The 13 Days of Christmas: drive

Why 13 days? Because that’s how long my kids are out of school!

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My 15-year-old son got his learner’s permit yesterday, which means he can help drive to Hamlin in West Texas this afternoon. My brother and I were talking on Twitter yesterday that we did our first highway driving in West Texas. Yeehaw!

The 13 Days of Christmas: yellow butterfly

Why 13 days? Because that’s how long my kids are out of school!

 

 

 

See the yellow butterfly? You don’t see it?

It was there, right on Dudley Street, the part that went bankrupt, where everyone walks their dogs.

I pulled over and got out of the car to take a picture of it, but it had already flown away.

Just because you can’t see the yellow butterfly doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The 13 Days of Christmas: villanelle

Why 13 days? Because that’s how long my kids are out of school!

Here’s my attempt at a villanelle. Every rhyme is shamelessly pilfered from the song “Try to Remember” from the first musical I ever saw, “The Fantasticks.” It is an impure villanelle, like some of the ones you featured on Tweet Speak Poetry.

ODE TO “THE FANTASTICKS”

When that ember is about to billow,

I do try to remember.

Like a fallen star, I follow
 

on a morning stretched yellow —

the solstice of December,

when those embers begin to billow.
 

But soon enough for one so callow

come those earnest days of September.

Like a timid schoolgirl, I follow
 

hard and don’t weep as I hollow

a winter gourd in late October,

when the embers want to billow.
 

My soul is anything but mellow

especially in the fury of November.

Like a turkey to the slaughter, I follow.
 

And there beside my pillow

I keep my dreams of a fresh December,

where the embers always billow.

And, like a virgin in love, I follow.

Clover Celebrates Advent

waiting in joyful hope

Canto

On Monday night, I read the following narration at Canto, a concert benefitting the Good Samaritan Center (a clinic run by my husband) here in Fredericksburg. Astute WACOAN readers will recognize some elements from this month’s column. This came first! Thanks to the director, Jeryl Hoover, for pushing me to write something different. To the rest of you, you should have heard the choir!

SEEKING THE CHRIST CHILD: THE SHEPHERD’S STORY

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (all sing)

Sing We Noel

1. “Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:19)

I used to sing.

I grew up in an Episcopal church, and my favorite service was the one where we sang the most. When we didn’t sing, I got bored, so I’d flip to the front of the hymnal and silently sing the Christmas carols in my head. To this day, I know all the verses by heart.

Then I found choir. Choir was my main extracurricular activity from sixth grade through my freshman year of college. All my friends were in choir. All the boys I had crushes on were choir boys. I sang first soprano, and I loved it. Our high school’s Christmas performances included selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Those productions bred in me a lifelong love of sacred, choral Christmas music.

When I transferred colleges, my sophomore year, I auditioned for a choir but didn’t make it. Part of the problem was that I was no longer a first soprano, and I didn’t know how else to sing. Part of it was that I had developed asthma, which is still a problem for me. My medicine hasn’t helped my voice. I thought it was just me until my mother took the same medicine when her cancer began to interfere with her breathing. Soon she gave up the medicine.

“I couldn’t sing when I was taking it,” she told me.

Was my mom in a choir? No. Did she sing solos? No. She just loved to sing, even when she was just walking around the house. And she wasn’t about to take a medication that would keep her from being able to sing.

Singing is a part of Christmas because the angels sang. And who was their audience? A bunch of shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks one night. The shepherds aren’t the ones who sang. They are the ones whose lives were changed by what the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

Gloria in altissimis Deo from Christmas Oratorio

2. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

The shepherds were humble people in more ways than one. They were near the bottom rung of the social ladder. Don’t think of a rancher. Think: sharecropper. Often a shepherd was the youngest son of peasants who didn’t own any land. It wasn’t exactly a status position.

The shepherds were also humble people in that their lives were pretty simple. I doubt they talked a lot of politics out in the fields. I imagine the sheep ruled their schedules. Is it lambing time yet? Is it shearing time? Aside from their flocks, I think their next biggest concern of the shepherds would have been their families. Is anyone sick? Is someone getting married?

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the shepherds’ spiritual lives. Perhaps they knew God best through his creation. I bet they knew all the pictures in the stars. I bet they knew every wildflower and native grass. If you dropped them in a field in the dead of night under a new moon, I bet they could find their way home. They probably knew every critter that could be hunted and how to evade every foe. I imagine they wouldn’t seek a fight, but they wouldn’t lose one, either.

Yet with all of their concerns, only one invitation could induce them to leave their sheep, and that was the one they received. They heard the call, and they answered.

Quittez Pasteurs (Come, Leave Your Sheep)

3. “In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)

So on that holy night, the shepherds were just going about their work, making sure their sheep ate, drank, found rest and were safe from predators and thieves. To be a shepherd meant to stay alert, to keep watch. Just as the shepherds watched over their sheep, so also they watched for the long-expected Messiah.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? These were people who worked under the heavens, and one night, from those same heavens, appeared something wholly unexpected.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told them. Those words meant not only, “Don’t be afraid, right now,” but also, “Don’t be afraid, no matter what happens.” This baby, Jesus, would grow up, teach, heal, be crucified and rise again. Regardless of the future, the shepherds could look back on that holy night and remember the good news they received from the angel, news of great joy.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
Shepherd’s Pipe Carol
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
(all sing)

4. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52)

What do the shepherds do after this angelic encounter? Well, they don’t sit down and debate the existence of angels. They don’t have a theological discussion about whether this was the proper way for the Messiah to appear. Maybe the idea of him being wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger wasn’t so strange to these people who delivered many sheep in the dark of night.
Instead, they dropped everything. They dared to leave their sheep. They couldn’t have brought the whole herd. Perhaps they carried a sick one or an old one or a little lamb.

We don’t know how long the shepherds stayed in the makeshift stable. We do know they made an impact on Mary, who treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. But after the shepherds saw Jesus, they left and spread the word. They told everyone, and everyone was amazed.

That is where the story of the shepherds ends and our story begins. During this season of Advent, we, too, are watching for Jesus to come again. We came here tired, worried about our families, our community, our world. These cares are our sheep, and we often have trouble letting them go. Like the shepherds, our busy lives have been interrupted by singing. God’s announcement of the good news — to them and to us — didn’t come with a command. It was an invitation. How will we R.S.V.P.?

Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family

5. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

(the following to be said with Silent Night hummed underneath)
Jesus, the one the shepherds went to see, would later call himself the Good Shepherd. I’m sure he knew all about the first visitors to welcome him to this world. He knew that shepherds, however humble, had a glorious history stretching all the way back to the patriarchs, back to King David, back to the prophet Amos. The scriptures Jesus would have read included descriptions of God as a shepherd, including Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23.

Maybe those ancient words are puzzling to us, but they are the ones we turn to during hard times. When my mom died, words like: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” made perfect sense.

Pull up a bale of hay and sit down for a spell. Listen. Allow yourself to worship a Shepherd.

He Shall Feed His Flock

6. “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Christmas is God’s invitation to us, a giant birth announcement. If we seek him, we will find him, for he is anxious to be found. After Christmas is over and we go back to our regular lives, will that singing we heard have made any difference? Come January 25, will we still be changed?

Last Christmas was the first one without my mom. I didn’t feel like singing any Christmas hymns. It was a “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” kind of December. But I came to Canto, and I heard two of my favorite Christmas choral arrangements. For that one evening, I could be like the shepherds. I could praise and glorify God.

“Jesus Who Didst Ever Guide Me” from Christmas Oratorio by Bach
Wexford Carol

7. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6)

Thank you for coming tonight, for pausing to reflect on the shepherds in word and in song. This last carol, Adeste Fidelis, invites all the faithful to come and adore Him.

Maybe it’s easy for you to worship tonight. Your cup is full; you’re thankful. Maybe worship is more difficult, the way it was for me last year. Not all the circumstances in our lives lift just because it’s the Christmas season. There may still be unemployment or illness or other hard things. Still, there’s something about this season that makes us want to set aside our burdens and come and adore the one born the king of angels, the one the shepherds came to see.

May we follow their humble example. May we seek the Lord until we find him.

Adeste Fidelis

Swirl

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Tell Me On a Sunday, Please

When I first started writing about my efforts to keep a Sabbath, I was afraid it would turn people off. I was afraid I’d come off as holier-than-thou and that maybe I should tone it down. Then one of my friends said, “Don’t be afraid to talk about the benefits.”

So here goes. One benefit to keeping the Sabbath is that, more than likely, your bad news will come on that day. And that is a blessing.

Is anyone familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and title song “Tell Me On A Sunday”? (I just know the song, not the actual musical.) Anyway, I’ve often had bad news come on a Sabbath. And believe me, I couldn’t have borne it on any other day.

Case in point: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was listening to a podcast which interviewed a veterinarian who specialized in older dogs. No, it wasn’t spiritual; it was animal.

It soon became clear that this vet was talking about dogs much younger than mine–dogs who were 7 or 8, not pushing 15. Then the vet began describing something called canine dementia, when a dog gets lost in its own house, wandering in circles. He said sometimes they get trapped in a corner and just howl because they can’t remember how to turn around.

That described our Darlin’ to a tee. And I started to cry. It was time. It was past time.

So I told the kids. And I told my husband, who had been waiting for me to come around). And we loved the heck out of Darlin’ through Thanksgiving, and the following Monday, my husband took her to the vet and stayed with her until it was over.

Not all Sabbaths are rest and worship and communion and fellowship. Some are awful. But observing them regularly makes space for that awfulness. Now, when I feel bad news looming, I find myself praying, “Tell me on a Sunday, please.”

Unlikely Sabbath in “The Road”

I recently finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” There is no way I could handle the movie, but the Pulitzer-prize winning horror novel was unforgettable.

 

There’s a moment, about halfway through, when the father and son–starving and near death–find an underground bunker fully stocked with food. They stop for a few days to rest, wash and eat.

 

The son tells his father that they should thank the people who left them this food. Father and son both know those people are surely dead. And so, the son prays. It’s the only prayer in the book, and I can’t read it without crying:

 

“Dear people, thank you for all this food and stuff. We know that you saved it for yourself and if you were here we wouldn’t eat it no matter how hungry we were and we’re sorry that you didn’t get to eat it and we hope that you’re safe in heaven with God.”

 

Prayers just don’t get much better than that.

The Gospel According to Jeremy

I’m a huge fan of the Disney Channel TV show “Phineas & Ferb.” I even own all the songs to the first two seasons. As I watched the episode “The Best Lazy Day Ever,” I thought about what might be called The Gospel According to Jeremy.

 

Jeremy is the sweet but clueless boyfriend of Candace, big sister to Phineas and Ferb. The boys decide that instead of building some crazy contraption, they’ll take a day off–a do-nothing day. Candace can’t stand the fact that they aren’t doing anything to ruin her life, so she tries to ruin their’s, and in the process, almost misses Jeremy’s concert.

 

At the end of the episode, Jeremy & The Incidentals sing “Do-Nothing Day,” which has some wonderful parts and some appalling ones.

 

First, the appalling.

 

Beautiful, kind and gentle,

And loving and softness and sweetness,

and candy and gum,

Peppermint and pink flowers,

And bunnies and happy songs we can all hum!

Draw a smiley face on the Sun,

It’s fun.

 

Aack! It’s so sickly sweet I can hardly stand it! And yet, this is what I hear a lot of in contemporary American Christianity. A vision of eternal life that’s extremely sappy.

 

Now, the chorus. Very Sabbath-y.

 

Slow down and look around you,

Throw your to-do list away.

The clouds look like sheep and vice versa,

Let’s have a do nothing day.

 

That’s exactly what Phineas & Ferb do in this episode. They lay down under a tree and just chill. They ignore their book of projects, which is their to-do list. They relax.

 

Uh oh. Here comes another verse.

 

Sunshine, cuddles,

and puppies, wet noses and safety and laughter,

and skip to and fro,

holdin’ hands sharing snow cones, and rainbows

 

Jeremy, PLEASE! You’re making the Easter Bunny gag!

 

But wait, he’s getting it …

 

and no place where we have to go!

So we’re just gonna go with the flow,

Oh you know.

 

Slow down and look around you,

Throw your to-do list away!

The clouds look like sheep and vice versa,

On a do nothing day,

On a do nothing day,

Our do nothing day…

 

Wishing you the good-parts version of the Gospel According to Jeremy and a do-nothing day.

Sabbath Schedule

“So, Megan,” people ask. “What do you actually do on the Sabbath?”

 

Here is the answer for one day—26 January 2011. You’ll find holy moments as well as not-so-holy moments.

 

5:00 p.m. Tuesday—It’s actually quiet! My daughter, J.J., is sick in bed. My son, Scott, is at a basketball game, and my husband is working late. I eat a slice of veggie pizza I made earlier and read a book called “Glimpses of Heaven” by Trudy Harris, a hospice nurse.

 

7:00 p.m.—John comes home. I give him a small sausage pizza, and we visit. J.J. joins us. We turn on the State of the Union and sort of listen, sort of talk.

 

9:00 p.m.—Fall asleep, iPhone in hand, waiting for Scott to call when the game is over.

 

10:00 p.m.—Scott calls. Go fetch him from the high school. Give him the other sausage pizza. Go back to bed.

 

5:00 a.m.—Good morning! Coffee with chocolate soy milk, a granola bar, and back to the high school to run the track. No new sermons to run to. Run to music from “Glee” instead.

 

7:00 a.m.—Assorted busyness getting gets up, fed, and to school. Check email. Oops! The magazine needs the editor’s letter done today!

 

8:30 a.m.—Spend 17 minutes on first draft of editor’s letter. Will check email a dozen more times during the day, waiting for revisions. Try to post on blog, but it’s down. Email Marcus. He says they’re working on it. God whispers, “Don’t check again.”

 

9:00 a.m.—Tea ready. Sit down with Book of Common Prayer for readings/prayers associated with upcoming Epiphany 4. John calls: want to meet for breakfast? Sure! Leave Bible open on table. Off to Java Ranch for an egg and potato breakfast taco. Should I get a chai?

 

10:00 a.m.—Back home. Back to beloved Book of Common Prayer. Do communion, too, with a sip of Chardonnay and square of dark chocolate.

 

10:30 a.m.—Walk the puppies! Listen to my Sabbath playlist: Rich Mullins, Ashley Cleveland, Sara Groves, and James Mark Gulley of Antioch Community Church.

 

11:30ish—Hungry! Make soup. Lay down.

 

1:00ish—Carla calls! Talk on the phone with a dear friend for 1 hour, 15 minutes.

 

2:30ish—Watch the director’s commentary for “The Social Network.”

 

4:00 p.m.—Can’t take it anymore. Log onto Twitter. Blog still down, but comment on other people’s stuff.

 

4:30 p.m.—Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get the kids! They’re both at the high school today, one for band and one for basketball.

 

5:00 p.m.—Finally get the call back on the revisions for the editor’s letter. Finish that up. Where’s my Prayer of St. Francis? I can’t finish the Sabbath without it! John is home early. Everyone is hungry, and I haven’t started dinner. Father-in-law is coming. Find the prayer, lock myself in the bathroom, get down on my knees on the dirty floor, and pray.

 

Game on!