Last Days of a Fading Year

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”  Albert King… and others.

As many of us already know, the word Halloween is an English language contraction of the Christian “All-Hallows Eve.” Hallowed meaning holy, as in, “Our Father, hallowed be thy name.”

But the roots of the holiness of Halloween lie deeper than we usually suspect, and predate the arrival of Christianity in Europe by at least two thousand years, probably even longer. The ancient Celts who inhabited Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man marked Samhain, or “Summer’s End,” with a celebration of fire and feasting. In October, the gifts of Summer– wheat, hay, potatoes, pears and apples– had been harvested, but each day the Sun sank lower, dimmer, toward the edge of the southern horizon. The dark half of the year was becoming stronger. Nights grew longer and colder and the first fingers of Winter began to pry open the gates that would unleash storms and snow and ice and the fear that perhaps the Sun and its power would not return to the North.

During the bright, Summer half of the year, now fading to its end, a thin veil separated this world– Ourworld– from the Otherworld. But on the night of Samhain the veil shredded. The dead, who had left this world, and all the ghosts and goblins, fairies and other hidden souls found themselves able to wander freely out into the night to mingle with the rest of us, those of us still alive. Read More

Anna Ancher and The Kitchen Maid

“God walks among the pots and pans.”    St. Teresa of Avila


Early Sunday morning. Skies the color of slate, and slate-colored rain pouring down. Late August in Denmark, but as wet and cold as late November in California. Except for a woman in red tennis shoes walking a tiny black dog, there’s not another soul on the streets in Vesterbro while I wait, shivering, for the number 14 bus. Then I’m the only passenger, still shivering, as the bus splashes through the streets to the foggy green and deserted Østre Anlæg Park. Where in the world is everyone this morning? In church?  Certainly not in the Hirschprung Museum. Only an elderly couple shares with me the empty galleries. The man and woman appear to be in their late seventies, if not older. They act tenderly toward each other. She is taller, but that’s perhaps because his shoulders are so stooped. Water drips from their gray coats, like water from my black one. Rain pounding on the roof makes it sound like we’re inside a drum.

Gradually a glow of sunlight illuminates us. It’s not a burst of light on the road to Damascus, but still, it’s a revelation. The clouds of Copenhagen have not evaporated, raindrops still rattle down. But here inside the  museum light radiates from a small painting; its gravitational field pulls me and the two strangers into its orbit.

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A Home in Paterna – 3

    Light on the walls of old houses,
    Passerby, open your eyes.
From En Route, by Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Claire Cavanaugh.

Although I have visited Spain dozens of times during the past 35 years and have often lived there for months at a time, Spain still remains a mystery to me. I have often wondered, Why is this so?  One would think that if you speak Spanish reasonably well, have several close Spanish friends — who have also been your teachers — and have traveled throughout the country, then Spain would become familiar to you, no? like a friend. But it hasn’t. Resolutely, it resists familiarity. This resistance fascinates my imagination.

Why both resistance and fascination? I don’t know; I don’t understand either one. But Spain, that ancient, enigmatic peninsula, bordered between the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas and the Pyrenees mountains, conquered by the Romans, Christianized by Barbarian Goths, occupied by Muslims for nearly 800 years, Spain will tell you stories about itself — and about you, too. You have to open your eyes and ears and your heart and be patient and listen carefully.

And yet, in spite of all that, you still may not get answers.
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