Christmas Thoughts – Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where
you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

“Simple Gifts,” Shaker song, written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848. Sung here by Marilyn Horne.

Fascinated with the passage of Canadian Geese over the old house, usually at dawn and dusk, honking back and forth, one to another; a V formation–sometimes stragglers behind, sometimes those with a streak of the errant, flapping hard outside the V (nonconformists?). Suspect their transit over our painted lady in West Highlands is simply the natural imperative to feed. Their destination: lakes called Sloan’s, Berkeley, Rocky Mountain or, perhaps, even more distant destinations where, somehow, the flock knows–an intuition of creatures who have not yet lost their grounding, their intimacy with the simple gift of knowing the primordial message of the earth–sustenance abounds.

The slip-slide of winter that, soon, will encompass another Christmas, provokes more questions than answers; an urge to dig deep within that fragile depository of psyche where supposed “truths” reside.

Dare I reveal that that early morning, late afternoon boisterous junket above enchants more intensely than the timeworn story of a nativity in a stable in a place called Bethlehem?

Dare I suggest the seeing, the experiencing of a mallard, a curious deer, a tree, a cormorant (a diving bird who can sustain a presence under water for seventy seconds), a pelican, a dog’s eyes are perdurable joys more lasting, more significant, more gifting than a Parade of Lights, or a Yuletide sale at Wal-Mart, or a child tugging Santa’s beard, or a Nativity scene, or a plastic tree festooned with blinking lights and shiny bulbs, or wire reindeer flashing on and off and on and off upon the roof of a neighbor’s house? Indeed, may I suggest all of this (and so much more), resonates, for me, in a place and time where the whole diapason of human existence sorely pales against the holy trudge of a universe ensconced in truths, in imperatives honed within the womb of a giving presence more immaculate than a mere human conception?

Right now, a delicate, not rushed, slow, gentle flow of snow persists against the window of my writing room. I have not seen or heard the geese this morning; perhaps their flight will wait until I am there, my head upturned, watching, smiling with their honks, their precision V. But, then, this morning I have studied the eyes of Sarah (our Malamute, our Dog), and have seen therein a particular wisdom, a particular knowledge, a particular intelligence that I will never acquire. Hers is the realm of that which transcends the paltry span of 2000 years of human foibles; hers is the realm of the elemental truths of the earth where a child born in Bethlehem was/is no more an event of consequence than, yes, the simple gifts of the slip-slide of another winter, the wag of a dog’s tail, the flight of geese across the dawn of a winter’s morning.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning
we come round right.

A wonderful rendition of “Simple Gifts,” here. The song, “Simple Gifts,” provided Aaron Copeland with the theme for “Appalachian Spring.”

I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals…
they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied…not one is demented with the
mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived
thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

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