A Christmas Letter Replay from 2015

It seemed like a good time for me, and maybe you, if you are reading this, to re-post the very first Christmas season post I wrote for this blog.  Whatever you believe, this post is about being and being-ness and not doing and doing-ness.  I am personally practicing more, different, and various forms of centering and breathing, of embracing the Now, and accepting who I am and the paths I have taken, as well as trying to understand who other people “are”, not so much what they “do”.  I hope you might wrestle with me on some of the thoughts I posted in 2015 in light of all that has changed out there, and in me and maybe in you, in 2019.

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A Christmas Letter on Being-ness

by Jane Tawel

December 24, 2015

A Christmas Letter is about all the stuff one and one’s family has done in the past year. It’s an accounting of achievements and that is as it should be since that is what satisfies the recipients’ curiosity. There is a saying people toss around when they are telling one not to stress– “We’re not called human doings, we’re called human beings“. As I age, I am distilling into more and more myself, which is (I’m often told) — impassioned and weird.  So once again this season, I write my traditional odd and intense Christmas letter, not because that is what I do, but because that is what I am — odd and intense.

Sometimes you shouldn’t stake claim and insist on being what you naturally are — being is like writing– it is important to understand context and connotation. In writing as in life, know your context and if necessary dial down your weird and impassioned. I’m a bit spotty on successfully doing that, I admit.  But I am learning that it is often okay to accept one’s particular self. Each of us is created in a unique way to reflect the image of our Creator God.  I serve an odd and intense God — an impassioned God, a strange one-of-a-kind God, who unlike other gods did not tell us to worship Him for what He had done or would do, but told us to worship Him for what He is: “I Am”.

We “Beings” are the only created “Imago Dei” of that God — imago means “idealized concept” — which fittingly has nothing to do with “doing” but means “a better than in reality idea”. That’s what we will be again someday — our realized ideal self. Meantime, we work at it. This time of year we celebrate the fact that while we were formed from dust into God’s image, because we rejected that image, God chose to be created in our image–ad imaginem hominis. We were given the perfect Being to model — Jesus, the Christ. As the hymn goes: “Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God, should (be born) and die for me!”.

I get all my strange random thoughts out of my head in a blog where you can also find this letter (janetawel.wordpress.com).  I am reading a lot of C.S. Lewis. One cannot spend time with C.S. Lewis and not become at least a wee bit changed.  Lewis has such a high view of human beings –that is if humans choose to sacrifice completely the sense of self to the sense of imago dei– through relationship with the living God and in the manner of the Son of God. It is a fearful thing to ponder that one day we will become what we have always truly been judged to be, with no regard to what we have done. The bible calls it God’s view of the true heart of one’s soul.

We are easily confused and disoriented by the distorted mirrors reflecting what is truly “us”. There is none good but God and no goodness in us but our Godlikeness in Christ. One can live in a state of stunned awe reading a lot of the Bible and Lewis.

I learned more about reading and writing with my 15 Azusa Pacific University freshmen. One of the things you try to help students with is that when writing, stick to the same verb tense.  The other thing is that it is easier to write consistently in present tense than in past tense.  I think it is easier to LIVE consistently in present tense as well — easier than living in past achievements and problems or living in future dreams and worries. Occupare Momento!

With my “at least on paper grown-up”  kiddos, I am failing but trying to transition from “doing mom” to “being mom”.  This is the necessity if you want to be friends with your adult children — you will always “be” their mom, but you don’t “do” mom any more — at least I imagine you can’t until they become parents and then you can do “grand” mom. Being mom means you let them all be who they are becoming and you just be there for them.  Whatever you do, don’t let on that you are still doing stuff for them. Except doing the occasional bill paying for them. That’s ok. This morning the best part of still being mom, is being with all my chicks and my hubby under one roof — even if only for a short amount of time. They all keep asking me what I want for Christmas — isn’t it obvious? — just to BE– together. There is a great old Peter Seller’s movie called, “Being There”. Chauncey Gardiner keeps saying, “I like to watch.”  I “like to watch” my children and husband bloom and grow.  So, I am watching my family being: Hard workers. Risk takers. Creators. Friends. Students. Travelers. Dreamers.

Christmas is a time of traditions.  Traditions are not things one has merely done in the past but they become traditions because you keep doing them–in the present. We, as perhaps you, are in the midst of our many Christmas traditions, like fudge and cookie making, driving around to see the lights, singing carols, hiding gifts,  and snuggling  together watching Christmas movies. Our traditions are mostly about being present in the season.

Advent implores us to live fully in the present reality while anticipating the future reality. As Christians we lean our frail earthly weight into our calling to be “on earth as it is in heaven” – which will merely BE timeless present in God’s presence. Advent is about Christ with us, in us, and Christ to be. The church liturgy helps ground us in the present of Christ’s presence, not by having us think on what He did — “He was born”– but by celebrating what His Being continues to mean daily, in this very moment, in the present eternity of our souls –“He IS born.”  “He IS Risen”. “He IS coming again”. He Is I Am.

This Christmas perhaps we First World human beings, are more aware of our frailty and transitory state as the Evil One rears in his death throes of ugliness, unnaturalness, violence, and hatred. Today increasingly seems to gain better odds at being my last day. While Eternity becomes a more present longing, it is yet good to be thankful for another hour to be present here.

We spend a lot of time doing good things that care for the body and mind. But what of that which is our innermost being? How shall we live to be Souls rather than Bucket Lists? We are called to improve and to love this created world and God’s created people– as our skills and callings and dreams allow. But the soul can only be bettered by the One who created it, so that the true self can be made into that thing which is all that will eternally remain –Faith, Hope and Love.

The soul is our being-ness. It is only in being known by our Creator, by knowing our Creator, and by allowing that humbling, undeserved but delightful relationship to God to inform all our human BEING relationships, that we truly become who we are meant to BE–  Little Christs– poor imitations but striving imitators nonetheless, of Him of whom the angels sang, “Glory to Him in the Highest”. And by giving Christ glory, may peace on earth and good will be to all souls. Hoping that in the New Year that you and yours, may BE all that you are meant to be.

Jane — December 2015…. and……. Jane, December 2019.  Shalom.

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Maybe Only God Can Make a Tree- But We Need to Plant Them by Jane Tawel

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Maybe Only God Can Make a Tree, But it is Up To Us To Plant Them

by Jane Tawel

July 5, 2019

 

Yes. Now. This. Trees. Please, Trees. I am a life-long lover of trees and Ents. If you can, please support a tree’s life and growth today, somewhere, somehow. The earth needs trees as direly as Middle-earth needed the Ents.  The following is a poem by Robert Frost, another lover of trees and the earth,  that seems ever more poignant today than when he wrote it.

 

“The Sound of Trees”

by Robert Frost
I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

 

This is a picture of one of the last remaining camphor trees on my street in my little town.  The rest were all murdered years ago so that people could build houses and sidewalks and not have their plumbing messed up by long, deep roots.  This stately, kingly 100-plus- year- old tree  messes up our house’s plumbing and our sidewalks. But I have told my family, if any one cuts down this leafy tree, I will, as the old joke used to go, “make like a tree myself and leave”. This is the tree that I “wish to bear forever close to my dwelling place”.

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I am a pessimist by nature and yet hope springs eternal within my chosen worldview. At the end of this post is an optimistic article on the very real possibility of planting trees in order to save our planet.  It will not involve reducing food-supply acreage nor will in impact urban areas, although I hope people will make changes on both of those fronts.  As a literary call to arms for our planet, I will use an other’s words, rather than my own. From J.R.R. Tolkien:

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.” Words from that sage Ent, Treebeard and  J.R.R. Tolkien

 

I believe that we absolutely must start feeling both much more guilt, personally and collectively, and much more hope. We also must learn whom and what to love.  We must know what love means when it comes to our planet.  When we love our children, we care for them. The earth and all her wonders, are first of all a Creator’s children and by reason as well as command,  the earth and her wonders are human beings’ adopted children. And we have treated those earthly children of Nature, too much like pesky mosquitoes or weeds we don’t find attractive, or, maybe we are treating Nature’s progeny, more like we have the children of those pesky, asylum seekers at our borders. The Earth Herself seems to me to be crying out for asylum. Will we continue to destroy and deny Her her rightful place or will we become once more the caretakers and saviors we humans were created to be on our planet?  I have one suggestion if you only have time to do one more thing on your to-do list today.  Go outside somewhere, and look at something that man did not make or tamper with or create. And just for a moment, let the beauty of a dandelion, or a sparrow, or an apple, or a wriggly worm, or a star, or a crinkled, brown leaf touch you. And whenever possible, find a tree and let its beauty, smite your heart. And feel guilty for a moment at how we have forsaken our planet, and then let hope return.

 

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor, high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.  The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him”.  J.R.R. Tolkien

 

So, let’s all start somewhere today, shall we? Here are some things I try and need to try to do much better at.

 

Remember, the number one thing we can do is to reduce — reduce our use and need for more, more, more, more.  Don’t buy anything in or of plastic whenever possible. Ask to be sent less paper and when necessary, reuse the backs of paper products for making grocery lists. Use as little water as possible. Eat in and eat everything on the plate. Walk when possible, take more time, slow down, breathe, and look around at the trees.

 

Then we need to re-use. Use again, and again, again.  Wash out that baggie, and use it again. Better- don’t buy baggies (see above on reducing).  Buy a food compost-er. Shop less, get outside more and …. look at the trees.

 

And finally, recycle. Give things away to people who need them more. Make sure that cities and towns recycle goods appropriately. Recycle in-house, by using jars for vases, old sheets for rags, holey towels for doggie beds, and any other creative thing that people suggest for recycling ideas.  There are great sources in magazines, books and newspapers. And read them online because of course in that way you will help…….. save a tree.

 

I get discouraged, until I think of Frodo and my  own favorite LotR character, Sam Gamgee.  I have never seen the movies and hope I never will (my kids think I’m weird) but I have read the trilogy at least six and half times in my lifetime.  I feel like reading it again just talking about it.   But though I am easily disheartened,  I try to reduce my discouragement, reuse the hopes of history, and recycle the wisdom of all great saviors, both fictional and real. And I start again. Because as Tolkien says through the character of the disciple Samwise, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”.

 

So, while often my head wants to explode and I think, what’s the point?! I humble myself and do my small bit for the environment. On those walks I take when I see all the ugly pieces of trash people throw onto sidewalks and streets to litter my neighborhood, instead of feeling helpless to make a difference, I set myself the goal to pick up as many pieces of other people’s garbage as I can carry and give them decent burials in the closest trashcan. I hope that if someone sees me, they might pick up as many pieces of trash as they can — or maybe just not throw their trash in the first place, onto our beautiful planet. Each time I stoop down into the gutter to pick up someone’s tossed straw or plastic lid, I reward myself with the dreamy notion that I have saved a dolphin today, and that makes me carry on. I try not to grimace, although sometimes I admit I do. I smile and hum that old hymn, “This is My Father’s World”, and I hope to honor The Planetary Parent by caring for Her Creation. Sometimes, I will hum some remembered lines from the childhood of my heart: “Inchworm, Inchworm, measuring the marigolds. You and your arithmetic will probably go far. Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds. Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful, they are.” So, I pick up something ugly, and I look around, like the proverbial reformed inchworm I long to be, and I admire how beautiful the world’s metaphoric marigolds really are. This helps me stop the arithmetic in my head of how many pieces of trash I won’t be able to pick up today and throw away. So I measure how much I am doing, and vow to add more. Save the dolphins, save the trees and save the planet, one additional attempt at subtracting trash at a time.

 

I have shamed my family by conserving water through the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” routine, and I turn the faucet off between face splashes, dishes, and leg shaves. I use a container in the sink and shower when possible to catch water to use in the garden. I am working on my addiction to buying things and of course, I am lucky enough to live in California where most stores don’t use one-use plastic bags any more.  There are environmentally friendly bags, albeit still plastic, for when I walk my dogs, so buying and using them is at least a step in the right direction. I haven’t figured out how to scoop poop with paper bags, so….. again, my motto is at least do everything I can today. Feel guilty when I fail. Feel happy when I succeed. And tomorrow do more.

 

All of my tithes and offerings now go to planet changers and people changers. There are many good people and groups and organizations throughout the world to choose from and to give even a couple of bucks to in order to support the cause of helping our planet live a bit longer than the projected 5-10 years we may have to turn it all around and to help re-achieve sustainable economics for people around the globe. I remind myself, that I have been admonished to bring the kingdom of God to earth, as it is everywhere in the heavens or in the unknown parts out there somewhere in God’s un-fallen, un-sinful, unpolluted cosmos.

 

I cheer my little, wee unimportant self on with the stories of Meg Murray and Calvin O’Keefe; of Frodo and Sam and Treebeard and (you won’t find in the movies these characters, also among my favorites!!) of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. I remember the stories of Abel and Boaz and Abraham; and of Gandalf and the Lorax and Jesus;  and, oh, yes!– of all the real and imaginary small people who believed that the world did not belong to them but that they belonged to the world.  I privately ask myself and I soul-search among the Universe and the gods and The God; and the great Wizards and the long-memoried Ents; and the family that I love and the friends that I love,– I ask myself, in light of all of these –“what will my story be”? I ponder in my prayers to that Friend of Sinners, just as that wee hobbit Sam wondered to his own friend and Master: “What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?”, Sam said. “I wish I could hear it told.  Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of Doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us the tale of Beren One-hand and the Great Jewel. I wish I could hear it! And I wonder how it will go on after our part.”  Oh yes, it is humbling and necessary to reflect on how The Story will go on after my part, if I do my part.

Oh, look around today. Look at the kaleidoscopic colors and shapes of trees and the lovely hues of water. Look at faces of beloved ones, not just your people, but including the faces of trees and squirrels and marigolds. And ask yourself, “I wonder, how it all will go on after my part”?

One of my favorite authors and TED Talk presenters is Kathryn Schultz.  In her book, Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, she writes about both the foolishness and the miracle of being human. I think what she says is of scriptural proportion when it comes to wondering about and wandering along on our planet as human beings:

“To err is to wander and wandering is the way we discover the world and lost in thought it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying but in the end it is static a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling and sometimes even dangerous but in the end it is a journey and a story. Who really wants to stay at home and be right when you can don your armor spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world. ”  “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.”
Kathryn Schulz

I feel it is past time for us to stop being static when it comes to caring for our world. We must don our armor, as Schultz preaches, and go forth as humble heroes. We must not only tilt at windmills, we must make and use more of them to meet our need for energy. We must not only seek the holy grail, we must reuse the one we already own. We must not only change the course of our planet’s history, we must recycle the wisdom of saviors, and sages, and fiction-writers, and TED talkers, and trees. I sort of hope that someday, my tombstone might read: “Here lies Jane. She really tried”.

 

I am embarrassed and ashamed at how little I do and feel silly posting this with so many who are really living radically or responsibly. Please read about and find out about the real world-changers who are living lives well-lived before they return to the earth and before our planet is irrevocably changed for the worse forever. At the same time as I state how often I am wrong and how often I get bogged down by the world and the way it is,  I encourage any one reading this to just try. Just as I am trying to do, make a start. And try as Ms. Schultz says, to “see the world as it isn’t” and add, “yet”. The world isn’t perfect yet, but it can be. It once was. We just need to start doing our part and changing the story’s falling action and rewrite our fears and hopes about the story’s end.  As Sam Gamgee did. As our favorite fictional nanny might say to us children of the earth, “well begun is half done”. Just do it, and one small act will, when laced with and lashed to hope, lead to another small act, and all of us small people on our small globe really can make a difference, in our own hearts and lives, in our own communities, and I pray, on our own small planet.

We do not know what our own particular “ring” to carry might be. We never truly and unselfishly and without a great degree of fear, failure, and pessimism, want to take up our own cross to bear. Much as The Christ did not want to take up his cross but did anyway, we must just say, “No matter what I don’t know, no matter what people may think, no matter how afraid I am, no matter how I may fail–well, I’ll do it anyway”. And as Frodo found, in the end, it is the people who say, “I will take the ring, even though I do not know the way” who live best for The One who is The Way.

I am learning much from native and indigenous teachings on how to live in harmony with nature. I have also found the collection of poetry and reflections entitled The Psalms to be good food for the soul in terms of living universally with other beings and the matters of the universe.  I am encouraged by novels like “The Lord of the Rings”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Howard’s End” along with the poets and visual artists who nudge us with reminders of earth’s beauty, in words and paints. Musicians like Ludovico Einaudi and Mozart and Dolores O’Riordan make my heart throb with both pain and with hope for humankind. There are many good books on spiritual paths to living in harmony with the Creator and Creation. Find one at your library that suits you. We have been tasked as human beings to care for the Creator’s creations and the created world we live in. In this, we do what we were designed to do in the beginning. In this, we are the imago dei and only in this, do we practice love to all. All.

 

The old chestnut by Joyce Kilmer, much memorized by school children in the later century, is considered sappy (are you following my intentional puns so far?) and has justly been rooted out from the vast forest of poems that are considered classics. But as a lover of poetry and a writer of, (and I apologize) at best, C- poetry, myself, I think it is unjust to lop off Kilmer’s creative intent and toss it into the woodpile with his sapling-sized rhymes.  I mean, c’mon, the guy had to contend with being called “Joyce”.

 

“Trees”
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

 

My secret dream is that someday,  when I am old and ready to pass on to the great unknown, my family can bury my body as food for the worms, wrapped in an ecologically-chemically free shroud near a body of water, next to a tree. If there are any weeping willows left on the planet, that would be a fitting place for this old romantic. I will be happy to give the last thing I own, my body, to feed a tree because so many trees have fed me, body and soul.  My family thinks I am morbid to think about being eaten by worms and tree roots, but when I think about it, I feel hopeful. Hopeful that when I die there might still be bodies of water and trees that still exist to feed the bodies and souls of my children and my children’s children. I hope to leave fewer carbon footprints behind but perhaps I shall manage to leave behind the footprint of one small skeletal love as a gift to my planet. I hope the world will receive the hopes of this insignificant person’s offerings, and that even in death, my love for this old world will be met by the hope of a new heaven and new earth. As the Great Man said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”(Jesus as related in John 12: 24-25)

 

The seeds of our destruction are horrifically being sown everywhere, but if a tiny acorn can grow into a mighty oak, then I too, may hope to sow, where I do not reap, and to plant seeds of hope that may one day blossom into a restored and renewed world, for my children and my children’s children. I wear on a chain around my neck a small container of mustard seeds. My daughter, Justine gave it to me as a gift when she was very young to remind me that all I am required to have is a mustard-seed sized faith. Here’s a picture of a mustard tree and encouragement to believe what all our minuscule mustard seeds and a bit of faith in the goodness of our planet might achieve:

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In 1981, a program was started to help lost children survive in the wilderness. It was called “Hug-a-tree”.  In 2019, it is the trees that are lost and losing and that we must help to survive.  Become a tree-hugger today.  Perhaps, as the poet wrote only God can make a tree, but right now, right this minute, it is up to us to care for them. As Frost wrote, someday, I shall have less to say, so today I shall make the reckless choice and speak out. The Way of Truth and Light and Love is always the path least taken, but more of us need to start taking it if we want to save the world. Yes, let us take the path less taken, without trod-ding on more rain forests, or depleting more glaciers, or extinguishing more critters; let us take the path less taken of humility and hope and love for our planet; and in that way, we shall make all the difference.

 

 

Below is a link for the article from The Guardian on planting trees to save our planet. You will find many other good articles and resources in their section entitled “Environment”.

I Love You, Mary, Because You Were Human A Christmas Poem by Jane Tawel

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I Love You, Mary, Because You Were Human

By Jane Tawel

December 17, 2017

 

 

I love you, Mary, because you were human

Not a queen, not a god, not a saint

You lived as a woman for all of your life

With all that we know as Sin’s taint

 

You worked for your family

You watched your sons grow

You worried and grumbled and cried

You doubted the God whom you had once nursed

And you fell away from Christ’s side

 

You thought He was crazy

Your other sons did too

You hoped Jesus would come back home

You cried for His dangers

You begged God for mercy

Your mother’s heart weathered Christ’s storm

 

And yet, you were one

Of The Lord’s greatest servants

You put parent’s power aside

You stopped being mother

And your Son was your brother

As you watched your womb’s Son of God die

 

If Mary were perfect

At a time that held women

As little more than life’s scraps

Then how could I, a woman today

Ever hope to climb out of sin’s trap?

 

Because you were human

Oh, Mary, my sister

Then what you did was more rare

When you met the Angel

And agreed God could use you

Giving up all your dreams for a prayer

 

 

Oh, Mary, my sister, I love you because

You are like all the women I know

Who give God their own dreams

At risk of life’s thrown stones

And grant Christ our own frail womb-homes

 

I love you, Mary, because you were human

Not a queen, not a god, but a girl

Who longed for a Savior

As do all we, Women

Who bare children we pray change the world

 

I love you, Mary because you were human

I look forward to talking someday

You can tell me your story, I’ve read in the Bible

And I’ll share my own walk on The Way

We’ll introduce our own children

And be praised not for titles

But for being good mothers, and being disciples

 

And then we’ll both kneel

To the King that you birthed

And the God-man who came

To save all the earth

And yes, all the world will love you, dear Mary

You, who were like every girl who exists

Who says to God, “yes”

And therefore, is blessed

To grant God a womb-home for Christ