On the 12th day of Christmas…

When asking someone “how was your Christmas?” we often receive a reply along the lines of “it was lovely! And I’m so glad it’s over!” I heard that just this morning, and on this, the 12th day of Christmas, I was reminded of something I read recently on Twitter.

It was a retweet of something posted by @theodramatist: “What are some ways that we can start reclaiming/celebrating ALL 12 days of Christmastide?”

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How can we keep the magic of Christmas?

Responses to this tweet included ideas old and new, and some great ones at that. While the Christmas theme continues in church until Epiphany, the secular world has mostly moved on. Retailers put Christmas stock on sale Dec. 26th, and – for the most part – wishes of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has become “Happy New Year!”

Christian churches do, of course, stick to the liturgical calendar. And while I understand that Christmas is a busy and exhausting time for staff, how about keepin’ it “high church” for a while if that fits your congregation? (Um, incense is optional.) I had a crazy idea of a midweek carol sing – a week after Christmas. (Why not? Everyone finally has time for it!)

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A Nativity scene made from cypress knees on display at Epiphany Church, New Iberia (2018)

In recent years, my church has started doing the children’s Christmas pageant as an Epiphany pageant, which I think is a great idea. My own home decorations stay up until Epiphany. Here in the the sugar country of south Louisiana, families whose lives follow the calendar of grinding often find alternative dates to celebrate when grinding isn’t finished by Christmas (often the case).

But the feeling of relief that “Christmas is over until next year – WHEW!” is a little sad and bittersweet.

To be sure, Christmas IS a sad time for many, filled with bittersweet moments for nearly all of us. We are reminded of loved ones who are no longer with us; we are reminded of the changes in our lives and the lives of those around us. We look at the changes in the world, and (human nature being what it is), we focus on the things we lack and the things we miss while often glossing over the positive changes.

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a handmade clay Nativity displayed at Epiphany last year

Even the wonderful things about the Christmas season (time with loved ones, community worship, giving) tend to overwhelm us, and I think it’s because we try to squeeze it all into such a short period of time!

Shouldn’t that be a good reason to remind ourselves that yes, there are twelve days of Christmastide, and we all pretty much get started celebrating Christmas during Advent anyway. So why all the stress?

Maybe it’s because we want to ignore the things that hurt us, the painful memories, and the wondering-what-next-year-will-hold. The sad irony is that the very gift of Christmas, the miracle of the Incarnation, should be the healing salve that tends the wounds of the less-than-Hallmark-perfect holiday – and so often we forget about that miracle.

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One of the many Nativity scenes displayed at Epiphany church on our feast day

I’ll be packing up my Christmas decorations today and tomorrow, with the exception of the Nativity. (After all, the wise men don’t arrive until tomorrow, anyway.) As I do so, I’ll be revisiting the memories of Christmas past and be grateful for them. I’ll challenge myself to bring the beauty and miracle of the Incarnation into all of 2019. Tomorrow, I’ll watch our Epiphany Christmas Pageant, sing Christmas carols, and enjoy the first king cake of the season – and maybe find a plastic baby Jesus inside the cake.

I’m welcoming baby Jesus into my heart, and hope that you do, too.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us everyone.

And thou shalt love

Today’s scripture in my Bible Gateway app is Deuteronomy 6:6-7. I recognize the Sh’ma and V’havta :

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.

 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart;  and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.

(Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9, KJ21)

A perfect followup to yesterday, when I was accepted as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province. The Community is a women’s Benedictine order within the Episcopal church, and I wrote about beginning this journey here and about my first visit to “The Mountain” here.

Love the Lord thy God… When I was accepted as an associate yesterday in the presence of my faith community at Epiphany Church, Sr. Elizabeth spoke about the Rule of Love/Rule of Life. Yesterday, the readings were about the commandments. Jesus, as we know, summed it all up when He pointed out the greatest commandment. Paul echoed it when he spoke of faith, hope and love: The greatest of these is love.

Sr. Elizabeth, one of the nuns from the Community, was in for a visit and to give a presentation at Epiphany’s “Programs and Potuck” on the Benedictine way and the Community of St. Mary. She stayed with friends Diane and Vickie, and I had fun showing her a few highlights of the area on Friday.  Our tour was filled with places born of love.

First, we spent time at Solomon House, which is Epiphany’s outreach ministry. This ministry grew out of the Brown Bag program, and serves clients with not just food for the body, but food for the spirit.  Minister Ellen Nora is the director, and we had a great visit. I love and support the mission of Solomon House, but life is often busy and I don’t always get to visit there as often as I’d like. We saw the brand new client-centered food distribution, and I also identified a way for our DAR chapter to help with the ministry beyond our individual volunteer efforts.

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Ellen Nora, Sr. Elizabeth and me at Solomon House. Deacon Diane and Solomon House were instrumental at bringing the Women at the Well program into the world.

Next, we went to the Rosary House in New Iberia. Here, handmade rosaries are offered for sale alongside statues of saints, holy medals, prayer cards and books. It is Roman Catholic in focus, but it’s all God.

Our next stop was Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, a favorite stop of mine when entertaining out of town guests. This wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden was born of Edward McIlhenny’s love of nature and concern for conservation. The Tabasco factory is also on Avery Island, and McIlhenny began making Tabasco sauce here after the civil war. Sr. Elizabeth was delighted to see snowy egrets as we wandered through the gardens. “Just wait,” I kept telling her. When we made it to “Bird City,” an aviary on the island, she saw what I meant. This sanctuary literally saved the snowy egret from extinction and today is home to thousands of nesting egrets.

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Egrets at “Bird City,” a wildlife sanctuary at Avery Island, Louisiana. 

Finally, we went by “Homeplace” – my own little corner of the world. Our time was short, so I borrowed Pop’s golf cart and Sr. Elizabeth, SweetGirl (my furry 4-legged child) and I took a quick tour. My husband was working in the yard, and my brother and Bubba were working in the garden – all labors of love.

Today is Monday, and if it is a typical workday I will face challenges. I will hold the medal I received yesterday as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, breathe deeply, and remind myself to love my neighbor (even if one is driving me nuts).

At least, I’m going to do my darndest. I usually fall short, but following a rule of life and love gives me some extra help.

Just for today….
I accept myself as I am, allowing Divine Love to work through me
I am my own compassionate witness
I allow myself to make beautiful mistakes.
I ask for and receive Divine Help and Grace.

A wonderful bird is the pelican…

I never know for sure what I’ll see as I walk around my home here in rural south Louisiana. We have a fair amount of typical wildlife – birds, squirrels, rabbits, armadillos, raccoons, foxes, snakes, an occasional bear – you know, everyday critters. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the bears as I walk to work (just the overturned garbage cans on occasion).

Today was a first, though. While I’m used to seeing egrets and herons in the pond behind our house, I hadn’t seen a pelican in the pond before. They prefer the vast openness of the Gulf, but this fellow looked quite content to paddle around for a while in my backyard.

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He had a couple of snacks, as I saw him snatch up something from the water. (I wish he’d de-populate the turtles, but I’m sure he prefers the small brim that are plentiful in the pond.)

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Pop has an affinity for pelicans.  Today is his birthday; I think the pelican was a special “Cosmic birthday card” for him!

Volunteer Labor

One of the guys at the camp is a member of the Cajun Navy – at least as far as the term “member” can be used with the group. If you haven’t heard, the Cajun Navy is an unofficial group of folks from south Louisiana who, at their own expense and on their own time, offer assistance in flood situations. To put it in a nutshell, they show up with their boats and rescue people.

While this has been going on for some time here around home (there are plenty of folks who fish, hunt, own boats, and flooding has happened for a long time), the Cajun Navy burst into public awareness last year during the flooding in Louisiana of 2016.

Cajun Navy in action

Cajun Navy in action

Now, the Cajun Navy is part of the rescue response to the flooding of Hurricane Harvey. Paul (one of the guys at the camp) was able to get to Vidor, Texas, and one simple word summed up what was going on: Catastrophe. Back at home, the rest of us are looking for ways to help.

I think that the president summed up the feelings of most Americans when he referred to the outpouring of help and support as a beautiful thing. From my point of view, there is nothing surprising there. Natural disaster = helping each other.

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Water everywhere.

A few days ago the Sacred Sisters (my prayer group) prayed for all affected, all who were helping, and asking for guidance – what can each of us do? I commented that my only surprise in this response is the surprise of the rest of the world – wow, look at everyone helping each other!

Well, of course! That’s what we do, isn’t it? Is it a reflection on the world that so many are surprised at the outpouring of help directed towards “complete strangers?”

Compassion. For Christians, it is being the hands of Christ. A non-Christian won’t use those words, but it’s still compassion and kindness.

We are all seeking ways to help. Sorting donated clothing for distribution to evacuees far from home. Cooking for evacuees and volunteers. Rounding up helpers. Collecting water and supplies for those who can go to affected areas. For every helper we see on the news, there are hundreds and thousands more working quietly behind the scenes, doing whatever they can.

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Sorting donations for evacuees in our area

The elderly lady making cole slaw in her kitchen. The overworked professional saying “what do they need?” and giving money. The school children collecting socks.

Maybe it’s because we know first hand the helplessness of floods. Maybe it’s because we know that there are thousands of large and small losses in each family, in each life. Perhaps we respond in part because we know the long, hard road that awaits the evacuees when they can get back home.

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Why we build our houses “up.” Hurricane Rita.

Then again, maybe it’s just because that’s what we do.

Perhaps the “surprise” and the “news” expressed by the media, and all across social media, aren’t so much surprise as backlash reactions to the hate-filled stories that have filled the mainstream news media outlets. No, that narrative is NOT what America is about. It’s NOT what the southern states are about. It’s NOT who we are.

THIS is who we are: People who give a damn. People who care about others, regardless of their skin color or faith. People who will get creative and not sit around to be told where and how to help, but who will find a need and address it, even if it’s taking the bass boat on the road or buying extra toothpaste and underwear to share with those who left home without anything – or something as unassuming as shredding cabbage for cole slaw or folding, sorting and stacking donated clothing.

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Clothes, food, toiletries, donations pouring in.

This Labor Day, there are many, many Americans who are giving of their time, funds and labor to help others. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday.

Wheeeeeee!!!

Joy doesn’t have to be complicated. Or cerebral.  Or…anything other than a feeling of “wheeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!”

So rather than expound, I’ll do something simple, like sharing some photos of  a couple of joyful doggies, because we all need to smile about something silly. Isn’t that  supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Here’s some joy for you: Taking the dogs riding in the sugar cane fields on spring evenings.

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Life is full of simple joys.

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Dogs have wisdom…they enjoy – and appreciate – the simple things.  We can learn a lot from them….
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The beauty of y’all

In choir practice this morning, Leon (who hails from Mississippi) made a comment about the word y’all, and how we just seem to forget that “you” can also be plural.

It made me think about a training class I’d attended earlier in the week.  The trainer was from somewhere “up north,” and said she hadn’t ever gotten used to saying y’all, so she hoped we were OK with “you guys.”

Sigh. Well, ok, but just not from my lips. Y’all is a lovely and infinitely useful word. You see, I am a Southerner.  I know that on the 8th day, God created coffee, crawfish and grits (in that order). And God looked at Creation, and said:

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Now…a couple of very important (and oft-misunderstood) points about the word y’all:

1) Y’all is a contraction of the words “you” and “all.”  Therefore, the correct spelling is not ya’ll, but rather y’all.

2) Y’all is not singular. Ever.  See #1 above.

The word y’all is much more pleasant to the ears than the term “you guys.” The former is a soft, easy short “a” sound, and the word rolls off the tongue like velvet, no matter how quickly or slowly it is uttered.  You guys, on the other hand, invites nasal sounds and even, depending on the speaker, a possible dipthong on the word “guys.”

I remember my shock in grade school when we were learning about contractions, and how to spell them…and that y’all was not a “real word.”  Excuse me? And as noted above, it is only plural, in spite of how it may be used in the singular by those trying to “speak southern” (bless their hearts).

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Y’all is not only polite; it is genuinely inclusive.  While “you” can be plural, it may be confusing when used in a group.  For example: “You come for gumbo this evening, OK?” This is fine if you are speaking to an individual without anyone else around.  However, if the invitation is uttered to a group that way, you may wind up with only one person showing up (and the rest of the group being insulted).

Y’all come for gumbo,” however, makes it quite clear. If you want to reiterate that the invitation is indeed meant for the group (in case there may be any doubt, or someone might think the invitation was for the individual and their family), “y’all all come” is perfectly acceptable, in spite of its apparent redundancy.  Think of all y’all and y’all all as slightly similar to using a reflective pronoun.

Y’all all come, make sure you bring your mom ‘n ‘em.” (Or you could say “papa ‘n ‘em” or “Marie ‘n ‘em” or whatever.) This means brings everyone y’all were just talking about, or “bring your usual entourage.” (It also means you made a whole lot of gumbo.)

I would love to see a southern revision of the Book of Common Prayer:

The Lord be with y’allAnd also with you. Lift up y’all’s hearts…

Y’all welcomes everyone with a smile.  It is itself an invitation to slow down, to relax, to breathe.  The Shema begins with the words “Hear, O Israel!” In the New Testament, Jesus uses those words when He proclaims the greatest commandments.  I think he was basically saying “all y’all listen!” While that may sound odd, it’s easier to imagine than his saying “OK, you guys…”

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Peace be with y’all…with all y’all.

For an interesting geographic discussion of the use of y’all, visit
http://www.floatingsheep.org/2014/05/hey-yall-geographies-of-colloquialism.html

Lighting the fire

It’s the last few hours of 2016. It’s been a drizzly day, and I have a pot of blackeye peas on the stove for tomorrow. Fireworks, various pyrotechnics and fires in general have long been a family tradition around the turn of the year, and this year has been no exception in spite of the rain. Long before the “garden firepit” came onto the scene, we built fires in the backyard.

Each Christmas saw my brother and me heading to the hardware store or fireworks stand to carefully select penny skyrockets, roman candles, and other goodies. Firecrackers were best suited for blowing up crawfish castles (the small chimney of mud that remains above ground when crawfish set up housekeeping). We still enjoy fireworks, and in recent years have undertaken a bonfire tradition.

There’s something primal about a fire, this momentary return to the light as the days grow ever-so-slightly longer. We in south Louisiana don’t have to deal with long periods of darkness, but even so, we love our bonfires, campfires and fire pits. A friend made a fire kettle that is suspended from a tripod. Spent ashes fall through the hole, and fresh wood is added to the top. In the fall and winter, we often hang out around the fire in the evenings. I find myself soaking up the peacefulness – or engaging in discussion about anything from theology to politics to history or philosophy – you know, the fun, lightweight stuff.

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Cast iron firepit, site of many lively discussions.

Yesterday we had our end of the year bonfire. (Said bonfire can be any time we have enough wood, energy, and dry, cool weather around Christmas / New Year / Epiphany. If those things don’t converge, we don’t have a bonfire.) David (husband), Greg (brother) and Bubba (music partner/friend) outdid themselves in the planning and execution.

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Scrap wood used for shipping is bonfire fuel.

The plan was to start it burning at the top so that it would burn evenly and not collapse too soon.

Fireworks (bottle rockets) were strategically placed along the top, pointing in safe directions. Firecrackers were tucked inside. Of course, our bonfire site is in the open, well away from anything that could catch. Fortunately, south Louisiana isn’t the tinderbox situation that exists in some areas.

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My brother, always the ham.  I don’t blame him for being proud of this one, though. They added a “porch,” decorative top and bottle rockets prior to lighting.

Gumbo, potato salad, mulled wine, family and some friends made it a great way to celebrate the return of the light. I can’t help but think of how many families and communities since the dawn of time have celebrated the promise of renewed light with a fire. (Power tools only a recent invention, too!)

 

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Starting at the top of each section.

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Whoosh!! If 2016 was a good year, celebrate!

This past year was a good one for some, a bad one for others, and a mixed bag for most. Each year, regardless of how the year has been, we celebrate the return of the light at Christmas. We turn inward during the dark of the year. We can either join the fear of the dark, or celebrate the light.

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And if 2016 was a bad year, torch it!

The other day I was in a store, browsing some after-Christmas discounts, and a woman walked by and said “you see a lot of stuff left this year – that’s because no one has any money! People don’t have any money!” I recognized her frustration, and her fear. The repercussions of low oil prices have rippled through Louisiana and beyond, leaving thousands without jobs. For many, unemployment benefits have run out. Some are relocating against their will. Many are fearing this darkness, as well as the darkness elsewhere in the world. We turn to faith and the promise of Christmas.

And we light a fire, whether for warmth, light, or just fun. In doing so, we connect with ancestors of long ago and not-so-long ago as we watch the flames, knowing that light will always dawn again.

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Light awaits.

It is the season of light and miracles. We are still in the “12 days of Christmas” as we move towards Epiphany. This year, the first day of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Day. I pray on this New Year’s Eve that these ancient celebrations of light and miracles bring positive changes, peace and the ever-growing light of love to all.