Our church has no crying room, so parents with fidgety, exuberant or otherwise discomfiting youngsters have to be creatively calming in the pews or parents must choose self-exile to the vestibule. One young father, with a teary, backward-facing toddler hoisted to his shoulder,  stumbled on a solution. Standing in the aisle between the end of the pew and the wall, dad turned to face the altar. Suddenly, the baby girl fell silent, her gaze locked onto the eyes that stared back at her from the nearest stained glass window: those of Therese of Lisieux.

St. Theresa of Liseux
Image appears on the site of St. Charles Boromeo in Picayune, Mississippi.

Then dad turned around, perhaps to see what his little girl was looking at. The spell was broken. A cry was uttered. The toddler pointed back at St. Therese and dad complied. Again content, the child renewed her silent eye-to-eye with the saint.

The little girl’s communion reminded me of my mother’s encounter with a saint. My mother was born and raised a Buddhist in Thailand. About a decade ago she started exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. She knew it, accepted it and with worried mind did all she could to prepare her family for the challenges ahead. It was during that time she told my dad of a dream she had of being on a near-empty strand with a river or the ocean nearby. The only other soul on the beach was a man with white hair. Mom said that while no words were spoken in the dream, the man told her his name was Clement and assured her that everything was going to be fine. That dream, that image brought her a great sense of peace and hope.

She related the dream to my dad and asked who this Clement might be. My dad was thunderstruck. St. Clement of Rome, a first century pope, was put to death by Emperor Trajan — tied to an anchor and drowned. The patron saint of mariners, Clement is often depicted with an anchor and in association with water. [Until then, Clement had never had a presence in a family that wears out the intercessory ears of Saints Anthony, Aquinas and More.] Why Clement? We will never know.

That incident rekindled my interest in how saints are depicted, especially in icons. A search led to a fellow blogger, Reinkat. An iconographer, Reinkat vividly describes the work: the inspiration, the prayers and struggles and most importantly, how the iconic can draw the faithful closer to the heart of God. Used to describe everything from movies, to celebrities and commercial logos, “iconic,” has lost its meaning. The beautiful works by Reinkat and others help return meaning and purpose to that which is spiritually iconic.

Which brings this post back to our church windows. These long, tall, jigsaw puzzles of colored glass and lead run from just above the floor to about seven or eight feet. They  feature nearly life-sized images of saints whose larger-than-life examples inspire us. The beauty of these images is that while abstracted, they are at our level, almost as if they walk among us. They are reminders that the sainted too were real people. Flawed people. Frustrated people. Faithful people. They are people like us, who went beyond the ordinary, who lived and died in their convictions. And through the  hands of artists, they draw us close.

Groundhogs, badgers, Christopher Lee and Candlemas

It’s funny how cultural connections are made and often begun in the most unlikely ways. For example, last night, we picked a televisual feast from Roku and as is usual for us, it was a “cult” horror movie called “City of the Dead,” starring Christopher Lee as the lead undead guy. The movie was set in a rural Massachusetts town with a perma-fog and equally permanent darkness, populated by a band of survivors of 17th century witch hunts.

In the movie, Feb. 2, which is also Candlemas, is an important day of sacrifice for these witches being the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. (Not to mention that it was their way to irritate the local time-wearied clergyman).

In Christianity, Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus. Pre-Christian Celts celebrated the day as Imbolc, a day linked to the gestation of ewes and lambing.

Hmmm. We wondered. Was there a link between Candlemas and Groundhog Day? Well, gosh, there is. From Projectbritain.com is this rhyme:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.”

The site also notes this German Candlemas tradition, which has been adapted in the U.S. with a groundhog subbing for the badger:
“The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day,
and, if he finds snow, walks abroad;
but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”

Which brings us to a more local tradition — Blossom, Perry County’s prognosticatin’ groundhog. Caretaker Tamara tells us this afternoon that “Blossom did not see her shadow today. She didn’t even peek outside!” (Search our blog for “Blossom,” and you’ll see more about our little local garden-thievin’ celebrity).

The local weather was cloud and rain, and if the Candlemas rhyme is followed, agrees with Perry County Blossom that spring is en route.

We’re putting our money on our local folkways predictions no matter what that Pennsylvania whistlepig says.


In the bleak midwinter, a message of hope

For me,  “In the bleak midwinter” is one of the most hauntingly sweet, humble and hopeful Christmas songs. Gustav Holst’s melody can’t but stir the soul.  However, after years of listening to the Madrigal singers at the University of Central Arkansas perform the piece, I was finally inspired to seek out the words.  Adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti, these lyrics are as moving as their musical setting.

The beautiful YouTube’d version by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir  includes lyrics. It’s worth a look and listen.

Merry Christmas!

Poem In the Bleak Midwinter set against bleak wintry scene

The photo above was originally posted in 2010, and has become one of the most-visited posts on this blog.

The Pink Moon

April’s full moon is known as the “Pink Moon,” according to the Farmers Almanac. It’s named for the wild phlox whose  blooms add brilliant magenta notes to the spring green.

The moon appeared to live up to its name as it set on Holy Saturday, just as the first pink and orange rays of the sun lit up the haze.

PINK MOON -- The first full moon of spring, according to the Farmers Almanac, is the pink moon. Here it is just before moonset April 7, 2012. At the bottom of the photo, vapor rises from a warm valley into the cooler air above. Rows of Ouachita mountain folds recede into the west.
WILD PHLOX -- Wild phlox lights up the understory on the mountain.