Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So NOT the Reason for the Season

B is for BLOCKS

For the past 20 years, a set of vintage block letters spelling S-A-N-T-A has graced the top of our family room TV. The A's even have a Santa face. (Very cute, if I do say so myself!)

Anyway, in the olden days, when my rapidly aging sons (sorry, guys) were in their teens, one of their oh-so-charming friends was fond of rearranging those letters when I wasn't looking. Sometimes I wouldn't notice for a day or two, and I've often wondered what visitors to our home thought as they sat in our family room at Christmas time, nonplussed by this supposedly Christian family that apparently felt the need to give a holiday shout-out to S-A-T-A-N.

That kid loved to make me crazy. And you know what? He was good at it!


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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Fisher Kings: A Winter's Tale

Squall, 1986, by Andrew Wyeth

The Fisher Kings: A Winter’s Tale
©2011 Susan Noyes Anderson, All Rights Reserved

Three fishermen set out one dawn
in the land of the midnight sun,
to check their pots for king crabs and
return when day was done.
At Christmastime, their custom was
to celebrate their King
by dining on the very best
the ocean had to bring.
Theirs never was a safe pursuit,
but these were hardened men.
Many a wintry sea they’d sailed,
and so they sailed again.
A red-sky morning…sailor’s
warning…trouble in the air.
But good or ill, ‘twas Christmas still;
they set out on a prayer.
Their women let them go…saw
danger as no stranger cruel
but rather a worthy foe, the ocean’s
mate, and no one’s fool.
Nor were these men, who knew respect
for weather, wind, and wave.
Here was no mystery…The sea
made many a sailor’s grave.
 Deep water was the resting place
more than a few had earned.
Better the bottom of the sea
than cold ground, freshly turned.
Yet drowning did not haunt their dreams,
for they believed in fate.
Death knew your days, and that old pirate
seized you, soon or late.
Then why, as they pulled anchor, did
they feel a creeping chill…
 And why, as they left home and hearth,
did their wives’ hearts go still?
 (But let us not belabor signs
and omens: paltry stuff.
Our fishermen set out to sea
on choppy waves, not rough.)
The day was middling fair as well,
though cold as smoking ice,
and each man’s head was filled with thoughts
of crab and yuletide spice.
Their traps were in deep water, so
they traveled with the wind.
When they arrived, the mast was dropped
at once, the mizzen trimmed.
The men worked hard as waves grew rough;
a storm was on the way.
They needed to move quickly now
before the end of day.
The pots retrieved were nearly full;
there was enough for all.
And if the weather held off,
they’d be home before the squall.
A feast they’d have, a family feast,
with loved ones gathered round.
The memories and crab meat
promised sweetness, pound for pound.
 With main and mizzen raised once more,
they set their sights on home.
Their little ketch was dancing…
flying fast across the foam.
Love was the gift that gave them wings
and made their spirits light.
In their stout hearts, they sang Noel
that silent, starry night.
 Until, at once, the silence broke…
eclipsed by claps of thunder…
a squall so violent that it cast
their Christmas dreams asunder.
The gale was fierce, and driving rain
assailed them, fore and aft.
Their boat rose…fell like flotsam…
took on water like a raft.
They lowered sail, turned leeward, bound
themselves to lurching mast…
and pleaded for God’s mercy to
preserve their souls at last.
They did not beg for life or death;
they prayed for strength and grace.
They’d live to see their children, or
they’d die to see God’s face.
(Acceptance is the sailor’s creed;
man cannot thwart the sea.
But those who would submit to it
may yet find victory.)
And so they did; the tempest stilled.
Their lives were spared again.
The fog was thick and threatening,
but these were stalwart men.
The route they knew; and from the shore,
a lighthouse shined their way.
But somehow, in its signal,
they beheld another day: 
A day of hope and wonder,
of life forever new…
A night one star rose up to light
the world with heaven’s view.
“The beacon! ‘Tis a star…the wise men’s
star.” They whispered, low.
The lighthouse beckoned onward,
urging safety with its glow.
It had to be illusion, but
that bright beam made them feel
like wise men, seeking Jesus.
Such a thing could not be real.
(And yet, it’s true that Christmas Eve
holds wonder all its own.
Who better than seafaring men
to seek the Christ Child’s throne?)
And in a twinkling, they were there
three kings…yet still afloat…
their spirits in the ancient past…
their bodies in the boat.
“What mann’r of magic is this?” said one.
See ye the things I see?”
The others nodded, all amazed.
“Yet, how can this thing be?”
“Here shines the Star of Bethlehem!
And there, the lighthouse beams.
Perhaps we lie unconscious,
dreaming one another’s dreams.”

But reason was suspended when
they heard an angel say,
“Fear not, for unto you is born
a Savior. Come away.”
Their hearts were filled with gladness
that transcended time and space.
Three fisher kings released their world
to take a sacred place.
The star led them o’er hill and vale,
past groves of olive trees,
and finally, to a stable, where
they fell upon their knees.
A Child was born, the Son of God!
His promise was fulfilled.
And angels sang out praises until
every doubt was stilled.
The shepherds came to honor Him
and bowed in reverence sweet,
while fishermen-turned-kings laid gold
and spices at His feet.
They worshipped Him and prayed for Him
and marveled at His glory.
They touched Him and beheld Him, and
became part of His story.
Yet, all the while they felt beneath
their feet the rolling seas.
They saw the star but sensed the lighthouse
and their families.
 A blinding flash!...the stable dimmed,
back through the years they flew.
The songs of angels vanished
into shouts of their own crew.
Turn starboard…Starboard, mate! Look sharp!
We’re headed for the ice.
Now, hold the jib. Tack. Tack! Heave to,
else we’re the sacrifice.
Alas, the looming obstacles
were coming up so fast
that all three sailors knew the air
they breathed would be their last.
And yet their spirits whispered peace;
the Christ Child they had seen,
and lingering traces of the Magi
held their souls serene.
Grateful for the comfort, they looked
up and thanked its Source.
His answer was a miracle…
a gift that changed their course.
It seemed to them impossible
when angels filled the sky…
and turned the boat and sang them home…
Three Wandering Magi.
All were preserved, and even more,
their hearts were made brand new.
Years later, people said the lighthouse
saved them. Partly true.
But more than lives were saved. Those men
were never again the same.
They carried Christmas in their hearts.
They glorified Christ’s name.
And they were wiser than most men
had any right to be.
Some nights, they gazed into the stars,
eyes filled with mystery.
“Wise men still seek Him,” they would say.
“What manner of men are ye?”
As a little bit of background, one of the first incarnations of a Fisher King occurred in 12th century France. He was cast as the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea, who was said to have used the Grail to catch Christ's blood before laying him in the tomb. Joseph eventually entrusts the Grail to his brother, Bron, who becomes first in a line of Grail keepers.
Later, in Le Didot-Perceval, the keeper of the Grail is called the "Fisher King," and he is wounded. His story begins when Percival returns to his castle and asks the “healing question.”
We are all wounded, and there IS indeed a healing question.
 “What manner of men ought ye to be?” Christ asks in the scriptures. “Even as I am,” He answers.

A happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

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