Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Man of Sorrows

The favorite phrase of Christmas hymns
   of greetings, cards, and pondering hearts:
   Good will, good cheer and peace on earth!
A time of joy and caroling,
   a time to smile and celebrate.
   Be merry! Think of Jesus' birth!
He comes to us in our happiness.

And yet did not the prophet say
   A man of sorrows, known to grief,
   undesired, despised, oppressed,
Stricken, smitten, turned away,
   He died to bring us peace on earth,
   and we hid our faces from Him
He comes to us in all our pain.

Let us seek Him in the sad
   and lonely, peaceless places, too,
   bind up the griefs as He would do.
Let us not forget that He
   carried our sorrows, bore our griefs
   and with His stripes brought healing.
We'll come to Him bearing the same

   and to us He will bring peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trying to describe my feelings on my wedding day: fifth attempt

Words are a shallow dish
into which we pour the clear stream
that flows through the mountains of our hearts.
We hold the dish
and call what it holds poetry,
when what we really want
is to capture the beautiful, bouncing droplets
that shimmer in the air
and mist our eyes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Twelve Days: Partidges and Parties

The third and final article in a series on the Twelve Days festival of ancient Earth.

While the meaning and theme of the Twelve Days focused on the arrival of Santa Claus and avoiding his harmful touch, it must be remembered that the season was, in fact, a festival. Perhaps as an act of defiance-- to show that evil could not intimidate them--celebrants escalated their festivities from day to day.

A popular song, variations of which still persist, describes the increasing celebrations in terms of food, family, and frivolity. On the first night the meal's main course consists of a single partridge (a small game bird probably considered a delicacy). On subsequent nights the size of the bird steadily increases, as does the number served. Two pigeons, three game hens, and so on, until finally there are seven magestic roast swans on the table.

The sumptuous fare is, of course, matched by a swelling in the ranks of those called in to help eat it. While the partridge the first evening was perfect for an intimate dinner with "my true love," the couple is joined by more and more people each night. Presumably these guests are their immediate and extended family, followed by other friends and connections. The crowd grows so large that nine dance floors and, by the twelfth day, a dozen different musicians are required to provide simultaneous entertainment for the gathering.

It appears that an element of gift-giving was also fundamental to the festivities. In particular, the author of the song rejoices that his/her true love presented him/her with a gold ring for each finger of the hand. There may have been significance to this specific gift relating to protection from the coming fires, as there are references that gold rings were immune to all but the most intense of flames. However, it is clear that this spirit of giving spilled over into general expressions of thoughtfulness and celebration. I like to consider this evidence that the human spirit will imbue any event with goodness and kindness, even one that revolves around such a frightening character as Santa Claus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Twelve Days: Stockings and Trees

The second article in a series on the ancient Twelve Days holiday.

In view of the looming threat of Santa's visit (see yesterday's article on Santa Claus), parents enforced a curfew with increasing rigor. Children were sent to the far end of the house, preferably their bedrooms, for protection from any physical or spiritual danger. Others also sought refuge, but by tradition one or more adult members of the household stayed up to guard against mishap.

The primary defense against Santa's malice was to set out tempting decoys. Upon arrival through the fireplace or engine room, Santa would encounter flammable articles of clothing, usually expendable items such as socks. This would prevent him from trying to find and set fire to clothing with a person inside.

Another common decoy was the fir tree. Left inside for several days to dry, the tree still retained the appearance of life while also being readily combustible. Early on it was thought that Santa Claus could not resist the temptation offered by the tree alone, but later generations seemed to think something else was needed. The first development was to place, paper-wrapped packages at the foot of the tree. The contents of these packages is unclear and was apparently variable, but in all cases they were items that could be damaged by fire and may have been considered sacrifices to the flame.

The most dramatic move, however, came about the time that the invention of indoor fire suppression made the practice tolerably safe, though certainly still hazardous. To make the tree the best possible magnet for the fire demon, lit candles were placed in the branches and left overnight. With an open flame beside the dry, sap-filled wood covered with pine-needle tinder, it was a  bonfire waiting to happen. Little wonder, then, that when belief in Santa Claus waned this became the principal mode of celebration. The years have seen ever more creative methods of lighting and enhancing these fires, and the creativity has always remained one step ahead of available safety measures. Once again, I encourage all to be vigilant in avoiding injury this season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twelve Days: Santa Claus

The most mythologically frightening of the Lost Festivals is now upon us, and I encourage all to be safe as they commemorate the Twelve Days of ancient Earth legend.  This article is the first of several installments exploring the origin and meaning of the season's superstitions.

The most recognizable symbol of the Twelve Days is, of course, Santa Claus. Contrary to popular belief, the fire demon's name owes nothing to the claw-like hands found in artwork of the mid-28th century. (The name may in fact have inspired the artistic depictions.) Rather, it devolves linguistically from the phrase "The Tock Laws," which laws appear to concern matters of curfew generally, and the midnight curfew of the Twelve Days specifically (see tomorrow's installment: Stockings and Trees). Scholars assert this relates to the distinctive "tocking" noise made by the mechanical clocks of the era.

Santa Claus is predictably imagined in red clothing, symbolic of his kinship with flame. He enters a residence by way of the most fire-imbued fixture. In the earliest times this meant a fireplace and chimney, and later a furnace or cookstove. At the birth of the space age, the engine room became Santa's doorway, though modern non-combustion fuel systems have changed this. Now Santa Claus arrives from the hydrogen harvesters or plasma decon tanks, depending upon ship class and local custom.

Although he enters homes at sites of potentially lethal conflagration, Santa Claus has always been thought to reside in the coldest of regions. Ancient Earth tradition placed him at the northern pole, an impermanent ice sheet constantly subsumed and regenerated from sub-freezing ocean temperatures. Current myth holds that his home is the inter-wormgate void, where measurable heat is a theoretical impossibility. Presumably, this persistence of a fire demon in the harshest possible conditions is symbolic of evil's persistence and the difficulty humanity will face in triumphing over this dangerous foe.

Santa's arrival at midwinter, when nights are coldest, may be related to this symbolism as well, though in my view it is more likely to stem from the fact that this was a time when fire was necessary to light and warm homes, and therefore the danger of fire damage or injury was greatly heightened. Even today, the use of fire in the Twelve Days celebrations is a cause for concern, and all due caution should be exercised.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why the Heart?

From my heart there is a direct road,
through veins and vessels, to every part of me.

Through the flood and tide that flow inside
its song ripples out to resonate
in every capillary, shin to skull to skin.

As long as life lingers, my heart keeps rhythm
for the passing song I play with feet and fingers.

When the rest of me rests, mind asleep, eyes closed,
even and especially when you take my breath away,
my heart beats on, never stops moving.

Replenished every moment, it is always full,
giving again as much as it receives, and more.

My heart is the center, the source, the song,
the strength for every dance and smile and stretch.
That is why I say you are my heart.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


You can see it in the rusting of the trees,
in the ever-slower shuffling of the streams.
You can feel it in the way we stay abed,
wrapped against the early morning cold.
You can hear it in the forest's creaking limbs
and ever-trembling, sighing, palsied leaves.

The world is getting old.

We fight it off with pungent scents,
with cinnamon and nutmeg and pine,
but autumn rain puddles into wet mildew.
We ignore it with talk of spring, pretending
that our memories of summer are unfaded.
We push it back with rich tastes,
with sharp cranberries and crisp apples,
but we cannot stop it, this falling apart,
this final heavy turning of the year.

The world is getting old.

Do not hide from her, here, inside.
Please do not let her age alone.
Let us walk long, walk slow,
talk soft, and thank her for her time.
We will show her young hope
and younger life, and smile together.

The world is getting old.

Note: This is a poetic form called the bop. I discovered it with this example bop by Robert Brewer. It's excellent, and I suggest you take a look! 
A bop involves 3 stanzas of 6-8-6 lines and a 1-line refrain. Meter and rhyme scheme are up to you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Joy to the World

Image credit:
It has been a few years since I sang Christmas carols in Japanese, but when I heard an instrumental rendition of "Silent Night" on the radio the other day, the first line of the Japanese song popped into my mind. I couldn't remember the rest of the words, so today I pulled out my 日本語の賛美歌 (Japanese hymnbook) and started to go through the Christmas songs.

One carol, "Joy to the World," really struck me. Here is a back-translation of the Japanese version. (I have opted for meaning over meter, so it may not go with the original music.)

All ye people, come together as one to celebrate and welcome,
For the Lord for whom we've waited so long has now come!
The Lord e'en now is come.
He broke in pieces the iron doors and set the captives free
The Lord e'en now is come!
In thirsty, withered hearts he makes flowers grow with the dew of mercy. 
The Lord e'en now is come!
Repent* and come to welcome the Son of the God of heaven.
Praise the very Lord and Savior. 
Sing praise, sing praise!

*The word translated here as "repent" was a new one for me. The character 斎 has multiple related meanings, but when read 「いつ・く」"itsuku" it indicates purification and worship. More specifically, my dictionary defines it as "worship, or cleansing both heart and body of impurity and serving God."