Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Christmas House... Reloaded

The "CHRISTMAS HOUSE" is an incredible experience. Nestled on a dark street in a quiet little town called Washingtonville, NY, it is Christmas on steroids. And that's just the outside of the house... Every room inside is loaded to the gills with Christmas doodads and whatzits. Classic stuff too; trains, little villages, a hall of thematic trees like the Irish Tree, the Sports Tree, the Penguin Tree, and... the Creepy Singing Tree Which Has Lips and Big Eyes (my personal favorite. I'm not going to explain it to you. Just go! You'll find it downstairs and to the right. Or should I say, it will find you!) Each year, before heading home from NY, my wife, myself, and a bunch of the family make a pilgrimage to this mecca of music and lights. It's open from December 20 to the 30th, from 7pm to 9pm. The CHRISTMAS HOUSE: It's mind-boggling, it's sensory overload! The Palmer family will greet you, dressed all in North Pole attire. And donations are gratefully accepted to help offset the electric bill, which I would guess is somewhere around $139,082 a day! PS - the CHRISTMAS HOUSE happens to be a beautiful family tradition for many in the area and beyond, dedicated to the memory of Christopher Palmer, who LOVED Christmas like crazy, as you'll see. Check out more info here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Open Up and Say AWE - from the CS&T column "Catholic Currents"

One of my favorite words is... sehnsucht. I realize you probably weren't expecting that one, and you may have trouble even figuring out how to pronounce it. My apologies. Sehnsucht is a German word that captures (and at the same time can not actually capture) that mysterious longing in the human heart for Something More. In a sense, it's a uniquely human word. It describes the human condition. It names us and claims us as the special ones in the galaxy; the ones whose “hearts are restless until they rest in"... well, let's get to that answer in a moment. All of us at some point or another have experienced sehnsucht. Many of us feel it intensely at this time of year. It glimmers in the anticipation of Christmas and it can also elude us as Christmas slips away again. It is the proverbial wind in the hand, moving past us and through us but never remaining too long within us. Sehnsucht is like feeling nostalgia for something you actually never had in the first place, but you believe is still out there waiting for you “just around the river bend.” C.S. Lewis was captivated by the concept of sehnsucht. In The Pilgrim's Regress he provided examples of things that can wrap an image around it, like a suit of clothes around the Invisible Man: "...the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves." Music is one of the brightest wrappings to give form to our elusive yearning for meaning in life, and Christmas music doubly so. Chanting choirs, children’s voices, songs we’ve heard for generations, and some new ones that have a spark of longing in them. Even the "Grinchyest" of hearts has a favorite tune. Although I’ve heard Gloria Estefan’s song “Christmas Through Your Eyes” in seasons past, this year it really struck me. I think it’s the presence of our little boy, who’s just over a year old now. We’re looking backwards to our youth and forward through his! Gloria too is captured by the innocence of young eyes and the pure wonder reflected in them. Like an expert spy, the power of her music has slipped past the guards of doubt and cynicism and touched the very core of who we are, all of us, deep down; Children of God.
Till I had you I didn't know That I was missing out Had to grow up and see the world Through different shades of doubt Give me one more chance to dream again One more chance to feel again Through your young heart If only for one day let me try I wanna see Christmas through your eyes
It’s been said that boredom is a relatively new term. The French coined the word ennui to describe that listlessness we see around us, the great shuffling of modern feet through a world that’s being stripped of its inherent transcendence. We’re like the character in the film Joe versus the Volcano, trudging off to work, scraping our shoe against the sidewalk crying out “I’m losing my sole.” But in the wisdom of God, and through the fruitfulness He endowed us with, we have the grace to “feel again through your young heart.” With everything human, however, there must be a choice. We must decide in this walk of life to look up, to resist the gravitational pull of skepticism and mistrust. We must acknowledge the restlessness too, and let the hole in the center of our hearts remain open. Not easy work by any means, especially in this season when we are bombarded with the temptation to cram material, finite things into that hole in the center of our chests. But our hearts will be restless until they rest in God, so Augustine reminds us.
I see the rain, you see the rainbow hiding in the clouds Never afraid to let your love show Won't you show me how Wanna learn how to believe again Find the innocence in me again Through your young heart
I remember a little shard of poetry that says “Two men looked out through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.” So where are we in all of this? Are we amazed or dazed? Have we got the wonder, I wonder? As the assault on family, faith, and fertility rages on in our culture, perhaps we’d all do well to heed those street signs that say “Watch Children.” We need to see again, and not just Christmas, but all things through their eyes. For to just such as these is given the Kingdom of Heaven. Do you believe this? Did you know that your heart is the place He wishes to dwell? Let’s make our hearts that manger this year. Let's acknowledge the longing in us by naming Jesus in one of His ancient titles: Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Let’s make room within for the Child in all of us.
Help me find a way, help me try I wanna see Christmas through your eyes

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to All!

We were so proud of our little drummer boy, who sat for this homemade photo shoot (though truth be told it lasted about 36 seconds.) It's amazing what a hand towel, bathrobe, old belt and bed sheet can do in a fix! Wishing you all a truly blessed and faith-filled season of Light. Thanks for following the Blog!
The way to begin healing the wounds of the world is to treasure the Infant Christ in us; to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ; and, in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love, to swing the whole world back into the beat of the Music of Eternal Life. - Caryll Houselander

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Night Vision

(In the spirit of "going green" this Christmas, parts of this reflection have been constructed from recycled material)
What a bizarre time this is; the Christmas season. Never is there a period of such polar opposites as there are at this time of year.
All around us we are bombarded with the imperative to consume, collect, grab, and grasp. There are lines of impatient, honking, beeping, cranky souls snaking through the shops and malls all around us. Incredible pressure is laid on people to find this or that gift for this or that niece or nephew, cousin or coworker. It can bring out the absolute worst in people (and let me add, the best).
THE WORST: I watched a woman in her 50s sitting in her car with her elderly mother curse out a car behind her for honking at her... one honk. And it was one of those friendly little honks too. Grandma just kinda slid deeper into her seat, clutching her purse.
When Sunday comes, we roll off to Church and hear just the opposite. "It is better to give than to receive" - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." - "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." The radio plays as we whiz through the thousands of cars in the parking lot, like vultures looking for an open space... "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head." We drive home flustered, past little glowing, plastic nativity scenes of a man and a woman kneeling in the snow, gazing down at a little plastic Child. A whole plastic, glowing mob of souls gathers round the Babe; kings and shepherds, the rich and the poor (and occasionally a big plastic Snowman or the Grinch, which is a whole other story). What do we make of all this? I was out shopping last year, trying to stay focused, trying to recall what we are moving towards in these next couple of days. Standing in a massive line at Borders, with Mr. Cranky Pants on his cell phone behind me, a youth in angst blurted "Merry (expletive) Christmas" to my left, as only a youth in angst can do. I prayed for a great awakening. I prayed the whole glitzy, glamourous scene would vanish, roll back like a stage curtain, and we would all find ourselves kneeling in that cold cave in that backwater town of Bethlehem. Unplugged, unknown, and alone... looking down at a very poor couple who had to find a place to rest their newborn baby... and the only "space" they could find was a feeding trough for animals in a stable. Scandalous.
That would make the news, wouldn't it? Wouldn't that stop us in our tracks? Hmmm, I don't think so. You learn when you go out into the wild, for a campfire, or a night of stargazing, that bright light can take away your night vision. Perhaps we'd do better to unplug ourselves for a little awhile in this season of lights, and maybe we'd get our vision back. We're told to be good consumers, to boost this failing economy. But this consumption of things will no more help our country than it will satisfy our souls. Someone else has come with a better plan for our salvation. He lays in a manger (the word means "to eat") and he is born in Bethlehem, which means literally "house of bread." And he looks at us all, racing about stuffing our stockings and stuffing our trunks with things. And he says, "Take and eat, take and drink; this is my Body, given up for you." We are invited to consume, to eat and by eating become one with the Love that has become our Food. This is the Love that truly satisfies! This is the Feast of Christmas!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Juan Diego, The Walkin' Man

Yes, the strains of James Taylor’s famous tune “Walkin’ Man” came to me as I was reading about our “saint du jour” today, and you’ll soon see why. Juan Diego was born in 1474 in what today is a part of Mexico City, Mexico. He lived a simple life as a weaver, farmer, and worker. He was baptized at the age of 50 by a Franciscan missionary, and so began a faithful “walk” with God each day…15 miles to be exact! Every day, and mind you he was in his fifties at this point, Juan would walk to Mass. 15 miles! He is more famous for the amazing miracles he witnessed at the hands of Heaven; Our Lady appearing to him, the roses the bishop asked for blooming in winter, and the magic of the tilma, a stunning work of art painted by Heaven itself on his burlap clothing (which still exists today, defying all scientific comprehension and study). We’ll hear more on that one this weekend - The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But in all this, it was still his walk that struck me. The dedication, the patience, the sheer strength of his character, his obvious passion for the Eucharist….. staggering. And when Mary Immaculate called him to his special mission, he called himself a “nobody.” Wow. The next time we attend Mass and are “distracted” or “bored” or feel we’re not “getting anything out of it….” Or we feel it’s too early, or the preaching stinks, or the music stinks…. think of Juan Diego, barefoot, walking 15 miles through desert terrain to stand, to kneel, and to bask in the glow of that Divine Fire of the Eucharist…. The same Fire of Heaven we are invited to taste every morning, in our parish church, chapel, or city church.
St. Juan Diego, humble servant of Heaven, pray for us... give us some of your faith and your fire of love!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Grace is Everywhere

Hello All,
We've shared this invitation/request with a few friends and family already, but we are "sending" it out officially now.
Last year, we lost our precious baby daughter Grace Elizabeth. She was born on January 4 and died the same day, just 10 hours later. The full story of our day with Grace is linked here - Needless to say, those 10 hours, and the 9 months she lived with us in the womb will never be forgotten. To celebrate her short life on earth, and especially her peace and joy now in Heaven, we want to invite you to "seek grace" with us in the signs all around us... literally.
If there was anything that Grace taught us (and there was so much) it was that most blessings in life are unseen, or easily missed, passed by, or even unlooked for. So now, let's look! If at any time you see a "Grace" sign, ie. Grace's Nails, Grace's Deli, Grace's Chapel, please take your photo in front of it (that's key), attach it to an e-mail, and send it to
We are compiling a photo album of Gracie's pics, and we'd love to receive one everyday, until we're old and grey. It will force us to slow down and think of her especially in that moment. Please keep a look out, Grace is everywhere!
Peace and Prayers, Rebecca and Bill

Monday, December 07, 2009


Have you ever been captivated by a word, a phrase, a song? Has it drawn you in? Do you return to those words, that music, again and again? I have books that are weathered, crammed with bookmarks and holy cards, pages dripping with the ink of my notes, and the faded glow of a highlighter. I have songs that if they were still in cassette form, would sound like they were singing underwater! Like a thirsty man, I return to the sweet ambrosia of Jesus, John Paul II, John Mellancamp, Thoreau, Kreeft, Sheen, Morrison, Einstein and others again and again. There are thoughts and ideas, insights and inspirations that do not age. There is Truth and Beauty in our midst, wrapped in immortality as in a robe, shielded from our mortal weakness. They are here to warm us in a post-modern age that has too often stripped life of its transcendent truth and meaning. Today’s saint was one who was so clothed. Ambrose was ambrosia to those around him. He hailed from the 4th century, a bishop and teacher, and his words burned with that eternal fire, and we are forever grateful. Because of his preaching, the great Augustine was converted; he who was a drifter was caught in Ambroses’ stream of inspired words, and the music of the Mass. So what are the thoughts and ideas, insights and inspirations that you have been captivated by? What Truth and Beauty do you return to, especially in these days of holiday hastiness, and the rush of the culture to fill every void of silence, and empty every pocket of substance? Where is the ambrosia that fills you up?

Irish Soul - Liam Clancy and the Passing of an Age

It's with a sad and heavy heart that we see the passing of the Irish troubadour Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers, who died this past Friday at the age of 74. Liam, with his brothers and Tommy Makem, lifted Ireland's heart high in the folk music revival of the last century, and brought much of Ireland's soul to America. This music fed me for many's the year, and many's the meandering through green fields and woods. Their music hits the heart, and leads the mind into open spaces and forgotten things. The things that shaped a people, and continue to shape them. In our day of glitzy pop music, pyrotechnics, and shock and awe lyrics, the Clancy Brothers are a refreshing blast of salty air from the Irish Sea. Enjoy this classic tune "Red is the Rose" and a real gem; the Brothers being interviewed on a Scottish program, speaking on their art of folk music and the need for the genre now more than ever.

This Week's Mission Moment - December 7

When we leave the holy banquet of Communion, we are as happy as the wise men would have been if they could have carried away the Infant Jesus. St. John Vianney

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...