George MacDonald, from a sermon preached at the Christ Church, Addiscombe. Proving the Unseen, chapter 8: "Growth in Grace and Knowledge."
We should give ourselves an opportunity to understand humanity, to know those who are about us, and from them to know the individual, until we are a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Every Christian ought to be a refuge. I believe that, if we were like Christ, even the wild beasts of our woods and fields would flee to us for refuge and deliverance.
By the title above I do not mean that I am remembering C. S. Lewis. I'm sharing from pp. 42-43 of Walter Hooper's book, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide, which I am slowly reading as I progress in my current project of reading all the books by or about C. S. Lewis that we have in our home library.
The girls and I have been talking about memory recently, so this passage jumped out at me. Hooper is quoting one of Lewis' former students, Kenneth Tynan.*
He had the most astonishing memory of any man I have ever known. In conversation I might have said to him, "I read a marvellous medieval poem this morning, and I particularly liked this line." I would then quote the line. Lewis would usually be able to go on to quote the rest of the page. It was astonishing.
Once when I was invited to his rooms after dinner for a glass of beer, he played a game. He directed, "give me a number from one to forty."
I said, "Thirty."
He acknowledged, "Right. Go to the thirtieth shelf in my library." Then he said, "Give me another number from one to twenty."
I answered, "Fourteen."
He continued, "Right. Get the fourteenth book off the shelf. Now let's have a number from one to a hundred."
I said, "Forty-six."
"Now turn to page forty-six! Pick a number from one to twenty-five for the line of the page."
I said, "Six."
"So," he would say, "read me that line." He would always identify it—not only by identifying the book, but he was also usually able to quote the rest of the page.
*That C. S. Lewis and the creator of Oh! Calcutta! could sustain to the end a friendship of mutual respect and enjoyment should be an inspiration to us all.
Rather than spending Christmas Eve writing the same sentiments in a different way, I'm making a few modifications to my Christmas post from two years ago. It's still appropriate.
Once upon a time, the War on Christmas was led, with good reason, by Christians themselves. Over time, I've come to be more understanding of those, like my Puritan ancestors, who banned the celebration of the holiday. It had become anything but a holy-day, filled with drunkenness, lewdness, and all sorts of riotous and unseemly behavior, hardly appropriate to the sublime occasion. If our moral behavior is no better these days, at least the holiday is kinder to children.
It is unfortunately fashionable among Christians to mock other Christians who worry about what they think is a secular war on Christmas. Despite Martin Luther's approval of its use in certain circumstances, I think mockery is a very low form of argument, hardly suitable for one human being to use against another. Be that as it may, I don't think there's an actual war being fought against Christmas.
Call it cultural appropriation.
Christmas is one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year—among many Christians the celebration lasts 12 days. Some would say Easter is more important, but if it is unique and astonishing that a man so clearly dead should in three days be so clearly alive, and alive in such a new way that he has a physical body (that can be touched, and fed) and yet comes and goes through space in a manner more befitting science fiction—is it any less unique and astonishing that God, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, should become a human being, not in the shape-shifting ways of the Greek gods, but through physical birth, with human limitations?
Christmas is the celebration of this Incarnation: The God who in the act of creation made the world separate from himself, at a specific time in history implanted himself in that world, not from the outside like some alien visitation, but from the inside, as deep and physically inside as a human baby in a woman's womb. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. It is beyond astonishing, and absolutely requires the Virgin Birth. Take away either the unique conception of Jesus, or his physical resurrection, and you are left but a religion of good intentions and wishful thinking.
However, just as there is commonly a lot more involved in the celebration of a wedding than the legal act of marriage, many traditions have enriched the essential celebration of Christmas. From gift-giving to special foods, from carols to children's pageants, from decorated Christmas trees to stockings hanging by the chimney, beautiful customs have grown like many-faceted crystals around the core meaning of Christmas.
Indeed, these traditions are so special that millions hang onto them who reject the idea of God entering the world as a particular baby at a specific place and time. They even retain the name "Christmas" for this eviscerated holiday. Once upon a time that bothered me, but then I recognized that the symbols and traditions of Christmas are so rich and so powerful that—like a Christmas tree—they can retain life and beauty and a pleasing aroma for quite a while even when cut off from their roots.
Using the term "Christmas" for a celebration that no longer acknowledges nor respects the holiday's origin and history may be what is derisively called cultural appropriation, but I'm no longer convinced that's a bad thing. Christmas carols are very popular in Japan, a country where less than 2% of the people believe the words they are singing. In Europe, Christian holidays are celebrated by people who probably know no more about the meaning of the days than that the stores are closed and they don't have to go to work. In America, children eagerly count the days till Christmas who neither know who Christ is nor have ever been to mass.
More power to them. Cultural appropriation at its best is a terrific learning opportunity. For ourselves, let's take pains to celebrate the whole tree, root and branch. Beyond that, I see no need to fret about keeping Christ in Christmas. He's there, in every lovely symbol and custom, waiting patiently, as he always does, to be revealed at the right time.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, however you choose to celebrate it.
For the last Sunday of Advent, a somber note.
Sixteen Christmases ago, while the world was singing blithely of joyous birth, we were mourning the death of our first grandchild, whose last breath came but two days after his first. The haunting Coventry Carol spoke to me then as none other. Frankly, I could not handle all the songs about a newborn baby boy; with Coventry Carol I felt merged into an ancient and universal grief.
This reminder that the First Christmas was not a facile Peace on Earth and Joy to the World, and that the first Christian martyrs were Jewish children, is for all who mourn this Christmas, especially those who have suffered the loss of a child.
Isaac Christopher Daley, I still think of you whenever I hear this carol.
What do the trees know?
The acorn harvest has been absolutely spectacular this year. The onslaught began in September and even now they continue to fall like hailstones on our roof, our porch, our yard. They fall in buckets, they fall like machine gun fire, they fall like squirrels playing candlepins. It has been four months, and "it doesn't show signs of stopping," to borrow a line from a song about a different form of precipitation.
This modern, scientific age insists there's no correlation between the number of acorns produced and the harshness of the coming winter. I'm inclined to agree, given that summer has been very reluctant to let go this year. In honor of the official beginning of winter, forecasters are suggesting that we will experience the low 40's for a few days, but they add that within a week the highs will be back up to 80.
Perhaps the abundance of acorns instead presages a winter that will send cooler weather well into the spring, as it did last year, in which case we will be abundantly grateful.
Whatever the case, our squirrels will feast this year.
As usual, when I make a longish comment on a Facebook meme, I hate to waste it, but use it here as well. This one struck a nerve.
I abide by both vaccine recommendations and food recalls,
but the CDC can pry raw cookie dough out of my cold, dead hands.
Amen to that. If a food system is so broken that even flour and eggs must be cooked to be safe to eat, you don't meekly comply, you FIX THE SYSTEM. Seems a matter of national security to me!
Anyone who has tasted the difference that even simple pasteurization makes in food—milk, orange juice, cider—knows what heating does to flavor. I'm from upstate New York, and I know what cider is supposed to taste like. The pasteurized [fill in your own noun] available now doesn't deserve the name.
I've said it before: I'm convinced that a good part of the obesity problem in America is that we are unconsciously searching for the FLAVOR that mass-produced, heavily-processed foods have lost. National security again.
Don't get me wrong, however—I love cookies after they're baked, too. I'm a big fan of the Maillard Reaction as well as of raw food.
I almost cried in church today. Instead, I fist-bumped Porter.
We are learning more and more about our new rector. I don't expect always to be pleased with what we learn, but if I heard him right, today was huge on the plus side.
He was talking about the Confirmation class he will be teaching, explaining that unlike some rectors he prefers to teach everyone together instead of separating children from adults.
He went further. Families, he said, belong together in church. He reminded people that we have an alternative children's activity that families are welcome to take advantage of if they wish, but added that in his view the norm is for famlies to worship together and children are welcome in the service. He didn't explain any further—this was more of an aside during the announcements—but I very nearly broke my staid choir persona and shouted, "Amen!" It's a personal, as well as a philosophical, issue for us.
It's too bad Lucerne and New Hampshire are so far away. I can't wait till 2020 when I anticipate bringing 10 grandchildren and their parents to sit in the front pews. :)
It was a grandmother moment.
I woke up today to this report from six-year-old Vivienne:
I get to open the Advent calendar! It's my first and only composite!
That's my girl!
This list of "100 Hymns Everyone Should Learn" is not my own list of great hymns. For one thing, it doesn't include St. Patrick's Breastplate, nor any of the three versions of Hail Thee, Festival Day! However, it's a fun list and was sent as a challenge by a friend of mine whose experience with it turns out to be similar to my own. You can see the original article by following the above link; it includes more information, as well as—in most cases—a link to an image and/or recording of the hymn. I've listed them below in three catgories of familiarity. (The numbers correspond to the article's numbering, which is in reverse order.)
I find three things particularly notable in this exercise.
- My eclectic denominational experience has stood me in good stead.
- Knowing 85+% of the hymns on this list, I still find myself encountering a surprising number of completely unknown hymns when our grandchildren pick hymn numbers at random when we sing together.
- Knowing 85+% of the hymns on this list of important, time-honored, congregational music of the Church does not help me in the least in a great number of church services, where I often stand mute during the singing (and those who know me, know that standing mute during singing is almost physically painful). I'll happily sing unfamiliar hymns if you give me the music—but these churches only provide the words, and I'm not a good enough musician (or psychic) to guess at the tune. Sometimes I can manage a harmony, as that gives more notes to choose from. :)
Hymns I know well (85)
98. There's a Wideness in God's Mercy
97. I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
94. At the Name of Jesus
93. O Splendor of God's Glory Bright
92. When in Our Music God Is Glorified
91. What Child Is this?
90. God of Grace and God of Glory
89. Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
87. Blessed Assurance
85. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
84. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
83. Take My Life and Let It Be
82. What Wondrous Love Is this
81. Go to Dark Gesthemane
80. To God Be the Glory
78. Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
77. Savior of the Nations, Come (maybe in a different translation)
76. Come We That Love the Lord (but to a different tune)
75. Jesus, Lover of My Soul
74. Lead On, O King Eternal
73. Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending
71. O Jesus I Have Promised
70. Come, Christians, Join to Sing
69. My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less
68. Beneath the Cross of Jesus
67. Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
65. For the Beauty of the Earth
64. It Is Well with My Soul
61. All Glory, Laud, and Honor
60. Ah, Holy Jesus
59. Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
59. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
55. Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
54. O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
53. My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
52. This Is My Father's World
51. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
49. O Worship the King
48. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
47. And Can It Be That I Should Gain?
46. This Is My Song (I know other words better to this tune, but I've sung these as well)
45. Praise My Soul the King of Heaven
44. Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
43. How Firm a Foundation
42. O Little Town of Bethlehem
41. Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
40. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
39. When Morning Gilds the Skies
38. Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come
37. Be Still My Soul
36. Thine Be the Glory (aka Thine Is the Glory)
35. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
34. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
33. O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
32. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
31. Lift High the Cross
30. Rejoice, the Lord Is King
28. Come, Thou Almighty King
27. For All the Saints
26. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
25. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
24. Be Thou My Vision
23. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
22. Of the Father's Love Begotten
21. All People That on Earth Do Dwell
20. Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise
19. In the Cross of Christ I Glory
18. Holy God, We Praise Your Name
17. Tell Out My Soul
16. Abide with Me
15. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
14. Crown Him with Many Crowns
13. Now Thank We All Our God
12. Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (aka Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah)
11. The Church's One Foundation
10. O God, Our Help in Ages Past
9. O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
8. O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
7. The God of Abraham Praise
6. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
5. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
4. All Creatures of Our God and King
3. Jesus Shall Reign
2. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
1. Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
Hymns I've heard of or sort of know (6)
96. There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
86. Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
72. Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire (I know the tune well)
79. Hymn of Promise (the children's choir sang this when our kids were young)
62. Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands (the words sound familiar, but not the tune)
61. Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know (but I know the tune)
Hymns I don't know at all (9)
100. Built On the Rock, the Church Doth Stand (beautiful tune)
99. Forward Through the Ages (I know the tune well, though)
95. There Is a Higher Throne (the link mistakenly takes you to In Christ Alone, which I do know)
88. By Gracious Powers (it looks to be worth knowing better)
66. When the Church of Jesus (no tune is given so i don't know if that's familiar; the words are not)
63. King of My Life I Crown Thee Now (also apparently called Lead Me to Calvary)
56. The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended
50. I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath
29. God Is Here! As We Your People
The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith (Story Warren Books, 2018)
My place beside you, my blood for yours,
Till the Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!
I cannot resist a new Green Ember book, and while we are waiting for a continuation of the main series, S. D. Smith has provided an appetizer in the form of a sequel to the prequel. Of The Black Star of Kingston, I wrote, "It's a distant-past prequel to The Green Ember, and definitely enjoyable to read in its own right. It's not quite as satisfying, mainly because it's much shorter, but also because the strong female characters are mostly missing. Perhaps even rabbit civilizations need to develop over time."
Much the same could be said about The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner. As an appetizer, it is small, and lacks the depth and nuance of a full meal. It's also primarily about battles, the kind that tend to appeal more to a young, male audience. While reading, I couldn't help seeing a juvenile version of the car chases and gun battles in NCIS: Los Angeles. Or, if you prefer a more classical analogy, the battle descriptions in The Iliad. That aside, it's a fun story, and not lacking in the examples of courage, love, and sacrifice I've come to expect from S. D. Smith. Plus, even though the men get most of the action, the women get some exciting parts, too, and come out better than in the previous story—if not as well as in the later Green Ember books.
We had a deep fryer once, long ago, and I found the whole process messy and rather more of a pain than it was worth. However, having recently experienced some really amazing fried food at the Melting Pot, I thought I'd investigate what new technology might now be available. (Who knew that deep-fried kale would be so awesome?)
I haven't made up my mind about anything yet. What holds me back the most is knowing I'd have to find a place to store a new appliance.
Be that as it may, look what I found in a review of the Presto Cool Daddy 6-Cup Electric Deep Fryer:
- Ideal for a small family up to six people.
I like the way they think.
Revealing my age, I can say that I remember the days when a family of six was considered small; now our children's families (of six and eight) attract attention wherever they go.
Back then we didn't have Presto fryers, nor frozen French fries: my mother made fries for our (small) family of six starting from whole potatoes, and using a pot of oil on the stove. And they were so good! As time went on, she did switch to using frozen French fries, which was definitely easier, though not better.
Does anyone have thoughts about deep fryers to share? I'm interested—if I am interested; I'm still not sure—in something small, since our current household is small by any standards (two).
Not long ago, I was eating lunch with a woman whom I had just met, and she asked me the oddest question: What are your hobbies?
The question threw me, not only because I hate personal questions that come out of the blue like that, but because I had no idea how to answer it. I answered simply, "I don't have any," hoping she would drop the subject. Porter tried to help by mentioning a few projects of mine, but as I had absolutely no desire to talk about any of them, much less explain why they were certainly not hobbies, I resorted to my usual strategy in such situations, and flipped the question as quickly as possible to her own "hobbies." Works almost every time.
Nonetheless, the encounter brought home once again the thought that I apparently have very different idea about work from the rest of the world. Some would say that is because it has been almost 40 years since I worked for a paycheck, but I don't believe money comes into the equation at all. Certainly my attitude towards work and leisure predates my wage-earning.
Work is what I do.
I have no memory of a time when my life was separated into "work" and "leisure." Some work, e.g. school before college, was more annoying and unpleasant than other work. Some was associated with a paycheck, some not. But neither monetary gain nor whether or not I enjoy a task marks it as work or not work for me.
My first memorable encounter with someone else's definition of work was in high school physics, when our teacher told us, "if you are holding a 100-pound weight above your head but not moving it, you are not doing any work." I had a problem with that. Of course, that problem is just a quibble, because physics has a specific, particular definition of the term "work," independent of how the word might be used by ordinary human beings. I can handle that. However, society's definition of work, although fuzzy and unstated, is no less restrictive.
A friend of mine creates beautiful quilts, much sought-after as gifts. I think she must realize that she is an artist, but seems to have bought into the idea that quilting is a "hobby." She's a writer, also. Unlike me, she gets paid for her writing! I consider myself a writer, and writing to be (one part of) my work. Vocation, not avocation. But again, she considers her own writing to be a leisure-time activity. She is also an avid gardener—another hobby. I know she recognizes that what she does is of value—and she certainly knows how much effort goes into it and that the alternative would be to pay someone else to do the job—but she still accepts the world's idea that her work is somehow unimportant because...well, I'm not sure why. Because she doesn't live on the income? Because she has no degree in the field? Because each one is not her sole interest? I don't know.
What I do know is that I like the definition of work given pride of place in Google's definition:
[Work is] activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result
That expresses exactly what I have felt intuitively all my life.
Everything I do has a purpose. Usually a deliberate, serious purpose. Preparing a meal? That one's obvious. Sifting through census records? Genealogy research, and the last person who called that a "hobby" got a vicious evil eye from me. Reading a book? Education. Walking? Exercise. Doing a puzzle? Mental exercise. Sleeping? Much-needed mental and physical rest. Writing? That one's tough, because there's so much to it, but it is sufficient to say: I write for the same reasons I eat.
How about watching television, which is high on just about everyone's list of worthless activities (even if it fills much of their time)? For me, the primary purpose is as a social activity, usually with my husband. Depending on the show there may be other purposes, notably education. But with or without that, the social result is the activity's primary purpose.
Staring into space? Yes, even that is purposeful and deliberate. If I look zoned out, with eyes open or eyes closed, one of three essential activities is going on:
- I'm listening. I hear better if I can shut out, mentally or physically, the visual stimulus.
- I'm thinking. I'm concentrating on something, or working out a problem. For what it's worth, in my own brain, this usually takes the form of unwritten writing.
- I'm not thinking. I'm letting my mind free-range, as a butterfly flits from flower to flower, or I'm resting in the silence. This is vital for creative activities (read: life).
Okay, so there's one other possibility, and any of the above may transition seamlessly into the fourth:
- I'm sleeping.
If an activity has a purpose, it's work. If not, what is it? I don't know—boredom? Fortunately, I'm almost never bored.
What do you do for fun? is another question that throws me for a loop. Usually I can manage to respond with little more than a pathetic, "I don't do anything for fun." Perhaps it would be better to say, "I do everything for fun."
Fun is a travelling companion of work.
A rather fickle companion, it is true: unpredictable, here today and gone tomorrow, disinclined to come when called but also showing up in the most unexpected places. Some of my moments of intensest joy have occurred while doing simple housework. Anything I do can be fun, tedious, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, exhausting, or refreshing.
The only downside I see to having my own, skewed definitions of words such as work, play, hobby, leisure, and fun—besides communication problems with others—is that it is difficult to decide what is and what is not an appropriate Sabbath day activity. If everything is work, how to I handle the command to "do no work"? I tend to lean in the direction of grace, on the grounds of "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It doesn't matter what the particular activity is: if the net effect is restful, refreshing, or uplifting, it's a good Sabbath occupation. If it's stressful, frustrating, or exhausting—necessities excepted—better put it off for another day.
I did not take the time to watch President Bush's funeral today, but now that I've seen the bulletin, I almost wish I had.
I don't even like funerals. And unlike many of my friends, I've never longed to be invited to a Royal Wedding, even if I am (ahem!) related to the present Queen of England. I've never felt the need or desire to attend a service at our own Washington National Cathedral. Until now.
In truth, what I really wish is that I could have been part of that service, because as I always say, "I don't do congregation well." Put me in the choir, and I'm happy. I imagine President Bush's funeral was like the biggest service I've ever been a part of, the consecration of our current bishop, Greg Brewer—only a few orders of magnitude grander. Check out the bulletin (it's a pdf). I'm practically drooling.
Well, look what I just found. YouTube comes through again. Here's a recording of the whole service:
Now I only need to find a spare 3.5 hours to watch it.
We are excited to welcome our new rector, Father Trey Garland, to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Already the experience has been educational: I now know the difference between a beretta (a gun) and a biretta (a hat). This is probably important. No doubt our Catholic, gun-collecting friend Bill knew it already, but it was new to me.
Seriously, Sunday was a great first day.
We're singing this lovely anthem for our Christmas Lessons & Carols service.
The Hands that First Held Mary's Child (Thomas Troeger and Dan Forrest, Beckenhorst Press, BP1928)
The hands that first held Mary's child were hard from working wood.
From boards they sawed and planed and filed and splinters they withstood.
This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,
but cradled from the head to heel our Lord, newborn and frail.
When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,
and gazed upon those bright new eyes and spoke the infant's name,
the angel's words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven's height,
and like the host of stars that beamed blessed earth with welcome light.
"This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,
but God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone."
The tiny form in Joseph's palms confirmed what he had heard,
and from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven's human word.
The tools that Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift
and use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God's gift.
Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who's born today,
but charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.
At first, I was a litte put off by the words. Questions of logic kept getting in the way.
Did Joseph really have steel tools? I looked that one up, and he certainly could have; steel had been invented long before. But was it common enough for an impoverished carpenter in Palestine to be using steet tools? That I couldn't easily determine.
Were Joseph's really the first hands to hold Jesus? This provoked quite a lot of comment from the women in our choir. We're talking more than 2000 years ago. Did men really act as midwives back then? I would guess only if absolutely necessary and they wouldn't have had a clue in any case. If Mary (wtih no experience) managed the birth herself, it's her hands that would have caught the baby. But how likely is it that in a very crowded Bethlehem there couldn't be found a midwife, or at least an experienced mother, to assist Mary when the birth pangs began? That a firstborn son should have been laid in the putative father's hands does not stretch the imagination, but that he was first? I'm skeptical.
Fortunately, our choir director is patient, and we just kept practicing the anthem. Lo and behold, I started to find it very moving. I finally recognized it for what it is: not literal, but symbolic. Symbolic hymns were once a lot more common, and modern folks generally think they're weird, e.g. the Christmas carol, I Saw Three Ships. But they can be very powerful.
I'm reminded of another, hauntingly beautiful, symbolic anthem that our children's choir sang many years ago.
Christ, when a Child, a garden made,
And many roses flourish'd there.
He watered them three times a day
To make a garland for His hair.
And when in time the roses bloom'd,
He call'd the children in to share.
They tore the flowers from ev'ry stem,
And left the garden stript and bare,
"How wilt Thou weave Thyself a crown
Now that the roses are all dead?"
"Ye have forgotten that the thorns
Are left for Me, the Christ-child said.
They plaited then a crown of thorns
And laid it rudely on His head;
And from His brow all pierc'd and torn;
Sprang drops of blood like roses red.