On a snowy night, soldier St. Martin of Tours stopped to help a beggar on the side of a road. He took off his military cloak, cut it in half with a sword, and handed it to the other man so that he could be warm. He didn't think how we would explain his torn uniform the next day. He thought instead about the needs of another person.
I like to think about this saint whenever I think about snow, my favorite weather, and winter, my favorite season. But what if climate warming leads to less snow? I made a few graphics about snow and climate warming.
Image Credits for Photos below: "Snow field #1" by akk_rus is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"Snow bank in blizzard" by cambridgebayweather is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
"File:Lemming à collerette du Labrador ou lemming d'Ungava.jpg" by FABRICE SIMON is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
"Snow Field" by Al-fresco is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
In 4th-century Rome, a young woman named Lucy placed four candles in a wreath, lit them, and balanced the lights on her head. She opened the door to a dark tunnel, a catacomb, where bodies had been buried. As the lights cast scary shadows, Lucy said many prayers. She moved slowly to balance her hat and a heavy sack that she carried until she heard voices.
"Thank you, thank you," they cried out. She opened her sack to give the people hiding in the burial tunnels of Rome food. The people hid because they were Christians, and at that time, it was dangerous to believe in Jesus. It was so dangerous that later St. Lucy was killed for her beliefs.
During Advent and especially on St. Lucy's feast day of December 13, when you light your Advent wreath or turn on the lights on your Christmas tree, think of how important light is. To people hiding, a friendly light can mean food, comfort, or kindness. In winter, light can be a reminder that spring will always return again. And at Christmas, light is a symbol that Jesus is here with us in our world.
Something to Do
Collect and donate cans to your local food bank.
In Lima, Peru, in the early 1600s near Christmas, as a Dominican volunteer named Martin was trying to clean the church at night, some mice began squeaking, running, and scratching in the dusty corners. In the church where Martin prayed, creatures were stirring near Christmas—and especially a mouse.
If mice stirred on the night before Christmas, what would you do? Would you start yelling and poking them with a broom? Martin did something different.
Martin liked to be kind to all creatures, even the lowliest like mice. Talking gently, he led the mice out of the church and asked them to live in the garden. Setting up their homes away from the potatoes, under the trees and in the flowers, the furry animals didn't create any more trouble in the Dominican church building where Martin prayed.
For eight years, Martin volunteered with the Dominicans, a group who were living a Christian life. He could only do small chores like cleaning and cutting hair. Since Martin had a Spanish father and an African mother, he was not allowed to become a full member, because laws at that time did not allow someone of mixed race to participate. However, finally the leader of the group realized the law was unjust and welcomed Martin as a full Dominican.
After Martin became a full Dominican, he worked in the infirmary, a place of healing. He cared for the sick, showing compassion to all. According to stories, Martin, with the help of his sister, even created a small shelter for animals, helping cats and dogs, long before today, when it is more common to do so.
Martin believed in being welcoming to all even though he was not always welcomed. Martin kept sharing his faith and kindness even when he met people who were still learning to share and care.
Things to Do:
When your family lights the first candle of your Advent wreath, you start out on a journey of waiting for the birth of Jesus. If you live in a northern country, during Advent, the days grow shorter and winter arrives. At the same time, animals and plants are getting ready for their winter journey, the long wait until spring.
How will they find food? How will they stay warm?
Become more aware of nature's Advent by taking a walk during the first week of Advent. Maybe you can even see some nature from your window.
When I walk in winter, I feel peaceful, but I also feel compassion—some living things seem to struggle. I've been inspired by All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss. But I've added observations from the plants and animals I've seen around my home. Here are some ideas of what you and your family could look for:
Sunrise and sunset: Look at the weather app on your phone and write down the sunrise and sunset each day as you get closer to Christmas. What do you notice?
Chickadees: Do you see small black-capped birds flying from tree to tree? Perhaps they are remembering the treasures they've mapped out all year long. Chickadees stash seeds all around our backyards, parks, and forests to keep for later—their own woodsy pantries. In wintertime, they have to remember where they placed each one in thousands of hiding places. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to see them digging out some of their buried treasure. (To see pictures of chickadees and find out if they live in your area, go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/ and search for chickadee.)
Dusk birds: If you walk as night as falling, you might see many tiny birds all landing in one tree or even crowding into a hole in a tree trunk. We once saw a flock go into an icy evergreen surrounded by crowds of cars in a Safeway parking lot in Truckee, CA. In the 20-degree weather, the tall evergreen shook from all of the tiny wings beating. We could even hear the twittering noise over the shopping center's holiday music.
Birds can raise the temperature for sleeping much higher than that of the air outside by finding a hole in a live tree or huddling together with other birds. We shivered below as we pushed our shopping cart but they were warming up together above. See nature.org's blog for more.
Berries and other fruits: Look for berries or other fruits on a nature walk—even in winter. Do you see berries that look like little snowballs? In Oregon, snowberries come out in October but last through rainy months until winter. Robins and other thrushes (robin-like birds) and even deer eat them. Near my house, they grow at the edge of a forest near a sidewalk. I like to imagine deer walking on the sidewalk and feasting on marshmallow berries.
When you find berries, don't pick them. Leave them for animals that need food.
You might find something red, the fruit of wild roses. Birds, squirrels, and even coyotes like these rose hips much better than rose petals.
Deciduous trees (trees with leaves): Observe the trees on your walk. Have all the deciduous trees lost all of their leaves? Can you now see old nests? The picture below is an old squirrel nest.
Although the trees seem dead, like skeletons, they are hibernating in a way. The cold causes two problems: less water and the chance the tree could freeze. When the ground freezes, the roots can't bring water to the leaves. The large leaves on the tree would let too much water escape. So, the tree lets go of the leaves.
In the cold, the bark acts like a blanket to help keep the tree from freezing. Like a puffy jacket, spaces full of air inside the bark help warm the tree. Inside the tree, where there is less water, its cells change, becoming stronger and glassier and fighting against freezing.
Evergreen trees: Evergreen trees are a symbol for an uplifted spirit, according to Scottish tradition. They do have leaves—their needles are actually leaves. They don't lose them, because they are tough, narrow, and covered with wax. Because of this shape and coating, they don't lose water.
A pet cat: Even a cat gets ready for winter. When you pet your cat, do they feel furrier? Cats grow more fur starting in the fall as there is less sunlight each day.
The more you look, the more you will see the changes of winter all around you. How are you getting ready for winter?
Things to Do
My family and I once went on a boat trip to try to see dolphins and whales. The tiny boat chugged along, and soon, we lost sight of land. Fog stayed around us. It colored the water gray and stopped us from seeing far. I love boats and water, but I felt scared. I lost my feeling of which direction the land had been. We couldn't find the dolphins and whales, and our only friends seemed to be a few dark seabirds that flew overhead. But were they flying farther out to sea to find food? Or toward land perhaps to rest?
Of course, our boat captain had instruments he could read to find his way. Long ago, sailors could find their way using stars and compasses.
But how do we find our way when we don't know what to do? Maybe when something has made us sad or angry? St. Jerome, a wise saint, talked about St. Mary, mother of Jesus, as the star of the sea. He said that she can help guide us when we don't know what to do, the way that stars once guided sailors. We can say a prayer asking Mary to help us, and we can call her by the special name, Star of the Sea.
Even today, boats, like our whale-watching boat, head home to safe harbors where churches named St. Mary Star of the Sea wait to welcome tired ship captains, fisherfolk, and sailors. There are churches named after St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Astoria, Oregon; Brookings, Oregon; Sausalito, California near San Francisco; and near San Diego, California. St. Mary waits to welcome people all along the Pacific coast and along coasts around the world. She also waits to welcome all of us in prayer.
This month's blog post is a bit of fun inspired by counting penguins while I've stayed at home during the pandemic. At Zooniverse, you can volunteer virtually to contribute to scientific research projects, and kids and adults can help monitor penguin populations as they reviewi photographs. I also read about a Cornell Ornithology Lab activity for kids to get moving by imitating bird motions.
So, here's a short and silly poem about penguin movement illustrated with some Penguin Watch photographs available for educational purposes.
Move Like a Penguin
Take a tummy pillow slide
from couches to carpets
to an icy tide.
Waddle through shiny snow.
Wave your paddle wings
and wiggle your cold claw toes.
Crunch a frozen trail.
Where will you go?
Tell your penguin tale.
Photos from https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/penguin-watch/about/education, accessed April 2020
Catholic churches are spreading the news of a wonderful idea for Palm Sunday morning: Place any green branch, such as a simple one from your own garden, in a window or on your door on the morning of April 5. The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit have started this idea as a way of connecting us all in our celebration when we cannot go into churches.
I am already ready with the palm branch I received from a beautifully painted box outside Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Beaverton, OR.
While thinking about Palm Sunday, I went on a "signs of spring walk," an idea suggested by the High Desert Museum of Bend, OR. Searching for nests, nibbled grass shoots, half-eaten pine cones, and budding trees helped me to stop checking my phone for news updates as I fell into the calm of nature's updates. Sounds of squeaky hummingbirds and croaky frogs replaced the text buzz of the phone. I plan to take this walk again on Palm Sunday.
Nursing home residents are some of the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. At this difficult time, even their friends and families may have to stay away to keep them safe.
One way to help is to send cards of support. Children can draw pictures on homemade cards and write simple notes that they are thinking of both residents or staff. Adults can also send cards.
This USA Today article covers medical advice that sending items through the mail does not risk the health of residents. Be sure not to lick any envelopes. Simply Google the addresses of any nursing homes in your community.
If you want to write to Oregon, healthcare workers are battling the virus at the Oregon Veterans' Home in Lebanon and Regency Park Assisted Living in Portland (the Cedar Mill area near Beaverton). Sadly, one of the honored residents, a veteran in his 90s passed away from the disease.
Here is the text from a Facebook post from the Oregon Veterans' Home:
"Our honored residents and staff at the Oregon Veterans' Home have been overwhelmed by the kind words and supportive messages that have been posted online over the past few days. If you would like to send a more tangible sign of your encouragement and support for our honored residents and hard-working staff, a postcard or letter would mean the world to them.
Please send postcards or letters in an unlicked envelope to ATTN: Operation Well Wish, and please specify in parenthesis if your letter is for (Residents) or (Staff). Please do not address letters to specific residents or staff members. Address:
ATTN: Operation Well Wish (Residents or Staff)
Oregon Veterans' Home
600 N. 5th St.
Lebanon, OR 97355"
Here is the address for Regency Park where at the time of this post, three residents and two staff members have tested positive:
Regency Park Assisted Living
Attn: Activities Director
8300 SW Barnes Rd
Portland, OR 97225
Thank you for reaching out even as we have to stay in to keep these treasured individuals safe.
In a time when many of us have to remain apart for social distancing, in faith we still know that we are connected in spirit. One of my favorite saints/blessed holy ones, Blessed Julian of Norwich had a vision that Jesus surrounds all of us like an enfolded or wrapped blanket. We can trust that Jesus is always with us to protect us.
Making a friendship bracelet is an easy and tangible way to show a circle of caring, protection, connection, and love. Jonah Larson is a young crochet enthusiast who has inspired me, my nephew, and a worldwide community with his lessons and patterns. Jonah's passion for crochet has helped him focus his attention in school, express his creativity, and connect with friends around the world. Find his friendship bracelet tutorial here.
Seeking connection in her own time, Julian became inspired to share sixteen visions that she experienced when she fell so mysteriously ill that those around her felt she would die. After she recovered, she decided to start a new life of prayer, living alone in a small room attached to the Church of St. Julian, where she gets her name today. She gave advice to those who came to her for help and began recording her visions. Her "showings" are the first woman-authored book written in English that has survived until today. To learn more, visit the Friends of Julian.
In Frozen 2, Elsa, her sister, and her friends find a way to live in peace and balance with four "spirits" of nature: water, earth, fire, and wind. While at first, the theme of the story did not seem to relate to the Catholic faith, I began reflecting on the beauty of God's creation in these four forces. As I remembered the imagery from the film of simple symbols that reflect water, earth, fire, and wind, I began to think about Catholic saints who also represent these aspects of creation.
So, while enjoying the movie and creating a remembrance of water, earth, fire, and wind symbols, think about these four saints.
Earth: St. Francis
Lived in Italy in the early 1200s
St. Francis turned away from a life of wealth to pray with the poor and in abandoned places, in nature, and near animals. He found that he could have conversations with God in nature. One of his prayers is, "praised be you my Lord with all my creatures." He saw God's creation in all of nature around him, and he even considered the earth to be his sister. Pope St. John Paul made him the saint of ecology: the study of the ways that living things relate to each other and their environment. This wonderful website, Praying Nature with St. Francis of Assisi, is a guide to following St. Francis outside into contemplation.
Fire: St Brigid
Lived in Ireland, 500s
St. Brigid convinced a king to give her land for a monastery in the 500s in Ireland—even after he had told her "no" many times before. She and the sisters who followed her began burning a fire at the monastery to show the light of the Christian faith. St. Brigid wanted to connect to a tradition that had gone on before when priestesses had lit bonfires on the hillsides to honor a goddess. For hundreds of years, the sisters kept their fire burning until monasteries were attacked. But more importantly, they kept the fire of faith alive in their hearts.
Inspired to create a symbol of peace, Brigidine Sisters in modern times have started the tradition again, and it has become so important in Ireland that even the Irish President helped light the flame! President Mary McAleese said that the modern St. Brigid's fire connects the history of pre-Christian, Catholic, and Protestant Irish people since the light once glowed before divisions into these different groups.
Wind: Pope St. John Paul II
Lived from 1920-2005, born in Poland
"The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." --John 3:8
Pope St. John Paul II was born of the spirit. Like the wind sounding from place to place, he traveled the globe, spreading a message of hope to people in over 130 countries (https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/03/22/legacy-john-paul-ii). He kept journeying even as he became older and suffered from Parkinson's disease. With the Holy Spirit guiding him even in times when he felt in pain, he inspired the faith of millions. Because I am a tiny part in this story, Pope John Paul II is one my favorite saints. Before I was Catholic at the age of 25, I was fortunate to attend an outdoor Mass where he presided in Manila, the Philippines, one of the turning points in my decision to become Catholic as an adult.
Water: St. Veronica
Lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus
St. Veronica overcame fear to help Jesus at a time when he most needed compassion, when he walked carrying a heavy cross. She saw sweat and blood on the face of Jesus and wished to hand him her veil to wipe it away—a simple comfort. But Veronica must have felt frightened that if she offered help, the soldiers guarding Jesus might punish her. And she wouldn't have been used to taking off her veil in front of others.
Alone in the crowd, she did reach out and give Jesus her veil to take away the water dripping on his face. And this simple act made her a saint.
Make a Frozen 2 Symbols Banner
If you and your children have enjoyed Frozen 2, the elements in the movie can remind you of Catholic heroes, too. Here is a craft you can make to remember the movie and the saints (and there are others whose stories touch earth, fire, wind, or water!).
You will need:
I'm Sherry Weaver Smith, author of The Wolf and the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick. I like to have adventures in getting outside in nature, crafting, and cooking as I explore our Catholic faith with my daughter. We want to be inspired by the saints!