Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Song: "Old Lang Syne" by Robert Burns in 1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

English translation

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Holiday

I love the Christmas octave because the readings for the week are very inspiring. It feels like Christmas from where I sit because I am in northwestern Maine at a benefactor's house with two other Jesuits. It is nice to simply hang out and enjoy a meal together. 

At present, I'm sitting in front of an eight-panel mountain-facing set of windows with a sweeping view of pristine nature. Fireworks are exploded from the nearby ski-lodge but the house is so magnificent, it is difficult to want to go outside. Snow covers the earth and winter has set into this corner of the state, but it is also magnificently warm. If the weather does not allow for skiing tomorrow, it will create a great environment for photography. 

I bless the owners of this stunning house, which has won architectural acclaim. Seeing such craftsmanship is like gazing upon artwork, but it makes me appreciate the poverty that Jesuits live. We do sometimes have advantage of the hospitality of these great places, but it is nice to live simply and comfortably. It makes us feel aligned to the ordinary citizens of the world.

The serenity and quiet of this place makes me want to sleep after a long drive. I've been on roads I've not travelled before and I've seen a few towns I've heard about for a while. My awareness of northern New Hampshire and northwestern Maine is being expanded. Tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Family and I feel comforted to be in a Catholic community that is blessed abundantly by God.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Quiet Day

Typically, the day after Christmas is quite settled and quiet. This year it is blessedly quiet once again. When I awoke, I got started on my first Christmas cards. For some reason, I could not put pen to paper this year even though I made my own. Well, I finally started and it was quite fun. I enjoy writing the cards, but there were so many other things I wanted to do this year.

The afternoon felt like a Christmas in Amman, Jordan because it was 50 degrees and cloudless. It was so pleasant that I could not pass up the chance to go for a walk. Every single person I met was so pleasant and filled with goodwill. Usually, there's always one scrooge you meet, but thankfully, not today.

I found a new, quiet walkway from South Boston to the bustling waterfront area. It felt like a meditation walk because there aren't too many people who choose this route. People were sitting outside reading books or just deeply breathing. Families were walking together and they all seemed to enjoy the chance to be outside and to feel invigorated. It was quite lovely.

Since I drove my car a short distance, I did not have much traffic with which to contend, but when I met a pedestrian or other driver, I usually nodded and smiled and their faces lit up. Too often people drive aggressively and in a defensive mode (You're not going to get one over on me!), but today that atmosphere was missing. We must always practice those acts of kindness because it must be passed on to a future world.

Today, I just loved it. So many happy, relaxed faces with bright smiles. It is heartening to experience such goodwill. It can soften any scrooge's heart.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pope Francis to Christians of the Middle East (Christmas Message)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
         “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).
         When I thought of writing to you, our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, these words of Saint Paul immediately came to mind.  I write to you just before Christmas, knowing that for many of you the music of your Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs.  Nonetheless, the birth of the Son of God in our human flesh is an indescribable mystery of consolation: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people” (Tit 2:11).
         Sadly, afflictions and tribulations have not been lacking, even more recently, in the Middle East.  They have been aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts.  It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.
         Nor, in writing to you, can I remain silent about the members of other religious and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution and the effects of these conflicts.  Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East.  I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter.  This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible.  I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope.
         Dear brothers and sisters who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself.  I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35).  May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!
         I pray that you will be able to experience a fraternal communion modelled on that of the first community of Jerusalem.  The unity willed by our Lord is more necessary than ever at these difficult times; it is a gift from God, who appeals to our freedom and awaits our response.  May the word of God, the sacraments, prayer and fellowship nourish and continually renew your communities.
         The situation in which are you living is a powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested.  I think with affection and veneration of the pastors and faithful who have lately been killed, often merely for the fact that they were Christians.  I think also of those who have been kidnapped, including several Orthodox bishops and priests of various rites.  May they soon return, safe and sound, to their homes and communities!  I ask God to grant that all this suffering united to the Lord’s cross will bring about much good for the Church and for all the peoples in the Middle East.
         In the midst of hostility and conflicts, the communion which you experience in fraternity and simplicity is a sign of God’s Kingdom.  I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches.  The sufferings which Christians endure contribute immensely to the cause of unity.  It is the ecumenism of blood, which demands a trusting abandonment to the working of the Holy Spirit.
         May you always bear witness to Jesus amid your difficulties!  Your very presence is precious for the Middle East.  You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread.  You are like leaven in the dough.  Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence.  Thank you for your perseverance!
         Your efforts to cooperate with people of other religions, with Jews and Muslims, is another sign of the Kingdom of God.  The more difficult the situation, the more interreligious dialogue becomes necessary.  There is no other way.  Dialogue, grounded in an attitude of openness, in truth and love, is also the best antidote to the temptation to religious fundamentalism, which is a threat for followers of every religion.  At the same time, dialogue is a service to justice and a necessary condition for the peace which all so ardently desire.
         The majority of you live in environments which are predominantly Muslim.  You can help your Muslim fellow citizens to present with discernment a more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire, reiterating that Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and favours peaceful coexistence on the part of all.  This will prove beneficial for them and for all society.  The tragic situation faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as by the Yazidi and members of other religious and ethnic communities, demands that all religious leaders clearly speak out to condemn these crimes unanimously and unambiguously, and to denounce the practice of invoking religion in order to justify them.
         Dear brothers and sisters, almost all of you are native citizens of your respective countries, and as such you have the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress of your nations.  Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3:12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.
         In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to you, dear brother patriarchs, bishops, priests, and men and women religious, who accompany the journey of your communities with loving concern.  How valuable is the presence and work of those completely consecrated to the Lord, serving him in their brothers and sisters, especially those in greatest need, and thus witnessing to his grandeur and his infinite love!  How important is the presence of pastors in the midst of their flocks, especially in times of trouble!
         To the young I send a paternal embrace.  I pray for your faithfulness, your human and Christian development, and the attainment of your hopes and dreams.  I repeat to you: “Do not be afraid or ashamed to be Christian.  Your relationship with Jesus will help you to cooperate generously with your fellow citizens, whatever their religious affiliation” (Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 63).
         To the elderly I express my respect and esteem.  You are the memory of your peoples.  I pray that this memory will become a seed which can grow and benefit generations yet to come.
         I wish to encourage all of you who work in the very important fields of charity and education.  I admire the work you do, especially through Caritas and other Catholic charitable organizations in the different countries, in providing help to anyone who asks, without discrimination.  Through this witness of charity you help support the life of society and you contribute to the peace for which the region hungers as if for bread.  Education too is critical for the future of society.  How important it is for promoting the culture of encounter, respect for the dignity of each person and the absolute value of every human being!
         Dear brothers and sisters, even though you may not be numerous, you play a significant role in the Church and in the countries where you live.  The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission.  We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal.
         At the same time I continue to urge the international community to address your needs and those of other suffering minorities, above all by promoting peace through negotiation and diplomacy, for the sake of stemming and stopping as soon as possible the violence which has already caused so much harm.  I once more condemn in the strongest possible terms the traffic of arms.  Instead, what are needed are plans and initiatives for peace, so as to further a global solution to the region’s problems.  How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace?  We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!  In the spirit of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the subsequent prayer meeting in the Vatican with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, I encourage you to continue to pray for peace in the Middle East.  May those forced to leave their lands be able to return and to live in dignity and security.  May humanitarian aid increase and always have as its central concern the good of each individual and each country, respecting their identity and without any other agendas.  May the entire Church and the international community become ever more conscious of the importance of your presence in the region.
         Dear Christian brothers and sisters of the Middle East, you have an enormous responsibility and in meeting it you are not alone.  That is why I wanted to write to you, to encourage you and to let you know how precious your presence and your mission are in the land which the Lord has blessed.  Your witness means much to me!  Thank you!  I pray for you and your intentions every day.  I thank you because I know that, amid your sufferings, you also pray for me and for my service to the Church.  I do hope to have the chance to come to you in person and to visit and to comfort you.  May the Virgin Mary, the All-Holy Mother of God and our Mother, accompany you and protect you always with her tender love.  To all of you and your families I impart my Apostolic Blessing, and I pray that your celebration of Christmas will be filled with  the love and peace of Christ our Saviour.

From the Vatican, * * *

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vatican diplomatic successes with nuns, the U.S., and Cuba

Thomas Reese  |  Dec. 19, 2014Faith and Justice

Diplomatic skills were on display at the Vatican this week when it issued its report on the U.S. sisters, hosted a visit from John Kerry, and midwifed an agreement between the United States and Cuba.
First, the nuns.
A sigh of relief echoed through convents all over the United States as the Vatican report on the life and ministry of religious women was released this week. The six-year visitation of religious communities, which had all the trappings of an inquisition when it began, turned into an affirming dialogue by the time it concluded.

The key players in this transformation were Pope Francis, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Mother Mary Clare Millea and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland. Without their diplomatic skills, this could have been a disaster.

The apostolic visitation began in 2008 under Cardinal Franc Rodé, then prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (aka Congregation for Religious), who was concerned about "feminist spirit" among American sisters as well as "irregularities or omissions in American religious life." He clearly expected to find lots of problems and failings among the sisters, which he had heard about especially from "an important representative of the U.S. church," whom he did not name.
Luckily for the sisters, Rodé retired in January 2011 before the visitation was completed. His replacement, Braz de Aviz, proved to be much more positive in his dealing with religious women. He was not appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the congregation because of any expertise in religious life. (He is not a religious.) He got the job because the Vatican was embarrassed that the largest Catholic country in the world did not have a high-level position in the Curia, and this was the first vacancy available.
Braz de Aviz began softening the visitation soon after taking office, even before Pope Francis was elected. In this, he had an ally in Millea, who had been appointed by Rodé to lead the visitation in the United States. She had reluctantly agreed to head the visitation team and tried to allay the fears of sisters who objected to the whole process. Although traditional by nature, her respect for other sisters and her nonauthoritarian style brought many of the sisters to reluctantly go along with a process that had been begun without consulting them. 
Finally, Holland, a savvy canon lawyer with 21 years of experience working in the Congregation for Religious, was a wise, strong and diplomatic representative for the American sisters after she was elected president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious in 2013. She knew how the Vatican worked and had the respect and confidence of the American sisters.
This visitation could have been a disaster without the diplomatic skills of these individuals. Because of them, the final report had "an encouraging and realistic tone," Holland said. "Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on."
At the press conference that released the report, the participants (including Braz de Aviz, Millea, and Holland) clearly did not want to talk about the other study of LCWR being conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The positive tone of this report, however, will hopefully make it more difficult for the doctrinal congregation to lower the boom on these organizations and the sisters involved with them.
The report on the sisters got more attention than another event at the Vatican this week, the hourlong meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. In describing the meeting, the Vatican focused on U.S. "commitments."
According to Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office, the topics covered included "the situation in the Middle East, and the commitment of the U.S. to avoid the escalation of tensions and the explosion of violence; also the commitment to promote a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." These are similar to the topics discussed when they last met in January for an hour and 40 minutes.

According to Lombardi, they also discussed "the United States' commitment to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison," with the Holy See expressing willingness to assist "in seeking adequate humanitarian solutions for current inmates." The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for the closing of the Guantanamo prison.

Some countries have offered to accept the inmates from Guantanamo, but it is unlikely that the 110-acre Vatican City State could accommodate any. Vatican support for closing the prison may encourage other countries to come forward. Nor will Vatican support hurt the Obama administration in dealing the opponents to closure in the United States.
Other new topics included Ukraine and Ebola, although they were not discussed in depth because of time constraints.
Noteworthy also was the topic not discussed this time that did come up last time: health care reform. The Vatican brought up this topic briefly in January at the request of the American bishops who continue to object to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. This time, in talks with Kerry, the Vatican focused exclusively on international issues.
The final diplomatic achievement of the week was the release on Wednesday of U.S. citizen and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who was imprisoned by the Cuban government for espionage.

At his January meeting in the Vatican, Kerry had asked Parolin for help in getting the release of Gross from Cuba. Pope Francis secretly wrote President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, urging them to resolve Gross' case and that of three Cuban prisoners in the United States. In October, the Vatican hosted a meeting between Cuban and U.S. officials that resolved the issue.
The Vatican, which has always had diplomatic relations with Cuba, has long supported reconciliation between the two countries and an end to the U.S. embargo. As Pope John Paul II said during his 1998 visit to Cuba, "Let Cuba open itself to the world, and the world open itself to Cuba." The Cuban and U.S. bishops have taken the same position. 
"Engagement is the path to support change in Cuba and to empower the Cuban people in their quest for democracy, human rights and religious liberty," said Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We believe it is long past due that the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraw all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescind terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourage trade that will benefit both nations, lift restrictions on business and financial transactions, and facilitate cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction, human trafficking and scientific exchanges." 
Although the president cannot end the embargo without congressional consent, he is moving toward re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Now that the president is not running for re-election, he doesn't have to worry about the Cuban vote in Florida. It is also helpful to have the hugely popular Pope Francis in his corner on this one. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Diocese: Holy Land News

Diocese: Holy Land News

JERUSALEM – On Wednesday, November 19, Religious Leaders of Jerusalem: Christians, Muslims, Druze, visited the synagogue, which was the target of a vicious attack the day before. Four Jews and an Israeli police officer were killed. The visit to the Jewish community was a sign of solidarity and an appeal to the people of the Holy Land and the world to promote peace and freedom of religion.

“Your gesture is most welcome. If someone ever criticizes you, pretend not to hear him because your gesture is welcome”. These were the words that welcomed the religious leaders of Jerusalem at the Office of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Interior, and later all together visited the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood in West Jerusalem. This place of worship was attacked on November 18, four Jews, a police officer and two Palestinians were killed.

We come as religious leaders to a place of prayer, therefore to a holy place, stated His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. These people were killed while praying. Any place of worship belonging to any religion should be protected and sanctified.

In the midst of a crowd of journalists and residents of the neighborhood gathered in the synagogue’s courtyard, the religious leaders spoke one after the other, expressed their condolences to the community, and condemned the acts of violence directed at either Israelis or Palestinians. Furthermore, they condemned violence and terrorism committed in the name of religion against another religion.

They renewed a fervent plea for freedom of expression and religion for all people of the Holy Land and around the world.

Message and appeal

Christians and Jews are now preparing for their holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. In a time of a worsening situation in Jerusalem, each day carries its share of fear, anxiety and disturbing events, the religious leaders expressed anew their desire to find and achieve peace. The meeting of Christians,
Muslims, Druze and Jews in the heart of an ultra-orthodox neighborhood is also a sign for the world and the media, that when an attack is perpetrated, it is not only the target community that suffers, but all those who struggle for peace and for justice.

Jerusalem religious leaders

JERUSALEM – In a meeting this Friday, November 21 with Joachim Herrmann, the Ministry of Interior of Bavaria, who is also a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, Patriarch Fouad Twal spoke about the current tensions in Jerusalem and reiterated the importance of education to build a new society and bring about a culture of peace. It was a warm exchange in which the Patriarch expressed these concerns in light of current events.

“In recent weeks, the situation has taken increasingly worrisome proportions. We are part of this country and we suffer with it. What we want is that the last word is not left to the extremists.”

“The unrest began to intensify the violence when Israel allowed religious Jews to visit the Temple Mount. The Jews then touched the most sensitive place for Muslims. One of the most sacred places, which is the key to peace or chaos on earth. Religious coexistence in Jerusalem will be the ground for more peace or more violence in the Middle East and the world. The challenge is immense.

The Patriarch welcomed the news of a forthcoming ban on religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, a measure that will “ease tensions.” Bishop Shomali recalled in this regard the meeting of November 12 between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan, a meeting during which
Netanyahu pledged to respect the rights of Muslims to pray, and to observe the status quo that places the holy place under Jordanian protection. Since that meeting, no age limit was imposed for the Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa.

Patriarch Fouad also condemned the Israeli Prime Minister’s decision to arm the concern Israeli citizens living in Jerusalem. “This decision encourages neither mutual trust nor peaceful coexistence nor cooperation between the two peoples. Entrust security to the police and not to every citizen. If our Land is Holy, then do works of justice that restore confidence by respecting the dignity of all. We want peace for all, peace will never come to one people, which is surrounded by the walls that have been built. Physical walls are the visible sign of the walls of hatred, fear and mistrust that inhabit the hearts of men.”

Patriarch Fouad Twal: “Education is the most powerful weapon”

Once again Patriarch Twal urged everyone “not to be afraid, to pray for peace. Praying for the same goal can be an opportunity to get closer to each other. The Patriarch further said that this meeting proves that “hope is not dead, there is always hope to stop the violence.”

Keeping in mind stability in the Middle East, the Patriarch criticized the call by certain members of the Israeli government for a “harsh response,” a massive and extensive “arming” of the population. That is not a solution. Political leaders should be smart and wise enough to lead all people toward peace,
while restraining the escalation of fundamentalism.

If the meeting of these religious leaders is an evidence of dialogue, it is being carried out in a difficult and unfortunate situation. In other words, the recurrence of these events under present circumstances is not good news. But there is always hope that one day, they will warmly greet each other on behalf of their respective followers. It will be a sign of peace for all mankind, in a Land that is indeed Holy.

Pierre Loup de Raucourtis Beatitude also condemned the collective punishment inflicted by Israel, including the destruction of the homes of the attackers’
families. “Such practices only sow more hatred and violence.”

During the meeting, issues relating to free access to the Holy Places were raise, and also the reunification of families separated by the separation wall, and, above all, the “Law on Citizenship and Entry into Israel” (2003), that does not allow the spouse who is not a native of Jerusalem to come live with his/her family in the holy city.

“Inhumane Acts” said His Beatitude.

Secondly, the Patriarch spoke about his visit to Gaza, in early November, after the war ended. In an almost apocalyptic landscape where donkeys are now used as taxis and transport, he was struck by the thousands of children roaming the streets. “70% of schools were destroyed; daily school classes are held in rotation, three times a day, in the only schools that remain standing.”

And the Patriarch said, “We believe in the power of education. This is our most powerful weapon. We have three schools in Gaza that welcome all Christian children, who represent about 10% of the students, and the other 90% are Muslims. At school, children learn together, play together, and eat together. This is the most favorable place for coexistence and dialogue for the formation of a new culture of peace.” He invited the Minister and his delegation to continue to work for the establishment of peace through education, particularly the needs of the American University of Madaba where scholarships offered by Germany would be great support for students.

The Patriarch and his Vicar finally gratefully thanked the German Church and in a special way the fraternal closeness of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, as well as solidarity and friendship of the German Lieutenancy.

Myriam Ambroselli

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gift Giving Practices

Simplify your gift giving this year with a few easy suggestions. Giving and receiving gifts create tensions and awkward moments. Know that gifts often have some attachment to them. Learn to navigate the contours of gifts skillfully. Learn how to give and receive graciously.

Talk before Giving

A. Clarify. Be bold in the conversations because the clarity can avoid uncomfortable situations and will help communicate expectations. (Too often Christmas has too many disappointed hopes.) Discuss with your family of origin which ways you will celebrate the holidays. Eliminate surprises by simply clarifying the ways they want to approach gift-giving, especially with the adults relatives, in-laws, parents, and adult children

B. Determine if your presence during a visit and perhaps a food item is enough of a gift. For most people, YOU are enough. Enjoy the people you are with and let them enjoy you.

C. Perhaps sending a greeting card is enough of a gift. Clarify if that is so.

D. If you discuss gift-giving and decide not to do it, relax. If someone then goes out and gets a gift after you have discussed behaviors, accept it gratefully and realize you do not have to feel guilty.

E. Discuss price range. Ask what others want. Pray for them beforehand and see if some gift idea emerges in your prayer.

F. Know that it is quite O.K. to not give gifts. It is liberating just to come together without the need for gift exchange. Gift-giving can be expensive and stress inducing. Lower the stress.

G. Help the other person by being very specific about what you want to receive. Be as concrete as you can.

If you receive a gift…

A. Know that the other person is giving something about themselves. Cherish that aspect of the giver.

B. Ask the person if you are to open the gift in the present moment. Smile. The person is giving part of themselves away to you and they want you to accept a special part of them, even if you do not understand that special part. The other person wants instance acceptance.

C. Love the person who is doing the giving. They are loving you through their gift.

D. If a gift is unusual, ask the person to clarify what the gift represents to them so you may honor it all the more. Allow the person to share his or her process of dreaming up this gift for you. The person might clarify something you do not quite comprehend.

E. It might take a little while for you to decide if you like it or not. Know that it might take months for the idea of the gift to grow on you and take on additional meaning.

If you give to others…

A. Know that part of you is imbedded into the gift. The gift represents you and you’d like to be accepted well.

B. Feel free to make a donation to a charity in honor of the person. People are generally caring and are honored when they are attached to charitable causes. Everyone wins.
C. Before buying a gift, ask the person if there is something particular they would like. Help elicit from the person what they want because they will make it easier for you to please them. Do not accept a wishy-washy answer. Ask them to clarify for you by a certain time so you have plenty of time to obtain the gift. Set a deadline.

Other considerations

· Just because someone gives you a gift doesn’t mean you have to give one to them. We want to strive for mutuality in relationships, but not every interaction is mutual. You may feel awkward, but you do not have to make excuses or try to come up with an excuse or a promise of a future plan.

· If you agree not to exchange gifts, but then someone gets you one, know that they have unilaterally altered the terms of the agreement. Be kind to them and receive the gift graciously, but realize you acted in accord with your mutual agreement.

· Be exceedingly kind, but don’t try to go against your feelings. If you are confused or disappointed, talk about how the gift makes you feel. The person is going to make some judgment on your reaction. Bless them. You always want to make the other person feel good.

· Remember that relationships are ambiguous. Gifts will also be ambiguous. Manage your disappointment where necessary, and share the joys as fully as you can.

· Remember, you have all year long to get together – for dinner, lunch, coffee or a walk. You don’t have to fit everything into a packed month. Perhaps your gift would be finding a time in February when you can carve a day when you can be together. Extend your gift into a year-round activity.

This list is not exhaustive. What else works for you?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Christmas celebration

Ah! My Christmas has come. Tonight, Chorus North Shore gave Christmas cheer to our audience on a dreary rain-soaked chilly night. Rudolph would have had difficulty finding his way. We were pleased with the full house in light of the weather and we were thankful, for driver’s sakes, that it was not snow. (But I like snow.)

The first half of the show celebrated Advent, especially with a Telemann piece called “Machet die Tore Weit,” which means “Open Wide the Gates.” Two young soloists sang the arias and recitatives. Very nice done. They joined up for a medley of Christmas tunes.

The Honors Youth Choir sang with us in the second half and they were a tremendous hit. After we sang Psalm 100, they performed “In the Bleak Midwinter” and the audience held back their applause because of the stunning silence that concluded their song. The adults sang “Who will come?,” a softly sung narrative of the Holy Family. We then livened up the church with Personnet Hodie and an ancient Galician tune that captured the audience’s attention.

The finale was a selection of Silent Night tunes that were woven nicely together. The audience sang boldly when they were invited into the song. Nearly everyone sang and then opened their mouths so wide I could almost see tonsils. Their eyes were full of joy and delight at times and then some were also moved to tears as the finale tugged at their heartstrings. We gave them Christmas.

At the conclusion, a young girl that was maybe 1.5 years old came forward in her neat little dress and applauded. She kept smiling and laughing. The beauty of Christmas performances is that some people will hear these songs for the first time and the course of their lives can be shaped by it, and some people will hear these songs for the last time before they meet their God.

We brought them the story of Christ tonight. We gave them just what they needed. We all need a little Christmas – no matter what time of year.