At Creator Mundi, we believe in supporting artisans who work for living wages in healthy environments, those who are working with natural materials using practices that have been handed down for generations.
“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. . . . “To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.”
-Pope Francis, Laudato si, 2015
Instead of buying more, let’s choose to buy quality, with a mind to supporting fair wages and healthy work environments.
In 2007, The National Labor Committee (NLC) released a report: Today Workers Bear the Cross: Crucifixes Made Under Horrific Sweatshop Conditions in China. The NLC discovered that one of the largest distributors of Christian goods in the U.S. was using a factory in China to manufacture crosses and crucifixes for the U.S. market. Junxingye Factory is located in Dongguan, China, a region which, according to the Washington Post, “lies at the center of China’s export manufacturing industry, which relies heavily on low wages to remain competitive. Factories there have been accused in the past of labor abuses, including those making products for McDonald’s, Disney, Mattel and the Beijing Olympics.”
The NLC reported on conditions at the Junxingye Factory which produced the crosses and crucifixes: “Workers are housed in primitive dorm rooms sleeping on narrow double-level metal bunk beds that line the walls. There is no other furniture, and the rooms reek of perspiration. The walls are filthy, smudged with black, while spider webs cling to the ceiling. The bathrooms are so damp and dirty that moss grows on the floor.”
One commentator has written, “It seems unlikely that the Jesus who told his followers ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me also’ would countenance the use of virtual slave labor to produce the symbols of his life” (Ed Brayton).
“I think we have to take that step back from just rushing in to make a purchase somewhere just because it’s cheap and easy and quick, and saying, “What does this purchase really mean? Who is it affecting? You know, how is it affecting my life, my community, the world at large? Who made this product?” And we don’t do that enough.”
– Morgan Spurlock, producer, What Would Jesus Buy
At Creator Mundi, you will find holy symbols made of highest-quality materials by those who work in safe and healthy environments: crosses and crucifixes made of solid bronze in artisan workshops and foundries in Germany, statues fashioned of dolomite and resin in a monastery in France, Christmas ornaments created from brass, tin and copper in a rural village in Thailand. We carry glass crosses, wooden prayer cubes, bronze cross pendants.
Even as I continue to search for answers I become more certain the radical call is to our humanity.
I like Walter Brueggeman’s concept of “calling” which he articulates in the dedication (to his new grandson) of his collection Prayers for a Privileged People:
“We are born into some privilege, and invited (called) to a life of reflection, yielding, and glad obedience.”
Reflection on the ultimate questions… Who am I/who are we… Why am I here/why are we here.
Yielding… to the reality that we are not our own… we are the Creator’s people.
Glad obedience… to the Creator’s large, deep oaths and purposes…
Thank you to Stewart Meagher for sharing his thoughts. What does it mean for each of us to be gladly obedient, to yield to the reality of our givenness? We are not our own…
The tree of life is a powerful Christian symbol, representing both our pristine pre-fall condition and Christ’s cross.
Pope Francis has said: “What counts is being permeated with Christ’s love, allowing oneself to be led by the Holy Spirit, and grafting one’s own existence onto the tree of life, which is the Cross of the Lord. . . .”
Recent discoveries and insights are leading scientists to envision life on earth as a tree with several trunks and all the varied life-forms growing as limbs from these trunks. This vision began with Charles Darwin, who wrote that the “great Tree of Life fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.” (For more, click to read “Scientists Unveil a New ‘Tree of Life'” in The New York Times.)
So the tree of life may be seen as a symbol for all life; it is also an archetypal symbol appearing throughout the world’s religions; and, for Christians, of course, it is a testament to the ever-growing, timeless love of God. Christ’s cross is the tree our hope hangs on.
The tree of life is the love of God.
-St. Isaac the Syrian
Glass is a miraculous substance: a liquid turns to a solid but in its solid state can be as transparent as the clearest water. Made of silica, the primary component of sand, glass is manipulated in its viscous molten stage—it may become a window, a graceful bowl, a piece of art.
Glass, highly fragile, and beautiful, might be seen as a symbol for the fragility and beauty of human nature. When our fragility rests with God, though, it rests in God’s nature, and reflects strength, not weakness. We are fragile beings, but we’re not alone in our fragility.
If we toughen ourselves and cannot admit our fragility, our beauty may be hidden from others, for fragility is intertwined with human beauty. Allowing ourselves to be fragile, too, can open us more fully to God; when we admit to our powerlessness, we invite God’s healing, saving power.
The Gospels are full of stories of our fragility: Jesus shepherds the wandering and weak sheep, he takes pity on the suffering and on the sinner. The strong, the wealthy, the winners among us are not motivators for his compassionate action. The truth is, we are all fragile, we only imagine sometimes that we are not. Ironically, it takes strength to admit it.
“When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” (Mark 2:17)
“Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
“When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:11-13)
“Your fragility is also your strength.”
– Pina Bausch, German dancer
The ephemeral beauty of a delicate flower, of a tiny bird, of a humble man or woman imbued with God’s peace inspire wonder and admiration. A stained glass window gracing a church is beautiful in part because of its fragile nature.
Creator Mundi’s new glass pieces bring together beauty and fragility, reminding us of our reliance on God.
Let their love be a seal upon their hearts,
a mantle about their shoulders.
Bless them each morning, each noon, each night!
Walk with them and send Your angel before them.
The Covenant Cross, above, can be found here.
We set stock by the steps we take between life’s seasons. Kids graduate from preschool and move on to kindergarten. Teens graduate from high school and go on to college or career. Adults might graduate from childlessness to parenthood. We graduate from one job to another and then many of us graduate into retirement.
In our spiritual lives, we hope to graduate from infant’s milk to solid food (Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 3:2). We graduate by the grace of God and our own yearning and cooperation. Father Thomas Keating tells us “The chief act of the will is not effort but consent.” Let us consent to each of our graduations as we walk the journey of transformation.
Do we need to graduate from fear to trust?
How about graduating from lack of confidence to confidence in God and God’s purpose for us?
Maybe we yearn to graduate from an ankle-deep religion to a life-changing, loving commitment?
Keating tells us God wants “our consent to his love of us.” This is the key to our transformation.
Graduation is a movement forward, even when accompanied by uncertainty (let us consent to trust!).
We love to mark life’s transitional moments. Let’s celebrate life’s graduations, big and small. It’s been said that we do not ask enough of God. Let’s ask God for a lot. Pope Francis has said, “Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things!” Dream big, dream with God.
– – – – – – – –
The Grace Presbyterian Church logo was designed by Rev. Matthew Syrdal in the spirit of the Celtic tradition. Matthew’s desire was to capture the power of the icon, what is known in many traditions world-wide as a mandala (a quadrated circle)–a symbol of wholeness and a pedagogical tool for a Celtic and Reformed theology of creation.
The cross inside the circle is a symbol of Christ as the archetypal self, the soul of the cosmos. The four cardinal directions represent the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, winter, as do the four “leaves” emanating from the central “tree of life.” The four directions also represent the life cycle of human development through childhood, adolescence, adulthood and elderhood. The four leaves contain within them an ichthus or “fish,” symbolizing the four gospels and the feeding of the four-thousand, bringing spiritual sustenance to the four corners of the world.
The tree is also the chalice of the sacramental life of communion, the body and cup of the mystical Christ at the heart of creation, forming a labyrinth to the center of the Godhead. On the right hand side, between the leaf and the chalice is a “mistake,” an open area signifying the beauty of imperfection.
This logo is in the center of the cross above the chancel in the sanctuary at Grace Presbyterian Church in Highland’s Ranch, Colorado, as a witness to the fullness and wholeness of the journey of discipleship on which we are called.
Last week some of our Creator Mundi staff attended the Los Angeles Religious Congress, an annual gathering of Catholics from all continents and many countries. As in years past, we had been asked to exhibit our symbols of faith, anticipating that some of the 40,000+ attendees would find us in the large convention exhibit space.
People came in droves, complementing us, thanking us for continuing to offer authentic symbols of our Christian faith made by artisans who receive just compensation for their work and who work in safe environments. Some have visited us for many years. I commented that we had grown older (old) together. We received many gestures of love and respect, hugs and kisses, blessings and encouragement, dinner invitations and more.
Along the way, some of our customers performed miracles:
We invited Father Chris for dinner. He and some of his guests joined us for the evening. We were totally surprised when we found out that he had arranged with our waiter beforehand to treat us.
After an intimate conversation, Ray, a Professor of Theology, left saying: “You are so good to me.” Later in the afternoon he returned: “This is my favorite candy, please accept this.”
One mid-morning I noticed among our displays what I thought did not belong there. “Whose bananas are these?” I asked. Guia, our longtime friend and helper, beamed. “Fr. Pat brought them . . . and coffee.”
Bishop Barnes in the booth next to us greeted us warmly every morning with a solid handshake, which became a hug before long. This L.A. Archdiocese, its people and guests, is awesome, one big family–all races and nationalities together. Everybody is invited to participate in journeying along with the presenters, the bishops, the clergy, exploring fresh ways of being church, of receiving God’s love. Our customers were from Ireland, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, France, Greenland, Japan
. . . will you come next year?
P.S. Father Pat’s Twitter address is @mythguidedlife.com
Hildegard established Creator Mundi in 1987 and continues to find joy in discovering distinctive sacred art and gifts for Creator Mundi’s followers.
Pope Francis has declared this a year of mercy. We all need mercy. And we need images of mercy and comfort that remind us of God’s constant forgiveness, love and presence.
“Etymologically, ‘mercy’ derives from misericordis, which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive. Jesus said he came not for those who were good but for the sinners. He did not come for the healthy, who do not need the doctor, but for the sick. For this reason, we can say that mercy is God’s identity card. God of Mercy, merciful God.”
“The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over. He loves me for what I am, he wants to raise me up, and he extends his hand to me…. For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us.”
Just as He extends his hand to us, we extend a hand to others, we embrace and forgive others.
“Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or as masters of a law. He sends them forth into the world asking them to live in the logic of love and selflessness.”
- Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy
At times, we find ourselves in the presence of a Burning Bush in the middle of daily life. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Perhaps you’ve encountered a person with awe, who transformed the moment you met, the here and then, into a sacred space. Perhaps you witnessed the beauty of spring, the loveliness of fall, the rising sun, the star-spangled night sky and you instantly knew that you had been invited to be in the presence of the Divine.
In my home country of Germany, every Saturday evening at 7:00, Catholic and Protestant churches, cathedrals and chapels ring their bells–usually in harmony with each other. To me, it seems that every corner of the country that these beautiful sounds touch becomes sacred space. The land and its people are reminded of the presence of the divine.
The locals say THE BELLS ANNOUNCE THE SUNDAY. The bells guide the nation into God’s embrace.
Creating Our Own Sacred Space
Perhaps you have decided to remake your home as a sacred space. You may choose to set aside a room for a house chapel, your Sanctuary, where you will rest and strengthen body, mind and soul, where you will find silence, beauty and comfort. Or you may dedicate a special corner for times of prayer and contemplation.
Perhaps each room in your home will become sacred space, displaying symbols of the divine throughout, complementing these symbols with compositions of musical masters, creating an ambiance of heaven?
Hildegard established Creator Mundi in 1987 and continues to find joy in discovering distinctive sacred art and gifts for Creator Mundi’s followers.
Quotes on Love from Hildegard
The heart is like that: grace-filled and trembling
once it has known
You will find yourself knee-deep in ecstasy
when all your talents to love
have reached their heights.
Go running through this world
giving love, giving love.
We all need union with love or we die prematurely.
Love can endure the silence.
To love we need to leave the love-seat of fear.
Our hearts are lovers.
I see myself reflected in your tender loving eyes.
We carry all the ingredients
to choose love.
May we suffer with tenderness the daily wounds that accompany love.
May our crooked hearts love all who are crooked.
Let us decide to welcome the challenging stages of love.
Hildegard established Creator Mundi in 1987 and continues to find joy in discovering distinctive sacred art and gifts for Creator Mundi’s followers.
A Poet’s Thoughts on Love
What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
Happiness is the great work,
Though every heart must first become
Who really knows
people who need to love, because
Love is the soul’s life,
Creations greatest joy.
Our separation from God,
is the hardest work
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly.
The Heart is
The thousand-stringed instrument
That can only be tuned with
One cannot master love, one can only serve as a vessel of love…
You were brave in that holy war.
You have all the honorable wounds
Of one who has tried to find love.
The true matter of spirituality is love…
I will turn myself into an
if you will
apply me to your wounds.
So God will think,
I got kin in that body!
Quotes from Daniel Ladinsky’s The Gift: Poems by Hafiz.
Hafiz was a 14th century Persian mystic. His poetry sings of God’s love.
It’s easy to hit the right notes,
but hard to make music…
Last week we were honored to accept an invitation to Spiritual Direction Colorado’s annual conference.
When Terry Hershey spoke on sanctuaries my mind immediately focused on liturgical spaces, churches and chapels, temples, mosques and synagogues, prayer gardens and cemeteries, house chapels and prayer corners: our traditional spaces for worship and prayer. Hershey had something more in mind.
I had never thought of the possibility of ‘being sanctuary’ or being an ‘ad hoc sanctuary.’
Hershey cradled a holding cross crafted out of plum wood in hand. “This is a portal into a sanctuary, a sanctuary perhaps without any words, just tender presence to each other….”
I ask myself: Can I be a portal to someone’s sanctuary, or even: Whose sanctuary will I or may I be?
Terry Hershey’s Book is Creating a Space for Grace in your life.
…and suddenly you know: it is time to begin something new and to trust the magic of a new beginning…
God always lets us start anew.
Last summer I was walking my dog past a yard sale and stopped to check out the merchandise. Her personal items spread out all around her, the woman holding the sale said she was planning to move back home.
“I’m putting my dog in the car and driving to Tennessee.”
Many times I’d spotted her boxer looking out through an upstairs window as we passed, noticed her cherry-red Mustang in the driveway, but I hadn’t encountered her until now.
I bought a few items I didn’t need–a sprinkler, a box of clothespins, a small table–wanting to help her out a little.
I set my things to the side, said I’d be back to pick them up, and wished her luck.
“I need my new start!” she answered, smiling.
God gives us continuous new starts. God never says no to our starting over.
But we have to set out. We have to take steps. For whatever reason, I don’t think the woman from Tennessee went ahead with her new start. Perhaps it simply wasn’t time. Month after month as I walked by, I spied the dog in the window. The Mustang sat in the driveway.
A new year is a natural time for a new start, to consider the aspects of life where we feel stuck, and to take our steps. My own steps have become prayer, prayer and more prayer. And then a step . . . and prayer. The longer I go on, the more clearly I see how futile my plans have been when they didn’t start out with, and proceed with, an intention to do God’s will. We’re not here alone, after all; God doesn’t leave us out on a limb.
Even so, knowing and following God’s will is easier said than done; I take comfort from Edith Stein’s conviction that “If we pray every day with all our heart: ‘Lord, thy will be done,’ we may well trust that we shall not fail to do God’s will even when we no longer have subjective certainty.”
By Father Pat Dolan
Even as we hear singers proclaim “and heaven and nature sing,” we are mindful that this has been a year marked by more tragedy than festivity. Most of us have watched this year as we see prejudice continue to tear apart our world and devastate countless lives. We have witnessed Islamic extremists twisting real religion into a thin disguise for political ambition and raw bigotry, as well as the continued individual acts of terror visited upon young black men in our own country by systems that continue to rationalize and justify our own racism. We have seen the shame of our own country’s political process, once the purview of diplomats and statesmen, reduced to a reality-TV style spectacle that leaves all involved with too little dignity to represent our people among the world’s nations.
In the midst of all this mess, our Pope has called us to a year of mercy, and true to form, within days, voices from within and outside of our Church have begun their attempts to quickly massage the meaning of the word to their own agendas. Still the standard definitions of this word continue to move us toward kind and forgiving behavior toward someone when harsher treatment is a possibility. Mercy comes from the very sense of compassion we celebrate this season.
God, who could do away with creation, could simply ignore it or could hold it in some sort of condemnation, chooses to bond with it. He comes to walk alongside those whom he could rightly judge as being beneath his notice. This mercy comes not only from a place of deep compassion but one of lofty vision. God sees the world as it could be. Our own vision is too often more earthbound.
In our affluent culture it is not an uncommon practice for children to be invited to make a “Christmas list.” It is not even that uncommon for many to see their lists realized by busy, behind the scene forces. And while I have often wondered at the wisdom of annually nurturing such an entitlement mentality in young minds still in the process of formation, I wonder even more at the smallness of the results and ensuing visions. Given the belief that some magical being will bring them what they desire, it’s actually quite amazing that young children’s “asks” stay in the area of video games or hover-boards (regardless of the lithium laden dangers).
Even the most confused and nervous of beauty pageant participants would be able to mutter something about “world peace” when asked what they want. Do our children simply want less? Are they that short sighted and self-centered? Or, as I suspect, do they pick up from those around them an unspoken, self-evident understanding of the limits of their Christmas lists and what hopes remain beyond the expectations of elves and sleigh rides? The sadness in this last thought is that we have all been raised to hope for too little. We have not had Christmas overrun by commercialism, but belittled by it. We hear the story of the Creator of all things, the Supreme Being, God, or any other title lofty enough to convey what is beyond expression, coming to be among us as one of us and to bring us into an eternal place of light . . . and from this fantastical event, we have learned to hope for a new drone or an Apple watch.
Over the past few weeks I have tried to reframe the winter darkness as a sacred space within which we can begin to dream. The most tragic victim of our holiday “rush” is the possibility for quiet reflection. Given time to sit in the dark and envision the world we cannot see, what images might we paint? Can we even list the vast number of more pointless gifts throughout our lives which have been received, trifled with, set aside and soon forgotten without any real enrichment having taken place?
What are the true gifts of this amazing season that we might seek out, discover and begin using to intentionally live in the story of heaven and earthly nature coming together? Whom might we forgive? Who might we seek to better understand? What internal beliefs about others could we begin to challenge, not that we ever get rid of our prejudices, but so that we stop living out of them? How do we look at all that has happened in the past year and begin to offer mercy and hope?
What do we need to begin the work envisioned by the Child for whom “heaven and nature” both sing? Maybe the answers to such questions should top our Christmas list as we begin this year of mercy. I believe there is no greater witness to our faith in God than our mercy for one another. There is likewise no greater gift. I am reminded this season of young Malala Yousafzai who after all she has been through says, “I believe in peace. I believe in mercy.” I believe that such are the visions and dreams that may once again bring heaven and earth into joyful song.
– Fr. Pat Dolan, Most Precious Blood Church, Denver, Colorado (click here to read about Father Pat)
For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It is the time of year for waiting. Advent is a wait. Can we trust God a little more and find time to wait in stillness and silence these last few days? Do we trust God enough to stop the obsessive talking and thinking? One of the reasons we don’t shut up is that we don’t understand God’s nearness and what it means. If we really knew how near God is—that God is truly here, right here, right now—then we might be able to calm down and listen.
How do we listen to our God, whom we can’t hear? We listen inside of ourselves. We trust our invisible, totally-present God. Waiting is trusting: trusting that if we slow down and shut up, something is going to happen—God is present, and is waiting with us and for us.
“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” -Simone Weil
If we are quiet, we’ll learn from God in the silence–even if we don’t “hear” a thing.“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (Ps. 51:6). Starting in silence, with an open heart, we trust that God will do the rest. God comes, teaches, heals. Comes, touches, heals. Even if we don’t hear a thing, don’t feel a thing, we can count on this. We’ll know because we will find ourselves being changed.
“If God is to speak his word in the soul, she must be at rest and at peace; then he speaks in his soul his word and himself: not an image but himself.” – Meister Eckhart
Immersed in a culture of instant gratification, we find we have to retrain, and restrain, ourselves in our endeavor to find silence and trust. We have to get out of our own way, and get out of God’s way. We learn to wait by waiting; we learn to trust by trusting. We make the time and space for quiet waiting.
“We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us…. waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.” -Henri Nouwen
We wait because God is already at work in us, just as “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We can’t wait very well if we’re rushing about, for a crucial part of waiting is stillness. Over time, God trains our hearts and minds to be still and quiet even in the midst of busyness, but most of us have to go through some time of surrendering and waiting in silent stillness before we’ll know that deep, lasting peace. We’ve been trained by our busy, fragmented culture not to be present to our Lord. Let us participate in the un-training.
We ask far too little of our God. Let’s ask for a lot. Let’s ask Christ to be born in the stillness of our hearts this Christmas. Let’s not settle for less than God is waiting to give us. We wait in expectation . . .
Silence leads to prayer
Prayer leads to faith
Faith leads to love
Love leads to service
Service leads to peace
Peace leads to prayer.
Lead kindly light, lead.
Lead us to Bethlehem. And on to the stable. And on, and in. Lead kindly light, lead. Bring us to the manger. Right up to the Center of the Universe. Onto our knees.
Within that manger inside that stable in a far-off place: a baby. The baby. Our baby. Not distant—right here.
There is nothing to do here but adore. Let us adore, on our knees, open to utter reverence. Our hearts are like flowers that can’t help but unfurl for the sun. We’ve left our baggage, our shame and confusion, doubt and guilt, outside the stable door. We can let go of the worldly because here, in the presence of this baby, we are made free.
This baby doesn’t command action—no resolutions or game plans, no petitions or marches. Here, now, beside the manger, what do we hear?
He is not commanding anything.
If we silence ourselves enough, we may hear his soft, quiet breathing.
Staying silent, beside the manger, we may in fact hear something more, something all-new. If we silence ourselves, settle our minds, calm our busy-ness, we may find him sweetly calling, sweetly loving, from within our own hearts. Here, in this stable, is all we need.
From within our silence, we ask: What does a baby want? What does this baby want? What does he need? Jesus is generous in love—even as a baby—for he is born Love. Lying in the musty hay, here where we kneel, where we adore and worship, Eternal Love radiates love.
From within our silence then, can we give back the one most precious gift? The gift we bring him is love.
We’ll feed him love from the silence of our hearts, where he is growing it.
Turning toward Love, we find real freedom. We are made free—not in the sense of politics, or a slogan we can march to, but real freedom, of the heart, mind and soul; freedom from the ordinary, gray stress-filled dailiness of this world. There is more for us: God’s Kingdom, beginning and ending here, with this holy infant, one who has loved us from his first breath. This baby, brought forth in love, will go on to live in love and end his life in love.
We love because he first loved us.
We’ll stay present. Open. We are adoring, and free.
A baby! A Savior! Saving us.
Come, find a place beside the manger; come, let us adore him.
Note: The phrase “Lead kindly light, lead” is from a poem by John Henry Newman that begins:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
by Jan Hass
Saint Nicholas lived during the fourth century and was bishop of Myra in Lycia which is now part of Turkey. According to one story, in the secret of night, he dropped gold coins through windows and into the stockings of families with young girls who were poor and didn’t have money for a dowry. St. Nick was the original Santa Claus and many miracles were attributed to him (click to see an artist’s representation of the saint in bronze). Travelers love to collect St. Nicholas mementos on their journeys. St. Nick is the patron saint of children and my husband would say he might also be the patron saint of parents, who do countless acts of service for their children, all without counting the cost.
When our girls were young, we wanted to celebrate the real Santa Claus so we began the tradition over 25 years ago of leaving our shoes by the front door on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th. In the morning, our girls would find their shoes overflowing with gold coins, St. Nicholas shaped cookies, candy canes for the tree, and a new Christmas book to read throughout the month of December. Extra cookies were left so we could play St. Nicholas and leave them on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors, all done without letting on who the deliverer was.
Celebrating this holy feast day with our daughters became one of the highlights of the season. When our oldest asked about the real Santa Claus, Tony answered that while he may not fly with reindeer, he did in fact do good deeds for others, and now that she knew the truth, it was her job to become St. Nicholas in spirit, keeping the secret, and doing for others with a true spirit of giving.
Today, I want to share with you the recipe for St. Nicholas cookies, also called Speculatius, which we have made each advent for the past 26 years, sometimes at 2:00 in the morning, just to keep the secret safe. The recipe comes from the book To Dance with God, by Getrud Mueller Nelson. Become St. Nicholas and make up a batch to share secretly with your family and friends. It is a great way to enjoy the spirit of giving this season of Advent.
Mix in order:
1 cup shortening
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs whole
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 cups flour
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cloves
Turn out onto a floured board. Knead in about one cup additional flour or as much as you need until dough is no longer sticky and is easy to handle.
Put into a plastic bag and refrigerate until chilled and stiff. Then you are ready to roll out and cut the cookies. Cut off a manageable piece and keep the rest cool until you are read for more.
For many little cut-out shapes, roll out the dough thinly. Thin cookies are tastiest.
For the larger, decorated St. Nicholas cookies, roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut the cookie around paper pattern. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 6-8 minutes.
Jan Haas is a self-care coach, author and artist. She enjoys walking with others, sharing tools to help them illuminate their brilliant selves.
… It is a great message which is given to us—good news indeed—that the light overcomes the darkness. But to give the message we must also be the message!
– Thomas Kelly
Monday morning following the Paris attacks I take my seat across from an older man with an open face whom I’d met on this train exactly one week before. He has the look of one who’s lived a full life with its attendant ups and with lots of downs, but whose gentle spirit has persisted.
“A lot has happened since we met,” he says, shaking his head. “Terrible things.”
“Yes.” I shake my head, too, and look away, appropriate words fleeing my mind like mice before a bulldozer. No words of mine could have any significance in the face of this. “Yes.” It’s all I have.
“I can’t imagine that kind of hatred,” he says. “I’ve disliked people, I’ve been angry at them, but I can’t imagine wanting to kill like that.”
How many such conversations have taken place on trains and in bars and at kitchen tables? With children, on the way to school, to basketball games, to sleep-overs?
In this time that feels so dark, each of us is especially called to be the message of light that overcomes darkness—it’s a message not meant exclusively for times of peace and well-being, though it’s easier to believe in those times. In this particular dark period, our point in history, when some cry that religion not only has no answers but is the mechanism bringing evil to the world, we are called yet more deeply to embody that message.
People of all ages have lived through hardship, disaster, darkness, evil—Christians no less than others. Imagine how it felt to live in some regions of France or Germany or England during the World Wars when battles raged. Or how it felt to be one of the soldiers. What must it have felt like to our Jewish brothers and sisters, as they were hunted down and massacred? To Rwandans in 1994? The end of the world, it must have seemed like.
Good news? Is there really good news when evil rears its head and seems to overcome God’s kingdom? When innocents are attacked in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Sudan? Jesus’s life was not a jaunt over tranquil waters. Living in an occupied land, an enemy of the state, tortured and murdered, we know his was not a life of ease. The light of the world came among us and lived among us and is with us now. The darkness does not overcome the Light.
Thomas Kelly knew darkness. He knew the darkness of Nazi Germany; he knew personal darkness, ego-killing failure. He once experienced the massive, incomprehensible awesomeness of God. Kelly, a Quaker who had studied philosophy, was overcome by that awesome power while on his knees in the great Cologne cathedral in 1938; he likened God’s love to “flames of fire” and told a friend, “I have literally been melted down by the love of God.” From here on out, his philosophy was centered on obedience to God and love.
We become the light shining into the darkness through trust and faith and hope and yes, through consent. We don’t just carry it, we become it, as Kelly said. We can’t do it ourselves; we don’t become Christ’s light through sheer willpower and effort. We yield. We say yes. We pray. Come Lord Jesus.
How would I have responded, had I been personally impacted by the Paris atrocities? I don’t know—I’m not brave. I can only hope that someday I will be transformed enough to turn to the light, to be that light, no matter what. It may be on my deathbed.
Religion can’t be, for us, a fount for plucky platitudes that carry us along when everything goes well, or a lifeboat we leap into on choppy seas, jumping out again when we spot safer shores. We want Truth! We want Him. We have to consent to be transformed, to become the light, to stick around through thick and thin. To prefer the person of Jesus to the easy comfort of . . . well, comfort.
It isn’t a matter of believing in the Inner Light, it is a matter of yielding your lives to Him. It is a matter of daily, hourly going down into the Shekinah of the soul, in that silence, find yourselves continually recreated, and realigned and corrected again and again from warping effects of outer affairs. It is having a Center of creative power and joy and peace and creation within you.
Kelly is one who knew what he was talking about, for he yielded his life. He knew darkness, and he knew the Light. “The light for which the world longs is already shining,” he told us. And he knew.
The Paris bombings affected all of us, for we are, indeed, all one. They had a warping effect, which evil always does. To some extent, and certainly a much lesser extent, that evil touched each of us here in Denver, almost five thousand miles away from the epicenter of the attacks, as surely as it did those present. It touched a woman walking through a field in a remote region of Thailand. A boy playing a video game in Argentina. Somebody fishing out in the middle of the Atlantic. Every one of us. But when we love and pray and bring our attention to the light, when we say yes to the light, we affect all. Therefore, we have a responsibility.
He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.
– Thomas Kelly
This window illuminated the heavy wood door of a chapel I visited while on a morning retreat a couple of weeks ago.
Light overcomes the world’s darkness again and again and again because the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.
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Christina Manweller publishes poetry and creative nonfiction and is blessed to work with the people of light and integrity at Creator Mundi.