Ordinary Saints

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image by Rebekah Choat

This past weekend, just before All Saints’ Day, I attended the Ordinary Saints exhibit and retreat at Laity Lodge, a lovely, tranquil place in the Texas Hill Country where hospitality is bodied forth on every level. Ordinary Saints is an extraordinary collaborative art piece: poet priest Malcolm Guite’s insightful poems reflecting on exquisite portraits painted by Bruce Herman, set to soaring music composed by JAC Redford.

 

We gathered for a weekend in the hills –
in God’s own country, right at Texas’ heart –
to contemplate the space each of us fills
through painter’s, poet’s, and composer’s art:

to learn to see each other face to face,
to trust and hold each other ever near,
not just together in this hallowed place,
but when we’ve said farewell and gone from here;

to recognize the holy in the daily
and understand that no one is mere mortal,
to know that, though we walk through this life frailly,
each eye we look on could be Heaven’s portal

in flesh and blood, not just on wood in paint,
we’re all of us God’s ordinary saints.

~ Rebekah Choat

 

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A Bird, Coming Down

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Image copyright Joel Brotzman-Gonzales

 

A bird, coming down easy from great heights,
is joyous, knowing laughter, mourning,
night overlap; pressing, quickening, rising,
soaring, turning us vagabonds: wandering, xpectant, yearning…

~Rebekah Choat

 

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image copyright Rebekah Choat

My eight-week old grandboy, Griffin, has been having some hard days, what with colic and spit-up and barking dogs and trying to get his bearings in this foreign world he’s landed in. It’s really a bit much for one small boy to deal with, and sometimes all he can do is wail and rage at the overwhelmingness of it all.

It seems that the most calming place for him to be is outside; namely, my back yard, which is all the outside he really knows at this point. So at least once every day that he’s here at Grandma’s House, I carry him through the patio door and out into the edge of the Wide World. By the time I step off the sidewalk onto the grass, he notices the change in his atmosphere and quiets long enough to take a lip-trembling breath. More fussing may ensue, but after a few minutes he is soothed by the feel of the ground beneath my feet and the breeze on his face. Then he may focus briefly on a brightly-colored flower or gaze up at the leaves above us before laying his head on my shoulder and letting his eyes close.

Here, Little One,
I give you the earth:
all that is good and green and growing.

~ Rebekah Choat

 

A Christmas Carol, and another

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I recently re-read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s a familiar story to many, of course, and a dramatically emotional one as we meet the sour, shriveled Ebenezer Scrooge and accompany his journey through the sentimental past, the vibrant but unknown-to-him present, and the chilling future, coming through at last to the ecstasy of Christmas morning. The season hardly seems complete until one has read or at least watched a movie of this now-traditional tale.

But there’s another “A Christmas Carol” which I favor. After the ups and downs of the more well-known one, I return again and again to this one: a glimpse from a little distance of the intimate moments between a mother and child, tender and comforting and holy.

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light,
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at,
And all the stars looked down.

~G.K. Chesteron

 

‘Tis the Season

Of course, it’s never not a good time to read, but some literature is meant to be enjoyed at certain times of the year. In keeping with the spirit of the season, Christmas offers up a great bounty of stories, poems, and carols ranging from carefree and delightful to quiet and contemplative. Some are classics known to most of the English-speaking world, some are family favorites, others are new discoveries, a few may even be very personal treasures.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the words that move me most during this season. Here’s a bit from George MacDonald’s Adela Cathcart to begin with.

“The winter is the childhood of the year. Into this childhood of the year came the child Jesus; and into this childhood of the year must we all descend. It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our need: My son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must grow a child again, with my son, this blessed birth-time. You are growing old and careful; you must become a child. You are growing old and distrustful; you  must become a child. You are growing old and petty, and weak and foolish; you must become a child — my child, like the baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in his mother’s arms in the stable.”

Contentment

Here’s a little poem I wrote a few years back. It still fits. I am thankful.

 

Contentment flickers in these home-hearth flames
of gentle warmth and softly-glowing light.
It whispers through the murmur of the names
we call each other as we say good night.

When we climb into bed it tucks us in
and sings to us as we drift off to sleep —
no fears for what may come or might have been,
just simple trust that Love our souls will keep.

It greets us, fresh and fragrant, in the dawn
and walks with us the path of this day’s grace,
finding its joy in common things, homespun —
a quilt, a chair, a dear familiar face,

underpinning the cadence of our living,
it draws us to the great dance of thanksgiving.

~ Rebekah Choat

 

The Fortune-Teller’s Warning

 

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image by Rebekah Choat

You will meet a handsome stranger;
say no more than is required.
Always be alert to danger;
one small spark can kindle fire.

Put no trust in smiling faces;
watch the flicker in the eyes.
Don’t be charmed by social graces;
laughing lips may yet tell lies.

Feed your letters to the blue flame;
yield your birthmark to the knife.
You must not reveal your true name;
in it lies the power of life.

Set your heart upon the straight way;
keep your eyes trained on the light.
Never turn aside from clear day
for a creature of the night.

One I know once met a Changer
riding as a fair esquire…
You will meet a handsome stranger;
say no more than is required.

~ Rebekah Choat