From a father’s heart

The other night, I lay beside Matthew as he was “sleep training.” This means that he stood up in bed and fussed and chewed on my arm while I lay on the big bed next to his. I could just about make out what he was saying, in his 9-month-old way: “You’re RIGHT THERE and you KNOW what my problem is! Why can’t you just FIX IT?! What’s the PROBLEM?!”

But I ignored him, because he needs to learn how to lay down and go back to sleep by himself. I told him he was OK and that I loved him. After a while he slumped onto his bed, muttering to himself, and soon he fell asleep.

I hate doing that to him. I lay awake long after he was asleep, taking these quiet moments to talk with God. “Why have things been so HARD lately?” I asked him. “No one else can see inside me, but you know EXACTLY how worn out I have been! If Matthew could just sleep, so much would be better—and you could do it EASILY! Why won’t you just FIX IT?!”

But after a while I just slumped back onto my pillow. I could feel God’s presence, as though he were assuring me that he was right there and that he loved me. “God, I don’t know what’s going on,” I said, “but I give all of this back to you as a gift—and I’ll give you back anything else you send me. Thank you for letting me give something to you.”

And soon I fell asleep.

Share Button

All that is gold does not glitter

Last night I read a reflection written by my father two or three years ago. Every culture, he said, seems to have a legend about a “golden age” when things were better and people more virtuous and the goods of this life more abundant. Along the same lines, most people have their own picture of “back when things were better,” usually drawn from the misty memories of childhood. Some spend their lives trying to recreate that golden time—but it’s a mistake. That was Eden, and the way back stands barred by a seraph with a flaming sword.

I feel the pull. There was a period when I was a boy that seems now like a lost paradise, and there was a period early in my marriage that in retrospect seems calm and enviable. Recent years have been hard: bad health, strife at work, a difficult baby, my wife exhausted—sometimes I have felt that it just couldn’t go on.

But I realized even as I read my father’s note that this, right now, is my Eden. My wife and I enjoy a kind of deep friendship only possible after trials have worn away the sharp corners of selfishness. I have an easy, natural friendship with my oldest two children, a friendship that promises to be life-long. My younger kids are too young for real friendship but they are neat people and just beginning to show their future selves. My baby is soooo attached to his Papa that I can hardly leave the room without a scene. My colleague next door at the office is a true friend, someone who calls me up when I’m depressed and forces me out of my self-imposed isolation. Never in my life have I enjoyed such a cornucopia of different kinds of friendship—and not just any friendships, but the ones that will seem meaningful at death’s door.

Friendships and hardships together have brought me closer to Christ than at any point previous. I know firsthand what St. Francis meant about “Sister Death,” and why the cross is the most beautiful object in the world. I know by experience that we only find ourselves in a sincere gift of self. This, this now, is what I have wanted from life.

At first, just glancing from far away, in my present sorrows I see a flaming sword between me and Eden, but that’s a trick of perspective. Close up, I see a pillar of fire leading the way to the promised land.

Share Button

Poems for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

When I pointed out this morning that our baby Matthew would have been killed had he been in those villages near Bethlehem, my fifteen-year-old daughter Bernadette was thoughtful.  This evening, she gave me a set of poems she had written, and I want to share them here:

The Mother

Have you ever seen a baby’s smile light up the room?
Seen sheer happiness for no more reason than a laugh?
Have you ever heard a baby’s song without a tune?
Or, playful, fought him for your bread, at least a half?

Continue reading “Poems for the Feast of the Holy Innocents”

Share Button

Rubber Baby Bloggy Bumpies

You may have noticed that the New Song blog fell suddenly silent a week or more ago.  I had just begun the Jesse Tree project, and I was tossing up additional posts, getting into the Advent season–and then nothing.  The Holmes house hit a major bump when all the kids came down with this nasty cold/flu thing going around and flopped around on chairs and couches like they had just rolled off the rubber chicken factory line.

Actually, the major bump was when Matthew the seven-month-old filled his head with mucus, started coughing, and stopped sleeping.  My wife and I took turns pacing with him through the night for the better part of a week; we did only the essentials during the day, and by the end we didn’t do those, either.  We hit that point where you have to rearrange things on the kitchen counter creatively so you can put down your cup.  Only you can’t find a cup, because all the sniffling, hacking rubber chickens take one sip from each cup in the cupboard, decide they need a new cup, and even drink from your cup when you’re not looking.

So the Jesse Tree project is dead for this year.  But in all that night-time pacing I thought a lot about new ideas and directions for the blog.  I actually compiled a spreadsheet one afternoon of all my top blog posts from the past couple of years and I ranked them by the number of “hits”.  And I learned something extremely valuable from that exercise:

Which posts get lots of “hits” and which do not is pretty much random.  It has nothing to do with how well written or thoughtful the blog post is.  Seeing that fact in cold numbers really takes the ego out of blogging.

So I figure I should just keep writing about whatever I enjoy writing about, although I do have some crazy ideas about new directions that may or may not work out, depending on which way the wind blows.  To this point in my life, when I have kept on doing things I enjoy then God has always opened neat doors in front of me.

Share Button

Memories on the Feast of St. Nicholas

The tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra had long been a popular pilgrimage destination, but when sailors from Bari, Italy stole his relics from the Turkish-occupied town, devotion to St. Nicholas took off in the west.  Given the stories of his generosity and his love for children, it was natural that St. Nicholas should surround himself with the aura and the legends of Father Christmas, a lingering memory of Norse legend.  Within a couple of hundred years, the Feast of St. Nicholas was a landmark in the Advent season, hailing the election of the Boy Bishop (more on this character later) and the exchange of Christmas gifts.

Since my childhood was not spent in the Church, the first time I encountered any celebration of St. Nicholas’ Day was when I visited my soon-to-be wife’s family.  Later, when we lived in Gaming, Austria, we experienced the intensity of medieval devotion to St. Nicholas.  A friend who was a boy in Gaming around that time has posted his vivid memory of Nicholas and the Krampus here–you can see what I mean by “intense”!  Our first daughter was a baby at the time, and we realized that we just had to stay inside.  Krampus was too much.

P1010528
This bas relief of bishop Nicholas of Myra is nearly a foot tall.

Once back in the states, we brought new fervor to our celebration of St. Nicholas’ Day, although we haven’t opted to have a demon chase our children with whips.  Instead, we bought a giant cookie mold of the bishop Nicholas from houseonthehill.net; since the cookies need time to age, we make them a couple of weeks ahead of time.  The night of December 5, the kids make gingerbread cookies for their stockings.

In the morning, the stockings are hung by the fire place–the P1010526beautiful, hand-crafted stockings my mother has lovingly made for each child–and in the stockings are cookies, some chocolate coins to remember the story of St. Nicholas’ gifts, and a small gift.  Typically, the stockings buy time for my wife and me to get up slowly and make breakfast at a more leisurely pace.

In the afternoon, we’ll make hot cocoa and eat the giant Nicholas cookies.  I like to give at least one giant cookie away, if I can.  Because I’m into medieval customs these days, our background music will be an album of medieval folks songs for the feast of St. Nicholas.

 

Share Button

Jesse Tree 5: Ram

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (22:15-18):

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Abraham lived long, long ago in the city of Ur, where people worshipped the moon and other things as gods. In those days, his name was Abram. But the one true God called Abram to leave his home and travel far, far away to a new land that God would show him, and because Abraham believed God and obeyed him his name was changed to Abraham, which means “father of many nations.”

It seemed like a funny name at the time, because Abraham didn’t have any children. He and his wife were old, and it didn’t seem like they would ever have children. But by a miracle, God gave them a boy named Isaac. Everything seemed fine: Abraham believed God’s promise about the land and about his children, and God had brought him to the land and had given him a child.

RamBut God wanted to push Abraham to be even greater than he was already. He put Abraham through a terrible test by telling him to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice. How could God give Abraham many descendants if Abraham’s only son were dead? And how could God ask Abraham to kill his own child? But Abraham trusted God even when he didn’t understand. He went to the appointed place, got everything ready, and raised his hand to do what God had said—but suddenly God’s angel called out him and stopped him. He gave him a ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac, which is why today’s ornament is a sheep.

Because Abraham had obeyed him, God promised him not only the land and many descendants, but also that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham’s descendant. With this promise, light dawned over the darkness left by Adam and Eve. God had begun something with Abraham that would become the Advent story we tell every year now.

Share Button

Jesse Tree 4: Noah’s Ark

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (6:5-7):

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

When Adam and Eve sinned, something went terribly wrong. It was not just that the world was a sadder place for them. It was not just that now they would have to die someday. Something went terribly wrong inside of them, in their hearts, and all their children were born with darkness in their hearts. Remember that the whole world came from God and was supposed to return to God through Adam and Eve and their children. By the time of Noah, the children of Adam and Eve had become so bad that God decided to send a great flood to destroy the whole world.

Noahs ArkGod warned Noah to build an ark. He told Noah to bring two of every animal into the ark so that the animals would not all be destroyed in the flood. So when the rain poured down and the water rose up even over the mountains, Noah’s family and the animals on the ark were safe, and when the water finally went down and dry land appeared, it was a new day for the world. God promised that he would never again send a flood to destroy the whole world.

But something was still wrong inside the hearts of men. Darkness was still on the earth, and it would grow again.

Share Button

Jesse Tree 3: The Tree of Knowledge

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (3:1-8):

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

When God made our first parents, he put them in the Garden of Eden, where they had everything they could want. The Garden provided food, warmth, and safety, and they could eat from the Tree of Life and never die. But the best thing about the Garden was that God lived their with our first parents. They could talk with him and walk with him there, the way you meet your best friend.

TreeofKnowledgeTo stay in the Garden, our first parents had really to be best friends with God. They had to trust that he knew what was right and wrong, good and bad, safe and harmful. But Satan told them a lie, the biggest lie there is: he told them that God did not really love them, and told them that God wanted to keep the best things away from them so he could have the best things all for himself. First Eve and then Adam believed the lie, stopped trusting God, and claimed the power to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  They preferred the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil over being friends with God.

When God came to visit them after that, Adam and Eve didn’t walk and talk with him. In fact, they hid from him. They were afraid of him! Right away, God saw that they could not live in the Garden anymore. He banished them, sent them away. The world became a sad place for Adam and Eve, a place where they would have to work hard to get their food, a place where they knew they would have to die someday, and a place where God seemed far away—not because he was far from them but because they were far from him.

Ever since that day, all boys and girls have been born into a world where people are hungry and where people have to die. Everyone has been born into Adam’s sin, and for thousands of years little boys and girls were born away from God’s friendship—away from the Garden of Eden.  But the story of Advent is about how God came to find his lost people.

Share Button

Jesse Tree 2: Adam and Eve

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (1:26-28):

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

During Advent, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Every night there is more darkness. If we look around we just see darkness, but if we look up we see frosty pin-pricks of light. When we see the gigantic sky, the moon and stars that God arranged, we may wonder: If God is so powerful and great, why does he pay any attention to little things like us?

Adam and Eve

The Bible says that God made us more important than the moon and all the stars and everything in the night sky put together. He made us in his own image, which means that we can know God and love him, which no star or animal or plant can do. Just as God is the king of the whole world, he made us kings over all the animals and all the fish and everything else that lives on the earth or in the sea.

Why did God make us kings? He made us kings over the world so that we could lead the whole world back to him. Everything that came from God needs to go to God, and we are supposed to bring the world to him.

How can we bring the world to God? It is very simple to say, but very hard to do. What would happen if a king gave himself to God? Wouldn’t that king’s whole kingdom be a gift too? We bring the world to God by giving him ourselves. If we trust God for everything we need, praise God for all his wonderful works, and love God above all things, then the whole world becomes a gift to him.

Prayer

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Share Button

Jesse Tree 1: Alpha and Omega

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (1:1-5):

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Advent is the time every year when we tell a story. It is a long story, about many different people and many different times. It is a beautiful story, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. It is also a story with the happiest ending you can imagine, because it is the story of how Jesus came to save us.

Our story begins at the very beginning of the whole world. The very first book of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) God made the light and the darkness; God made the sky and the sea; God made the dry land and all the plants; God made the sun and the moon and the stars; God made all the birds and all the animals. Everything we see around us came from God, because God is the beginning of all things.

Then the Bible says: “On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3) This doesn’t mean that God was tired and needed to rest. No, it means that God wants the whole world and everything in it to rest in him at the end of time. Just as everything begins in God, so too everything ends in God.

Alpha_and_OmegaThis is what our Advent story is about: how everything that came from God will go back to God in the end.

Our ornament today is the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the very last book of the Bible, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:6) This ornament reminds us that God made everything and that everything was made for God.

[If Advent begins on or after November 28, proceed directly to the next ornament now.]

Prayer

O Lord, we beg you, come before us with your inspiration and accompany us with your help, that our every prayer and work may always begin with you and through you be completed. Amen.

Share Button