Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012: Peace, hope, love.

The simple beauty of a Christmas tree ornament.

A Merry Christmas message for 2012:
May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,
The gladness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

ImagineNations: Putting a stamp on the world

ImagineNations / Spanning the globe as an artistic canvas.

On Sunday afternoon, I visited the Renegade Craft Fair's annual holiday market in search of some imagination and color to boost my own spirits after a week filled with rain at home and sadness over the senseless tragedy in Connecticut.

Strolling through the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood, I was met by more than 200 of today's best and brightest indie artists of all kinds displaying their colorful, must-see, contemporary handmade crafts.

This was their showcase.

Added to the experience, there were live DJs spinning lots of cool-sounding music on vinyl, and even a cozy spot for enjoying a bite of lunch, too.

The Renegade Craft Fair was a stylish place to be for the hipster crowd and I felt a good vibe as I went up and down the aisles searching for artsy holiday cards and other last-minute gifts ideas.

There were many indie artists who made a favorable impression on me. Among them were:
  • Nina Kulick, whose Gooseberry Press display featured paper goodies, art stamps and embellishments such as stylish city maps and organic city totes.
  • Sharon Murriguez, whose Casa Murriguez showcased handmade housewares designed and created with style and conscience.
  • Samantha Barsky, owner and designer of note*ify, whose boutique of handmade gift tags, cards and other paper products caught my eye. There, I found just the right kind of colorful holiday cards that suited my mood.
Finally, there was Wendy Gold, whose ImagineNations featured handmade globe art on vintage globes using recycled source material. On its Facebook page, ImagineNations is described as "whimsical worlds, decoupages by hand with recycled materials on vintage globes. Each work of art is a one of a kind, custom designed creation."

A decorative artist in the Bay Area since 1995, Gold and ImagineNations have been featured on CNN, in USA Today and on the pages of Travel+Leisure magazine, among many national media.

Among the many colorful Earthly orbs that Gold showed in her ImagineNations booth were globes depicting characters from Maurice Sendak's literary children's classic Where the Wild Things Are and one with a colorful banner that read "Bon Voyage". She has also created globes that highlight superheroes and butterflies. According to the ImagineNations website, artonglobes.com, prices for these original artworks range from about $350 to $600.

In an April interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Gold described what inspires her global artwork: "A globe can take you in so many directions, both literally and figuratively."

Indeed, Wendy Gold is putting her stamp on the world one globe at a time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walking with an open heart and an open mind

Spiritual journey / Walking the indoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.

When was the last time you went for a good walk? 

If you had to think about this question for more than a few seconds, it's probably been a long time since you enjoyed a good walk. Am I right?

In our hurried lives, it's often quicker to complete our journey from A to B by car, taxi, bus or subway -- even though it may cost more money and leave a bigger carbon footprint. Sometimes, though, you just need to break away from routine, get out on foot, and walk.

Chances are good that you just might be surprised by what you see and how it makes you feel.

Recently, on a crisp, late-autumn night, my wife and I enjoyed meandering around the Union Square and SOMA (South of Market Street) districts of San Francisco -- and we zig-zagged about on foot. We ventured into "The City" via light-rail BART (leaving our car behind in Oakland) so we could admire the Christmas tree and holiday lights adorning Union Square this time of the year. Our itinerary also included stops to see the Adopt-a-Pet window display at Macy's and also to walk peacefully through Yerba Buena Gardens, where we stopped in front of the the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and waterfall.

On this night, each of our destinations in The City provided much visual beauty and spiritual enjoyment.

Another kind of walk that I believe is always worth taking, no matter the time of year, is to follow the path of a labyrinth. In colloquial English, according to Wikipedia, "labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate."

Recently, a resurgence of interest in the labyrinth symbol has inspired a revival in labyrinth building around the world. This interest has also spread from literature to movies, even video games.

I've been blessed to walk the unicursal labyrinths at Grace Cathedral several times (there is one inside the cathedral as well as outside on the cathedral plaza) as well as the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. I encourage everyone to walk a labyrinth path at least once in their lives -- even if your travels don't take you to either San Francisco or France. You may be surprised to find a labyrinth close to where you live.

The Grace Cathedral website has an entire section devoted to labyrinths. In it, it says: "The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart." The cathedral hosts a monthly candlelight labyrinth walk with music and also hosts yoga classes held on the indoor labyrinth.

Indeed, labyrinth walks are an opportunity -- a perfect time -- for you to reflect, pray, and meditate on peace. Within yourself, your community, and your world, too.

To learn more about labyrinths, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth 

To learn more about the Grace Cathedral labyrinth, read: http://www.gracecathedral.org/visit/labyrinth/

Photograph of the Grace Cathedral indoor labyrinth by Michael Dickens, copyright 2011. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

With peace and joy fully alive in our hearts

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.

The season of Advent is upon us, and it marks the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical year. Advent is arguably the most easily recognizable season of the year. The signs of the Advent season are familiar: Christmas trees and decorations, both in homes and in public places, are in abundance in cities and townships from coast to coast in the U.S. and throughout much of the world.

It's hard to believe that Christmas Day is but three weeks from today as I write this post.

Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year it began on December 2, and it's a season which is observed in many Western Christian churches across the world in preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term advent is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming" -- anticipating the coming of Jesus.

This is a time of spiritual reflection and anticipation. As Advent begins, so, too, does the holiday season of music, found in both sacred hymns and carols and in secular songs.

An early feature of the celebration of the Christmas season, the rise in the importance and popularity of the carols can be attributed to the influence of Francis of Assisi. It should be noted that chants, litanies and hymns were written and sung in Latin and were used during the church liturgy, rather than popular songs. And, yet, today, whether sung in English, French, Latin or Italian -- or any other language for that matter -- these hymns ring out as beautiful sounds to our collective ears.

On the occasion of the arrival of this holiday season, my wife and I recently enjoyed a lovely evening with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as they welcomed Pink Martini in concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The "little orchestra" from Portland, Oregon, draws its inspiration from music from all over the world -- it crosses genres of classical, jazz and classic pop -- and its repertoire includes songs sung in English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic.

During the band's two-hour, 20-song concert, Pink Martini performed the familiar "The Little Drummer Boy", "We Three Kings" and "Auld Lang Syne" in the spirit of the holiday season as well as a couple of their own original holiday songs, "Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song" and "A Snowglobe Christmas". 

However, one holiday song which made an emotional impact with me was "La Vergine Degli Angeli", written by the Italian Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi. The song title, which translates to "The Virgin of the Angels", was written for the opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), which had its debut in 1862. On this evening, "La Vergine Degli Angeli" was beautifully interpreted by Pink Martini vocalist China Forbes.

"La Vergine Degli Angeli" appears on Pink Martini's holiday music album 'Joy to the World' and I encourage each of you to listen for both its beautiful lyrics and passionate vocal quality.

La vergine degli angeli

La vergine degli angeli
Mi copra del suo manto
E me protegga vigile
Di dio l'angelo santo
La vergine degli angeli
E me protegga me protegga
L'angiol di dio
E me protegga
L'angiol di dio
Me protegga
E me protegga

The Virgin of the Angels

The Virgin of the Angels
Covers me with her mantle,
And protects me vigilantly
Sacred angel of God.
The Virgin of the Angels
And/She protects me, protects me,
The angel of god
And/She protects me
The angel of god protects me.
And protects me.

There are lessons we can learn during Advent. 

"During this season," says San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on its website, "we wait and hope for the arrival of a state of perfect peace and harmony. We still live in a world where violence and injustice exist and so, throughout Advent, we slow down, and endeavor to live in a way as though these problems have all been washed away. Advent is also an active sort of waiting, in that we strive to do justice and to love our neighbors with renewed vigor.  We try to seek out places where violence and iniquity exist, and step into them with peace and joy fully alive in our hearts." 

May this be a season of peace and joy for all of us -- and, may we all take part in promoting the spirit of sharing peace and joy.

To hear the entire Pink Martini 'Joy to the World' holiday music CD: http://youtu.be/RcIUz9jop5E

1. White Christmas
2. White Christmas (part II) featuring Saori Yuki
3. Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol)
4. Santa Baby
5. Elohai, N’tzor
6. Little Drummer Boy
7. Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song
8. Do You Hear What I Hear?
9. La Vergine Degli Angeli
10. We Three Kings
11. A Snowglobe Christmas
12. Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Little Candles)
13. Silent Night
14. Auld Lang Syne 

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, by Michael Dickens.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.