Friday, December 31, 2010

To those for whom the New Year is difficult

pecial warm wishes to those for whom New Year's Eve and Day are difficult. May you discover hope and consolation in the struggle; may regret and resentment melt away as time goes by; may peace of mind and heart and body visit you and dwell in you; if grief is your companion, may its company be gentle; if you are in recovery from addiction, may you find strength to persevere; may you know true friendship, human and divine.

I just posted these words on Facebook. I have decided there is nothing wrong with duplicating posts here.

Photo: Jane Redmont

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Low Road"

A couple of months ago I rediscovered this old poem by Marge Piercy. It is from her book The Moon Is Always Female.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
P.S. I just found out on Piercy's website that she wrote a memoir called Sleeping with Cats, published in 2002. Click to link at the name of the book and have a look at the review excerpts.

December 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents

A.k.a. Childermas to you high-church C of E types.

In addition to the best-known paintings of the Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto di Bondone (above) and Pieter Brueg[h]el the Elder (below), I am posting some other depictions of the killing of the innocents. But first, a biblical reminder.

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."
Matthew 2:13-18

Fra Angelico

Matteo di Giovanni

Giovanni Pisano

Why the attraction of the subject matter? The drama of course; the sheer injustice; the terror; the worst loss a mother can ever endure: the killing of her child -- multiplied by the hundreds and thousands. Mary and Joseph save their baby from death, but later Mary will endure the loss of her son as an adult and be helpless to protect him, as are the mothers in this scene. As are so many mothers.

In last year's December 28 post, I posted pictures of children much closer to our time as well as information about agencies helping children. Remember them. Care for the vulnerable. Holy Innocents, pray for us, and in your blood and the suffering of your mothers remind us to prevent more pain, more deaths, more tears, and to weep in solidarity with those who mourn. In Christ's name, Amen.

Giovanni Pisano, Pistoia Pulpit, detail

Click on photo to enlarge and see detail.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Today I made and baked bread for the first time. Bread made with yeast and kneaded by hand. I have of course made all manner of quick breads: corn bread, muffins, that sort of thing. Not real bread, though. I do have a memory of making little loaves in my mother's oven for some kind of school project, and the funny thing is I don't remember yeast or kneading, but I do remember that the bread rose. Maybe my memory is faulty.

I have two roundish loaves cooling on a rack and of course I could not resist cutting into one and tasting it before it was completely cool. It was good.

These are whole wheat loaves, 100% whole wheat. The recipe is the "Plain and Simple" bread from the Cheese Board's book. I don't own loaf pans, and I don't like pan-shaped bread anyway, so I made rounds (one is actually an oval) and I sprayed the loaves, as they say you should to get more of a crust. It worked, but I need an oven thermometer. I think the oven was too hot. I followed the directions religiously because I wanted to make the basic recipe first and then fiddle with it once I had the hang of it, and the directions said 450 degrees for 5 minutes and then 400. Crust nearly burned. Anyway, I am pleased with myself and with the bread, the house smelled a little like France all of a sudden, and kneading really does get out your aggressions.

I still have writer's block, though. My latest Facebook update says "baking bread and battling writer's block." I need to stay off Facebook. Which mostly I do when I am writing. I am working on a book chapter and now that it is late at night and the bread is out it will probably start "cookin'," but I am trying not to stay up too late, so I'll have to go to bed trusting that the words and more importantly, the sentences will appear in the morning.

Some of this, as I mentioned in the last day or so, is undoubtedly related to the way in which my job drains me of my own writing voice and of much of my energy, but there are other causes too. At any rate, analyzing my writing process is not my purpose here and does not belong here.

The wonderful Fran (formerly of FranIAm blog), who is a dear friend and spiritual sister, now has a blog called There Will Be Bread and there she writes with great fluency and beauty, straight from the heart, and with a good mind, too. I on the other hand am rather dry these days. At least, though, there is bread with crust and crumb, right here, tonight.

Holy One of Blessing, your presence fills creation, bringing forth bread from the earth.*

* Contemporary translation, in inclusive language, of the traditional Jewish ha-motzi, the blessing over the bread.

Photos: Jane Redmont

December 27: John, Evangelist - this year's icon and blog flashback

This year's icon: St. John by William Hart McNichols, S.J. Part of a triptych of Mary, Jesus, and John (remember the scene of Mary and "the disciple whom Jesus loved" at the foot of the cross before Jesus' death) so there is more sadness than glory in this representation.

Last year's icon: St. John, by El Greco. At last year's blog post for December 27.

Cross country skiing in Greensboro

I must be one of the few Greensboro residents who keeps cross country skis by the front door. I live in hope. Also, I don't have enough storage space.

I used the skis early last March when we had a good snow, and today I used them again. Yesterday the sky was grey-white and heavy. Today the sun was bright and the sky clear. Perfect for skiing, though cold.

At last the huge plot of land here is good for something. On Facebook I referred to it all summer as the Humongous Lawn and I was forever mowing it --and suffering from the mosquitos, who love me, and from wasp stings, because we had an infestation. Today I made trails and got quite the little workout.

I love the smell of snow. To me it is the smell of winter vacation. This isn't the Alps, but even in this semi-suburban neighborhood the smell reminds me of ski trips and crisp air at high altitude.

Taking the skis off...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

White Christmas

It snowed yesterday. It snowed today. We have over six inches of snow here in Greensboro.

Trees near house, white sky, late afternoon, December 26.

White on white, front lawn.

Snow on leaves, December 26.

Torn leaf, snow.

Some large evergreen limbs tore off and fell in the storm. Not to worry, the tree is nowhere near the house. No repeats of the Great Tree Disaster. By the way, the house you see in the background is a neighbor's house, not mine.

+Maya Pavlova, indoors looking out. I took the photo from outside and you can see both +Maya looking out and the snowy landscape reflected in the window.

Heavily laden branches.

Consider the fig tree...

Cat on flannel sheets on a cold night.

Click on each photo to enlarge slightly and see more detail.
All photos taken with my BlackBerry camera.

December 26: St. Stephen's Day - blog flashback

Well, the Episcopal Church has transferred the feast of Stephen till tomorrow, today being a Sunday (you can't liturgically celebrate a Sunday and a saint's day on the same day, or rather you can, but you may not).

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church --or at least the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops-- has bagged Stephen entirely, because the 26th is not only a Sunday but the first Sunday after Christmas, which in the Catholic Church is the Feast of the Holy Family.

Since I have no liturgical celebrations to attend or at which to preach or officiate, I'm sticking to the original calendar. Today is the feast of Stephen, so there.

No energy, or rather, still hardly any words. Writer's block or something. Here is last year's post on Stephen, which itself has a flashback to two years before that and a feast of St. Stephen poem. Gentle readers, you have probably forgotten both posts anyway, so enjoy the (re-) read.

And thank you for bearing with me. I am well but in a bit of an odd relationship to words. Trying to find a voice again. My job tends to destroy it and I recently spent two or three weeks correcting final papers in other people's voices, many of them with bad grammar, syntax, and usage. Lord, have mercy on your indentured servants in the academy.

Posted on December 27, dated December 26.

Orthodox icon: Stephen the Protomartyr

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010: the first day of Christmas

Joyous Christmas, all.

I am going to try to start blogging again. Today I do not have words of my own, except for the ones I wrote yesterday on Facebook (where you can find me if you miss me here, though it is a very different kind of writing and presence) and which are below in blue. I have also posted a Nativity image (scroll down a couple of posts), a song, and a link to last year's Christmas post.

Greetings to my friends
who are Jewish, Muslim,
Buddhist, Humanist
of many other traditions.
As Christians celebrate these holy days
(in my tradition Christmas is 12 days long),
I remember
that we often have wounded
and killed,
physically and otherwise,
in the name of the one we call
Prince of Peace.
May we in celebrating him
also honor you
and your integrity
and remember that you too
walk in paths of wisdom and truth.

Christmas, a year ago

I have been reading a lot of Merton during Advent.

Coincidentally (or not), I put together this post exactly a year ago. My friend Ann Fontaine just posted the same quotation* on Facebook tonight. Friends think alike.

*Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited... [More at the link "this post" above.]



Hiroshi Tabata

As Christmas approaches...

... I think back to France, where I lived when I was growing up. I had hoped to be there for these holidays, but for a variety of reasons I could not go. Perhaps just as well since airport and other traffic in Northern Europe have been in a snarl due to snow. I hear from a friend, though, that things are lovely in Southern France.

Here is "Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle," which some of you will know as "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." This is the way it is supposed to sound.