artist: Terri Steiger
material: porcelain and glass
Like all created things, the snowflake has its own symbolism, the most obvious, of course, being that each snowflake is unique. That in itself is rather mind boggling, especially if you've ever stood in a winter snowfall and wondered how that is really possible. The comparison to humans is easy to make. Like a snowflake, each person is created unique, individual, and irreplaceable. But what I like even more about snowflakes, and in particular the sentiment on this snowflake ornament is that they have a purpose outside of themselves. A snowflake will melt, eventually, into water and will sink down into the earth. The frozen snowflake becomes the water that gives life to the spring flowers. That's a powerful symbol for the life cycle of the Christian. But there's more here, in this ornament. There is also the call to be beautiful.
The Pontifical Council for Culture, in its publication "Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture," has this to say about beauty: "In a world which seems increasingly obsessed with instant gratification, the lure of gain, the pursuit of profit and the overriding importance of possessions, it is striking also to acknowledge a persistent, even growing, fascination with beauty. It may take different forms, but these all seem to indicate an aspiration for "something intangible," which can show us the magic and mystery in things, and even far beyond them." The human person is largely a mystery, and our beauty comes from being made in the image of God. Although we all inherit this beauty at birth, as a gift, we are nevertheless called to grow it and protect it throughout our life. It is a mistake to think that we are supposed to stay exactly the way we are born. If that were true, we wouldn't need the Church or the Trinity. What this ornament preaches is that it is through becoming small, hidden and humble, like a common snowflake, that we become more beautiful. It is in the giving over of our lives, in the melting into God, that we fulfill our destiny and become part of the One, Great Beauty.
Mother and Daughter: Friends of the Heart
artist: Terri Steiger
material: porcelain and metal
This is another of my very favorite ornaments. It is especially appropriate to use in a Prayer Space in January. First of all, the colors link the ornament to winter as they recall images of snow, ice and the winter sky, emphasized by the snowflakes on the porcelain ring. But the colors of blue and white are also the colors most associated with the Jewish faith, and therefore, also of Mary, the Mother of God, who was a faithful Jewish mother. In fact, she is often dressed in white and blue in some of her apparitions, such as Our Lady of Lourdes. On January 1, we celebrate the Feast Day of Mary, Mother of God, where we start off the year asking for her intercession and prayers for us, so that we may imitate her example and live a holy year. Mary is the prime symbol for the Catholic Church itself. She is the perfect woman, even though created, who through the glory and mercy of God, gives birth to New Life - aka Jesus Christ. She is the Queen Mother, and we are her daughters and sons, following her lead, so that we too may have life in Christ. This ornament so simply expresses this idea. Mary, symbol and Mother of the Church, and we, her children, united through the Sacred Heart of her Son. We, the children on earth, seek to have our hearts changed from "hearts of stone" to "hearts of flesh." We are truly "friends of the heart."
artist: Joanne Eschrich
material: porcelain and metal
I love, love, love this exquisite ornament. It is a favorite ornament on my prayer table on many of the days connected to the Holy Spirit. I love the "whiteness of the dove "(ala "the whiteness of the whale" in Melville's masterpiece Moby Dick) combined with the graceful etchings of silver and the filagree look of the metal olive branch. It reminds me of the delicate metal work popular in Cordoba, Spain.
I had just finished a presentation on Noah's Ark and the dove to a family faith formation group the Sunday before going into to my part-time job at the Hallmark store, where they were just unpacking this little guy. I felt a special affinity to it, as I had just been talking all about the Spirit of God that moved across the waters of the flood, recreating the world once more, re-establishing peace between God and his people. This dove could also wonderfully represent the Holy Spirit later seen at the Baptism of Jesus. With its white porcelain body and elegant, elaborate etched metal swirls, it is easy to imagine the Holy Spirit bringing peace in on his wings.
We are familiar with the Holy Spirit being represented in Scripture as a dove, but I am also acquainted with another version of a dove that exists in the world, and also brings peace and healing. This dove is a foundation - the D.O.V.E. foundation, to be exact. D.O.V.E. stands for Development of Vietnam Endeavors and was started by Vietnam Veterans who sought to help the poor in Vietnam, despite the harsh memories and treatment they may have received there. I learned about D.O.V.E. during a summer service project when our Middle Schoolers were taught to knit by some volunteers in our congregation. The girls were asked to learn to knit so that they could create bandages for leprosy victims in Vietnam. We saw photos of how devastating this disease still is to so many in Vietnam who are unable to receive proper medical attention and are banished to the mountainous regions of the country. The D.O.V.E. foundation recruits volunteer knitters, collects these bandages, them hand delivers them to those suffering from this disease in Vietnam. Those bandages are made not from wool, but from crochet thread, so that they don't stick to the wounds, can allow the diseased areas to breathe, and most importantly, the bandages can be washed and reused. These people have very few medical supplies and a constant supply of fresh bandages is simply beyond their reach. These simple white bandages are so basic, yet so important to a whole group of people that still live in conditions so similar to the lepers of the Gospels.
I can't think of a better example of the Holy Spirit in action, so aptly symbolized by the beautiful dove above. One of the most striking things about the D.O.V.E. foundation is that it is not just the external wounds of the lepers in Vietnam that are being cared for. The hidden, internal wounds of the Vietnam Vets who help them are just as painful, in need of just as much attention. In this unique partnership, both wounds are being healed and peace is finding its home - not on Noah's mountain but deep in the heart of a poverty stricken country and in the hearts of the volunteers who care for them . Truly, the paradox St. Francis preached is seen here - "It is in giving that we receive; it is in dying that we are born." For more information about the D.O.V.E. foundation and it's many projects, visit www.dovefund.org. To learn more about the "Bandage Brigade," click here: http://leprosybandages.blogspot.com
artist: Joanne Eschrich
materials: glazed ceramic
This ornament beautifully captures the posture and image of the orans, Latin for the pray-er, the one who prays. The angel's head is bowed, in an attitude reflecting meditation and humility before the Lord. Her hands are gently clasped together, an image of tranquility.
This ornament bears a striking resemblance to another famous image, that of Holy Mary as she appeared under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Like the Prayer Angel, Our Lady also appeared with a circle of stars around her head, 12 stars, for the 12 disciples and the 12 tribes of Israel. What could the stars around the head of the Prayer Angel represent?
Despite the tranquility in her face, there is an air of serious about this angel. Her demeanor points to reflection, meditation and serenity. The stars represent the loftiness of her thoughts, as well as her position between heaven and earth. The stars around her head mirror the stars on her dress, stars in the heavens and stars on earth. Is she gazing down at the stars, thinking of the people in her charge on earth? Is she contemplating how to assist them, while meditating on the ways of God? Is she an intercessory angel, praying for one specific person close to her heart?
While remaining a simple ornament, the Prayer Angel invites us all to reflect on those angels who are near to us, seen or unseen, who nevertheless are always watching over us, praying for us, as they gently, consistently, unfailingly, bring us before the Lord.
Snowy Woods Ornament
artist: Robert Hurlburt
materials: metal, glass
part of the Elegant Ornaments Collection, often based on archived Hallmark greeting cards
This famous poem by Robert Frost offers a good insight into a reflection on this ornament.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost (1915)
1. Two roads diverged in a yellow woods, 3. And both that morning equally lay
And sorry I could not travel both In leaves no step had trodden black.
And be one traveler, long I stood Oh, I kept the first for another day!
And looked down one as far as I could Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
To where it bent in the undergrowth; I doubted if I should ever come back.
2. Then took the other, as just as fair 4. I shall be telling this with a sigh
And having perhaps the better claim, Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
Though as for that the passing there I took the one less traveled by,
Had worn them really about the same, And that has made all the difference.
Click on this link to watch a short video presentation of Robert Frost's famous poem:
This beautiful ornament is a wonderful snapshot of the meaning the poem is getting at - the effects our choices have on our lives. In the ornament, the adult deer is looking back, paused in mid-step. Has he heard a noise that caused fear? Or is he just taking a breather before continuing on his way? Is the fawn following or leading? It all has to do with perspective.
When the ornament is held with the adult deer facing you, it seems as if the deer is looking back, over his shoulder. The shadowy fawn in the background appears to be watching, and waiting for the adult deer to male a decision. But turn the ornament around and the positions are reversed. The adult is no longer looking over his shoulder, but is gazing into the shadow world at the small fawn. His steps and his gaze are very much focused on the small deer. The fawn, on the other hand, is looking out, away towards something outside of our vision. Both of these positions are telling. The fawn waits for the adult deer to make his decision, to take the path "less traveled by," but at the same time the path that the deer will take is set out by the fawn. Now let's apply this to Christianity.
The adult deer is a perfect example of a Christian. He is solid. He is not shadowy or vague, but entirely painted in. His hooves are firmly rooted on the ground, even being entirely covered by the heavy snow. He is part of the physical, visible world we all live in. He is concerned with the daily struggles of life, poised to flee or fight, while wrestling with the heavy snowfall, the daily crosses of his world. While he is thus engaged, he is being watched by a small, shadowy figure, a guiding spirit who will assist and guide his steps. This spirit could be an angel or even a figure of Jesus himself, always just out of sight, but somehow his presence is felt. Turn the ornament around, and it becomes clear that the fawn knows the way through the snowy woods. Where at first glance we may have assumed the adult is leading and protecting the small fawn, now we see that it is actually the fawn who has his eyes on something else, something higher and distant, away out of time and space. Unlike the solid white adult deer, the fawn is almost transparent, signifying a spiritual, unseen aspect.
The two deer in this ornament are portrayed as being in profound relationship, despite the fact that they are on two different levels. There are two points to recognize here. Firstly, no matter what path is chosen, the traveler will not remain in the crossroads. A choice, consciously or not, is always made. St. Catherine of Siena refers to this in her book Dialogue. She writes that "as long as you are pilgrims in this life you are capable of growing and should grow. Those who are not growing are by that very fact going backward."
Secondly, the relationship between the two deer reveals a basic reality - what is physical will always express the spiritual it is in relationship with. Man is a spiritual being; we never actually walk alone. We are always following some type of guide. We choose all kinds of different spiritual guides, running the gamut from the Spirit of Power to the Spirit of Intellectualism to the Holy Spirit. This is the call of Robert Frost's poem - not just which path will you chose to follow, but who will you chose to walk it with?
The Spirit of Christmas
artist: Julie Forsyth
"Awake from your slumber! Arise from your sleep!
A new day is dawning for all those who weep
The people in darkness have seen a great light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.
Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing!
For the Lord, our light and our love,
has turned the night into day!"
from "City of God" by Dan Schutte
This ornament emphasizes two things, not always at the front and center of the Christmas scene. Firstly, Jesus is a gift from God the Father to men of goodwill on earth. God surely shared in the joy of Mary and Joseph that first Christmas, when Jesus was born as a babe. The time of fulfillment was at hand. The time of gathering home had begun. Surely also, God still shares in our joy at Christmas today, as we gather in our own homes and recall, re-member that first Christmas. This Santa bears the image of the Father. He is walking forward, his royal coat swinging in the breeze. He is dressed in the colors of glory, the colors of Christmas and Easter - white and gold. A sun, symbolizing the light of his own presence, the light which which is coming to dwell with us, is rising at the bottom of his inner garment, as well as on the side of his outer garment. The invisible inner life of the Trinity will soon become visible. This ornament shows Father Christmas bearing one single gift, yet it is the greatest gift, the only gift - the gift of the person of Jesus. The gift Father Christmas carries is garnished in the leaves and berries of the holly, the traditional symbol of the crown of thorns Christ wears at Golgatha.
The second aspect this ornament emphasizes is the role of time and action. Besides the wrapped gift, Father Christmas also brings on his person a large bell. What do bells do? Basically two things - they toll the time as well as serve as a call to action. This ornament encapsulates the movement of the Father, in the gift of his holy son, while at the same time indicating that the gift has been given becasue it is "the fullness of time." As a result of this gift, we are called to stir ourselves, to participate in the heavenly actions of the Trinity, begun in Bethlehem, but stretching out across every time and space. Truly, "arise from your slumber! Awake from your sleep! A new day is dawning, for all those who weep!"