Monthly Archives: December 2014

Immanuel

Whether or not you are surrounded by family, or virtually alone, whether or not this has been a good year full of prosperity and joy, or one of struggle and pain, my family and I wish you a merry Christmas.

May the good news the angels proclaimed two millennia ago be true today.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11).

May the ancient prophecies be fulfilled in our hearts.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and you will call him Immanuel [God with us] (Isaiah 7:14).

May you not only be grateful today for the symbol of the cross, but the meaning bursting forth from a tiny feeding trough.  May we marvel at the wonder and love of a God who has completely shared, and still shares, in our humanity.  God with us.  God, a part of us.  Love in flesh and blood.  Our reason why we search for ways to practice and emulate grace for those without.

For we do not have a [Christ], who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Immanuel.

God is with you.

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Stelline d’Oro

 

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It is unlikely that I could ever over exaggerate  the significance Tomie de Paola has had on my children’s early years of reading.  For family and humor, we have read Tom, for silliness we visit Strega Nona  and Big Anthony, and for culture and language, we love Tony’s Bread and Days of the Blackbird.  However, Jingle the Christmas Clown is new to us this year.  I am reading it with G for the first time.  He has chosen it on his own to be our book of the week. We must have read it ten or twelve times this week alone.  Funny, because flipping through it at the library I wasn’t all that impressed.  Isn’t it interesting how a book often expresses its magic only once you read it with your little one?

Not only has G expanded his Italian (I have caught him greeting me with a Buon Natale, and addressing one of his stuffed buddies as bambino mio), but has completely fallen in love with the book’s characters.  Whether it is because of the funny, frenetic monkeys or the baby animals’ saddened eyes, G continues to pay more attention to the illustrations and details in the text with each reading.

Unable to perform for the nearly abandoned Italian village, il circo piccolo– the little circus- moves on to the next town, leaving Jingle and the baby animals to rest with the elderly citizens.  While the ending miracle seems a bit trite, G smiles every time.  The beauty of the little tale is in its spirit of giving.  As the vecchietti– the “old-timers”-  brighten at Jingle’s gift of Christmas, the real miracle of the story happens back in the middle of the book.

Now Jingle began to feel sorrier for the villagers than for himself and the baby animals.

This line alone made Tomie de Paola’s story of joy and giving well worth multiple readings….at least for G.  I love sharing stories that demonstrate kindness and empathy, especially toward others so dissimilar on the surface.

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Included is a recipe for stelline d’oro- golden star cookies, which are part of the final miracle.  The recipe was created by PBS’s Mary Ann Esposito, host of Ciao Italia.  This basic sugar cookie recipe has the extra delight of orange juice mixed in the dough as well as in the icing.

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Buon Natale!

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Dappled Beauty

Recently, I mentioned a book club which I was so graciously invited into a couple of years back.  Many of the women have a long-standing history with one another, and yet graft newcomers in seamlessly.  If you read my last blog post I describe our latest read – Tolkien’s delightful Letters from Father Christmas in which he fantasizes to his children on the happenings at the North Pole each year.  Each December the book club members bring a wrapped book to exchange.  It is always interesting to see what is contributed to the pile and what each person ends up with – from fiction to memoirs, cookbooks to devotionals.  This  year I came home with Booked by Karen Swallow Prior in which she confesses early on that she “thought [her] love of books was taking [her] away from God, but as it turns out, books were the backwoods path back to God, bramble-filled and broken, yes, but full of truth and wonder.”

My own love of books dates back to the farthest reaches of my memory when, as a toddler, I would pile the books from shelves around me in bed as I drifted off to sleep.  Instead of a favorite stuffed bear, I slept with all the characters and words collected from my day.  As I make my way through Prior’s tribute to the written word, I feel an immediate affinity with her as I have struggled to express what various works have meant to me over the years.

Here she quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins in her effort to explain the place language and text and story, especially poetry, held in her life as she used it to guard against feelings of awkwardness.  The written word is not merely an escape, but a means of explaining that incomprehensible truth from Scripture, “my power is made complete in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Beauty may be hiding in those places the world may see as ugly.  Don’t forget the travel-weary, Jewish carpenter huddled with a young girl and a shriveled newborn in a back stable.  Today, do you feel your soul to be stained seemingly beyond worth?  Or rather, is your soul crying to escape the prison of an ugly, unwanted body?  With regret and confusion I recall the hours spent in tears and frustration because I was not as I should be….that my child felt the pain and confusion of not being “right” in this world.  Oh, dappled beauty!  May we always see things as they truly are and praise Him.  Whatever is fulfilling its purpose, or better still His purpose, is imbued with beauty beyond description, even if it be beyond our vision.  Here is how Gerard Manley Hopkins describes it:

Glory be to God for dappled things-

For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour;  adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

According to Tolkien

According to J.R.R. Tolkien, Father Christmas resides at the North Pole, is assisted largely by the Great Polar Bear and the Bear’s mischievous nephews, and periodically fights off the damaging rampages of black goblins.  The fanciful musings of the British author most famous for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy are new to me.  A few weeks ago someone in our book club suggested we read this lighthearted collection for our end of the year meeting.  From 1920 – 1943 Tolkien wrote letters nearly each holiday season to his children John, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla as Father Christmas, recounting his misadventures in packing the annual presents for the world’s children, and in living way up north with such mythological creatures as elves,  talking animals and  “The Man in the Moon.”  This is a collection impossible to read without smiling.  Utterly charming, at times outright comical, I at once decided to share it with my boys.  A and S believe themselves to be past the age of fairy tales, although one of them is an enormous Tolkien fan.  Even so,  we began taking our turns reading a few letters from Father Christmas each morning, which has even elicited a couple of giggles from G.  Small children (and adults) will laugh at some of the antics and comments from the Polar Bear.  A kindle version is available complete with the reprints of Tolkien’s original handwritten letters and colored pencil sketches.

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Reading these letters on my kindle app has made impromptu research more convenient as I searched for images of Lotts bricks, Picabrix and original Meccano kits.  If anyone is interested, the visitor Father Christmas mentions in the late 1920s who has come to the Tolkien family from Iceland was actually working as an au pair.  Tolkien learned to speak some Icelandic before her arrival and was inspired by Icelandic mythology in his creation of various creatures in his trilogy.

Now, do you think I could interest anyone at the book club in a game of Snapdragon?