Friday, December 31, 2010

Final day of Kwanzaa

Tomorrow is the final day of Kwanzaa. The principle is Imani, or Faith: To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Sixth day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Kuumba, or Creativity: To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to create a wonderful new year

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that one should write on his heart that every year can be the best year he ever lived. Therefore I'd like to give you a text for the New Year. It wouldn't be a bad idea to write it down somewhere so you could consult it now and then. But it is so short that all you need to do is write it on your consciousness.

This will see you through the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and the end of the year. It is the first four words with which the Bible begins: "In the beginning God . . ." (Genesis 1:1) Take Him at the start and you will have a wonderful time in the New Year. And then follow these steps.

1. Practice the art of forgetting.
Man is what he remembers, but man is also what he forgets. One of the healthiest things a human being can do is to become a master of forgetting. Whatever you do, don't lug your resentments, your hates, your frustrations, your disappointments, your regrets into the new year. Forge ahead! It is a great art to know how to forget. Drop it, skip it, let it go--whatever it is. Start anew.

2. Take hold of the new year and shake the life out of it.
Drop the 't' off forget and forge ahead, on the basis of the text "In the beginning God . . ." Live a day at a time and take it as it comes. Have you seen a calendar for the new year? Well, you know something? In order to get to January 2nd you have to live through January 1st. Live a day at a time and live on the basis of easy does it. Don't get too worked up about it. Just take it as it comes.

3. Expect great things and put your life in God's hands.
Have high hopes, have great dreams, have great belief. See visions and believe in them. Believe that life is good and that it is going to be better and the best is yet to come. You know something? You are very likely to get just what you expect.

Our Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for life, for this precious wonder, with all its hopes, its dreams, and its opportunities. Help us to put our hands in Thine trustingly and help us to live by the text, "In the beginning God..." Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This article was adapted from a booklet by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Fifth day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Nia, or Purpose: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blessings for the new year!

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year "give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown", and he said, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way." So I went forth, and finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

(Minnie Loise Harkins)
Included in King GeorgeVI's, (1939) radio speech to the nation.

Fourth day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Ujamaa, or Cooperative Economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Third day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Ujima, or Collective Work and Responsibility: To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-- Mary Oliver

Second day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination: To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First day of Kwanzaa

Today's principle is Umoja, which means Unity: To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Day reflection

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“They shall call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:23

The entire theology of Christmas rests in this name. We have come through these weeks to celebrate His desire to be among us. This stuns the mind and so is too easy to dismiss. Let us pray in joy with that name today, reminding ourselves that the God who made us wants to share our human lives of birth and growth and pain and joy -- to be a God with us, not a God residing on an unattainable height.”

Let us pray in gratitude to our “God in His mother’s arms” as our carol says. We see our heart’s desire.

Christmas Eve reflection

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

Our own gift giving and receiving at this season mirrors the generosity of the Magi. They bring gifts that we will never fathom. Gold we can understand. It is useful. But we are stumped by the perfume and the incense, so reminiscent of the East and its fragrances. Looked at from a different angle, they are perfectly comprehensible gifts. They are the best these sages have to bring. As we wrap and offer our own gifts to each other may we include something of this same spirit of sharing a bit of ourselves with those we love.

Let us pray for the grace to be a gift to someone we meet today by a smile, an encouraging word or an understanding nod. It is a way to perfume the world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 23

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger.” Luke 2:16

Don’t you love this image of the decisive, firm-stepping shepherds? Having decided what they should do, they are off, quickly covering the ground between their rock-strewn fields and the cave where the Child lies. May our spiritual steps be equally ready. “If we lift the wooden latch may we go in?” asks our carol. We know the answer.

Let us pray with joy and gratitude for the One we will find bedded on straw in that manger.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 22

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Go and search diligently for the child.” Matthew 2:8

While Herod is in no sense a prophet, these words do reflect our own journeys. We too are searching diligently. God does desire to be born in odd places. But at the end of the search, we will find in proportion to our longing. As we come closer to Christmas Day we need to renew our spiritual desires.

Let us pray for those growing tired of the search, for those turning away from the goal.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 21

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.” Luke 2:15

There is an energy in this collective decision. We always come to Bethlehem because we have made a conscious decision to do so. And we come with others. This is a busy road where the solitary traveler merges with the others who are also going to see what has come to pass. Bethlehem has to be sought out. No one arrives there by accident.

Let us pray for seekers of every kind: those searching for faith, those on the quest for hope or companionship, those desiring a deeper relationship with God.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Great holiday card from my friend Phil Hall and his Philhallmonic Society.

Bonnie Langford Spends Christmas in New York

It was bitterly cold out Thursday night, but I felt cozy and happy from the warmth radiating from singer Bonnie Langford whose show, “Christmas in New York,” is part of the Brits Off Broadway series at the E: Café at 59E59 Theaters. 

The title is a bit misleading. The only real holiday note is Langford’s closing with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but that’s quite all right. Her spirit generates the same kind of feeling any good Christmas celebration brings.

The show is one that only she could offer -- Broadway and West End music interlaced with tales of her life in show business, a career that began when she was a child from a small English town singing and dancing her way across London stages.

Right from the start she proved to be a trooper. As a 7-year-old in the musical version of Gone With the Wind, a lavish West End production, she had the great opportunity to play Bonnie, Scarlett and Rhett’s daughter, complete with her own number to belt out.

One night Noel Coward came to see the show. It was not a good night for the show’s horse, who left several mounds across the stage, requiring the production to stop while a stagehand scooped them up. After the show, Coward was asked what he thought of it. He suggested the producers could fix its two major problems with one solution -- stuff the child up the horse’s ass.

Not exactly an encouraging beginning, but the following year Langford followed up with another show, playing Baby June in the revival of Gypsy with Angela Lansbury, a woman she credits with inspiring her in “how to behave in this industry for the long run.”

“She is everything her reputation says about her and more,” Langford says.

The London gig led to playing Baby June with Lansbury on Broadway, a thrilling experience for a 10-year-old, and one that earned her a Drama Desk nomination.

“It helped me to fall in love with New York and that business we call show,” she said before launching into “Let Me Entertain You” one of her songs from Gypsy.

That was the pattern of the 75-minute show, for which she is accompanied by music director Michael Lavine -- a showbiz memory that leads into a song. I especially liked the account of her doing her Baby June number for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After bolting out of the department store’s front door, she overshot the temporary flooring that covered the street and landed in her split right over a manhole, which as if on cue began sending steam up to surround and then hide her.

“I had a very hot butt,” she said, heading nicely into an appropriate verse from “Some People,” also from Gypsy, -- “Some people sit on their butts, got the dream, yeah, but not the guts.”

Langford definitely has guts. She not only demonstrates that she can still do the split -- and get right up -- but she also does some high kicking, bringing her leg right up the side of her body to her head. Impressive, especially considering she’s now 46.

Those dancing moves were put to work last season with her portrayal of Roxie Hart in Chicago, for which she received rave reviews both on Broadway and on the North American national tour, a role which she also played to standing ovations at the Adelphi Theatre and the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End.  She gives us a littler treat from that experience, vamping it up with the medley “Roxie/Nowadays/All That Jazz.”

She also shares some personal notes, such as that she hasn’t spent a Christmas in New York since that Gypsy experience when she was 10. Now she’s sharing this one with her 10-year-old daughter. Nice thought. She also sang a moving “The Music That Makes Me Dance” in tribute to her husband of 15 years, Paul.

After the performance, a woman at the table behind me said to her friends, “I love her humor. I was laughing. I was crying. Oh, that was so fantastic.”

I agree. Langford has such a giving personality that I felt she was welcoming us into her home rather than a cabaret space she had never been in before. She’ll be spreading her infectious cheer at the E: Café through Jan. 2.

For tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to For more information, visit 

Advent reflection -- Dec. 20

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Luke 2:8

To every Christmas scene we must add these ordinary folk, the shepherds, toiling at an occupation that was once revered by Israel that saw itself as the flock of the Lord. By the first century, the nomadic shepherd, unable to keep the 613 prescriptions of the Pharisaic law, unable to faithfully attend synagogue but bound to the fields by their sheep, by this time the shepherds were scorned by the religious leaders. With some humor, we see God giving them a seat that is front row center for the drama of the Incarnation.

Let us remember in our prayers today all the outcasts of the world, the poor, the unwanted, the undocumented, the forgotten.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

It's always lovely to read Francis P. Church's comments, first published in The New York Sun in 1897, in response to a child's letter.

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter:

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversal subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O’Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 19

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Do not be afraid. . . “ Luke 2:10

This phrase echoes across the Advent scriptures because so many people involved have reason to be uneasy. God is doing something unprecedented to disturb the even tenor of their ways. So, to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, to each in turn comes the reassurance that from the upheavals, good will result. It is for every one of them a time of great faith and trust.

In prayer, let us visit the fears we all have and renew our trust in God who says, “Fear not.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 18

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” Luke 2:5

Joseph is “espoused” to Mary, in the older translations, which more accurately underlines the fact that their union is permanent in the eyes of the first-century world. This is not a convenient time for the pregnant Mary to be traveling. God’s plans so often do not seem aimed at our comfort. Do you imagine that she and Joseph griped all the way about the untimeliness or do you think they attempted to adapt to the unplanned?

Let us pray this day for ourselves and for each other, especially for those trying to adjust to the unintended in life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aretha Franklin

I heard a lovely tribute this morning to Aretha Franklin, the legendary soul singer who is recovering from surgery for pancreatic cancer. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was on the “Michael Eric Dyson Show” on WEAA in Baltimore and the two men were discussing the 68-year-old singer. Jackson said that during the Civil Rights movement, when she was at the height of her celebrity, she was always available to sing for events. Other performers appeared, but only if they were paid, got limo service, etc., Jackson said. Franklin sang for free and asked for no special privileges. As my friend Drew used to say, “The bigger the star, the bigger the star.”

Sending you prayers for a full recovery, Aretha. God bless you.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 17

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David, called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” Luke 2:4

This verse embodies so much first-century thinking. Nazareth was a nothing town, a small village tucked away in the north, noted for nothing in the history of Israel. Bethlehem, by contrast, was rich with the memories of Ruth and David, and it could boast of proximity to Jerusalem. It is the goal of Mary and Joseph and of our Advent journey. This couple finds themselves surrounded by kinsmen and neighbors on their long trip. Let us walk beside them.

We pray today for every traveler, both actual and metaphorical, on a life’s journey. (May we not forget ourselves.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Dramatics Magazine recently released the results from its annual survey of the most-produced plays and musicals in North American high schools. #1 on the list of plays was ALMOST, MAINE by John Cariani (in photo), beating out such stalwart titles as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Our Town.

ALMOST, MAINE received its world premiere in 2004 at Portland Stage Company (Portland, Maine), where it became the most successful play in the company’s 32-year history. The play received rave reviews and played to sellout houses throughout its run. The Wall Street Journal included ALMOST, MAINE in its list of the best regional theater productions of the 2004-2005 season. The Off-Broadway premiere opened in January 2006 at the Daryl Roth Theatre, produced by Jack Thomas and Bruce Payne. The play was, and continues to be, widely praised for its smart, funny take on life and love in a small, mythical town in far northern Maine. ALMOST, MAINE continues to be presented in theatres all over the United States and in such far flung places as South Korea, Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Germany.

ALMOST, MAINE was originally performed by four actors, each covering four to five roles. Perhaps adding to its popularity among high school theatre groups, the play can be performed by up to 19 actors if desired.

The results of Dramatics Magazine’s survey of the most performed shows in high schools are:

6) ALICE IN WONDERLAND (various adaptations)
9) Neil Simon’s FOOLS
10) A CHRISTMAS CAROL (various adaptations)

6) THE WIZARD OF OZ (multiple adaptations)

For more information about ALMOST, MAINE visit

Advent reflection -- Dec. 16

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

We cannot lose sight of this extraordinary young man who is such a necessary part of our story. Joseph is everyone of us who will not have central billing on life’s stage. He is fidelity and compassion, hard work and no speech, goodness and readiness to serve. We need to spend more time with him as he plans the trip to Bethlehem and wonders what will happen next. He is the model for meeting the totally unexpected and carrying on.

Let us pray for the kind of courage that Joseph must have had, to faithfully walk an unknown road with confidence in God’s grace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New York Christmas: A Benefit Album for ASTEP

The twinkling lights that sparkle on this CD are also some of the brightest lights of Broadway. New York City Christmas has been assembled by orchestrator and musical director Lynne Shankel (Cry-Baby and Altar Boyz) and brings together Raul Esparza, Sierra Boggess, Chester Gregory II, Andy Karl, Constantine Maroulis and Orfeh, to name several of its singers, plus a host of dynamic musicians. This studio recording, drawn from a December 2008 concert at the Zipper Theatre, will, like that successful concert, benefit ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty).

It starts off with Lindsay Mendez’s swinging “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” a jazzy number reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald’s interpretations for her classic album, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. Gregory offers a heartfelt “Silent Night” and Esparza a lovely Latin-inspired “O Holy Night.” Boggess presents a crystal-clear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and, with Mendez, a beautiful “Still, Still, Still/The First Noel.”

A new song that’s so appropriate for Broadway singers and the work of ASTEP is “New York Christmas,” written by Rob Thomas. Sung by Karl, the music has a bit of a country twang and calls angels to come down to the city to mend the “beaten and broken” from Brooklyn to Broadway. “Bring your compassion, your understanding. Lord, how we need it, on this New York City Christmas.”

The rousing Finale, sung by Gregory, Mendez, Karl and Tyler Maynard, blends “O Come All Ye Faithful, “Joy to the World” and the Hallelujah Chorus and is guaranteed to have you singing along and dancing around your living room.

The concert and CD were the result of a longtime dream Shankel had had. She wanted to put on a Christmas concert, “a big ol’ holiday hoo-hah where I could write all the arrangements and I could invite my favorite singers to come and perform,” she writes in the liner notes. She decided to do it, and make it a benefit for ASTEP. Everyone she asked to sing said yes and everyone she asked to play said yes. She asked the singers what their favorite carols were, then wrote arrangements tailored especially for them.

ASTEP was founded by Broadway music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell “on one very simple concept: Art has the power to change the world,” she writes in the liner notes. “In our work in Africa, India and the U.S., we have seen communities unite, conflicts resolve, imagination ignite and children believe they have the power to change their futures. We love watching children get excited about Shakespeare, or exploring their emotions in a play they wrote about HIV/AIDS.”

For more information about ASTEP, visit

Blessings to all involved with this CD. You prove once again what Irving Berlin knew so well, “there’s no people like show people.” Merry Christmas!

Advent reflection -- Dec. 15

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Israel always saw itself in the humanly improbable situation of having a God who cared about the least among the people. Everyone connected with the Advent journey is part of the same concern. Elizabeth and Zechariah, maligned by their neighbors for their childlessness, have now found their own joy in the promised birth of John. Each such touch of God readies the receiver for more to come. God’s plans are so rarely the ones that human beings formulate.

Let us pray for the courage to think against the tide of popular opinion. Since God does not act according to the polls, we have to pray ourselves into His mind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 14

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Luke 1:43

In our world where each of us has been called to be a Christ-bearer, we can echo Elizabeth’s words. Christ comes to us in many forms in our daily life so that we have the awesome potential to offer Him to others too. This question merits pondering by us as we walk through this day.

Let us pray for the grace to be more consciously Christ-bearers, not necessarily by words directly, but by allowing Him to shine through each of us.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where is God in Art?

Four artists for whom God and work are inseparable shared their stories yesterday afternoon during “Where is God in Art?”, an hour-long panel discussion at Marble Collegiate Church.  

Marcia Fingal, a commercial actress, model and maker of documentary films on social justice issues, told how she felt called to bring to light what was happening to people in New Orleans nine months after Hurricane Katrina. Armed with the investigative skills from her degree in English and journalism, she borrowed a camera, got GPS and drove south.

“I believe God called me to do that,” she said about what proved to be an award-winning documentary. “There were lots of things I could have done that would have kept me here in New York.”

But she chose to go.

“I felt I was really listening for God through these stories. When God tells you to do something, do it. It was a marvelous experience.”

Tom Schneider, a visual artist and painter, also feels God’s involvement in his art.

“We work together,” he said, adding that this causes him to maintain a Buddhist objectivity. “I make no judgment. If it’s God and I working together, how can I criticize what he’s working in me?”

For Bill Zeffiro, a composer, vocal coach, teacher and musician, God is like a mysterious co-author as he writes his music. “I don’t always know where the tunes come from, which means I know where they come from.”

Off-Broadway and regional actress, singer, dancer and musician Jenna Coker-Jones said she counts on God’s presence when facing the great actor challenge of auditioning.

“You can’t base your personal values on what the world is saying about you,” she said. “We weren’t designed as human beings to take all that criticism.”

She said having a church family or spiritual community is essential.

All four artists talked about the responsibility they had to develop the gifts God had given them and then to trust God that their careers would develop as they should.

“If you co-create your life with God you can do amazing things,” Fingal said, sharing advice she had been given by another model in Paris more than two decades ago: “When you’re being beaten up, hold on to your faith. It will carry you.”

Brian Hampton, the panel’s moderator and Marble’s Arts Ministry director, asked if there is any work they refuse to do because of their faith. Fingal said she won’t promote cigarettes; she turned down an international commercial that would have paid well and for which she would have been glamorously groomed.

“I felt it was like blood money, disease money,” she said.

Schneider said he won’t do commissions because “my art is my relationship with God.”

Coker-Jones related an experience of having been cast in a show after auditioning with just a portion of the script. When she received the full play she found it to be “actually blasphemous.” Unfortunately, publicity shots of her in the show had already been taken and she knew she risked being shunned in the business as a “typical Christian” if she pulled out then. She prayed about it and felt she could not support the show. She withdrew, and “by God’s grace there was no judgment.”

A member of the audience asked if they witness to people they work with. Coker-Jones said she has brought someone from every show she’s been in to her church and has started a women’s group which meets weekly to counteract the cattiness in the industry.

“I reach out in a normal way,” she said. “Loving people is the best example.”

All expressed a sense of responsibility for the gifts they had been given.

“As artists we really are the timekeepers,” Fingal said. “We tell the stories of different people’s lives.”

Zeffiro said he is conscious that his abilities are gifts and that he only has a finite time to use them so he shouldn’t put off developing his craft.

Coker-Jones agreed.

“God called us before we were born to do what we’re doing. The world looks to people who tell stories.”

Advent reflection -- Dec. 13

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Luke 1:39-40

The 90 miles that separated the two cousins is a short distance if joy gives wings to one’s feet. Mary has a happiness to share. Elizabeth is nurturing both the life within and her restoration to a place of respect among her neighbors. In the courtyard they embrace, one deemed too old by the world to bear life, one deemed too insignificant to carry the world’s hope, but both loved by our God of surprises. What a moment for joy!

Let us pray today for all who are pregnant, some with physical life and others with the hope of things to come.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 12

This is the reflection for the third Sunday of Advent from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“There ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising . . . Matthew 2:9

God doesn’t make things easy for these men; they had no GPS so they were limited to night traveling when the star would be visible. They are in every way countercultural moving at odd hours, sleeping during the day, never certain if the star would keep on beckoning. As they cross borders and see strange faces do they wonder what is happening to their lives? How much they have in common with so many of us as we move into new worlds of thought and outreach.

Let us consider this one thing: we have never lived in the future. Let us pray for the grace to welcome it with courage as it unfolds before us.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 11

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born the king of the Jews?’” Matthew 2:1-2

It is time to bring these incredible travelers into our prayer time. Their journey is a long one and so they must already be on the road, coming through the mists of distance into our Advent story. We will never know who they were, how many they were, what they left behind, what they carried along. All that will always be unknown. But each year they ride into our Advent story and we reflect.

Let us pray today for those whose journey seems long and for those seeking courage before they move into the unknown.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 10

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me the one who is to rule in Israel.” Micah 5:2

Was Micah thinking of a new David drawn once again from tiny Bethlehem? We have no way of knowing, but Matthew’s gospel is careful to point out that this is to be His birthplace, this town known across the Christian world, sung of each Christmas season, but of little strategic or dynastic importance in history

Let us gather into our prayer this day all those “little clan” people, like most of us, unknown to fame but known to this One whom we are awaiting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Finding Faith at Christmas

This essay by Jan Vallone Roberts appeared in Guideposts magazine.

I'd grown to dread the holiday season. Each year we celebrated less. Gone were the lights, the banister greens, the creche. All we had left was the tree, now standing half-decorated in our living room. All of the holiday bustle had become too stressful. I was burned out on Christmas. I even resisted going to midnight mass.

I teach at an orthodox Jewish high school. The students, boys wearing yarmulkes and the girls in their long skirts, start their days at synagogue followed by studying the Hebrew Scriptures before they come to my class.

I'd envied their faith. I too had once believed deeply in God, and in the wonder of faith. But my faith—my wonder—had faltered over time. Not completely, but like a beach being eroded by the tide.

"Open your books to chapter five," I said to my class one morning. We were reading the novel Night about a teenage concentration-camp prisoner who had lost his faith. He had even stopped praying and fasting. "He should have prayed and fasted anyway," said one student.

"Wouldn't that have been hypocritical?" I asked.

"No," said another. "The Torah says you should do what God tells you, even when you don't know why. You read Scripture and eventually you understand. It's called Na'aseh V' Nishma—we will act and understand."

Her words stayed with me. Could it be that I'd had things backward? I'd always thought my faith preceded my acts. But maybe sometimes it was the other way around.

At home I dug out the Christmas lights and strung them on the tree. Then I sat down and started rereading the Bible. I kept it up all season long. By Christmas Eve I looked forward to midnight mass. You see, my Jewish students brought me a Christmas miracle. I had acted, and by acting as if I had faith, I found faith.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 9

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010 by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Everyone whose spirit God had stirred . . . got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:5

This verse signals the end of the great Babylonian exile, but it can also be read as a description of what we are doing together spiritually. Our spirits too have been stirred; we are deliberately taking a few moments each day to remind ourselves that there is a task before us. It is to go in faith to our inner house of the Lord and to rebuild what parts of it we see as needing care.

Let us pray today for all religious leaders: for ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, and for all who assist them in the ongoing task of making earth and heaven come together. Prayer is stronger than bricks.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Prayer for the Season of Giving

This prayer from Charlene Ann Baumbich appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Dear Lord,

Save me from making a mockery out of Your great love and sacrifice for me. Cause Your Word to vibrate in my heart when I forget why we call this "Christmas".

Help my spirit of giving be filled with Your spirit of mercy and love for my family and friends. Stop me from judging strangers on trains and street corners, with their own stresses.

Save me from greed and commercialism—and from the sin of ever seeing any of Your precious children as simply one more person to buy for, then cross off my list.

Empower me to recognize what doesn't need to be done, and give me the good grace to let go of it. Help me remember as I shop and wrap that You are watching me make the choices.

When I encounter a crabby salesperson or cranky child, may Your light shine through my responses. When I look in the mirror and see my own frazzled self, may I remember to look to You, from whom my strength and refreshment comes.

Help me remember what You have already done in my life, for it is in studying Your sovereignty, not in buying worldly possessions, that I will find peace and joy and truth.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 8

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” 2 Samuel 7:12

David has no way of knowing all that is contained in this promise, all the centuries that must elapse before that true descendant, Jesus, will be born in Bethlehem to establish a kingdom unlike any of which David could have dreamed. No matter. What does matter is that David confers with his God at every stage of his journey. It is such a faith that is needed for what he has yet to do and for what every traveler to Bethlehem has yet to accomplish.

Let us pray this day for all expectant parents that their hope of promised life might draw them ever closer to the Christ-life within each of them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 7

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U. for Marble Collegiate Church.

“So David went and brought up the ark of God . . . to the city of David with rejoicing . . . Samuel 7:12

David, born and raised in Bethlehem, solidifies his work as King of Israel by bringing the Ark into his new capital city of Jerusalem. He dwells in safety and splendor and so should his God. No one will have to seek God in the countryside. He will be in His tent inside the city of peace. How closely do we want God to walk with us? At arm’s length? At a safe distance, whatever that might be? Or somewhere in between? Let us reflect on that.

In our prayer today, let us name those who have helped us find our path to God: a friend, a teacher, a family member, a counselor, a mentor. Perhaps we need to pray for a combination of these who are responsible for our drawing nearer to Him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A great way to ring in the new year!

Advent reflection -- Dec. 6

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U., for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Wherever you go, I will go.” Ruth 1:16

Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus, is found in Matthew’s genealogy. Everything is against her, humanly speaking. She is from an enemy people, she is widowed with little hope of remarriage, and she is poor. All of this gets swept up into the plan of God. Three chapters later she is in Bethlehem, married to a landed Israelite and ready to birth their son. Ruth is a shining example of how God can use human situations to bring forth something new.

Let us pray for all those who are outsiders because of race, religion or circumstances. Let us ask that they might find their way inside to be welcomed by us.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 5

This is the reflection for the second Sunday of Advent from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U., for Marble Collegiate Church.

“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priest who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing the Jordan.” Matthew 1:1

The adventure is about to enter a new phase. Israel has stepped into the Promised Land and these people haven’t a clue as to what lies before them. Are they so different from us? Each day is new territory, and we are bound to approach it with some trepidation. However, as a people of faith we also bring greater trust.

Let us begin this week of our journey to Bethlehem by renewing our commitment to finding a prayerful way to Jesus despite the distractions of this pre-Christmas season.

Advent reflection -- Dec. 4

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U., for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go. . . ‘” Exodus 5:1

Moses might be speaking to the Pharaoh, but his words can find a place in each of our hearts. Israel believed in a God who cared for them personally. They do not have an idol like the ones their neighbors worshipped, but a personal God who claims them as His people for whom He cares. Pharaoh finds the hard to digest.

Let us pray today for a deeper understanding of our God who is concerned for each of us and who wishes to journey with us on this road to Bethlehem.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Little (More) Night Music


Without actors bringing some humanity to their performances, a Sondheim musical can rely too much on the cleverness of the words and concept and consequently feel cold and intellectual. This was my reaction to the latest production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, which I saw with Retta back in December 2009 (has it been a year?!).

I'd not seen this musical before then, but I'd heard and read so much about it, and I practically grew up hearing "Send in the Clowns," without knowing the context except what I imagined it to be. When I finally did see this production last December however, I was disappointed. It seemed flat and cold, even trivial. What was all that fuss about? Catherine Zeta Jones, the Desiree of the moment, was much ballyhooed (And may I say that I for one am tired of awards going to actors simply because they do something brave; this is to be commended, but that's what all actors do!!!-end of editorial) and she looked lovely and certainly sang competently and with charm. But she did little more than that. The only light in that tunnel of a show proved to be Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt; her performance was so full that it overshadowed everyone else's. Unfortunately, that unbalanced the play, which, without her, was pretty weak.

Oh, but wait.  This Thanksgiving, I attended A Little Night Music again, with some apprehension, even if the cast included Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

I needn't have worried. Peters (in photo with Stephen R. Buntrock) proceeded to show what an experienced and talented artist can do. She infuses the play with feeling and dimension, finds every nuance of humor, pain, and wryness. She plays an actress for all she's worth; she doesn't just show she's an actress while doing the bouncing on a carriage scene; she throws in a little over the top stuff throughout the play, overplaying and underplaying in a careful sketch of an actress and woman we catch at a vulnerable moment. In other words, Peters can slap Sondheim into being alive.

I could also see Peters and Lansbury as daughter and mother (there's a cast), with the contrast between her mother's brittle "Liaisons" philosophy and her own "Send in the Clowns."  Peters brought in all facets of Desiree to her climactic song - an occasional and characteristic over the topness, her deep feelings, her pain, her irony, her humor, her intelligence. It was all there, plus tears that were Desiree's tears and felt deeply enough that Peters went off pitch - all in character, a breathtaking and brilliant moment that I only realized was breathtaking and brilliant when the play was over. The play is concerned with memory and "later" as well as imagined realities, so that the "Send in the Clowns" scene resonates as the time when"Now" enters the lives of the characters. The whole play drives toward it. Ah, yes! Now I see! How extraordinary the structure of this play appears when it is well performed.

Elaine Stritch is wonderful, God love her, but I couldn't believe her as Madame Armfeldt. This Madame was way too healthy, for one thing (I kept thinking she'd get up and dance), and Stritch aims for the punch lines and hits them. Nothing subtle about it. Even her death was a punch line, no poignancy about it, she just leaned over and died, bringing a laugh. Is it supposed to be funny? I remember mourning Lansbury's Madame Armfeldt as she died last year, but the trouble with that version of the production was that Lansbury's performance was so real that her loss left the stage empty. And, by the way, I couldn't believe Stritch when she said she'd lost her illusions. She didn't play it that way. She was the wise cracking aunt, and nothing more.

The cast shimmered, particularly Buntrock as Fredrik Egerman, Jessica Grove as Anne Egerman, and Leigh Ann Larkin's "The Miller's Son" was even more pungent than I remembered. Keaton Whittaker's Fredrika was charming. 

Writer/singer Mary Sheeran’s new novel is Quest of the Sleeping Princess (, which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, She has also sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals in New York, including several performances of Songs From the Balanchine Repertory, which led to this book.  Her first novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 (

Advent reflection -- Dec. 3

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U., for Marble Collegiate Church.

“I must turn aside and look at this great sight and why the bush is not burned up.” Exodus 3:3

Moses notices things and wants to account for them. Every road offers something for us to learn from. Of course, little does Moses know that his walk towards a bush flaming in the desert is an approach to God. He follows his instincts to investigate it. We too must sometimes have the courage to step away from the familiar and readjust our focus.

Let us pray for the grace to see what is different and find God there too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent reflection -- Dec. 2

This is today’s reflection from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem? A Spiritual Guide for Advent 2010” by Sr. Carol Perry, S.U., for Marble Collegiate Church.

“Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.” Genesis 33:12

These words belong to Esau who, despite trickery on Jacob’s part many years before, has come to welcome his brother home. Jacob cannot trust him because he cannot trust himself. How sad, because we all need someone to travel beside us, to share both the hardships and joys of the road. The company of others will make our trek to Bethlehem so much easier.

Let us pray for two things: first, for the grace to find others who will journey in faith beside us, and second, for ourselves, that we might be willing to companion others into the house of God.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

O Come Emmanuel

I received this blessing of a book in the mail several years ago. It’s been a holy experience to journey with it each Advent since then. Gordon Giles does an amazing job of bringing together scripture with the hymns and carols it inspired. He offers history and legends, and introduces us to obscure saints as well as living poets and musicians of faith in this 2006 book subtitled “A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas.”

Giles is vicar of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church in Enfield, North London, and is trained in music, philosophy and theology. His knowledge is evident, as is his faith. Each day’s entry begins with a scripture passage, followed by a carol that illustrates it; some of the carols are familiar, some are not. Giles then explains the circumstances of the times when the carol was written, both in the world and in the church. He concludes with a prayer.

In his introduction, Giles writes: “It is my hope and prayer that this musical mystery tour of Advent and Christmas will help and inspire all of us to re-examine and notice what we sing and hear at this time of year.” That has certainly been the case for me. I feel God’s presence so strongly when I read the passages. They are a journey into the mystery, stillness, hope, peace and joy of this season. The readings begin on Dec. 1 and conclude Jan. 6 with Epiphany.

This would be a wonderful gift for a music lover, especially for a choir director or music teacher to give to students, or vice versa. Don’t be concerned that if it’s already past Dec. 1. This is the kind of book to be taken off the shelf and savored every Advent and Christmas.