Your Weekly Diversion, Week 50: Merry Christmas to All, However You Mark this Winter Season


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Made with Repix ( by Shielagh

Tis the Season and this is Christmas Eve. On Week 50 we are fully diverted from whatever else is going on in the world. Here’s where my thoughts are today. My spiritual life has taken a circuitous route to where I am today.  Raised a Christian with a British godmother who marked my baptism with a Saint Christopher medal and another with the head of Christ, I was baptized at the age of 8 when my agnostic parents felt I needed direction. I kept for many years the beeswax baptismal candle I received that day, much like the one below.


I attended parochial school and sang in the choir. I even played Mary one year in the Christmas play. When I went off to a prestigious girls’ prep school in New England, we had chapel every morning, singing hymns and reading prayers from the Episcopal liturgy. I love the hymns still today. An enduring favorite of mine is “Jerusalem,” adapted from a poem by William Blake, a hymn we sang every year at special times, standing, singing in unison, with fire and feeling. Here are the words. and the music follows.

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

The images in that video of the verdant English hills and of Stonehenge, remind us that our early years as humans were unencumbered by formal theology as we know it but had a developing dogma of their own. For many of us, our ancient heritage springs from a Druid and Pagan beginning. For others of us, the spiritual path comes from the Yoruba tradition brought here from Africa by enslaved humans who have suffered and still continue to suffer from that indignity and racial prejudice that still lurks in the US and elsewhere. And elsewhere on the earth, others mark the winter solstice in their own unique ways, or not at all.

I was married at 20 to a rebellious fifth generation Friend in a solemn Philadelphia Quaker meeting, and they don’t incorporate music in their meetings, or didn’t then at any rate. Alas, a few years later I was a single mom looking for something that was missing. Thus I became a Mormon and spent a number of years active in that church, especially loving the music and always singing in the choir. When I saw this video, I decided to share it here. It touched my heart even as I wished they hadn’t felt the need to include the religious bit at the end. It was filled with loving meaning enough as it was. It brings with it the hope that a lost loved one can return one day. May it be so.

In my later years I converted to Judaism and then found the dharma way, the Noble Eightfold Path. and Buddhism is my practice today. I still observe the Jewish Holidays with my husband in our traditional but mostly secular way. And I practice Buddhist meditation daily.

The Wexford Carol we just heard has a rich and storied history. I was vaguely familiar with it, and then I found this sweet rendition by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss.

Merry Christmas!



Jump-Starting the Holiday Season, with Memories


It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and what better time to dig out the holiday decorations. A trip to the attic with the fall wreath and garland and mantelpiece spray, and a trip or two down with the pre-lit artificial tree in its handy box, a box of ornaments, the winter wreath, a pine bough-berry spray for the top of the china closet, and the menorah. Looks like we won’t be here in the country during Hanukkah, so it’s going back up. We’ve got to get the New York place ready for the painters in ten days.

In my family, we always trimmed the tree with music on the hifi (high-fidelity, monaural vinyl record player system, for you younger readers). There was an album of traditional carols and popular songs. We always sang along.

imageThen there was the album by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians playing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” where the whole sleigh cracks up with car-wreck sound effects and when I was really small I used to cry, thinking that Santa was a gonner. It’s a great album, though, and I highly recommend it. It’s available to stream right now on Amazon Prime Music.

Anyhow, tonight I got out the iPad and Bluetooth speaker and put on Amazon Prime Music’s Holiday 2015 playlist. We put up the tree, lit the lights, and started putting on the ornaments. We didn’t know a lot of the songs. My husband, joking a bit, asked if I could find “Kol Nidre” on the app. Sure, I said, and we listened to a very young Johnny Mathis sing it. Then I found an instrumental recording of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. After that I played Sophie Tucker singing “My Yiddishe Mamme,” in English and in Yiddish.


From there we played a remastered album of the music of Al Jolson, a wonderful trip down a shmaltzy musical memory lane, the lyrics familiar to us both, despite the fact these songs go back to the early 20th century. I guess we both grew up hearing them at home as kids, and so tonight we sang along, sometimes with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes. The link above takes to YouTubes of all 18 songs.

My husband grew up hearing Yiddish from his grandmother and his mother, and I learned a little from my father who found Jewish culture and music very compelling. He had a lot of Jewish friends, clients and business associates in Los Angeles and he knew a few Yiddishisms. He loved Al Jolson from his childhood. The story he told was that as a little boy he and his family went to a theater to see Al Jolson in a movie, and when it began, my father was so disappointed because he’d been expecting to see a cartoon with “Owl Jolson.” Jolson is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Los Angeles, and his mausoleum is quite spectacular. We always passed it on the way to the airport, and Daddy never failed to belt out “Mammy” as we drove by.


It was wonderful to play those Jolson songs and remember our families as we put the shiny ornaments on the tree. Then we put on the gas fireplace and savored the cozy, holiday look. Now you can too.

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May the season be all you hope for and even better than you remember,




Scientists Figure Out How to Retrieve ‘Lost’ Memories

To a clinical psychologist treating survivors of trauma, some with repressed or dissociated memories, this article is fascinating. Read on…


Mice certainly aren’t men, but they can teach us a lot about memories. And in the latest experiments, mice are helping to resolve a long-simmering debate about what happens to “lost” memories. Are they wiped out permanently, or are they still there, but just somehow out of reach?

Researchers in the lab of Susumu Tonegawa at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT conducted a series of studies using the latest light-based brain tracking techniques to show that memories in certain forms of amnesia aren’t erased, but remain intact and potentially retrievable. Their findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, are based on experiments in mice, but they could have real implications for humans, too.

MORE:How to Improve Your Memory Skills

The mice were trained to remember getting a shock in a certain chamber. The scientists then used protein labels to tag the specific cells in…

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Buddhist Photographs of Japan in 1865

These are amazing! After enjoying looking at them, I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art website linked on the post. There are many more than appear here.

I have very fond memories of my painter mother taking me to the museum in the 1950s and ’60s, first at its original location at the LA Exposition Center, and then at its present location on Wilshire Blvd in the Miracle Mile. When my son, almost 40 now, was a baby, I took him to the same museum to begin to share with him the magic of original art by some of the best painters ever to put brush to canvas. Please enjoy these and visit the LACMA site where you can see more and even download any that are in the public domain.

Buddhism now

Click on any image to see larger photographs.

You can see many more of these wonderful photograph on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) website.

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