Almost a year ago, I wrote a post linking to Veronica over at Toddled Dredge because I was impressed that she decorated a cake with Nutella frosting.That alone qualifies her as a kindred spirit.Then I noticed her tagline: “Contemplative mom with crackers.”Once again, I felt a connection–this time with the contemplative thing. Well, and the crackers. Because my kids and I do like crackers…especially with Nutella.I popped over recently and discovered that she is writing devotional, Bible-study-style posts throughout the 12 days of Christmas. I’ve been impressed by her in-depth analysis of the geneology of Christ as recorded by Matthew.She introduces the 12 Days of Christmas posts here.The first day is, appropriately enough, about Jesus, the son of David.Second, about Tamar.Third day, Rahab.Fourth, on Ruth.Fifth, she was unable to post. Too bad for us, but I totally understand.Today’s is the Sixth, regarding Bathsheba.Now, if we were referencing the song, today would be the six geese a’laying.Years ago, I had heard somewhere that the Twelve Days of Christmas may have intended to use the catchy, repetitive tune and numbers to remind people of various scriptures, books of the Bible, and basic beliefs and truths of our faith. I couldn’t remember what each of the numbers stood for, however, so…a click over to Google, tippity-tap, t-w-e-l-v-e-d-a-y-s-o-f-c-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s.*SEARCH*I arrived here. It provides the possible correlations for each of the numbers.Today’s six geese can remind us of the six days of creation, confessing God as Creator and Sustainer of the world.This morning at church, I shook hands with the gentleman sitting next to me and hoped he would have a happy new year’s celebration. He responded, “Well, technically we’re in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, so we can still say Merry Christmas!””Ah, that’s true,” I said. “Until January 6th, right? Epiphany?””That’s right!” Our church doesn’t follow a liturgical calendar. I think he was a little surprised that I knew what he was talking about. I should have mentioned the little cake with the bean or almond baked in it–perhaps that would have made even more of an impression. It helps to have married a European. We were in Belgium one year for Epiphany, so The Belgian Wonder’s family went to the bakery to buy a little King’s cake so I could see what it looked–and tasted–like. I guess it was tasty. I can’t remember anything except marveling that they actually baked a bean inside it. One of his nieces got the piece with the bean and triumphantly wore a flimsy paper crown. But, as usual, I digress.”What’s today?” I asked the man this morning at church. “Is it the fifth day?”He hurriedly counted and agreed that he thought maybe it was. “Five golden rings, eh?” I said.He nodded. “Yes, yes. So…Merry Christmas!””Merry Christmas!”I know we were off a day, but do you know what the five golden rings were to remind us of?You can try to guess. Then click on the link if you haven’t already and scroll down.With that, late on this sixth day, I bid you good night.Oh, and as the man at church pointed out, I can still wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Not to be confused with United Nations Resolutions, New Year’s Un-Resolutions can be a helpful tool during this season of dreaming and goal-setting.In U.S. News & World Report (December 31, 2007/January 7, 2008, p. 50), they suggest that people make a “Not-to-Do List,” determining what they don’t want to do.The thought behind this is that time is finite–if we make a list of things we want to start doing, we’ll need to find the time. One practical way to do so is to develop a corresponding list of things to stop doing. If, for example, we want to read more, then we could write on our un-list that we will first eliminate several hours of TV watching or Internet surfing.Also, listing what we do not want to do helps us focus on our primary calling, whatever that may be. This exercise scrapes away the time-wasters and side-trackers that pull us away from our top goals. It’s a reminder that there are a lot of things that suck away our time and attention and keep us from achieving our top resolutions and goals.So as you think through this year’s intentions, goals, resolutions, dreams, etc., come up with a corresponding not-to-do list of un-resolutions.Write them down.And then….Don’t do them.
At a friend’s house, I took note of a beautiful cuckoo clock hanging on their family room wall.
“I grew up in a home with a cuckoo clock,” the host explained, “and I wanted my kids to enjoy one, too.”
I looked at my husband. He looked at me.
“Do we still have it?” he asked.
“We sure do,” I answered. When we got home that night, I rummaged around the basement and found the small cardboard box housing our own small cuckoo clock. We bought it on our honeymoon when we passed through Germany and toted it all the way home in a carry-on bag.
We’d hung it in our old home, but took it down when our little kids found the dangling chains irresistible and would tug at them. It’s been in storage for years.
My husband tapped a nail into the wall and we hung it yesterday. We started up the pendulum and slowly turned the hands to mark the hour.
The little door flew open and the plastic bird poked out its head. He wheezed.
“Oh, phooey,” I complained. “It’s lost its song.”
“Well, it still ticks,” observed one of the girls.
To set the time, I had to work my way around the clock, so the bird got a lot of exercise. By the time I got to eleven o’clock, he started to utter a breathy khoo(pause)-khoo…(pause)-khoo…(pause)-khoo.
Later that night, I was standing near the clock when 10:00 p.m. rolled around.
Out popped the bird.
“Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo….”
“Hey! Hey, did you hear that?” The rest of the family rushed to listen to his little song. After years of neglect, he finally found his voice. He just needed to warm up and get some practice.
He must have puffed out whatever dust was holding him back. What a delightful moment, hearing the little bird come to life!
Resurrecting Forgotten Talents
The cuckoo made me think of a story I read recently. It was about a pastor who, after teaching the parable of the talents, entrusted each adult congregant with $50 and each child with $10. They were given seven weeks to double the amount, the proceeds going toward their missions program.
The article goes on to highlight story after story of people resurrecting dusty, forgotten gifts and talents in order to raise that money. They invested their $50 in the supplies or materials needed, and then, drawing from old abilities, they built and sewed and cooked and created all kinds of objects and opportunities that they would never have thought of, had the pastor not issued that challenge.
As I read about those people, I wondered if I’ve stuffed away some old skills and abilities. I wonder if I’ve neglected some talents and with a little exercise, they could sing again?
I remembered how I used to enjoy baking bread. And I noticed a needlepoint project stuffed in a plastic storage box in the basement. And in another container sat a half-finished afghan I started to crochet years ago. Oh, and I saw my old clarinet case on the floor in the closet this week.
Maybe it’s time to reacquaint myself with some fingering charts or thread a needle and see what pattern I selected over a decade ago to stitch?
As I typed this, the cuckoo cheerily announced the hour. How happy to be out in the open, dusted and free to express itself!
I wonder if I would feel the same, were I to bring out the types of projects I used to enjoy?
Perhaps we all would enjoy revisiting old pleasures—just grab a dust rag and be prepared to wheeze while warming up.
* * *
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Here are several ways to accomplish both goals:
You can buy an overpriced corporate-designed concept as a belated Christmas gift for the blogger hoping to follow through with fitness resolutions. It’s called The Walkstation, a treadmill rigged up with a laptop, and users claim that if you walk slowly enough (evidently the Walkstation won’t let you go fast even if you want to), you can type and walk at the same time, burning around 1,000 extra calories per day without breaking a sweat. Here’s a rather uninspiring but short video of a businessman trying it out…at least you can see the setup…and how slow the treadmill rolls.
There’s a similar product called Walk N Work for about $500, and…
Here’s yet another item called The Net Runner , a strappy thing that costs around $100, made of webbing that supposedly attaches any sized laptop to any treadmill-type console (I guess it can work for a bike, climbing machine, or elliptical as well as a treadmill).
So, what do you think? Could you do it? Could you walk and type and concentrate at the same time? Or do you think you would lose productivity and focus?Or, worse yet, do you fear that you would lose your balance and slip even at an unbelievably slow pace?
You probably know that the King James Version of Luke 2:14 reads like this:”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”Good will toward men.You can imagine the six or seven drafts of Goodwill-themed posts that have run through my mind in the past few days.But since I wrote about Goodwill recently without even mentioning the Christmas story connection, and I mentioned the Christmas story recently without even mentioning the Goodwill connection, I’ll just leave it alone.
He was—is—Christ the Lord.
This was a sign to the shepherds: They found a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
And then a great company of the heavenly host appeared praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests.
And to think that’s just part of the story!
I know you’ve heard it before. You may have just heard it this past week on the Charlie Brown Christmas special when Linus recites it. We heard it read at the Christmas Eve service this very evening by the elder with the flannel-blanket voice. It’s great to be read to by someone with a voice like flannel, so smooth and reassuring.
But even if your own elders read it from the front of the church on Christmas Eve, it bears repeating, that old, old story; so I thought I’d just remind you here in the blog, in case you’re drowning in ribbons and wrapping paper and it slipped your mind.
The heavenly host sang Glory to God in the highest to those shepherds in the fields, while nearby in the town of Bethlehem lay God in the lowest, lowly, in the manger.
Glory to God in the highest for being willing to stoop so low!
Glory to God in the lowest; that is, God with us, down here, in the muck and mire of life, fully God, fully human as a newborn. Immanuel.
As Jesus, He came from the highest to walk with the lowest. To those who walked with Him and ran to be near Him, he offered truth, healing, and eventually, by way of suffering and blood and death on the cross, he offered forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all who believe.
He rose again. He ascended to heaven to sit exalted at the right hand of God the Father…He is in the highest again, sending His Spirit to hearts that receive Him still.He made the impossible possible, in an impossible way. Today, still, the impossible is possible.
Nothing is impossible with God.
No wonder the angels sang.
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to men
on whom His favor rests!
It’s after midnight here in the Midwest, so….Merry Christmas!
If you haven’t been to Goodwill for a while–or ever–here’s an idea:This weekend, see if you can locate one near you (or a Salvation Army or other large second-hand store).And then, on your way home from the mall, just step inside the doors of the Goodwill. You don’t have to buy or even touch anything if that creeps you out–just step in and look around.As you scan the racks of clothes and aisles of toys and plates and fondue pots and exercise machines and purses and belts and lamps and alarm clocks, think to yourself:Is that Ann Kroeker over there trying on roller blades?No, I’m kidding. Well, I’d kind of like roller blades, as that was one of the risks I intended to take this past year and never attempted. But I digress.Try thinking this to yourself, instead:Once upon a time, many of these items were Christmas presents. And now….A year ago, or two or three, somebody drove all around town looking for just the right thing. He found it, wrapped it up, and gave it to the person on his list. It was given with love, let’s hope, and was fully enjoyed, let’s hope; but, eventually it made its way here.Don’t get me wrong–it’s sure fun to give gifts to the people we love. I think about my family while I’m in the stores, wondering if this or that would be the right gift and hoping they love what they open from us on Christmas Day. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that–in fact, I think that’s the delight of the gift exchange part of Christmas.When the giving and receiving flows from a deep appreciation of God’s love, there’s another layer of meaning–the gifts we give each other are a small symbol of the love we received from Him, through Jesus, whom we seek to honor during this time chosen to celebrate the Incarnation.But in the end, the stuff, the items that we can obsess and fret about during this stressful countdown to Tuesday, “all just goes to the curb eventually,” as Shalee said in the comments of my last post.Or, as a friend of mine told me one time as she quoted an African who visited America for the first time, “It’s all gonna burn.”And in the meantime, before hitting the trash can or burning up in the End Times, that elusive item you’ve been out shopping for may very well make a stop at Goodwill one day in the future.And, actually, there’s a good chance that it will sojourn at my house if I find it in the mountain of donated goods, because I’m guessing you gave a cool gift that I would enjoy even if it’s scuffed up a bit.But my trips to Goodwill and the shopping in “real” stores this season remind me how fleeting these worldly goods are compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.They’re so empty compared to the relationships God has given us on this earth in which we give and receive, celebrate and struggle through, love and serve.We’ll go ahead and shop, of course. We’ll enjoy expressing love through giving.But if we can’t find just the right thing, or we’re not sure about the color or size, or if the traffic is maddening, or somebody reaches past us to grab the last item on the shelf…the very item we were searching for…We’ll think of Goodwill.That very item will be sitting on one of its shelves one day.And that always gives me healthy perspective.Before I log off, though, I can’t help wondering: What did you buy this year?I’m just curious, because I might keep an eye open for it myself.In a year or two.At Goodwill.
During a quick stop at Target today, my oldest daughter and I bumped into The Boy’s preschool teacher from last year.I asked about school, and she admitted it was a hard year. One of the moms, she said, passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.”They were believers,” she said, “and modeled to all of us what really matters. They lived well. They made every moment count. They spent so much time together making memories.”But that wasn’t all. She reminded me of a tragic local story associated with our recent snowstorm–a van slipped down a slope and into a retention pond. Nobody made it out.The victims were her neighbors.This was not the typical Merry Christmas exchange I’ve enjoyed while out and about–nor has it become the typical Merry Christmas blog post, now that I’m relating it here–but her words were powerful to me. Prior to crossing paths with her, my daughter and I had been thinking about games and gifts.”Kind of puts all this in perspective, doesn’t it?” I said. “All of this [I gestured to the products hanging on the wall next to us] is just….stuff.”She nodded. “It’s true. I keep telling my kids that we don’t need this. We need to be sure we’re focused on each other. That’s what counts. None of this [she, too, nodded toward the aisle] matters.”Suddenly aware of how serious our conversation had become, she forced a grin and suddenly said, “Well! You all have a very Merry Christmas! No more snow, right?”I nodded. She didn’t have to pretend to be “up.” I appreciated the honesty. I needed the reminder.As I finish my shopping this week, I, too, need to remember that it’s all just stuff. I don’t know if my daughter needed to hear that, too, but she was standing there the entire time.It’s all just stuff.In the midst of the rushing, fretting, ordering, and wrapping, don’t forget about the best gifts, the truest, most precious gifts of family, friends, and faith.They, not those items tucked under the tree, are the treasures.For actual tips, return to Rocks In My Dryer’s last-minute Christmas edition.Or poke around my collection of past Works For Me Wednesday ideas.
Snowed in until about 10:30 a.m. this morning by low priority, unplowed subdivision roads, we skipped church.Sunday School classes were cancelled, but I think that they went ahead and held church for anyone who could make it. A lot of people live in the surrounding neighborhoods, so they might have had a good turnout from them and the bolder folks who crave a little adventure.We, wimpier in winter than most Hoosiers, live about 20 minutes away on a dry-pavement, low-traffic day. The cars wore a layer of ice over everything from the windshield wipers to the door handles. It would have taken us a while just to get inside. A while longer to shovel the driveway. Then there were the drifted streets.I, wimpiest of all, proposed that we stay home and make Jesse Tree ornaments.Everybody cheered and stayed in their jammies. We ate oatmeal and English muffins. I made hot tea; The Belgian Wonder brewed some coffee. The kids poured juice.I printed off some devotional thoughts with Scripture passages along with some line drawings that the kids could color.It was all very relaxed and spontaneous.The trouble with spontaneity is that things don’t always go smoothly. While the Jesse Tree idea had potential, I think that by throwing it together, I held it back a little.First, as I said, I printed off this simple devotional, which goes with these preprinted ornaments. I should have just used that combination and kept things simple.But the kids wanted to cut and color, so instead of the preprinted ornaments, I substituted these extremely simple line drawing ornaments. The drawings and the readings didn’t match. That was a bit confusing for the kids.We read some of the passages and talked about the original story. Then I improvised some questions that led to a discussion about how each story pointed to Jesus (these were not always in the devotional itself). The ram represents the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, but there’s no mention of Jesus’ sacrifice. Similarly, they included the Passover Lamb story, but didn’t point out that Christ is our Passover Lamb. They may do this on purpose, expecting the parents to do a little more work.I was impressed with the children’s ability to tap into their years of AWANA Bible memorization and Bible stories read at home and retold with felt figures in Sunday School. They made all kinds of connections between the Old Testament stories and Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.I kept thinking about the two on the road to Emmaus. The risen but not yet ascended Jesus started walking alongside them, but they were kept from recognizing Him. They told Jesus all that had just transpired in Jerusalem. He responded, saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.Wouldn’t that have been wonderful, to hear the Lord Himself explain how all of the prophecies and stories pointed to Him? No wonder their hearts were burning within them! This Jesse Tree discussion made me think of that story in Luke, as we tried to look back to Moses and the Prophets, hunting for the clues that were there all along; signs that this Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man, the Savior of the World.And it was all happening at the Kroeker’s kitchen table.We called out stories and Scripture passages that we thought might relate, each child taking turns retelling the stories. Then we would corporately ponder how accurate or probable the connections were. It was a wider perspective than we usually take during Advent. I enjoyed the exercise very much, as the stories were unified by Jesus Himself. Then came our minor problem–the kids colored in confusion, wondering where the missing ornaments were, and what were the extras? They would hold them up and ask, “Is this one with the wheat supposed to be about Joseph saving the people from famine? Or is this coat supposed to be his?” We sorted them out and made sense out of it as they colored and cut, punched holes and placed them on the little tree I’d set up in the corner of the dining room.Overall, the experiment in Jesse Tree devotions went well, but I recommend not trying to invent something on the fly. Instead of attempting to mix and match, stick with a package concept–one (showing the line drawing versions with their respective devotional), or the other (the preprinted ornaments with their devotions), or something else entirely.That last one, by the way, has a devotional page written at a higher level for the parents to ponder. I haven’t studied it, but at first glance it looks informative.Tonight after dinner, we’ll light the next Advent candle. As I mentioned last week, the candle could represent:Joy, Shepherds, or John the Baptist.Since the angel of the Lord that appeared to the Shepherds said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (emphasis added), I think with one story we can cover two out of the three symbolic possibilities.Rejoice!
To celebrate a birthday in our family, we all went to an indoor water park.We arranged this special outing long before we knew a winter storm warning would be in effect for our area, but the destination was close to home; we figured we could inch home if we had to.When we arrived, the lifeguards were on a break and everybody was sitting around waiting for them to blow their whistles. My kids, staring at the clear, heavily chlorinated water, danced and hopped, unable to contain their excitement.”This is the best day of my life!” exclaimed the birthday girl. She hadn’t even yet dipped a single toe in the water. After ten years, she finally has her wish–a pool-centered celebration.While performing something like an impromptu jig, The Boy observed, “I have no need for caffeine–I’m using happiness for energy!”Happiness: the natural high. If only it were possible to capture and bottle some of that jiggling, high-energy happiness to fuel me on a low day…or to share with others…The whistle blew, and, fueled by happiness, they splashed, swam, dove, slid, screamed, bobbed, and floated away the day while on the other side of the windows, we could see snowflakes pile up on each other in the parking lot.We had escaped to an artificially sustained bubble of denial for a day, but eventually we had to pull on long pants, long sleeves, long coats, and tall boots in order to return home and shovel the driveway. The roads weren’t bad, in spite of the weather predictions. We made it home splattering our way through a kind of slush.As dreamy as it is for this Midwestern family to fantasize about a warm climate, we live in a part of the country that spits sleet and drops snow and cranks down the temperatures into the single digits.Unfortunately, this is reality.And, after a day of high-energy bliss, we have returned to it, shivering.Still happy, but shivering.
I’d just like to put in a good word for Revere Ware. Sixteen, almost seventeen, years ago, we received a set of Revere Ware pans as a wedding gift from my uncle. We’ve used them daily for all of those years, and they have occasionally served as an impromptu drum set for the little ones. With constant use and mild abuse, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when earlier this year, the round black knob atop the lid of one of the bigger pots popped off. We couldn’t reattach it, but I kept using the lid and simply handled it with potholders. This is not a good idea. Several times I got a slight steam-burn when the lid slipped or I couldn’t whisk it away fast enough. I needed a new lid. With a knob.Before traipsing off to a kitchen store for a new pot and lid, I decided I would contact the company and see if could buy a replacement lid from them.I submitted a note via the online form under customer care and received a prompt and pleasant reply. They said that if I phoned them with my shipping address, they’d be happy to accommodate my request.I got a pleasant woman on the line when I phoned.I told her the pots were over 16 years old, and I have no paperwork or warranty information. Could I buy a new lid from them?”You won’t need to buy one–we’ll just send you a new lid. Revere Ware pans have a 25-year warranty. And you don’t need any paperwork.”I gave her my address, and she said that they’d ship it right away. I didn’t have to pay for the lid or shipping. I didn’t have to send in the broken lid or the knob. I just had to inform them of my situation, and this positive, upbeat customer service representative took care of everything.I got it yesterday: a shiny new lid with a gleaming black knob.So many companies try to get out of their warranty obligations, I thought I would praise a place that went far beyond what I ever expected or imagined.This is how I always imagine companies should operate.Why is it so rare?
Ah, the humble scraper.The rubber kitchen scraper:
- swipes every last drop of salsa or jam from its jar
- cleans out the peanut butter or Nutella jar with a few strokes along the sides and bottom (sometimes producing enough for an extra sandwich)
- can eke out an extra crepe or pancake from the batter remains stuck to the mixing bowl
Why don’t people use ’em?In a family of six, that extra crepe can even out servings or reward a kid who’s shown patience and generosity.Scraper-use reduces waste and saves money.And they rinse clean afterwards, so it’s not like they’re a huge dishwashing burden–besides, by scraping off batter and bits, they actually clean off the stuff that tends to dry like concrete and stick stubbornly to bowls and storage containers. In that way, they make food preparation and serving dishes more responsive to the dishwasher’s cleaning action.I use them daily to be sure I’m not rinsing down the drain some perfectly edible food. In fact just today, at lunch, I used my old, blue-handled scraper to clean out a nacho cheese tub that the kids were prepared to dispose of. They had used a spoon to extract as much as possible, but I noted plenty of streaks left behind. My scraper-swipes collected two additional servings. Yum.The scraper is a kitchen essential for us–a humble and faithful contributor to maximizing my food preparation efforts.I therefore offer this short tribute to the kitchen scraper.
Ode to a Rubber Scraper
The faithful Scraperfills my skillet with good things;my plate with culinary riches.It extends our resourcesthat we might satisfy our loved oneswith more than enough.
The faithful Scraper, has taught usto stretchwhat we haveand sharethe bounty.
The Scraper is my friend;a kitchen companionthrough thick and thin.
Turn to the Scraperand find hidden in plain sightmore than you thought possible.
For more ideas, visit Rocks In My Dryer.
Or feel free to check out my own collection of ideas that have worked for me.
For actual poetry, visit the Poetry Foundation.
We went to the art museum to see an exhibit of Roman art that was in our fair city on loan from the Louvre.
En route, I had the kids take turns reading short chapters about ancient Rome from a kids’ history book. I wanted them to have some historical context for the sculptures, busts, and reliefs they were about to view, so they took turns reading about Romulus & Remus, Julius, Augustus, and Nero.
Then we arrived at the museum. As we walked toward the building, I reminded the children to speak softly and just look, don’t touch. We started practicing softer voices, then walked along the sidewalk silently for a few steps.
As we neared the door, my son asked, “Can we breathe through our mouths in the museum?”
Yes. You can breathe through your nose or your mouth.”
“Oh, good!” he exclaimed.
“But don’t breathe heavily on the statues,” I warned. “And resist the urge to touch.”
They laughed about it as we headed into the show.
I’ve never studied art history, though I’ve read books like The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern and Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting. I’m self-taught at a surface level, so here’s why I like about looking at art with kids:
I’m Forced to Slow Down and Really See the Art
First, in order to get them to really look at something, I have to really look at it. I scan the information posted nearby—date, artist, name of the piece or subject matter, etc—then I look at the piece of art. Closely. I try to take note of some detail that will entice the kids to stop and look, as well. I try to capture their interest for a moment or two, because, you know, you can’t blame them for assuming at first glance that it all looks the same. The first couple of rooms could just appear to be a bunch of nondescript, chipped up, old marble statues. I suppose that’s what they are.
Until you look. Until you consider the context. The age. The history. The amazing talent of sculptors from a couple hundred years BC to a few hundred years AD.
Boy, was I glad we’d read aloud the stories about Julius and Augustus on our way, because we stopped and read the placards to discover that there was a big statue of Augustus and his wife, Livia. And then there was Tiberius and Caligula and Nero. We could talk about Jesus’ birth in the time of Pax Romana. A mom behind us pointed to the statue of Tiberius and said to her son, “When Jesus was crucified on the cross, this man was in power.”
We looked at ancient Roman jewelry, and my son, enthralled by the gold, pulled out a pencil and his tiny notebook and sketched some of the diadems and necklaces. We stood next to him as he stared and sketched, following the lines and curves with his eye and reproducing them as closely as possible on the humble lined paper of his tiny, spiral-bound notebook.
I Can Say Almost Anything about the Art
Then came other observations and comments that make me very happy to be with children in an art exhibit—you can note or say anything and people generally grin and nod, appreciating the attempt to introduce kids to art. Nobody seems to judge my ignorance. Nobody’s expecting erudite comments. We’re just looking and responding to it.
What’s more, this day the place was packed with students on field trips, so everybody was relaxed and enjoying themselves.
This is what my kids and I noticed:
Nero looked practically angelic as a young boy. As we stood in front of his statue, I remarked, “He looks so innocent.”
The Boy loudly responded, “Yes, but he was baaad news.”
This lady and the one next to her had an intricate mass of curls encircling their faces. “Those curls look like Cheerios,” I said. “Or Froot Loops.”
“They do!” the kids laughed. “They really do!”
We came upon a room with some, um, toga-less statues, shall we say. One of the girls said, “Ugh. This room is unappealing.”
I didn’t know what she meant until I caught a glimpse of the statues along the side wall. “Oh! I see what you mean. They seem to have forgotten their togas.”
“I find it…unappealing,” she repeated.
“Well, it’s just how they made a lot of old art,” I said. “We’ll take a quick look and move along.”
Kids Notice Things I’d Pass By
As we came to the first one, a smug-looking Paris, my son realized there was a problem. “Look, he’s missing some of his… (pause; then, in a stage whisper) private parts.” Indeed, he was. You’d never know it by his demeanor.
Several mosaics pieced together from tiny squares and chips—tesserae. Their colors were subtle. How could the artist know how to place those things in such a way that they could form people and animals? How could it stay in such great shape for so long? Two of them were floors.
We saw a boxy urn for ashes. I explained to the kids what it was used for. Their response? “Gross.”
One relief showed a person holding a bull by its nostrils and stabbing it with a sword. “Look at the blood trickling down,” I said.
“Gross,” the kids said.
A couple of statues of some god with extra-thick hair and beard who is associated with regeneration made us laugh. He was missing a limb and a nose. I wonder how many other people made the same connection. “Looks like he needs to regenerate his own nose,” I observed.
One of the girls pointed out another small sculpture of the same guy. “Hey, here he needs to regenerate a leg!”
“He sure seems to be generating a big head of hair.”
I thought the most intricate and beautiful of all the art in the exhibit was this girl. Unfortunately, you can’t see the detail in her hair or the folds of her lower skirt undulating at her feet. How do sculptors do that? How could they carve such intricate detail into a hunk of marble? How do they give the impression of movement?
How do they look at a hunk of marble and know just what to chip away to create such realistic lines? How can they tap away at such a hard, cold, unforgiving material and leave behind what seems to be soft folds of fabric, draped luxuriously over somebody’s arm?
And how can it all stay in such great condition for so many years?
Sure, a few have lost a thumb, foot, finger, nose, or top of an ear…and as we noted, more than one piece lost its private parts…but so many of them were intact, every Froot Loop in place. I suppose that art historians and conservationists are paid diddly squat for their work, not to mention the archaeologists who unearth and clean up the treasures in the first place. But they deserve our thanks.
Thanks to their diligence, thousands of years after those busts and statues were formed, four young kids could meet up with history, and a mom could enjoy a chance to see art with kids.
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A few years ago we bought a preformed Advent wreath at Michael’s. I wrapped some ribbons and beads around it, stuck some plastic red berries into the greenery here and there, and deemed it ready for service. It was hardly an example of artistic brilliance, but it would serve us fine. It was festive. It would hold the candles.
We’d never celebrated Advent as a family, so this was an experiment. The church we attended at the time didn’t observe a liturgical calendar, so we didn’t even have a traditional corporate Advent experience. We were on our own to figure out the meaning of the candles and unearth some appropriate Scripture verses and devotionals.
From time to time, I dream up ideas like this as a potential family tradition, but I never know if it will “take.” You know what I mean? Sometimes I suggest some clever outing or activity, trying to force it to happen…then it turns out not to be right for our family. Or maybe the idea was fun, but nobody asks about it again. Then it just fades away–it might serve as a pleasant memory, but not a lasting tradition.
Then there are those times when it works. It “takes.” It becomes something to ask for, something to look forward to, something to count on, something that brings back memories and builds on them.
When that happens, it becomes a tradition.
The Advent wreath turned out to be one of those things that worked. It “took,” and now it’s a tradition.
When we bring out that ribbon-adorned wreath and set it up in the center of the table, its appearance and presence for the next few weeks says, “Christmas is coming–time to reflect.”
I look forward to the hush that comes over the family when we turn off the lights and gather around the table. The kids who can read eagerly anticipate looking up verses to share. We take turns reading passages, listening for the key words. Sometimes we try some creative activity. Sometimes we try to sing a carol. Sometimes we have a good conversation about it, and sometimes we meander and get off on tangents. But three things are consistent: we light the candles, try to bring it back to the Bible verses, and end in prayer.
I love how it ushers in a quiet moment at the end of the day, so still, so reflective–a countermeasure to the hectic pace of the surrounding culture; an antidote for the poison of consumerism that dominates the Christmas season. As the years have progressed, I think it’s proven to slow us down for a few moments in order to focus on Jesus Christ and the Incarnation in particular.
The candles each represent something. I’ve seen several suggestions for what they can stand for:
Week 1: Hope, or Prophecy/Prophets, or the Patriarchs
Week 2: Peace, or Bethlehem, or the Prophets can be this week instead of the first, or the Holy Family
Week 3: Joy, or Shepherds, or John the Baptist
Week 4: Love, or Angels, or the Magi, or Mary
So …pick your favorite combination, I guess, unless your church traditions insist on a particular series.
This week’s candle could represent peace, Bethlehem, the Holy Family, or the Prophets. The Boy insisted that it was the Holy Family candle. His Sunday School teacher said so. I was hoping to focus on Bethlehem and Peace.
So I asked him, “Who is the Holy Family?”
“Joseph, Mary….and….the donkey?” he replied.
We talked it over and determined that while the donkey was very useful, he probably wasn’t considered family. We came up with a more appropriate family member to take its place.
I pointed out that Mary and Joseph were just a couple until they got to…brilliant segue here…Bethlehem. Then that’s where Jesus was born, so that’s when they became a Holy Family. In Bethlehem. I was hoping to talk about Bethlehem and peace. All the verses I’d looked up were about peace. And there are a lot of verses about peace. We couldn’t get to them all. Here are some that we read:
- Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
- Micah 5:5-6 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.
- Luke 2:14 (heavenly host appearing before the Shepherds praising God) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
- John 14:27 (Jesus speaking) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
- Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
- Colossians 1:19-20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
- Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
As we read them, we listened for the key word: Peace. Every time the kids heard it, they were to hold up their pointer finger like a candle.
There are so many important verses about peace. We missed some good ones. I think we should revisit the best ones and look up the ones we missed.
We remembered that this morning at church we sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I love that song. We tried to sing a verse or two tonight as a family, but we’re not very strong singers. It’s too bad we couldn’t enjoy the carol, because the lyrics are so great. They tie all those possible candle concepts together:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
You’ve got the Holy Family, peace, and Bethlehem, all wrapped up on into one carol.
I grabbed the lyrics from the Cyber Hymnal, where they included a short detail about Phillips Brooks’ inspiration as he penned the lyrics:
Brooks wrote about his horseback journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he assisted with the midnight service on Christmas Eve, 1865:
I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.
“Again and again,” he wrote, “it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”
Again and again, year after year, Advent after Advent, generation after generation, we tell the story of our dear Savior’s birth.
Each year when we light those candles, we start the story again. Whatever passages we read or songs we sing, whatever we emphasize week after week during Advent, we’re basically telling the story to each other, passing it along–the truth of Christ incarnate, fully God and fully man. We keep passing it down along the long line of believers. For now, it’s our responsibility.
This morning during the offering, a musician in our church sang with his wife a song that he wrote. The message of the song was just that–the passing along of the story down through the generations, the story of Jesus Christ, of salvation, of the virgin birth, the cross, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit. Makes me think of two other hymns. They aren’t Christmas carols, but they are a good reminder of what this whole season is about: telling the story.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.
Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.
Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”
This Christ Jesus, born in Bethlehem, makes us whole.
May you enjoy the story this week, the truth, the Christ.
May you experience His peace.
I discovered this fascinating video at another site and found myself mesmerized. When you’re moving through 500 years in three minutes, there’s not much time to linger; so portraits morphs from one to another fairly rapidly. Because of that choice, the video is able to give us a sweeping idea of the evolution of artistic choices in that time span. The music is nice, too.See how much of the artwork is familiar to you.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUDIoN-_Hxs]