Saturday, January 7, 2012

Russian Christmas Eve and Western Epiphany

Russian Matrushka (or Matryoshka) Nesting Dolls~

The Dolls are carrying things for a tea party~ Mama brings the big tea pot, First Daughter brings the cake, Second Daughter brings the bowl of berries and cream, Third Daughter brings the wooden serving spoons, Fourth Daughter brings the trivet for the tea pot, Baby Daughter brings a tiny napkin to wipe up spills . . . And with them is their faithful guardian Bear, made of amber in Czechkoslovakia. The two women guests in red boots are handmade also. The dolls, the bear and the friends were all gifts from three different friends over the years~ my cherished friend of nearly sixty years, poet/teacher Pesha Gertler, gave me the dolls; Margo Maris, Oregon-born (in the same hospital as I was, Emanuel!) sister priest gave me the lovely hand-molded and painted Friendship figures in red boots; and artist Anne Shams brought me the Russian style bear carved from amber from her trip to Czechkolslovakia. The framed angel is a Christmas card from Jenny Weber, a dear neighbor down Tapp Road, and the white ceramic angels are a gift for my 39th priestly ordination anniversary.

Each doll has a long black braid down her back with her own color of bow at the bottom and a flower at the top. I've cherished this gift from Pesha, my friend of nearly sixty years, and will continue to cherish it and her to the end of my days~ and beyond. In the picture, all the children and their Mama are singing, while the Angel provides accompaniment on the lute! I love how the beam of heavenly light seems to be entering the Angel's crown chakra from above . . . May all our inner angels be thus inspired!

Candlelight Rose: It was a magic moment at my Advent tea table a few years ago. I was listening to beautiful chanting of "Creator of the Stars of Night," the hymn we used to sing at Compline. Sipping tea from my white and lapis blue Catherine the Great design oversized teacup, I glanced at this framed picture of a summer rose, "Pristine," on the table on my left, with "Heirloom" and other framed rose images from my summer garden in a half circle toward my right, to see me through the dark months of winter. I blinked and SAW the fire in the rose, a reflection on the glass from the candle nearby! Thank God for cameras and the one in the kitchen drawer that gave me the moment to revisit as needed: "Into the crowned knot of fire, and the fire and the rose are one." T.S. Eliot, from Little Gidding, last of Four Quartets.

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Enjoying fabric-framed pictures of summer roses and dahlias
which created a tea time winter garden before my eyes.
Pooh Bear helped with the camera work and then settled into his customary chair in the dining end of the kitchen, which is called the Hummery, for with stashes of tea and pots of honey it makes us hum in happiness to be here. (Note the honeycomb carpet beneath the table.) It was a cold evening with a colder night coming. Being half-surrounded by images of summer in the heart of winter brought joy. From my chair while listening to chanting of medieval Advent, Christmas and Epiphany music, I glanced toward the winter garden in front of my left eye and then blinked, thinking I'd seen it incorrectly, but I saw truly from my perspective in relationship to what was in front of me at that moment. T.S. Eliot's ending line of Four Quartets became a visual icon at the table when a certain angle of vision let me see the candle and flame reflected in glass over the photograph right at the heart of the rose named Pristine. After that I wrote "The Sovereignty of Joy." First, here are Eliot's lines from "Little Gidding," the last of the Four Quartets: 

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Today is Christmas on the Julian calendar still used by the Russian Orthodox Church. Last night was Christmas Eve and I drew on my Russian descent to celebrate, feeling finally ready for Christmas now that the world has calmed down from all the festivities. Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany on the Western liturgical calendar, beginning a whole season of unfolding revelation as more and more light gradually returns to us each day, though now scarcely noticeable. During the four or five weeks of Epiphanytide, we celebrate the offering of precious gifts to the Christ Child, the descent of the dove with words of love during the adult baptism of Jesus/Yeshua to launch him into his rabbinic ministry, and the first miracle he enacted in obedience to his mother's request at a wedding in Cana, a small town in Galilee. The host was running out of wine for the reception guests, and to spare him embarrassment his mother asked that he transform water into wine. A good Jewish son, he didn't argue but did so without fuss or fanfare. 

The first of the three epiphany events revealing the divine nature of the Christ Child is the arrival of the Magi, three wisdom figures from the East who had followed an unusual conjunction of planets which formed a large celestial point of luminosity in the western sky. Thirty or so years ago I traveled by bus with the University of Minnesota Astronomy Department Chairperson and some faculty members and students to see a total eclipse of the sun for the only time in my life so far, in the Canadian province of Manitoba, right on the southwest tundra shore of Hudson Bay. It was breathtaking to watch the bright sunny morning turn from blue sky over white snow to gold sky reflected on gold snow, then a fast forward shift into silver twilight, followed quickly by full night sky, with shadows on snow disappearing into complete darkness. At the moment of totality, we viewed the eclipsed sun through tiny peep holes in small pieces of cardboard to protect our eyes. Solar prominences indicating sun flares looping into the corona from the outer edge ring of conjunct moon and sun shown in a brightly deep Russian red. Silently breathing in -20 degree air, I was thinking about another triple conjunction I'd heard described a few months before this February event. An astronomy professor from the University of Minnesota spoke at St. George's Episcopal Church where my husband Phil was rector in the St. Louis Park area of Minneapolis. Here and there in the Twin Cities, Professor Karlis Kaufmanis had been giving his inspiring lecture on the astronomical nature of the phenomenon known as the Star of Bethlehem.

Dr. Kaufmanis describe[d] how the birth of Christ was announced, not by a single object in the sky, but by an astronomical event where Jupiter, the King star, and Saturn, the star of the Messiah, appeared together in the constellation Pisces, or Fish, known to astrologers as the House of the Hebrews, in the eastern sky at sunrise, or at the heliacal rising. Kaufmanis surmise[d] that the [Magi] were astrologers who predicted, along with ancient Hebrew tradition, that this long awaited event would announce the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
The fact that the event occurred is undeniable.  It can be mathematically calculated, and it can be found recorded on ancient clay tablet journals from that time where, according to Kaufmanis, the phrase, "Jupiter and Saturn in Fish," "Jupiter and Saturn in Fish," is repeated again and again as though nothing else important was happening. . . .  Dr. Kaufmanis gave this lecture over 1000 times during his career, but apparently it was never commercially recorded. He died in the year 2003. Thanks to Gilbert J. Mros, who has graciously made the hour long audio presentation of the lecture available for web listening pleasure on his website:

According to the tradition, the Magi arrived several days after the birth. Perhaps they were men (as is generally assumed), and they preferred to be late rather than ask for directions. Perhaps they were women with sense enough to conserve energy and stop often along the way. Perhaps they were both. The sheer grit, faith and perseverance required on their journey were gifts enough, but tradition says they brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, symbolic offerings honoring the future life of the Child. The newborn of any species is a reminder of the beauty and fragility of every creature. 

Every species, every birth, every life, and at life's end, every Return to God is precious. All of it is a lot to bear. The wisdom of bears is helpful with application to human life as well. My life in the company of bears gives me constant access to it, thank God, the Great Mama Bear in my version of the Holy Trinity, "the Bee and the Bear and the Butterfly."

Apparently only one Wise Bear showed up for this picture. Maybe the others were shy, or trying to find a parking place for the other camels. It's getting a little congested in here. The Royal Wise Bear who is present has two of the three gifts, the bowl of (symbolic) gold in paw and (a gift from my friend Christin Lore Weber of real) frankincense in the casket. Perhaps the myrrh is under the camel bear's blanket.

Ever since reading the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies' book, The Rebel Angels, I always think of one passage at Epiphany and refer to it in my brief homily during Holy Eucharist: One December, a character who heals sick stringed instruments has just driven from Toronto to New York to pick up a sick violin to take back and treat over winter. While in Manhattan he sees the Times Square creche scene and decides that it is the most moving and beautiful scene he's ever encountered. When he gets home he sets one up in his own front yard and waves drivers to stop their cars and come see~ Look! Look at the Baby Jesu and the wise ones bringing their gifts of gold, frank innocence and mirth! Definitely bear wisdom, which comes with a bear's innocent sense of humor. (Note ear holes in the sheep bears' hats!)

                                                           Bear Wisdom

The Great Bearheart
secret for accomplishing
the impossible
on a regular basis
and as often as needed—

         Grace and

and a compassion so huge
it includes yourself.

     Alla Renée Bozarth
                                                                        Love's Alchemy
                                                                              Copyright 2011.

In The Manticore, Roberston Davies writes, ". . . if we are really wise, we will make a working arrangement with the bear that lives with us. . . . Cherish your bear and your bear will feed your fire."

Pooh Bear adopted me and Phil (by the latter's prearrangement) on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 1971 and became our resident theologian, Medicine Bear and Wisdom Bear. 

I didn't meet Pooh or visit the Hundred Acre Wood until I was 24 years old and Phil's new bride, and he borrowed Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner from our friends Craig and Judith Wylie so we could read them aloud to each other. We were three month-newlyweds, Phil a second year seminarian and I a newly ordained deacon and doctoral candidate. We were also facing the likely death of my mother (which happened three months later). On a day when I most needed to embrace a big bear, Phil took me by the hand to Sears and parked me under a sign that read "Boys' Wear" while he approached a salesperson. Then he motioned to me to join them. As we all stopped and the salesperson reached high up, my eyes followed her. I saw Pooh Bear go into her arms and then immediately into mine, which were stretching upward and wide open. We went dancing through the Sears store together exchanging seasons greetings with everyone around as the whole store seemed to relax into a smile. We have been dancing and discussing everything on Earth and in Heaven ever since. 
                               When We Were Young . . .   Christmas 1971         

Now we are old~ Autumn 2004 . . . In Which Pooh's ears have relaxed and Alla lets down her hair  . . .  
The reflection below was written in the dark winter season of the northern hemisphere and suggests that Joy is a kind of pilot light in the soul, ever-ready to ignite, always waiting without impatience, even if there are long distances of time and circumstance when the top burners remain dark and cold. Even there, looking closely, one can see the faint blue light of dormant readiness. Joy patiently waits for a person’s hunger for it to well up to consciousness and activate an old memory in the directing mind, which finally reaches to make a single clear turn beyond its small self. Joy is faithful, the pilot light that is sourced by Grace and never entirely extinguished in the God-loved soul. Its blue fire burns hottest in sustaining such readiness, because it rests so near to its invisible Source.

The Sovereignty of Joy
“Live to the point of tears.”
        –Albert Camus

Joy is not elation or intensity, but a steady pilot light in the soul,
ever-ready to ignite, waiting without impatience through seasons
of darkness and cold, a dormant violet-blue flame that burns hottest,
resting so near to the Source, patient for our awakening wonder
reaching to engage it.

Live past the point of tears, into the regions of Joy.
Happiness means to be in harmony with what happens.
One cannot always be happy, for horrid things happen
daily in the world, worthy of distress and compassion.

The body succumbs to the scars laid on it by time,
and its workings are not always happy.

The mind and heart, too, can break away from happiness
under overwhelming stress.

Mind and heart seem to break clean through.

Joy does not depend on aye or nay circumstance
in regions of the pursuit and practice of happiness.

Joy exists in the soul as a sovereign and radiant place,
a free and independent state.

Even in sorrow, its presence breaks through anew,
crossing bridges of loss as sunlight crosses a river,
with the promise of whole-hearted faithfulness—

Joy reveals itself, the fact of itself, in new possibilities,
at once inviting us into them and assuring us that they are alive
deep inside us, a gathering light deeper than grief, where all is well.

                 Alla Renée Bozarth                          
            Postcards from Paradise 
                  Copyright 2011.
Here is Pooh Bear at Wisdom House, Bear Haven at the foot of Mt. Hood in Western Oregon forty years later. His ears have relaxed from all the listening he's done. He's ready to celebrate Russian Christmas. 

     On his shirt there is a silver medal with an imprint of a bear's paw, a gift from the eponymous bears of Bern, Switzerland in thanks for a donation to their arboreal new home when we visited them in 1994 on a painter's and poet's pilgrimage to Paris, the Loire Valley and Bern, where my traveling companions Julia Barkley and her sister had friends. Below the medal is a Russian lacquer pin from St. Petersburg, given to me soon after my own personal pilgrimage there in 1992, when I buried a photograph of my mother as a girl in Russia at the tombstone of the great composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, symbolically returning her to her Motherland. My friends (priest) Ted and (deacon) Penny Berktold had been to Russia and said that it reminded them of my prayerpoem, "Bakerwoman God." Click on the image to see it enlarged for a better look. You'll be able to view all the images on this page while you're there. To return here, click on the black border on either side of the central image. 

(The poem is in the lower section of these pages:) or

Bakerwoman God

Bakerwoman God, I am your living bread.
Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine
and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round. I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice, swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up, in a red pool in a gold world
where your warm sunskin hand is there
to catch and hold me.
Bakerwoman God, remake me.

Alla Renée Bozarth

Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey 1978, 1988
Moving to the Edge of the World, iUniverse 2000.
This is My Body~ Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart, iUniverse 2004.

To listen to the musical composition of "Bakerwoman God" by retired Northern Illinois University professor of music, Tim Blickhan, performed by the Augustana College Jenny Lind Vocal Ensemble, Michael Zemek, director, on All Saints Day 2013~

My Medicine Bear and Bakerwoman Icon
are in red and gold harmony~ 

This is a new Christmas Pooh Bear, an animated gift with a light in the honeypot from my generous neighbor and friend Tim Kanne, who also came to my rescue with a household plumbing problem, while his gracious wife and my friend, book designer and poetry artist Sue Lind-Kanne brought Christmas bread and cookies, and they and their little dog Bambi brought cheer and goodwill galore.
                                                         Come Spring . . .

Bear’s Twilight Prayer

Just now, among the nuthatches
and crows, I went out to pray.
Among the wildflowers with small deer
and their mothers I prayed.

With injured trees and moles
and gray rabbits I prayed.

With purple kale and white cosmos
holding still under first stars
in the sapphire sky I prayed.

With red leaves of liquid amber
and the fallen leaves of golden walnut
I prayed.  With the beautiful corpses
of summer I prayed.  With waking coyote
and motors of cars returning
weary humans to their evening homes
I prayed.  With Great Mystery I yearned
for their well-being, I yearned
for their happiness.

An old bear crying in the wilderness,
furry prophet manged among the wildflowers,
bare patches of pink skin shining golden
in the gloaming light, blending in
with the last brave roses in bud,
and thorny as their tired brown branches.
Here I kneel and roll and sleep.
And breathing in the crisp air
of crimson autumn, I pray for Creation.
I pray for Creator.  And my prayer
is naming Them by my own secret names
of gratefulness.  My prayer is holding their own
true sacred names in silent empty space.
My prayer is enjoying their company.
My prayer is being glad to be one of them.

                                    Alla Renée Bozarth                   
    From The Wild Gardens of God in Quartet, copyright 2011.

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