Bells across the snow

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain !
There’s a minor in the carol
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath tonight.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
O Christmas, merry Christmas,
 ‘Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song !
Christmas bellsIf we could but hear them singing,
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow,
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
O Christmas, merry Christmas,
This never more can be,
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good will,
Wit holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still,
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow”.
———- Frances Ridley Havergal.   

Silent night

The true celebration of CHRISTMAS is an invitation to “inner silence”, where we learn to live with opposites.
A Jewish Rabbi, teaching the Talmud to a group of students, asked them what they saw on the page.  All said that they saw the “words ” on it.  None of them had noticed the “white spaces that separated the words”.  Were it not for these spaces, the words would become unintelligible.  What is more, he pointed out, these spaces formed the background and the context I which what was written could be understood.
Christmas paintingGod has been described as a sphere whose circumference is everywhere, but whose centre is nowhere.  We are enfolded by the Spirit and it is the context in which we live our daily lives.  Most of the time, however, our activities are so closely juxtaposed, that like words not separated by spaces in between them, they seem meaningless.  Our proximity to one another as we jostle for space in public transport systems only ends up as our being a juxtaposition of solitudes.
Social networking affords us the opportunity not only to be more connected to others, but more disconnected from the core of our being.  For those who still, somehow, manage to make the time, the spiritual becomes an ‘add-on’ that often fails to load since the basic operating system is out of sync and out of date.
The “spiritual” is embedded in our collective subconscious.  The Christmas story is about our being awakened to its presence, like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, who are characterised by their state of wakefulness.
Individuals have always been conscious of the presence of the Divine.  The history of religions reveals that there has been a progressive deepening in the understanding of God’s presence.  It has evolved from God’s presence in nature, controlling its various elements and reflecting his glory in creation to a localised presence in temples of worship.  The celebration of Christmas draws our attention to the fact that God is not only with us but also within us.  We do not have to ‘go into his presence’.  The outward journey to places of worship and pilgrimages to holy place are meant to direct us to the journey inwards where we experience his real presence with us.  It becomes the source, meaning and purpose of everything we say, everything we do.  God is the context in which we live our lives.  The written word begins its existence only when it is placed on a page.  It owes its being to the space that surrounds it.
Creation is the revelation of God’s silence —— the space between the words ——- in which his presence is felt and experienced.  The poet Kabir laughed when he was told that the fish in the ocean were thirsty.  We often thirst for God’s presence, unaware that we are surrounded by it.
Contrary to what we might expect, the true celebration of Christmas is an invitation  to inner silence.  It is a silence in which we recognise our connectedness by being enfolded within it.  The journey into the world of silence is a journey that takes us back from the world of dissipation into wholeness.
By its very nature silence cannot be exploited.  The power of silence is its ability to mediate the irreconcilable.  In the realm of silence, irreconcilable differences can co-exist without tension, because silence is non-judgemental, and differences travel toward one another with no need to swallow or disintegrate or demolish each other.  Silence frees us from the expectation that we can understand and resolve the myriad irreconcilable elements of existence.  Journeying into the ‘womb of silence” in meditation, we discover the capacity for co-existence : we learn to live with opposites.
May the silence of that first Christmas night be the harbinger of peace on earth to all people of goodwill.
————– CHRISTOPHER MENDONCA (Speaking Tree)

The gifting season

During the festive Christmas and New Year ‘GIFTING SEASON’, we devote so much thought and time  to the gifts we give other people, especially our family and friends.  We think only of ‘things.’  We forget to gift ourselves.  There are so many ‘MAGICAL GIFTS’ that are more valuable than the ‘things’ we purchase. They are ‘within our reach’ and they are ‘free.’
The SPECIAL GIFTS that we can gift ourselves :
(1) EXERCISE : If you exercise, even for 15 minutes a day, you will be healthier, live longer and feel more alert.
(2) YOGA : It confers similar benefits as exercise.  It adds a ‘ZING’ to your step and makes your muscles shed their laziness.
(3) MEDITATION : is invaluable.  It endows you with a peaceful mind, calm demeanour and true ‘inner silence.’  Silence is a powerful gift.  Once you experience true ‘inner silence’ you will want to stay in this state forever.
(4) LEARNING SOMETHING NEW : This gift keeps you younger and more interested in life.
(5) READING : Give this gift not only to yourself, but also to your children.
(6) PERSONAL HYGIENE : Even small things as brushing your teeth, before bed-time,  can have a great impact on your well-being.  General cleanliness matters a lot.
(7) SMILING : You will be surprised how this gift will make a difference to your life and to the life of others around you.  “Smile, and the world smiles with you,” “If you see someone without a smile, GIVE HIM ONE OF YOURS.”
(8) EMPATHY : This amazing gift broadens your life.
(9) TOLERANCE : We are very quick to take offence.  We are prejudiced against people and things.  We divide the world into “OURS” who can do no wrong and “OTHERS” who can do no right.
(10) ACTIVE CONCERN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT : We can do this not only in a theoretical way, but we should also actively promote good practices such as recycling, water conservation and promoting greenery.
If all of can give ourselves at least some of the “MAGICAL GIFTS”, mentioned above, during the GIFTING SEASON, we will be the richer, and we will also make the lives of others around, beyond any ‘material gifts’ we can give them.  Select your gift, open them with your will-power and revel in them for many happy years to come.
——— Kishore Asthana. 

The gift of peace

The first intimation of the FIRST CHRISTMAS by the heavenly hosts, when Mother Mary gave birth to her only beloved son — Jesus — in a stable, surrounded by cattle and fodder, was to the SHEPHERDS, minding their sheep in their fields.  They woke up by the flashing of lights and were told, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.  Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace and goodwill toward men.”
The one certain message, that was conveyed to all on earth, was that of PEACE & GOODWILL.  Jesus came into the world, to share God’s peace and love with everyone on earth.  That is why He is called the “PRINCE OF PEACE.”
The peace bequeath by Jesus is inseparable from His presence.  Christmas celebrations, often mistaken with material gifts that Santa Claus brings along, is really about God’s GIFT OF PEACE.  Only God can transform our selfish hearts and lives of conflict with GENEROSITY & PEACE. -Peace is God’s gift to us to be received, preserved and enjoyed on Earth.  No person can be at rest to the very roots of one’s being, in the absence of the consciousness that he is at peace with God.  And there can be no peace with God unless we are at peace with ourselves.  St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless O God, until they rest in Thee.”

A Christmas meditation

If we but had the eyes to see God’s face in every cloud
If we but had the ears to hear His voice above the crowd
If we could feel His gentle touch in every stirring breeze
And find the haven in His arms beneath leafy sheltering trees
We would not need to ponder or ask to understand
——- Helen Steiner Rice.
The sum and substance of Christmas—— celebrating the greatest of God’s gifts : God’s presence as “PERSONAL PRESENT” in God’s Son, Jesus.  Sadly, with the money-making merriment that market forces peddle, the profoundest meaning of Christmas gets eclipsed.  Let’s rewrite the CHRISTMAS STORY.  Every Christmas reminds us that God has not finished with us.  He is still moulding and shaping us like clay, and when He gives the finishing touches, we will be like beautifully crafted pots, ready to hold all the love and beauty that He will pour into us.
Originally Christmas was a happy family feast, when people came home, from far and near, just to be with the family, sharing not just food but also so many memories and experiences.  Today, many people are lonely at Christmas, because they have no one to celebrate the feast with.  For most people, Christmas has become simply a ritual of going to Church in one’s best clothes and a few handshakes at the end of service.
There are no Christmas carol-singing groups bringing Christmas to our doorsteps.  Many traditions have developed around Christmas —– the mistletoe, the advent candles, the feeling of anticipation, of welcoming a great event —- the birth of Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God with us.  I must be a part of the SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS. —– Even on Christmas Day, there are some families who don’t have enough to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes for their weary feet, while other families have it all —– Christmas cakes, pudding, roast chicken or turkey ——- sometimes most of which is wasted.  In the so-called Christian countries, in the West, there are homeless people shivering in the dark winter, while other splurge on every conceivable luxury around.
Lville Day of Caring
We have to rewrite the CHRISTMAS STORY.  A real Christmas is sharing from the plenty we have with those who don’t.  A celebration is real only when everybody is included and we are able to be compassionate towards those who are lonely, destitute and unhappy.  Surely, we will bring a smile to their lips and they too will sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”  Thus , it will be truly be a VERY HAPPY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.”
Inputs from Father Francis Gonsalves an Janina Gomes

The twelve days of Christmas

Some people tied to debunk this song as an “urban myth.”  Many have questioned the historical accuracy of the origin of the song.  Some say it was a “nonsense song” for children with “secular origins,” and it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith.
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS refers to the days from Dec.25 to Jan 5.  Here it is for your perusal :
On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE.  The PARTRIDGE is Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate on Dec 25th.  He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem :” Jerusalem, Jerusalem !  How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so.” (Luke 13:34)
On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 2 TURTLE DOVES :  The Old & the New Testament, which, together, bear witness to God’s self-revelation and the creation of a people to tell the story of God to the world.
On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 3 FRENCH HENS : The 3 Theological virtues —– Faith, Hope & Love (1Corinthians 13:13)
On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 4 CALLING BIRDS : The 4 Gospels —- Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, which proclaim the good news of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself.
On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 GOLD RINGS : The 1st 5 Books of the Old Testament, known as the TORAH or PENTATEUCH : (1) Genesis (2) Exodus (3) Leviticus (4) Numbers and (5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of Grace.
On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 GEESE A-laying : The 6dys of Creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world. (Genesis -1)
On the 7th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 SWANS A-swimming : The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit : (1) Prophecy (2) Ministry (3) Teaching (4) Exhortation (5) Giving (6) Leading & (7) Compassion (Romans 12:6-8 ; 1Corinthian 12:8-11)
On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 MAIDS A-milking : The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)
On the 9th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 LADIES DANCING : The 9 Fruits of the holy Spirit : (1) Love (2) Joy (3) Peace (4) Patience (5) Kindness (6) Generosity (7) Faithfulness (8) Gentleness & (9) Self-Control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 LORDS A-leaping : The 10 Commandments.
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 PIPERS PIPING : The 11 faithful Apostles : (1) Simon Peter (2) Andrew (3) James (4) John (5) Philip (6) Bartholomew (7) Matthew (8) Thomas (9) James, son of Alphaeus (10) Simon the Zealot (11) Judas bar James (Luke 6:14-16)  The list does not include the 12th apostle — Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 DRUMMERS DRUMMING : The 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed.
The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself.  Each day depicts some aspect of the Christian Faith, that was important for children to learn.
———– Dennis Bratcher, Copyright 2013.

Bottoms up

Ingredients : 90ml Moscato ; 30ml watermelon liqueur ; 30ml soda water ; wedge of watermelon for garnish (optional).
Method : Combine the Moscato with the liqueur in a glass.  Top up with seltzer water, as per your taste.  Top with watermelon wedge.
Ingredients : 120ml Pink Moscato (chilled) ; 30ml Cognac ; 1tsp lemon juice ; 3 strawberries (halved and chilled).
Method : Take ice in a shaker, add the Cognac and lemon juice and shake well.  In a chilled cocktail glass, place the strawberries, then pour the Cognac from the shaker on top.  Serve with a kiss.
Ingredients : 60ml White Zinfandel ; 60ml sweet white wine ; 30ml soda water ; 1tbsp grenadine.
Method : In a glass, pour the White Zinfandel and white wine over some ice.  Stir.  Next, pour in the grenadine and the soda water.