Saint Nicholas & Gifts with a Purpose

In many countries December 6th is a special day where children receive gifts from Saint Nicholas, a 4th century bishop who is well remembered in Eastern and Western churches. Although not many exact details are known about his life, the Eastern church recognizes this saint as a “preacher of the Word of God and spokesman of the Father,” while the Western church has passed down stories of his timely provision of dowries for poor girls in his city (who otherwise would have been forced into prostitution) and reputation for helping the poor and oppressed.

A beer-brewing buddy informed me that Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of brewers. (Who knew? No wonder this saint is so popular in Europe!)

Think about giving gifts. Consider how Saint Nicholas has morphed into ‘Santa Claus’ bringing toys in his sleigh for girls and boys (good ones, anyway.)

Gifts with a Purpose

Advent is the season of ‘coming’ as we await the birth of Jesus on Christmas, but it’s also when we scramble to find gifts for our loved ones, neighbors, friends, colleagues (whoever makes our gift lists.) We may view finding gifts a burdensome task, but it can be an opportunity to share gifts with a purpose – items that help others, educate, and inspire. There are Fair Trade options that help overseas communities, crafts from local artisans, fruitcakes and fudge from monasteries, issue-oriented books, inspirational DVDs, and gifts that lift spirits (music, hot chocolate & tea!)

There are also precious homemade gifts, like the woolen scarves my sis Shere knits each year (treasured and gratefully used on days like today when it’s brrrizzzy cold outside!)

As you tick names off your lists, consider how to give purpose-driven gifts.

Methinks Saint Nicholas would approve!

grace, peace & purpose-driven gifts

Virginia : )

p.s. For sci-fi folks in the blogosphere, there’s a classic short story on this feast day of St. Nicholas that provides a unique twist to his story. Written by Seabury Quinn for Weird Tales in 1937, the novelette “Roads” became a fan favorite reissued numerous times since then (including last year’s 70th anniversary paperback from Shadowridge Press.) I stumbled upon this moving story in Baen’s “A Cosmic Christmas” collection that I blogged about here during a previous post-a-day Advent gig: (a little) Cosmic Holiday Hilarity.

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joyful exultations!!

Last night while attending a lovely Advent lessons & carols service with my sister @ my church, several verses from Isaiah jumped off the page into my heart.

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…”

They also brought to mind a favorite rendition of Handel’s Messiah (with a slightly different beat from the classical choral, organ & bells arrangements we were enjoying.)

Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration definitely ramps joyful vibes up a bit. I remember cherishing this Gospel compilation way back in 1992 when it came out, then playing it (over & over again) in the Middle East for years as a joy-generator.

(For new readers, years ago Virginia sang in the Gospel Choir of an inner-city church in Washington, D.C.  ‘Twas a life highlight – & she was the only redhead!)

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of a favorite song: Every Valley Shall Be Exalted

“Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 

Isaiah 40:4-5

And here’s a YouTube video of the Hallelujah Chorus (soulful celebratory style.) Email readers, you know the drill. Click into the Roses website to view after a short ad.

“I shout for joy.” Psalms 92:5

grace, peace & joyful exultations

Virginia : )

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Snapshots & Whatnot: Advent Acts of Praise


cheerfully red birds @ the Vancouver Aquarium


“Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.”   Richard Rohr, OFM

grace, peace & (Advent-ish) acts of praise

Virginia : )

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Grand Illuminations (& Advent Awakenings)

Yesterday at church Father James Glass (our campus minister) said that part of Advent is staying awake. “Do not become drowsy.” (With the heat cranked up, maybe he noticed a few nodding heads.) He asked, “How would you feel if someone said, ‘I’m drowsy in you’ (vs. I’m in love with you?)”

Hence his admonition we’re to stay awake in the love of Jesus this Advent.

Later on yesterday, after zooming out and about in the dreary rain, I had just put on comfy sweats at home when my brother motivate-texted to meet up with him & his buddy at the Grand Illumination our town of Williamsburg hosts every year.

It usually is a grand time, but not so much fun in the rain. I had already taken a pass (rain, crowds & all that) but serendipitously the rain dissipated enough for a sliver of clear sky to be sighted out my window. Thus encouraged, I rallied forth to the festivities (along with mobs and mobs of other folks!)

‘Twas truly a grand time – our town does things up with colonial fifes and drums, musicians in various viewing spots sharing a plethora of music, white candles in every window, handmade wreaths on every door, white lights everywhere, along with cauldrons burning to keep folks warm.

There’s also an ice rink for the holiday season.

The Grand Illumination culminates with fireworks in three places: the Governor’s Green in front of the Governor’s palace, by the old Capitol building, and in the middle of Duke of Gloucester Street in front of the armory. We happened to be situated in front of the armory listening to the fife and drum corps when the fireworks began.

The Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps

I’ve never been so close to fireworks, in this case shooting stars, exploding red and green lights, and majestic displays that went on for over 20 minutes.

We also had the special delight to see several street level displays go off – a Christmas tree, a heart encased in fireworks, and later a swirly spinning wheel.

A heart encased in fireworks

My iPhone pics can’t do justice to the evening, but Colonial Williamsburg’s celebration this year truly was a Grand Illumination. So (very) glad I ‘woke up’ out of my comfortable chair and sleepy sweats to attend.

Staying awake spiritually on this second day of Advent, here’s a quote from a daily reading:

“You are the handiwork of God, await the hand of the Artist who does all things in due season. Offer the pottery of your heart, soft and tractable, and keep well the form in which the Artist has fashioned you.” Saint Irenaeus  (130-202 AD)

grace, peace & (illuminating) awakenings

Virginia : )

p.s. Saint Irenaeus also shared one of my favorite quotes:

“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

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Advent: …and so it begins

And so it begins…today is the first Sunday of Advent (whether we’re ready or not.)

Advent is a time of preparation and joyful anticipation, of waiting and doing (while we work on that patience thing waiting.)

Advent is a journey of wonder and faith as we travel with Mary from Nazareth to the manger, risking all yet trusting God.

A journey toward new beginnings.

“Fear not, for I am with you. BE not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus. At the end, and forever. It is to continually encounter Jesus.”  Pope Francis

And so our Advent journey begins, as we must each day begin, again and again, walking the path of faith with Jesus.

grace, peace & (Advent-ish) beginnings

Virginia : )

p.s. Virginia is once again plotting (& hoping) to do her post-a-day Advent gig. Realizing many friends and readers are of different faiths (& that it’s also an extremely busy time of the year) I hope that a quickie quote, photo, or Christmas meandering might spread a bit of joy and understanding around. Advent blessings to all!

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Inspirational Journeys: For Greater Glory

Celebrating the feast of Christ the King yesterday reminded me of the powerful movie “For Greater Glory.” After watching it in the theater six years ago, the following Christmas I gifted DVD copies to my entire family. As we prepare for the coming of Advent next Sunday, it’s a good reminder that often faith requires sacrifice.  

“Que viva Cristo Rey!”

Inspiration permeates this thought-provoking true story about religious freedom in Mexico during the 1920s regime of President Plutarco Calles. Beautifully crafted, well acted with an amazing cast, this is the kind of movie that stays with you awhile.

This epic creatively intertwines historic civic struggle against oppression with the transformation stories of two central figures: a little boy and a great general.

The movie opens as young José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) throws rotten fruit at an elderly village priest. Caught in the act, his uncle the mayor makes him help Father Christopher around the church. As José experiences Father Christopher’s faith in God and in him (even though he is quite a little hoodlum Father Christopher asks him to become an altar boy) José begins to change.

“Who are you if you don’t stand up for what you believe?”

So asks Father Christopher as José pleads for him to hide when government troops enter the village to kill him. (Peter O’Toole gives an incredibly inspirational performance as Father Christopher.) As José watches Fr. Christopher die for his faith, his life is transformed.

“Who are you if you don’t stand up for what you believe?”

Andy Garcia gives an amazing performance as General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, a retired general renown for successful battle strategies who is called upon to serve the Cristero movement that rose up in revolt against President Calles’ (Ruben Blades) repressive anti-faith laws and oppressive measures. Even though his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) is devout, General Velarde is an atheist. He does, however, believe in freedom (and may be a little bored running his soap factory) so he accepts the task of unifying the scattered resistance and leading them into a cohesive fighting force.

He finds leadership must be earned among the rough and ready bandito-ish fighters.

“Freedom is not just for writers and fancy documents, but for our homes, our families, and our lives.”  

In the process General Velarde is transformed as he sees the faith of those around him, especially José who he comes to love like a son. As he struggles with faith, “I don’t know where to find it.” One devout lady responds, “if your heart is open it will find you.”

Rated R for battle sequences and violence (not nearly as gory as Braveheart or The Patriot) this movie also chronicles the heroic efforts of the Cristero movement leadership and the sacrificial participation of so many individuals from all levels of Mexican society. Women played a crucial role, priests provided spiritual support (and in some cases military support), villagers provided food and shelter, lawyers drafted civil plans: all choosing to stand up for what they believed at great sacrifice.

I knew very little of this period in Mexico’s history except for a favorite book by Graham Greene, The Power & The Glory (set at the same time), but this is quite an education of unsung heroes who fought (and died) bravely for freedom and faith.

Que viva Cristo Rey!  (Long live Christ the King!)

grace, peace & inspirational movies

Virginia : )

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(uplifting) holiday blues

(Reader Alert: you might need a tissue at hand…)

After a plethora of lovely meals and family gathering(s), blogger Virginia (who also serves as a chief cook & menu strategist for family Thanksgivings) is in recovery mode. So grateful for special fellowship with my four siblings (& lifemates) who made it from near and far along with nieces and nephews (including our handsome new 3-month old great-nephew Lincoln, who oohed & ahhed for us at appropriate junctures.)

Usually the day after Thanksgiving we continue our festive goings-on, but this year everyone came earlier in the week and had to trek back home on Black Friday. I’ve never done any shopping on Black Friday (kind of on principle) but after giving my sis and her husband an early send-off I noticed World Market’s sales included 40% off their entire tea collection.

As faithful readers know, tea is one of Virginia’s favorite things (tied with chocolate.)

Change of plan: instead of crawling back in bed and being a couch potato (like, all day long) avid tea groupie Virginia rallied to brave crowds in pursuit of tea. Fortified at a brunch treat out with my brother, we hit the tea mother lode @ World Market (they had one of my favorite Christmas teas! 40% off!!) A full cart of tea later, Dwight went off with one of his buddies and I decided to use more coupons at another favorite store: Barnes & Noble (books! music! movies! = a favorite hangout.)

After major contemplation, Virginia’s big Black Friday acquisition = the soundtrack for the second Mamma Mia movie (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.) The first Mamma Mia movie is a fav. When I saw it years ago the whole theater jumped up at the end clapping. Watching the second one last summer with my sister & niece, I enjoyed many parts but one song stayed with me long after: My Love, My Life (by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson)

Here’s a YouTube video of it (email readers you know the drill – you need to click into the Roses website to view it & endure the 5 second ad.)

“…Oh yes, and as one are we/ In the now and beyond/ Nothing and no one can break this bond…”

Instead of jumping up clapping at the end of this movie, I scrambled to find tissues for streaming eyes that miss my precious Mama. And Papa. Playing this song again today reminded me of all the special Thanksgivings we shared, of Mama & Papa’s daily attitudes of gratitude, of their love and gift of presence in our lives – and I needed more Kleenex!

Holiday blues are hard missing loved ones, but no one can break the bonds of joy that strengthen our hearts with tears and love from above.

grace, peace & uplifting holiday blues

Virginia : )

p.s. Two pots of Christmas Tea already made (& sampled.)

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