Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas and Family Together

This afternoon we said goodbye to our Canadian family - five from age 12 to forty something who traveled more than 2,000 miles just to be with us for the week of Christmas.  What an honor and what a joy.  What a lot of laughs!

They were all such great sports, tolerating the goofiness of our little family here, and our odd American Christmas revelry; the church family service with crying babies, noisy kids in the pews, and a particularly despicable King Herod.  There was the noisy Christmas dinner at the home of dear friends, with all the usual characters of weirdness and relation that the years seem to collect.  Board games and car rides, Christmas crackers and basketball in the back yard.  Its all a blur, where did the time go?

The house is a bit quieter now than it has been for the past week.

And in the quiet this afternoon, I stumbled upon this lovely and dare I say transcendent song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, joined by one of my favorites, Aoife O/Donovan -- Transcendental Reunion

The lyrics are below, followed by an concert version of this song, which is allowed for embedding.  Also I would strongly recommend you go view the better version on YouTube, recorded during the Transatlantic Sessions, with dobro guitar master Jerry Douglas.  It is simply lovely.

This song helps me to reflect on the mystery of the blessing of family.  A belated Merry Christmas to all.  And may the New Year give you the ability to recognize how much of life, even the little moments, are really transcendental in nature, if we will just pay attention.

From 20,000 feet
I saw the lights below me
twinkling just like Christmas
we descended slowly
            and the curve of the world passed
            with all of that flying
            above the mighty ocean
            and now we all are arriving
grab the carry on baggage
join the herd for the mad run
take a place in the long line
where does every one come from?
            as we shuffle on forward
            as we wait for inspection
            don’t be holding that line up
            at the end lies redemption
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

Now I’m stamped and I’m waved through
I take up my position
at the mouth of the cannon
saying prayers of contrition
            please deliver my suitcase
            from all mischief and peril      
            now the sight of it circling
            is a hymn to the faithful
Forgive me for my staring, for my unconcealed envy
in the Hall of Arrivals where the great river empties
            it’s hand carts and porters
            all the people it carries
            to be greeted with flowers
            grandfathers and babies          
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

There is no one to meet me
yet I’m all but surrounded
by the tears and embracing
by the joy unbounded
            the friends and relations
            leaping over hemispheres
            transcendental reunion
            all borders vanish here
We are travelers traveling
we are gypsies together
we’re philosophers gathering
we are business or pleasure
            we are going or coming
            we’re just finding our way
            to the next destination
            and from night into day
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah,
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

In a giant bird’s belly
I flew over the ocean
from 20,000 feet high
how those lights were glowing

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Laudate Dominum - W.A. Mozart Lyrics - Sublimity Defined

Recently, I came upon this solo and choral piece, composed in 1780 by Mozart, designed for liturgical use in the Salzburg Cathedral. The the work was intended for vespers held on a specific day on the liturgical calendar.  This was Mozart's final choral work composed for the cathedral.  I cannot stop listening to this, it has become my Advent devotional.  I play it as I drive home from work, as I drive to instruct classes at UCLA, and as I drive home, giving thanks for my class and the opportunity to be out in the world.

The first part of the text is the entire Psalm 117, and the second part is the standard Doxology which appears at the conclusion of many texts, including all the psalm chants.

Can we just pause for a moment in the midst of this annual insanity of Christmas rush to reflect on the profound mystery of the immaculate conception, the embarrassment and shame that followed that young couple who were both awakened in the night by visions of angels, and then the small, seemingly insignificant birth of a little baby boy in a barn.  

Events that put together, still conspire to change the course of history, even today.  It is enough to make me weep.

The translation goes like this:

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, Praise the Lord, all the nations,
laudate eum omnes populi. praise him, all the people.
Quoniam confirmata est For his loving kindness
super nos misericordia ejus, has been bestowed upon us,
et veritas Domini manet and the truth of the Lord endures
in aeternum. for eternity.

Gloria patri et filio Glory to the Father, Son,
et spiritui sancto, and to the Holy Spirit;
sicut erat in principio as it was in the beginning,
et nunc et semper is now, and ever shall be,
et in saecula saeculorum. world without end.
Amen. Amen.

Amen, indeed.  Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Norris Family Christmas Update - 2013

Christmas Cheer from our family to you!

This has been quite a busy year for us Norris folk. Exhibit A: a sampling of the places we four, separately and together, have been in the past 12 months. New York, Minneapolis, Tuolumne Meadows, Oakhurst, Quito (Ecuador!), Chicago (twice), Austin, San Diego, Santa Rosa, the Ecuadorian Amazon, Maui, Toronto, Yosemite Valley, Amsterdam, San Francisco (twice), Brussels, Seattle (thrice!), and Copenhagen. The three trips to Seattle were due to 1) Husky season football tickets, 2) oh yes, we have a daughter in school there. I am tired just thinking about it all!

A Graduate! Huzaah!
Kelly Norris is a proud graduate of DePaul University, with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Elementary Education! Kelly’s graduation ceremony was one for the record books, with her dearest friends; Joni, Emma, and Whitney (from College of Charleston, Tulane, and Loyola New Orleans respectively) all in attendance. Another graduation gift was the presence of dear family friend, Jill Williams, from Austin. Add to that pomp and circumstance, one eager grad ready to tackle life, and two very proud parents. Mix in some outstanding gourmet dinners full of celebration and laughter. Kelly is now working hard almost full time at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, tutoring kids part time, and coaching the special needs swim team. It is such a joy to hear Kelly tell stories of the children she patiently works with each day; some of the tales are hysterical, and the twinkle in her eye when she tells them is priceless. In her spare time, she gets credit for the European and Ecuadorian visits noted above. Up next, she plans to teach English abroad, prospective locations include Ecuador, Thailand, and Chile. Right now, Kelly is loving having time to do as she pleases, especially after 16 years of school and constant structure. Ah, to be young again!

From the Rainy Pacific Northwest
Heather is now a sophomore at the University of Washington. It’s safe to say that this past year has been the hardest, busiest, and richest year of her life. Heather spent 10 weeks this past summer as a counselor at Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp, where she was stretched in many ways leading a different cabin of girls every two weeks. Her camp experience solidified her desire to pursue early childhood psychology in the coming years at the UW. She also has a nanny job for a family of FOUR girls all under age 7, which gives her great joy. Classes are hard, but she is studying subjects she cares about deeply. She is living in Christian community, has solid friendships, and is learning to love the Pacific Northwest, in spite of the gloom and fall cold/wetness. Heather is planning on returning to camp next summer, where she will continue to fall in love with the beautiful back-country of Yosemite, and pursue with joy an investment in the lives of kids. She wants all to know she feels continuously blessed by all the Lord has given her. Come to think of it, we all do.

For Others, with Love
Nancy continues in her role as the President of the Board of Club21 – a learning and resource center for families of children with Down syndrome. This Fall the Club21 Annual Walkathon was a smashing success, with over 700 people in attendance and nearly $100,000 raised in a single day! She is also serving as an Elder at Hollywood Pres, our church of 25+ years, serving with Steve on the Young Life Area Committee, and also working with teen moms. This summer, Nancy also took a week to help her parents, Cliff and Ruth, move from their Toronto house of 42 years into a nearby city-view apartment. All reports are that they are greatly enjoying their new digs! Nancy celebrated a significant birthday this summer with a lovely candlelight backyard dinner gathering. Present were of some of those that she dearly loves; and both girls made it home from hither and yon for the Big Event.

25 Years!
This past September the four of us paused just long enough from all the busy-ness of life to escape. Completely. This Fall marked our 25th wedding anniversary, and a celebration was called for! We four all piled onboard a west bound plane headed for Hawaii. Thus followed nine days of gentle Maui trade winds, snorkeling with turtles off a catamaran, paddling a real outrigger with a genuine descendent of King Kamehameha, zip lining 1,000 feet above the forest, laughing, watching the sunrise at the top of a volcano (Dad slept in, thank you), swimming in the surf, laughing harder, lounging by the pool, a road trip to Hana and the grave of Charles Lindbergh, breathtaking sunsets, and so many stars in the night sky you could cry. Did I mention that we laughed a lot? And I will admit, I teared up several times at the gentle beauty of those countless tropic stars, mindful of their Maker - we are so blessed to have been given the gift of the relationships in our family for all these years, and I am graced beyond measure to be married to my lifelong companion on this amazing journey, Nancy.

As for me, this fall I began a new chapter, teaching a real estate analysis class with UCLA Extension. I love the classroom, and after 30 years of experience in the field, am honored that others might think I have something to share. I also continue my involvement with Fuller Seminary, serving on the Advisory Panel to the School of Intercultural Studies.

In past years here, I have attempted to say something of modest theological significance concerning the impending Christmas season. This year, I’ve decided it’s high time to let someone with far more wisdom and writing skill do the honors. So, below, you will find a mediation on Christmas from Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer, that reflects upon the Christmas miracle in quite exquisite language. Please know that your friendship is part of our Christmas miracle and thankfulness.

Christmas Peace, Joy, Laughter, and Love to all from our home to yours!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Frederick Buechner - Christmas

Without any prior warning, this past Sunday marked the first Sunday of Advent.  Is anyone ready for the Christmas Season to be thrust upon them again?  There were Christmas decorations in Costco starting before Halloween.  Each year, it seems we are less prepared, less ready, and perhaps even less accepting that Advent, the Season of Hope, is upon us. 

Given this, it seems fitting to share here a Christmas meditation by Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer.  I have never read anything that comes closer to summing up my emotions, wonder, and sometime distant sadness mixed with hope at this time of year.


The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist's drill or a jackhammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can't afford on presents you neither need nor want, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the plastic tree, the cornball crèche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we've never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can't see, or don't.
The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve. They string the lights and hang the ornaments. They supervise the hanging of the stockings. They tuck in the children. They lug the presents down out of hiding and pile them under the tree. Just as they're about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor's sheep. The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them. So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow. He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them out to the shed. There's a forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and he turns it on. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the baling twine, shakes the squares of hay apart, and starts scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air. He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is. The winter darkness. The glimmer of light. The smell of the hay and the sound of the animals eating. Where he is, of course, is the manger.
He only just saw it. He whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger. The world is the manger. It is only by grace that he happens to see this other part of the miracle.
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it's cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven."
Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.
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