Roses in December!

Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we honor the faith of Juan Diego, a native Indian in the 16th century who encountered a vision of Mary dressed in native attire on a hill near his village in Mexico. When the Spanish bishop in Mexico City asked for a sign, Our Lady of Guadalupe provided out-of-season December roses. As Juan Diego opened his tunic carrying the roses for the bishop, the image of Our Lady in native attire was imprinted on his tunic. This led to millions of native Indians coming to faith in the Americas.

Virgen de Guadalupe, Luis Berrueco (painting @ VMFA)

Roses in December! Brings to mind a favorite 15th century German carol, “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming.” Here’s a rendition of this carol from Sting (another fav musician), so have a listen to this YouTube video.

Sting sings this and many other beautiful medieval carols on one of my favorite reflective compilations, If On A Winter’s Night, played all year around, but especially appropriate for cold winter nights huddled by a warm fire (or under a warm blankey) contemplating the warmth & beauty of God’s love for us.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
This Rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it,
The Virgin Mother so sweet and so kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Saviour,
When half-spent was the night.

A Rose in Bethlehem (literally!)

🌹grace, peace & December roses🌹

Virginia : )

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A Quickie Quote of Advent HOPE : )

A very quickie thought for our minds &  hearts to ponder today. But first, here’s a pic of an open arms kinda snowman sharing holiday cheer (& love) @ Walt Disney’s Epcot park in sunny Florida.

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”  Bob Hope

grace, peace & Christmas love (all-year-round)

Virginia : )

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10 December: Human Rights for ALLLLLLLLLL!!

It’s December 10th, the day the world sets aside to highlight human rights. Once again, here’s Virginia’s Advent post-a-day Human Rights blog. We often think of the lack of human rights in far away places, but this year there are many issues to consider closer to home. Life is a gift, but for many crushed by injustice, inequality, torture, and lack of access to basic rights, it’s a struggle to survive.

Dashing amidst the holiday rush, it’s difficult to slow down to think about Human Rights?? But today back in 1948 a war weary world came together to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  (Click here to read it.)

Each year on 10 December we commemorate this declaration: the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights engenders media attention & entities fighting injustice have a day in the global spotlight, but tomorrow the world will move on to the next celebrity crisis – and we pass around another round of eggnog.

Before taking that next sip of eggnog, (or your holiday drinkie of choice), think about the many girls and women who have been victims of gender violence, especially rape, in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, the DRC (Congo) & Sudan where it has been used as a weapon of war. That’s often just the beginning of their horrors. Years ago in Kosovo when I met with a 12-year-old rape victim, that was the least of her worries after being used as a human shield by paramilitary forces in a war zone. In Africa, kidnapped girls are often raped, then forced to be ‘wives’ for conscripted soldiers.

Contemplating basic human rights (and the lack thereof) we take so much for granted. Living and working in places where people had no rights, I am grateful for the freedoms and opportunities I experienced growing up.

For example, the right to education. So many girls (& boys in some places, but especially girls) don’t have a chance for even primary school since taking care of livestock, crops, and fetching water is part of family survival. Where I worked in the Middle East, all schools were shut down for four years: even kindergarten teachers caught teaching their students were sent to prison. In other parts of the world girls still don’t have a chance to study because …they’re GIRLS.

Then there’s torture.

If we would think more about what Jesus commanded in His Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – maybe dehumanization allowing this great evil to persist would not occur.

How would you feel if your wife, husband, daughter, son, brother, sister, mother or father was beaten, imprisoned, and routinely tortured? How would you feel if the breaking of your bones was considered “moderate physical pressure?”

How can it ever be ‘ok’ to torture anyone?? (According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: IT’S NOT OK!)

The most fundamental right, however, is the right to LIFE.

Here’s a paragraph from younger Virginia in a Christmas letter, circa 1999.

“…and seeing mass graves of bodies hacked in senseless violence. I spoke with a farmer in a village near Podejevo. The bodies of his father (78), mother (72), neighbor (70), and sister (55) had been dumped into a mass grave we visited. Although his sister’s husband had urged her to flee, she wouldn’t leave her feeble parents by themselves. His sister and parents were killed, their ears, arms and other body parts sliced and mutilated, and yet, with tears streaming down his face, this farmer said, “it’s not right that we burn Serb houses now.” When I asked about living again with Serbs, he said, “we’ve suffered so much it would be difficult,” but then later he told me there was an elderly Serb woman living on his street, “she’s different, we will protect her because she’s our neighbor.” 

I remember this farmer, vividly. He pleaded with his sister to join them as they fled their village to safety, but she said, “who will take care of our parents?  They’re so old & can’t hurt anyone, why would anyone want to hurt them?”  Indeed.

“Nothing matters so much to me as human life.  It is something so serious and so profound, more than the violation of any other human right, because it is the life of the sons (& daughters) of God, and because this blood (the murders of so many in El Salvador) negates love, awakens new hate and makes peace & reconciliation impossible.”  Archbishop Oscar Romero

Life IS a gift. So many like Oscar Romero around the world (& in our country) laid down their lives in pursuit of justice, equal rights, and basic human rights FOR ALL. Thanking God – today & every day – for the gift of their lives and legacies to continue fighting injustice wherever, whenever, however we can.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close, so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Eleanor Roosevelt (who chaired the drafting committee of the declaration & pushed for its passage in the fledgling United Nations.)

Let’s look around to see what we can do to root out the rubble of injustice wherever we are here & around the world.  Let’s be about it!!

 “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” 
St. Irenaeus

grace, peace & human rights (for alllllllllllllll!)

Virginia : )

“…is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”  Isaiah 58:6

“…And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

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…no Bah-Humbugging around…

For neophyte Bah Humbuggers out there, “Bah Humbug” is an attitude espoused by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a book written by Charles Dickens in the 19th century that is still relevant today. Scrooge is not the nicest character (to begin with) miserly eschewing all things Christmas.

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.)

Driving home yesterday evening from Hampton, battling icy sleet & traffic, I wanted to bah humbug the world, throw a warm blanket over my head and call it a night.

Instead, venturing back out into the dark braving pouring sleet mingled with snow, (usually a deterrent for Southerners), I made it to our James City County library to find a full parking lot and “A Dickens Christmas” event in full swing.

Inside the warm library a chamber group played baroque carols while aromas of roasting chestnuts and hot cider wafted by, beckoning attention. Activities loomed around every corner – crafts, puppet shows for kids, Dickensesque lectures in conference rooms, green screen photo ops with costume props, parlour games, storytelling, and harpists strumming sweet holiday melodies.

Warhill High String Ensemble, JCC Library (photo: D.Woodward)

Meandering to the back atrium of the county library (seemingly bigger & brighter than our downtown Williamsburg location), I caught a chilling ghost story reading. A Christmas Carol is a ghost story, after all: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Future & Present haunt Scrooge into a major bout of soul searching.

Spoiler alert: Scrooge eventually undergoes a change of heart in Dickens’ story.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.)

Jamestown High James-Tones, JCC Library

An evening highlight came listening to Jamestown High School’s a cappella group singing traditional Christmas carols intermingled with popular favorites, including a rousing rendition of ‘Sleigh Ride’ that sounded like something from T.V.!

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”  (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

Meanwhile, people continued pouring in (while it was pouring sleet outside!) More music groups played, thespians put on short plays – there was so much going on it was hard to choose what next? A Plum Pudding lecture from Colonial Williamsburg Historic Foodways Journeyman, Kimberly Costa, ensnared my interest. Ms. Costa held our rapt attention to the last word of her enlightening multimedia presentation promising a taste of an authentic 19th century plum pudding. (Did you know original plum pudding had beef suet in it? Thankfully, she made hers vegetarian!)

All this is relevant to Advent, how?

Methinks we’re not meant to Scrooge around Bah Humbugging our way through this season, but open our hearts wide to the transforming power of Love and being the change we want to see in the world.

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

grace, peace & (reformed) Bah Humbuggers

Virginia : )

JCC Library Christmas-Book-Tree!

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Mary: Let It Be So

Today Catholics all around the world honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In our faith tradition, Mary took a huge step of faith with her ‘yes’ to God’s request through Angel Gabriel. She risked death (they stoned pregnant-out-of-wedlock women back then) but she said yes to God, anyway.

Despite her fears, despite not knowing how her betrothed, Joseph, would take it.

She said, ‘yes.’  Let it be so. Let it be as You have said.

She trusted God, completely, and moved forward by faith letting her yes become Love incarnate within her.

At early church this morning, our Deacon said, “God does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called.” 

Something to think about!

Here’s an inspiring song from musician Sarah Hart (of whom I have written previously, click here to read about her) that has blessed me tremendously. During an 8-day silent retreat two years ago I played it over & over, the words melted tough stuff in my mind & opened up my heart to God’s healing graces.

Sarah Hart, Let it Be So (from her “This Winter’s Eve’ compilation.)

Taking Mary’s example to heart, may we offer up “Let it be so” to God’s nudging in our lives, opening our hearts wider that God’s Heavenly paintbrushes (& chisels) may mold & shape us into works of Divine Art, where somehow, someway, God’s Light may shine through us today.

This Madonna & Child picture, acquired in Jerusalem, has been on my wall for years as a reminder of God’s Heavenly paintbrushes & Mary’s ‘yes, let it be so.’ 

grace, peace & open hearts

Virginia  : )

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (& WOMEN!)

Advent is special time to groove to our favorite Christmas carols, but here’s a confession: favorite Christmas compilations sneak into my playlists all year around (Christmas bells ringing in July?) My brother sometimes looks at me askance, but last month Christmas music moved into all-play, all-day, all over the house. (Sometimes he escapes by beating a hasty retreat to his man cave.)

Fortunately, we have a variety of Christmas playlists – Gospel, jazz, upbeat, choral, classical, reflective (Windham Hill, Narada et all), world compilations (Putumayo), boogie-woogie, and a host of others.

I have so many favorites, it’s hard to narrow down just one (or two, or three, or four!) Each year, though, one or two repeat their way through multiple plays into most favorite status. I’ve posted before about Pink Martini & others, but this year Sarah McLachlan’s “Wonderland” has been merrily multi-playing since October.

Last night I switched over to her previous compilation, “The Classic Christmas Album,” & just let it play (& play) whilst sorting out some stuff. This one has so many favorite carols (amidst 17 songs) like “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “The First Noel,” “In the Bleak Midwinter” and more.

If I had to pick a favorite Christmas carol, however, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ has been up at the top of the list since I was little. Written in the 15th Century, this carol has been sung for hundreds of years.

On Sarah McLachlan’s Classic Christmas compilation, she does a rousing rendition with Barenaked Ladies (another Canadian fav) that merges “We Three Kings” into the mix.

Here’s a YouTube video to give it a listen (for email readers, you need to click through to the Roses website to access the video.)

God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay …

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

grace, peace & Christmas carol grooves

Virginia : )

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Preponderating Childlike Wonder (Take-2)

There’s something about being childlike. Jesus said, “unless you change and become like a child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

What does that mean?

Papa always got a kick out of the fact that whilst working overseas in conflict zones, dodging bullets and stones (at times tanks & landmines), at night I clutched my teddy bear, Bumbles. He’s now quite old and decrepit. (Papa also said, “it’s not necessarily the years but the miles that age us.” Bumbles & I have wracked up both!)

Methinks being childlike is not just about clutching our teddy bears or massive stuffed hippos like Augie, gifted a few years ago by my sis, who reveled in squeals of delight from big-kid me. Augie, so named in honor of Saint Augustine of Hippo, also serves as a comfy backrest.

Here’s Augie with Freddie the Frog (click here to read how Freddie the Frog does Christmas.)

Being childlike? Not too far a stretch for hippo-loving, teddy-toting me. However, juggernaut me needs a reminder every now and then of what it truly means in our whacked out world with overwhelming challenges spiraling out of control.

Think of children, so trusting and open (ok, at times whiny and needy, but aren’t we all?) Consider a child’s sense of wonder and adventure.

As a groupie of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, last night we watched an episode where he interviewed filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer in Residence, James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar), who made a record breaking dive in the Marianas Trench, the deepest point under the ocean located near the Philippines.

Here’s a snapshot of their preponderating dialogue:

Neil: “What motivated you to go to the bottom of the ocean, the bottom of Earth?”

James Cameron: “I’ve been asked that a lot. It occurs to me that a kid would never ask that question, because a kid would know, you just gotta go!”

Neil: “I want to be a kid again!”

James Cameron: “As a culture, we start to think like adults. A kid would say, why wouldn’t you go? It’s there. You haven’t looked yet. So, why wouldn’t you build a sub and get in it to go and look?”

As their conversation moved on to technical issues heavily interspersed with science & engineering bits, like why the sub-capsule had to be a sphere, my mind grappled with the kid-like motivation for this explorer who helped design & build a complicated something so he could go and have a look at the deepest part of the ocean. Keep in mind, if anything went wrong he could have become a pile of goo in minutes (or seconds – there was a bit of debate about that.)

‘Tis geeky of Virginia, writing out their dialogue, but here’s something else to consider.

“It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso

As we get older, sometimes we forget to ponder the vastness of wonder in our universe: whirling planets, twinkling stars, the depths of the sea, plants, flowers & beauteous trees that surround us. Maybe today we can put on childlike glasses that open our eyes & hearts to pondering the wonder around us – and within us.

God’s heavenly paintbrushes, busy at work with celestial love.

Photo Credit: Hubble Telescope, NASA, ESA, 20th Anniversary team

Maybe that new-thing nudging we’ve impossibled ourselves out of trying, or constantly replayed hurts paralyzing our minds from hope & healing – maybe we should go for childlike & be about it: opening our hearts a little wider to the spark of God’s love, the incarnate healing joy of the infant Jesus Who emanates light when all is darkness.

“’Unless you become like a child…’  I am sure you will understand beautifully everything if you would only ‘become’ a child in God’s hands. The personal love Christ has for you is infinite; the small difficulty you have regarding His church is finite.

Overcome the finite with the infinite.”  Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)

Photo: “A Rose Made of Galaxies” (NASA’s Hubble Telescope, 17 December 2010)

grace, peace & childlike preponderating

Virginia : )

p.s. Today is the feast day of Saint Nicolas, a special day for children all across Europe. Here’s a previous post you can click to read more… Saint Nicholas & Purposeful Fruitcake

p.s.2 For buddies who get Roses posts in your email, apologies for this re-post, but there were a few technical issues to resolve (but not building-a-submarine engineering ones!) 🙂

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