Category Archives: art

The Most Common Occurrence

by Howard Hain

 

Christ lives in the Eucharistic Prayer.

He listens carefully.

The Father listens too.

We listen with Them.

The Holy Spirit speaks.

He speaks a great silence.

He listens to the listeners.

We collectively hear.

God.

Three Persons.

His Entire People.

All Creation.

The Sound of One Breathing.

The Sound of Life.

Communion.

Amen.

 

(Jan/4/18)

Still Life with Nativity

by Howard Hain

 

Can’t keep it neat

Bunched-up cloth

Shifting sand

An avalanche of gifts

Those toward the outside move the most

The trough is fixed in place

The world turns, the Cross stands still” *

Manger, manger, what happened to you?

Sprouted roots

Began life as a tree

…..A table

……….A sawhorse

……………A wagon wheel

Dusty bumpy road

Excitement of a coming feast

Not quite yet

To and fro

Which place is home?

Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem

The land of Cana

A wedding toast

Now a wooden throne

Plenty of wine to go around

The world turns, the Cross stands still” *

Manger, manger, what happened to you?

Sprouted roots

Began life as a tree


 

* this line is a loose paraphrase of the Carthusian motto: “Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis” (The Cross Stands Firm, While The World Turns)

Wise as Doves

by Howard Hain

rembrandt-angel-appearing-to-the-shepherds-1634

Rembrandt, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”, 1634


Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

—Luke 2:8-9


Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.

Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!

Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.

But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it. If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord chose them to be present when He revealed His glory.

It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us just the kind of people to whom God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.

A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter to whom the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.

If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else, we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.

For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets—even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.


The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”

—Luke, Chapter 2:10,16-18,20


 

The Bird of Good Hope

I find interesting old books at Books Online, a wonderful free service, and in Routledge’s Christmas Annual from 1872 I found a Christmas story called “Aidan of the Cows.” Now, how resist a story like that?

It’s about a young woman named Aidan who has herds of the choicest cows who produced the best milk and choicest cheese in the village of St.Koatsven in a Distant Land near the shore of a distant sea.

Unfortunately, the young woman becomes destitute because the young man she loves spends away her fortune until all her cows are sold to moneylenders.

On Christmas morning Aidan wanders sadly down a meadow near the sea where she hears a robin singing:

“ She listened with amazement, with fear and trembling, and, at last with a fearful joy, that had more of timorous hope in it. The utterance of the bird became articulate ; and it sang in human speech.
Aidan heard him. “I am Robin Redbreast,” he sang, ” I am the Bird of Good Hope, I am much endowed among birds. For in the Ancient Time when He was toiling up the Heavy Hill bearing the Bitter Cross, I, moved by Heaven
to Pity, alighted on His head, and plucked from out His bleeding brow ONE thorn of the cruel crown that bound his temples. And one drop of His blood bedewed my throat as I stooped to the blessed task, and the blood-drop dyed my breast in a hue of glorious beauty for Ever.”

Aidan listened with all the ears of her heart.
“And in remembrance of that which I did, a poor foolish bird! this blessing was laid upon me—that once in every year, on Christmas-eve, I should be empowered to give a good gift to the first maiden who was good and pure, but unhappy, and who should put her foot upon the herb Marie, as thou, Aidan, hast done.”

The girl looked involuntarily downwards. Her foot was lightly- pressing the pretty little yellow trefoil plantret, which is called the Herb Marie. “As thou hast done, Aidan of the Cows,” the robin repeated with a confident chirrup.”

Of course, Aidan gets her cows back and even her repentant young man, whom she marries and they live happily ever after.

The author ends his tale remarking that this all took place in a Distant Land. “ In the land that is close by us nothing of the kind takes place.”

But we know that it does. And so, to all of you, may the Bird of Good Hope, speak to you today.

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain
durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.

———

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*



Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.


Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

Joseph, Son of David

Nativity

The Advent season gradually introduces us to those who had a part in the birth of Jesus. In today’s gospel from Matthew we meet Joseph, the husband of Mary, who played an important part in Jesus’ birth and early years.

Matthew’s gospel calls Joseph as a just man, someone who listens to God and does God’s will. He’s a carpenter, the gospels say, certainly not well educated – but he’s a “son of David” from the royal family who will give the world a Messiah.

During their betrothal, which in Jewish tradition was more than the modern engagement we know, Joseph finds that Mary is pregnant. A just man, he struggles to find a way to divorce her quietly when, in a dream, an angel of God tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Here is the key part of the angel’s message: “For it is through the Holy Spirit 
that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Like Mary, Joseph believes in the message of God. Like Mary, he sees more than human eyes and a human mind see. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” What he believed is what we say in our creed: “(Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” Jesus became man, and God was with us.

Artists early on pictured Joseph with his head in his hands, listening in sleep to the angel’s message. In a dream later on he heard the angel telling him to take the child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod, the king. He was a man of great faith.

The medieval artist who painted the picture above seems to capture Joseph and Mary sharing their faith in the Child born in a stable, a gift to the world. They were believers, first of all, and they would care for him with all the love and care they could give him.