospel, the letters and the Book of Revelation. His Gospel is a very personal account. He sees the glorious and divine Jesus already in the incidents of his mortal life. At the Last Supper, John’s Jesus speaks as if he were already in heaven. It is the Gospel of Jesus’ glory.

Comment:
It is a long way from being eager to sit on a throne of power or to call down fire from heaven to becoming the man who could write: “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Quote:
A persistent story has it that John's "parishioners" grew tired of his one sermon, which relentlessly emphasized: "Love one another." Whether the story is true or not, it has basis in John's writing. He wrote what may be called a summary of the Bible: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 John 4:16).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy 2nd Day of Christmas -- Happy Boxing Day -- Feast of Saint Stephen


"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen...."

Many, if not most evangelicals, have no idea when the "Feast of Stephen" referenced in the above carol occurs. For many, the day after Christmas is the day to clean up the detritus of Christmas and to pack away the tree and other decorations as Christmas is now over. Some head to malls to return gifts or to take advantage of "After-Christmas" sales. Until about eight years ago, I was one of them, although our family tradition was to pack up the Christmas decorations on New Years Day.

But as I've learned more about liturgical worship, specifically Anglican traditions, I've unearthed several joyful surprises. The first, and most important, is that Christmas Day is only the FIRST Day of Christmas, which lasts for twelve days, finishing with a wonderful Twelfth Night feast. Thus today is merely the Second Day of Christmas, and we have much more celebrating to do over the next ten days or so.

I also discovered the uniquely English tradition, also practiced in Australia and Canada, of Boxing Day. I found this explanation on
the British Shoppe website (They also have the history behind the Cracker, which we had fun "pulling" at my parents' house on Christmas night):

Boxing Day takes its name from the ancient practice of opening boxes that contained money given to those who had given their service during the year. It was also the day when alms boxes, placed in churches on Christmas Day, were opened. The money was then given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. Another name for Boxing Day used to be Offering Day.

The earliest boxes of all were not box shaped, as you might imagine, nor were they made of wood. They were, in fact, earthenware containers with a slit in the top (rather like piggy banks.)

During the seventeenth century it became the custom for apprentices to ask their master’s customers for money at Christmas time. They collected this money in earthenware containers, which could be opened only by being smashed, and on Boxing Day the apprentices would eagerly have a ‘smashing time’, hence the expression, seeing how much they had collected.

A later tradition, and the one which has survived to this day, was the distribution of Christmas ‘boxes’, gifts of money to people who had provided services throughout the year – the postman, the lamp-lighter, parish beadles, parish watchmen, dustmen and turn-cocks – which happened on the day after Christmas Day.


And today is also the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. I dragged myself out of bed, exhausted after days of cleaning and preparing for Christmas then having Christmas Eve here with Keith's family and Christmas afternoon and early evening with my family at the beach, and made it (a little late) down the hill to Victoria House for the celebration of St. Stephen's Day. Here is the Collect (collective or public prayer) for this day:

Grant, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit], may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate.
Amen.

During Morning Prayer which precedes Holy Communion, we read 2 Chronicles 24:17-22, the story of the prophet Zechariah being murdered by his own people, and for the NT reading, Father read aloud the sixth chapter from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of Stephen being chosen as a deacon and of his capture and the accusations against him. Then for Holy Communion, I read the Epistle reading, Acts 7:55+, of Stephen's martyrdom. Father Acker then read the Gospel reading: St. Matthew 23:34+, Jesus' words of condemnation to Jerusalem which mentioned the murders of the righteous, from Abel to Zechariah (the same story we read from 2 Chronicles in Morning Prayer). Christ's Words to Jerusalem often makes me tear up; His sorrow is palpable as He cries:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."

So today is a three-fold day: the 2nd Day of Christmas, Boxing Day, and the Feast of St. Stephen. As Stephen's assignment as Deacon in the early church involved caring for the poor, we also ought to remember the story told in the carol, "Good King Wenceslas." One of my favorite Christmas devotional books, Christ in the Carols, tells of King Wenceslas:

"King Wenceslas the Holy, who ruled Bohemia from A.D. 1378 to 1419, was known for his good works and his care of the poor.... Rather than order his servants to leave a few morsels for the underprivileged peasant or send his page out to find the man and deliver some seasonal gift, Wenceslas chooses to take action himself. Leaving the warmth of his castle, the king braves fierce wind and bitter cold to search out the man. Whether factual or myth, Wenceslas' great compassion in this song reflects God's heart for the lost and the poor.

"Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. This is the primary reason that God chose to become man. Not content to send others in his place, the King of glory left heaven and came looking for us. Braving hostile elements, even unto death, he personally sought us out.... Like the page, we are to follow in our Master's footsteps as He continues to pursue the abandoned, the orphaned, the poor, and the lost...."

Here is the closing of the familiar carol, "Good King Wenceslas": the end of the fifth verse:

"Therefore Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Joyous Christmastide to You!


Today's celebration in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer has quite an extensive name: The Nativity of Our Lord, Or The Birthday of Christ, Commonly Called Christmas Day. Whew! The Epistle reading is from the beginning of the book of Hebrews, and the Gospel reading is from the beginning of St. John's Gospel. And here is the Collect (collective prayer) for Christmas Day:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The note below this Collect states that this Collect is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave, but most Anglicans pray it daily throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. Yes, the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is truly that: a celebration of the twelve days between the birth of Christ and Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise Men who followed the Star that led them to the Christ-child.

For the last few years, our family (the kids and I, at least) have been following the Catholic and Anglican practice of celebrating Christmas for twelve days. If one looks back into the Old Testament, many annual festivals went on for seven to ten days, if not longer. And how can one jam all the joy of Christmas into one single day? It is impossible, especially after all of the preparations that go into making Christmas Christmas.

Tonight we celebrated with Keith's side of the family. His older sister Karen, and his younger brother Kevin's family (wife and five children), along with his dad, all drove up the mountain to celebrate Christ's birth with us. Keith was in the kitchen ALL day (while I cleaned ALL day), making pumpkin pies for our Christmas dinner with my family, and a huge pot of jambalaya for the celebration tonight. He also dipped pretzels into melted dark chocolate which we'll give out as gifts tomorrow to family friends and also enjoyed tonight, and I helped in bagging his famous toffee into gifts for our extended family members.

After we enjoyed our dinner of jambalaya and sandwiches, along with veggies and dip, I read portions of some Psalms from our Advent devotional and also St. Luke 2:1-21. Usually Keith's dad, the patriarch of the family, reads to us, but his Parkinson's is getting more troublesome, and he asked me to read. Earlier in the day, I hid our little baby Jesus from our nativity scene on our mantel and the little kids (9 and under) got to go look for it. Em found it and won a special bag of toffee just for her. Em also insisted on lighting our Advent wreath tonight, including the Christ Candle, even though it was E's turn in our regular rotation. I had forgotten about making our traditional "birthday cake for Jesus" until late this afternoon, but we had cookies and toffee and treats galore, so I don't think a cake was entirely necessary.

The sad thing about tonight was that J was sick. My dad and brother (and his two kids) came by around ten this morning to pick up our four and take them up the mountain to play in the 8-12 inches of snow at my parents' cabin. J wasn't feeling too well before leaving, and after he threw up for the third time, Dad brought him back down the mountain and I put him to bed with some ginger ale to sip. We kept him isolated from Kevin and Re's kids, and during the Christmas Eve festivities, I took in my laptop and set him up with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; he also watched part of the first Pirates of the Caribbean.

We'll spend tomorrow morning with just our family and will head down to my parents' place at the beach for Christmas dinner with my mom and dad, my brother and his kids, my mom's cousin and his family, and my parents' good friends Dan and Francie and Willie (Pam) and Geoff. We hope that J will feel much better by then and will be able to go. If not, Keith will probably stay home with him.

I really missed going to church tonight. Because of Re's work schedule, the bulk of our guests (everyone but Karen) arrived around 5:20 tonight and the Christmas services at Alpine Anglican start at 6:00 as do other services (Lutheran) in our town. We started eating at ten minutes until six. And after they left, I just couldn't make myself head down to Alpine to Christ the King Episcopal, knowing how far from the Truth they are, and I was far too tired to drive all the way to Holy Trinity in Ocean Beach, a 100-mile round trip. I would LOVE to attend Alpine Anglican tomorrow for Christmas (Christ's Mass), but there's no way Keith or the kids would want to go. I'll have to see if Alpine Anglican will be having a St. Stephen's Day service (Dec. 26), and I'll at least attend that one.

A Joyous Christmastide to you all! Happy First Day of Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Four Classical Marks of the Church, Part 2


Last week I posted the first part of John H. Armstrong's series on the Four Classical Marks of the Church which discusses the closing of the Apostles' Creed: "one holy catholic church."

The second part of the series landed in my e-mail box this morning, and I find it utterly fascinating.
You may read it here. Armstrong discusses especially the use of the word "catholic."

The few times we've used the Apostles' Creed in our evangelical church, we've had to substitute the word "Christian" for "catholic." Armstrong, an evangelical himself, explains why such a substitution can be "dangerous" to our understanding of the church itself. Even the word "universal" falls short of the complete meaning of "catholic."

The writers of the Creed chose their words with the utmost prayer and care, agreeing on each and every word in the Creed, making sure each expressed the Scriptural basis for the Creed as well as the common beliefs every Christian must agree to in order to truly be a Christian.

Armstrong's articles are of the utmost importance for all evangelicals. His "new ecumenism" does not compromise all that is most dear to evangelicals yet opens the doors to Christians of differing traditions, allowing us to see that other traditions also point to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith. Other traditions support a true, loving relationship with Christ. I can't encourage strongly enough the need for Christians of all traditions to read Armstrong's articles and take his teachings to heart.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent


The Fourth Sunday in Advent celebrates the lighting of the Angel candle. I love seeing all the four main candles lit around the Advent wreath. The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer reads thus:

O Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle reading for the Fourth Sunday in Advent is one of my favorite passages, one that we all need to know and refer to often in leading a joyous and victorious life in Christ Jesus, Philippians 4:4-7:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

When I searched Google Images for a nice image of Advent candles for this blog post, I found one that had the four candles lit for the Fourth Sunday. When I clicked on the image, Google took me to my own photo blog! So the photo above is my own from last year. Right now with my computer not hooking up to Broadband, I'm using Keith's and thus do not have access to my photos. Until I Googled.....

I dread the ending of Advent. I love gathering around the lit wreath in our darkened kitchen, reading the Scriptures and singing very off-key carols. I love watching the kids struggling to light the match before carefully lighting each candle, their brows furrowed in concentration. I love watching them run to the next room to the wall-hanging Advent calendar to read the Scriptures and pull out the chocolate treat in the pocket.

But I can tell that the kids are beginning to outgrow our Advent celebrations. They seem impatient and quite often don't want to choose a carol to sing. With E a high school junior this year, I know I really have only one year left with all four kids gathered around our Advent wreath.

They grow up way too fast....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

YYYYYEEEEESSSSSS!!! The Ultimate Birthday Gift!


AT LAST!!!!!!!!!

I just read on U2.com that the band's 12th studio album will be released on MY NEXT BIRTHDAY! MARCH 2, 2009 is the release date of U2's No Line on the Horizon.

I'm assuming that the jpeg above is the photo on the album cover from U2.com. I'd hyperlink you to the story on their official website, but really, I just gave you all the info.

Okay, if you want to read the list of studios they recorded No Line on the Horizon at U2.com, click here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross is one of my favorite religious writers. I'm a few days late in celebrating his Feast Day (December 14), but I want to express my admiration for this Saint who lived long ago (1541-1591). His writings on the "Dark Night of the Soul" has helped me so much in my own spiritual life.

So below is the daily post from americancatholic.org; enjoy!

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery—through death to life—strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet and theologian-priest.

Ordained a Carmelite priest at 25 (1567), John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila) and like her vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God!

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the Spiritual Canticle.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his Ascent to Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analyzed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49—a life short, but full.

Comment:
John in his life and writings has a crucial word for us today. We tend to be rich, soft, comfortable. We shrink even from words like self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, discipline. We run from the cross. John’s message—like the gospel—is loud and clear: Don’t—if you really want to live!

Quote:
Thomas Merton said of John: "Just as we can never separate asceticism from mysticism, so in St. John of the Cross we find darkness and light, suffering and joy, sacrifice and love united together so closely that they seem at times to be identified."

In John's words:
"Never was fount so clear,
undimmed and bright;
From it alone, I know proceeds all light
although 'tis night."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Third Week in Advent


On the third Sunday of Advent, we light the rose-colored candle in addition to the two purple candles from earlier weeks. We evangelicals call this rose candle the Shepherd Candle, although why this week's candle is rose is not clear at all. But when we recall the more liturgical traditions of Advent denote this candle as being the Heaven Candle for Gaudette (joyful) Sunday, the lightening of the penitential purple to rose makes much more sense.

The Collect (collective prayer) for the Third week of Advent in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer reads:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

At Lake Murray, the families lighting the candles during First and again at Second Service read Scriptures from the 40th chapter of the Prophecy of Isaiah, starting at the eighth verse:

"The grass withers, the flowers fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!' Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bososm, and gently lead those that are with young" (English Standard Version).

So at Lake Murray and at home we lit the three candles for the Third Week of Advent, ever keeping our sights on the One who came to earth as a humble infant and will come again with all His glorious and terrible majesty to judge the living and the dead. Rejoice, for His kingdom shall never end!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Wondrous "Journey"


Aaaah, Christmas – the wonderful, magical time of year when we experience the season with the wonder of a child. Such was the delightful surprise that over 160 residents of Pine Valley and environs experienced as the Mountain Empire Creative Art Council's Pine Valley Players presented their first holiday production, A Journey Through Christmas, at Worthington Hall on the grounds of the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center on Saturday evening, December 13.

A Journey Through Christmas was written and directed by Pine Valley resident Dianne Holly (who also designed the extraordinary costumes!), ably assisted by Guatay resident Mary Aragon. Narrated by Christine Siders, the play chronicled Christmas celebrations starting with the Nativity, and proceeding through a Mexican Candlelight procession, a Victorian Christmas, a 1930's Depression-era family scene, and finished with a Soldiers' Christmas, represented by soldiers and their families from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, and the present-day conflict. Each tableau was beautifully portrayed by approximately 25 local actors ranging in age from children of seven years to some venerable and bearded Wise Men and a jolly Santa Claus.

Between and during the tableaux, the dozen singers of the all-female choir, directed by Teri Carpentier-Antti (who also provided the piano accompaniment), provided beautifully-sung Christmas selections. At the close of the play, the audience joined the choir in singing some beloved carols.

E and J were in two tableaux: the Victorian Christmas and in the final Soldiers scene as part of the Civil War family. E wore a gorgeous skirt of a shiny material that changed from green to red in certain lights (and was hemmed by hand by our dear friend Judith). J wore his "basic" (white shirt and black pants) with a green satin cravat -- both can be seen in the photo above as part of the Soldiers' Christmas. Although E played J's mother in both scenes, they only had lines in the Victorian tableau.

Before the production, the
Free Teen Guitar Class (including J) of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, directed by Fr. Keith Acker, provided guitar music for those who were finding their seats and perusing the Art Ornament Auction. Many thanks to all of the local artists who donated the beautiful ornaments and to Marshall and Mary Chapman who organized the auction, and especially to Mark Aragon and Debby Alexander for lighting and sound direction, along with kudos to many individuals and groups too numerous to list here.

E and T (and J once or twice) helped create props for several Saturdays before the final production, but T was down sick on the night of the show, so only B was an usher at the front door, gtrreting playgoers and handing out the wonderful programs created by our MECAC Director, Judith Dupree. The inclement weather was a serious challenge as heavy downpours created flooding in parts of the prop room and in the parking lot. During the Saturday afternoon rehearsal, fierce winds blew over and broke a canopy that would have protected actors waiting to enter at the back door for the candlelight procession. Despite a rather shaky final dress rehearsal with several missed cues and dangerous weather issues, the performance on Saturday night was nearly perfect and was much enjoyed by all who attended.

Great appreciation and rounds of applause also go the
Pine Valley Bible Conference Center for providing rehearsal space (along with the Pine Valley Improvement Club) as well as a beautiful (and warm!) production venue, and to our local advertisers and all who attended the play for their support of arts in the backcountry. And special thanks go to Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity for their financial support and for bringing up the Free Teen Guitar Class to strum some Christmas favorites before the production started.

A magical evening was enjoyed by all who experienced this first of what we hope will be many theatre productions of MECAC's Pine Valley Players in the Mountain Empire area.

The Marks of the Early Church


Over the past eighteen months I have become a fan of the writings of Pastor John H. Armstrong of Act 3 Ministries. (Thanks to William for introducing me to Armstrong's ministry.) Armstrong's ecumenical outlook is fresh and, in my humble opinion, absolutely Biblical. His latest weekly series is on the Early Church and their idea of the word "catholic" in the Creeds of the faith. He opens the article with several quotations, and this one spoke especially to me:

"You did not first learn the Lord’s Prayer and after that the Creed; but first the Creed, from which you should know what to believe, and afterward the Lord’s Prayer, from which you should know whom to invoke. The Creed outlines the articles of faith, whereas the Lord’s Prayer tells you how to address your petitions; because it is the man of faith that has his prayers heard." -- St. Augustine

The entire article can be read
by clicking right here. It's food for thought for every Protestant, especially every evangelical and challenges what we think about unity within the Church. He specifically mentions the inherent danger (perhaps too strong a word, but then, perhaps not) substitution of the words "Christian" or "universal" for the word "catholic" in the Apostle's Creed -- which has indeed occurred in my own evangelical church at times.

I've just added the weekly Act 3 Ministries letter to my Google Reader so I'll never miss an issue. You may not always agree with Armstrong, but he certainly gives us much to ponder about how we live our Christian lives and how we consider Christians of different traditions.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Surprise Christmas Gift


A couple of weeks ago, a large, registered Priority envelope was delivered to our PO Box. Keith brought it home, wondering if I had ordered something. I had not.

The registered information sported a bemusing return address: From Santa Claus on Workshop Lane, the North Pole. The only real clue was the Santee zip code in the upper corner.

Inside was a Costco gift card, but no amount was listed on it. An enclosed note wished us a Merry Christmas, printed in Christmas colors by a common laser printer.

The following weekend Keith forgot about using the gift card for our weekly Costco run, which is where we buy the vast majority of our food: meat, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, Cheerios, eggs, dairy, butter, bananas, baby carrots, etc. The stuff of life. We eat as gluten-free as possible due to the kids' and my own sensitivities to heavily-processed food, and Costco carries much of what we need each week -- about 75% of our weekly food budget.

So after last week's forgetfulness, Keith stowed the gift card in front of his Costco card so that there was no way he could miss using it when he next went grocery shopping. (He shops while I plan meals and write out the lists each week -- a very nice division of labor.) I made a list a bit more extensive this week and added a few paper goods we have been without for a while, hoping that the card was for fifty dollars or so.

The card had a balance of five hundred dollars.

So if the saint(s) who sent us the Costco card happen(s) to be a reader here, we thank you so much for blessing us! What an amazing gift for us when Keith has been out of work, doing handyman jobs to help us make ends meet. And special thanks to all of our friends who are praying for us as well. We continue to rest in the goodness of our God and in His beloved saints who live and love in the image of Christ.

A blessed Advent and Christmas season to you all, dear readers.

"Advent 1955" by John Bejteman


I discovered this Advent poem on the blog Go to Bethlehem and See, a special Advent blog by the members of the Boar's Head Tavern. If the true concepts of Advent and Christmas struggled with commercialism over fifty years ago, how much worse is it today? And how are we as Christians culpable?

Thanks, BHT, for posting this convicting and inspiring gem:

"Advent 1955" by John Bejteman

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Interesting Article on the "Unreached"

I do keep up with the Internet Monk's blog. Writing as a post-evangelical yet still a devoted Christian, his insights are intriguing and very often truthful. And in this recent post, he addresses an issue that has bothered me to no end in evangelical circles: the idea that so-called Christians of other denominations, especially liturgical ones like Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc., are not "really" Christians and need to be "reached" with the "true" Gospel.

I remember one of our former pastors making the point that there were very few "Christians in Russia, totally bypassing the millions of practicing Orthodox Christians. I felt shocked and saddened by this view that people who practice Christianity somewhat differently than we evangelicals do are considered "unreached."

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, addresses this issue of the "Reached" and "Unreached" in his newest post: click here to read it.

What do you think?

The Inevitable....

Why, oh why does it always seem to happen this way?

Tonight is the big Christmas production being put on by the Pine Valley Players, a division of the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council. My parents and my brother and his two kiddos are coming up the mountain from the coast to meet us for dinner at Major's, a fun 1950's diner and one of the two restaurants in our town (if one doesn't count the drive-thru Frosty Burger). E and J are in the play, with J providing music with the Free Teen Guitar Class for half an hour before curtain. T helped make props (especially the Christmas goose) and he and B are slated to be ushers. I'm the House Manager, in charge of the ushers, the doors, making the obligatory cell phone announcement, etc.

So of course, two things have occurred to damper the day. The first is rain. The hall at the Pine Valley Christian Conference Center does not have a green room, so the actors have to huddle around heaters outside between scenes. We're attempting to put up canopies at the front and rear of the hall for the actors. The temperatures by curtain time are supposed to be in the high 30's. We're praying that the rain, scheduled as a 50% chance during the hours of the play, will wait until AFTER the play has ended. The actors also have to enter from different doors so could get quite wet and have to ramp through mud. Not good.

Then T felt quite ill last night, and by bedtime had been sick. And he has been sick a total of nine times overnight. So much for his seeing the play, being the usher, and I've had to call my brother and tell him not to bring his kids over early to play with our kids. Keith will videotape the play so T can watch it later. But I'm sad for him and am praying that no one else gets sick, especially my two actors. At least until after the play tonight,,,,

So somehow when we have big family plans, something always happens -- especially illness. Sigh. It almost always happens to one of us or another....

Friday, December 12, 2008

7 Quick-Takes Friday

Okay, okay. I'm caving to the pressure. Jen at Conversion Diary and Kathy at 10 Minute Writer have both been posting these 7 Quick-Takes each Friday -- just short little blurts of posts on seven different random topics at the end of each week. Brilliant. Jen's idea, but it's slowly spreading across blogdom.

And I'm caving.

So, here we go......

1

Jeff Dunham is the funniest man on the face of this earth. I'm watching him as I type this and I'm having severe problems in not totally ROTFLOL. I never thought that a ventriloquist could be so hilarious, but I simply love his characters. Peanut is my favorite -- he's nearly as random as I wish I were. Walter's curmudgeon act is wonderful, even if much bleeping from the censors must occur. The new Christmas special is dang funny -- don't miss it if it happens to roll across Comedy Central during your watch.

2

Today we enjoyed a lovely Christmas party with our local homeschooling Park Day group. We haven't been able to do anything with them yet except for a field trip to the Star of India at the San Diego Maritime Museum, but I know many of the families involved. Having a homeschool group in our small town of 1200 is simply wonderful, and I'm replanning our schedule (as in skipping a chiropractic appointment after Mass) so that we can do more activities with the Park Day group. Sheri, my best friend here in town, opened her home and we enjoyed tea, coffee, and a lovely potluck lunch while kids jumped on the trampoline, ran around, chased the goats, played in the treehouse, made Christmas crafts, etc. Such a lovely way to finish up our homeschooling for the calendar year.

3

Grading essays is the bane of my existence. Truly. I adore one-on-one tutoring, I love being in front of a classroom. But a stack of essays waiting to be graded always seems to remind me of something extremely pressing I need to be doing instead, like trimming my toenails or plucking my eyebrows, Once I get going, I don't mind it tooooooo much, except for the students who haven't turned in their best work. Then I feel my frustration level rising as I mark the ninth sentence fragment or the seventh comma splice, not to mention the fifteenth misspelling. But when a student who has been struggling finally makes a breakthrough, it's sheer joy. I love teaching literature and writing ... so I guess if grading comes along with the territory, I'm just gonna hafta deal with it.

4

Tomorrow night two of my kids are going to be in our community's first Christmas play. Tomorrow we have to go set up the hall before the final rehearsal, and I was counting on our oldest son helping us set up two hundred chairs. But Number One son has spent all evening hanging over the toilet after getting sick three times so far. Why does it always happen that whenever we have a family event of some sort, one of the four children become very ill? It seems to be some twisted sort of karma or something. Not funny, Lord.

5

At Lake Murray I am somehow involved in all of our liturgical events. In February, I remind the staff of Ash Wednesday and Lent so we can send out a little blurb about Lent. During Holy Week I set up the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary and *beg* for a Good Friday service. And during Advent, I get to line up the families to light the Advent candles. I love doing all these things because, as my regular readers know, liturgy is my life. But I don't attend the first service, so I'm always at a loss to ask people to light the candles and read the Scriptures for that service. Veneta, our church assistant and general go-to woman, is going to e-mail me some names, cuz I'm at a loss again. Yep, again....

6

You know, it's not easy to come up with seven random mini-posts when one is a linear thinker. I will have to think these little seven thingymajiggies out more in advance. I promise they'll get better. At least they can't get worse, right?

7

And yes, I'm still laughing at Jeff Dunham while I'm typing this. My ribs hurt. My throat hurts. My face hurts. Gotta love him... and Peanut. Lotion or no lotion.

A Sobering Advent....


Between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion this morning, I talked with Father Acker about Advent. I know that the Anglican/liturgical churches have a different classification for Advent Sundays than the one we use for Advent which I took from Focus on the Family's Advent guide years ago. The more evangelical (for lack of a better word) order of candles is First Sunday: Prophecy; Second Sunday: Bethlehem; Third Sunday: Shepherd; and Fourth Sunday: Angel, with the white Christ Candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

However, Father Acker explained this morning that Advent really doesn't have as much in common with Christmas as we might think. Advent really is in no way a "countdown to Christmas" as it is generally considered today. Instead, it is a penitential season quite separate from Christmas as the focus is not so much on celebrating the First Advent (Coming) of Jesus in the Incarnation as it is a looking forward in anticipation to the promised Second Coming of Christ "to judge the living and the dead." It's about Last Things far more than the coming joy of Christmas.

In keeping with waiting for the Second Coming, the Advent candles are quite different in liturgical traditions. The First Sunday is about Death; the Second Judgment; the Third Heaven (thus the lightening of the penitential purple candles to a rose-colored one), and the Fourth, Hell. Much more sobering than the common Advent calendars covered with images of Santa Claus and filled with 24 little chocolates behind the windows, eh?

Father Acker continued to explain that the Anglican Church has a bit of a different twist on the Day of Judgment. Rather than seeing the Final Judgment as a "weighing in the balance" of our past deeds, the Anglican tradition views Judgment as a face-to-face encounter with God. Either we will love His Face because we indeed are His, or we will run in terror because we do not know or love Him. Interesting thought, that.

Advent is so much more than anticipation of Christmas. It's all about our hearts -- are they truly His? Do we long to see His Holy Face? Do we look joyfully forward to being in His Presence? Advent is a time to consider Last Things -- to ask Him to cleanse our hearts of selfish indulgence (not made particularly easy by all the Christmas parties!) and anticipate seeing the Face of our Beloved, our Light shining in the darkness.


May the Light of His Presence be yours this Holy Season, my friends.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Journey Through Christmas



This Saturday, December 13, the Pine Valley Players, the theatre branch of the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council, will be presenting their First Annual Christmas production, A Journey Through Christmas, written and directed by Dianne Holly with musical direction by Teri Carpentier-Antti. The Pine Valley Bible Conference Center (8668 Pine Creek Road) had kindly allowed the Pine Valley Players use of their lovely and large Worthington Hall venue. Curtain will be at 7:30 PM sharp.

Donations will be gratefully accepted in lieu of set ticket prices, and refreshments will be served during Intermission. The Free Teen Guitar Class, under the tutelage of Father Keith Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, will provide music before the performance. And a Silent Art Auction, benefitting the Pine Valley Players and the Mountain Empire Art Council's children's programs, will take place during Intermission.

Both E and J will be performing in A Journey Through Christmas, in two tableaus in which E plays J's mother both times. J will also be performing with the Free Teen Guitar Class before the play begins. My parents and brother and his two kids are coming up to meet us for dinner at Major's Diner before the play. T has been helping with props, and I will be the House Manager on the night of the performance.

Our local friends are all invited to come, whether living in PV or "down the hill." We hope that they will all appreciate the hard work of the Pine Valley Players in producing their first Christmas play.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Second Week of Advent....


On Sunday, we celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent. In our evangelical church (which differs from more liturgical churches), we light the Bethlehem Candle for the Second Week of Advent, and when the family who had agreed to light the candle couldn't make it, our family stepped in to light the two candles, the Prophecy Candle from last week and this week's Bethlehem Candle. T lit the candles while Keith read from the fifth chapter of Micah:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.


In the Anglican tradition, the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent is my favorite Collect of the entire liturgical year; in fact, it's my e-mail signature during Advent:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

So as our family gathers around our Advent wreath this week, we'll also be praying this prayer from another Advent resource:

O King of all nations, Jesus Christ, only joy of every heart, come and save your people. Amen.

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Advent as we focus our minds and hearts on the First Incarnation of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, and prepare for His imminent Second Coming to judge both the living and the dead, rejoicing that His Kingdom will never end.

Monday, December 8, 2008

B's Birthday!


Yesterday our youngest turned nine, and I feel oooooold. :)

B ordered bacon and pancakes for his birthday breakfast, so I got up early and made him his special request. Just before leaving for church, he opened his gift from Keith and myself: Indiana Jones Legos. J also gave him a small Lego kit. At church he made ice cream as part of his Sunday School class, and at the beginning of the second service, our family went forward to light the candles for the second Sunday in Advent.

After church, we drove to the San Diego Zoo where we met my parents and my brother with his two kids. We had cheeseburgers and fries near the front of the zoo. The skies were very cloudy with the promise of rain, but fortunately it held off until well after we left. B's preference was to see the monkeys and the turtles, and peacocks seemed to follow us wherever we went.


Years and years ago my mother bought the birthday cake hat seen in B's photo above. Wherever we are when we celebrate a family birthday, the birthday person must wear the hat IN PUBLIC. Keith has long been plotting the demise of said hat but has not yet been successful. B, however, is the only family member who wears the hat with pride. Last year he received a free book at the Natural History Museum for wearing it, and this year he received nine kisses from a special Zoo puppet besides the shout-outs on the zoo bus (see below).

The older boys, my dad, and my brother took turns pushing my wheelchair, so it worked out well enough. Keith's sister, Karen, works at the zoo as a bus tour guide, so we were able to board a bus and take a 40-minute tour around the zoo which gave us a look at 70% of the grounds. Karen also told everyone on the top level to wish the boy with the birthday cake hat a happy birthday, both as we pulled out at the start of the tour and again as we pulled in at the end. It was a bit cold on the bus, but we really enjoyed the tour -- Karen is an excellent guide.

My parents left around 4 PM while my brother and his two kids stayed with us while we visited the meerkats and otters in the Children's Zoo before heading to the gift shops where E and T bought B a stuffed hamster, much like ones that J and T, own as their gift to him. He also spent the money from my brother in purchasing a stuffed bush baby that we christened Jabberwocky (Jabbers for short) on the way home.

At home we enjoyed pizza, B's request for dinner -- one of those take-home-and-bake pizzas from Costco. And for dessert B requested cherry vanilla ice cream with peppermint JoJos (oreo-like cookies from Trader Joe's) rather than cake. We celebrated while watching the third Librarian movie starring ER's Noah Wylie. So B had a lovely birthday and had a wonderful time.

So, Happy Birthday, B! We love our comical boy!

Feast of Saint Nicholas -- December 6


It's been a busy few days in our household with the Christmas Tea on Saturday and B's ninth birthday on Sunday (photos and post forthcoming). So today I am getting to the celebration of St. Nicholas' Day a few days later than planned.

From the wonderful Saint of the Day e-mails from americancatholic.org, which notes that although we can't truly "prove" the legends about St. Nicholas, we can still extract lessons that we can then apply to our lives:

The absence of the “hard facts” of history is not necessarily an obstacle to the popularity of saints, as the devotion to St. Nicholas shows. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists. And yet, historically, we can pinpoint only the fact that Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor.

As with many of the saints, however, we are able to capture the relationship which Nicholas had with God through the admiration which Christians have had for him—an admiration expressed in the colorful stories which have been told and retold through the centuries.

Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus—further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop.

Comment:
The critical eye of modern history makes us take a deeper look at the legends surrounding St. Nicholas. But perhaps we can utilize the lesson taught by his legendary charity, look deeper at our approach to material goods in the Christmas season and seek ways to extend our sharing to those in real need.

Quote:
“In order to be able to consult more suitably the welfare of the faithful according to the condition of each one, a bishop should strive to become duly acquainted with their needs in the social circumstances in which they live.... He should manifest his concern for all, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners” (Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office, 16).

***

This year I didn't have the time or the money to get the chocolate gold coins that I usually insert in the kids' shoes for them to find on the morning of St. Nicholas Day. With all the busyness with the ladies' Christmas Tea, St. Nicholas Day kind of passed unnoticed in our household this year. (Especially when the only gold coins I ran across were "High School Musical" ones - blech!) But St. Nicholas, as the precursor to our Santa Claus, is a saint to remember for his generosity to the poor and his giving spirit, which we all need a reminder of at times during this Holy Season.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tea?




Aaaah, tea. The magic elixir. The nectar of the gods. The infusion of scent, grace, and caffeine that keeps us all civilized as well as sane.

And what is tea without a little something to nibble with it? Whether it be a simple cookie or a buttery scone or a fancy confection, a little something to consume along with tea is a must.

Well, tomorrow afternoon is our annual ladies' Christmas Tea at Lake Murray. We have sixteen tables planned, all consisting of eight to ten ladies. Each table has an assigned hostess who brings her own tea things: china cups and plates, silverware and teapots, napkins and tablecloths, candles and centerpiece. Other ladies prepare the two courses: sandwiches and fruit, and a dessert course. The sandwiches are lovely, usually some chicken salad in mini-croissants, some ham and cheese, some cucumber and cream cheese, etc. The desserts are delicate and divine, with chocolate truffles, fruit tarts, slices of cake, and Christmas cookies. My favorites are the almond cookies covered in powdered sugar --- mmmmm! And tea -- all sorts are provided, from typical blacks to delicate greens to fragrant herbals. Lemon, sugar, and cream are available at every table.

And there's the chatting that takes place over tea. This year we have assigned tables, so we'll have some women we know, and others we don't know so well. Many women bring friends, mothers, sisters from outside the church to sample the delicacies and enjoy the afternoon. We talk about all sorts of subjects, warming to complete strangers over the civilizing influence of tea.

The program is also fun and brings a mixture of laughter and tears. The door prizes (very nice ones at that!) are fun to give away, and much laughter always ensues. Adrienne, our resident stand-up comedienne, always gives us food for thought along with our not-so-ladylike guffaws. And the speaker, always different each year, brings us to tears somehow as the Holy Spirit touches our hearts in a new-old way that we never seem to expect.

But my favorite part is the carols. Joan leads us from her seat at the grand piano in the classics, and all the women's voices rise and fall as one -- the sheer beauty of the voices melding together into a beautiful euphony almost always brings me to tears. I hope that at least one of my favorite carols will be sung: "O Holy Night," "Angels We Have Heard on High," or "What Child Is This?" (In that order.)

Somehow we always enter the tea frazzled, harried, busy with whatever part we play in the tea (mine is lettering all of the place cards and name tags for 135 women), and we find ourselves relaxing over hot tea, warm friends old and new, and delicate eatables. We pray, sing, listen, laugh, hug, and pray some more, and somehow we leave, at peace with the world and ready for the Christmas season to swing into full gear. Yes, we may feel frazzled and harried throughout the month, but there will be a little well of peace in our innermost hearts that wouldn't be there without our afternoon tea on the first Saturday of December.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Basics of the Faith: What Must a Christian Believe?

John H. Armstrong has posted another wonderful article on the minimum beliefs for Christianity. It's an excellent blog post, one that set me to thinking about what our steps should be to help promote unity among Christian traditions and to use that unity to both spread the Gospel and also obey God's commands about caring for the poor, both physically with food and clothing and also with literacy programs and other educational assistance. The old song, "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love" rings hollow for me currently now as I hear some evangelicals question Catholics' salvation and as I hear some Catholics sneer at a six-day Creation.

Armstrong suggests that the litmus test for Christian belief should be found in the Apostle's Creed. Here it is, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting. Amen.

That indeed is our litmus test, and one that has been used as such throughout the centuries, as it was indeed designed to be. "Creed" comes from the Latin "creo" which means, "I believe." The beliefs of the Church since the earliest centuries have been demonstrated in this Creed, and Armstrong is right to bring it up again as a modern measuring tool in promoting the New Ecumenism, based on the beliefs that Jesus Christ is Who He said He was in the Scriptures: the Son of God Who came to reconcile us to our Creator.

What do you think?

A Gift for J -- a "Loaner"




Eleven-year-old J has been literally counting the hours to his guitar class today. After playing an acoustic guitar borrowed from Father Acker's wife, Alice, since he started lessons in July, J received wonderful news from Fatehr Acker following the Free Teen Guitar Class' (FTGC) performance at the ecumenical Thanksgiving service in Alpine last Wednesday: someone had donated several new electric guitars as "loaners" to the FTGC. And J gets first pick! He's chosen the wine-red Silvertone Rockit 21 (pictured above) and this afternoon he'll be able to play it for the first time and also bring it home for practicing. I've rarely seen J's face light up the way it did when Father Acker gave him the good news. He has never complained about being the only guitar student using an acoustic, but he's thrilled to be able to make the transition to electric, especially with such a cool electric guitar that is brand-new!



Father Acker's Free Teen Guitar Class is such a blessing for the students of Alpine and the backcountry. He's a patient and encouraging teacher, and he doesn't mind me and B completing B's schoolwork in a corner of the big room in the Alpine Community Center while he teaches the class. Currently the Beginning Class that J is part of has two to three students, and there are students also in the Intermediate and Advanced levels. Six students played at the Thanksgiving service.



J can also be seen playing at the Thanksgiving service on the FTGC website by clicking right here. He is so excited about playing this brand-new electric guitar. So many thanks to the donor(s) who made this "loaner" possible, and many, many thanks to Father Acker for his willingness to spend his Wednesday afternoons patient teaching squirrely boys (girls are welcome, too, but right now most of the students are boys). J is our musical kid who has taken piano lessons for over two years and truly enjoys playing both the piano and the guitar. He's simply thrilled to "trade up" his loaner acoustic for a cool red electric!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More on Advent


Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy it almost more than Christmas in several ways. I love gathering around the Advent wreath, a simple wooden one that Keith made for us seven years ago -- just an oval wooden plaque with five wooden candle holders glued on -- four around the outer edges and one in the center. I've added silk greenery -- holly strands and some evergreens with purple and silver pears to match the candles. We use the traditional colors of three purple candles, one pink candle, and a center white Christ Candle.

Since we've moved to this house, we have celebrated Advent -- this is our eighth year of doing so. After dinner the kids and I gather at the kitchen table with the Advent wreath in the middle, and each child gets his or her "turn" once every four nights. When it is a child's turn, her or she lights the candle(s), reads the Scripture passage, and chooses the carol we sing (badly), and after we finish at the table, he or she gets to read the Scripture card attached to that day's pocket of the Advent calendar, a large wall hanging made by Keith's sister for us the same year we moved here. The child also gets the candy or small wrapped gift hidden in the pocket after reading the Scripture card. This year I placed either a York peppermint patty or a Reese's peanut butter bell in each pocket. I pray after the Scripture and also read the devotional.

Our devotionals have changed over the years. We started off with Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels which are out-of-print and very hard to obtain. Last year I saw them on e-Bay for close to $100 each! I'm missing the second book in the series but definitely can't afford it. Last year we read a little book called Christ in the Carols that contained the words to a carol, a story about the inspiration of the carol, a Scripture verse, and a short prayer.

This year we are using my own devotional, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle, a lovely gift from Dru that I am enjoying immensely. I pray the Morning Office, Midday Office, and Compline myself, but we have been doing the Vespers Office for our Advent devotional. It includes several short passages from the Psalms, a longer Scripture passage, the words to an Advent hymn, and closes with the Collect for that particular week of Advent. The Scriptures are from the New Jerusalem Bible which is easy for the kids to understand, and the Collects have been put in slightly more modern language which works well for us.

Here is the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent that we will pray together each night this week:

Almighty God, give us all grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which Your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I really enjoy gathering around the lit candles in a darkened room, watching our children's faces in the flickering light as we read the Scriptures, pray, and sing together. It's a precious time, and I always hate to see each Advent end, even though Christmas Joy is right around the corner....

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