Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Morning Stars Together, The Great, Glad Tidings Tell...

I have written a story:

There had been a Fall - of that I am certain, though I have no memory of how, or of hurt to go with this knowledge. There was no mark on me that I could see. No bruise, no break, no seam of blood. There was only the certainty of a Fall, of myself, fallen, and all the world fallen with me. I had a sense of my own wrongness, of exile and enmity. But there is nothing before that, no moment in which I can see my un-fallen self, no recollection of the crime that cast me out. I stand beneath a star-domed, cloud-webbed sky, solitary and afraid. I am addled and memory-stricken; a wanderer, chartless, guideless, a stranger within a country which - for all that I could tell - might be my own. My feet will not stay firm beneath me. The Earth cannot anchor me. The sky above me will not stand still in its course. I am lost, unmoored, nameless and alone, in a world whose shape and colour is strange to me.

Memory, I have none, but I know this bit of Earth upon which I stand. It is dun-coloured, scrub-brushed and olive-treed; hard-baked and dusty. This, like my Fall, I am certain of. But something has happened to it. It has changed, grown white-feathered as a dove; gone soft underfoot, and smells of wet, and of chill, like the Sea upon the first cold morning of the dawning of the world. Star-motes fall from the sky, silver-shot and faintly glittering, to rest upon the rolling white hills of an altered world. One streaks my hand as it falls, burns cold, and warms to water. I lift hand to mouth, taste the sky and look up.

There, low upon the sky, and westward, a single Star kindles to life before me. No star had been there a moment before. Nothing had lived in that blank space, in that black patch of empty sky. Yet now and suddenly, there was a Star, flickering and dancing. I turned left, and right, looking to share this wonder with another of my kind, but I am alone. Alone. Only I, nobody, nameless, am there to see it spark, to catch and flare, like a flame amid its sister stars - only I, to witness the birth of an impossible Star.

Impossible? Aye, for it was a pilgrim Star, unfixed, even at the moment of its birthing. A living light that would not be still, but sported about the sky like a lambkin, in its new-born joy. And so I say again: impossible, for a Star to dance as this one danced. Impossible for it to slip the bounds that set it in Heaven, break free of compass points, and star-charts, and slide down the edges of the sky. Yet, this one did, and my heart, my fearful, flinching, fallen heart, leapt and cowered in equal measure. 

I could not bear the brilliance of it, the bright, boundless, leaping joy of it - “Hope!” it sings to the star-bright, cloud-webbed sky. “Hope!” to the inexplicable world, robbed if colour, glittering, white. Such terrible joy in a single word. Hope - to a fallen, broken world! I cannot bear the glory of it, the exultation. It must not see me as I am. And so, I flee the Star, run in such fear as I have never known. Put my back to its light, and flee, until the air is gone out of me, until my feet are tangled in the white-feathered hills and I fall down, down, down.

The fierce, bright glow of a shepherd’s fire pricks my eyes - hot and red, and blessedly human. It spears at the indistinct sky, smoke wreathing round it. The shepherds themselves are black flickers against the flame. Their sheep drift like clouds through the remote silver light, beyond the circle of its warmth. I am drawn to that warmth, to the bone-cheering, sweet-smelling power of it. Like a mouse, I creep towards it, afraid of notice, but the shepherds allow me that comfort, asking no questions, speaking not a word. From the shadows, a hand forms, passing me a steaming cup. I see a straight profile, haloed in firelight, a beard giving back red for red. I drink heat, forgetting the strange, white world, and dancing, pilgrim star. Here, there are no mysteries, no impossible Hope singing in the heavens, no Fall to bother me. The world is at is has always been – tangible and material. And me, a mere temporary thing upon it, concerned with cold and now, unmoved by the great, unknown things, coming to life around the edge of it  The ground stays still. The stars hide behind a screen of smoke. The air smells of burning olive wood, of sheep’s wool, and men accustomed to hard labour. 

The fire shifts, and sparks fly upwards. A constellation of stars, glowing red for a moment against the smoke and clouds. But they are earth-born things, and they cannot live long upon the air. They wink out of existence almost before they live, and when they are gone, the sky clears. Smoke thins, and ghosts out of being. The last threads of cloud break and part, and there are sudden stars in that space. Brighter, even that relentless Pilgrim - great, winged stars, their light spreading like eagles against the cold sky. Their numbers grow, moment, by moment, until there is no sky left, for the star that throng it.

They are singing - "Glory" - resounding from pole to pole, and all the world answer, "Glory, and Hope!" And though my soul leaps to hear it, the Fallen, broken heart within in cowers and quivers and breaks anew. 

The shepherds are all around me, black against the mingling of red light and gold, tall as trees, their arms branching toward the sky. The starlight make hallowed their work-weary winter faces. I alone in this company of stars and night-watchers, am in the dark. I bow my head to the earth, my face to the cold, feathered whiteness of a world running mad around me. The shepherds have gone, singing, after wing├ęd stars. The red glow of earth-fire is gone. I am left with only the heavenly light of the fiercely joyful Pilgrim Star. 

We look at each other, that Star and me. "Hope." it insists, and "Come." But I know my wrongness and brokeness, my own and all the world's with me. This is not a place of hope. It is a place of do and die, of here and now. I do not trust in miracles. I do not speak these words, but the Star hears, and it laughs at me. "Come." insists, and though I do not answer it, the birds do.

The cold, glittering star motes are still falling, still burn cold upon skin. Hands ache at the cold, feet turn to iron, weighing one to the ground. It is not a night for delicate things to be winging. Yet the birds come, a mighty squardron of them, pouring across the sky. Starlight silver-gilds each fluttering feather-point, gleams along beaks ad streaming tail-plumes. Larks, there are, and herons, doves and owls, eagles and hawks, redbirds, robins and wrens. The air is alive with the beating of their wings, the air liquid with the sound of a thousand birdsongs. They soar above me in a veritable storm, the wind of their passing is in my hair. 

For an eternal moment, the world is birds, and spring in winter. For an eternal moment, I forget that the world and I are broken. But at last that mighty stream of caroling birds had utterly poured itself out, and I am left, wonder-stuck, between joy and fear, standing before a laughing star. Only a gentle swirl of wind-plucked feathers assures me that I have not gone mad. A last faint echo speaks of their passing - a mere thread of sound upon the air. "Hope...."

Hope? In a world where stars roam freely, and dance and sing? Where a single star-word calls forth birds from the uttermost ends of the world? Where the world has changed its shape and colour, and men and birds run mad with joy? A single red feather gleams at my feet. I pluck it, and it is like fire in my hand, red and gold, lit from within. A firebird's feather, perhaps - a burning creature, that dies, so it might live. 

The Pilgrim Star beckons, and the feather flies to it. I am suddenly afraid. Hope is too terrible a thing for a broken world, and the broken heart within it. The Star goes still for a moment, banking the fire of its jubilation. There is just here and now, and in this now, the Star touches me with a single, ordinary fall of starlight. A single word, breathed out into the aching world - "come." Golden glory trembles in a halo around the star. For a moment more it is a star simply, but the strain is too great. In a riot of joy it spins out across the sky, and looks at me no longer.

So I followed it. What else was left for me to do? Full of doubt, and fallen wrongness, I walked through star motes, over white-feathered hills. The light of the impossible Star upon my face, and a shadow that stretched to the edge of the world, trailing behind me.

How long I followed it I could not say. Having committed myself to the sharing of its pilgrimage, I simply did as it did, nor gave thought of why or how long. Perhaps there were other pilgrims whom it led in a more direct route. Often and often in my journeying through endless black night, with only the Star-guide for lantern, I heard the sound of singing in the distance, of men and women laughing. Sometimes there was the march-music of a shepherd-drummer - once the wild music of a Italian soldier's piping, and I blessed it for the fire it set in my faltering heart. Yet the path the Star led me along was long and music-less. "Hope" still it whispered, when I grew weary, and softer still, "trust", when I was near despair at my hopelessness. I was memory-less, a star-addled pilgrim, until the aching need of hope, was greater in me than any sense of doubt, or despair. 

Then did the Star release my from my discipleship. I stood knee-deep in snow-feathers, at the mouth of a cave. The air was winter cold, and star motes had turned to snow in earnest, but the cave, with its fire-glow, smelled of flowers, and fresh mown hay. I recognised the star-song that had lured the shepherds and the sheep. Softer now, it hummed through the stone and the earth, but glory it still proclaimed. The dancing, impossible star winked once at me. I took my courage in my hands, and plunged into the earth. 

All was a confusion of lights and colour in there. My sight grew misty, and I would have faltered, but compassionate hands clasped at my own, drawing me further in. Great, winged beings, with light-starred hair, thronged the air. I knew them from the shepherd's hill. They were singing, even still, softer than snow, and as warm as love. Birds roosted on every edge and foothold; a congregation of people in the flickering shadows, silent, awe-held. A home-like fire was kindled in the center of the cave, and within its light, a soldierly man, and a woman with a wise young face. She smiled at me as I was pulled, hesitatingly into the circle of firelight - a smile that warmed and purified. She nodded once, and bade me come. Closer I crept, and paused, and peered into the manger-bed before her. 

It was a night of stars, and at first, all I could see was the light. I thought it a star, buried deep within the earth - the brightest and best of all stars. But somehow, at the sight of it, I knew me - knew my name, my wordsmith trade, knew the taste of forbidden fruit in my mouth; knew my wrongness fully. Fallen I was in very truth, but here was Goodness itself, and here was all made right. The broken bits within me righted themselves. They would never be unbroken, but a star that foresook heaven for earth might make a good thing out of me anyway. Salt water splashed on my hand, and my vision cleared. There was a face in the midst of the starlight. Two solemn brown eyes looked up at me, and a tiny, tiny hand reached for mine. A Child was there, nutbrown, and rosy-cheeked, a child whose firm little grasp of my finger anchored me to earth even as my human heart leaped heavenward. A firebird child, all aflame, but unburned. Man I saw in the hollow of the earth - Man and God. God, whose hands had shaped angels and stars and birds, took my hand into His own, held me with all His infant strength; and at the warmly human touch of God, He was mine, and I was His.

"Glory" softly, from the star-haired angels, and from my healed and hopeful heart, I answered - and all the world answered with me: "Glory." 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In Those Twelve Days Let Us Be Glad!

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,  fiiiive GOOOOOLDEEEN  rings!

Today is the fifth day of Christmas, and I take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry, blessed, wonderful Christmas season. I shall offer two explanations as to why I am so late into the season with these sentiments of good will. The first is that I have been making rather merry myself. We have had an exceedingly splendid Christmas so far. We have enjoyed good food, good company and particularly good times. I have not felt like pulling myself away in order to poke about on the computer. The second - and probably the greater reason - is that a persistent chest cold has decided that it is tired of being a chest cold, and is flirting with the idea of turning into a sinus infection. It is remarkably difficult to think of writing about anything when one is afflicted with nasty pestilences, So I have not written, I have solaced myself by making merry instead. 

Still, it seems ill to allow the blessed season pass unmarked on a blog that has previously made so big a deal of it. So, I shall share with you some Christmas trivia, taken mostly from the very excellent book, A Christmas Chronicle.

1.) The Fullness of Time

      St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." In His own wonderful way, God prepared the world for the coming of the "Expected of Nation" As the fullness of time  approached, there was a common belief that a new age was dawning over the world. In the Autumn of the year 40 BC, the poet Virgil wrote his Eclogue in honour of his friend and patron, Asinius Pollio. In this poem we find the line: "Now the babe descends on his mission from on high." During the Middle Ages, this was generally accepted as a prophecy concerning the coming of Christ.

2.) Augustus ad the Tiburtine Sibyl

      About the year 7 BC, Augustus, who was childless, began to worry about the future of his great empire. At least an ancient legend would have it so. He therefore took himself to the Capitoline Hill to consult the Tiburtine Sibyl. "Who after me shall rule the world?" he asked. The Sibyl meditated for several days; then, recalling Augustus into her presence, she prophesied, "A Jewish babe, descending for the heaven of the blessed by the will of God Himself will soon come in to the world. He will be born of a virgin, and he will be one who is now an absolute stranger to our altars." The legend even relates that the Emperor beheld in a vision a beautiful virgin holding the infant in her arms.

3.)  An Altar to the Son of God.

      After this divination, Augustus erected an altar on the highest part of the Capitoline Hill, and thereon inscribed the words, Haec Ara Filii Dei Est -  this is the Altar of the Son of God. Over this spot was later erected the church which to our day is called Santa Maria in Araceoli. What is supposed to be the original altar is preserved in this church and it bears and inscription wish translated tells us, "Octavian built this altar when the Offspring of heaven appeared to him".

4.)  Ancient Legends and Traditions of Christmas
   Records of Christmas events in the first few centuries are few and far between. It was only later that day took on the universally festive aspect we now know. But there is an ancient tradition of a happening in Rome that takes us back to the very day of the Nativity. According to "The History of Rome" written by the celebrated Greek historian, Dion Cassisu, who went to Rome about the year 180 AD, a fountain of oil broke forth on the site of the Taberna Meritoria, a home for old soldiers in Rome, at the very time of our Saviour's birth. The stream of oil flowed away to the river Tiber in one day. A little oratory was constructed there by early Christians, and to it was given the name Fons Olei (Fountain of Oil). On this site was later built the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. An inscription on the marble slab before the main altar of the church mentions this happening.

     The ancient "Calendar of Saints" from Cologne offers, for the year 54 AD, the following interesting account of the Magi who visited the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem: "After they had undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospel, the Three Wisemen met as Sewa in the year of Our Lord 54, whereupon, they celebrated the Feast of Christmas in common, whereupon, after the celebration of the Mass, they died".

I have other things in mind to post during this Long Christmas time, but for now, I bid ye a good evening and a blessed Christmastime.

PS. You will notice that the Advent playlist has been replaced by a Christmas one. Please check back on it, as I am updating it daily :-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat...

Christmas is coming.... It's practically here! I am excited! And I am freaking out, as I have done my usually overly-ambitious trick of deciding to make Christmas gifts, AND cards. I had four handmade gifts on my list: I have completed one, am halfway through two, and have one I have not even started on yet. The cards, at present, exist merely in my own imagination, nor has a single rough sketch appeared on paper. Now would be a good time to panic!

No, no. No panicking. I am Mahri! I work well under pressure!

(And who needs sleep anyway?)

But I am taking time out of my busy, busy life to say hello to all of you, my faithful readers, because I am just that nice. Or possibly, I am avoiding working on things I am supposed to be working on. Or maybe the scanty sleep I have been getting (a result of late night craftiness, and a tenacious cough that disturbs what sleep I do manage) has given me an effervescence that cannot be expressed in yarn and stitchery. Or possibly, it is because we've finally had real snow for the first time in years, and I an gleeful and restless, and need someone else to be giddy with me. There is a foot of snow outside right now, which is modest for our area, but more than we have seen in at least two years. It is cold. It is winter. And I - child of winter that I am - am in a state of mild euphoria over the glory of snow.

But clearly I must have some legitimate reason for coming on here and being chatty when I ought to be crafty. And I do, I really do! I have noticed with some disapprobation, that there is a shocking dearth of songs for Advent, and I am setting out to remedy the lamentable state of things. If you will glance at the sidebar in this space, you will observer an addition; a fancy new addition: a playlist entitled "Christmas is Coming: Songs for Advent" and it is the partial result of the authors trawling about youtube looking for things I want to listen to. 

And as I am in a bountiful mood, thanks to lack of sleep and abundance of snow, I thought it only right an fair that I share this list with you, sir.... 

And on that note, I can no longer stay, sir. For my tasks are glaring there are me, in a most unpleasant way, sir. (A chocolate cookie to whosoever knows the songs from which I paraphrase :-)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gracious and Good Lord, We Bless You On This Feast of St. Nicholas....

Today is St. Nicholas Day, everyone! Happy feast day!


I've mentioned my fondness for St. Nicholas in this space before, and I shall not go into all that again today. Suffice it to say, St. Nicholas is a really great saint - a far more interesting character than the distant relative, Santa Claus - and one who deserves to be far better known than he is. 

My family has been celebrating St. Nicholas Day for years now. We leave out shoes, as per the custom, and St. Nicholas obliging fills them with candy and things. I usually light a candle in front of my very fine statue of the good saint (depicted in this very poor picture):

We are a very food oriented family. When a celebration is in the offing, we always start by planning what we're going to eat... and drink too, for that matter. There is always a nice dinner on St. Nicholas day. (There is a pot roast cooking at present, fragrant in a broth of rosemary and ale) We will often brew up a very hearty batch of bisschopswhijn which is perfect for the cold winter nights. It is all very festive, very fun, and thoroughly seasoned in tradition. What is not to love about it?

In celebration of the Day, here is a hymn in honour of the saint. 

This is a particularly interesting song, from a linguistic and historical point of view, being one of the earliest English language songs to be preserved with its lyrics

The words are as follows:

Sainte Nicholas, Godes druth
Timbray us faire scone hus
At thee burthe, at thee hare,
Sainte Nicholas, bring us well thare. 

With the translation:

Saint Nicholas, God's beloved,
Build for us a fine dwelling place
At time of birth, at time of death,
St. Nicholas, bring us safely there.

And on that note, may St. Nicholas bless and guide you all.