Lens-Artist Photo Challenge: Celebrations

I celebrate the gathering of family, the reunion of loved ones. I choose the table cloth, polish the silver and wipe the crystal glasses until they shine. I light the candles and arrange the appetizers in a tempting display. I listen for the doorbell. 

I remember an Advent anthem I sang in church choir, years ago. It was called Anticipation, and I cannot find the author or the composer, but the words remind me of the joyous preparation and promise of celebration.

“The sky is black; the dawn is but a promise, and here I wait, impatient for the light. My dearest friend is coming back tomorrow. Anticipation fills the endless night, and soon the sky will fill with golden sunlight. The day will break with joy beyond compare, and I will fly — I will fly — to meet him in the air.”

 

I look forward to celebrating the return of the sun’s light, to the reunion of parents, children, sisters, brothers and friends. May we all warm the dark nights with laughter and love, good will and good food, and remember our connection and belonging.

Thank you, Amy, for sharing a glimpse of celebration in Peru and sparking our imaginations.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Anticipation

One of my favorite Advent anthems I used to sing with our church choir was titled “Anticipation”. It was a jewel of tight 20th Century harmony supporting a beautiful poem whose author I cannot find. It goes something like this:

The sky is black
The dawn is but a promise

and here I wait
impatient for the light.

My dearest friend is coming back
Tomorrow.
Anticipation fills the endless night
and soon the sky will fill with golden sunlight.
The day will break with joy beyond compare, 
and I will fly…I will fly…
to meet him in the air. 

I haven’t got the music or the lyrics to cite the source, but it haunts me in these long nights of darkness waiting for my dearest friend, The Sun, who warms me and enlightens my soul. Soon we will celebrate the Solstice, the return of the Sun, and days will lengthen steadily. That is a hope and a joy to anticipate! 

mystery

foggy-sunrise

arboretum in winter

 

 

Anticipation

Long, dark nights – brief, sunless days

A poem I wrote many years ago, re-written slightly.  Originally about Advent, it works well with Solstice, too. 

A cold dissatisfaction oozes poison into hours

of solitary boredom that once tasted summer’s warmth

and rejoiced in sensate ponderings of heaven’s languid clime.

 

Now prayers lie frozen on my lips these bitter, ashen afternoons.

 

Glossy catalogs and magazines lie orphaned at my door,

but I will not adopt their cheer

nor bed th’insouciant whoring of our winter holy days.

 

So melancholy punctuates the numbing march of time

into that darkened solstice of medieval isolation —

propelled into the farthest arc, forsaken by the sun.

 

Thus emptied into neediness, to famine and despair,

I search the yawning pitch-smeared void

and there behold a piercing Star!

 

No gaily burning candle nor twinkling hearthside glow,

this is the hard-edged hopefulness forged pure and straight of cosmic might,

arising out of nothingness toward Life’s salvific land.

 

My soul, a silent universe,

lies naked in its beam,

a prayer more fragile and profound

than any summer dream.

For warmth and life, nothing beats baking and eating tasty treats!  Steve made a Pear Rosemary quick bread the other day.  It filled the house with a savory aroma of sweetness, tartness and tangy evergreen. 

May your brief, sunless days be warmed with life, your long, dark nights with be warmed with love!

© 2014, poem and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Prepare Ye: The Way and The Wilderness

There are many different definitions of the word ‘prepare’, and all of them are about acting decisively, with a will. Make, create, be willing…take responsibility. And there are as many ways of doing that as there are people on earth, I’m sure. The ‘how’ of preparation can be accompanied by a range of attitudes.

The Boy Scout metaphor describes one point on the spectrum. “Be Prepared” is their well-known motto. What that looks like conjures an exact check list of supplies – a camping list designed to meet any foreseeable outcome. Snake bite kit? Check. Flotation device? Check. Sunscreen and thermal underwear? Check and double check. This preparation is fueled by a desire to be in control, it seems. The responses are prescribed, preferred outcomes already decided upon. “I do not want to be cold, wet, sunburned or in pain, and I am taking action now to ensure that.” That is one attitude of preparation.

room tentAnother attitude might be illustrated by The Dancer metaphor. A dancer prepares for a pirouette by checking her starting position, aligning her hips and shoulders in a grounded plié  – but not staying in that position so long that it causes her to lose momentum. What really prepares her to execute a graceful turn is years and years of practice leading up to the moment of action. That seems to me to be a distinctly different attitude of preparation.

Of course, we can embody more than one attitude of preparation at a time. We can be both Boy Scouts and Dancers, among other things, and this helps us be better prepared for the unforeseen, mysterious, dynamic journey that is Life and better prepared for ventures in the Wilderness.

I recently attended a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law in the U.S. These preserved areas of natural lands and waters maintain a special character, “untrammeled” by man and distinctly autonomous. The wilderness is what it is. You cannot predict what will happen there, and you must rely on your own preparation when you visit. By law, there will not be any man-made structures, services, or systems that will provide for you or take responsibility for you. And the experience that you have as solitary and self-reliant can change your life. It is a deeply spiritual endeavor to go into the wilderness and learn from it.

wilderness threshold

Wilderness asks you two important questions: Are you willing to go there? Are you prepared? I think that the Way – whether that be Christian, Buddhist, or any other spiritual path – asks you the same questions. May your willing preparation and practice be a life-giving process, bringing you much happiness. Peace! – Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Advent Day #22 – Joy

Joy to the World

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.

Advent Day #21 – Passion

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

Happy Winter Solstice, everybody in the Northern Hemisphere!  As the sun hits the lowest spot on the southern horizon, it seems to stop in a lyric caesura for a moment.  Now the earth begins to doe-Si-doe around its stellar partner, coyly tilting the top of her head toward him.   The night is long, and the dance goes on.  Passion builds towards the summer solstice when the sun will caress the earth with daylight for 24 hours at the North Pole.  Humans have celebrated these celestial events with festivals for centuries, and we still do.  As I write this, Strauss polkas punctuated with small, percussive explosions and various train whistles play in the background.  It is riotously fitting.  (Steve is cleaning, stacking and re-stacking his books.  We are expecting company for the weekend.)

The door marked 21 bangs open, and the gift unveiled is Passion.  Enthusiasm!  Energy!  I contend that this is another Universal endowment.  The word ‘enthusiasm’ has at its root the Greek ‘theos’, meaning God.  To be enthused is to be filled with God.  “In the throes of passion.”  See Bernini’s sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” for a marvelous visual example.  (We watched a video on this narrated by Simon Schama: “The Power of Art”.  Highly recommended!)  Is this kind of experience available to all or just the sainted few?

I believe that if you are open to the energy of passion, you will receive it.  And I believe this fact scares a lot of people, especially those in authority who are working to gain and maintain control.  Do you want to live in a passionless world?  Do you want to live in a tempest of energy?  Do you seek some Middle Way, a quiet infusion of God?  How have you marshaled and channeled energy by your own choices?  Have you felt someone else’s hand tempering your energy?

 

Excited to be back in Massachusetts (Photo by my oldest)

I think I was a pretty enthusiastic kid.  I was often told that I was loud.  My facial expressions were pretty dramatic.  I loved theater and the chance to “act out”.  My third grade teacher wrote in her notes to my mother that “the play’s the thing for your youngest daughter”.  I did feel that my parents were always asserting a more reasonable response.   They were intellectual and Anglican and well-mannered.  I wanted to please them, so I didn’t allow myself to be wild.  When I began voice lessons in college, one of the first things my teacher said to me was, “You sing as if you’d been told all your life to modulate your voice.”  How did she know?  So I had become outwardly prim and proper and covertly silly and animated.  My passion for my husband was greeted initially by my parents with the same kind of circumspection.   After all, I was only 15 when we met and 20 when we became engaged.  Gushing about how I “knew” he was the right one for me was unconvincing.  I prepared logical and practical reasons why I should marry before I graduated from college and while we were both unemployed.  His father was not at all persuaded.  My father had seen us courting and knew more intuitively that our determination was real, fueled by much more than reason, and that in a marriage, that is a definite harbinger of success.

I am still hesitant to show emotion and passion.  Steve is always delighted to see my enthusiasm about something, and frankly wary because it doesn’t assert itself in important decisions.  I was brought up to be very serious about decision-making, and to mistrust my enthusiasms.  Steve seems to approach the issues from the opposite direction.  He feels that the best reason for doing something is because you REALLY WANT TO!  In some ways, that seems like a no-brainer.  Problem is, I have esteemed The Brain far too much, I think.   So, I am learning to try to listen to those exuberant voices without shushing them so much.  And I am learning to be more open to the zeal of others.  My children, especially.  My parents modeled the “voice of reason”.   I can’t deny that I play that role in my parenting, but  I want to model the fervent voice of encouragement, too.  (This goes along with the ongoing safety/adventure discussion that I have with Danger Mommy.)  I keep trying to get away from dualism and embrace the dynamic whole.  “Don’t be so worried about ‘supposed to’,” says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Chocolate”.

Is it possible to be both wise and passionate?  Is it possible for me to be both wise and passionate?  I’m hoping so.