Las Noches de las Luminarias

I’ve lived in the Phoenix area for more than 25 years, and each year I’ve promised myself that I would get to Las Noches de las Luminarias (literally, The Nights of The Lights) at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

The powerful saguaro appears to guard the adobe house decorated with luminaries.

The powerful saguaro appears to guard the adobe house decorated with luminarias.

Two nights ago, I kept my promise. At first I was disappointed that I could find no one to go with me, but, once there, I was thankful for the chance to wander alone through the paths lit with the soft glow of more that 8,000 hand-light luminarias and thousands of twinkling white lights.

I was delighted by the sounds of jazz, blues, flamenco guitar, didgeridoo, and a hand-bell choir, along with stories told by a Native American storyteller. I finished my evening with a hand-warming cup of hot chocolate and more jazz in the garden.

And of course, because this is a post about The Nights of The Lights and because I love taking shots of the moon, I must include the picture I took last night of the most magnificent Light of the Night, the last full moon of 2012. (Click on any image for descriptions and slideshow.)

Christmas Means Family

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Christmas 1955 with my brother Mark.

I loved Christmas. Bringing sugar cookies alive with red and green sprinkles, narrating the Christmas story for Mother’s church group, saving money for months to buy a small deep-blue bottle of cheap cologne for Mother, singing Christmas Carols at Midnight Mass with Daddy, discovering the magic that Santa left under the tree, playing Monopoly with my family, laughing, screaming, teasing. Christmas meant family. Lots of them. In addition to my own family of 6 boys, 4 girls, and parents, I had a huge mess of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and we spent time with them. The gift of family and time.

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My family: Daughter-in-law with new grand-baby due in February, #1 Son, Granddaughter, #2 Son, and soon-to-be Daughter-in-law

Now my family dynamics are very different. Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I was blessed to spend four hours with my small family. Instead of the typical Christmas dinner, I fixed a Southern breakfast for brunch: ham, eggs, grits, & homemade biscuits, made a little bit fancy with Mimosas. They’ve gone now. To Chicago. To the other side of the city. To lead their own lives and build their own family memories. I miss them terribly.

Let your light shine so all may see…

IMG_0298“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” Buddha

“Arise, shine; For your light has come!  And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”  Isaiah 60:1

I am a Catholic Christian, born into a large Catholic family from the Midwest of the United States. Most of my warmest childhood memories revolve around ceremonies and traditions of our faith, and all of them involve the lighting of candles.

During this time of year, my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukah (Hanukkah), the eight-day Festival of Lights; they light one candle each night on the Menorah.  I understand that Buddhists observe a religious Light Festival in October, and that the Hindu celebrate Diwali which involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil.

Jesus is called the Light of the World. There are at least 80 references to LIGHT in the New Testament, and almost that many in the Old Testament. We are told to not hide our light under the basket, and are reminded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

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We light the candles in the Advent Wreath in anticipation of Christmas Day when we celebrate Christ’s birth (although He was probably born in the spring and not in December, but the time of year truly doesn’t matter, does it?). This is my dining table, lit with candles in anticipation of my Christmas dinner with my family around this table. Look closely; you can just make out the chairs, quietly waiting for the warmth of the love of family.

Aross the world and across all faiths and traditions, we share similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams. The metaphor of light weaves a bright powerful ribbon that could, if we let it, join us together as humans searching for life and love in what can be a harsh, cold, and dark world.

As the Buddha said, I cannot live without a spiritual life. I light candles to symbolize the light that my Christian beliefs bring into my life and to remind me to be a light to those who are struggling with darkness.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  Genesis 1:3

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

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I require my students to reflect on their learning, to take their written pieces and describe their strengths and, more important, what they will do to produce better writing the next time. They also must reflect on the text they read, answering the question, “So what?” They need to determine, “What does this novel mean to me? What can I learn about life or the human condition by reading it? How can I make my life, and the lives of those around me, better as a result of reading this book (or article, or poem)?”

The great philosopher Socrates urged his pupils to reflect on their lives:

 The unexamined life is not worth living.

When I sit down with my journal, I reflect on my day, my week, my life, holding up a mirror, so to speak, to my words and actions, examining what went right and what didn’t. Then I make promises to myself and to God that I will do better. However, that is akin to my students writing, “I will work harder” in their reflections about writing. I try to figure out what I can do to make tomorrow better, much the same as when I ask the students to get specific (“I will use parallel structure.”).

Reflection

Now, don’t these two scenes just invite you to sit on a blanket at the edge of this mountain pond and quietly reflect?

Do yourself a favor, and check out more reflections and responses to this week’s photo challenge.

New to The Daily Post? Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’re invited to get involved in our Weekly Photo Challenge to help you meet your blogging goals and give you another way to take part in Post a Day / Post a Week. Everyone is welcome to participate, even if your blog isn’t about photography.

Strength in Fragile Beauty

Geranium Blossom: 1/6400 sec at f/5.0, 105 mm, ISO 200

Geranium Blossom: 1/6400 sec at f/5.0, 105 mm, ISO 200

I was dog-tired (Where did that expression come from? My little Sophie sleeps all day. How on earth could she possibly be tired?) … I digress … I was beat, dragging myself in the door a few hours ago; I vowed to eat a small bite, walk Sophie, and go to bed early … I mean before 8 PM and get up at 4 AM to grade the pile of papers in my bag.

I set the timer, allowing myself 20 minutes to respond to and comment on my favorite blogs. That was 1 1/2 hours ago. Just as when I reach for “just one more and that’s all” piece of the scrumptious Ferrero Rocher chocolates or “just one more and I’m hiding the box” of the incredible chocolate covered delights in the big red tin from Costco, I have read “just one more” blog — at least 20 of them because they are so inviting, and I’ve edited and uploaded “just one more” image — quite of few of them.

And now, just one post and that’s all:

As I indulged in coffee and quiet time on my patio this past weekend, I noticed the morning sun streaming through a fallen geranium blossom. The image speaks of isolation, but not loneliness. Although a fragile, whisper-thin bloom about to die, it is beautiful and strong in the sunlight.

We can be like this. Isolated, but not completely alone. (See the small impression of another blossom in the foreground?) We can be fragile, yet strong, because we gain strength through the gentle light of our God, through the quiet of prayer and meditation, through the warmth of our friends (those we see and speak to face-to-face or those we speak to through the Internet), and possibly through our work, whether it is a job, a career, or a passion.

Sunday Reflections

Tonight's Moon: ISO 100, 200 mm, f/8.0 at 1/250 sec

Tonight’s Moon: ISO 100, 200 mm, f/8.0 at 1/250 sec

I gave myself an unplanned silent retreat today. It began this morning when I spent several hours with Lectio Divina (a way of prayer and meditation using the Scriptures). My spirit began to grow quiet and calm with the silent study, prayer, and reflection and I decided to allow myself the luxury of more.

My home was silent, with no TV, music, cell phone. In addition, I avoided the noise of computer interaction; Internet and email are just a few of the noisy distractions.

Now, I go to bed with peace.

What does this have to do with the image of the moon? Not much … but yet, a lot. On my walk with Sophie tonight, I was completely filled with thanksgiving for the stars in the sky, for the cool air, and for the brilliant moon hanging low, just above the rooftops. I rushed her through her walk, hastily assembled the camera, and set up in the front street to capture the moment.

Good night, moon. Good night everyone.

Sunday Post: Peaceful

I took this shot July 3, at a city park where I worked in Feicheng, Shandong Province, China. I’ve returned to this image frequently, trying to attach a story to the woman.  At first look, this might appear to be peaceful scene, but the more I look at it, I don’t think it is.

Resting After Supper

Resting After Supper

The reflection of trees at the top of the image give us a feeling of peace, and the woman is resting in the peace of the evening. However, the lotus leaves cut across the shot, right in the center, creating a feeling of unease and unrest. Look closely; there is a discarded paper cup littering the lotus leaves. A metaphor?

The woman, herself, appears to be more troubled than peaceful. Her brow is raised; her posture is not relaxed. She has carried her portable stool down the hill to the lotus pond, possibly searching for a quiet rest,  for a moment of peace. Is she praying for someone? Her husband? Her child? Herself?

You can find other posts in response to Jake’s Sunday Challenge at his link:  http://jakesprinters.wordpress.com