Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy Holy Days to All

I never really wanted to be an angel.
The tinsel set into my fine hair always scratched, and the angel robe made of muslin sheets wasn't nearly as elegant as the sky blue robes worn by Mary. Mary was always some dark haired girl I hated. I had trouble keeping my wings on. Balancing on boxes in the back of the stage, singing quavering glorias--no, it really wasn't my thing at all.
My mother was unsympathetic. I could have been a shepherd, she said, telling me the story of the year she had to wear an ugly blanket and pretend to herd sheep, after her angelic years before. She'd had her hair chopped short that year, and the teachers told her she wasn't worthy of wings and glitter.
But I wanted to be Mary. Mary had lines in the play, and was the one under the lights, and who said she had to have dark hair?

This minor and ongoing disappointment of my traveling youth came up this year because P. and Gabe and I went to a Christmas Eve vigil at the tiny Catholic church in the neighboring town. Paul was raised in that church; I was thrown out of my own protestant version--a story I may one day write. But lately we've had encounters with a deacon of the church who is a Catholic radical. We get along very well with that sort of person--to combine spirit and social action is a sweet and reasonable thing for us. So, invited to the vigil, we went.

We were late. I'm an early person, myself--always about 15 minutes ahead of time to meetings and events. I like to check out the surroundings. I like to feel safe. Paul is always about 2 hours behind any promised time, but can, with struggle, make it within a half hour. And when it is the Holy Church--well, he tried. He went there before coming to collect Gabriel and me, to warn the ushers we'd be barging in like sheep or angels.
Well, probably he didn't say sheep or angels.

So we slid in, and took our places in the back pew, as the tiny children, most of them from the Spanish speaking community, gathered for the tableau: little angels and Joseph, a scattering of shepherds, and tiny sweet Mary, and all the rest.

The priest had come from one of the big cities down south, and tried to deliver a good sermon. The congregation tried to sing. We prayed for the leaders of the world, that their hearts might soften, we prayed for peace, we prayed for a lot of things, and tears ran down my face, as they often do when things like the hope of peace and the pains of this world seem to collide.

Listening to the priest's version of the story of the birth of Jesus I found myself thinking "yes, the child was special--they all are". The people around me were dressed very simply--this was no church in which people had gathered to show off finery.

And this year's tiny angels ran around the pews. Gabriel, for his part, was bored with it all. "Fake" he kept saying. Was it the statues, or theology? I haven't quite figured it out.
But there is a sort of blessing to the cycles of the year nonetheless.

After Paul took communion (I, being of "a different persuasion" declined, though I often take communion with the nuns at a local monastery) and we wandered into the newly falling rain.
"It could be snow, elsewhere" said the smiling woman who'd been buying mysteries a few days before. Well, we could pretend.

I returned to start the potica baking. It takes up to six hours, this rich yeast bread, ceremonially shaped, filled with a nutmeat paste. I bake it, as I promised Paul when we first joined our lives, for Christmas, Easter, and his birthday. I have his mother's recipe, straight from her new-from Slovenia mother, handed down for generations. Each woman who has taken on the recipe has made small and large changes. My version this year was a slightly defiant hybrid. Why not fold it the traditions of my Finnish mother and grandmother and greatgrandmother? So the ground almonds and the sweet yeast dough were spiked with a touch of cardamon this year.

Paul, harking back to the Dickens Christmas Carol he reads to the family over the 12 days, called it the best potica ever--baked in a toaster oven, shaped on a cardboard box.

Fruit of the fields, shaped by human hands--let it be for us a connection with the universe.

We shared it with friends and wanderers and with our children, warm in the bookstore, wind and rain blowing.

It is shaped in a circle, an ancient token of the wheel of the year, the wheel of time, and the lovely sun, moon, and earth.

There are mysteries still, beneath the simple things. And then we read aloud from our translation of Hafiz--why not fold in some other lights into our life? The poem I turned to invited me to sing ribald songs to my animals and plants, to hug my children, and to turn to my love with a renewal of the first love I felt.

And why not? Even if I made a bad angel, I guess I can rejoice a bit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

u make a good angel..at least for me;)
happy new year!!

8:20 AM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Dr O2 said...

happy nu Year Jarvenpa. Wish U all the best.

By the way is the Hafiz you are refering to the Iranian one?? a translation is available??

12:58 AM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

I confess to having been a Mary. Being the weird child one might have suspected me to be, I had (among other interesting traits) a profound phobia about scissors. I also had unusually thick hair for a child, usually kept lashed into fat braids. Nobody would cut my hair, though my mother would occasionally manage the bangs. Undone, it tickled the back of my knees. Though not the proper Mary-color, the stuff looked fantastic, rippling over my mother's blue-and-green corduroy bathrobe...

My daughter, meanwhile, has refused the honor of being Mary on several occasions. Perhaps she doesn't like the idea of being gawked-at by hordes of tourists at the Farmer's Museum.

This year the sheep wouldn't "baa" properly because their favorite shepherdess was hanging out in the straw.

6:49 AM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Thanks foulla, happy new year to you of course too. dr o2, yes, Hafiz of Iran (or Persia, depending on what you read). The book I have is a translation by Daniel Ladinsky, I Heard God Laughing, came out in 1996. It is from some small Sufi press and was a gift from someone who listened to a radio show I did featuring Rumi's poems. I don't know how accurate the translations are, but they are lovely.
And marlyat2--so, you were one of those Marys, eh. Maybe I would have forgiven you--you were probably good at storytelling even then, and I forgave anything for a good story. If your bookjacket photos are accurate you still have very long thick hair, right?

10:39 AM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

How soon we change--it's a shortish bob now, a couple of inches below the ears. And I have the wackiest brand new glasses in all of Central New York (drat! should've waited for NYC.)

Probably back in Mary-days I wouldn't have taken my nose out of a book for long enough to tell a story...

10:19 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger David said...

Your potica sounds like a tasty bread! I like the idea of combining spirit and social action also. I am not conventionally religious, but I try to do small things to make the world a better place. I suppose that my religious or moral beliefs are expressed by what I do. I am not an activist, although I respect people who are. My style is more like doing a kindness for a stranger or writing my elected representatives.

Happy New Year! :)

10:42 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger Kimia said...

Dear Jarvenpa, Happy new year to you and your family. I wish all the best happens to you :)

1:11 AM, January 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well...i'm waiting for a new post;)

8:22 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Well--marlyat2--you may have the wackiest glasses in Central NY but I claim the oddest ones on my coast (besides my black splotched with yellow and blue I have a striped turquoise bargain pair).
David--yes, potica is good. I'll see if I can post the recipe here in a bit. As for activists and spiritual people--as a rule of thumb, people who tell you they are either--aren't. Mostly. You are surely doing much good in your way.
Thanks, Kimia--I do wish you such a happy new year, too.
And foulla--power has been out a lot; I need to post when it's on--but then I need to do a lot of other things too. But yes, I check my favorites (and all of you are) daily, when power allows, waiting for your next posts too.

1:49 PM, January 03, 2006  

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