Advent calendar #9: Denise Levertov

For today’s Advent window, I went seeking for a poem I hadn’t read before.

It’s easy enough to come up with poems that are my favorites — no doubt I’ll post some of them before this is done — but I also want to get outside my regular round. So I went looking for a poet I hadn’t read much of before. Did you know that when you google “women poets,” the results show a large preponderance of poets from the 20th century? I can only suppose that modern poets have better distribution and less of the loss that the older ones did — the oldest poets are known only by fragments, and in our age one has to work a little harder to suppress those pesky female voices.

Here’s a poem new to me, by Denise Levertov.

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

Advent calendar #8: The Cosmic Mandala

Good morning!

For today’s little Advent window, I bring our world, to hold up in prayers and intentions. The first image is from one of my go-to daily sites, the Astronomy Picture of the Day. For a couple decades now NASA has run this simple little site with amazing photos taken by individuals and by major observatories and gathered into a charmingly lo-tech archive.

But compare the photo of the observable universe to what’s called the Cosmic Mandala, and you’ll find a strange similarity. I’ve included a version by Hildegard of Bingen, composer, scientist, and polymath nun, for reference.

I think it’s kind of amazing what we know without knowing.

Some years ago now, I read a passage from a book of quotations from Evelyn Underhill, talking about the disciples in the boat in the storm. In the midst of her meditation on the presence of Jesus and the obvious dangers of the situation, she said something that took me aback: “The Universe is safe for souls.” Now, I mean, obviously the Universe isn’t safe in the sense that we are hedged and insulated from suffering, or that nothing can go wrong inside our minds and bodies, or that we can’t ever be exposed to that sense of bottomless danger that the wide, impersonal cosmos presents. But, well, exactly like those dangers, we’re here. There’s no revoking the fact that we have been here; there’s no denying the reality of our participation in the foundational goodness that the Universe is. And the more that rabid haters try to deny the human dignity of people they hate, the more obviously desperate they must be.

For the first time ever, I said to myself: “If I really believed that — if I really believed the universe was safe for my soul — what would I do?” It didn’t make an immediate difference, but the thought did introduce a change into the way I thought of myself in the world — and how I acted.

It’s a thing that’s worth remembering this Advent.

Advent calendar #7: La Folia

Ah, good morning. It’s a lovely Saturday and I’m taking my sweet time about getting up and about. For today’s Advent window I bring something that has been the foundation for any number of songs for a couple of centuries now, and I do enjoy it in nearly every form. It’s variously known as “La Folia,” “Folias de Espana,” “The Folly,” and so on.

And there you have it. Happy Saturday!

Advent calendar #6: Nicholas of Myra and David Sedaris

St. Nicholas says: of course it is wrong to hit a man with a closed fist, but it is, on occasion, hilarious.

Good morning! And a very happy Friday to you all.

It’s St. Nicholas Day, which — aside from its associations with the Christmas season — is an opportunity to reflect on one of our tradition’s more interesting bishops. Besides resurrecting children pickled in brine and tossing dowries through the windows of young women about to be sold into prostitution, Nicholas is also said to have punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea. All of these stories are spurious to some degree or other, but you have to admit, there’s a certain swash to St. Nick’s buckle. Like, he’s the patron saint of nearly every member of the crew of Serenity, one way or another. What’s not to like?

Of course, if you’re aiming to misbehave, the early-modern and modern legends of Santa Claus are less friendly to your cause, as David Sedaris discovers in his essay Six to Eight Black Men. I do enjoy that essay, but because (mindful of St. Nick) I am moved to be generous, here in addition is David Sedaris reading my favorite of his essays, “Jesus Shaves.”

This has been your Hee-Haw Advent window of the day.

Advent calendar #5: Kittens

I mean, like one really needs an excuse to post about cats. Maugre Avenue Q, that’s what the internet is for, right?

I have no idea who these folks are or how they acquired these opinionated kittens, but if I want a dose of cute and/or to make my cat sniff urgently at my computer, this is what I’ve been going to.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Advent calendar #4

Inevitably, any Advent calendar of mine is going to contain a number of my favorite choir pieces. Here is my favorite Palestrina introit, “I Look From Afar.”

It’s part of the nature of Advent, too, that looking from afar is both looking at the past as from the far future, and looking at the future from an always-incipient present. Like gestalt arrows, it’s both at once: that on-the-cusp feeling belongs so completely to no other time.

A friend once observed of me that I want to “save the world,” and they weren’t wrong. Something in me is a perpetual paladin, and whenever I do something that matters to me, it matters because of that. Advent taps into and intensifies a feeling I have year-round, that there are lots of reasons not to act, not to do a thing — but if you’re going to do it, then do it.

I don’t mean do it perfectly, though. Long ago, a (different) friend was lamenting their depression and how it was causing them to “half-ass” their last semester of school. I said: “Sometimes half an ass is all you have,” and the other person in the chatroom suggested putting that on a cross-stitch sampler. But that’s exactly what I mean. If half an ass is what you have to give to a thing you want to do, then give half an ass.

I try to remind myself of this antidote periodically, because I too fall prey to the feeling that Advent (and Lent, too, often) got started before I was ready and I’m in a futile scramble to catch up. It’s not Fear Of Missing Out, it’s Fear Of Missing In, fear that I will have “had the experience but missed the meaning.”

But Advent is its own antidote. The answer to FOMI is to plant your feet, and your ass — whole or half — and look from afar.

The gestalt has got you.

Advent calendar #3

Good morning!

On today’s little Advent window, I give you a noise generator that I built on the MyNoise site. One of the perks of donating to Dr. Stephane’s site is that you can harvest stems from any of the sound profiles (and there are many!) in the lists, and collate them in a generator of your own. I’ve played with creating themed generators, or particular sounds, or effective white noise for the office, with varying degrees of success. My latest effort was created to evoke the feeling of stirring hands and feet in the bathing warmth of a hot spring: certainly a welcome feeling at this time of year!

So here you go: enjoy Chaleur.

Advent calendar #1, 2

To celebrate this website’s second year, I’m going to do a little Advent calendar of things that give me pleasure and gratitude.

A year ago I started building this website in preparation for launching my first novel in what I hoped and planned to be a series; a year later, I have launched the book, finished an interstitial novella and put it into edits, and started on the second full-length novel which I hope to finish over the course of the next year.

It’s been an intense and busy year on all fronts: but this, I hope, will be a relaxing exercise for me, as sometimes I get hung up on trying to remember what Significant Thing I had planned to blog about some time but didn’t write down. These little Advent windows are not going to be significant of anything in particular. I suppose that’s a measure of what the theme of this year has turned out to be: that even launching a book, significant as that is in my own life, is a granulation of little acts, little pleasures and struggles. And one might as well take note of them and do them justice.

Today is a two-fer, since I didn’t have this idea until last night and did not post anything on December 1. First, for those of you who like this sort of thing: Check out The Advent Project, an annual compendium put together by the staff at Biola University. Every morning there’s a Bible reading, a poem, a piece of art, a piece of music, a collect, and a meditation. Because these things are gathered from all over, many perspectives are represented, which frankly relaxes me because I know I don’t have to like it all. I signed up for this last year, and enjoyed it and the group’s Lent Project enough that I stayed subscribed this year. It adds dimension to my morning ritual of tea on the couch — especially when the mornings are so dark.

For the second — how about something completely different! I’ve already inflicted this vid on my Facebook friends and anybody else I can get to stand still, but it just makes me happy, so on the slate it goes: Pomplamoose doing a mashup cover of the Eurhythmics and the White Stripes.

(If I were going to make an out-verse playlist for my characters, this would totally be one of the songs I picked for Speir.)

You should totally check out the weekly cover vids that Pomplamoose is doing, because this one is not the only awesome one, it’s just my favorite.

And there you have it. Happy new year*!

*Liturgically speaking.