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.

Years of faith

Illustration from The New Roman Missal.*

Torn, worn, stained and faded, this New Roman Missal, published in 1936 by Benziger Brothers, Inc.,  has seen daily use for decades. It has traveled many miles in family hands over the years, but how it wound up in our family is a mystery. Inside the cover is the inscription: “For Leonard from Sophomore “C” 1945. No one’s sure — or willing to admit — to being “Sophomore C.”

A virtual encyclopedia of Catholicism, this volume of 1,852 pages contains not just the (pre-Vatican II)  Mass in Latin and English, but also “an explanation of ‘The Ecclesiastical Year and the Sacred Liturgy’; ‘Short Accounts of Certain Feasts and Brief Lives of the Saints’,” a glossary of liturgical terms, description of the beautiful illustrations and what they represent, and a collection of prayers.

Sure, there are great resources for daily prayer everywhere — in books, online and even smart phone apps. And there is some thought to retiring the Missal at the end of this Liturgical year. However no app can match the content: years of Mass cards in memory of family and friends, bookmarking key dates,  the faded ribbon in which the words “Ordinary Time” are woven, the table of moveable feasts that extended all the way to 1971, and the truly unique “Act of Reparation for Profane Language.”

The montage shows some of the illustrations and the layout of the text. The blue background is a tile of the paper that lines the inside of the covers.

This Missal was truly a work of deep faith and love for the editors who wished it to be the door to the faithful to participate in the Mass in the days when the priest faced away from the congregation. In the introduction, the Rev. F.X. Lasance writes: “All books of devotion are good at mass; it is quite right to say the rosary at mass; but the missal is preferable, being pre-eminently the product of the mind and heart of the church …”

With Oct. 11-2012-Nov. 24, 2013 being The Year of Faith, perhaps the little-Missal-that-could, should see it through.

MISSAL MONTAGE — This missal, published in 1936 and given as a gift in 1945, has seen a couple of lifetimes of use.*

*All images are copyright Benziger Brothers.

Color on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau

Cousin Dang sent dozens of photos from her journey into China (including the unhappy looking monkey of the previous post.) The prayer flags are a beautiful expression of faith.

Giving thanks and seeking hope UPDATE

More reason to give thanks today, Nov. 4. It seems all of our relatives have been accounted for. Thanks for your prayers and please keep in mind those families not so fortunate.

– – –

We felt great relief and gave thanks this morning on learning that many of our relatives on the New Jersey shore are in the dark, but OK, with roofs and walls intact.  Like many others who have their family, friends, hearts and homes in places hit by Hurricane Sandy, we worry for the ones we aren’t able to contact. Please keep them all in your prayers. It’s going to be a long recovery.

Blog posts from those in the area:

Perspective on Sandy from posted at Wired:

SANDY — Sandy’s size gets some perspective on this “blue marble” photo.

Weekly photo challenge: Merge

Last week, cousin Chooman  made the three-hour trip out of Bangkok to the Uthai Thani province to hear the preaching of a revered Buddhist teacher — one who not only taught her to meditate, but also her mother and late father. That journey, in a way, is a facet of this week’s theme. After all, what is a pilgrimage but a merging of belief and action?

MULTI-FACETED — The mirrored tiles at Wat Chantaram, Utai Thani, Thailand, add  sparks of brilliance to the temple’s interior. Each reflects a different angle of reality; each reality filtered through an individual’s perception; but all of this fractured vision coming together as one structure. (Photo by Chooman)

Other Merges:
More than black and white

And the mother page:

By the grace of God and faith in engineering

Rain. Hydroplane. Slide.

In the seconds between leaving the road and coming to rest in the trees, there were three clear thoughts running through my head: “I hope we don’t roll.” “Get as deep into the seat as you can without bracing.” and “My husband’s side is going to hit the trees and there’s nothing I can do about it.”  He told me later he was thinking, “I’m glad it’s going to hit me and not her.”

The roadster’s front end hit a tree and the force spun the car. Then everything stopped. The only sound, the staccato drumming of the rain on the hard top, was broken by the questions:  “You OK? I’m OK.” “Are you OK? I’m OK.” And then we opened the doors and stepped out into the rain, giddy that we could.

We are grateful to the engineers who could design a car to take such a blow and allow us to walk away — even after 91,000 miles with adventures in 15 states. The front end absorbed so much energy the airbags didn’t deploy. Inside, the cabin was pristine, one couldn’t tell that anything was wrong.

We can’t help but think that beyond the engineering, the grace of God played the biggest part in our survival.

Sadly, the much-loved car is no more, totaled by the insurance company.

THE LONG SLIDE — The four tracks indicate the sideways motion over wet grass that was slick as ice.
OFF ROAD — Where the roadster came to rest.
THE DIAMETER OF A TREE — The impression left by the tree in the engine compartment, two weeks ago today.

Come Holy Ghost

When it comes to church music, I have to confess to a certain curmudgeonry about hymns written after, say, 1900. Nothing against 20th and 21st century composers*, but for me there is a certain dignity, comfort and reverence found in older hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” especially when played on the kind of pipe organ whose thunder resonates in your chest like the roar of a rocket launch.

Today’s celebration of Pentecost opened with a hymn that made both the curmudgeon and the medievalist in me do cartwheels (liturgically correct inner cartwheels, of course): “Come Holy Ghost.”  Here is a hymn whose lyrics are attributed to Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine monk of the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Rabanus belonged to what’s called the Carolingian Renaissance, one of the brief  moments of illumination in the darkness that swallowed post-Roman Europe. A teacher, poet and scholar, Rabanus was  among those  who helped pass on another spirit: the spirit of learning.

For more about Pentecost and what it means to those on the journey of faith, read Father Jason Smith’s post.

GHOST BIRD — This impression left on the living room window by a bird always reminded me of the imagry of the Holy Ghost as a dove.

*I like Ricky Manolo and Marty Haugen as much as anyone, but when one of the “old time” hymns comes up during Mass, those are the ones that engage the most voices among the congregation.

90 years

It’s hard to comprehend, but Mom would’ve been 90 years old yesterday. From her childhood in Bangkok to a suburban life in North Jersey and retirement in southern California, she packed so much into a life of 87 years.

2004 — A portrait before the Alzheimer’s took hold. Her eyes still speak to every joy and pain experienced in a life lived across two hemispheres.

It’s often said you don’t know much about people until they die. There’s a lot of truth to that.

We knew her as “Mom” after all. She was the one who walked you to school on that first day of kindergarten; the one who would hug you when your 5-year-old ego was bruised and you sat pouting in the corner. She comforted you when that cold made your nose so full you were sure each breath would be your last. Mom also made sure you didn’t fail to practice your clarinet or violin for at least 30 minutes a day or wash the dishes after dinner.

In her life before us, she was the one who ran around Bangkok raising money and scavenging much-needed equipment for agencies serving the disabled. She worked in hospitals and hospices comforting the dying, and farang (foreigners) who were far from home. She had ties with the United Nations and the World Health Organization. She knew people with titles like “princess” and “dame.”

She decided to take leave of her international life, marry dad and raise a family in a modest New Jersey suburb.

When she and Dad thought it was safe for us to be latchkey kids, she studied for her nursing boards and went back to work. She was a good boss who loved her work.

Those were external things we never really saw as kids.

What we did see was a woman who valued wisdom above all and learned from every experience and every moment. She had a remarkable capacity for forgiveness and never lost her sense of sanook, that wonderful Thai quality of seeking the positive in everything.

We will  never know the debt we owe her.

URSULINE SCHOOL — Mom, far left, poses with her class at her beloved Ursuline school in Bangkok. She had the highest praise and warmest memories of her time there, especially for the work the sisters did. I suspect Mom’s inspiration for her life of service was based on the role models she had at school. 
1953 — At age 31.

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.

Weekly photo challenge: Journey

“Journey” is a perfect theme for Easter weekend. It’s a time of hope. It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another for catechumens and candidates entering the Catholic church. For those celebrating Passover, it’s a journey celebrating deliverance.

There were many journeys on the mountain this week. Flocks of birds whirled in great sweeps from tree to tree. Hummingbirds returned from their central American winter sojourn. On a smaller scale, carpenter bees, bumblebees, butterflies and moths buzzed and fluttered from flower to flower. All of it a great reminder of the renewal of life from the dead of winter.

Be sure to check out the other intriguing,beautiful and challenging  interpretations of “journey” at

Be sure to visit:

ON THE MOVE -- Flock of birds moves westward on a wide orbit from and to the same tree.
CLEARWING -- Bee colored clearwing moth visits the lavender.
IN SEARCH OF NECTAR -- Clearwing about to uncoil his proboscis for lavender nectar.
IF I WAS A CARPENTER -- Carpenter bee buzzes the lavender.
LADY IN THE LAVENDER -- Painted lady's body covered in pollen specks.