Evening Poetry, December 11, 2022

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Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

A Christmas circular letter
  
  
The city had withdrawn into itself  
And left at last the country to the country;  
When between whirls of snow not come to lie  
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove  
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,   
Yet did in country fashion in that there  
He sat and waited till he drew us out,  
A-buttoning coats, to ask him who he was.  
He proved to be the city come again  
To look for something it had left behind   
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.  
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;  
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place  
Where houses all are churches and have spires.  
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas trees.    
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment  
To sell them off their feet to go in cars  
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,  
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.  
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.      
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees, except  
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,  
Beyond the time of profitable growth—  
The trial by market everything must come to.  
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.      
Then whether from mistaken courtesy  
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether  
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,  
I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while."
  
"I could soon tell how many they would cut,     
You let me look them over."  
 
                                    "You could look.  
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."  
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close  
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few     
Quite solitary and having equal boughs  
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,  
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,  
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."  
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.   
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,  
And came down on the north. 
 
                                    He said, "A thousand."  
  
"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"  
  
He felt some need of softening that to me:       
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."  
  
Then I was certain I had never meant  
To let him have them. Never show surprise!  
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside  
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents    
(For that was all they figured out apiece)—   
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends  
I should be writing to within the hour  
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,  
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools     
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
  
A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!  
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,  
As may be shown by a simple calculation.  
Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.       
I can't help wishing I could send you one,  
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

You can find this poem in The Illustrated Robert Frost: 15 Winter Poems for Children.

On the doorstep of Advent

A previous Advent arrangement.

This afternoon I brought out all my advent books and am readying the wreath-of-sorts that I’ll be using this year. It’s simple: a plate with four beeswax taper candles and freshly cut evergreens to fill it in and make it more festive.

As I learn more about the traditions of other, older cultures and religions, I’ll admit to conflicted feelings when it comes to the Christian observances and celebrations I’ve come to hold dear. Christianity stole much of what was meaningful from “the pagans” and put its own name and “more holy” stamp on the seasonal feasts and holy days. The fact that this religion that I loved my whole life is attached to colonization, to genocide means that there is a darkness, a shadow side to it.

Where I am landing right now is within the word syncretism which is the combination of different forms of beliefs or practices. I have my roots in Christianity, for better or for worse, and that’s where I feel most at home, but my respect and interest in other belief systems grows all the time. I have added observances of other days including the Celtic wheel of the year.

But tomorrow, I will light the first candle amidst the darkness of these short days. I will sing a carol and ponder a reading in one of my many devotional books. And I will revel in the beauty and mystery of the story.

Another Advent candle arrangement from a previous year.

A Quiet Advent Evening

 

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Have you been on the go this December? Ours has looked like concerts and basketball games, shopping and our own performances, filling orders for Delicata House (my craft business), spending time with friends and family, and so on. These are all positive activities that I am thankful for! Except when days go by and I don’t write, read or reflect and then I feel bewildered and lost, like I’m floating and can’t quite get a grip on myself and where I’m going. That’s what rest is for.

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We performed at two local venues and attended a service for a friend’s husband this past weekend, and then my kids came for dinner after our show Sunday night. On Monday, after I drove my daughter to school, we shopped for Christmas presents and groceries. Today I woke up with a migraine and I am sure it was my body telling me “If you won’t take a break, I’ll force you to.” So I wasn’t productive–I was in bed most of the afternoon. Alan was kind and made me dinner and then he went to his son’s basketball game.

 

This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for all Advent: I slipped into the library, lit the first two of the Advent candles, grabbed the books I’m reading this Advent season, sat down and read. Afterward, I opened my brand new Sacred Ordinary Days Weekly Planner and reflected and planned and prioritized for a solid hour. I felt grounded, peaceful, and like I at least have an idea of a direction I want to live toward this week. And, mercifully, the migraine is gone!

I hope you can make time to be with yourself and with God, to read, write and reflect during this Advent season.

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Three Books I’ll Read This Advent

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A friend asked me for Advent recommendations today, so I thought I’d share them here. I learned about Advent when my children were little because I was looking for ways to make our Christmas traditions richer and not simply about getting gifts.

Because I wasn’t raised in a Catholic or a Protestant mainline church, I never knew about the tradition of Advent and how it could make the season longer, filled with greater anticipation and really, more meaningful. I entered into this willingly. I realize if one was dragged to church and didn’t connect the ritual with the symbolism and it didn’t mean anything significant, it would be a dull and empty tradition. I never wanted that for myself or my children. Most of the people I knew when I started this journey didn’t understand what Advent was or why it was important. I brought it up once a year as I built this tradition into our own family life. We used a few different wreaths to light candles, finally settling on this wooden one, handmade by Ann Voskamp’s son.

This year, I purchased four white pillar candles and a metallic charger that I lined with evergreens for my Advent wreath. On Sunday evening, I’ll light the first candle.

But, here are a few of my favorite Advent books to read or share with others:

My all-time top of the list is God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have the Audible version of this and listen to it every year, but I also like to read it. The readings are short, but extremely deep and even more so when you realize Bonhoeffer was writing from his Nazi- guarded prison cell during World War II. If you purchase one book for Advent, this should be the one.

My next most-read Advent book is Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes the writings of various authors, including C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, and Kathleen Norris, among many others.

One I purchased several years ago as a Kindle version and will re-read this year is Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enumo Okoro. In the preface, the author says, “Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God.” It’s not easy to cultivate stillness amidst this busy time, is it? Counter-intuitive, but so nourishing for our souls. At least, for this soul.

Do you observe Advent? Do you have favorite resources?

 

Day 26: The Hurrier I Go

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I’m sure you’ve heard this Lewis Carroll quote,

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

There’s a certain point at which that becomes true. Not that I am encouraging dawdling or procrastination, but hurrying hurts and usually winds up hindering our progress. Oops! I spilled something in my haste. Or, now I need to apologize for snapping at my loved one because I’ve made myself miserable trying to live at this breakneck pace.

We weren’t meant to flit and speed from one place and activity to another with no rest, no time for reflection. Here is a definition of the phrase “hurry sickness” coined by doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman:

“a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

This article on how to overcome hurry sickness takes a good look at the problem. We need help! As a culture, many of us don’t know how to relax or slow down, even if we only have a few pockets of time every day.

We have forgotten how to love stillness and silence, how to sit with ourselves alone and just be, how to fully enjoy a walk, appreciate the preciousness of a loved one’s smile, drink in the exquisiteness of a sunset, how to be silly and laugh long and hard, and how to look for joy in the ordinary. But we can slow down and become full of wonder again.

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This time of year, you’re probably looking ahead at the next two months wondering how you’ll get through all the activities associated with the holidays. I used to just square my shoulders and tell myself to hustle more.

And I would go through it all feeling panicky, breaking down into crying jags, yelling and being sharp with my words. And then apologizing for my unacceptable behavior. I just couldn’t handle the constant go-go-go, combined with baking like mad, lots of entertaining, the purchasing and wrapping of gifts and trying to make it all magical and perfect for my kids and anyone who came to our home.

I wanted the peace I attempted to give everyone else. I craved space, simplicity, and the beauty of delighting in small things.

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After a bunch of years doing it the hard way, with the help of books or articles I read and voices on slowing down, like Ann Voskamp’s, I am learning to change my holiday style.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself before plunging into the season:

If I could arrange my holiday season any way I chose, what would it look like?

If I wasn’t concerned about anyone’s judgement about how I did the holidays, what would I say yes to and what would I say no to?

Who is most important to me and how can I focus on showing them love this season?

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Here is an old book that I love called Unplug the Christmas machine: How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted. It touches on typical roles that women and men take on during the holiday, four things children really want for Christmas, a simple Christmas, Christmas revival, the gift of joy, and it includes a handy resource section with recipes and alternative gift ideas. Of course, it feels dated, but it also feels wise and warm and cozy. Some of the resources may be outdated, but use the internet to find something comparable. This version is out-of-print, but amazon Marketplace has copies available.

And if you’d rather have the in-print version, that’s Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season:

The other book I’ve read over and over is: To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. Although I’m not a Catholic, I incorporated several of the traditions listed in this book to enrich my own and my kids’ holiday season. This book actually takes the reader through the entire church calendar, but I’ve used it for Advent and Christmas, primarily.

And finally, a sweet out-of-print old-fashioned book called The Child’s Christmas. I’m not sure how I stumbled across this one, but it follows a fictional Victorian family from Advent through Epiphany. It tells of all their traditions, what they ate and played and did, what gifts they gave and received, how they celebrated. I read it to my kids when they were seven and three.

I hope we can all find comfort and joy this year!

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