Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Christmas falls very close to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year is the 22nd of December.
I have noticed that many Christians seem uncomfortable with the proximity of one of Christianity's holiest days to the ancient, pagan celebration of solstice. "Pagan" elements in the celebration of the Nativity are regarded with deep distrust. Christmas trees, yule-logs, gift-giving, Father Christmas, even the Christmas ham are identified as "heathen" intrusions in an essentially Christian holiday. And this suspicion is not new: in the 17th century Protestants in Britain and the United States banned the celebration of Christmas for its heathen notes (and its idolotrous "trappings of popery.")
Non-Christians also enjoy pointing out the (supposedly) pre-Christian roots of many Christmas traditions, implying that, after all, the "authentic" holiday was pagan, earth-centered, and has survived *despite* Christianity's appropriation of the solstice symbols.
A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who 'though they knew God did not glorify him as God...'
I have never understood either of these approaches. What was true and good and beautiful re-Christian pagans is true and good and beautiful always and for all. Or, as Augustine wrote, "truth belongs to the Lord, wherever it is found." The pre-Christian Europeans might have celebrated the return of light in the midst of darkness. But this longing for LIGHT, the joy at light's return--these impulses are fundamentally human and universal. They are the foundation of any religious desire, any quest for truth. They are, in the end, our desire for God. "My soul waits for the Lord," the Psalmist sings, "more than the watchmen wait for the morning. More than the watchmen wait for the morning."
Before the first Christmas both the psalmist and the scop in the dark Germanic woods, both the priest in the Holy of Holies and the ordinary man in the field--all waited with foreboding and longing for the advent of light: literal sunlight in a dark season--but also divine brilliance to pierce the soul's darkness.
In the centuries before Christ the prophets of Israel looked forward to a real incarnation of Light: the "Son" who is dimly suggested by the "sun" in the sky.
The People who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
Meanwhile, the fertile imagination of the gentiles waited for the solstice and invented myths to illustrate the same hope: tales of gods who died and rose again--Dionysis, Mithras, Osiris. For us--we are gentiles--Christmas was the day of fulfillment, the day that "myth became fact."
Gentile that I am, I balk at the idea of throwing out the "pagan" elements of Christmas celebration. I have no qualms about celebrating the winter solstice. My Christmas tree is full of light. If these things are partial they have been fulfilled in Christ. If they were pagan, they have been baptized.
Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Despite the cold, the dark--I love the seasons. I even love winter, that it forces me to mourn, forces me to confront some of the darkness inside myself, darkness I was able to ignore while the days were hot and bright. When circumstances change, when my life is not easy, so often the veil is suddenly stripped and I find myself again - - weak, selfish, angry, afraid.
Light is leaving this November. There is mist outside today and stillness. The tops of the trees are blurred. I hear crows. On my front porch the squirrels are eating our Halloween pumpkins. I read somewhere that wild animals know when a winter will be particularly long, hard, cold. They feast accordingly.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Earlier this year I was shortlisted for this competition conducted by the Ravenglass Poetry Press.
Monday, October 24, 2011
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
Growing up, my parents took us up to Weston, Missouri, each October. We picked pumpkins and looked at the animals at Red Bard Farm and spent the day at Westbend State Park, which sits above the bluffs above the Missouri River.
The trail at the park is a three mile loop; my brother and I rode our bikes around while Mom and Dad walked. Sometimes, if we were feeling particularly strong, David and I would ride around again and catch them up from behind.
This year we took Harriet with us for a second time. Last year she was just a tiny baby, and Devin carried her around the trail in a sling.
This year she isn’t a baby anymore, but though this loss of baby-dom at times makes me unutterably sad, it was delightful to watch her interact with her surroundings with her boundless toddler energy and insatiable curiosity.
For me, going up to Weston is always a lesson in memory and nostalgia, and taking my child to my old haunts adds yet another layer to my experience of the place. This year, as I looked over the bluffs and down the river, the forested landscape pristine, turning gold, I thought about our childhood bike-trip around the Westbend Loop.
Now, I thought, I’ve really come full circle. I have caught my parents up from behind: I have become a mother myself. I’m bound to watch my daughter experience these places that are mine.
There is something rich about moving back to the place where you grew up. Richness and a strange kind of sorrow in watching a new child in your old place. Sorrow because you know you can’t be that child again. Sorrow because your daughter’s childhood is—though *yours* in one sense—in another sense completely inaccessible. Hers.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so glad to be home, biding here in these familiar parts. Home, I find, is not the dull wasteland I feared it might be. Your house is, after all, your castle and your hometown a country of terrible beauty.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Earlier this year I was shortlisted for the Ravenglass Poetry Press Competition.
The competition was judged by John Burnside.
Ravenglass Press is a small press based based in England and edited by Julia Wallis Martin. Every year they publish an anthology highlighting those poets shortlisted in their competition. And, behold! I am one of them!
You can buy the anthology on Amazon UK. For my American friends, there is not, alas, an American addition. But everyone likes getting a package from abroad, yes?
Purchase the anthology by clicking HERE!
"Professional photographer? Why do we need a professional photographer? I'm a good photographer!" I retorted. "Well, you know," he responded sheepishly, "a professional photographer would have a studio, the right lighting, you know...and a really good camera."
"We have a good camera!" I countered, "and I can put up a sheet and take a shot just like this--" I held up my grandma's photo. "I'll put that silver cross around Hattie's neck. It will be great."
The next day I proceeded to hang a sheet in the dining room and a necklace around Harriet. I plopped said babe down in front of said sheet and started shooting. "So far, so good," thought I.
Of course young Harriet is mobile now, so...
...she soon left the sheet behind.
Then she discovered the drawers in our china cabinet.
Then she discovered her necklace.
So I took the necklace away.
...she became very angry with her mother.
So much for that.
Any recommendations for [professional] photographers?
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
“Our hunger for the twenty-minute gourmet meal, for a one-pot ease and prewashed, precut ingredients has severed our lifeline to the satisfactions of cooking. Take your time. Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.”
-Thomas Keller, French Laundry
I read this quote this Sunday as I sat with my husband at the one-of-a-kind Justus Drugstore in Smithville, Missouri. Jonathon Justus, the chef at the Drugstore, included these words in his menu, and as I savored my delicious, extended meal I pondered.
Pondered my relationship to food, and how this relationship reflects how I relate to the world around me.
Food is a mystery. A “mystery” not because it is unknown or unknowable—because eating is, of course, one of the most common, tangible, and mundane aspects of human experience. But yet food is a “mystery” in the sense that it’s full meaning stretches beyond itself. Food helps define communities; it is an expression of culture (family, ethnic, religious, national). Meals form families. Food is “the fruit of the vine, the work of human hands,” and as such it is the supreme cooperation between humans and the natural world. The clouds rain, sun shines, earth enriches. We tend the soil, plant the seeds, harvest. Then we cook.
And the action of cooking itself involves the whole person: her foresight, her hands, her mind, her time, her love.
How often I forget to enjoy the process of cooking and eating. I am tired at the end of the day, my emphasis is on speed and efficiency. This past year has been the worst; it is so difficult to slow down and consider the onions, the carrots, the roux. The first few months after I had Hattie I was plagued by anxiety: “How can I get everything I need to do done?” I asked, panicked. How long will the baby sleep? When will I find the time to [sleep, bathe, clean, read, write, exercise…eat…cook].
As the months have gone by my ability to balance has improved, the baby sleeps more consistently and is more easily entertained. I no longer live in a state of emergency. But a bit of the anxiety lingers, and I feel it when I cook and when I eat. Chop the vegetables as fast as possible. What can I prepare while the shallots carmelize? How can I be more efficient? When I sit down to eat I forget to look at my food, at my husband. Forget to drink water, sip wine, talk, breathe.
This past Sunday’s meal was a good reminder—a reminder to slow down. Enjoy the sight, smell, feel of the kale, the way the carrots contrast with the celery on the cutting board. Slow down. Slow down and eat. Reassure myself that I am not late, I will not miss my life—or my dinner.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Now that I have finally completed this post, I find that I am remember not twelve months, but THIRTEEN. Happy 13th month-day, my child.
And Happy Birthday, also, to my wonderful husband, who makes babies, family dinners, and sanity possible.
I have not missed you these past few months. I have not spoken to you, but I have not spoken much. Silence hangs around me, wonderful September, the month when children are born.
Perhaps you wonder why I haven’t written, where did our relationship go wrong? you wonder. What explanation can I offer for my silence, what explanation can I offer for abandoning you?—you who saw me through years of…marriage, houses, dogs, transatlantic flights, plantings of gardens, friendships, conversions, short winter days, and early summer dawns, poems, babies.
Many reasons for my recent silence come to mind. One reason in particular: a daughter who is One, who walks, runs, climbs, opens, closes, and dismantles with greater zeal than I had imagined possible. She is relentless: her energy, interest, joy. She sleeps less and less, and her wakefulness leaves little or time for books or blogs. Even now, as I type, she pulls herself onto my lap and with great violence attempts to grab the keyboard, then my notebook, then my earrings, then my eye. Indeed, Harriet herself alone is enough of a reason to abandon a blog.
But it is not only my newly monstrous toddler that has kept me from you. It is, strangely enough, the silence. I am loath to break the silence. You might wonder how I find any silence in the presence of the Lovely Holy Terror Child, whose vocabulary and volume are increasing by the hour.
Maybe the silence that I am finding is, in fact, my own silence in the face of the world around me, in the face of my loud and glorious child, in the face of the space and stuff of my own life. Maybe it is the fact that I have NOT, dear blog, told you about these things, NOT blogged about the past months, NOT commented, analyzed, catalogued, or curated my life for the benefit of an audience---maybe it is THIS which has made the events and experiences stand out bright and strong in my mind.
I did not blog on September 9th, when my baby turned one, when I sat in a huge auditorium with a friend listening to Bon Iver, remembering remembering remembering—last year’s labor, pain, fear, and joy when the baby came, how her hair was plastered to her tiny skull, her hands stretched out.
I did not blog about the afternoon when Hattie played in the hose on the driveway, singing, saying “Wah! Wah! Wah!” [“water!”] I took off her soaking clothes and she waddled dripping through the grass, fat tummy, tiny wrinkled naked butt. Sunlight on baby skin, water collecting in split cement: the last hot day of the year, and I rolled up my jeans, took off my shoes and walked through the pools.
I did not blog about last Friday, when I cleaned the house: the sweetness, the intense satisfaction of an orderly home—the wood floors dark and shining, the clothes folded and warm, a baby sleeping and food cooking. Outside the autumn crickets sang. My home: my quiet, peaceful home.
I did not write about these things. But now I have; now I broke the silence. Perhaps I’ve ruined it. I have told you about these things, just when I had *almost* decided never to tell you anything ever again, just when I had decided to remove myself from the public view, to retreat into a wholeness or solitude or silence I always hope to find.
Why did I do it? Why could I not, in the end, maintain a dignified silence?
Dear Blog, I am beginning to suspect that I am a writer, not a monk. Though every poet and every human must retreat at times to the cell—to watch, to wait, to pray—we must also go outside again, we must speak to our friends, engage our enemies. I am a writer and a writer must have an audience. God defend her from vanity, self-consciousness and narcissism which are counterfeits of this real urge: the urge to speak out, to say the world we saw in silence.
I may need you soon, my little blog. I may be forced, against my inclinations, to pour even more into you. I may even need to refashion you, and you--you may need to help me expand my audience. I’m a writer, after all, and a writer needs an audience.
Stay tuned for future developments.
Monday, June 27, 2011
The weeks of July have brought down upon the nation a heat wave heavy as lead. Highs have reached into the triple digits with maddening regularity, and the Winter "garden" has suffered. The hydrangea hangs her head, the lawn loses green. Even the tomatoes seem fatigued. And I, sorry blogger that I am, have put off my garden update too long, it seems. It should have been done in glorious June, when all was lush and (relatively) cool. But garden update there will be, heat or no.
Heat or no, fast or slow, our "garden" develops. Do you remember how it looked in March?
The scene has improved drastically since March. We have acquired a pallet, a framework and a plan. I should be content with the "garden" as such. Unfortunately, our "framework" was *originally* due to be completed by the contractor in April. April came and went with not a weed shifted, not a bit of ugly concrete removed, not a brick laid. Now, deep in July, the frame is set, the pallet prepared, but heat, lack of growing time, and lack of (ahem) funds have done some damage to my garden, which I had hoped would look like these:
But, in fact, I must content myself with empty and nearly empty beds. In the heat the ground is dry and weeds thrive as the newly planted flowers hang their heads. Alas.
But gardens grow slow. They teach us patience. I must hearken back to what has been accomplished. Piles of reclaimed brick have become a lovely patio. The boxwood hedge is planted (though it is not quite a hedge just yet). The maple is in the ground and alive (though the combination of black-thumb Me and the July heat-wave did its best to kill it). The new grass has also survived. A few perennials light up one bed. And the hydrangeas still bloom their green blooms.
Here are some pictures of our garden, taken in June. Hopefully they will give you an idea of the progress made, and hint of things in store for us in the future. Stay tuned for future posts on "Winter Garden Stage 2: Inspiration and Perspiration."
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Harriet is Nine Months Old. She has become a little lady, and a little hard to keep up with--though just now, as I type she is sleeping blissfully on my shoulder. But when this moment passes (all too soon, I fear), she will be running (er, *crawling very quickly*), dancing, singing, climbing stairs, climbing bookshelves, climbing onto rocking chairs, opening drawers, opening trashcans, opening toilets, eating leaves, eating rocks, eating dog hair, eating paper, eating leaky pens. I think you get the idea.
As you can see, Hattie has a new haircut. We are enjoying the sight of her lovely (grey? green? hazel?) eyes once again. She also is sporting her first Battle Scar on her wee little nose. With great fortitude and zeal Hattie went into battle against our new brick patio, and the brick patio won.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Last week Devin, Harriet and I journeyed out into the Flint Hills where the Kansas City Symphony was putting on an outdoor concert. The music was lovely, including Dvorak (my favorite!) and the (obligatory but fun) run of Copland.
But though I am thankful for classical music, I am deeply grateful for the clean Kansas landscape that we were able to enjoy. The Flint Hills are strikingly beautiful, the prairie is full of peace. I came back to Kansas City wishing I could stay out in the country a little bit longer.
I remember especially: the smell of hay and dust. Pure sky unbroken. Horses very far away. The sound of meadowlarks. The song of crickets. Dogwoods waving silver and green in the gulley. Grass turned gold. Pulled pork on white plates. In the meadow, a thousand people listening.