nose pressed to the windowpane, watching the whirl blow in, i’m inclined to think i’m not alone in counting this mandatory pause among the gifts of the season. the world stilled amid the madness that preambles christmas. i proclaim it perfect.
it ushers in a particular, succulent quiet. reminds us how little we are. how frail against the forces that blow, that stir, that upturn the outside, right down to the toppling pinecones.
oh, sure, it’s thrown a few maybes into the yuletide equation: maybe the flight will be canceled; maybe the package won’t plop; maybe the lights will go out (and so too the fridge, which would be a considerable bummer since a beast of considerable proportion is currently napping inside, and unlikely to wait out a warming).
but then again, it’s a grand excuse for extra-thick blankets and long afternoons turning page upon page. it stirs me to kindle candlewicks. simmer cinnamon sticks and starry anise, fistfuls of cranberry and wedges of orange.
and, oh, the sound of wind whistling…
in keeping with the quiet, i’m simply leaving here a few little trinkets in hopes that one, two, or all will add a bit of glimmer to your blizzardy almost-christmas day: my favorite christmas poem; a twelfth-century recipe from hildegrad of bingen; two passages from those who’ve considered the longest night, one from a children’s picture book and the other from the great naturalist henry beston, whose writings i cannot get enough of. and, never too late, a wonder of hand-painted blessing: an inspiration candle made by one of my favorite souls on the planet, the glorious elizabeth marie, who dreamed up these beacons of light with which to kindle your prayers, hopes, and wishes…
merry blessed christmas. merry quiet christmas. merry wonder out the window.
we begin with a poem i count among my very favorites….
The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
and, should you be inclined to bake one last batch of deliciousness, here’s a recipe from the twelfth century’s hildegard of bingen, a recipe sent my way by a dear friend of the chair, a modern-day saint by the name of kerry.
HILDEGARD JOY COOKIES
For St. Hildegard – a beloved mystic, prolific writer, medicine woman, Benedictine nun, herbalist, musician and one of only four female Doctors of the Church – Joy cookies are to be eaten often! Literally, she said three or four a day! The recipe is found in her book “Subtleties of the Diverse Qualities of Created Things” and comes under the heading for nutmeg.
Nutmeg (nux muscata) has great heat and good moderation in its powers. If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up his heart, make his judgement free from obstruction and give him a good disposition. Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole spelt flour and water.
In her own words she wrote, “nutmeg … will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open the heart and impaired senses, and make the mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”
Hildegard also loved spelt flour, which she believed soothed the mind, so together these two ingredients account for a large part of the positive effects of Hildegard cookies.
Joy Cookies Ingredients:
3⁄4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 1⁄2 cup spelt flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
Let butter soften and then cream it with the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Sift the dry ingredients. Add half the dry ingredients and mix. Add the other half and mix thoroughly. Dough may be chilled to make it workable. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Form walnut- sized balls of dough, place on greased and floured cookie sheet and press flat. Bake 10-12 minutes (till edges are golden brown) Cool for 5 minutes, remove from cookie sheet and finish cooling on racks.
and with a nod toward the longest night, the winter solstice, of this past week, i share two considerations. the first from a children’s book, and the second from one of the last century’s finest naturalists, the great henry beston.
an excerpt from susan cooper’s The Shortest Day, illustrations by carson ellis:
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
and may your year, too, be kept very much alive….
and from henry beston:
In the old Europe which inherited from the Bronze Age, this great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun — perhaps it would be well to honor again these two great aspects of the flame. It might help us to remember the meaning of fire before the hands and fire as a symbol. As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind.Henry Beston, Northern Farm
and finally, and with regret for not having shared this sooner, my brilliant friend elizabeth marie (one of the most artful souls i know) was inspired one good friday to paint the blessed virgin mary on a tall votive flask, into which she tucked a pillar candle, and named it the intention candle, the idea being that we might kindle our prayer, and set forth our intentions, all while a flame flickers. each one of elizabeth marie & co.’s intention candles (there are now three designs: lily madonna, golden madonna, our lady of hope) is hand-crafted, and wrapped with equal attention to detail and beauty. i think they’re breathtakingly lovely, and imagine friends here at the virtual table might think so too. take a peek here. and maybe send to someone you love, including your very own self!
image atop this post is from tasha tudor’s heavenly Take Joy! a compendium of christmas-y merriments, published in 1966
and how do you take your wonder come the season of glistening light in the night…..
and may yours be the merriest of christmases, be it quiet or raucous, in whispers or shouts, and may you be surrounded by those you most dearly love, whether in flesh or by heart…bless you this christmas most deeply….