Saturday, December 31, 2016

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, we sing Riu Riu Chiu

I love this Spanish carol, here sung by the French group Ensemble Obsidienne, directed by Emmanuel Bonnardot. This "carol" probably originated in the 16th century and is an example of the very popular styled called villancico, which you can read about here. Basically, it became a didactic song that teaches doctrine. 

While I've heard many wonderful and interesting renditions of this carol, I prefer ones that include clapping. I'm not sure why.

Riu riu chiu, the river bank protects it
God has kept our Lamb from the Wolf.

The rabid Wolf wanted to bite her
But Almighty God knew how to defend her 
He decided to make Her impervious to sin 
Even original sin this Virgin did not have.

This one who is born is the great Monarch, 
Christ the Patriarch dressed in human flesh; 
He has redeemed us by making Himself small. 
Although infinite, He made Himself finite.

Many prophets gave us prophecies and forecasts,
So today in our time they have come true at long last.
God in human form, this is what we see on earth, 
And mankind in Heaven because God wants it so.

I saw a thousand angels that were singing, 
Flying around, making a thousand voices, 
Telling the shepherds: Glory be in Heaven 
And Peace on Earth since Jesus is born.

He comes to give life to those who were dead 
He comes to repair the fall of humankind. 
This Child is the light of day,

He is the Lamb of whom St John the Baptist had spoken

Know that the story makes sense, just as we shall hear it
That God could not make Her more than his mother.
He who was her father was born of her today, 
He who created her proclaimed he was her son.

Now that we have what we had desired 
Let us go together to present Him our gifts. 
Let everyone give Him what they want, 
Because He came to make Himself equal to us.

Friday, December 30, 2016


My mom with my niece Jessica at my brother's wedding in 1989 at about the age I am now.

This is a repost from two years ago.

My mom died on Tuesday. It was both a surprise and not a surprise. Mom was very active and had come back from several hospitalizations over the last few years. My brother and family were with her on Christmas Day, and one of my nieces and I were with her on the 26th. We had a nice visit. She fixed lunch for us. She told me about going to church on Christmas Eve and how they served communion "the way you do it" [in the Episcopal Church] (my mom went to the Baptist Church). She sang the Christmas songs (despite the fact that she wasn't able to see well enough to read them but of course she'd been singing them for nearly 90 years) and walked right down to get communion even though she didn't usually like to take communion that way (having been used to it being given her in the pew). She said it was really meaningful to her.

On the other hand, she was 89.9 (her birthday is January 18) and had a couple of ongoing health problems that she'd managed over the years, and she also had a TIA last summer and that is often the indicator that a stroke is coming. During the last month she'd had bronchitis and her vision had deteriorated even more. Both her parents died of stroke. Her mother lingered for 18 months in a coma, and this was a huge fear for my mom.

Mom suffered a massive stroke in her bed after she'd had breakfast on Sunday morning (the day our family was opening gifts at our home in Atlanta, having all finally arrived in the same house the night before). According to my brother, who lives near her in NC, she was awake and alert but didn't understand she had suffered the stroke as she was transported to the hospital around noon. During the rest of the day, she was evaluated and cooperated with the doctors, nurses, and techs. But by the next morning, she began to sink into a coma.

By the time I arrived Monday afternoon, she was completely unresponsive. Still, I sat with her and held her hands and told her all the names of our relatives who wanted me to tell her that they loved her. I said the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm and the Nunc dimittis. She always said that she knew her mother could hear her while she was in a coma, and I think Mom could hear me, too. My brother and I told her good night as we left the hospital to go home and get some sleep.

Early the next morning, the nurse called to say that Mom had died, less than 48 hours after the stroke. She got her wish not to linger on like her mother did. My brother and I figured it was a force of will.

People really loved my mother. She had only lived in her apartment for six months, having moved there this summer, but the techs were crying when they came in to see us while we were packing things up. She had many old friends who were so happy that she had moved back "home" and she always had someone coming to visit her. While she was living in Atlanta, I discovered as I went through her desk, she got cards and letters from her friends in NC every week. The minister at her funeral described her as a confidante, a very caring soul who always tried to do what she believed she was called as a Christian to do, an outgoing, creative person who had a lot of flair. Her friends and our relatives describe her as twinkly, spunky, prissy, a lot of fun, with "that little walk of hers."

My brother and I were able to make all the arrangements and clean out her apartment together in the days after her death. Doing this kind of thing together was good. We had some fun going through pictures and her things (especially her "Minkies" which you just have to see in the *photo below) and we did a little crying together, too. Mom had already distributed many of her things in the last few years and had written details about everything else, from her jewelry and furniture to her obituary and funeral wishes.

(P.S.A.: Please do this for your family. We didn't have to guess about what she would have wanted. It was all there. Make a will and plan your funeral and write down what you want to happen to your belongings and family heirlooms. Mom even specified that the things not specified should go to the person who needs or wants them. This was such a blessing.)

So already her place is closed down, the keys turned in, and we buried her on Friday. I cried a lot on Friday. It's still sinking in.

Now in this time of mourning comes the time too for reflection. Although my dad was a great influence in my life, my mother was much, much greater. My mother had great difficulty during her pregnancy with me and I was a challenging baby. Later, we had the same kinds of struggles with one another that most mothers and teen daughters do, struggles that continued into my young adult life. But through it all, she was the one who towered above all others in my life.

People say that I am a lot like her. (For one thing, I also have "the walk.") I have always tended to see that as a mixed blessing. Many women do, I think. The task ahead, as I see it today, is for me to embrace the parts of that statement that I have heretofore resisted and to live into the parts that I want to do better with Mom as a model - while at the same time keeping it real. Really real. She wasn't a saint, and I don't want to make her into one now that she is gone. One can't really come to terms with a saint, after all.

I have no idea when I will get back to posting regularly here. But I will, I'm sure. 

Life is still beautiful.

*Well, the minkies are not so beautiful but they were a "thing" back in the day. Four whole minks sewn together to make a collar/wrap. My brother and I played with them while she was wearing them in church, much to her consternation. Now they are a little worse for wear, or better: wizened with age. I guess we all are.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

On the Fifth Day of Christmas: Everyone's favorite arrangement of the Wexford Carol

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, I'm listening again to Yo-Yo Ma's arrangement of The Wexford Carol, sung by Allison Krauss, with Ma on the cello, Natalie McMaster on violin, Christina Pat on pipes, and Shane Shanahan, percussion.

This traditional carol is also known as the Enniscorthy Carol in Ireland, as it was "found" (collected is the correct term, I believe) in Enniscorthy (County Wexford) by a Dr. Grattan Flood, organist and choirmaster at St. Aidan Cathedral there. However, tradition has it that the carol dates to the 12th century. Some of the words are found in a 17th century collection of carols known as the Kilmore Carols.

Interestingly, it was almost certainly originally written in English, not Gaelic. It appears to be one of the oldest European carols still sung.

But no doubt Dr. Flood's reintroduction of the Wexford/Enniscorthy Carol in his transcription published in The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 brought it back into more popular use.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

On the Fourth Day of Christmas: Massacre

Fra Angelico's rendering of the massacre of the Holy Innocents at San Marco in Florence. This day grieves me so much. It's so difficult to reconcile this, an unintended (and yet perhaps predictable) consequence of the birth of our savior who was deemed a threat to the ruling powers that be, so that violence was the thought the proper and safe answer to God coming to live among us. '

Herod was a bad man and a bad king, no doubt. But he was not some kind of anomaly. This is what we humans sometimes do to try to make ourselves feel safe.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Collect for the Third Day of Christmas

I bought this clay tile nativity at the airport gift shop in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Welcome, welcome, Jesus Christ,
our infant saviour,
baby who makes every birth holy.
May we, who like the shepherds
have witnessed in the stable a new kind of love
return to our work with joy.
May we, for whom the heavens have opened
to proclaim that God is with us,
and who have fed on living bread
and drunk the wine of heaven,
go out to be instruments of your peace,
day by day.

(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 527)

(Nativity:  clay tiles from Puerto Rico)

Monday, December 26, 2016

On the Second Day of Christmas: St. Stephen (Music by Magpie Lane)

To celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen on the second day of Christmas, here's a rousing traditional carol performed by the Oxford, UK group Magpie Lane. 

Saint Stephen was a holy man
Endued with heavenly might,
And many wonders he did work
All in the people’s sight;
And by the holy Spirit of God,
Which did his heart inflame,
He spared not, in every place,
To preach God’s holy Name.
O man, do never faint nor fear,
When God the truth shall try;
But mark how Stephen, for Christ’s sake,
Was a-willing for to die.
Before the elders he was brought,
His answer for to make,
But they could not the spirit withstand
Whereby this man did speak.
While this was told, the multitude
Beholding him aright,
His comely face began to shine
Most like an angel bright.
Then Stephen did put forth his voice,
And he did first unfold
The wond’rous works which God had wrought
E’en for their fathers old;
That they thereby might plainly know
Christ Jesus should be he
That from the burden of the law
Should quit us frank and free.
But, oh! quoth he, you wicked men,
Which of your fathers all
Did not the prophets persecute,
And keep in woeful thrall?
But when they heard him so to say,
Upon him they all ran,
And there without the city gates
They stoned this holy man.
There he most meekly on his knees
To God did pray at large
Desiring that he should not lay
This sin unto their charge;
Then yielding up his soul to God,
Who had it dearly bought,
He lost his life, and his body then
To the grave was seemly brought.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the First Day of Christmas - Gaudete!

After all the pageantry of Christmas Eve, I'm digging this no frills but elegant version of Gaudete. Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.

Merry and Blessed Christmas to you all!

Once again we come to Bethlehem

Once again we come to Bethlehem.
As soon as we hear the words - in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, 
that all the world should be registered - and Joseph went with Mary, who was great with child -
we are transported into a land which seems to stand outside of time and place, where it's possible for the dark night skies to suddenly open, and for streams of angels to descend, their wings gracefully unfurling as they surround - with glorious music -placid sheep and wondering shepherds.    Where friendly beasts gather around their feeding trough in which a sweet baby has been laid by a lovely mother and more angels hover nearby, gazing upon the scene with serene satisfaction.

Hearing the Christmas story is almost like entering into Narnia through the wardrobe, like going out of time into another world.  And we've heard it enough times to burnish it, to gild the rough edges so that we forget that sheep are smelly, that shepherds were despised, that unwed teenage mothers do not find having babies out in the animal quarters to be romantic, that God Almighty coming to live among us as a helpless infant is preposterous.   

We may forget that this Christmas story takes place against the backdrop of the mighty Roman Empire, overseen by Caesar Augustus who called himself a savior and enforced his peace, the Pax Romana, with legions of marching troops.  And all the world was busily engaged in commerce and politics and cultural activities, while outside in a barn, the true prince of peace, the savior is born,
and no one of any importance takes any notice. Busy empires are not concerned with teenaged mothers who give birth outdoors nor with their babies and their care.  Busy empires do not have the time or inclination to receive the songs of angels, much less notice God's appearance.  

Still, if we stay only with the otherworldly aspect of the story, if we limit Christmas either to an event occurring in a corner of the real but now ancient Roman Empire or to once-upon-a-time-in-Bethlehem, the land of dreamy angels and fluffy sheep and friendly cows, we miss out on Incarnation.  

Which is what we say Christmas IS in the Church - the Feast of the Incarnation.  

The nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is not just the story his earthly birth but about how and why God Almighty chose to come and live among us and what that means to us and for us.

The story of God is not just something that happened in an alternate universe but happens in real people's lives every day.  We may live under the rules of whatever Empire we are born into but those rules are not the ones under which God prefers to operate.

The story of God coming to us in such irregular circumstances shows that God cares for those whom the world despises or pushes aside.  The story shows that there is a connection between heaven and earth, between the grubby earthy realities of human existence and divine mystery.  

Jesus is the connection, who stands between heaven and earth and lifts all of humanity, even the weary and broken parts, into the realm of dancing stars and singing angels, into the very heart of God our creator. That’s the incarnation - the connection of heaven and earth and of earth and heaven.

And so tonight we find ourselves looking into the manger and finding not just a baby but a pathway into holy mystery itself.  

But meanwhile, back on earth, the story of a vulnerable baby born to a powerless mother on the edge of society also challenges us to see Christ in all vulnerable, powerless, marginalized people - people who are cast out or cast aside by the powers that be, by society, and, God help us, even by us.  

The story of the incarnation is supposed to teach us to care, not only for Baby Jesus and his beautiful mother, but for all those for whom Jesus came.  It challenges us not only to make that connection in our imaginations but to put our human hands and feet to work for their good, for their dignity, for their physical care.   

The Christmas story is a beautiful story that we are invited to both gaze upon in wonder AND to live fully into, to embrace both the unfurling angel wings AND the earthy grubbiness.  To know that God came to us in the person of Jesus in first century Palestine, AND that God comes to us again and again in this world and in this life.  

And to know that it is our calling to put our plain old skin on God's breathtakingly beautiful love for all humanity through caring for God's people ourselves, not in the ways of Caesar and Empire, but in the ways of the God:  Which is care for them as if they were that vulnerable and helpless infant lying in an animal's trough, surrounded by glorious angel song.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Music for Advent: Alice Parker's arrangement of Veni Emmanuel

Advent is drawing to a close. Last time to listen to Alice Parker's lovely arrangement of this Advent favorite.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Music: All the King's Horns

One mother rises
Pulling the sheets from the crib
All the disguises
Wandering stars, what she did
All the king's horns
All the kings men
Saddled and worn
Raise the dead
Holy, an infant
He came to raise up the dead

Wandering wise men
What did you bring to his bed?
Shapeless surprises
Incense to bring to the dead
Nothing is wrong
It's what she did
All the king's horns
And the king's men
Nothing is wrong
It's what she did
All the king's horns
And the king's men

Nothing is wrong
It's what she did
All the king's horns
Raise the dead
Nothing is wrong
It's what she did
All the king's horns

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Paper birds

We recently visited the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we enjoyed an exhibition of kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson. This one was made of scraps of paper and when you pushed a pedal, they flapped like birds. Very peaceful, like Advent. Or at least like I wish Advent would always be.

Here's a video:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Prayers for Aleppo

Lord, have mercy. So many dead, and more will die - women and children, fathers and mothers, all made in the image of God, all our brothers and sisters. Hospitals destroyed, homes flattened, bodies piled in the streets. People in Aleppo are posting videos and using social media to say goodbye, to bear witness to the horror. These messages are heartbreaking. I sit in sorrow as I watch, wishing I didn't have to watch, knowing that I must. I too must bear witness in what little way I can.

I do not know what it is inside us human beings that unleashes such violence. Whatever it is is not new and I don't suppose it will ever go away while there are still people on this earth.

Lord, have mercy upon us all. And receive into your outstretched arms of love in the courts of your heavenly dwelling place the souls of all those who have died and are dying in Aleppo tonight and in the hours and days to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?

John the Baptist with St. Francis.
Detail from the St. Lucy Altarpiece
by Domenico Veneziano
Now at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, 
he sent word by his disciples and said to him, 
“Are you the one who is to come, 
or are we to wait for another?” 
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John 
what you hear and see: 
the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, 
the lepers are cleansed, 
the deaf hear, the dead are raised, 
and the poor have good news brought to them. 
And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, 
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: 
“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? 
A reed shaken by the wind? 
What then did you go out to see? 
Someone dressed in soft robes? 
Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 
What then did you go out to see? A prophet? 
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 
This is the one about whom it is written,
        ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’ 
“Truly I tell you, 
among those born of women no one has arisen 
greater than John the Baptist; 
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Matthew 11:2-11

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Music: Canite Tuba in Sion

Francisco Guerrero -- Canite tuba in Sion- Musica Ficta. Núria Rial, Yolanda Lázaro, cantus. Jordi Abelló, Alicia Ramonet, altus. Albert Folch, Lluís Vilamajó, tenor. Pau Bordas, Tomás Maxé, bassus. Ignaci Jordá, orgue, organ.

Raúl Mallavibarrena, director, conductor. Melozzo da Forlí, paintings.

Francisco Guerrero was a 16th Century Spanish composer who lived and worked in Seville. A child prodigy, he lived an interesting life that included being captured by pirates and held for ransom, traveling to the Holy Land, landing in debtor's prison (after the pirate escapade). He died in the plague of 1599, after having published seventeen masses, two requiems, four books of motets, volumes of psalms, Magnificats, vespers music and passions as well as a collection of spiritual madrigals to Spanish texts.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ready for St. Nicholas?

It's St. Nicholas Eve. Be sure to put your shoes outside your door before you go to bed tonight in hopes that you'll get some candy! And leave a carrot out for his horse.

St. Nicholas of Myra, in present-day Turkey, was a real bishop of the church, and many stories have sprung up around him, including that he delivered a punch in the face to Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325.

Half of his bones were pilfered by the Venetians during the First Crusade and brought to Venice to rest in the church of San Nicolo al Lido (on the Lido).

Here's a link to the Wikipedia page outlining many ways St. Nicholas Day is celebrated around the world. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

And a little child shall lead them

Nicola di Guardiagrele’s “Madonna of Humility”, the only known work by this artist from the first half of the 15th century. We saw this beautiful painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Click the photo to see the beautiful veil that Mary is holding.

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear; 
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; 
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. 
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; 
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Music: Advent Song


Look, God, look
in the vastness of your dark
hear this song
in the chorus of the world
where I sing
for the glory of your coming
held by love
as the music pours from me
a flame within
as the night falls around me
hear my prayer
and come through the darkness
hold me waiting
as you wait to be born.

This first performance at Choral Evensong in Holy Trinity, Dunoon, Argyll, December 2011.

words by Christine McIntosh, music by John McIntosh

Thanks to my friend Perpetua for the introduction by posting this song on her Facebook page.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday's bird is taking off

Common merganser runs across the water in Wolfsnare Creek as part of takeoff. 

Someone should tell it to "Slow down, it's Advent!"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Reflection

Sunrise? Sunset? 

It's always a beautiful day at the beach. Photo taken January 2013 at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Beauty

When I lived in Atlanta, I have a wonderful garden with many old garden roses that bloomed nearly year round, thanks to the warm (and probably getting warmer) climate.  Four or so years ago, this was my advent wreath, filled with these beauties from my front yard.  It only lasted the first two weeks, but they were a lovely two weeks.

Among these are Duchesse de Brabant, Pearl d'or, Mme Joseph Schwartz, Souvenir de St. Anne's, Sombreuil, Blush Noisette and Old Blush.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Evening Prayer


Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Waiting with Sherman

Today we enter the season of Advent, four weeks of holy waiting for God to come to us again. We are called to sit in the place of anticipation, to be alive to the present moment of the season of not yet. But I have to confess: waiting makes me crazy.

All my life, I have had difficulty with waiting. When I’m hungry, I want to eat right then. When I’m ready to leave the house, I’m standing at the door in my coat, impatient because everyone else is checking phones or still putting on shoes. Sometimes my difficulty with waiting plays out in my body. My legs get twitchy and I can’t sit still.

And more serious waiting - to see how things are going to turn out - for an acceptance letter or test result, to see how someone is going to recover from trauma or how the country is going to fare under a new administration - can be excruciating.

I want to be present to the present, but when I am really anxious, my instinct is to withdraw and agonize alone. 

A few days ago, I came across a newspaper story about Sherman the Donkey. Sherman had been kept pent up in a small mucky stall without much care and was in danger of dying when a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, man took him in with the idea of rehabbing Sherman into a running partner. (Apparently, running with donkeys is a thing.)

When Sherman arrived, however, he could hardly even walk. His hooves had grown so long that they resembled elf shoes. He had parasites and rotten teeth and matted fur. According to the vet, he was 8, but he seemed to be 80.

Sherman’s anxious new owners called around for help from neighbors who knew more about animals than they, who are Philadelphia folks only a couple of years into their new rural life. Someone came with a hacksaw to trim Sherman’s hooves. Another came to pull rotten teeth and another to bathe him and cut or curry out the matted fur and parasites. Still another attended to raw skin and bloated belly.

His bodily needs taken care of, it was time to wait and see if Sherman would respond. He needed to walk and to eat if he was going to even live, so his owner put all the other animals out to pasture, leaving Sherman alone, hoping he would want to explore his new home. But instead, all Sherman did on his first day was stand still beside the barn, head hanging, as if, the writer said, he was waiting for execution. He needed something else.

That something else turned out to be a goofy goat named Lawrence, himself a rescue with ears malformed from frostbite, who came in with the sheep from the pasture at the end of that anxious first day and immediately noticed poor, sad Sherman. Lawrence went right to the donkey, sniffed him all over, and then lay down at his feet. He stayed there all night. 

By the end of the following day, Sherman was walking and then eating with his new friend. Before long he was even running. He was going to live - and more than that, he was going to thrive in his new community.

Of course, I got to find out that Sherman was going to be ok in a matter of minutes, but the lesson from this story could not be more clear to me: waiting is best done with a friend.

I have always tried to do all my serious waiting alone, fighting my twitchy anxiety under the cover of darkness. I have not wanted to be accompanied in my darkness, choosing instead to withdraw or to be reactive in such a way that keeps others at a distance. I have not wanted to need someone to really sit with me in hope. But that is exactly what I do need. 

Someone to just sit with me in hope.

At the end of all our waiting, God says, comes new life. This is the Advent story. And it can be my story, too, if I will but believe. Whatever my worry, even dread, I do not need to live in that place alone.


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