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Posts Tagged ‘Shadowlands’

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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This week I’ve been thinking about my focus at Christmastime. I love Christmas. The atmosphere intoxicates me. Silver bells, lights, carols, music, parties, sweets, friends, gifts, giving, cards, crafts, kids, memory, and history all bundle up and go dancing through the frosty nights as the year winds to its shortest day. Without the celebration, we might go mad within the shortened boundaries of daylight and warmth.

But I don’t like Christmas Eve service at church, or Christmas pageants. I recall a conversation from the movie Shadowlands, in which Jack Lewis observes that people are out of spirits at Christmas because they’ve “lost the magic.” If we make Christmas about rituals and charity, he says, of course no one is going to be having fun. I believe in living life to the fullest, in frolicing when there is joy so huge that I can’t keep it in. The joy and “magic” are my favorite part of Christmas.

Sermons seem so utterly out of place at Christmas. Jesus spent the interim of His life speaking. But on Christmas and Easter, He acted. He lived. He was Immanuel, the God-with-us. So I guess that’s what I want, is to jump into these days with Jesus, feeling vividly the wonder of the story. There are implications, but not today. For this week I’m not doing theology or studying orthopraxy. I’m living on the edge, ready to float away with the current of truth so real that I’m too busy knowing it to think about it.

That’s what I want. But somewhere in the midst of the magical, atmosphere of awe and merriness, I get lost. My mind forgets that the joy is Jesus’, that He is sharing it with me, and that I only get it through Him. Awareness drops off that the gatherings and giving is to honor my Jesus. The balance goes away, leaving this stressful anti-peace business.

Christmastime is sometimes called Advent. Ann Voskamp, a blogger I recently discovered to my delight and encouragement, has pointed me to the idea of Advent. We remember and celebrate the first coming of God in the flesh. We dance the dailiness of His presence, His moment-by-moment coming to us with more grace. And we watch, on edge, doing the waiting that is not impatient but eager, looking for the ‘blessed hope and glorious appearing’ of our Bridegroom. He’s coming back.

So I challenge myself, and you with me, to let the waiting inherent in the crazy Christmas world remind me that I’m waiting for my Savior, the Great King, to come for me. I am pursuing the balance that refuses to have any joy apart from Jesus. But I will have joy, because I cannot be with Him and not rejoice.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I have been so busy.  When I was in high school I mourned that these were supposed to be the golden days, the friend days of life.  Then after high school I had brief moments at parties or Bible studies where I felt sufficiently surrounded by people living life to the fullest and loving God along the way that I thought the goldenness had come.  This summer, however, has been purely golden.  Friends everywhere have blessed me with lots of fellowship and reconnecting.  I’ve played in the park, counselled at camp, held babies, visited bookstores, stayed up late at homes, gone to Bible studies and prayed outside abortion clinics, watched movies, had brunch, gone to the zoo and the museum, played with little kids and talked with real grown ups (whether we admit it or not).  Life has been incredible. 
 
In fact I found myself today, on the drive between one activity and another, buying ingredients for chocolate cheesecake, just marvelling in being me, now.  And being perfectly content with that.  Never mind tomorrow.  I don’t have to think about huge things today.  Today is for living.  Some days I have to give prayer and thought to decisions, but not today. 
 
This is Jack’s kind of happiness in the dramatization of CS Lewis’ life, Shadowlands.  While visiting the Golden Valley, a picture of which hanging in his nursery represented heaven to his childhood, he says “here and now” is his kind of happy.  Joy, his bride, goes on to remind him that we live in the Shadowlands, and the pain then is part of the happiness now.  I think both are valid kinds of happy, and I love how the movie contrasts the two.  The Golden Valley even turns out to be a mistaken translation of a Welsh word, dwr, that means wet but sounds like the German for golden.  So our golden happiness can sometimes be the flip side of grey rains. 
 
Speaking of which, something especially wonderful happened this week.  I finally purchased the soundtrack to this wonderful movie.  The out of print cd has been on my birthday and Christmas wish list for almost a decade.  And now I have it, have listened to it with my volume turned as high as I ever play anything, to let the powerful music surge and surround me: choirs and classical themes beautifully calling to mind the emotions and ideas of the movie. 
 
This summer for my devotions I’ve been back and forth between Genesis and the Psalms.  I just finished Genesis last night, and wondered why the stories have to end with people dying.  I know they do die, but why do we have to hear about it?  And why do we have to be ok that it happens to everyone we know?  I like Jacob, spending half of Genesis with him, and then he just dies.  In fact he dies with much more pomp and dignity than I can imagine of anyone today.  He didn’t really do anything that great, like rule a country or win a war, but he was a nobler man than our heroes today, by the time he died.  And then Joseph dies.  And everyone’s story ends. 
 
Psalms is wonderful, though.  The ones I’ve been studying almost answer the question of death.  I like Psalms 37, 84, 95, and 106 this summer.  God gave each of them specially to me, and they’ve come in handy.  Today I’m enjoying the verse in 84 that says, “When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!” (NLT). 
 
God has been so good to me this summer (obviously, since golden contentment cannot come in a fallen world to a rebellious person without grace).  One thing I’ve noticed is how He’s prepared me to enjoy this summer to the fullest.  I’ve been convicted about things that distract me from Him and from the present, or which impair my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, so He’s actually had me on a minimal diet for TV, movies, novels, and Pepsi.  Some moments feel empty without putting in a movie, but I’m much better off for having spent time reading, and sharing some parts of my books with my family, or with praying, or spending days with my friends – whole days without coming home.  I thank God for my friends. 
 
And I thank God for opportunities to get outside my office and my house and to be active, especially in ministry.  Still looking for big options, but delighting in the little ones, these golden days. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Some clever people have a sidebar that includes a list of current books they’re reading, movies they’ve watched, and music they are listening to.  Here, I am less cleverly recommending the music playing in my CD player right now. 

Every Sunday morning the classical station plays sacred choral music instead of the mainly instrumental pieces.  Whenever I can I turn the radio to that for the short five minute trip to church.  Movie soundtracks with such choirs or boys choirs are my favorite.  There is a track at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring with a boys choir.  And Shadowlands has choral music straight through.  Disney made a movie in the 90’s that was all about a boys choir, called Perfect Harmony.  I first discovered Michael Card through Unveiled Hope, when he was in his more classical style stage. 

When I was a senior in high school I attended a concert by Moody Bible Institute’s Chorale.  It was the most soaring worship experience in which I ever participated – and I only listened.  Honestly, the waves of music and blending of parts brought me with it to the throne of heaven, and I worshiped my God with a hundred silent amen’s. 

After that I also heard the Women’s Concert Choir and Bell Ensemble, and then the Men’s Collegiate Choir, both of which were incredible.  I happened to have friends in each, but that was only the door to interest.  If you want uplifting, beautiful music, go to their concerts; buy their CD’s. 

To God be all glory. 

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