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fireplace book

People will be celebrating the coming new year in many ways. In my area, the big deal for the holiday involves going to Times Square in New York City and watching the ball drop. 

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that standing in frigid weather, elbow-to-elbow with drunken strangers and listening to a band playing so loud that you can’t talk to your friends really doesn’t ring my bell.

If it means something to you, spending the day at the zoo on New Year’s Eve could become a tradition. Of course, you can’t throw confetti at the deer at midnight, as they’ll give you major side-eye, but you can hang out until the zoo closes, if that’s your thing.

You could volunteer at a food bank if that gives you a warm feeling. Of course, your house of worship may be the place closest to your heart during this season. Whatever you consider your very own Place of Grace.

I think New Year’s Eve should be spent with the people you can be yourself with. It’s a time to do the things that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. For some, of course, that will be champagne, so.. cheers! (Of course, please don’t drink and drive.)

But for me, that will be hot cocoa and a warm glazed cinnamon scone sitting by the fireplace, reading a good book. For you? Whatever you feel blessed by, wherever you find your happy place.

Come to think of it, I think your happy place is where you should be all year long. No need to wait until the end of the calendar year to climb into your comfort zone!

Wishing you all a peaceful and prayerful new year!

christmasAre you one of those people who love Christmas?

There are people who don’t. People who fight depression and loneliness this time of year.  People who hate the glitz and the commercialism. The bustle and the activity.  They long for the simplicity of the Christ Child in the manger.

There are people who dread the coming of Christmas. Maybe they dread it every year.  Maybe it’s just this year because of the loss of a loved one.  Or the loss of a job.  Christmas actually causes them more distress than joy.  They long for the Peace that only Christ can bring.

Then there are the people like me.  I love the music and the lights.  Cards with glitter?  Love them!  Yes – love them.  Even when the sparkles get all over the front of my black wool coat.  And on my nosey black cat.

But more than anything, I find myself drawn to the Nativity.  When God sent us the solution to all our woes, if only we will accept it, He sent us a tiny little baby.  A baby who would bring us His Love, His Peace and His Joy.

And the most marvelous thing about it?  If you’ve accepted Christ, it doesn’t matter where you are on the Christmas spectrum.  Love the day or hate it – Christ is with you.  Jazz over glitter or loathe Christmas lights – Christ is with you.  Spend the day surrounded by family or serving soup in a shelter – Christ is with you.

That is truly the miracle of His Love and it is in his name.  Emmanuel means Christ with us.  Wherever we are physically or emotionally, Christ is with us.  Whether you celebrate in a community with a fire truck Santa, have a Christmas birthday, or you start the day at the nursing home like we are doing, Christ is with us.  And the best part.  He’s with you too.

Emmanuel. Christ with us all.

Wishing you and yours a  Blessed Holy Day,
SueBE

Some swear May,
or maybe June — that’s when
the order, no doubt, went out,
to return home for census.
The month matters little;
what amounts to much is this:
That God so great chose
such an fragile package,
small-mooned finger- and toenails,
eyes, indifferent blue, unfocused,
a light down of hair covering
unformed patches of skull.
Vulnerable to heat and cold,
easily ravaged by disease,
liable to accidents, injury.
Ten million pounds of phenomenon
packed into skin that chaps
in winter, burns in summer.
Impossible! Witless!
And yet, He came.
He grew in wisdom,
and died for sin.
I stand amazed.
Houses, some draped in lights,
most not;
cars dart like fish in parking lots.
How do we breathe,
knowing what we know of miracle?
How do we schlep gifts?
How do we not kneel at the sight?—
God incarnate,
smelling, as all babies do,
of perfect purity.

holidays 2011 017There’s an unusual custom that, I believe, only happens in my town in New Jersey, and it may seem strange to some of you, dear readers.

Every year around Christmas, we hear the sound of police and fire truck sirens, continuously blaring for hours, several nights in a row. At first, all of the neighbors think, what the heck happened? There must be a serious fire in town, with that many sirens roaring for that long. Hope everyone’s okay!

But one by one, we realize, oh yeah! It’s Santa, sitting atop the fire truck, rolling slowly down the block and wishing us all a “Merry Christmas!” over the loudspeaker. Our dedicated firefighters and police officers accompany him, honking and waving. Just generally sending boisterous and blazing holiday wishes our way.

It strikes me that this is a particularly New Jersey way of sharing good cheer during the holidays: loud, intrusive, rolling through the neighborhood like we own the place, yet full of good cheer!

It’s the way it’s always been around here, but sometimes I wonder, how does everyone else do the holidays? I’ve always imagined that, in other, more mellow states, Christmas must be low-key and tasteful. Mistletoe hanging, fireplace burning, carols playing. Maybe some egg nog pouring. 

Of course, at the heart of it all is the peace that passes all understanding. With all the wrapping and rushing, the traffic and tinsel, it’s easy to forget that God’s love is the gift that we’re honoring at this time of year.

Well, no matter how you and yours celebrate, here’s wishing your holidays are filled with warmth, laughter, and loved ones!

Merry Christmas, All!

4th sunday of adventTomorrow is the 4th Sunday of Advent.  The theme?  Love.

The funny thing about human beings is that it is hard for us to love unconditionally.  We are too fragile, too frightened.

To pull off anything that resembles loving our fellow many, we have to welcome God into our hearts.  Through him, we can achieve the impossible but it won’t be easy.  Yet, working together we can carry His Love and His Light into the World.

Then again, who ever said that something worth doing would be easy.  Care to join me in this Holy Challenge?

–SueBE

 

Everybody knows the story. The Three Magi came seeking the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Practical gifts? Maybe not so much, though I’m sure the gold came in handy. (Raising kids is expensive.) Otherwise, the presents were more symbolic than usable; gifts for a king who would have to die for his kingdom. (Seriously…what’s a carpenter supposed to do with myrrh?)

We come bearing gifts, too. We might not always recognize their importance, but we should. Some gifts make themselves obvious — a fabulous singing voice or a knack with decorations, for instance. Others are subtler, but no less essential. A listening ear, a kind gesture, the giving of one’s time — these gifts are always appreciated, especially at this time of year, when so many are feeling stressed out or lonely.

As we approach Christmas, let us think about what gifts we might bring to Jesus and to one another. Don’t overlook the obvious, but do look deeper. A friend of mine always wanted to learn how to blow glass. She now makes prayer bracelets out of her gorgeous hand-blown beads. I bought a slew of them for Christmas presents. Gift. My dentist found a stray pooch who was too rattled to be left alone, so she brings the dog into the office with her, where this once insecure mutt brings comfort to those (and there are more than you think) who are rattled about going to the dentist’s office. Gift.

I often find myself thinking I haven’t got much to give. My little blog posts, read by a stalwart few, probably don’t have frankincense-level reverberations in the world. But I am good about praying for other people, and believe in the efficacy of prayer. Sometimes I think it’s the only real tool that matters. I try to listen to others, to smile at strangers, to reassure bumblers (like the lady who tried to get into my car outside the pharmacy last night thinking I was there to pick her up), mostly because I consider myself a bumbler. I care about animals and justice for those who don’t usually get any.

So what is your gift? What can you lay down beside the manger? What would you give if you could give anything in the world?

Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s as good as gold. And definitely better than myrrh.

Yesterday, I came across a viral video of a reality star apologizing on camera and I thought his heart wasn’t in it. To me, it seemed he was saying, “Because I got caught, I am terribly sorry.”

What if we had no choice but to tell the whole truth? I wonder if the world would stop turning. The problem is that sometimes the facts aren’t always clear.

For example, I found this lovely version of the Lord’s Prayer on the website, www.worldprayers.org:

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Envision your “I Can” now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
Yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision, Power and Song
from gathering to gathering.
Amen –
May our future actions grow from here!

The notation says it was derived from the original Aramaic, and I’m assuming that it’s an accurate translation. It’s not that I think anyone’s lying to me, but I really have no way of knowing. For something based on ancient texts, it seems to use a lot of new-agey affirmations and modern-day phrases, like “being in the Present.”

I suppose I’m not looking for people purporting to speak for God – He’s got that covered. I prefer to hear the wisdom of good people who live the creed as they understand it, like this gem from a childhood friend we could always count on.

At the center of the universe is a
loving heart that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.

Fred Rogers 1928 – 2003
(Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

joyful noiseIf you’ve been reading our little blog for any length of time, you probably already know that whether I’m praying or worshipping, I adore music. So it really isn’t surprising that part of the season that gives me the most joy is the music.

Until Thursday night.  That’s when our choir director introduced us to Sunday’s anthem – From Heaven above to Earth I Come.  The text is an oldie but a goodie from Martin Luther.  The music is Bach.

Ugh. Bach.

As much as I love listening to Bach, we’d tried singing Bach once before.  I don’t remember how many times we ran through it that long ago night, but it was such a train wreck that we never even performed it. It wasn’t the same song, but it was Bach.  Translation: Complexity here I come!

We ran through page 1.  Oh heaven help us.  That was bad.  Then we did it again, and again, and yet again.  By about the fourth time through, we were somewhat amazing.  That said, everyone sings the melody on page 1.

From there we broke into parts.  It was slow going as each section learned one line at a time and then we’d sing that single line together.  Line by line.

When we started to flag, Abe explained to us why he had chosen such a hum dinger. Simple music is fun to sing, but something that is this complicated gives us the opportunity to offer something up to God that requires focus and effort. It is an offering worthy of the God who gave us His All . . .  His Son . . . His Grace.

As I drove home with Bach bouncing around in my head, I thought back on the Christmas music my mother and I had most enjoyed together – Handel’s Messiah. If you’ve ever had to sing the Hallelujah Chorus you know it is anything but simple, but it is such an amazing piece that it brought a King to his feet.

Sure, I love Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, two more Mom introduced to me, but I can truly sink my teeth into Handel.  Joy can be simple but it can also be marvelously complex.

–SueBE

I got a funny response to one of my posts once. It was litany of reasons (tagged “an interesting read”) why Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong. I ignored it. Not because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (I am neither terribly aged nor canine), but because Catholicism is ingrained in me. It is woven into my being like a fine silk thread. Once, someone asked me if I was “a cradle Catholic.” I responded that I had been born five weeks early — my mother had gone into labor during Mass on Christmas Day — and that I’d been born in a Catholic hospital and named after a priest. (Fr. Lawrence Smith, devotee of his namesake, St. Lawrence, and who himself is surely a saint now.) You don’t get more cradle-y than that.

One of complaints in the aforementioned litany concerned the sacrament of Reconciliation. Having just experienced the sacrament’s sweeping beauty just last night, I thought there no better time than the present to explicate it further. My detractor noted, “Only God can forgive sins.” Yes. Of course. A priest does so as a representative of God. Jesus himself told the apostles that whose sins they forgave in His name would be forgiven in heaven. Sweeping aside the notion that priests (as vowed disciples of Christ) are the successors to the apostles — I can’t sweep it aside, but maybe someone else can — there is more to the story than merely this.

All sin is public. You may think that diatribe you utter in the privacy of your own home has no ripple effect in the larger world, but you’d be wrong. All sin affects others because it causes you to be estranged from the Church; and, as we know, the Church is made up of the people of God. What I do wrong hurts you. It changes the air between us. It warps all of my relationships on a molecular level. The priest, as the representative of the Church, extends mercy to me on behalf of those I’ve wounded. I can’t apologize to all of you, but I can apologize to the person who shepherds our local flock.

True, priests are not perfect. There are a few bad apples, just as there are bad doctors, bad politicians and bad truck drivers. This imperfection — and I promise you, most of the men I’ve known as priests strive hard to avoid imperfection — does not make a priest incapable of being the conduit of forgiveness. If a baby were dying before my eyes, I could baptize it — and I’m not even a priest. Sinner that I am, God can still use me to do God’s work.

We used to call this sacrament “Confession.” The Church updated its language more than 30 years ago to reflect the fact that it is so much more. The sacrament is greater than just a personal unburdening of sin. It is a celebration of mutual healing: I am healed, and the community I’ve wounded is healed as well. What a lovely two-way street it is!

Reconciliation is a beautiful thing, especially at this time of year. Advent calls us to walk together to that place where we behold the Son of God in all His humanity, in all His glory. I can’t walk with you if we are estranged from one another. Even if you think Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong, you must admit: Anything that brings us together must be a good thing.

photo-1430233831405-b0d673c05300

An acquaintance had heard I’d taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and asked if I could help him to reduce his accent. I had to decline, as it’s been years since I’d done it, and didn’t have my workbook materials anymore.

As he left, I overheard him talking to a friend on the phone, saying the football game the other night had been “unfreakinbelievable” (expletive adjusted, shall we say).

“Viktor,” I said to him, “if you know the word unfreakinbelievable, you don’t need my help with English. You’re already an American.”

“I am?” he said, lighting up. “Do you really think so?”

“Not only that, son. You may have been born in Poland, but you’re now officially from Jersey!”

Besides, I told him, my job was never to eliminate accents. It was to help immigrants learn how to communicate in English. As long as you can make yourself understood, you’re good. No need to erase any trace of where you come from.

We’re all from somewhere. It’s okay if your homeland and heritage season the way you speak. That’s how it should be. It’s part of who you are. You were there. Now you’re here. Welcome!

If you really want to know a secret, my own accent is obvious to everyone BUT me. Not for nuttin, but I’m from Jersey, youse guys. I do notice a deep Joizey accent in others, though.

Like the ticket-taker in a local parking deck. A few years back, I worked in an office nearby, so he came to recognize me and we’d exchange pleasantries. One day, he asked what I did for a living.

“So what are ya. A sucka-tevvy?”

I said, “No, I work in an office. I’m an Executive Assistant.”

Also known as a secretary. Or, as he termed it, a sucka-tevvy.

I was miles down the road before I realized that he had asked me if I was a secretary. And English is our first language! Imagine how hard it must be to get the hang of a new language and new customs in a new country.

We’ve all been the new kid on the block many times before. Now, just imagine that the world is the neighborhood. You don’t have to put out a welcome mat if you’re not so inclined; just don’t ask the rest of us to lock everyone else out.  No matter what you might read in the papers, there’s still a lamp beside the golden door, shining in the night for all those that yearn to breathe free.

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