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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality in nature’

The steel behemoth lurches, pulling fast-away just after my arriving;

Not a moment to lose as I begin the clear afternoon crossing.

A gently undulating sea receives my haste and purpose with cool indifference;

Only the evanescent foam at the stern in the wake of my transit takes any notice.

So goes the journey of souls ferried here and there in dissolving moments;

Consumed by flights of well-meaning, scheduled intending.

As native gulls soar and search, and the diesel-beast heaves forward;

Under smooth and comforting skies,  a fresh-clean and azure-blue.

No white scars of cloud or flight of any man-made thing;

And my eyes go out to where sky and water meet, and I hear my heart beating.

No goals no roles no missions to delude me;

I am the lighted sea, and the winter sky.

I am the boiling foamy-turbulence in the Archimedean trail;

The hungry gull, the bustling crewman,

and the poet watcher,

a curious looking-man,

gazing down upon the crossing.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Rorschach Inkblot #3

This weekend, I caught a PBS panel discussion about brain games designed to stimulate plasticity, cut the odds of Alzheimer’s disease, and generally keep the brain “young” and agile. The three experts on the panel conducted a very interesting exchange on the story that is emerging from the research. The commentary that especially captured my interest included the facts that:

  1. The best brain exercises involve the mix of multi-sensory experiences ( olfaction, touch, hearing, taste, etc.).
  2. Sudoku and crossword puzzles are less valuable for enhanced plasticity though practice will make you better at Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
  3. Challenges that involve social interaction demanding creativity are likely to yield greatest benefit.

So, what’s good for the brain is good for the soul: time spent experiencing challenges that demand creative and imaginative reactions in a social setting. Having to attune ourselves to the differences among people, to adjust to different communication and problem-solving styles, and think on one’s feet in response to challenging questions posed by others are all wonderful nourishment for the brain.

It is isolation, insulation, radical individualism, separation, social distancing and solitary pursuits that stand in the way of the great discoveries about ourselves and the farther reaches of our creative capacity. After all, in writing a novel, we populate the story with characters in dialogue working through their respective and intersecting dramas. While we may write while alone, it is the social engagement and experience that determines the richness of the writing.

One of the most enriching and revealing exercises that I’ve enjoyed is improvisational theater and actors exercises in spontaneously playing out a role. It is no wonder that actors are often better able to read other people than professionals whose job it is to accurately do so.

Spirituality and neuroplasticity are endemically social. It is in communion with the Other that our consciousness truly evolves.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Wine: nectar of the gods.

It is the stuff of fine dining, the celebration of Eucharist, preferred drink of special occasions, a full spectrum experience of tastes for every palette, a hobby for some, an obsession for others, and a beverage with extraordinary history. A drink that graced the tables of royalty and common folk alike for millenia. It remains a very special delight. Whether the subject of snobbery, object of regional and nationalistic pride, or culinary accompaniment, wine is arguably as old as most of civilised recorded history.

The reds are touted as especially wholesome in moderation and I confess that I am partial to them over the whites. I find the tastes much more complex. Each sip of my favorites opens with a burst of flavor and delicious sensations that change with each passing moment. In preferring the “dry” reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sirah, etc., I look forward to the first sharper notes followed by various spicy, oak and more varied hints of blueberry, and other fruity, citrus, and mineral notes as well. What is it that I am drinking? What is the magic of wine?

I open the cork and I catch a whiff of the earth. I let the bottle breath. Then I pour it into the glass, swirl it, enjoy the aromas; mixtures of the original grape, the oak, and the scent of Springtime. I take a first sip and allow it to move slowly over the tongue. It is the height of sensuous dining. It is no wonder that it is so associated with a romantic interlude.

I drink again and I taste the Sun, the light that infused the growing grape. Hard to describe, it is in the sensation and in the sense of energy that fills the wine. I taste the life in it and it is the same as the life in me. It is the bloodstream of the heavens. It is the manifest form of the Sun on earth. In drinking more from the glass, a long, meditative drinking leads to a timeless movement: a Oneness. In celebrating wine, I celebrate Creation.

It is not a memory. It is fully present: a living breath on the wine. I drink one glass and it is enough. It is an entire and complete experience. Unlike other beverages, this is more than quenching thirst. It is thirsting for wholeness.

There is stillness in a glass of wine not the frenzy of carbonated beverages. It is second only to water, the source of life. It is the fructification of life: its realization, its evolving complexity. It invites us to stay awhile and just taste.

There is a touch of divinity in wine. It recalls something vital and elemental from our deepest places. It is more than a drink. It is a Communion. At its best, it is the taking in of what we truly are: earth, air, water, and the fire of the Sun.

I am a voice of the wine. The wine is the voice of the cosmos. I am the song of the cosmos, beloved of the Beloved who sings me into being in each moment.

When the glass is empty and the wine is no more, the glass remains, awaiting a next filling. So we too, like the finest wine, will one day be emptied, but the glass of space and time awaits for the return, the refilling, the next outpouring of the cosmic Heart.

Salute!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I am lonely without you,

I am unable to breath as if a great weight sits on my chest.

I fret at the dying of the light and the long shadows,

I tremble at the creaking boards under my feet and the cold.

When it ends will you be near me or away,

Will I whither unbeknownst to all who know me?

Or, will the time be gentle, a sweeter passage to the other side,

Where the ocean meets the sky and the invisible temple doors are swung open?

How I quiver and wonder and writhe under the spell of days I’ve come to treasure,

How plaintive I’ve become for solace and consolations.

My sweet lover, fair partner, true, and constant friend,

Excuse my melancholy dreaming, a rambling ignorance of an aging man.

For truly it is not so dramatic as emotions frame it,

In no measure so dark as this darkness I project.

It is the sickness, True beloved, the dis-ease of thinking to preserve,

Where the cure is letting go to wild, untamed adventure.

It is the sickness of pensive rumination, a fiery, fevered imagination, and

The great forgetting of where I’ve been, of who I am, and of where I am going!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Exactly! The Beatles’ have said it better than anyone to my knowledge so far!

This is a perfect illustration of the via negativa. The truth about all of us is that we wrap ourselves in fictions and become so enamored of them that we are nothing without them. We thrust about in search of purpose, meaning, identity. None of it matters. It’s all fine and means nothing. If we see through it, we see the game of humanity. We think ourselves into being this and not that when we are both and we are neither.

When I was a small child I didn’t need an expensive Hasbro toy to be content: a spoon was an aircraft, a large box was a hospital, and then, I just put them away or tossed them. On to the next exciting adventure. None of it was real anyway. It was just fun. It didn’t matter. There was no concept of failure. It was a perfectly meaningful pursuit.

We are all too serious. We don’t laugh enough. We are absurd and we fail to enjoy that fact. We seek after meaning 24/7. We even seek after not seeking. We sit on special pillows to meditate, burn incense, and wear robes and none of it really matters one iota. The only undeniable truth is we are here and we are all part of One thing. The mystery is precious. We are precious and nothing special. We are creatures. Let us love what that means. We imagine. Let us love what we imagine while knowing that none of it is real.

There was a time when I was not here. I was not conscious. I was non-existent. It didn’t matter. Then, I happened. So, now I am here and I want so desperately to hang on to that but I can’t. I will die and then I will be as I once was. So, I pass on through, but “I” don’t really exist at all. Just another fiction. So, what really matters? Loving and being until I am not.

What then? Who knows. What a rush this odd and bizarre life of running and seeking after what isn’t real when, in fact, we are already complete. Whole. Everything we need to be. Right here. Right now. Just as we are.

Let us laugh and weave our fictions together. Share them and smile and recognize that there is no enlightenment, no satori, no epiphany, no heaven later, no heaven now, which is enlightenment, satori, epiphany and heaven.

There is no next rung on the ladder to greatness. There is nothing to add. There is nothing we need to be. Let us delight in the garden of possibility, chance and happenstance. Oh, the heady mixture of thinking ourselves grander than we are while failing  to see that we are already quite grand.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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We visited an aquarium today and spent a relaxing ninety minutes walking though the magical enclosures designed to transport us to diverse environments housing penguins, seals, walruses, sharks, and a building set aside for “alien stingers,” dedicated to jelly fish, moray eels, and other assorted dangerous marine life. What especially sparked my curiosity was the well-known phenomenon of protective coloration along with the other seemingly eccentric adaptations of so many creatures to their worlds.

The facts of evolutionary developmental biology make clear the genius of nature. Adaptation to selection pressures and genetic mutations over time present variations among which one may prove ideally suited to ensure species survival when conditions change. The subtle beauty and inherent resiliency of the natural world is miraculous: an inexhaustible inspiration and mystery. True science shows the face of G-d. No other evidence is needed.

Nevertheless, so-called Intelligent Design “theory,” the latest incarnation of Creationism, would challenge evolutionary theory, arguing that it is “just a theory.” This betrays a complete lack of understanding of the rigor that the physical and biological sciences insist upon before an interpretation earns the right to be called “theory.” I have no interest in formal refutation of the arguments that make up this so-called theory. It is quite simply a pseudo-scientific pontification, weak theology in biological clothing, and a formulation designed to sound erudite and convincing. It is espoused by and for those who prefer beliefs over the facts. What intrigues me, however, is the spiritual analogue of evolution.

Fluke assume the off-white color of sand and burrow just under the sea floor. It is often very hard to spot them. Pipe fish cling to vegetation ( thin grasses) that look much as they do and, once again, it is quite hard to distinguish the fish from the background. The list is very long of creatures, marine and otherwise, that show the skills of the terrestrial chameleon. These adaptations arose in evolutionary time and were boons to survival in the rough and tumble natural world.

Why did spirituality arise from human consciousness? What is the adaptive significance of our spiritual sense and the cultivation of an awareness of the sacred and the mysteries surrounding it? How does this upgrade the survivability of our species?

Awareness of inter-being is the ground of compassion, and the realization of the unity of all things is the essence of enlightenment. Spiritual adepts are exemplars of a state of consciousness that dissolves petty survivalism, blind self-interest, and the sense of individualistic isolation. In addition, they simultaneously embrace immanence (presence) and transcendence  (recognition of an identity that they have beyond space and time, beyond material well-being and death, that can never be taken away).

While the pretenders are many, and authentic masters are few, those few represent the next step in the evolution of humanity. They are the best hope we have of avoiding annihilating ourselves. The paradoxical truth is that while those beacons of light are there to follow, beckoning us to go beyond our lesser natures, one day of news makes clear that this next step is still very far off. The world can’t wait for grand reformers. It’s up to us to make a palpable difference in small to large ways in whatever our lines of work.

In view of ongoing hatreds, wars, terror, genocide, and corruptions, that a spiritual sense arose at all suggests that its development is essential to the long-term survival of not only our species but of the entire planet. Reasons for hope in the spread of spiritual intelligence can be seen in the actions of souls whose influence continues to draw us closer to the realization of the bright future that hope imagines, including:

  • Thich Nhat Hanh & the Order of Inter-Being
  • Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi banker and economist who invented the notion of micro-credit and founder of Grameen Bank, 2006 Nobel prize winner

One person can change the world. We can each contribute to advancing the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness, wait for someone else to do it, or work at cross-purposes with it. Engaged spirituality is making the choice to do what we can, here and now.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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When studying in the mid-80’s for my doctorate in psychology, we considered it a fact that brain cells are the only ones in the body that do not regenerate. At the time, I thought it an odd feature of physiology given the centrality of the brain over the course of human evolution. It seemed absurd that brain cells would be so fragile and irreplaceable given their adaptive significance.

Two years ago, then 20 years after the doctorate, I took a post-graduate course in biological psychology as a refresher, and everything had changed: a change that is continuing and accelerating. Now, thanks to improved technology such as fMRI (fluorescent magnetic resonance imaging) it is the overwhelming weight of the evidence that neuroplasticity is fundamental to brain physiology. In other words, neural networks and pathways are freshly laid down and altered as we learn and grow and as we are challenged muscularly, emotionally, and cognitively each day.

“Positive neuroplasticity” is the capacity of the brain to regenerate functioning that has been impaired by stroke, dementia and the aging process, severe head trauma, or as a consequence of other CNS ( Central Nervous System)  diseases. There are now cognitive training exercises that neuropsychologists present to patients that can significantly improve diverse functioning, including balance in the elderly, memory functioning, and even offer support in the self-regulation of chronic pain.

All this being said, I am thinking about the alchemical treatise attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, The Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Table, Tabula Smaragdina, or The Secret of Hermes. Sources of this document are traceable to 650 AD. It was regarded as the central document of the Hermetic tradition.

In it, one passage has especially captured my imagination as I consider the revelations of brain science.

It reads:

That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.

This ancient alchemical principle adds further framing to a better understanding of the mirroring in human nature of the core nature of the Cosmos. If the “above is as that which is below,” then neuroplasticity is an epiphenomenon of  Cosmic Mind. In other words, what we are learning about the temporal mind tells us something about the infinitely extensive and timeless “neuroverse”.

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Mount Mayon Volcano, The Philipines

My son and his companion are traveling on holiday to the Philipines and is now, as I type this, in Legazpi City, home to Mount Mayon, an active and erupting volcano. Needless to say, we are all deeply concerned. Though his assurances in the one email we’ve received since their arrival there said that they are alright and well outside of the danger zone, one never knows with volcanic activity.

Of the 5 category rating scale used by volcanologists, where “5” is a full-scale eruption in progress, Mayon is rated a “4”, denoting an imminent eruption. We are anxious to hear that he has traveled well north of the active area toward Manila. Already 50,000 residents within a radius of 8 miles of Mayon were evacutaed.  Half that number were removed to shelters by Christmas day.

Some, now lulled by lessened activity in the last 24 hours, are returning to their homes to tend cattle and farms, though authorities are strongly warning them away, and calling this the “calm before the storm.”  We can all understand the wish to be home with family:  an especially compelling need during the Christmas holiday. This wish is particularly strong among the agrarian people of the Philipines who live in the foothills of the mountain and who bring great cultural passion and import to this Season, and whose lives are completely dependent on the land.

For us, these days have been difficult and anxious times of waiting for the next email ( as my son and his companion are without cell phones and must depend on available internet cafes). They are adventurous and touring for another few days nevertheless before their flight back, assuming no further official evacuation outside of the extended danger zone.

“Just waiting for word” sums up this time. I have written before about “waiting”, the power of vigil, and, in such times, our expectations of either great positive and miraculous events or, as now, fears of the unimaginably disastrous. One cannot help but be reminded of the Indonesian tsunami and the toll it took, and, earlier, in the Philipines itself, the disastrous eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15th of 1991.

We are now called to hold on to the only thing we have in such times – prayer. We pray for the Light of the World to quell the rumbling of the Earth and still the fires of magma, and for the safety of our loved ones and the thousands now threatened there. We once again see in these events our connection to all people: their plight is our plight.

The world is risk. We have no power over the Earth and its elements. Our sole power rests in our love and care for each other.

With all this as my present context, I reflect on today’s reading from the Gospel of John, verses  1 through 13:

After this, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a religious festival. 2Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool with five porches; in Hebrew it is called Bethzatha. 3A large crowd of sick people were lying on the porches—the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. 5A man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been sick for such a long time; so he asked him, Do you want to get well? 7The sick man answered, Sir, I don’t have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first. 8Jesus said to him, Get up, pick up your mat, and walk. 9Immediately the man got well; he picked up his mat and started walking. The day this happened was a Sabbath, 10so the Jewish authorities told the man who had been healed, This is a Sabbath, and it is against our Law for you to carry your mat. 11He answered, The man who made me well told me to pick up my mat and walk. 12They asked him, Who is the man who told you to do this? 13But the man who had been healed did not know who Jesus was, for there was a crowd in that place, and Jesus had slipped away.

Our schemas and plans, concepts, and doxologies, are, at best, hazy reflections of the Real. Yet, we are every day invited to sort our priorities and let the trivial drop away. Life brings challenge and dread, and, when it does, our character is most authentically revealed.

What is true in us is all that is left as the rest dissolves into the drama of impending or active crisis. There is nothing to fear and no law about which we need worry save one: to draw close to those we love and shield them if we can physically or, if not, to do so psycho-spiritually, and this is the Beloved’s eternal verity.

As we pray for my son and his companion and for all who live around Mount Mayon, our prayer celebrates the Beloved’s intent and action in the world. Our vigil joins that sacred intent and helps complete the circuit between phenomena (volcanic activity) and noumena ( love and inter-being).

I give thanks for love. I give thanks for prayer and the capacity to reach through time and space with and without words. I give thanks for life. I rest in the arms of the Beloved whose Presence I pray settles upon Mount Mayon, its people, my son, and his beloved. All else is silence and waiting.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Christmas Day, 2009

The gifts of the Magi are among the most captivating of the traditional stories of Christmas. Three kings read portents in the heavens and were motivated by what they saw there to make the arduous trip to find the site of a cosmic event of enormous importance. The title of  Magi, used in  in the Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12, is a reference to Priests of Zoroastrianism who were reputed to be adepts in the astrological arts.

While their number conveniently provides an allusion to the trinity, and their convergence on Earth alchemically captures a likely convergence in the heavens, I’ve always found the story hopeful and imbued with a sense of the power and meaning of synchronicity. While astrology ( western & Vedic) keep their fascination for many, they have largely been relegated by the intelligentsia of the churches and science to the margins of history as quaint anachronisms of the magical fixations of the past.

Astrology can certainly be presented as a simple reading of the future as typified by the entertainment horoscopes published in daily newspapers. One so predisposed can neurotically cling to the supposed predictions and use readings as a guide to selecting auspicious occasions to engage in some behaviors or avoid others. What I find intriguing instead is use of astrology as a medium by which to enhance sensitivity to the possibilities and patterning occurring within and among events. The idea of meaningful coincidence and Jungian studies come to mind. Psyche and cosmos are entangled. They mirror one another.

I have studied Vedic Astrology for over a decade and have found it always intriguing and rich, not as a divinatory system, but as a medium for active imagination, and a formalized process for entertaining higher-order synchronicity. It is less about a predestined path and more about potentialities, proclivities, and convergences. It is another poetic language by which to explore the mysteries of consciousness.

In 2006, Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind, a cultural historian and professor of Philosophy and Depth Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies, published his very thoughtful and provocative work, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. It is a courageous piece of writing as it looks ahead for a new model for the 21st century and beyond it, by looking back to Astrology. This is a perilous undertaking for an academic in today’s zeitgeist. The book is an invitation to revisit foundational assumptions that we hold about Mind while fully embracing the new physics and what it reveals about Mind and Matter.

In his epilogue, Tarnas writes:

….our own marvelously complex nature depends upon and is embedded in the universe. Must we not regard the interpenetration of human and cosmic nature as fundamental, radical, “all the way down?” It seems to me highly improbable that everything we identify within ourselves as specifically human – the human imagination, human spirituality, the full range of human emotions, moral aspiration, aesthetic intelligence, the discernment and creation of narrative significance and meaningful coherence, the quest for beauty, truth and the good – suddenly appeared ex nihilo in the human being as an accidental and more or less absurd ontological singularity in the cosmos. Is it not much more plausible that  human nature, in all its creative multidimensional depths and heights, emerges from the very essence of the cosmos, and that the human spirit is the spirit of the cosmos itself as inflected through us and enacted by us?

Clearly, the writers of the Gospel of Matthew had no reluctance in speaking of cosmic and human convergences. Why should we be reluctant to do so? The revelations of science are slowly but agonizingly pushing aside Cartesian dualism. It will not pass easily. Why is it assumed by many christian thinkers that Christianity is somehow purer if the agency of cosmic evolution is denied in favor of supra-natural events?

The Magi read the portents in the sky. They saw patterns converging and were moved to follow what they saw to be an unfolding narrative of creation. Rather than doubt it all or debate points of theology, they accepted mystery and went out seeking after it. For me, Christmas is a reminder that whatever our approaches, all roads up the spiritual mountain lead to the same summit. Studying synchronicity can only further enliven our capacity to see the subtle in the everyday and the greater story embedded in the variety of swirling and interacting, diverging and colliding events that occur all around us.

The spiritual life is about seeing clearly and living accordingly: to awaken. It’s up to us entirely whether to open our arms wide to mystery, or accept a smaller fraction of the great opus of creation.I choose the greater landscape and the wider bandwidth.

Glad Tidings of Great Joy!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In these lines by Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894, later put to the now very familiar music of Gustav T. Holst, and one of my favorite hymns of the Season, the paradoxical character of the Incarnation is evocatively captured:

In the bleak Midwinter, frosty winds made moan.
Earth stood cold as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow.
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

I have traveled this week in Wisconsin on business. Yesterday and today, the wind picked up in Milwaukee dramatically after the region saw its first major 14 + inch snowstorm. The temperature also plunged into the single digits.

The two-block walk from my hotel to the office was like a trek across the arctic tundra. It was even hard to breath, and the walk seemed like it took forever. This all started me thinking about this much-loved traditional Christmas carol.

Building on my last post ( Practice #116), I find myself reflecting on the polarities of:

  • the deep cold- warm Light:  of the Christos, and the burning hearth,
  • the gray-toned days- full color spectrum: adorning homes, buildings, and Christmas trees.

The festival of lights also comes to mind along with the lighting of the menorah. The cold and the dark make the light and the colors all the more bold, prominent, welcome, and gratifying.

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