When reviewing the lists of top ten books of 2015 from The New York Times,The Washington Post,The Week,The Guardian or (when the editors get lazy and ask the reader to come up with a list) The Wall Street Journal, I discovered that I did not read a single book on those lists. It is not that I did not read a book this year, but it appears that I did not read what everyone else seems to be reading this year.
The stack of books read during this year include, but are not limited to, the following: Meditations on the Insatiable Soul, poems by Robert Bly; The Moviegoer and Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy; True North, The Farmer’s Daughter, and Julip by Jim Harrison; Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich; The Dharma Bums and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac; Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Sky Above, Great Wind and One Robe, One Bowl (translations of Ryokan’s poetry); and Rabbit, Run by John Updike.
Notable, these books have at least one thing in common: they were written and published prior to the internet. That is not to say that every book I read last year pre-dates the world wide web. For example, Nick Demske’s self-titled release is a modern poetry volume. But what intrigues me by some of these books is that they could never, ever possibly be published in today’s market.
I started reading one author because a writer I met in Racine encouraged me to explore fiction. One book lead to another which opened the door to a different author which lead to another book. And that lead to a year’s worth of following authors and their books.
Currently, I have at least a dozen books I am reading now that will begin the journey for next year.
From the living room window, I see the full moon rising through the twinkling reflection of Christmas lights. At a glance, the moon might be mistaken for a street lamp. The play of lights off the window and through it remind me of something I read earlier this week: “Keep the ripple going.” There is a short story I wrote that I have been sitting on for nearly a decade. An edited version of it was published in an indie newspaper. Since it is Christmas and a full moon, it seems time to release the unedited/extended version of the text tonight before the clouds roll in and hide the moon. Hope you enjoy the short story. Merry Christmas!
A Christmas story: Our home is waiting for us
by Matthew Mulder
Westville Pub was busier than I thought for a Christmas Eve. It looked like we were not the only ones escaping the chilly, damp Appalachian December night. My small family arrived a little after eight in the evening to enjoy an energetic performance by Gypsy Bandwagon. There was only one booth available near the back that we quickly populated. The bar maid took my order for a pint of ale, chips and salsa and ginger ale.
Gypsy Bandwagon, self-described as genre-challenged, played lively Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, a bit of Bluegrass, classical piano solos and traditional gypsy pieces. Lead guitarist and vocalist shared singing chores with his wife, an accomplished violinist and keyboardist. The drummer,Uncle Biscuit, complemented his wife, a multi-instrumentalist, who played everything from the violin to the bass guitar. The band put on a free concert for the holiday crowd and brought gifts to give away to people in the Pub. With festive flare they gave away wrapped gifts if you owned a dog or claimed to be a Chicago Cubs fan or if you liked the last number they performed you got a free Gypsy Bandwagon CD.
Many traditional Christmas favorites filled their set list that pleased the crowd. A 16th century carol haunted me. I don’t even remember the name of it, but I imagined a New England tavern must have sounded much like that over two hundred years ago. I wondered about the first Christmas celebration.
Rome December 25, 336 was the first recorded celebration of Christmas. Was there egg nog? Probably not. St. Francis of Assisi assembled one of the first Nativity scenes in Greccio, Italy on December 25, 1223. The well-known Christmas carol “Silent Night” was performed for the first time at the Church of Saint Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria on Christmas day in 1818. What will Christmas celebrations will be like in ten years? Or 100 years?
Thinking back to how I was reared up by my parents, I suspect the notion of attending a gig in a pub with kids on Christmas Eve must seem odd—if not a bit disturbing. My oldest loved the whole experience. I am not sure if it was the ginger ale or the nachos or the bouncing on the booth seat to the music or the fact that he was up past his bed time. He seemed glad to be there. His baby brother fell asleep.
Uncle Biscuit came back and said hello during a quick intermission. He and his wife are good friends and he is a local cartoonist and illustrator. It was getting late. After wishing him and his wife a Merry Christmas, we left.
It had begun to rain outside as the family gathered into the car. We drove home with the windshield lightly swishing away the rain droplets. When we arrived home my son said, “Our home is waiting for us.” I like that expression—home is waiting for us. The smell of fresh-cut poplar was sweet in the damp night air as we entered our waiting home.
Christmas morning. My family attended church. Coena Domini, or Eucharist, was celebrated. In a non-denominational church they simply call it “Lord’s Supper.” Supper seems so common for a sacred “feast” on Sunday morning. Well, it was twelve ordinary guys that witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
As the elements of Eucharist were distributed, I thought of Jesus — the babe born in Bethlehem. He reportedly fulfilled more than 300 prophesies. During the morning service I read of ten of those prophesies. I am not a theologian, but I found the fulfilled prophesies amazing. I am not a mathematician either, but the probability factor is equally fascinating. Ann Rice admitted to discovering similar facts while she researched her book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
What I did not find fascinating was the small plastic cup filled with grape juice and a crumb of broken Saltines. Is this not a Blessed Sacrament—as some Christians call it. I had a challenge finding anything sacred about a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker. But these are simple reminders of a greater narrative. Nothing wrong with common things.
Jeremy Huggins posed the question, is there “any reason why I couldn’t go through the Communion line more than once?” Initially I responded: “When was the last time anyone ate a suggestion of bread and a swallow of wine and called it supper?”
I wonder if American Christians embrace an ascetic view of communion because they live an epicurean lifestyle. Should followers of Christ not seek the highest pleasure—desiring God? Let us feast Deo favente (with God’s favor).
By practice, the fellowship I attend also observes the Passover Supper each year as part of Passion Week. The elements of the Seder Dinner (Maror: bitter herbs-horseradish, Karpas: vegetable-parsley, Chazeret: bitter vegetable-lettuce, Charoset: apple, nut, spice and wine mixture, Zeroa: shankbone-kosher lamb and Beitzah: egg) are symbolic and common. Likewise, bread and wine are common food items. Still a supper is a supper, not an appetizer.
For some reason I thought of the pale ale and nachos I had consumed the previous night at Westville Pub. Why is it that ale and nachos are not sacred reminders of the holy truth? Maybe that is a bit sacrilegious to be considered on Christmas—a holiday. “Holiday,” from an Old English word “hligdæg,” means “a religious feast day.” Why a holy day? The Middle English word “holi” has Old High German origins from the word “heilag” meaning “sacred” which has Gothic roots meaning “hallow, sanctified” which further has Latin sources in the word “sanctus.” A day like any other day recognized as sacred, hallowed, sanctified seems out-of-place in American culture.
As I held a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker in my hands that Christmas morning, I remembered the night the Christ was betrayed. He shared his last meal of wine and bread with twelve ordinary, mostly nondescript guys who were being prepared to turn the world upside down. I identified with Jesus the Christ by taking the Eucharist. Am I more holy now than I was before? Does a day change its nature simply because it is recognized as sacred? I will leave those questions to the philosophers and theologians. “Our home is waiting for us,” my eldest child said on Christmas Eve. In more ways than the child realizes, that statement just might explain the reality of Christmas.
Listen to an abridged audio version of this story:
No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God- for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.