Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

“Are our sensibilities / too blunt to be assaulted / with spatial power-plays and far-out / proclamations of peace? Sterile, / skeptic, yet we may be broken / to his slow silent birth / (new-torn, new- / born ourselves at his / beginning new in us.) His bigness may still burst / our self-containment / to tell us—without angels’ mouths— / fear not.” — Luci Shaw

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope this letter finds you and yours enjoying this season of Christmas. As is often the case, we’ve traveled much of the past month away. We were able to join Brett’s family in Chicago for Thanksgiving, and now we’re enjoying time with my family in Nashville. The break from our daily routine certainly brings it’s challenges, but more so, I believe it tends to offer clarity as we’re able to step outside of our everyday ways and look at them with a fresh perspective.

Olivia, now six, has really grown into her role as the older sister. She, more than any of us, is ready to jump into Mae’s imaginary world of play. For Olivia, I sense this world is often more familiar and comfortable than the 1st grade world she maneuvers so gracefully each school day. We continue to marvel at her desire and ability to learn new things. This year she’s successfully tackled the scooter, the written word, the Lego manual, the bike (she calls it the two-wheeler), the piano, and just this past week, the knitting needles.

I recently learned that our neighbors like to refer to Mae as “the little woodland creature.” This is an apt description as I watch her spritely form sing and dance around me with her crazy hair and make-shift costumes. I sense this is exactly what a three-year-old girl should be doing. For our family, she is the great communicator. She lets us know, in her gentle way, when our family dynamic isn’t quite right and when more is right than we recognize.

Brett continues to appreciate the significance of the opportunities made available to him through his work at MVNU. This past spring he was given the President‘s Award for Excellence in Teaching; he is grateful for his employment at a university that appreciates his contributions. He continues to write and present in his areas of interest.

I still teach a course or two at MVNU and write when the schedule allows. My work with the art program at our church continues to be a substantial combination of challenge and blessing. I’m constantly enriched by the witness of both the volunteers and the children as, each week, we engage in the humbling opportunity to create together. I’ve also enjoyed more time to delve into the rituals of home, discovering the value of slowing down and fully engaging in everyday domestic tasks.

And of course, mixed within warm moments like these have been the rushed episodes where we allow our supposed needs—to be on time or to get out the door—to excuse our shortness with each other. We let our consideration for each other fall to the floor so we can hold up our expectations of perfection to one another. Or we let temporary ownership of a particular possession (insert name of toy here) take precedence over sharing freely. Add to this an unusual season of sickness for our family--colds, fevers, and beyond-- and we become keenly aware of the fragility of our broken, mortal form.

This is where I take great comfort in the angels’ proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men.” Of all the phrases to utter, of all the “threads of speech” to snap so that we could understand, these are the words they chose. No doubt a host of angels filling the sky would be a fantastic sight to behold, but I believe the display was only to give further weight to the words chosen to accompany Christ’s arrival. Through his birth, peace and good will come to men. As self-contained as we’d like to be, it’s not possible, thank the Lord. And so we pray for the proclamation of his birth to burst into our days, to make its way through our blunt sensibilities, that we may receive the message and in turn, offer peace and good will to each other.

Glory to God in the highest,
Brett, Elizabeth, Olivia, and Mae Wiley

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We Moved Christmas, and the Weather Obliged

As we're travelling to be with family far away for Christmas Day, we opted to have our own Christmas here at home this morning, December 17th. It's been lovely. We're even enjoying our first real snow of the year. Mary Oliver's poem is apropos. Here you go:

First Snow

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

~Mary Oliver~

Merry Christmas.