beauty, nostalgia, remembering

Quiet

“There’s a kind of hush, all over the world, tonight, All over the world tonight, people just like us are falling in love…” Les Reed and Geoff Stevens

The rain has been falling for days here in California. Notoriously dry, the weather here has brought storm after storm this winter. We are grateful. And also, we are hearing news reports of mud slides in the Santa Cruz Mountains, people without electricity for day, highways closed when lanes become impassable to traffic. When I first moved to Northern California from the Midwest, I expected sunny skies – every day. In the winter of 1981-1982, though, it rained day after day; I’d arrived to this sunny place in an El Nino year, famed for bringing storms.

But this year is different. Weather forecasters describe these storms as coming from an “atmospheric river,” or the “troposphere.” Moisture starved farmland is now flooded. Ever since New Year’s Eve, a parade of showers – even thundershowers, a rarity here – have me checking the weather app on my cell phone by the hour to see if it’s safe to go for a winter’s walk. Most days, I manage a few walks during breaks in the storm.

Rainstorms don’t bring the kind of quiet that accompanies certain snow falls in the Midwest, which I remember nostalgically every winter.

One New Year’s Eve before I arrived in the Bay Area, a group of friends and I – women and men – gathered at a friend’s apartment on the East Side of Milwaukee, a beautiful, flat area of the city whose streets are lined with homes and apartment buildings built early in the last century, to call in the New Year together. That New Year’s Eve, it snowed. The snow came down in a particular, quiet, soft way – no wind. And so the lot of us put on our coats and boots and went for a walk before the passing of the year at midnight. As we walked, the snow covered the sidewalks and our boots made dark patches on the sidewalk where we’d passed. Our voices were muffled by the snow. We left our mark, but only for a few minutes, as the snow gathered – gentle – again, covering our path behind us. Our voices were dimmed by the presence of the snow, covered, also.

When it’s cold out – really cold out, not Mediterranean cold, like here in the Bay Area – it’s pleasant to sit inside a warm, cozy house to gaze out at the quiet snow falling. Not many storms come in like that, most accompanied by strong winds and ice forming as quickly as the snow falls.

Quiet. Like cozy, and like the heart rending moments of Indian Summer, I miss that certain quiet.

Shadows, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 12/2022

Uncategorized

Epiphany

Epiphany, 2015

I started to follow in my sleep,
touched by the star.
The star paraded over my dreams,
night after night.
One night, I sat on a hill and watched the star
until the morning.
Then, I knew it would lead me if I chose to follow.

I followed.
I followed the star.

The route: circuitous.
The country: rugged.
The ruler: vicious.
The companions: odd - and wise.
The nights: cold, colder than in my land.

I followed.
I followed the star.

Stories say the Star led to a child, The Child.
This I know now:
The star led to Light.
                                                                                                                                                                 Mary Elyn Bahlert, 2015









































		
reflecting, wisdom

Word for the Year

If you’d like, google “choosing a word for the year.” It’s a thing! And when Google comes through – which it always does – you’ll be directed to 529,000,000 results! I hope that you are closer to knowing what word you’d like than one out of 529,000,00! If not, you might want to wait until next year.

I’m not ready to wait. I took part in an hour long time of reflection during Advent, the liturgical season that leads to Christmas. The spiritual director that led the time of reflection – attended by participants from many countries – suggested we choose a word for the year. I’d known about this practice – a centering practice, to return us to ourselves when the activities of life seem overwhelming – for many years, but I expect that I was not ready to choose a word for the year – until now.

Finding the word was not difficult for me, but I recall a story – a scene from a movie – that relates to my word. Cher stars in the 1987 movie, “Moonstruck.” It’s a good movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth an evening of your time! I can recall the story line, and the faces of the characters, although not always their names. What I do recall, the scene that has stayed with me for all the years since I saw “Moonstruck” for the first time (it had to be in a movie theater then, not on my computer, like now), is the scene when Cher goes to Confession. She’s a good Catholic girl from an Italian family, and she and the priest know one another well, although they are hid from one another in the confessional booth. So she begins her confession, and she quickly rattles off a series of “sins” – and quickly drops into the middle of her list of sins: “I slept with the brother of my fiancé.” The priest stops her; what was that??? She repeats her sin: “I slept with the brother of my fiancé.”

The priest responds: “Reflect on your life.”

Choose your word for the year. Write it down. Keep it with you – in your mind and heart.

Happy New Year!

City Street in Autumn, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 11/17/2022, Piedmont Avenue
Uncategorized

Light in the darkness

I love to be aware of the changing light as each season gives way to the next: spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter. Sometimes now, as I grow older, I note the times of sunrise and sunset in my calendar, watching one season gently curve into the next season.

It’s not a coincidence that the date of Christmas follows closely on the heels of the winter solstice. Through the ages, people have observed the changing seasons, the days with darkness fast on their heels, coming before it’s time for dinner. When I was younger and not conscious of how quickly one season rolls into the next, -and how unrelenting the changing of light was/is, I complained as I left work at 4:30 in the afternoon, the sky already in nighttime darkness. Night falls early in northern climates. It takes the strong spirit of a human being to hold on to hope when darkness is the longest part of each day.
No wonder the ancient people honoured the darkest days. No wonder they lit fires, bringing warmth to the darkness. No wonder our ancestors danced in the darkness, dancing to remind the light to return!

No wonder that people of different faiths honor this time of darkness, before the Light comes!

Thankfully, each cycle of the year continues to roll in a circular fashion, bringing us back to the time of darkness, not stopping, but rolling on, the end of this year, the beginning of the next.

As Christians, we honor this season of darkness by telling the story of the Child, born into a dark world to bring Light to wounded hearts. We tell the story again and again, because, like human beings of all times and places – we need to be reminded. We hold on to hope, the promise of the child whose life lays before them, and in that way, we hold on to hope for ourselves. In a Season of darkness, we come with our begging bowls, begging for Light.

Merry Christmas!

Reflections at Sunset, 12/2022, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert
beauty, community, reflecting

Christmas to Me

On the Saturday evening of the weekend before Christmas, my husband and I spend the evening with a group of people together in the sanctuary of a small, aging church building in Albany, California, north of Berkeley. In an area of the country where more folks are “unchurched” than in areas where hundreds of people – young and old – gather in large auditoriums to hear loud, drum-backed music while strobe lights flash overhead – we sit together for two hours in old wooden pews, taking in Christmas.

A Tongan woman dances to a song from her people as a two year old, born in the United States to parents whose native language is Tamil, born and raised in the South of India, runs behind the dancing woman, up the stairs to the chancel, where a Christmas tree stands at the center, its lights changing from white to multi-colored, and the little one dances in front of the tree as the rest of us smile and giggle at her antics.

A line of Filipinos, the women all wearing the same plaid winter shirt, sing a song from their country. A Korean choir proudly sings “He is Everything to Me,” standing in a line. A five year old girl – the oldest in the group of children who stand before us – sings all the verses of “Feliz Navidad,” the smaller children fidgeting, not sure where to look, as the mother of a two year old walks her little girl up to sit with the other children, all dressed in their Christmas best. A Tamil couple who spent most of the past year in India with family sing a song in their native language.

All the while during the concert unfolding before us, toddlers meet in the center aisle of the church, looking into each others’ faces, holding hands and swaying to the music they hear. Their parents smile as they watch their children, at the same time, their heads nodding to the Christmas music, the other entertainment of the evening.

A well dressed, handsome young man – accustomed to being in the spotlight – walks to the front of the sanctuary, where he reads “Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981; American author, philosopher, theologian, mystic, educator, and civil rights leader). The young man graces us with the African American Gospel song, “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child,” and as he leaves the front of the sanctuary, he is followed by a couple from India, singing the Malayalam Song, “Christmas Raavananja Neram.” Their daughter, 2 months old – a child they had waited many years to welcome into their lives – sleeps in the infant seat her mother had carried with her to the front of the church.

We are grateful when the Pastor, a native of Korea and a professor of preaching, uses his time at the pulpit to offer a few words of Christmas blessing, and then sits again among the rest of us in the pews. Not much needs to said when we see Christmas unfolding here, right before our eyes.

Over the course of the evening, we hear Christmas songs and carols in 10 languages.

And then – as the music quiets – Korean women, all dressed in red for the occasion, pass out little white candles, and we sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night…” The lights are darkened as the candles are held high, sparkling.

Soon, we crowd into the center aisle of the small sanctuary, greeting one another, many with elbow-bumps – in honor of Covid – and we are filled with joy, gratitude, for being together to bring Christmas to one another, a gift.

Christmas Lights on View Place, December, 2022, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert