Winter’s Moon

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Even during the misery of the flu — amid the stuffiness, sore throat and headache, ribs sore from coughing, and the inability to sleep — there are things for which I am thankful.

Last night at 4 a.m. (technically I guess that would be this morning but it was still part of my night), I sat in my recliner, cuddled under a cozy afghan, and stared out at the well lit snowy landscape. Full moon had been just the night before, so it was still very bright. As I glanced up at it, I discovered a hazy lunar halo. Of course I had to wrap the afghan close and step out onto the deck to take photos. Yes, I know it wasn’t too smart, given my state of health and the -6 C chill, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Solar and lunar halos are fascinating. There are light cirrus clouds, hardly visible, containing millions of tiny ice crystals that refract and reflect the light. When I researched this, I learned these lunar halos are unique to the person seeing them…

“The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear. That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.” *

Had I been sleeping soundly, I would have missed this special phenomenon that was uniquely mine.

O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good.”
[Psalms 107:1a]

January’s full moon is known as the Wolf Moon, or sometimes the Snow Moon, although the latter is more often attributed to February’s. Winter moons often seem especially clear when seen during a crisp cold night, but thanks to the high cloud, this one was hazy.

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Still, it brought to mind the haunting tune and words of the Huron Carol:

’twas in the moon of winter-time 
when all the birds had fled,
that mighty gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead;
before the light the stars grew dim,
and wondering hunters heard the hymn:
“Jesus your king is born, Jesus is born,
in excelsis Gloria.”

Christmas is well past, but the miraculous news will never be outdated: Jesus is born! This winter moon provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on what our Christmas celebrations were all about.

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* Earthsky.org

The Stillness of a Snowy Christmas

Wishing you a blessed and peace-filled Christmas!

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(You) could’ve swept in like a tidal wave
or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
to wipe away the things we’ve scarred
But you came like a winter snow
quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
to the earth below
No, your voice wasn’t in a bush burning
No, your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind
It was still
It was small
It was hidden
Winter Snow
[Chris Tomlin/Audrey Assad]

~  ~  ~

Is it December? (Er, I mean “It’s December!”)

dsc05371It IS December! It’s been December for almost two weeks and I’ve been doing December things, just not blogging about it. I’ve been “M.I.A.” while rejoicing in the arrival of Advent, accompanying hubby on a tree-finding outing, digging through storage boxes for Christmas decorations, beginning the traditional baking spree, writing notes and addressing envelopes — all those seasonal activities that accompany the anticipation of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

This Christmas our entire family, including several dogs, are coming here to celebrate with us! It will be a faith-filled, festive, and perhaps somewhat chaotic holiday together.

Given the snowstorms here this past week and now the forecast for two weeks of frigid sunshine, there is every possibility that it will be a White Christmas, too. What more could one hope for on our usually balmy west coast?

That’s a timely question. What is our hope this Christmas … indeed, every Christmas? Throughout Advent we wait for the miracle of God’s coming, both as a babe in the manger and again in our time. Why? What are our expectations? A good question to ponder as we prepare our homes and our hearts for Christmas.

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 Hope is a star that shines in the night,
leading us on till the morning is bright.
When God is a child there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.
Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn,
telling the world that the Saviour is born.
 ~  ~  ~

 

When music makes me feel old…

Every so often something grinds me to a stop and makes me consider my age. Music isn’t usually one of those things. Oh, there’s always the knowing look when a particular genre turns up on the truck’s radio and I change stations because I find it jarring. Someone is bound to think, “Old fogies are in control of the radio dial again,” but I assure you I would have switched it just as quickly fifty years ago.

No, what has me thinking about my age today is the number of years music has been impacting my life.

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Even if I discount how readily family gatherings during my childhood ended up around a piano, or with a violin or melodeon, to sing favourite songs, and if I focus only on the years of my own active participation, I’m stunned. Why? Because they really add up, and I’ve never considered myself to be particularly musical.

There were the occasions while the grownups visited, when I closed myself into my grandparents’ dining room and struggled to plunk out one-fingered melodies by ear on their piano. There was also one summer during which my hubby served a prairie mission field, when a parishioner undertook to teach me some elementary piano basics on the out-of-tune church piano. And the year the organist in another congregation patiently took me through the first three Royal Conservatory grades. Ha! I was so self-conscious that no matter how much I practised a piece to perfection in solitude, I could only stumble through it during the next lesson.

So how I ended up years later leading a children’s choir can only be attributed to the sad fact that in our small congregation there was no one else capable or willing to volunteer. I wasn’t capable either, but apparently I was willing to try, and I persevered for several years.

Then, in 1994, seven months after arriving in our present congregation, I faced another plea to help — this time it was to direct the senior choir — and despite retiring four different times, I somehow ended up directing for the better part of the next nineteen years.

From my first exposure to church as a teenager when I was conscripted to join the choir, up to last year when my lack of voice and breath control convinced me it was time to stop, I’ve also sung in church choirs.

My ‘active participation’ in music leadership covers almost six decades! I must be really, really old! What’s more amazing to me, however, is that I still have only a rudimentary ability to read music. I’ve blustered my way through it all without being qualified, although I’ve certainly been opinionated.

For instance, as a choir director I have strong feelings about the purpose of a church choir. Perhaps that’s why I reacted to an article our associate pastor pointed out on Facebook recently. It offered “four functions to explain why the church choir exists” and emphasized that there was a specific order to the priorities:

“As the director of a church choir I use four functions to explain why the church choir exists. Those priorities help determine the programmatic choices that our music ministry makes. The functions are in a specific priority order, but I also believe each function is equally important as they must be present to have a vital music ministry. The four functions are to lead and enliven the congregation’s song, to sing music that the congregation cannot, to serve as a small-group within the church for faith formation, and to sing beautiful and challenging music to glorify God and to edify the congregation.”

My top priority is found nestled in the wording of her last one: to worship and glorify God and to help the congregation do the same.

You don’t want to know how many times I’ve lectured my choirs about this. If asked, they could probably repeat my words from memory: “What we do is never a performance. We’re here to assist the congregation in the worship experience.” I’ve always believed a choir’s sole purpose is to support the ministry, providing musical leadership for the corporate expressions of prayer, petition and praise.

While the author and I may differ on the order of priority, we do agree on other aspects. “A church choir’s job is not just to sing beautifully,” the article continues, “but rather it is to minister to the congregation and to each other in a variety of ways.”

I can’t provide statistics, but I’m pretty sure the majority of church choirs are comprised not of professional-quality singers but of volunteer members, many of whom love to sing but don’t know how to read music. I encouraged anyone who wanted to be involved whether or not they had technical skills. I gave out guidance on a need-to-know basis, keeping it simple for the sake of those who really didn’t care about it (or who might already know it).

4b531eb4f09c12f364035ee7ae323793A quarter rest? Ah, that would be the one that looks like a sideways seagull, dipping its wings for a one-beat rest. That’s it. Period. Some remembered the rest’s name; others remembered the seagull illustration. Either way, they understood the symbol meant not to sing for one beat.

Yes, it’s important to give our best when it comes to worshipping God with our voices, but I believe God honours the heart’s intention, not the voice’s perfection. I didn’t have the expertise to teach all the musical complexities and nuances, or to require them of my choristers. In most cases the music was learned by rote memorization and repetition to the best of our amateur ability, and then sung with joy.

That’s what I remember most about all those years participating in church music teams: that each one of us took joy in the shared musical experience of being part of a unique ministry.

Yes, that and how very many years it’s been! Goodness, I’m old! 🙂

~  ~  ~

 

Advent I – Waiting in Hope

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In church Sunday morning the children were asked what they saw that was different in the sanctuary. One youngster immediately pointed to a banner on the chancel wall: “Hope”. Another acknowledged the Advent wreath with its candles. Hope was our focus on the first Sunday of Advent. As the first of the candles was lit, we read the liturgy…

We wait.
We wait in hope.
We wait for God to be revealed.
We wait for God to tear open the heavens and come down.

 

“We wait in hope for God to be revealed … for God to come down.”

~  ~  ~

 

Seasonal reality versus perception

Reality versus perception. That’s what this is about. I know one day on the calendar is little different than the day before it or the day after. The sun rose a minute later today, and will set two minutes earlier, but otherwise not much has changed. But today is the autumnal equinox and suddenly it feels like fall.

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I’ve been noticing hints of its approach — those dratted spiders hanging out everywhere in their webs (why, oh, why do they have to dangle right at face level?), leaves fluttering down among recent raindrops, subtle colour changes in the garden that I’m sure weren’t there last weekend.

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There’s a new freshness to the warmth of today’s sunshine … crisp undertones that bespeak of a hastening away from summer’s heat. It isn’t quite time to pull out the garden annuals, but the spiky Iris and Daylily leaves are droopy, hinting that it’s time to cut them back. I’m sure they don’t look any worse than they did yesterday, but today they’ve edged into my awareness, along with the blousy, browning Hydrangea blooms.

Yesterday was summer, but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention it went into decline; today is autumn.

~

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”

[Henry Beston]

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”

[Jeremiah 5:24]

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

[Jim Bishop]

~  ~  ~

Dealing With Change

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One thing I love about living on the BC south coast is having four distinct seasons. I can’t envision living where it’s green and warm all year ’round. Granted, I don’t enjoy being too hot in summer, or too cold in winter (or constantly wet in spring and fall), but I love the variety each year. Just when the status quo begins to get tiresome, everything changes.

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Last week, on one of our showery days, I discovered leaves were beginning to fall. Smatterings of gold and brown scattered over slick grass and shiny pavement.

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My first reaction was surprise, followed by regret. How can the season of sunshine be ending so soon? I’m not ready to say goodbye to shorts and sandals weather, or the lazy, unscheduled days of summer. But what I want doesn’t much matter to Mother Nature. If change is due, change will come, and like it or not, it’s that time of the year.

I’ll adjust. Oh, I’ll probably grumble a little, but before long you’ll notice I’m raving about autumn’s changing colours and the fresh, crisp edge to its shortening days. Thanksgiving will come, and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which is always a highlight of my year. I love autumn!

Life is full of changes but there is also continuity. I like the saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” If we’re fixated on the closed door, however, we won’t notice the window opening.

In our church, an August day brought the devastating news that our pastor’s wife had suddenly died. Amid the shock and sadness, our Vacation Bible School needed to carry on. Now that September’s here, groups that were dormant through the summer must refocus and begin again. Where needed, other people are stepping in to take up tasks to which they will bring their own unique abilities. Ministry will continue, albeit in different ways within a hurting community. We will be more prayerful this fall, and hopefully more aware, more loving.

Changes happen. After the hurt begins to ease, a season of healing will come. God is always faithful. A new season always comes.

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~

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God,
the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love
with those who love him and keep his commandments,
to a thousand generations.”

[Deuteronomy 7:9]

~  ~  ~