Epiphany…

The first picture that comes to my mind is of the fabled three magi visiting baby Jesus in the manger. No one really knows how many magi travelled, guided by that bright star, to find the place. But this week, we celebrate their arrival. I wonder how each of them would describe his own journey and arrival in terms of an epiphany.

At mass this morning, our pastor reminded us of the definition of epiphany β€” that moment of awakening. Miriam-Webster defines it as a sudden manifestation or perception, an illuminating discovery. Our pastor suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst of epiphany for many of us. What an interesting thought. All this social-distancing and isolation, hunkering down at home, has given us a new appreciation of what we once took for granted. Watching people being deprived of their health, livelihoods, and basic necessities has brought out a deeper and more widespread sense of charity and community. And many people have discovered what’s really important in their lives. Both societal and personal epiphanies have definitely occurred.

So, as many around the world celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, let’s each take some time to reflect on our own personal epiphanies of the past year. And let’s step into this new year with a better sense of what’s truly important and of how we can be our best selves going forward.

Happy New Year! Be safe and be well. πŸ™‚

Christmas Is Coming…

It always feels more like Christmas when the first wrapped gifts show up under the tree. There are no ornaments on our tree right now β€” just lights and a few ropes of red beads β€” but the gifts say, Christmas is coming! It’ll be a strange holiday, as I’m sure many Hanukkah celebrations were this year, without the family gatherings. Hopefully, with everyone trying to be part of the solution, instead of part of the Covid problem, we’ll have opportunities to gather in the new year.

In the meantime, we try to carry on. For me, that includes meeting virtually with my local Poetry Circle every month via Zoom. Our December ‘monthly challenge’ was a French poetic form, called a Lai. It required us to write a nine-line poem with a certain rhyming scheme and syllable count. Trying to write in a form like this can feel restrictive. Words need to be chosen carefully and you can’t always write the complete sentence or the full description you wish to share. This makes me think of our experiences during the pandemic. We’re confined. Life feels restricted.

But then, writing within a poetic form can also force you to whittle down your words to the most important ones. No fluff. No excess. You get right to the heart of the matter. And that’s what all this social-distancing and lack of normalcy has done for so many of us this year. It’s made us reflect on what’s most important in our lives β€” and in the world. We’ve learned some things about ourselves. And we’ve learned to appreciate the little things.

My hope is that each of us takes this holiday or this end-of-year time as an opportunity to reflect and appreciate, and to choose what’s most important going forward.

FYI: Here’s my Lai poem:

Covid Christmas Eve

Carols playing low
Gift-wrap and a bow
Just right
Softly falling snow
Christmas lights aglow
Despite
How I hope you know
I’m missing you so
Tonight

Sounds of The (Strange) Season

O, the weather outside is frightful! The tune of Let It Snow runs through my head as I look out the window this morning at thick fog. It follows a day of pouring rain on top of the remnants of a recent snowstorm. And there’s talk of a nor’easter coming this week. But, I digress. I really want to talk about music, not weather.

Usually, my December is filled with Christmas/ holiday music. I (and I suspect many of you also) used to roll my eyes when I’d hear Christmas music blasting in the stores in mid-November. But these days, the few times I’ve ventured out to the stores, the sound of holiday music is more like a soothing dose of normalcy.

Typically, in December, my a cappella chorus, after polishing up our holiday repertoire for months, would be out in the community singing at assisted living facilities and tree lighting ceremonies. And the church choir would be preparing hymns for our Christmas celebrations. Instead, in what’s become standard Covid fashion, my chorus put together a virtual concert. With the help of our local community television station, we recorded some of our favorites to create a musical celebration we could share safely. If the link still works, you can watch it here: MVA Virtual Concert.

Tonight, in lieu of all those missed church choir rehearsals, our parish collaboration is holding a virtual Christmas coffeehouse via Zoom. I don’t consider myself much of a soloist, but I decided to step outside my comfort zone and volunteer to sing for it. My favorite song of the season is Lo, How A Rose. Every year, I look forward to singing it with a certain friend of mine. (Miss you, Dawn!) I love the harmonies and the haunting melody of this song. I miss not being able to sing it or any other favorite Christmas harmonies this year. Instead, I recorded myself singing the melody of Lo, How A Rose. And tonight, with a little guitar accompaniment, I’ll sing the harmony against my own recording.

These new, socially-distanced endeavors are part of the strange soundtrack of my Covid-style Christmas this year. What does yours sound like?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, however and whatever you might celebrate!

Advent 2020: Four Signs of Hope

Advent is a season of hope.

For Christians, it’s a season of anticipation and preparation, getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We believe that God took human form and came to show us immense love. By participating in Advent, we hope to ready our hearts and homes to welcome more of that kind of love into our lives. Because love is the bottom line, isn’t it?

I’ve been decorating my house this past week, as I’m sure many of you have been doing, too. I started thinking about hope and how our choices of decorations can reflect hope. I’ve also been watching the news, which, again, I’m sure many of you have also been doing. Hope is sometimes harder to find there. But not impossible. Here are four signs of hope that caught my attention this week. Maybe you can think of others.

A Covid-19 vaccine. Several companies have been working like our lives depend on it (because they do) and they’ve finally developed versions of a highly effective vaccine. Distribution is about to begin. Of course, it won’t be immediately available to those of us who fall into the lower risk category. But the end of this devastating pandemic is in sight. If that’s not reason to hope, I don’t know what is.

Snow. I usually start my holiday decorating by adorning our windows with snowflake stick-ons. Then, I pull out every snowperson decoration I own. Some people set up elaborate Christmas villages on fluffy snowscapes. Others inflate snowmen or whole snowfamilies in their front yards. I live in New England, which means there may be snow on the ground for Christmas, but I’ll bet that people in warmer climates still use images of snow in their decorating. Why? Is it because we love snowstorms and shoveling and icy road conditions? I think not. It’s because there’s beauty in snow. And fun. So, we choose to celebrate the good over the not so good, when it comes to snow. We hope for the beauty of a quiet snowfall or the exhilaration of building snowpeople, instead of clinging to the downside of a snowy season. That’s hope in action, in my opinion.

Lights. I like to wrap my Christmas tree in all white lights. It makes me think of a starry sky. And many houses (not mine ;)) are draped in a variety of colorful lights. Some people put electric candles in their windows. Locally, there’s even a zoo, a motor speedway, and a national shrine each boasting light displays worth traveling for. It’s a dark time of year in the northern hemisphere, and celebrating with lights reminds us that darkness, both literal and figurative, is temporary. There’s hope for light at the end of whatever your dark tunnel might be.

Evergreens. Whether you bring in a freshly cut pine tree and pine branches, or you put up a fake tree and light a pine-scented candle, we gravitate toward evergreens in our decorating schemes. Why? This one’s fairly obvious, especially for those of us in colder climates. Trees, bushes, lawns, and gardens go dormant for the winter. A lot of what we see outdoors looks dead. But evergreens remind us that there’s still life in our landscapes and that spring will come again. For me, the smell of fresh pine is the smell of hope.

My decorating isn’t done yet, how about yours? There are still a few weeks before Christmas. πŸ˜‰ I intend to enjoy every minute of them. Advent 2020 has given me the unexpected gift of slowing down enough to appreciate the season and to savor the hope it embodies. My hope is that you each find that same gift this year. God bless.

So, This Is Advent 2020…

November is almost behind us and Christmas is coming! What a strange Christmas it’ll be. In our family, we’re trying to adhere to the CDC’s recommendations, which means no holiday get-togethers. It’s tempting to forgo the Christmas decorating, too. But that seems kind of like sitting in a corner, pouting, because we aren’t getting our way. So, we forge ahead trying to bring a bit of cheer to our corner of this pandemic-stricken world.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was warm-ish here in New England, so, I hung the artificial wreaths across our upper row of front windows. A strategically placed eye hook above each window makes it a fairly easy job. Those poor wreaths are getting old and dry, which means the bedroom floors needed a good vacuum to take care of the fake pine needles after the wreaths were hung.

Next, I hung several lengths of garland along the front porch railings. A velvety bow at each post festively hides the wires and strings used to secure the garland. Just one problem this year: the bag of old bows was missing. Did I throw them out last year because they were old and faded, with the intention of buying new ones this year? (Your guess is as good as mine.) To compound the problem, I use burgundy bows on my wreaths and porch, instead of Christmas red. With all the premature decorating that people have been doing and the fact that burgundy bows aren’t as commonly available as red, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of shopping for them. I considered making them myself, but all that looping and twisting of ribbon isn’t my forte. (I worked at a greenhouse/florist in high school, but could never match the bow-making skills of the florists there.)

Anyway, first, I tried to buy some online. One site sold them for twenty dollars apiece! I used to get them for ninety nine cents, and was hoping to buy ten, so that was a ‘no’. Another site had suspended online orders due to order volume. So, I got in my van to search the old-fashioned way. Five stores later, I found them. But I could only justify buying six, due to the price. My porch looks happier now. πŸ™‚

For those who celebrate Advent, it started this past Sunday. My husband and I haven’t ventured back to church since Covid-19 hit. We’ve been watching mass online instead. When I was fetching the outdoor decorations in the attic, I came across a set of Advent candles, so about an hour before mass, I scrambled to assemble a make-shift Advent wreath using a party tray, some cardboard and thumbtacks, and an unused artificial wreath. Not elegant, but functional. Maybe I’ll spend a little time this week shoring it up before next Sunday.

These simple efforts have started my Advent off on the right foot, I think. And a little more effort is what I plan to ask of myself this season. What about you? Christmas is coming, so we might as well celebrate however we’re able and try not to think about what we’re missing. Let’s deck our halls and appreciate what we have. Hopefully, next year will be all the more special.

Gratitude Spiral: Day 267

Today, I’m grateful for singing Christmas songs in August.

This time of social-distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic has left a lot of choirs and choruses with nothing much to do. Once a week, the chorus I belong to meets online, but we can’t easily sing together. One of the local community television studios is going to help us record a virtual Christmas performance, so we can still bring our music to audiences for the holiday. Starting this week, I get to pull out my Christmas music and brush away the cobwebs, so I’ll be ready when it’s time to record my part. Looking forward to it. πŸ™‚

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 39

Today, I’m grateful for the calm after the holidays.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are such a mix of magical and stressful. And the hype of New Year’s Eve celebrations tops off what can be a whirlwind of a month. So, I suspect that for a lot of us, getting back to routine and a sense of balance feels pretty darn good. πŸ™‚

You?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 29

Today, I’m grateful for my parents.

Yesterday, we celebrated our final Christmas in my childhood home which will be sold in the coming year. My parents have hosted the Christmas Day festivities for years, but it’s time to pass the torch. Age and health issues have slowed them down. But I’m grateful to still have them with me.

Who are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 28

Today, I’m grateful for my faith, which leads me to celebrate Christmas on this day.

Raised in a Catholic household, renewed in a faith-filled church youth group, supported and challenged in my spiritual journey as an adult, I continue to grow and to learn what it truly means to love God and my neighbor.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 27

Today, I’m grateful for solitude.

After a week of contractors working on a project in my home, holiday get-togethers with friends and family, sitting in pre-holiday traffic, and moving against the tide of holiday shoppers in the stores, a bit of solitude is a blessed thing.

What are you grateful for today?