My Top 10 Astonishments of the Season

I am languishing on a hotel bed in Anchorage as I write this. (Just flew up for bone grafting surgery on my jaw.) Lying here with puffy face and thoughts of Christmas. How do we redeem the season? Is wonder still possible? I wrestle for wonder every holiday season. And thanks to my confinement, I was able to indulge. Here they are, then, from the profane to the profound, 10 ways I have found astonishment this season. 

10. At the bottom of the list, the commercially astonishing, or at least amusing. Who knows, maybe one of these will show up under your tree this year.  What I want to know is---what do you say when you receive gifts like these?

The Latest Must-Have for Cozy-seekers: Sleeping Bag with Legs

 The Ultimate Onesie?


    Have you milk and cookies too . ..

And--the ever-popular Subway Nap Stand . ..


9. Then, there are those gifts that astonish for their price tag, ever-expanding our capacity for decadence

The Victoria Secret Fantasy Bra series, always sprung at Christmas. This year's offering: 2 $2 million bras  set in 18-karat gold and boast diamonds, rubies and various shades of blue sapphires. Yes, just what the world needs . . . 

Everyone needs a good pair of sunglasses to protect their eyes. How about these from Dolce and Gabbana for the mere price of $383,000? (Solid gold frames, of course)

And, we all love our dogs, so this Christmas, why not buy a little something for your sweet pooch? Here it is:  a 3.2 million dollar "masterpiece" dog collar, featuring 1600 diamonds and a 7 carat centerpiece.

8. The astonishment of Joy visiting Vanity Fair. Yes, it's a bit cliched by now, but who can resist this meme: tired, glassy-eyed shoppers in a fancy mall filling their bags with stuff they can't afford suddenly awakened by a singer, then two, then 50 all dancing and singing with real joy about the coming of a child to rescue us.  

One of my favorite Christmas Flash Mobs

7. The music that astonishes. Some of my new favorites:

"I Need a Silent Night," by Amy Grant

Cloverton's Hallelujah

Pentatonix "Mary, Did You Know?"

6. The Astonishing Kindness of Strangers:   

"Angel" Quietly Donates $50,000 to a Pennsylvania Walmart to pay off all Layaways

5. The astonishment that God in his infinite swirling galaxies and nebula, very God of every atom and sun and comet, dwelling in happiest of joys with his Son and the Spirit, decided to change 'hoods to come camp out with his bitty creatures, us. That God Above Us would become God-With-Us. 

4. Even more, that God Above us would dress in newborn flesh to be God-with-us, Immanuel, even knowing most would reject Him.  

3. That God-with-us would stay with us, despite our parade of follies, our idols, our wars, our paltry faith and our destroying self-loves and hatreds.

2. That God-with-us should come yet nearer, closer, dearer: straight into our hearts, Christ-within-us!   And HOW does this happen! The wonder of all wonders,

1.  The astonishment of the stable

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: "Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place." ?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, "Yes, let the God 
of Heaven and Earth 
be born here ----
         in this place."

                                         -----Leslie Leyland Fields

Hallelujah! Let Wonder and Astonishment be birthed again this season.  With SO much gratitude for all of you, Leslie

Light upon Light + Tell Me Who to Bless!

I sit in the dark beside the bedroom window.  The ocean hurls and roars its foamy rage at the cliff my house sits on. Rain and sleet shoot the glass. Welcome, new day. 

It is a December day like most December days, when storms upset the seas, when fog settles in like a plague and the light leaves too early, comes too late. We scurry still like spiders along our webs bent in the wind, but planes lie still. Nothing can fly. The mailbox is empty. No mail or packages this day again. Third day in a row.

A day like any other day, this. A month like any other month. Yet into this grey beaks a cloud hovering, a cloud glowing beneath. Hark. Halt. A piece of light, a shiver of sun glows the sky over the spruce. Maybe Christmas will come today.

And it does. Meaning, Christ will come today to this dark-tired heart, these half-closed eyes. I found him again this morning---no, he found me. 

In the midst of words, He crooked his finger and drew me close, close enough for tears close enough to steal breath. "You? You did this? You did this---for us?"

*Incarnation by Amit Majmudar

Inheart yourself, immensity. Immarrow,
Embone, enrib yourself. The wind won't borrow 
A plane, nor water climb aboard a current,
But you be all we are, and all we aren't.
You rigged this whirligig, you make it run:
Stop juggling atoms and oppose your thumbs.
That's what we like, we like our rich to slum.
The rich, it may be, like it too. Enmeat
Yourself so we can rise onto our feet
And meet. For eyes, just take two suns and shrink them.
Make all your thoughts as small as you can think them.
Encrypt in flesh, enigma, what we can't
Quite English. We will almost understand.
If there are things for which we don't have clearance,
There's secrecy aplenty in appearance.
Face it, another word for skin is hide.
Show me the face that never lied.

And I see it. Or at least, the sun that comes from that face. It rises this morning, over the sea, the houses, the spruce. The audacity of sky finally blue, and we remember again-----

we are not alone. We have met.

He has shared all of these atoms from his whirling hands with us. He has shared our very bodies, enribbed like us, eyes like suns, like us, a rigged whirligig as monstrous and wondrous as us . …. 

Oh God! That you should BE a baby. For us. To come and meet us so.
And so comes the light.
The world cries, newborn.
I cry. New born.

Light into night. Light into flesh. *Light upon light. 


Who will move us from the dark haunts and ruts of our days? God's word will nudge and shove us into Truth. And others' words about His words…..  This year, I am SO thankful for this new book, Light upon Light, compiled by Sarah Arthur. I count on this every season---finding one book, just one book to aflame my ashes again. This is It for me. Scripture readings are followed by stunning poems and stories by people wiser than me: G.K. Chesterton, Tania Runyan, Eugene Peterson, Charles Dickens, Luci Shaw, Kathleen Norris, Mark Jarman and many others. 

                                                   Light upon Light

And---would you let me bless someone this week? Someone who sits in darkness, who will not receive a package, who needs to know someone loves them  . . .  I would like to send off some gift boxes of my Wild Harvest salmon and jams to a woman or a man or a family who needs some joy this Christmas. 

If you know someone whose world would be lit by this gift, would you write me? Send me their need, and their mailing address here: I know I will not be able to send to all who write in, but you remember the man, surrounded by starfish on the beach who were dying, who threw one starfish back into the ocean? That will be me----just able to pick up a few and return them to a moment of joy. But we all do what we can. And it will be enough. If you could send me those names asap ….?? I am closing down the Wild Harvest shop at the end of this week for the Christmas season (then flying to Anchorage for minor surgery.)  Thank you, good friends, partners in this happy crime. 

I leave you this this prayer from Light upon Light, by John Keble (1792 - 1866)

O Thou, who keep's the Key of Love,
Open Thy fount, eternal Dove,
And overflow this heart of mine,
Enlarging as it fills with Thee,
Till in one blaze of charity
Care and remorse are lost, like motes in light divine . . . 

Pilgrim Journey to Winter Fishcamp+ How to Make "Perfect" Food!

 I am just back from a Pilgrim journey, back through time---to an outhouse, to a house without running water, to chopping wood and hauling water up a steep graveled hill. Sixteen of us flew our town coops for my fish camp island last week. 

     It is not a beautiful time of year. Everything is dead. The wind blows. It rains, snows or sleets almost every day. It is cold riding in an open skiff on the ocean. But we had to go.  

It began here:

Then a first-class seat on an Alaskan limousine in the village of Larsen Bay.

And a cold skiff ride in layers of fleece, poly prop, rain gear .. 

Then into our capacious accommodations on our luxury yacht-----

 Once there, we all got busy with our appointed tasks and foods, which included a little muscle,

a little sense of humor----when the ground slips beneath you and you Jack-and-Jill tumble down the hill with your buckets of water.

A lot of cooking . … 

and making music . ..

and keeping warm . ..

And---while we're there---a little bit of hunting for the table . … and for the long winter ahead of us

All of this takes awhile . .. ..  

And this is how we lived our thanks-----by working together.

Hiking together.

And finally-----eating together.

And  cleaning up together . ...

And what else can cap a perfect Thanksgiving but a rousing game of poker?

      And all of it was perfect. The meals especially. Not because any of it was (though a lot of it was very good), but because we all worked hard for it. And because none of it belonged to us.  Whatever was mine became yours became ours. 

         We often don’t live or work or cook this way. We want our food to be perfect, to impress. We are purists who want to do it all ourselves. We want to make everything from scratch. We want holiday meals to be solo performances: look what I made!!  I remember, though, that “perfect” in the Scriptures often means “Finished,” “complete.”  Jesus wasn’t that kind of purist. As I have written in *The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God,

               "Even the Maker of the world did not make the bread he broke that final night. The grain was grown by a farmer down the road; the bread was made by someone he did not know; bought and carried by another up to a borrowed room. He laid his hands on someone else's bread, broke it an claimed it---this is my body--and passed it to waiting hands, to every hungry soul. And it was done. Their bread became his bread became ours---so many hands  upon the bread until it was finished: the bread of his body for the hunger of the world."

In these special days, we have been pilgrims at a table so overflowing with salt and grace we think maybe 
we are already there, in that city,
At the feast that is coming.

In that beautiful city made holy by its Lord and Light----
At that table made holy by His body and blood.

Will you be there? You must.
That city is unfinished,
that table incomplete

Without you.
That table and that city is unfinished
If any one of us is missing.
We’re all wanted there.
We’re all needed there, every one.

Fellow pilgrim,
Our place in the kitchen waits.
Our seat and our plate at the table with our names 
is waiting there.
And I know already,
When we sit to sup on bread and meat and wine,
Passing baskets from hand to hand,
We will look around the table at each other,
messy with food,
we will look at our Savior
laughing and chewing like us,
And we'll say to one another, with our mouths full----

"Isn't it Perfect?"

 Let the Season of Feasts begin now---for Always!! 

*Friends, to deepen and gladden the season of feasting and giving, may I offer The Spirit of Food to you---at just above cost? (It won 4 "Best Book" awards. Includes essays by Ann Voskamp, Wendell Berry, many other brilliant + beautiful writers on food.) I'll send it to the first 10 requests at cost plus shipping ($17).  ($28 on amazon). Within the U.S. only please. Email me