Thursday, December 25, 2008

“Peace on Earth, good-will to men!”

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

-   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What an impossible message. The hope of peace and good-will that echoes down through the centuries at this time of year is an aching one. If peace and good-will is what we all want, why is human-kind so horrible at this peace thing? It would seem that we love war more than peace because we spend so much time making it. We excel at hurting each other. As I write this Christmas day, there are dozens of armed conflicts going on all around the world. Why can't we all just get along?

Leave it to the Scandinavians to try, at least at Christmas, to enforce the peace. A remarkable, five hundred years old tradition continues to this day in Sweden and Finland. At noon on Christmas Eve, in the public squares of towns throughout both countries, a declaration is read out loud in the text of the middle ages. It's premise is simple: the twelve days of Christmas are to be a time of civil peace by law. In olden days, a person committing crimes during this time was liable to a more stiff sentence than normal. While the Vikings were long gone, I guess the villagers liked to carouse a bit more than was wise during the extended holiday period and what with all that Wassail flowing, some people forgot themselves. The nudge to seek peace is universal. The hope of mankind is that we can all learn, someday, to live together.

Today marks the first of the twelve days of Christmas; a season to give and receive good will, to spend time with family and friends, sharing in the light that has come to the world. Today my immediate family celebrates, aware that this is the last year before our family structure changes and our traditions will adjust as well. And I celebrate this first day of Christmas with a candle of gratitude in my window in memory of the kind and loving Mother I lost this year and my Father who passed to the light nearly four years ago. I am blessed to know personally the truth of these words:

“The best Christmas gift of all is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up with one another. “

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"A yule fog fills the sky--Yuletide. "

"A yule fog fills the sky--Yuletide. "
-Michael P. Garofalo, Cuttings

"The Winter Solstice, arrived at sunset tonight in the Northern hemisphere. The word winter solstice derives from Latin, meaning Sun set still in winter. Northern peoples called it "Yule”, (Yule Lore ) when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half.

Depending upon your attitude, you can think of the solstice occurring either on the shortest day or the longest night of the year. It's a great metaphor for life. Some see life as half full and a golden gift. Others live as if it more than half empty and drearily dark. I choose to think of this day as one of light. Starting tomorrow morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day.

For we modern day humans, this night is dark and cold, only until we turn on a light or turn up the furnace. But the mystical nature of the solstice has been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since neolithic times. The layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archeological sites like Stonehenge and New Grange in the British Isles attest to the importance of this moment; the primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been aligned on a sight-line framing the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge).

The winter solstice was critically important because ancient communities had to prepare carefully to assure that they would live through the winter. Starvation was common between January to April, called the famine months. The midwinter festival was the last feast before deep winter began. There was feasting because most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. It was nearly the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available because food preservation was so difficult. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The celebrations usually began, not at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous evening.

Coinciding this year with Solstice, sundown today marked the beginning of Hannukkah, the “Festival of Light” for my many Jewish friends. I think perhaps that this celebration while not as old as the Yule of my ancestors, is more important than most who call themselves Christians, realize. Because frankly, there would not be a Christian religion if it were not for the Jewish religion. And there might not have been a Jewish religion were it not for the Macabees.

Hannukkah celebrates the 165 B.C. miracle of oil for the temple menorah lamps when the short supply of oil lasted many days past when it should have given out after one day. At the time, the Jewish religion was outlawed by the Greek empire, which preceded the Roman empire. But the Jewish Macabees refused to obey. They lit the lamps. The lamps burned for eight days. And the Jewish religion and it's people survived.

Today it's dark. But think about the light to come.

"So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!"
-   Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day

©2008 Jan Johnson Wondra

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sleigh Bells Ring, Are you Listening?

The sweet sound of bells gives me my salt as winter deepens into the end of the calendar year. That and the crunch of snow.

Coming from northern Wisconsin, you get versed in what “really cold” means. It's the below zero days and nights when boots on snow creak under your feet. When just turning the tires of a car makes the snow squeak and protest beneath the frozen rubber. You just know that unless there is salt spread liberally on the road, you're as liable to end up in the ditch as at your destination. Over it all sweeps the grandeur of the northern lights, majestic ribbons of rainbow light sprawling and swirling across the night sky.

Most have never ridden in a sleigh. I grew up on a farm with two draft horses named Prince and Pearl, and a couple of rickety sleighs. Our city cousins loved to come to the farm during the holidays, where Dad would hitch the horses to one of the sleighs, put on his old fur coat (homemade from trapping lines on the farm) and jingle us out into the fields of snow. The jingle bells weren't on the sleigh. They were on the horse harnesses. Dad communicated with those horse with the mere flick of the reins. Dad, the horses and the bells were one. It is a favorite memory of my Father.

For most, the sound of sleigh bells is a foreign thing. For them, bells mean the sound of church bells on a winter's day. The jingle bells hanging from the office decorations. Or the sound of Salvation Army bells being rung at the red kettles standing sentinel at store entrances. The tinkling sweetness of the sound brings to my throat the reserves of gratitude I feel for just being sheltered and warm at night, the love I have for family and friends near and far. It also brings the sadness of the great need in our world and how small I feel until I drop in my quarters or dollars, receiving more in grace from my gift than I deserve.

For young ones or those who remain young in heart, the sound of the bells is often the first gift of Christmas. It is the signal to believe, as in one of our family's favorite Christmas tales, The Polar Express, that there is a spirit of generosity about in the world. I still hear the bells and I hope I always do.

My Father wrote of traveling to the Norske Evangelical Lutheran church as a young child, secure between his parents in the sleigh, tucked beneath a buffalo robe. He remembered tinkling up the road to Christmas services and the magical anticipation he felt; the sense of complete safety and security. As we all begin the great migration “home for the holiday” I am thinking of my own dear ones who start for home from college tomorrow. Their ride will not be as magical, but I pray it will be as safe. For them and for all of is salt for the journey....the message of the sleigh ride:

"Just hear those sleigh bells
Ringing and jing ting tingaling too;
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.

Outside the Snow is falling and
friends are calling yoo hoo;
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy Up, Giddy Up,
Giddy Up, Let's Go!
Just look at the show,
Were riding in a wonderland of snow.

Giddy Up, Giddy Up, Giddy Up
Its Grand, just holdin' your hand
Were riding along with the song
Of a wintery wonder land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy and
Comfy cozy are we,
Were snuggled
Upp together like birds of
A feather would be.
Just hear those sleigh bells
ringing and jing ting tingaling too
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you."
-  Christmas Carol, Sleigh Bells Ringing

©2008 Jan Johnson wondra

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's a dark time to be focusing on light.

"Lighting one candle
from another -
Winter night"
-   Buson

Act II is upon us. December 13th is St. Lucia Day, (Luciadagen) in the Scandinavian countries of my ancestry. It's the day the eldest, blondest daughter gets togged out in white robes, plants a crown of holly and lighted candles on her head and brings breakfast to her family in honor of an early Christian martyr. Hopefully the daughter's hair doesn't catch on fire, like the day's namesake! The first century Roman girl refused to marry the man of her family's choosing who was not a believer. She was tortured and killed for her faith, reportedly by being set on fire.( This “festival of light” begins the traditional extended Christmas season, which lasts until at least January 6th and in Sweden until January 20th.

Why light? Ancient peoples from the Egyptians, Romans and Persians, to people of the far north all celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st or 22nd. This was the time when the light stopped receding, and days at last began to grow longer back toward the season of planting. For the Romans and their empire, it was called Saturnalia.

In a superb act of early Christian marketing, Yule (from the Germanic root geol) festival customs, like many of our Christmas traditions, were transplanted from pagan customs. If you can't stamp out the ancient rituals, you might as well just fold them into the new religion.

After the fall of Rome, the Vikings dominated Scotland and much of England and Ireland for centuries, not to mention much of northern Europe and Russia, as well as the trade routes down to Byzantium and into Persia and the far east. They lent much of their ancient solstice season activity, called Yule (in Swedish, Yul) to Christianity. We're talking major celebrating here, folks! Thus, people were encouraged to continue to dance around their midwinter bonfires but instead of Thor or Odin, it was done in honor of the King of Kings.

The predominance of the far north in the celebration of Christmas may result, not just from the extensive travels of the Viking Varangians, but from the plain fact that nowhere else on earth is the movement of the sun as drastic. From midwinter's near absolute darkness to midsummer's solstice of “white nights” when the sun never really sets, the north exemplifies best the light brought to the world via the “Son of Man.” In Scandinavia, this is an extended time of feasting and gathering together of friends and family. A time to celebrate away the long, dark nights until we are safely into a season of longer days. A time to remember and care for those who don't have the means to “celebrate the light.”

So much of what we have come to see as Christmas tradition comes from my ancient Viking heritage. The cutting of the mistletoe. Bringing in the greens to, literally, “deck the halls.” The giant Yule log dragged by chain out of the woods to provide fuel for the great bonfires. Instead of debauchery, there rose the custom of the midnight bells calling all to the Mass on Christmas Eve and to services on New Year's Eve.

So, back to that astute marketing move.

The traditional Christmas is not a single day but a prolonged period, normally from 24th December to 6th January. This included the New Year, thus increasing the festival value of the season. I hate that we have allowed Christmas to be co-oped by the retail profit machine. I hate that there are no songs of celebration on the radio after Christmas day. Who said Christmas ends at the stroke of midnight December 25? Who said this was only about buying things? Who said you had to be rich to celebrate? No one, that's who.

I'm taking Yule back. I'm selfish. I want all of Christmas, not just the retail version. This year, especially this dark year, I want a real yule celebration. Don't you?

"Holly and mistletoe
Candles and bells,
I know the message
That each of you tells."
-  Leland B. Jacobs, Mrs. Ritters First Grade Critters

©2008 Jan Johnson Wondra

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's harder to be thankful the week after Thanksgiving.

"O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
- William Shakespeare .

Act I of “Holidays circa 2008” is over. Our college kids have gone back to school for a few more weeks. The left-overs are gone, except for the turkey carcass awaiting its final destination in turkey vegetable soup. Americans are collectively hauling out the Xmas decorations, and trying to find reasons to be cheerful as recession bears down on us. Even the weather doesn't cooperate. In fact today the skies in Colorado are in a putty gray funk. The only cheering is going on up in the high country as snow accumulates at the ski resorts. (Which I personally think is a very great thing!)

We gear up for celebration this time of year (many major religions, in fact, share this season of celebration) and most of us are surprised by the odd sadness that can arrive this week. This is an emotional time of year. Our expectations run high. Our memories of holidays past add extra glow to old traditions. Most of us can't possibly measure up to the holidays we hope to create. We stress and fret and in the end disappoint ourselves. And not just because the coffers are low and we're frazzled by crowded malls or grim job prospects.

I think it is because for many of us, we lock thanksgiving into a single day; then we check it off our “to-do” list and move on to the next calendar event. There's a reason that thanksgiving comes when it does in the grand pageant of the year, not the least of which is that it follows harvest time. The difference between saying “I do feel grateful” and “I don't feel grateful” is two letters, an apostrophe and our actions. We are meant to do something. “Thanksgiving, after all,” as W.J. Cameron notes, “is a word of action.”

We aren't meant to relegate Thanksgiving's meaning to the traditions of a single day! Oh, we chuckle when Erma Bombeck notes: "What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving ?"

Yes, but....I've spent the past several days, amidst the hubbub of Thanksgiving really considering what it means to be grateful and what I'm to do with what reveals itself. Cicero said that "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."

So in that case, a grateful heart leads to other acts of character; like compassion, integrity and generosity. U.S. President's thoughts on Thanksgiving are recorded because they annually issue a proclamation of Thanksgiving. But they speak profoundly: Teddy Roosevelt commented that “True homage comes from the heart, and not just the lips.”

Other quotable folks have gone on record that gratefulness isn't just a matter of the heart, it's a case of the soul. Aesop Fables instructs us that “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”

Aesop is not alone in that opinion. John Fitzgerald Kennedy noted that “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

It's Act II of Holidays 2008. I know that this year it is more of an effort than most years. But that is what will make it the most special holiday for us all if we get out and MAKE LIGHT, not just soak it in. Take time to DO something to act grateful, not just profess it.

Me, I've begun on my list of gratitudes: I've signed up to walk in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk ( ) on December 14th here in Denver to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. Join me or find a walk in your area to raise money for research programs to help fight the single most debilitating cause of disability in America. I've vowed to not miss a single Salvation Red Kettle in any store I enter this year, even if I've only got a quarter on me to contribute. I've prepared bags of out-grown coats for Good Will and this year I'm going to find one of those mitten trees that help kids in need and grab a couple of mitten wishes to fill. It's a start on a grateful heart.

©Jan Johnson Wondra

Friday, November 14, 2008

Have you paid your light bill?

It caught my ear during our October trip to Wisconsin. My Mother-in-law mentioned the arrival of the light bill. My family used the same phrase and I hadn't heard it in years.

My parents not only referred to the electric utility bill as the light bill, Mother insisted that it must be paid, in person, at the electric company. In recent years I had come to think this was due more to my Mother's need for company. But what that particular bill meant is, I think, deeper than that. And so should it be for all of us.

To understand the significance of a utility bill and the power that most of us take for granted, you have to consider the dark years early in the last century. Cities had electricity, but electric wires hadn't reached scattered farm homes even in the 20s. After the sun went down, light came from kerosene lamps and lanterns that had to be filled, cleaned, tended. They were dirty. Their light wasn't much good either. Much of the world still lives that way.

In 1928 those electric poles finally began to march out onto the rolling landscape of north western Wisconsin country. In the spring of 1929 my grandparents elected to remodel the old farm, putting electricity in the house and the barn. “The light,” my Father recalled to me some seventy years later, “changed life on the farm. We went from dark isolation to true illumination. We could milk the cows without fear of a cow kicking over a kerosene lantern and burning down the barn. The light in the kitchen and dining room were a beacon to come in from chores in the cold.”

The lights, Dad said, could be seen all the way from Hwy C, his weekend drop off point for his ride home from boarding for high school in town. He would follow the lights of home up the two mile hill. To anyone passing by, it represented the Johnson hospitality; assistance that was always given. Then the depression hit.

Grandpa's money in the bank was frozen. The milk checks couldn't be cashed. The banker visited the farm to collect the money spent on the remodeling. Meeting my grandparents and seeing the tidy, newly remodeled place, he told them to keep the cows and pay the bank when they could. Things didn't get better. It cost more to feed and milk the cows than the milk could be sold for. The only money coming in was egg money from the chickens. By 1931, conditions on the farm, as across the nation, were so dire that the Johnson's reluctantly turned the lights off to help save the farm.

Darkness descended again. Dad's walk from Hwy C to the farm was pitch black unless the moon was out. He noted that once that happened, even the stray people stopping by their door asking to work for anything to hold body and soul together, dropped off too. But any who found their way were not turned away.

If the electricity you take for granted were turned off; hair dryers, coffee pots, Ipods, the computer like the one on which I write this...would you feel poorer? Probably. But it is just stuff. Loosing the light, though, changes the fundamental environment.

We're facing a time when the darkness confronting us seems greater than at any time since they turned the lights off on the Johnson farm. Somehow I doubt that many bankers are going to visit any of us and tell us to do the best we can and pay them when we can. Maybe they should. It would be humanity and democracy at it's best – people in relationship to people, instead of inhuman accounting columns and rampant capitalism.

Light, once experienced, makes the darkness that follows it unimaginably worse.

But there is a darkness greater than the physical that confronts us all now. It is fear, loss of hope and human heart to meet the need. It is a lurking bankruptcy of spirit that threatens to deplete our natural generosity; a lack that might be what got us into this in the first place. It's a failure to believe that there is a spirit that watches over us and expects – demands – that we look beyond ourselves and our things; that we make deposits to keep our personal light bill paid up, to illuminate the darkness for others as well as ourselves.

Have you paid your light bill?

©2008 Jan Johnson Wondra

Monday, November 3, 2008


Home is more than four walls and a roof.

The salt of life was poured over me last week. It was a travel week to northwestern Wisconsin. This is where I'm from. Garrison Keillor country; home of jello salads, hot dishes and lutefisk suppers. Where people still speak with Scandinavian accents and don't know it, but you love 'em for it. There, people learn early to sprinkle their words with dry humor. I don't think my Grandpa Ausen ever walked out the door without the twinkling admonition “Don't take any wooden nickels now!” This is where wealth, by and large, isn't measured in bank accounts or spine-chilling Wall Street news, but in family, friends, and land.

This time of year, the sky is most reliably blue and the oak savannas are deep rust against the overgrown native grasses that are now mostly unfarmed. It is, I think, home.

I didn't go there for a warm family reunion, although, in the end, I got that too. I went to work on clearing out my Mother's country house. Mom died in August. She and Dad retired there and called it home for 27 years. Before them, my grandparents did the same for some 32 years. They were preceded at the place, a former parsonage, by a succession of strong Norwegian pastors and their families stretching back to when it was built sometime in the 1880's.

It is grueling to clean out an old house; more so the home of someone who never threw away a piece of string, an old coat or even the wax paper from cereal boxes because it made such great pan liners for cinnamon rolls. (But that's another story.) My brothers and sister and I were together and we did some crying and a lot of laughing and shaking our heads as we dragged unsalvegables to a big dumpster out front by the drive. Other families would find incomprehensible two items we saved back; a pair of Dad's worn and much-patched blue overalls and Mom's infamous patch coat.

It's a patch coat because no matter how many nice coats we gave her, Mom kept re-patching this ancient beige wool coat and wore it to bring in the wood or get the mail. “It's still good,” our depression-era Mother would say with a defiant lift of her chin. “And it's warm.” Home is where you can't stop your Mother from going outside looking like the penniless Baby Doe hunkered down at the Matchless Mine, I guess. Or maybe it's where you plant both the overalls and the coat and fully expect that an overall-coat tree will bloom in the spring.

I've pondered the question of home for some years now. Is home a place you're from? Or a place you seek?

For my parents, the embroidered picture by their 1880s pot-bellied stove told the story, “Home is where the hearth is,” it read. For me, the concept of home has been relative. The ebb and flow of life has seen me move from the family farm to college, to Germany, to a succession of apartments and homes from Minneapolis to Denver to Milwaukee back to Denver. “Home” is any four walls that enclose the right person,” says Helen Rowland.

Yes, and...I believe it is also the combination of people, experiences and a place that feed your body, your mind and your soul. Especially your soul.
This morning, back again at my computer, I wonder again if all of us don't need to find home within our selves first? It is, after all, the meeting point of where we have been and where we are going; an eternal place that might be full of light, or very dark indeed!


Monday, October 13, 2008


The lose of light can be profound.

I received a business email last Friday headed by a single word. Darkness.

The meaning was obvious, given the historic financial crisis we lived through last week. There is so much darkness and gloom that many people are having a hard time holding up their heads. This morning I got word of the loss of a significant piece of contract writing business because of the financial situation. I understand the decision. It would be easy for me to see the world darkly right now. I'd have every right to. I have a son in college and a daughter headed that way, a mortgage, the typical bills....responsibilities. I like this client. I sacrificed much over this past year for this particular client. I gave up family time, wrote copy while my daughter was in major surgery, postponed leaving for a family wedding, came back early, turned down other contract work to focus on them, even worried over it while at my Mother's funeral two months ago.

If my life were only about materials things, I would indeed see the world darkly right now. But darkness can be an illusion. There are things to learn in utter darkness. Helen Keller knew about true darkness and light: “ I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden,” she said. “I can see a God-made world, not a man-made world.”

I am blessed that my life has included trips to far-away seashores; Hawaii, the Pacific coast of Mexico, the Carri bean and – the most exotic – Tahiti. At sea level, the sun goes down the way it seems to set over our mountains. Rapidly. Completely. One minute you are in long, warm rays of sunshine, the next plunged into chill shadows. In Tahiti, on Moorea, the island is so far away from anything approaching a major city that you go from light to nearly utter darkness within a minute. Walking back from dinner one night we were left stumbling down a gravel road in utter blackness, our tiny flashlights making not a dent in the thick darkness. Darkness so profound, that we could not differenciate between the shape of the land mass and the horizon. Memory told us they were there.

When daylight came, it was as if the night had never happened. Our tropical paradise was flooded with otherworldly light and lush color. It was simply time for the light, just as darkness would return at its appointed hour.

I cannot say that I will spend every day fully in the light of hope, but I can say that I will try my best to stay out of the shadows, to focus on the light and to see what I'm intended to see in the darkness. I think that that is the best that any of us can do. And if, by chance we happen to stumble in the dark on a bit of rock at our feet, we need to pick it up. If we're lucky, it will be a chunk of salt! As far as I know salt is the only rock on earth that we can eat. And as Nelson Mandela said, “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Monday, September 29, 2008



Light is the beginning.

It rained earlier that afternoon in Wisconsin country. I was three-and-a-half-years-old. When the storm passed, Mother got us ready to go shopping in town. Dressed in my little white sun dress, blond hair combed and beribboned, “best” sandals strapped to my feet, I was allowed outside with a stern admonition to “stay clean” while Mother got my baby brother ready.

I headed for the upper gravel driveway above our sloping back yard. A delightful mud puddle had formed beneath a giant oak tree. I remember standing in that puddle, that oozy mud squishing splendidly between my toes, gazing up into the canopy high above me. Beams of sunlight shown down through the branches and rain drops sparkled like millions of diamonds stuck to the leaves.

It was a numinous moment; a child's heaven. By the time my Mother found me, I was dripping wet, covered in that splendid mud and had lost my hair ribbons. I've been in awe of light ever since.

Light came first. Genesis 1:3 says God pronounced “Let there be light.” Science's big bang theory puts a lot of light out there too. Regardless of whether you lean toward the Biblical version or the big bang (I accept both), they begin basically with the same thing. Light is life.

When my now-grown son was a small boy, he and I delighted in pointing out “God Sky” to each other. You've seen it; that wonderful phenomena in which rays of the western sun blaze through dark roiling clouds after storms, or beam over the distant mountain peaks just at sunset, delivering a celestial blessing across the landscape. “God Sky” became our shared wonder. The light that lingers on the peaks stays longer, glows richer, becomes other-worldly, the higher you are. Which may account for the fondness he has for the high places.

The light of a single match can be seen in absolute darkness at a great distance. Light as a metaphor for hope, authenticity, knowledge, goodness and love is as old as recorded history. When things are bleak and we don't know what to do, we talk about being “in the dark.” When the rest of the crowd is following each others tails, we admire someone “living by their own lights.” When we see two people in love, we say that we can see “the light of love” shining in their eyes.

An age is called 'dark,' not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it,” noted James Michener. The world seems to be in need of more light right now. Maybe some more salt too. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I could use more light shining on me this fall, but that would miss the point. Instead of taking it in and keeping it, the world need us to be reflecting light into the world. It's as if by doing so we become both a battery and a mirror; re-energized, we shine hope and light and love on others. I don't necessarily write biblically. But you might want to read Matthew 5:13-16. It's an astounding message! “You are the salt of the earth,” it says. “You are the light of the world!” Reflect on that – and then let it shine.

©2008 Jan Johnson Wondra


Monday, September 22, 2008

# 2

Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn is a beginning, not an end.

I've always celebrated autumn, which begins today, as the beginning of my new year. To do so has perhaps made me a throwback....the ancients took harvest as the signal of a new year too.

As nature winds down, I gain energy. As the natural light retreats I find it necessary to add new flavor to my life. I organize my desk. Review and write new goals. Assess my volunteer activities. Make lists. Clean closets. I'm not the only one. There has to be a reason that this time becomes hectic throughout society. School starts. Every club seems to hold an organizational meeting. The social season swings into action. The markets shift from the August lull, often giving us an October surprise. This year we got a September one. For many, it was salt rubbed into open wounds.

What is it about salt?

Literature and life are full of references to salt. Job says in the Bible ;“Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” James Beard asked simply, "Where would we be without salt?"

Many of us choose to think of salt as the flavor that we add to our own lives, while others think of salt as the experiences which are liberally sprinkled upon us as we age. William Shakespeare asked “Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man.”

If you follow that logic, all of life becomes salt. This morning I pondered this, sitting for a while on my back deck in the shifting light, as a breeze sounded the wind chines and ruffled the still-green leaves. I have had cause this year to pause and reflect on the interplay of light and salt in my life. What does it mean to be “worth your salt?” It's an odd phrase, spoken by the likes of Mark Twain, Andrew Jackson, Tallulah Bankhead and Teddy Roosevelt, to name a few. I am hopeful that being worth my salt means that not only have I gained wisdom and insight from what life has brought me(both the good and the not-so-good), but that I am getting better at how I handle what life throws at me. Certainly I've gained strength.

This year, instead of directing all my energy outward, I am open, holding my breath as the hush that is fall descends. I choose to apply my liberally sprinkled salt to reflect, just a little, some of the light that has shown on me as well. Buddha said “Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”

©2008 this and preceding blog

Monday, September 15, 2008


Monday, September 15, 2008

Life is short.

Much of it goes by while we're not paying attention.

Before we know it, it's gone and with it the chance to become the authentic person we are meant to be. An authentic person adds to the world around them by fulfilling that which she was put here to do; adding substance, light and love. This blog is meant to give flavor, help identify and preserve the authentic in each of us and add light to life in the 21st century.

The name of this blog was chosen quite deliberately. In ancient days, salt and light were basic elements of survival. Salt did not just give food flavor, it was the primary method of food preservation. If you couldn't mine for -- or trade for -- enough salt, you couldn't preserve enough food against the winter months. Your family would face starvation. Salt was so important that the fables of many ancient cultures include folk tales about salt.

A favorite Eastern European folk tale of my daughter (who was born in Pskov, Russia and brought home to America at age three) is the tale Salt Is Sweeter Than Gold, in which a dying king wants to find out how much his three daughters love him so he knows how to divide his kingdom. His youngest daughter tells him that she “loves him more than salt,” which the proud king considered to be an insulting answer. The king banishes her and decides to throw a banquet to celebrate giving the kingdom to his two remaining daughters. A terrible storm washes away all the salt in the kingdom, the food spoils and the people are hungry. Soon, the importance of the princess's declaration and the gift she brings, means the survival of the kingdom and demonstrates the depth of her love to her father.

Where is your salt? What flavor do you find in the world...and what do you add?

Just as salt meant food, light -- fire -- was survival against the dark unknown. The beasts of the great forests of the world were voracious. Light kept the wolves at bay. Light kept the terrors of the night, some real, some imagined outside the walls of the castle, or the hovel. Light meant life.

What is the source of your light? Does it emanate from something temporal? Or is it eternal? Do you reflect it onward or hide it away?

I hope you return to Salt, Light & Life again, as I explore these questions....the answers you and I uncover together, I believe, can add all three to the world.