Mindfulness at Christmas

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One of the Christmas bells in my mother’s collection (Photo © 2016 by V. Nesdoly)

Thank you to Irene Latham for rallying us to revive our Spiritual Journey Thursday meme, at least this once. We’re invited to reflect on our One Little Word choices for 2017.

My 2017 word was / is MINDFULNESS.

I am aware that there are psychological and, in some faiths, religious overlays to the word which may bring baggage to it that I hadn’t intended. In my February post where I talked about what mindfulness meant to me, I gave it this definition:

Mindfulness, simply defined, is “being present in the moment.” It also has a psychology definition:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience” – Definition from Psychology Today.

Personally I like that second definition except for the bit about not judging. I reserve the right to judge and filter out thoughts that are critical, negative, pessimistic, hateful, etc.

Now, in the middle of December, I am relating mindfulness to Advent, the candles that are lit each week in church, and the qualities each represents. So far we have focused on HOPE, PEACE, and JOY. I suspect next Sunday when we light the fourth candle, we will hear about LOVE.

I want to possess these qualities in abundance and in their purest forms, especially at Christmas. However, the circumstances of my life change and with those changes my emotions fluctuate resulting in the needle of my Hope-, Peace-, and Joy-meters becoming virtual pendulums,

Each Sunday’s sermon has helped me focus on the lasting and unchanging aspects of Hope, Peace, and Joy that play out for us in the events of that first Christmas. Hope doesn’t dim because God took the initiative to reconnect with us, and promises us eternal life beyond this life. Peace is possible because we’ve entrusted Jesus with our lives; Joy is irrepressible because we are invited into relationship with our Creator. I’m sure next Sunday’s talk on Love will deliver something just as enduring.

My challenge to myself, then, is when circumstances change—when I get the flu, or the shortbreads don’t turn out, or the weather switches off all the power and my plans go sideways, or whatever—I remain mindful of the lasting, unchanging verities of the season’s meaning, instead of losing hope, peace, joy, and love at the whim of what’s happening in my daily life.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”—a poem that became the carol—illustrates how this worked for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who, according to this article, wrote it in the middle of the American Civil War. The carol version leaves out the two stanzas that refer specifically to the war. Here is his poem in its original form.

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Image: Pixabay

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

I’m going to take ringing bells as my cue to be mindful of the truths that Advent represents that are bigger than my fluctuating day-to-day hope, peace, joy, and love.

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This post is linked to “Spiritual Journey Thursday,” hosted today by Irene Latham. At the link-up you’ll be directed to other bloggers and their Spiritual Journey Thursday posts.

Journey through Advent

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Image: Pixabay

Today I’m recommending my friend Laurel’s blog for your Advent reading.

When her two children with Autism Spectrum Disorder could no longer tolerate the upheaval of Christmas, she knew she would have to find a different way than with decorations, visiting, lavish gifts and meals to celebrate. She tells her story on this video.

This new reality turned her toward the quiet, 25-day-long celebration of Advent, which she chronicles each year on a blog. For the past few years she has asked fellow-travellers to join her. (I’m honored to be one of them this year).

You can follow our Advent journey on her blog Four Parts Hope. (This year we’re doing cinquain, tanka, haiku, psalms, found poems, and Laurel’s main writings will be haibun.)

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Poetry Friday LogoThis post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by Bridget the wise one at wee words for wee ones.

Advent project

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The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (along with the Jesse Tree decorations)

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (along with the Jesse Tree decorations)

I’m excited to be going through Advent with Ann Voskamp’s beautiful book The Greatest Gift! It’s a Jesse Tree project where each day’s reading adds another bit to the story of Jesus’ family tree.

There are 25 decorations too, one to go with each day’s reading (sorry, you have to buy the book to get the password).

I spent last night watching curling and an old Columbo movie while I cut out and trimmed my decorations. I’m going to love December! (Our Costco had Ann’s book…maybe yours does too.)

Two poems about Christmas

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Two poems about Christmas

i
this is a poem about the last page
a poem about feeling panicked
a poem about lists
this is a poem about shopping and tired feet
about choosing the right card
then signing your name 47 times
a poem about wrapping paper, tape and ribbon
this is a poem about putting up lights and garland
bells and wreaths, while playing old records
a poem about finding mom’s recipe
and buying butter – for baking!
this is a poem about feasting
this is a poem about getting around
to reading the familiar story and wondering
how did something
that started out so simple
get to be so complicated?
this is a poem about Christmas

ii
this is a poem about hearing the songs
of baby Jesus, at the mall
and having the urge to go
and sing them to all your neighbors
this is a poem about the magic
of blinking lights, toy trains
and sipping a cup of warm cocoa
while you visit the Holy Family
come to your cul-de-sac
this is a poem of when home
is the only place to be
even if the tree is small, the gifts few
and your house is crowded as a Bethlehem street
this is a poem about candlelight and sweet carols
in a place where simple gowns and sequin crowns
transform even urchins and scamps
into shepherds, angels and wise men
this too is a poem about Christmas

© 2009 by Violet Nesdoly

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I wrote the first stanza of this poem quite a few years ago as a verse to put inside a Christmas card to my neighbour. But I never sent it, thinking it sounded too whiny.

It was published about a year later (first stanza only, called ‘this is a poem’) in an anthology called Celebrating the Season 2001 – (Essence Publishing, 2001).

When I submitted it to another Christmas collection a few years later, the editor said it was too negative and suggested I write a second stanza, highlighting a more positive aspect of Christmas. That wasn’t hard to do – and so we had what I called ‘this is a poem 2.’ I believe the poem (both stanzas) eventually made it into that collection, though I never got a copy so am not sure. (Then last year it was published in a little devotional magazine called Rejoice under its present title “Two Poems about Christmas.”)

poetry+friday+button+-+fulllI submit it to Poetry Friday (hosted today by the very talented teacher/poet Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe) with Merry Christmas wishes to all who read here!

When song reverberates past the notes

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Steve Bell Trio

On Saturday night I experienced a rare confluence of two loves—music and poetry.

It was my sister-in-law who alerted us to the fact that Steve Bell was in town. So we bought tickets and caught him in Surrey at only the second stop on his Keening for the Dawn (new Christmas album) tour.

Steve, if you don’t know him, is a Canadian troubadour. A Winnipeg-based musician, he has been singing and recording his own folksy songs since before we had CDs (we were first introduced to him via the 1989 cassette release of Comfort My People). He has incredible control over his tenor voice which he flips as easily in and out of falsetto as he dances his fingers up and down the neck of his ever-present guitar.

Saturday night was a treat from the first minute he and the members of his touring trio Murray Pulver and Joey Landreth took to the stage. There were harmonies and harmonics, varied accompaniments (as hat-man Pulver kept slipping off one guitar and putting on another) and several seasons of jazzy improvisation. The stories Steve told were a treat as always. But the climax of the concert for me was the rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Steve BellSteve explained to us mostly non-Anglicans, how that song has seven stanzas, each one dealing with an aspect of Christ (called the Great O Antiphons—seven ancient, prophetic names for Christ). As he delved into the song in preparation for recording it, he knew he wanted to use the whole thing, but didn’t want to go on droning verse after verse. That’s when he discovered the O Antiphon sonnets of Malcolm Guite (rhymes with ‘quite’).

Guite, a British pastor, professor and poet gave him permission to use several. Steve read two of them to us before he began the song and then Guite (via a recorded track) declared to us in rich English-accented tones between sung verses, the mystery of Jesus as Root and Key.

Bell has tinkered with the original wording in some of the verses. Listen (and read lyrics) to “O Come O Come Immanuel”—song and poetry that may set off echoes all through the sound chambers of your spirit as it did mine:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(Here is just the mp3 file of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”)

Last night I poked around online to see if I could run this Malcolm Guite to ground. I found he has a generous web presence of his own and was delighted to read, on his blog, his side of the story of how he and Steve met, and what a thrill it was to collaborate with him.

Guite has his own release coming soon. Sounding the Seasons, a book of poems, is due out in December. Yay for Amazon. It will be for sale here and we don’t need to find a way to bring it across the sea!

Related: Keening for the Dawn - Steve Bell