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Journal

Christmas Eve Reflections

Christmas Eve Reflections

I want to share a couple insights from a story called “The Star Child,” which I used to read to my children at bedtime on Christmas Eve. It is from a wonderful book called Gently Lead by Polly Berrien Berends. The story in its entirety is simply beautiful, and it is possible to read it on Amazon. (Click on “Search Inside This Book,” and then enter “Star Child” in the “Search Inside This Book” field – which might require logging in. When the results show, click on the bold text “STAR CHILD.”)

In the story, the author explains that most people were too busy inside their homes to notice the Star of Bethlehem shining brightly. However, some simple shepherds who were outside looking up at the sky saw the star. And…

“The only other people to see that star were three wise men. They had big houses with lots of lights and all the shiny treasures anyone could ever wish to have. Yet each of them still had one big wish. They wished to find something brighter and better than all the treasures on earth. The wise men saw the star because they were looking for light. So the only people who saw the star of the baby were some shepherds who had almost nothing and three wise men who had almost everything.”  (Berends, p. 42-43)

Citation:  Berends, Polly Berrien (1998). Gently Lead: How to Teach Your Children about God While Finding Out for Yourself. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

 I have contemplated this idea a lot over the years and find it quite profound, especially when I get caught up in the mundane preoccupations of life. I find that my life becomes more fulfilled when I take time to look for light and to make this quality of awareness a way of life.

The “Star Child” story goes on to describe the rest of the Christmas story and how Jesus grew up and discovered

“that God is love and that everyone is God’s child. Jesus saw everyone in the light of God’s love. No matter how unfriendly or sick or sad someone seemed to be, he could always see the star child shining through.” (Berends, p. 43)

What a powerful practice it is to look for the highest good in everyone with whom we come in contact! A quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow comes to mind:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should see sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”   

And it is every bit as powerful to experience someone connecting with our inner light. During the last meeting of a World Religions course at Ithaca College, the professor (with whom I remain closely connected) went around the room, looked into each student’s eyes, and stated that she saw our divine nature.

WOW.

Remembering this experience, I entered the teaching profession vowing to connect with the higher nature of each of my students, no matter what kind of behavior or attitude they exhibited. This kind of presence is a gift for both the giver and the recipient. It has an elevating effect and is worth cultivating in our lives. It is a radical act that requires rising above so much worldly conditioning and the ego’s desire for comfort. Love – which I think of as a force of unity and connection – is radical and courageous. We must risk stepping out of our comfort zone and calling our prejudices into question. Every single one of them.

Every single person in this world began life as an innocent, radiant star child. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter and worthy of love. No excuses or exceptions. And we are all the sons and daughters of the same life force that created us, which makes us all brothers and sisters. We are more alike than we are different. This doesn’t mean condoning misguided or harmful actions or being permissive when firm action is in order. But may we hold every human being’s inner light in our hearts and pray that it may grow stronger. When we can do this, our light shines brighter, as well.

And with that, I wish all of you who celebrate a very merry Christmas. May the love in our hearts shine brightly, revealing the best and the highest within everyone we meet.

Natural Decorations

Natural Decorations

We’re putting up our tree a little late this year, and I’m in the mood for natural ornaments!

Last year, I came across the idea of apple and cinnamon stick ornaments via someone who discovered them in Europe. All you need is an apple, a cinnamon stick, and some raffia or string (such as hemp). Cut the apple into slices about 1/4″ thick, and let them dry flat on a wire rack, or hang to dry. Punch a hole at the top, tie a knot, put a cinnamon stick on top, and tie another knot to hold the cinnamon stick in place securely. If you want to get a little fancier, you can add a cranberry above and below the cinnamon stick. Eat the discarded parts of the apple, use them in an apple recipe, or dehydrate them for later use.

This year, I tried out the same idea with orange slices.

And then there’s cinnamon ornaments, which I have been making with the children in my life each year without fail. I still have the first batch I made with my own children more than a decade ago. They don’t go bad, although the spicy fragrance fades in time.

You can cover one side with glitter,

leave them plain,

or decorate them with glitter glue or dimensional fabric paint. White fabric paint makes them look like gingerbread cookies with white frosting.

Here is the recipe for cinnamon dough:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cup applesauce (measure then drain in a strainer for several hours, or if straining isn’t possible, use 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons white glue (i.e. Elmers)
  • 1 tsp. glitter (optional; fine glitter is especially nice)

Procedure

In a bowl, mix together the spices and glitter. Then mix in the applesauce and glue. Work the mixture with your hands for a few minutes until it’s smooth, well mixed, and can be formed into a ball. If the dough seems too dry at this point, you can add just a little more applesauce. Or if it’s too wet, add more cinnamon.

Knead the ball on a surface dusted with cinnamon until it holds together well. Then roll out the dough to 1/4″ thickness, and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Use a straw or toothpick to make a hole for hanging.

Put shapes on a wire rack or cookie sheet, and allow to dry at room temperature for about two days, turning several times. (The room will smell wonderful!) Once they are dry, rough edges can be smoothed with sandpaper if need be. String with raffia, thread, or whatever you have on hand.

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While walking in the woods to take some of the above photos, I came across a patch of nature’s own ornaments that caught my eye. I’m not sure exactly what they are (perhaps the inside of some kind of nut) but found them fascinating.

From certain angles, they remind me of the string ornaments that are made from string dipped in glue and then wrapped around a small balloon (which gets popped and removed after the string has dried in place).

I think we will finish our tree with a string of popcorn and cranberries, unless we decide to put the string outside as a gift for the birds!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Dragonflies in December

Dragonflies in December

Lately, I have been reflecting on some of the images I captured on the river over the summer and remembering my plant and wildlife friends – especially water lilies and dragonflies, which I spent countless hours observing with awe and wonder.

Recently, tragedy struck the family of a child in my life, and in my search for stories to help grieving children, I came across a gem of a booklet called Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Strickland. I requested it through the library and was delighted to finally get my hands on it. The gist of the story is that a colony of water bugs wondered why every now and then one of their own would climb up a lily stalk and disappear, never to be seen again. They got together and came up with a plan: The next one who went up the lily stalk would come back and let the others know what happened. In time, another water bug found himself climbing up a lily stalk and turning into a dragonfly. After zipping about for a while, he landed on a lily pad and noticed his old water bug friends at the bottom of the pond. He wanted to go down to tell them what had happened to him, but since he was now a dragonfly, he wasn’t able to go below the surface of the water. And if they were to see him looking down at them, they wouldn’t recognize him in his new form. So he decided that he’d have to wait until his friends climbed up the lily stalk in their own time, and then they would understand for themselves.

I absolutely love the way the dragonfly life cycle can be used to explain death to children. I remember attending a hospice memorial service one December during my internship and hearing what must have been this very story – but I thought it was about caterpillars and butterflies. It was a powerful story that I loved immediately, although I must have misremembered the details over time.

After reading the little booklet, I recalled one afternoon this past summer when I paddled to the lily pads and arrived just in time to witness a newborn dragonfly fall out of its exoskeleton (which was still clinging to a reed) and onto a lily pad. It was pale and colorless and looked completely disoriented. It just lay there still, and I wondered if it would be okay, hoping the fall wasn’t too much for this tiny creature. (The little booklet mentioned such a fall, so it must be a normal part of the transition.)

 

I felt honored to have witnessed the dragonfly emerging from its nymph state; it felt like a Very Important event to observe despite it being a common occurrence in the natural world.

After seeing the newborn dragonfly resting on the lily pad, I noticed numerous shells, or exuviae, of dragonfly nymphs clinging to reeds and water lily stalks all around me. They were completely motionless and looked like they were sleeping or just resting there. All this time, I had mistaken them for living creatures.

Dragonfly (top) and two clinging exuviae (middle and bottom)

As I read about the dragonfly life cycle, I learned that the exuviae would continue to cling to the stalks. However, they were simply empty shells, ghosts of former selves. Something about this image felt profound to me, and I became fixated on photographing them.

I didn’t understand the power of this image until reading Water Bugs and Dragonflies with the child mentioned above in mind. I realized the exuviae piece could further explain to a child that the body of his/her deceased loved one is merely a shell, not to be confused with the living presence s/he had known and loved.

Although I did not feel it was my place to discuss the dragonfly allegory with the child in question, I passed the information along to someone who is in a better position to do so. The adults with whom I have shared this story since reading it myself were very touched by it, which is why I feel compelled to share it with you. My hope is that it will bring comfort to someone who is in need of it.

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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