Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Year

Yes, I'm a bit late on posting this weeks's Carry On Tuesday writing prompt, but as it revolves around the idea of the New Year, I thought I'd post it today. It's very rough ... only in bare second draft form.

Prompt #32 is the opening line of "New Year's Reality Check" by Joanna Fuchs:

"Another year, another chance
To start our lives anew;...."

another year
another year
of sorrow and joy
entwined --
warp and weft
so tighly woven
they cannot be teased apart.

another year
of grace and pain
so deeply fixed --
driven to the very core
of self,
far beneath the surface,
too deep to see through
the murkiness.

another year
of kneeling before
the altar,
confession peeling back
layer after layer
of selfishness
of ambition
of unloveliness --
each layer thinly transparent
but dead,

another year
of offering it all --
light with the dark,
sweet with the suffering,
enveloped with a holiness
not my own --
a permeating incense
stings my eyes,
reaches the depths
foreign to me
but oh-so-known
by Him.
Copyright 2009 Susanne Barrett

Wishing you all a joyous 7th Day of Christmas and a blessed New Year in Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Praying Poetry

Praying the Psalms has long been my Food and Drink -- True Sustenance to my very soul. The poet in me clings to His Words of hope and encouragement as chiasmus after chiasmus settle into my depths.

He whispers to me in Imagery, in Song, in Truth, through His liquid Word which flows through my mind and heart before nestling soul-deep. His promises ring from line to line -- to be fulfilled in His time, a time far outside mine, yet whole and perfect. Circular rather than linear.

The Psalms contain every emotion we, in our faltering humanity, experience: joy and pain, gladness and sorrow, worship and anger, comprehension and incomprehension, song and tears, glee and frustration, overbrimming hope and utter hopelessness.

Paradoxically juxtaposed, He gathers these our all-too human frailties into His outstretched hands, cupping them in His perfect palms, molding them with loving care into far more than we can ask or imagine. He shapes us oh-so-gently and steadily into His image -- one stumbling, rambling experience at a time. We flutter in His hands, panicked, attempting to flee, seldom able to draw forth the calm that allows us to entrust ourselves to His wise plans, to His perfect keeping.

(The Psalms below are taken from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, the Morning, Midday, and Vesper Offices for December 30 and 31, 2009.)

"For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation."
-- Psalm 62:1

"Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth . . . ."
-- Psalm 65:5

"I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. He will bring me safely back . . . God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me."
-- Psalm 55:17ff

"Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us; for we have been brought very low. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake."
-- Psalm 79:8–9

"Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord. He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice."
-- Psalm 68:33–34

Before I discovered resources like The Divine Hours that provided Psalms for me to pray, I had attempted to gather parts of my favorite Psalms and write them down to pray. Now I light a candle and use either the online version of The Divine Hours or my three-volume book version. Or I simply open the Psalter in my 1928 Book of Common Prayer and pray the Psalms for the designated morning or evening. Either way, the focus remains on praying His Word, most especially His Psalms, His poetry written expressly for us -- we, His poema. (In Ephesians 2:10 the Greek word for "workmanship" is indeed poema; we are indeed God's poem, His work of art).

He calls to us through the Psalms, a Father to His child, a Lover to His beloved.

We need only to respond.

holy experience

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quotation of the Week: Dickens on Christmas

In addition to his many fine novels, I think that Charles Dickens writes with incredible insight about Christmas -- and not just in his famous book A Christmas Carol. When I jotted down Christmas quotations earlier this month, I ran across a longer quote from Dickens that I knew I would be sharing here this Christmastide. Longer than most of the quotations I copy into my journal and post here, it is SO worth it, and I hope that you think so, too. From my Quotations Journal:

"I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

-- Charles Dickens
Wishing you all a joyous Fifth Day of Christmas! (And a blessed remembrance of Saint Thomas a Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Working on My One Thousand Gifts

I hope that you and yours enjoyed a blessed CHRISTmas thus far. The joy on our kids' faces in the above photo convey the joy we experienced as a family on Christmas Day. But before the present-opening began, we gathered around the kitchen table, the Christ Candle lit in the center of the four flickering Advent candles, as we read Scripture and prayed together from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer on this most Holy Morning. Yes, gifts are enjoyable and foods are delicious, but the Gift of Christ is eternal.

Colossians 3:1-2: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Thus I continue to list more of my One Thousand Gifts on this Multitude Monday, hosted by Ann at Holy Experience (which is my very favourite blog in all the blogosphere!):

21.Elizabeth's generous Christmas gift to the boys of a (refurbished) X-Box 360, the funds earned by very hard work at her housekeeping job at the nearby Bible camp...

22. The joy in my children's eyes on Christmas morning as they watched each other open gifts they had worked so hard to purchase...

23.My husband's gift to me of UGG-style boots that keep my feet toasty warm in a cold house...

24.Spending Christmas Eve with Keith's family: his sister, his brother's wife and five children, his sister-in-law's family out here from Michigan, and especially his increasingly-fragile father...

25.Watching our children play with cousins on both sides of the family and truly enjoy their company...

26. Spending Christmas Morning quietly with our immediate family...

27. Spending Christmas Day with my extended family: my parents, aunt and uncles, brother and his children, plus our family...

28.Worshiping Christ the King as a family on Christmas morning before opening presents...

29.Having everyone healthy and well for celebrating Christmas -- not always the case in the past...

30. My husband's love for me, especially when I don't deserve it....

holy experience

Wishing you a joyous Fourth Day of Christmas and a blessed Remembrance of the Holy Innocents, both those killed at Herod's command two thousand years ago and those who have not been given the opportunity of life outside their mothers' wombs. Joy and sorrow woven together -- the very essence of life in our fallen (yet Redeemed!) world....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Third Day of Christmas/First Sunday of Christmastide, also Saint John, Apostle & Evangelist

A joyous Third Day of Christmas and First Sunday of Christmastide to you all!

Today also marks the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist.

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Propers for Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist:
The Collect:
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.
The Epistle: 1 John 1:1-10 (using the English Standard Version)
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The Gospel: John 21:19-25 (using English Standard Version)
19 (b) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Saint John was the only one of the Twelve not to be martyred for The Faith, the one to whom Jesus entrusted His Mother as well as His Revelation. His Gospel is by far my favorite of the four, and its depth and breadth entrances me. The first chapter of Saint John's Gospel contains the most elevated language in the Scriptures: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God...." 

And the beautiful sixth chapter, sometimes ignored when preached by evangelicals (in my experience, at least):
St. John 6:35:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.... 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” .... 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
I could quote the Gospel of Saint John all day, but I would be writing an extremely long post! If one reads no other book in the Scriptures, it really should be the Gospel of Saint John. God's Word as transcribed by an uneducated fisherman sings with power, beauty, and glory. Inexpressibly awe-inspiring, truly the Word of the One who created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the land and the oceans, and the creatures that walk this land. Whether Gospel, Epistles, or Revelation, John wrote all in God's power and might, somehow expressing that which is beyond words, but is still The Word.

Wishing you a blessed remembrance of St. John as well as a joyous Third Day of Christmas and First Sunday of Christmastide!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Our Christmas

One of the wonderful things about following the church year was the discovery of Christmastide -- celebrating Christmas for twelve days. It is so lovely to keep playing Christmas music, to keep the tree lit, to not have to squash the preparation of days and weeks into a single day.

The Second Day of Christmas also coincides with a more sobering remembrance: Saint Stephen's Day. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and his story can be read in the New Testament, in the sixth and seventh chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen's Feast Day also is mentioned in the carol "Good King Wenceslas":

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

On Christmas Eve we had Keith's side of the family over to our home; his brother was working, but his brother's wife Renee and their five kids plus Renee's parents and sister from Michigan came, along with Keith's dad and older sister Karen. It was a cozy group of 18 people including us, and we all contributed to a finger-food type meal with ham and turkey sandwiches on small rolls, a vegetable platter, chips and dips, crackers and spreads, deviled eggs, plus hot finger foods like egg rolls, barbecue-sauced chicken wings, ham and cheese on puff pastry, and mushroom tarts. For dessert we put out one of Keith's amazing pumpkin pies plus my gingerbread (which doubled as Jesus' birthday cake); Keith's toffee; vanilla wafers, lemon-chocolate cookies, and truffles from Trader Joe's, plus a huge platter of homebaked cookies and other goodies that Renee brought; Karen also brought some chocolates. Before dessert we lit three candles (representing the Trinity) on the cake of gingerbread and sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, and we also lit the four Advent candles plus the white Christ candle in our Advent wreath while I read from Luke 2. We kept it short since the little ones were getting restless.

I was sad to not attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The other church in Alpine that I used to slip down to on Christmas Eve moved their Christmas Eve service to 7:30, and our house was still stuffed with family and guests at that hour, so I would have to do a 70-mile round trip into El Cajon arrend a Christmas Eve service, and I was too tired to stay safely awake on the drive. I stuffed the kids' stockings and took them upstairs with me and then crashed into bed, exhausted after all the deep cleaning of the past days.

The kids allowed Keith and I sleep until nine on Christmas morning, and with a roaring fire and the scent of breakfast cooking, the kids opened their overstuffed stockings. Then we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of eggs, diced potatoes, bacon, and lemon bread, and afterwards the kids lit the four colored candles and the white Christ candle of our Advent wreath. I prayed and read Scripture from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, including the beautiful Christmas Collect:

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.
I also read the Epistle Lesson (from Hebrews 1) and the Gospel (from St. John 1), which are some of the most beautiful words in the Scriptures:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I also read the words to a few carols, including "O Come, O Come Emmanuel":

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
After our Christmas worship, we gathered in front of the fire with Bing Crosby crooning "Adeste Fidelis" in the background and opened gifts from one another. The biggest gift was for the boys from Elizabeth: a (refurbished) X-Box 360 with a hard drive and two games. Our big gifts to the kids were modest this year, a $20 maximum each. J received a Nerf blaster, B & T more X-Box 360 games (Lego Star Wars: Complete Saga and Star Wars: Force Unleashed, respectively), and E several New Moon items: CD of the film score (really different from the soundtrack), the movie book, and a calendar that hasn't arrived yet. The boys bought her Bones Season 1, and gave each other Bakugan. Keith gave me some Ugg-style slipper/boots which are desperately needed. Elizabeth gave me a Brian Setzer Christmas CD and Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger, and the boys gave me my Barnes and Noble desk diary, the only thing that keeps me somewhat organized. :)

After presents we dressed and drove twenty minutes up the mountain to my parents' little cabin where my parents, my brother Tom and his two kids, my mom's brother Rich and her sister Vicki and Vicki's husband George were gathered.  Patches of snow remained on the ground, not enough for sledding but enough for some serious snowball fights. We enjoyed a lovely ham and prime rib dinner and opened presents just as the Charger game started. Keith and I were very happy with a 7 quart crock pot as our 5 qt has simply become too small with our boys' appetites, plus a set of Christmas dinner plates, something I've always wanted. Mom and Dad loved the photo calendar I made online for them with photos of the kids from my computer; we also gave them one of E's senior portraits. We finished with apple and pumpkin pies baked by Keith and Keith's famous toffee as well.

On our way home we listened to carols on the classical radio station and did our traditional drive around our small town looking at all the lovely Christmas light displays in front yards and on houses. Then we came home, stoked up the fire and allowed the boys to play with their toys while the rest of us relaxed and watched "The Librarian" trilogy on television while enjoying the lit tree and the roaring fire. So it was a lovely, lovely Christmas for us, and I pray it was for you and yours as well. A blessed Christmastide to you all!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Benjamin reads Scripture from Advent calendar

Our tree on Christmas Eve

Keith's dad and nine of his fifteen grandkids

Our hearth on Christmas morning, with full stockings

Lighting of Christ candle with E and Dash

Kids ready to open their stockings on Christmas morning

Boys open their gift from E -- a refurbished X-Box 360

Snow at my parents' cabin on Mount Laguna

Elizabeth sets the Christmas table at cabin

A Merry First Day of Christmastide to you and yours!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Family Christmas Letter

Dearest Family and Friends,

The Barretts wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Happy New Year! May the grace of God be yours this year and always!

2009 has been a difficult year financially for us. Keith's drafting business of 25 years has trickled to practically nothing, and he's been taking on all available handyman jobs. This marks our final year of home schooling all four kids as Elizabeth graduates from Heritage Christian High School (our home school program) this spring. We're in our 9th year of living in the small town of Pine Valley, our 17th year of attending Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, and our 6th year of worshiping on Fridays and Holy Days with Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity.

Benjamin turned 10 this month, and he remains the family clown. In fourth grade, Benjamin is developing his artwork wonderfully. He enjoys playing in our local park with his brothers, riding his scooter and his bike, beating us at board games, and playing Legos and Bakugan. Benjamin is taking Boys' Adventure, PE, and Cooking at our Class Day co-op and is enjoying learning German at home; math and handwriting are his favorite subjects by far. His humorous antics help to keep us in a cheerful mood.

In seventh grade and 12 years old, Jonathan is enjoying junior high – well, except for the extra school work. He started learning Japanese with Keith, but they haven't had the time to work on it together. Guitar is by far his favorite subject, and he is taking lessons through the Free Teen Guitar Class outreach of Alpine Anglican where he rocks a cool red electric guitar. At Class Day he is taking double PE and Chess with Timothy. Jonathan also enjoys working on art, playing X-Box, and designing with Legos. With his strong opinions and persistent nature, Jonathan is the mastermind behind most of the kids' squabbles, but he is also affectionate and generous.

Timothy started high school this fall and continues to excel in math and science. Almost 15, he's now the tallest person in our home (yes, even taller than Keith!), and he's only in ninth grade! Computers are one of his passions, and he's considering a future in graphic design or video game design. Timothy is constantly experimenting with a new kind of artistic expression, whether drawing, cartooning, constructing new worlds with popsicle sticks and hot melt glue, forming creatures from clay, etc. Timothy joins Jonathan in taking double PE and Chess at our Class Day co-op and studies literature with his friend Jack whom the boys also meet to play football at the local park. He is learning German as his foreign language.

Elizabeth is 17 and a senior in high school. Since this summer she has been working in housekeeping at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center 15-20 hours each week. At Class Day she is taking Oral Interpretation & Drama and American Government & Economics, and her favorite school subject is British Literature. (She gets to read Austen! Yay!) Elizabeth is selling her original jewelry at Class Day and in the Bible camp's gift shop. Elizabeth is deciding between two colleges for next year: San Diego Christian College (formerly Christian Heritage) and Point Loma Nazarene University; she plans to major in English or Journalism.

Keith has been doing handyman work this year. He has painted interiors and exteriors, repaired and refinished doors and windows, tiled bathrooms in marble, designed and landscaped yards, designed and built a brick deck, repaired kitchen counters, and is working on designing and installing an elevator in my parents' home. His favorite project by far was creating a complementary stained glass door for our doctor and his wife for whom he made the gorgeous window last year; he also presented his stained glass work to our local Arts Council. Keith is happy to do whatever he can to help provide for us, and we so appreciate his hard work and persistence.

Despite struggling with my chronic health issues, I have been busy this year as well: homeschooling our four kids, tutoring, plus teaching a 4th-6th grade poetry class and a 10th-12th grade writing course at our co-op Class Day. In addition, I've been writing language arts subscriptions and teaching classes in grammar, poetry, Shakespeare, and MLA research papers for I also facilitate our local Writers' Workshop and lead Lake Murray's monthly literary discussion group, and earlier this month I was the Mistress of Ceremonies at Lake Murray's annual Christmas Tea. Blogging at remains a passion of mine.

We pray that the peace of Christ's birth will fill your hearts and homes this Advent Season and always. We wish you and yours a joyous Christmas and a blessed 2009! Please keep in touch with us!

With love in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Keith, Susanne Elizabeth, Timothy, Jonathan, and Benjamin (& Dash, too)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Light in the Darkness

Late in the evening, after boys have been prayed with, kissed and hugged, and sent on their way, Keith comes in from taking out the dog. Scraping his boots against the mat with front door open, he announces the arrival of the wintry miracle: SNOW.

Snow is a rare treat in the mountains east of San Diego. A land of beaches and 365-day-a-year sunshine doesn't seem to meld with the reality of snow. But in our small town of 1200 souls nestled into the crook of the mountains, snow descends but a few times each winter. Sometimes once, sometimes not at all, snow creates excitement here.

Elizabeth and I run to the front door and glory in the dusting of snow, perhaps a quarter inch, our cameras in hand. I snap into the darkness, the whiteness glowing in the deep of night. I glance at the thermometer on our porch and see that it is hovering around 30 degrees, and hope that the snow will remain until morning so the boys may enjoy it also.

Gratefully Elizabeth and I return to the warmth of hearth. This stove we installed in a faulty but beautiful stone fireplace heats our home this winter. The children and Keith take turns tending the fire in the mornings, in the late afternoons and evenings. It is the beating heart of our home about which we gather, its warmth suffusing the winter cold that is my enemy -- the enemy to my rheumatoid arthritis. I huddle on the hearth after our foray onto the snowy front porch, allowing the heat to loosen my tightened joints, release my tensed muscles. Above the roiling flames the Holy Family are arranged across the simple wooden mantel-- carefully placed by Elizabeth each December. Each piece has its position, surrounded by candles and lights and greenery.

In the morning I awake, hearing the boys outside, playing in the night's gift of snowfall. The light glowing through my window blinds is brighter than usual, reflecting the whiteness blanketing the ground. After dressing, I go downstairs to find the house deserted, emptied of children. Following the music of happy voices, I spy all four outside, well-bundled against the cold morning. Benjamin is spread-eagled on the ground, attempting a snow angel while his brothers laughingly attempt skate-boarding on ice-encrusted cement. Elizabeth flutters between them, snapping photos and taking videos of their snowy antics. As I pull out my own camera, I notice the house's shadow encroaching across the snow's whiteness, a reminder that all is not light and bright in this our fallen world.

Light and dark. The light of snow in the dark of night. The warmth and brightness of fire on a cold, dark night. The shadows creeping across sun-lit snow. Light and dark. Both are present.

Darkness seems to creep, stealing over goodness and light. But the purifying heat of the homefire pushes away the darkness and the coldness, warming our souls as well as our bodies. Children glory in the whiteness of snow, in the gift of these moldable flakes, in the rarity and goodness of them. And they return home with red cheeks and bright eyes, joy-filled souls who dispel the darkness with the light of His gifts.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. -- Saint Matthew 5:16

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -- Saint John 1:4-5

holy experience

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas "Pome"

("Blue Madonna" by Frank Wesley)

In the Christmas card I gave my poet friend Kathryn (aka Kitty), I penned a little "pome" for her that I jotted down last Friday during J's guitar lesson with Father Acker. It's just a little thing, and I took the idea of the first line from this week's prompt at Carry On Tuesday ("When I was a child") rather than the actual words. I hope you will enjoy it.

new mother
(For Kitty at Christmas)

bending over him,
in wonder smoothing
his fresh cheek,
his fragrant head.

this little miracle:
foretold by many,
conceived mysteriously;
product of painful travel,
bloody birth.

wishing away gathering crowds
as his eager mouth
sought her breast,
her eyes glowed with awe.
in her heart
she pondered all.

Copyright 2009 Susanne Barrett

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

With Advent fading and Christmastide coming this week, I have much to be thankful for. So I will continue my Multitude Monday list I started last week, a community at Ann Voskamp's beautiful and soul-deep blog Holy Experience.  If you are not familiar with this blog, RUN, don't walk right on over there. It's my very favorite blog ever, and my bulging Google Reader list will attest to the huge number of blogs I read. Ann's "scratches in the dark" inspire me to see my spiritual pilgrimage in an entirely new and deepened way that is difficult (even for me) to tie down with mere words. It must be experienced. Her little corner of the blogosphere is truly hallowed ground with a burning bush around every corner. Go, ye....

In keeping with Ann's Gratitude Community, I am adding to my newly-started list those things for which I am thankful this week; last week's list may be seen here.

So to continue from last week...

Thanks be to our Lord God for:

11. ... His provision for us. A good chunk of income arrived just when we needed it quite badly. Thanks be to God!!!

12. ... Christmas carols and the depths they reveal of Christ's love for us and our desperate need for a Saviour.

13. ... dear friends from high school, college, graduate school, Lake Murray, Alpine Anglican, online communities, and our small town who love and care for me despite my faults and foibles.

14. ... allowing us to live in this beautiful little mountain town where we experience four seasons (unlike San Diego), yet are within an hour's drive of the city's culture as well.

15. ... my husband's perseverance, patience, hard work, and faith, despite not having steady work, and his willingness to do everything from landscaping to tiling bathrooms in order to provide for us.

16. ... my daughter's generous spirit. She purchased an expensive Christmas gift (something Keith and I could not afford) for her brothers, spending over $200 of her hard-earned money from her housekeeping job at the local Bible camp.

17. ... the encouragement of my writing and poetry friends, both online and in real life. Real-life friends: Kathryn (Kitty), Judith, Betty, Teresa, Maureen, and Jess, plus friends-not-yet-met: Sarah, Katharine, Petunia, and all the wonderful poets from ReadWritePoem who critiqued and helped me develop my poetic voice this week. I have MUCH to learn, and I value your willingness to help me develop as a writer and a poet.

18. ... the followers and commenters of this blog. You have blessed me beyond expression, especially over this past week. I value each one of you greatly. You have encouraged me to keep on writing, to not think that what I share is worthless and boring, to keep improving my work. Thank you.

19. ... Father Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity who not only leads us in worship and teaches us how to follow Christ with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, but also serves the community through free guitar classes for teens which has blessed our middle son greatly. Father Acker is the kind of pastor who becomes a friend, who is always lit from within by the Holy Spirit, and who encourages and serves selflessly.

20. ... our church family at Lake Murray Community Church. Despite living in our mountain town for over eight years, we continue to drive 35 miles (one way) into San Diego (La Mesa, to be precise) to attend Sunday services here. These people are family. When I was bedridden due to my chronic health issues, a group of women took turns driving up the mountain to clean our house each week and continued doing so for three years. They've brought us meals when our babies were born, prayed and cried with me during hard times, paid our propane bill and helped us with groceries while Keith has been out of work, etc. This truly is a church FAMILY -- in every sense of the word. We are so blessed to be part of this amazing family of God.

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men.[...] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

holy experience

Quotations for the Week: On Christmas

(Our Christmas Tree on Christmas Day 2008)

This morning I found myself at one of my favorite, most relaxing, tasks: copying quotations into my little Quotation Journal. Sepia ink bottle uncorked and rosewood dip pen in hand, I copied two pages of quotations on Christmas from Quote Garden, my favored quotation site. You may see all their Christmas quotations here: Merry Christmas Quotations.

As Advent fades this week and Christmastide arrives, I thought I would post a few of the Christmas quotations I copied:

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year."
-- Charles Dickens

"The earth has grown old with its burden of care,
But at Christmas it is always young."

-- Phillip Brooks

"Except the Christ be born again tonight
In dreams of all men, saints and sons of shame,
The world will never see his kingdom bright."

-- Vachel Lindsay

Wishing you and yours a holy Advent and a joyous Christmastide!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Today is the Fourth and final Sunday of Advent. The waiting is almost over. The anticipation is high with Christmas (Christ-Mass) only four days away. This morning at Lake Murray Community Church May Lehnert lit the fourth candle, the Angel Candle during first service, and the Ladwig family lit it second service.

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:
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 for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: Philippians 4:4-7, ESV
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: Saint John 1:19-28, ESV:
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

If I could have anything I wanted this Christmas, it would be to attend church on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. Christmas just doesn't seem like Christmas without worshiping with the Body of Christ. Lake Murray Community Church is holding a 6 P.M. candlelight Christmas Eve service, and Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity is hosting the traditional Lessons and Carols service at 6:00 P.M. and a Christmas Eve service at 6:30 P.M., and Jonathan has been asked to play guitar for both Anglican services. But with Keith's family over on Christmas Eve and family commitments on Christmas Day, it hasn't worked out for us to attend for several years. I really hate the thought of missing out again. Major sigh....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Delight of Writing Christmas Cards

Today I am curling up on the sofa with a TV tray in front of me. Beloved fountain pen in hand, I will write close to two hundred Christmas cards, of which about one hundred twenty will be mailed and the remainder will be placed in the Lake Murray Christmas Card Boxes in the foyer which (blessedly) require no postage.

As much as I enjoy receiving Christmas cards, I delight in writing them. I pray for each person or family as I write the Christmas and New Year greeting and sign each of our six names on most of the cards. With Christmas music playing in the background -- a mixture of Bing Crosby, Amy Grant, John Denver, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra -- I scribble away, finding peace and hope somehow in the many friends and family I send these cards to each year. Many are friends who have moved away; some are long-distance family members. A good number are for friends who live in the San Diego area but whom we rarely see through the year. I often pen a personal note on the left side of the open card opposite our signature -- a little something that goes beyond well-wishes.

All together, it's a pleasant way to spend a Saturday in writing notes and enclosing our annual family missive (which I will post here closer to Christmas). It's a joyful, peaceful process that somehow centers me in the Holy Days, one that readies my heart for celebrating the coming of Our Saviour. 

A Word of Thanks

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get Your Poem On @ ReadWritePoem

Yes, I've fallen for another poetry prompt. But if you enjoy poetry and haven't yet checked out ReadWritePoem, then you have a real treat awaiting you! It's just a wonderful place for poetry lovers, whether you enjoy writing or merely reading poetry. (Obvious, I know.)

And for the first time, I've jumped onto (or into) this week's Get Your Poem On prompt. This week (#105) the theme is "Borrowed Words" -- words taken from a poem by William Stafford:

Cool, huh? So I jotted down the words in my Scribblings notebook and then glanced over the list. The word "abiding" jumped out at me, and, being the Advent Season and approaching Christmas, I thought (not very originally, mind you) of shepherds abiding (also the title of the Jan Karon Christmas novel, one of my favourite Mitford books). In the second draft, I moved the words to separate lines, deciding also to entitle the poem "Abiding." Such a wonderful word, abiding. According to Webster's 1828 Unabridged Dictionary (the dictionary that sings, in my opinion), "abiding" is defined as: dwelling; remaining; continuing; enduring; awaiting; (noun): continuance; fixed state; residence; an enduring. (I was taken right away with the idea of "an enduring" -- can't put my finger on why.) Please keep in mind that this poem is merely in second draft form -- using eleven of the eighteen words (often a variation of the word) in the prompt:


shepherds curl in
around themselves,
pierced by the cold,
moved by His call.

Flung into the sky
like a wind-strewn meteor,
a Star
halts above
the simple cave in which
a neglected woman,
shunted from inn to inn,
cradles the Precious One --
tear-stained but
safe in her arms.

Once for us all,
(beaten, pierced,
bloody, dead)
He will shed
His mortal shell
in a similar cave --
rising to Our Father
in blinding, wondrous

Copyright 2009 by Susanne Barrett
I'm not looking for a complete tear-down of the poem, but perhaps a constructive comment or two that can help me improve my work. I will take it for feedback to my local Writers' Workshop in January.

I'm trying to avoid the trap of "trite Christian poetry" that gets goo-ily insipid in its attempt to frame the Un-Understandable in hackneyed phrases. I hope I have sidestepped some (most?) of that trap here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"O Holy Night"

Aaaah,carols. My lovely little book pictured above, Christ in the Carols, tells us that the origin of the term "carols" is unclear. Some believe it is derived from the Greek word for dance, choros. Others think it may come from the French carole which describes a type of dance often performed to flute music. Carols, in either case, are associated with celebration, with joy and dancing. Some assert that Saint Francis was responsible for creating the first Christmas carols.

In England, the word carol describes a "lyrical poem" which celebrates events of the Christian calendar: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, etc. Over the years, more carols were composed to celebrate Christmas than any other Christian holy day, and thus carols became associated almost exclusively with the celebration of Christ's birth.

Carols are my favorite part of the celebrations of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. The words, the theology, are often deep, exploring the meaning of Christ's first coming to earth as a helpless infant born to an impoverished, insignificant, unwed mother and her longsuffering fiance, bringing salvation in His wake.

Carols. They are so easy to sing that little toddlers can lisp "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night"; thus, it becomes increasingly easy to miss the significance of the words and phrases wrapped in oh-so-familiar melodies. But when we free these poems (for poems they are) from their melodies, their phrases plunge heart-deep into our souls, revealing Christ for who He truly is: the finally-arrived Messiah, the Saviour of the World. I find that reading these carols aloud, as poetry, deliberately and meditatively, unveils the depth of their expressions of praise, awe, and wonder.

Like those shepherds of old, watching over their fields by night, we witness the arrival of the Saviour, our Saviour, who is indeed Christ the Lord, as we read these carols. So here I post one of my favourite carols for you to read aloud, too. Allow the words and phrases, so familiar yet so filled with awe, pierce your heart, mind, and soul. I cannot but "fall on my knees" as I "hear the angel voices...."

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Originally a poem written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847 by request of his parish priest to celebrate Christmas, de Roquemaure approached a friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, requesting him to compose music for the poem. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight. And it is and shall remain my favourite Christmas carol. My preferred performance is a video I recorded and still have on a well-worn VHS tape of John Denver on the Today Show, the last Christmas before his death in 1997, accompanying himself solely with his guitar. After the guests leave and the children go to bed each Christmas Eve, I pull it out and watch it, letting the tears of awe and joy spill down my cheeks. John Denver doesn't quite make the high note in this live performance, but I love it for its simplicity and reliance on the words that mean so much to our so "weary world."

holy experience



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