By Mary Halverson Schofield
Christmas Day was established as a federal holiday in the United States in 1870 for an already Christian nation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our country was settled by Christians. The Bible was taught in schools. My grandmother learned to read from a Bible in a public school in Minnesota.
Our WWI and WWII presidents made references to the United States being a Christian nation. Woodrow Wilson stated, in 1917, “America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the tenets of righteousness, which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1944: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
I was four years old. World War II was raging. Times were grim. We lived with shortages, rations and war deaths. What kept us together as a nation was our Christian faith: it permeated schools, groups, newspapers, families and our lives.
My mother spearheaded blood drives and the folding and rolling of bandages for the war effort.
Throughout the war she knitted, sewed, canned and cooked. She sent boxes to her nephew on the French front, and packed baskets for the “needy” at home. She ripped back old sweaters to knit socks, scarves and mittens; she braided rugs from old skirts, coats and suits.
She shared of what we had and was creative in “making-do.” She was active in church and comforted those who lost loved ones in battle.
There was an underlying current in our nation that we would win the war because God was with us. We, and our president, shared a deep Christian faith. Christmas was quiet; a time to make gifts for those we loved, and cherish what others had made for us. It was a place-card to remember who we were: Christians, a people who lived lives of love, sharing and kindness.
As a nation we no longer hold the unifying thread of the Christian tradition. There is little evidence that our public schools teach the role the Scriptures played in our nation’s birth and formative years up to the 1960’s — a tragedy, because, to paraphrase Woodrow Wilson: If we don’t know where we have come from, we don’t know what we are about.
I invite you this Christmas to weigh and share the heritage of the federal holiday that bears Christ’s name. And, may you have a reflective and joyous Christmas.
Clear Your Living Space
By Mary Joan Meagher
On the airplane, on the way home from a wonderful week spent strolling the white sand beaches of Florida, I saw a shopping catalog in the mesh bag on the back of the seat in front of me. Wow! A possibility to do two things at once … fly high above the clouds billowing below us, and yet still buy any number of gadgets and gew-gaws. I had just taken a week out of my life to rest and to reflect on nature, and here I was already back in the thick of our commercial culture.
Buying and accumulating “stuff” is one of the preoccupations of our world today. It is fun and exciting when we are young and footloose, and it is a necessity as we settle into family life. We have to work harder and harder to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, and orthodontia for a growing family. But because we love “stuff,” we accumulate more than we need. We acquire what we want as well. Thus the catalog on the back of the airplane seat with listings that ranged from miniaturized TV cameras for surveillance to gold paper weights for executive desks.
How much stress is built up in caring for, protecting, and arranging all this stuff? What do we do with these “things” when we decide to move? Each one must be accounted for, must be packed, must be assigned a new resting place in the new house. Even if staying in the same house, we must display them, dust them, and inventory them.
If you want to reduce stress in your life, start by assessing each room in your house and deciding how you can simplify it.
What is present in each space you occupy that is really needed? What object or piece of furniture or accessory was added simply because it is something you acquired along the way? Clear away the clutter. If you don’t want to sell it or give it away, box it up and put it away in storage. Clear your living space.
Look out your windows. Are the views of nature brought into your living space, or are the windows cluttered up with too many elaborate curtains, drapes, or blinds that keep you shut up inside? Bring the outside in. Too often we trap ourselves in our square-footage of space, and neglect the freedom of the outdoors which doors and windows imply.
Wordsworth says “We have given our hearts away” in “getting and spending,” that we “lay waste our powers” in so doing. Reclaim your heart, rebuild your power by simplifying your life, by not letting your possessions own you, by looking out your clear windows and seeing what “in Nature is ours.”
By Kate Pettit
There is never enough of it. It is relentless in its pursuit. It is ingenious in its ability to elude the pursuer. Each morning, I wake. I dress, let the dog out, make coffee, get the newspaper, fill my cup, turn on the news, sit in my chair, and throw the dog’s toy bone as many times as he and I agree to. I read the front section, looking up only occasionally to listen to something more interesting in the televised news. Then it is back to the paper and the letters to the editor. Two hours have passed. Two hours, savored for their meaninglessness, their lack of urgency, their total waste of time.
Then urgency sets in. The lists of all the things that should be done, must be done, can be done, start to bombard me. But I have no desire to do them. I have no passion for shredding the tons of useless documents filling my office. I have no interest in sweeping floors or doing laundry. The phone rings, the computer calls, malware infects my computer—and it is now dinnertime. Blank sheets of paper remain so. Call the techies. Four more hours gone. A day gone by, nothing of note has happened, and I lament the time lost. I wish for more time to hold the baby, to feel the arms of the little boys as each encircles my neck with big-boy hugs, to watch the girls twirl their skirts and sing Elsa’s anthem of determination from Frozen. I crave the shy smile of the teenager who has forgotten what to say to this old lady. I wonder if he remembers running across the room flinging himself into my arms shouting with glee as I lifted him up to the sky, laughing in abandonment, shouting my name, “Grandma.”
Where does time go? Why can’t I find it? I long for more of it, but waste what I have. I want to slow it down, be able to make the sweetness of each moment last longer. But time chases me. I never thought it could go so fast. I always thought there would be so much more. Time. It eludes, it pursues. I want to waste it, but, I don’t have time for that anymore.
Welcome to the New Season
By Sue Reddin
As we begin a new season, I would like to share what Pen Women has meant to me. First of all, it is about connections. I was introduced to longtime Pen Woman, Jeannie Rogers, by the Artistic Director of Theater 65, for which I was Music Director. She in turn, asked me to present some original music from my CD, “The Right Direction”, on a cable TV show, “The Time of Our Lives”, for which she was co-host. At the station, I came face to face with a group of Pen Women, who worked on that show. Mary Joan Meagher was the Producer and Script writer of the show, and Camille Crandall was Asst. Video Editor, and Manager of Continuity. They told me about the Pen Women Minnesota Chapter, and invited me to present my music and story behind it at a meeting. I became a member soon thereafter in December, 2003. I was the only member in the Composing category, but several members were talented musicians as well as being professional painters, poets, and writers. Everyone was encouraging and helpful (after all, the original lyrics that I write are actually poems also). Then a few years later, along came new member, Kate Pettit, with her innovative “Fusion” shows of poetry, music and dance at Bloomington Art Center. She asked me to collaborate with member Jeanne Emrich, in setting Jeanne’s Haiku poetry to music. We did songs for 2 different shows. One of the songs, “Fallen Grasses”, won First Prize in the Pen Women Biennial Convention music competition (2008). There were poems of other Pen Women from our chapter performed in these shows. These kinds of connections and collaborations are what Pen Women is all about, as well as the friendships that bond us. We are helping each other become the best version of our artistic selves. I hope this year will prove to be an inspiring and productive journey for all of us, with more connections and collaborations!