. . . And a Few More (Pictures, That Is)

I’m afraid I scared off more than a few potential readers by the tongue-in-cheek title I chose for my last post. “Juste (a Few thousand) Words” was meant as a play on the title of my blog and the hackneyed phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. There, I posted several photos taken over the last few years on a series of iPhones. I found even more to share, so here they are.

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Juste (a Few Thousand) Words

Today, with both student essays to grade and a personal writing assignment of my own to complete, I decided to try something  little different for my recently neglected blog. I have been a camera snob since I picked up my first single lens reflex camera about 35 years ago. I have been lugging around lenses and tripods and multiple camera bodies in brands ranging from that first Miranda to Pentax and Nikon and Mamiya. And then the iPhone arrived on the scene. I have been the subject of more than one photo wearing one or two bulky digital SLRs around my neck–while taking a photo with my phone.

Not only does the phone offer the portability, convenience, and the opportunity to share memories quickly. I have found that the iPhone cameras from the 4S through my current 7 Plus can provide some stellar images I am proud to share despite their humble origins. I have collected some of my favorites here–a few abstracts, cityscapes and landscapes, color and monochrome, and one or two just for fun. Of course, we can’t forget the cat!

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The Many Gifts of Music

Preferring the feel and the smell and the fillable margins of real books, I had never listened to an audio book until I received one as a Christmas gift from a dear friend seeking to relieve the tedium I experience on my 56.9-mile drive to and from work each day. I have now listened to more than half of this gift, a perfect one not only because I now look forward to my daily round trip. It is perfect, too, because it has inspired me to reflect with joy on the central and fulfilling rôle music has played throughout my life. Continue reading

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The Tale of John Leak and His Foot of Clay

Once upon a time, spring had begun for the more than 4,000 people in a booming Southern town named after the Marquis de Lafayette. Trees and shrubs—forsythia, azaleas, redbuds, and wild cherries— provided a dazzling palette of yellow and pink and purple and white to paint the birthday of Annie Murchison on Palm Sunday, March 24, 1861. This girlchild had rosy cheeks, but she was fragile and of delicate health. Continue reading

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Waiting for God

Several days ago, I found a box taped up when we moved here seven years ago and never opened since. Amongst the knickknacks, costume jewelry, and small-appliance instructions I found there was this photo. Two friends hamming it up in over-the-top seasonal regalia sweaters before ugly Christmas sweaters became de rigueur. They had just come back from caroling–the one day their conservative Episcopal parish bent the Advent rule of contemplative preparation. They were waiting for cookies and mulled cider and more pre-Christmas jollity when I snapped this photo, preserved this moment in time. I expect you can see from the glow on both their faces their joy in the season, their love of life, the merriment they could barely keep in check.

What you can’t see is that beneath their Santa Claus hats, both of these smiling women were bald. This picture was taken during Advent 2004, when my friends Belinda and Lynn were both undergoing chemotherapy for particularly virulent malignancies (ovarian and metastatic breast cancer). But they still had the time and the energy–and the will–to sing “Joy to the World” and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” to their homebound fellow parishioners. Continue reading

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Lessons and Carols

Advent 2011
Two long years ago, I wrote beneath my name inside the front cover of a newly acquired book the date when I started reading it, “Winter 2009.”  Sometime later I scribbled below the date a more revealing message: “The whole year was winter.”  In January, I had watched and heard and smelled my husband die.  In December, the mentor—’Enry ‘Iggins or Svengali?—who  taught me how to think and how to write had died, and I didn’t even know for weeks that he was gone and would never again parse my sentences and pronounce them good.  Between those calculable losses had occurred others, more real because their finality was of the soul rather than of the mere body.  Emily, who called me her touchstone and then threw me over for a man she met at eHarmony.com.  Victoria, who finally became her mother and chose manipulation and madness, with rants and threats and pills.

It has taken more than one turning of the calendar to lessen the sting of that long chill.  Compounding those losses, the inability to find a welcoming faith community made me yearn all the more for the comfort I had left when I abandoned my seat at the piano and my place behind the lectern at St. Christopher’s.  Too, the inability to find a job made me feel old and a failure, a disappointment made all the more humiliating because of those early years of being chaired through the marketplace. Continue reading

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Our Hunger for God Is Too Small

Advent 2005
Just after matins one day in the early history of the church, a young postulant for holy orders sought out his spiritual mentor.  “When, Father, will God be ready to fill me?”  Father John took a length of strong rope and silently beckoned for the young monk to accompany him.  They made their way to the well of an abandoned waystation in the desert surrounding the monastery.  Arriving at the parched and desolate location, the abbot tied the boy’s feet with the rope holding the bucket and lowered him into the well until he hung with his fingers mere inches above the water.  The holy man returned to the monastery, leaving him suspended there as the desert sun traced its unrelenting arc across the sky. Continue reading

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Bring Me Back to You

Advent 2004
I have told the story of my first Advent experience so many times that it has gained mythic proportions—in my own mind at least.  The dates have been changed (but only slightly!), and other events from that first crucial year of my conversion have been moved into the four weeks before Christmas—because that way the story works better, it has unity, it is true in a sense that supersedes the merely factual. Continue reading

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The Thing with Feathers

Advent 2003

Emily Dickinson tells us that “hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”  Let’s forget all about the image in our minds of a frail and not-too-attractive woman with her hair pulled primly to the nape of her neck, who wrote poems on the flaps of envelopes and pined after Thomas Wentworth Higginson and whose life can be summed up in three sad phrases: born in Amherst, lived in Amherst, died in Amherst.  In fact, let’s forget about Emily Dickinson altogether.  The images she created on those scraps of paper had to wait almost four decades to come alive after that prim and enigmatic woman died in Amherst in 1886.

So let’s start over and concentrate on the words and the image:

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.

There’s more, but we’ll stop here for now. Continue reading

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A New Kind of Expectation

Advent 2002
I will admit from the start that I am a relative newcomer to Advent calendars. The church in which I was weaned did not observe the liturgical seasons.  I had to wait until I was over 40 to learn that the joy of Christmas morning is minimized if we haven’t prepared ourselves spiritually with a quiet and expectant Advent observance; that we cannot appreciate nor even understand the miracle of Easter if we have not purified ourselves to accept Jesus’ sacrifice through our observance of a holy Lent.  But I digress.

I started out by acknowledging that my experience of Advent is relatively recent.  In fact, I first learned about the season only in 1996 when Victoria and I started attending St. Christopher’s—on the first Sunday of Advent, to be exact.  So I have had exactly seven Advent calendars. The first six conformed with the definition I found in John N. Wall’s Dictionary for Episcopalians: “A special calendar to mark the passing of days in the Advent season.  Advent calendars usually have a series of small windows to open, revealing a different scene for each day in the season and concluding with a nativity scene on Christmas Eve.”

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the window for December 10 on this year’s Advent calendar.  Continue reading

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