Glimmers of Light on Dark Days (Candlemas)

Today is Candlemas. A mass for the blessing of candles. The day we remember the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is a feast day in the church, a day of white vestments and (if one is fasting) a break from the fast. In France they eat crepes & in Mexico there is a tradition of hot chocolate and tamales. And while most of us are probably not going to bring homemade candles to a priest to be blessed (do they still even do that?) it is a day to remember, I think, that all the ordinary things are blessed. The pillows and brooms and dishes and the toys strewn on the floor. The ordinary parts of our day shine with the glory and beauty that radiates from the countenance of the Lord as he bends towards us. The rest of this post is copied and pasted from what I wrote last year. (I can do that, right?)


(Last year I wrote this the day after actual Candlemas.)

Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband, or to get healed, or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.


And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Dayscoughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.


We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.


And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Untitled, for Loss of Words


It has been the most beautiful fall imaginable here, the hills all aglow with scattered patches of bright green farmland and little specks of barns in the distance.  And we are only just now entering the slow decrescendo: the trees letting go of their leaves, letting them fall like flakes of gold or maybe like so many beautiful tears. Standing tall and strong as they lose their treasure, teaching us the grace of loss. A whole winter-long to learn and re-learn this lesson from them. I keep saying the Hopkins poem over and over in my head, “Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?…” And then, the other one, this morning: “The Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Today all I can think is this, that the true ruler is a Prince of Peace, who leads by gentleness and grace. A King who turns swords into plows and speaks with dignity and courtesy to women and outsiders. May he return soon and make All Things Well. Until then, lighting all the candles I can find as flickering specks of hope, reading all the good Poems in the Good Book, and taking lots and lots of really deep breaths.  All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 9

Saying Goodbye Already

Little Girl slept 13 whole hours last night.  She ate some carrots with hummus tonight for dinner, which was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  She saw a dandelion tonight when we went for a walk and stooped down to blow the white fluff off.  I helped her, and she just laughed hysterically.

There is so much more I want to write about how precious she is, how smart she is, how much she makes me laugh, how I love her even though she’s been hitting me some the past 2 days and scratched me pretty hard tonight.  But for some reason I can’t think of what to say.

DSS called and they have found a family that can take both her and her older sister (who is elsewhere right now).  So they said tomorrow or Friday will be her last day with us.  I don’t know how to process this at all.  Because as soon as I saw her I couldn’t hold back any amount of love toward her.  I couldn’t hold back and love her just enough for a few days or a few weeks, the kind of measured and cautious sort of love that one should feel for a child who you know will be leaving you at some point.  I just loved her completely, and so did John.  She instantly became our baby, and we just wanted to hope that somehow she would stay our baby forever.

So anyway.  I don’t know if it will be tomorrow or the next day when she will go to her new family.  We knew that this would happen, and I am glad that she will get to be with her sister.  But damn, I didn’t think it would be this hard.

How Things Changed, Very Quickly

Last Wednesday I got a call from DSS.  There was a 1 year old little girl they needed to place.  I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that John and I got certified to be foster parents a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve kept my phone right next to me every second of every day, waiting for that call.  And finally they called.  We* said yes.  The case worker said that they would bring her over.

I waited a few hours, scrambling to find anything that might resemble something close to a toy for a 1 year old, starting some pancake batter since we don’t have any good toddler food, and scribbling down lists of what we would need to buy.   After a few hours, I called the case worker back to see what the status was, and he said that someone else was supposed to have called me, and that they were going to bring the little girl over the next day instead.

Which was good.  That gave me time to run to Mama Goose to buy a couple of outfits and a little doll, to Target to buy diapers and a cup and those little plastic things to put over outlets, and then to Wegmans to buy some cheese and whole milk and blueberries and then to Green Star to buy some unscented Dr. Bronner’s soap and some bread.

I didn’t unpack anything from the Target bags, just in case.  I didn’t take the tags off the clothes, just in case.  You never know what will happen, and there’s always the chance that a relative might be found to watch her or something.

But sure enough, the next day they called and asked if I could come pick her up.  I filled a little sippy cup with water and headed over.  I got there, waited in the lobby for about 10 minutes, and then was taken to the back, where a social worker was holding the cutest little year and a half year old girl.  After a few minutes of conversation and paperwork, they helped me bring her out to my car.  I had gotten a parking ticket (I didn’t have any quarters for the meter and had crossed my fingers– I filled out an appeal form today, so we’ll see how that goes!).  But I didn’t (and don’t) care about the ticket.

Because in the back seat of my car was a tiny little girl with the cutest dark curly hair, and I was now in charge of her.  So that’s why I haven’t written in ages.  I don’t have time to write much more because it’s almost 7:00 and I am about to fall asleep.  Little Girl went to bed at 6:30 tonight (she usually goes down at 8) and every night so far she has slept exactly 11 hours, so it looks like I might be waking up at 5:30 tomorrow.

More soon.

* I say “we” but I actually wasn’t able to get John on the phone before I made the decision.  He wanted to be a foster parent, obviously, but we had assumed that we would get to sit down and have a nice, long chat about the child, the situation, and make the decision circumspectly, together.  Instead, after I realized that I might not be able to talk with John on the phone for a few more hours, I called DSS back and said yes.  I was a little worried that John would be slightly freaked out by the hasty addition of a baby to his family, but he was just as excited as I was and instantly became the most amazing foster father ever.

Farmers’ Market 8.11

I can’t believe it’s already August. Some yellow leaves have been falling from a tree across the street, and it’s getting down to the 50s at night. It’s still hot during the day, and our house is still usually over 80 degrees inside all the time, but it is starting to feel like fall.  There are already apples at the farmers’ market.  And pears and plums and so many tomatoes and peppers that I think my heart broke a little today that I couldn’t buy them all.

(Apples are from Littletree Orchard in Newfield, NY.  They also sell homemade doughnuts at their little stand, and I don’t know why I didn’t buy one this morning.  Next week I will, so stay tuned.)

With my $20 I bought 4 pounds of some good sturdy paste tomatoes (not the ones in the picture above) and about a dozen tiny pears. I’m going to attempt to dehydrate the tomatoes in the oven.  Fingers crossed (and does anyone have any advice)?  Oh, I only spent $15 on those purchases, and I saved $5 for a little liver and some ground beef at The Piggery.  I love the Piggery.  They are in the process of moving the butchery counter to another side of the building, so they were giving out free coffee this morning.  Free, fair trade, organic coffee in a compostable cup.  I love Ithaca.

the marriage will take place in Jerusalem

I’m re-posting this quotation from a beautiful book by Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters. I’ve been too busy the past couple of weeks to do much cooking or photography or writing or thinking, so this is just a quotation, but it’s a good one.  It’s from a story about Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak, who was drawing up his son’s engagement contract:

“The scribe had specified that the marriage was to take place on a certain date in Berditchev.  Levi Yitzhak furiously tore the contract to shreds: ‘Berditchev? Why Berditchev? This is what you will write: “The marriage will take place on such a date in Jerusalem, except if the Messiah has not yet come; in which case the ceremony will be performed in Berditchev.””

If that doesn’t make you want to weep like a baby, I don’t know what will.

Constraint and Consent, Career and Motherhood

Great article called “Constraint and Consent, Career and Motherhood” that investigates the popular notions of “balance” and “having it all” in women’s lives, which are (like all lives) bound by “intrinsic constraints.”  What does it mean to live faithfully in the midst of those constraints?  Here’s an excerpt:

“In her essay ‘Paying Attention To The Sky,’ the late French philosopher Simone Weil writes, ‘the effective part of [our] will is not effort, which is directed toward the future.  It is consent…’ And for women, Christian women in particular, seeking to make sense of what can at times feel like incongruent callings, longings, or responsibilities, coming to understand our lives in terms of willful and intentional consent is far more sustainable than it is to orient our lives around perpetual striving or greater efforts to ‘balance.’ ”

Would love to hear people’s thoughts about this.


So it’s been awhile since I’ve written.  Lots of traveling and visitors recently.  It’s been busy.  But wonderful.

A friend of mine recently lent me her copy of Richard Foster’s famous book, Celebration of Discipline.   I was drawn immediately to his chapter on simplicity.  I’m going to write some more about this soon, but I just wanted to share this beautiful quotation:

“The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions.  Neither the greedy nor the miserly know this liberty.  It has nothing to do with possessions or their lack.  It is an inward spirit of trust.  The sober fact that a person is living without things is no guarantee that he or she is living in simplicity…   It is possible for a person to be developing an outward life-style of simplicity and to be filled with anxiety” (Foster, Richard.  Celebration of Discipline, 87).

How absolutely amazing.  I went through a bunch of drawers this past week after reading this chapter and got rid of old makeup and face creams that were several years old but which i was nevertheless holding onto.  Went through some drawers and took things to Goodwill.  Things that I wear but just have too many of.  I’m not saying that to be all like “Look how amazing and simple I am” but just that it felt really freeing to get rid of a bunch of things.  To have a little more empty space in the house.

The problem is that it is easy enough to empty out drawers of face creams and old t-shirts, but it is entirely different to empty the heart of the kind of miserly anxiety that Foster is describing.  Anyway, more about this soon.

words for Lent

“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding… This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt, and finally to reject all the prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas. Hence it is clear that genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not merely passive acceptance of the status quo, as some would like to believe– for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia…. what a holocaust takes place in this steady burning to ashes of old worn-out words, cliches, slogans, rationalizations! The worst  of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed along with all the rest. it is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty…” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 13).