And now…Lent!

baby jesus figurineIt was December 29th, the Feast of the Holy Family.  I was sitting at my laptop in the dark while the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled merrily in the living room.  The last Mass of the day,  7:00 pm –a.k.a. “the last chance Mass”, was finished so I thought I’d try to decompress from the maelstrom that has become the Christmas season at my house by reading all the posts and email I had been putting off.  It was a good Christmas season but, as usual, the extra Masses, rehearsals, concerts, preparations, commitments, as well as shopping, wrapping, baking and the normal family festivities at my house with the kids and grandkids had me pretty much worn out. I made a snack and sat down for some quiet “me” time.  I checked my Facebook page, Twitter feed, and email and saw that there was a new message from the pastor.  The subject line was titled,  “And now…Lent!”  I could feel the corner of my eye start to twitch. Baby Jesus was still smiling happily in the manger of my Nativity set on the table waiting for the arrival of the three Kings and Father’s planning a meeting about Lent?  I began and erased several replies that all began with a version of, “Seriously?!?!?!?” but I resisted and chose not to respond for the time being.  There’s no need to detail the rest of my thoughts that evening.

Since then we’ve had our meetings to put our ideas together for the upcoming Lenten season; first just the two of us, then the pastoral staff, then the liturgical committee.  He wants to get everyone on board and thinking about the next phase of the year.  We have the advantage of a couple extra weeks of Ordinary Time this year before we face Ash Wednesday.  From there it builds and builds until the big guns come out for Holy Week.

Church folk  have a different way of thinking about things like seasons and celebrations.  Our seasons are predictable, ritualized and even color coded; purple, white, green and the occasional red or rose (not pink, Father reminds us – Rose).  Even our calendars are different with the beginning of the liturgical year coming on the first Sunday of Advent.  The email got me thinking however, about these feasts that we love and celebrate.

Just as every sunny day has shade, so every Christmas has dark and grey shades of Lent that hover over them like ghostly images floating in the corner of a family photo – some hidden and some blatantly obvious.  There is a shadow of a cross loomimg over the manger.  It’s not something we like to think about during the Christmas season, but you can see it if you draw a symbolic line from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross.  We understand that Christmas would make no sense if not for the suffering, death and resurrection of the very same sweet, cuddly baby described in our poetry and carols.  It’s not just the birth of an infant…it’s the sword of sorrow that will pierce Mary’s heart. It’s the cry of hundreds of mothers over their slaughtered children.  It’s the mysterious gift of myrhh and the narrow escape.  It’s the eventual way of the cross.

Unlike the world’s concept of time, the Church moves us through the liturgical years, not by a timeline, but more like a spiral.  Each season’s beginning is merely a path toward the next one.  We mark the time with our traditions and celebrations of feasts and solemnities, allowing ourselves to be moved emotionally and spiritually through joys and sorrows, glorias and lamentations, triumphs, defeats and triumps again, light and shadows, death and life and resurrection.

Each year we carry on rituals and traditions to remember them.  In the Church and in our homes we ritualize our family times together.  We decorate our homes with light in the darkest time of the year and gather our loved ones near to us.  We tell them stories – the same stories over and over – of wars and farming, marriages and babies, kings, heroes and paupers.  We tell stories about our grandparents and the olden days; of hard times, regret and shame, deception, infidelity and of wallowing in the ashes of failure.  We tell stories of promise and redemption and unspeakable joy and never tire of telling them because they’re so much a part of us and telling them helps us make sense of our lives.  Then we add our own stories to them so that our children will remember them and the lessons they teach and will, hopefully one day, tell them to their children.

So now…Lent! Not here yet, but coming.  Let’s do this.

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Forget the Resolutions – PROMISE

clock strikes twelveThe time has come once again for New Year’s resolutions.
This year I PROMISE to get myself in better shape
by toning up my spiritual muscles and adopting a healthier attitude.

PRAYER
  I will pray: when everything is going wrong, for patience and courage; when something goes right, in thanksgiving; when everything is hectic and confused, clarity and peace; when someone has hurt me I will pray for them; when someone has misunderstood me, I will pray for them; when someone is sick in body, mind or spirit, I will pray for them; when someone asks for my prayers I will pray for them; when there’s no special reason to pray, I will pray anyway.

REMEMBER
I will remember: to tell people I love them – everyday; that I have many blessings and that I must not ever take them for granted; that God loves me, even if it doesn’t always feel that way; that all those around me are gifts from God, and I must treat them that way; to be grateful for everything I have and not worry about what I don’t have.

OPEN
I will be open:  to the needs of the poor; to those who need my time; to accepting God’s will for me; to new ideas; to compromise; to admitting I was wrong; to praise as well as criticism; to sharing my gifts and talents with those who need them; to the enthusiasm of the young; to the wisdom of the old.

MOMENT
Every moment of every day: is precious and I will use each one to the best of my ability and try not to waste any of them; is a gift to be shared with others as my gift back to God; is never guaranteed to have another one follow it, so I will live each moment as if it is my last; is gone in the blink of an eye and will never be repeated, so I will strive to always be in the present moment.

IN
I will: invite those around me to share my joy in Christ; invest my time and treasure in worthy endeavors to help those in need; find inspiration and wonder in the small miracles that are all around me; become more involved in my community; allow the light of Christ to come into my heart so that I can radiate the warmth of his love to those that I meet.

SEEK
I will seek: the face of Christ in every person I meet; the heart of Christ in every situation; the mind of Christ in every conversation and encounter; the hands of Christ in every hand that reaches out to me; the feet of Christ in every path; the light of Christ in every darkness.

eVANGELIZE
I will be aware that whether I am on the street, at my home, at a meeting, in Church, in the parking lot, in the grocery store, in a line, in the restroom, in my office, on the phone, in the car, but especially online: that I am a child of God and I belong to him; that my words are read and my actions are seen by people who know that I profess to be a Christian; that kindness, patience and truth always trump anger, accusations, half-truths and lies; that I can do more harm by one unkind word than I ever could with a stick; that everything I do and everything I say must be done for the glory of God each day.

 

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The Perfect Family

The Feast of the Holy Family, December 29, 2013

Each year after celebrating Christmas the Church gives us this feast and reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth and was born in the usual way into a family just like ours.  How many people, can really believe this?

Oh, no, we think!  There’s no way Christ was born into a family like ours!   Things can get really crazy sometimes.  Our family has it’s share of disfunction.  We have loud relatives who argue about politics and football.  Some have stopped speaking to us for some reason we can’t remember.  We have hyperactive two year olds and difficult, know-it-all teens.  We have uncles who drink too much, family dogs that eat socks, and parents who give our kids too much candy.  No, Christ certainly wasn’t born into a family like ours, with all it’s imperfections and problems.

All we have to do is look at a Christmas card or a Nativity set to see how perfect the Holy Family was.  Mary is lovely, her clothes and hair are neat and clean as she adores her happy baby.  Joseph looks on it all with wonder.  Jesus is a pretty baby all sweet and chubby with a full head of curly hair, lying there in a clean white blanket.  He smiles up at the little angels hovering nearby like crib decorations.  Everything is perfect, peaceful and serene just like…well, a Christmas card.  The reality is that things weren’t so perfect for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either…

To begin with, Mary was an unwed mother.  No matter how it happened, Mary’s pregnancy outside of marriage could have resulted in her being stoned to death. Joseph had the right, legally, to let this happen beause they were officially engaged, just as binding as a marriage, yet not living together when she became pregnant. Yet he was a kind and compassionate man, so he was considering divorcing her quietly.  But because of a message in a dream he put his trust in God and brought her into his home anyway.  This must have been humiliating when his friends, family and neighbors found out about it.  By taking Mary in, despite the pregnancy, he was declaring that the child was his and that he couldn’t wait the required time to consummate the marriage.  It would raise eyebrows at the very least.

In the late stages of her pregnancy, Mary and Joseph were forced to travel about 75-80 miles, about a 4 days journey, through rough and often dangerous country. I remember the late stages of pregnancy.  It was no day in the park.  It was uncomfortable to even sit in a recliner.  Sleep was impossible because of the stress on my back from the added weight.  I felt unbalanced and huge and my blood pressure was elevated making me cranky and miserable.  Yet Mary had to endure this trip, whether she walked, rode on a donkey or was carried in a caravan.   Once they got to Bethlehem,  there was no guarantee that  there would be any place for them to stay. Joseph did what he could, but by the time they got there lodgings were hard to find and his wife was showing signs of being in labor.  They had to make do and trust.

She gave birth in a stable, a place inhabited by animals with all the filth, germs, smells and biting insects that are usually found in barns. Mary delivered her first child without any older female relatives to help her through it, as was customary. Even with the services of a local midwife, it was not the ideal conditions for bringing new life into the world.  Her baby would be laid in a manger, an animal’s food trough.  I’ve been in hay before. My grandfather had a farm and the cousins and I would jump from the loft to the hay below.  It’s anything but soft.  It was prickly and gave me a rash.   Ican imagine how Mary felt about giving birth in those conditions.  Imagine what Joseph was going through, perhaps feeling guilty that he wasn’t able to provide a better place for them.   Yet they trusted.

Jesus was still an infant when they became refugees, undocumented aliens, fleeing for their lives to another country where they didn’t know the language or customs.   How would they survive there?  But there was no choice.  With Herod’s soldiers on the lookout for their tiny son,  it was the only way to protect Jesus from being one of the little ones slaughtered by Herod’s jealousy and paranoia. They had to trust God to deliver them.

At the age of twelve Jesus was somehow left behind in the big city of Jerusalem while on pilgrimage, because each parent thought he was with the other one. Pilgrimages were usually made with a group of people. In these groups men traveled with other men and women traveled with other women and small children.  A twelve year old boy had the option of traveling with either group.  Imagine the conversation Mary and Joseph had when they realized they had to go back to Jerusalem to look for their son. Imagine the panic they must have felt – probably the same way I would feel if I lost a child in New York City. Jerusalem was a bustling city with pilgrims coming in and going out constantly, merchants, peddlers and those there on business.  There were Roman soldiers, highly visible, keeping a sharp eye out, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble.  There were tax collectors and theives, and all manner of strange places and sights to country folk like Mary and Joseph.  How would they even know where to look?   Yet, they went back to the Temple, the last place they saw him and there he was.  They were exasperated, but they still trusted.

At some point during these hiden years of family life Jesus had to deal with the grief of losing a parent at the death of Joseph. We don’t know when he died or what age Jesus was when it happened, but Jesus went through what we all go through when a parent ages and leaves us.  From what little we know of Joseph; the kindness he showed to Mary, the way he accepted the will of God and the trust he had, we believe him to be a perfect model for fatherhood.  It couldn’t have been easy for Jesus to say goodbye to the man who supported him and raised him as his own.  Mary, too,  had to face the reality of being a widow alone after her only son left her side to fulfill his mission on earth. Sons were expected to take care of their mothers.  Widows didn’t have many opportunities to earn enough to keep body and soul together so they either had to beg or starve.  Mary had a perfectly healthy son who could have been a wage earner, but he had to leave her to fulfill his purpose.  It must have puzzled her relatives and neighbors – in fact, once they tried to get her to take him home because they thought he had lost his mind, yet she still trusted God and let him go do what he needed to do.

Things were far from perfect for the Holy Family. They had their problems, setbacks, fears, sorrows, and joys – just like our own families! Yet, through it all, they had unwavering trust in God as they carried out their mission of raising his divine Son; teaching him, nurturing him, loving him, and preparing him to fulfill his purpose of saving the world from sin and death.

What I love most about The Holy Family is that by really looking at them, not just the cards and the art work, I can see that they were very much like my family, with all its imperfections.  They had to deal with some very extraordinary circumstances.  Still, they teach us that ordinary family life, with all the problems, worries, messiness, joys, triumphs and frustrations, is holy. We just need to trust.

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Church Ladies

Anna and Simeon_for BlogTomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.  In my very first blog post I spoke about this feast because it is so near and dear to my heart.  The reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 verses 22-40 or if you hear the short version verses 22 – 32.  Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for to be offered to the Lord as the first-born male child.  My favorite character, and my special patroness is Anna, whom I have proclaimed to be the patroness of church ladies.  Unfortunately, if you have the shortened version read at Mass, Anna gets left out because she’s so easily overlooked.  If you hear her name even mentioned in the homily it’s probably just because she’s there.  But she has so much to say.

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

I adopted Anna as my patroness several years ago.  Even though I’ve been working as a musician in the Church since I left childhood, I always thought of myself as a musician who happens to do church gigs rather than a church lady.  Then one day several years ago I took my youngest to McDonalds to give her something to do while waiting for her sister’s softball game to start.  A man walked in and began looking over the crowd of people who were there chowing down on their cheeseburgers and fries.  This man looked like he was, as my mother would say, “down on his luck.”  He was dressed in rags and was unshaven and rumpled in appearance.  I noticed him come in but then he cast his eyes on me he began to saunter right over to the table where I was seated with my six year old.  I worried about what he might say.  What would I say?  I didn’t have much money on me if he was looking for a bite, although I could probably scrape something up from the bottom of my purse.

“Are you a church lady?” he asked.  I must have looked puzzled and didn’t respond at first, so he repeated, “Are you a church lady?”  My mind raced.  I wanted to say, “No, I’m a rock diva who is currently doing a gig at a Catholic church,” but my mouth said “Well, yes.  Yes, I am.”  “Could you tell me where I could find a Father?”  I gave him directions to the rectory and he thanked me and left.  Church lady?  Me?  Do I really look like a Church Lady?

I’ve know many incredible women who fit the moniker “Church Lady.”  Most often they were widowed and, like Anna, spent day and  night in the church cleaning the thuribles, pressing the vestments, setting up for Mass and putting the sacred vessels away neatly and carefully.  When  they weren’t doing their Church Lady duties they could usually be found sitting quietly in the back of the church with their eyes closed fingering crystal rosaries.  I believe that it’s the Church Ladies who really keep the church going.  It’s the Church Ladies who really do remember to pray for all the people who have asked for prayers.  They pray for the parish and the priests and the little babies who will be baptized.  They pray for the newly married couples and the newly widowed.  These women are the Church with pantsuits and smiles.  Sometimes theirs is the first face people see when they walk in.  Since they know everyone in the parish they’re quick to recognize and greet strangers.  They enthusiastically tell them the history of the the parish and direct them to the restrooms.  They’re the understanding heart that reaches out to the sorrowing and lost ones who have stumbled into the church to find answers  to their pain.

So tomorrow go to church and greet your church lady because she’s the embodiment of Anna, the first evangelist.  She’s the one who’s probably helping to pass out blessed candles.

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Losing It

John xxiiiLast Saturday I decided  that I had had ENOUGH!

I was fresh off the bus from the March for Life in Washington the day before and was feeling excited  about doing something positive for life when out of my television I heard the familiar sound of the wii.  It was grandson number two having a battle with a cartoon figure.

January 25 was bitter cold – 14 degrees when we left the parish parking lot, yet it was a good day.  My husband pulled a surprise move and decided to go along.  It was really nice to have him there for support, and I truly appreciated it.  On the way to D.C. the Pastor ran a movie about Blessed Pope John XXIII starring Ed Asner as the aged pope.  I remember seeing television images of the little old man in his white coat and mitre because he was the pontiff of my childhood, yet I never really knew  much about him other than a couple quotes that shed light on his beautiful humble spirit.  I do  remember the reforms of Vatican II and the tremendous upheaval the “poor country priest” began in the Church.  It was because of that small tap of the first Domino on the Church’s table that I am who I am today.

The effect on the Liturgy of the Church had a direct influence on me, because it was during that tumultuous time – a time  when my parents watched friends walk away from the Church, never to return – that I was trained to become an organist for Mass.  It was Sister’s idea.  She was giving me piano lessons and for some reason convinced my mother that I should learn to play the organ.  I didn’t realize that she had an ulterior motive.  The order of sisters who had served our parish from it’s beginning, taught in the school,  played  for the liturgies and directed the chants of the choir at High Masses decided to pull out of the parish.  They were going through some upheaval of their own.  Some of the sisters left the convent completely, some decided it was better to go into the cities and work among the poor than teach 8th graders their Catechism or play for Funerals.  So it was out of dire need, in the summer between my 8th grade year and High School, that I was given the task of playing for Mass and it sealed my fate forever.

I became the official organist at the age of 14, playing for all the Masses.  By this time the Mass looked and sounded completely different.  The Church was renovated to turn the altar around, the altar rail was tossed into the dumpster and the organ was moved from the back of the Church to the front.  The music, too, was totally unlike any of the chants I grew up listening to.  It had a distinct “hootenanny” feel to it, especially when they let (gasp!) guitars into church.  It felt and sounded more like the Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary records my older sister played incessantly on her 45 record player than the stuff in the Gregory Hymnal.

I wasn’t very good yet but the parishioners, who were trying to put on a happy face about the whole thing, remained very patient with me as I learned.  I played for parish Masses on weekends and school Masses in High School, getting a special dispensation to leave school for the parish when there was a funeral.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was John XXIII’s dedication to nonviolence and peacemaking.  I never read his beautiful encyclical Pacem in Terris that was written just three months before his death.  He believed in ecumenism, reconciliation and unity.  He promoted understanding and dialogue rather than the mistrust and espionage of the Cold War.

After the Newtown, CT shooting there was a few days of what I thought was respectful silence while the town buried their children.  What I didn’t know was that it was more like the prelude to a tsunami when the shoreline is drawn back into the ocean because a tremendous wave was building up.  As soon as the last  hymn of the last funeral was finished the shouting and accusations began flying and it’s now becoming more and more shrill and hateful.  Voices were coming from all sides,  blending into a kind of mass hysteria of suspicion and fear of anyone whose opinion differs – on any topic, not just guns.  Anything is fair game, even another person’s faith is held up to the light of public scrutiny and social bullying.  If I read a news article about the Catholic Church there follows post after post of anti-Catholic venom ranging from making the churches pay taxes to making laws against any religious expression.  If I read a blog from a priest, there are people – Catholics – who don’t think he’s Catholic enough (huh?) and they spew their opinions as if they’re Scripture verses.  An insightful article from a professor or professional on any subject is fodder for people to attack them with accusations and curses because it was not the opinion of the writer.  It’s madness.  It’s like we’re putting ourselves into another Cold War against each other.

So I’ve had enough.  Enough violence in thoughts, words or actions.  I need peace in my life because the current political and social climate is beginning to poison me.  I wasn’t raised this way and I’m not going to stand for having it around my family, so I’m going to start small, and Lent is a good time to put it into action:

  • In my home there will be no more “fighting games”  on the wii or computer.  I don’t care if someone likes fighting games and can quote me research that it doesn’t harm children – I don’t want them in my home!
  • No more negativity.  In my home there will only be words that will build others up, not tear them down.
  • No more angry words about anything, even if the dog gets into my yarn and makes confetti out of my afghan.
  • No more reading memes or forums online – these are a trap for me and I’m not going to let myself fall into it.
  • There will be respect for each other’s opinions, patience with each other’s conversations and understanding of each others feelings

Since I’m removing the negative I will need to replace it with something positive, so I’m going to dive deeper into my Catholicism by reading words of peace, reconciliation and understanding.  There are several modern saints and almost saints to choose from, but I figure Blessed Pope John XXIII is a good place to begin.

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Stargazing

1star_of_bethlehemI’ve seen too many trailers for The Poseidon Adventure to ever want to take a cruise.  I’ll drive  anywhere, and will voluntarily take a plane if I have to, but water – uh, no, thank you.  I have a real fear of ending my life as fish food.  My husband said he’d do it in a heartbeat because he’d be so far away from the lights on land that he’d be able to see all the stars and he really wants to see the whole night sky with all the stars.  Humans have always loved stargazing since the beginning of time.  We’ve named them, drawn figures around them, used them as guides, and told tales about them.  I guess it’s in our DNA to want to know about them because scientists say that we are made of star stuff.  Even ancient cultures knew more about the stars, the seasons, and the cycles of the natural world than I do – and I watch the Discovery Channel religiously.

The Star of Bethlehem has always been a source of wonder and story and throughout the ages artists have attempted to paint it.  They’ve usually made it big  and bright – sometimes placing it directly over the manger even occasionally vying for position with the angels.  Musicians have composed carols and popular songs about it; “Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with royal beauty bright…”  We put stars on our Christmas Trees, on our street lights, on our advertisements and over our doorways.  But I’ve often wondered – if the Star of  Bethlehem was so big and bright, why didn’t anyone else notice it?  Why don’t we have records from other civilizations about an unusual light in the sky?  Why didn’t Herod know about it before the Wise Men showed up on  his doorstep looking for directions?  Evidently he had a couple astrologers on staff because just after he fibbed to the wise men he got them all working on the problem of the prophetic light of a rival king.  Why didn’t they see it coming?

Perhaps the reason that no one noticed the Star of Bethlehem was because they weren’t looking for the one that was there.  Maybe it wasn’t very big at all, didn’t shine brighter than the noonday sun and it didn’t have a tail as big as a kite.  What if it were just an ordinary, garden variety star that appeared on the horizon one morning just before sunrise in an area of the sky where it wasn’t the night before.   We know from legend that the three wise men were astrologers.  Many ancient cultures were skilled in reading the stars and other heavenly bodies, and the astrologers were very familiar with the sky.  If something new would have shown up, they’d have noticed.  In fact, the sighting prompted them to immediately pack up their things and undertake a treacherous journey through unfamiliar lands and cultures.  It was worth it to them to see this king of the Jews because they had read the prophecies and understood their meaning.  I wonder if they were a bit confused when the star led them to a little rinky-dink Jewish town and that the new-born king appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary, no different than any other child in the vicinity.

It’s funny when you think about these road-weary men who finally got to the end of their journey only to find that the King of the Jews was a poor little boy with ordinary parents in an ordinary house.  Yet, unfazed, they still bowed before the child and offered the gifts they had brought for the king they were seeking; Gold, a gift for a king, Frankincense, a gift for a deity, and Myrrh, a gift for the Man destined to die.   Later, when they realized that they each had the same dream that warned them not to return to Herod’s palace, they navigated another route home and disappeared into the pages of Salvation history.  There were hundreds of people living around the house of Joseph and Mary, and not one of them saw this child as anything but another child.  They were waiting for their Messiah to show up, like the Star of Bethlehem, as someone big and bright and out of the ordinary.  Unlike these three astrologers, they wouldn’t have been able to accept that the Messiah was already with them in the ordinary day in and day out of their lives.

There are so many lights around us that it’s almost impossible to see a winter’s night sky without having to trek the globe to find enough darkness.  If the Star of Bethlehem had appeared today who would have been able to see it?  Maybe it would be noticed by someone at NASA, whose job is to scan the skies for Extra-Terrestrial visitors or Near Earth Objects, but they’d probably only map it, not knowing it’s real meaning.  It would be marked as a point of light among billions of other points of light.  Could it be that we are just like the people of Bethlehem?  Are we able to see the miracles that are all around us in our ordinary day in and day out?  Are the lights of our age distracting us, keeping us from seeing the true light because it’s a point of light among billions of points of  light?   Could  it be that we’re following the same lights that are keeping us from being stargazers?

So today I’m going to pack up Christmas, wrap it in tissue paper and put it back in the boxes to be stored in the garage with the lawn mower,  but as I do I’m going to make a resolution.  From now on I’m going to pay more attention to what’s really happening in my ordinary life.  I am going to listen to more silence and gaze at more stars because I don’t want to miss anything.

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The Year of Hope

sunlightOkay, New Year’s Resolution – get more regular with the blog.  There!  That’s much more simple than losing weight and paying all my credit cards down.

So what happened that I stopped blogging for a while?  Truth is I started several posts and abandoned them because everything seemed too muddled and confused. The world started spinning too fast for this little ADHD brain to keep up with and I felt like my thoughts would probably be better off sitting quietly and use my inside-my- head voice.

First:  The hurricane of the century, Sandy,  came to call and wiped out the beach where I loved to go to for rest and refreshment, the place where Bugman rescued the butterfly while frolicking with his brother in the warm Atlantic water.  We watched the television news (after the power came back on) in horror.  Grandson number one looked at the images and shouted, “Hey, I was just on that roller coaster!”    This disaster wasn’t happening in a far off land or even at the other side of the country, but in my own little part of the world.  Images of the places I’d been to and knew well were shown day and night with the shell-shocked refugees who had just lost everything they owned.  They lost generations of memories, the tangible pieces of their lives and even members of their family in that same water that gave me renewal.  Unbelievable that they’re still begging, borrowing and stealing to get power, shelter and the basic necessities while the rest of the world has lost interest and moved onto other things.

Second:  The election….I’m still shuddering thinking about it.  I had plenty of opinions, but discovered that it would probably be best if I didn’t express them.  There came a point that whatever I thought, said, wrote or believed was fuel for someone else’s rage.  I lost friends, people I  knew – or thought I knew, for years – because of something I expressed on Facebook that they took out of context and blew out of proportion   I’m glad it’s over.  I’m glad that I live in a country where we elect our leaders freely without threats or coercion.  I’m not glad that the process is so messy and nasty.  I’m not glad that it’s an opportunity for those with power to try to influence the minds and hearts of people through half-truths and outright lies.  I’m not glad that the nation is becoming more and more polarized.  I’m not glad that I was pigeonholed and demographed, categorized and counted as if I were a commodity instead of a rational, thinking human being with the ability to read and follow my conscience – because even my conscience became something that could be scrutinized,  judged and torn apart by people I didn’t even know.  Even now that all’s said and done I worry that I may have gotten someone’s hackles up who just read this paragraph.  We’ve lost the ability to respect ideas, opinions and each other.

Third: The Massacre of the Innocents…I still can’t go there.  Syria, Connecticut – when will we ever learn, O Lord?  When?

Fourth:  Christmas…the most wonderful time of the year – if you are seven.  The Church tries its best to keep it holy by focusing on Advent, and I’m in that camp completely.  I love Advent!   I love the readings, the music,  the anticipation; however, who can resist getting caught up in the maelstrom?  It started after Halloween.  I was still raiding the grandkid’s candy stash for miniature tootsie rolls when I heard the first commercial of Christmas.  It was pink, and loud and the speaker had a voice that, I suppose, is supposed to attract ten year old girls and get them  to nag grandparents to buy pink things that will be opened and abandoned in one day when the target children discover that it isn’t nearly as much fun as it looks like in the commercial.  The voice crawls up my spine like a tick with cleats.  At that moment I saw a vision of my life for the next couple months – the Christmas Season – an extra special time for Church musicians.

I begin to prepare for Christmas in the summer.  I usually do an arrangement of an obscure carol for my choir – this year I did “A La Nanita Nana,” a beautiful medieval Spanish carol.  In August I reserve the church for our Ceremony of Lessons and Carols and begin my yearly war with the basketball coaches for the release of my choir kids to be able to sing at the concert.   We rehearse like mad for weeks and after the concert realize that we have to quickly rehearse for Christmas Eve midnight Mass.  I plan, play and direct six Masses between 5:00 pm Christmas Eve and 12:00 pm Christmas Day with choirs, cantors, brass, bells, and guitars and 4 1/2 hours sleep.  In between these I have to visit with the in-laws, fill all the stockings, bake a ham, green bean casserole, finish wrapping gifts and entertain company.  As usual, I survived,  but it’s definitely not a time for wimps  and it’s getting harder every year.  Heck, at my age everything is getting harder every year.

My husband, who usually plays the pessimist to my Pollyanna  has decided that 2013 would be the year of hope.  He’s rallying the family like a general leading his troops into the fray, trying to get us all to work just a bit harder,  complain a bit less, cooperate a bit more and keep on the sunny side.  Oh, and we’re going to lose weight and pay down our credit cards.    I hope it works.

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