Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Following Stars

The Milky Way

 On that quiet evening, with no wind or gentle lapping of waves along the lake shore, only occasional crackling from the embers of our dying fire disturbed the night. Above, a billion points of light sparkled against black velvet sky. With hushed voices, we shared what we knew of planets and stars; a few we could even find and point out. We found the constellations revolving around Polaris, the North Star: The Big and Little Dippers, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Draco. In another part of the sky there was Orion, the mighty hunter, and the glowing, hazy, stream of the Milky Way. Someone saw the streak of a meteor. A steadily moving light must be an airplane - or was it a satellite? Hours passed and no one cared; tranquility settled upon us.

            The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) 
Long ago, when people lived close to the land and knew it much better than we do, they knew the night sky. Without glaring lights from cities and traveling vehicles, the moon and brilliant stars were hard to ignore. With small, crowded homes, people gathered outdoors on temperate evenings to visit and tell stories. With minds uncluttered by our modern technological distractions, they would gaze at, study, and discuss the heavens. Their lives revolved around the seasons and the stars helped to indicate those. If they were travelers, day or night, the sky helped them plot their course.
Magi originated from a caste of Zoroastrian priests in ancient Persia, which is now known as Iran. During Roman times they were recognized as physician-astrologers who healed the sick, interpreted dreams, and cast horoscopes. Considered wise men who were truly knowledgeable, they were well known for practicing astrology. Although generally frowned upon today, in those days astronomy and astrology were closely related and practiced together. Magi charted the heavens, interpreted the signs, and studied ancient manuscripts from around the world. Mighty rulers of the day typically consulted with and relied upon the wisdom of these men. Indeed, King Herod did just that.

 Not much is known about the Magi who followed the star to find Jesus. We do not know where they came from or how many there were. Probably they came from Mesopotamia, Parthia, Syria, or Persia, but no one knows for sure. Tradition says there were 3 wise men because of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And the mysterious star? Some believe God created one special star for one special event. Others believe it was a singular super nova, exploding light-years away. Perhaps it was Jupiter, Saturn, or both arriving together on their orbits extra-close to earth. There are those who believe the star appeared only as a shape on a carefully-plotted astrological chart of the day. Whatever the case, it was an extraordinarily rare and impacting event that lured the Magi thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews.            

 The “how” does not matter to me so much as the “what” and “why”. Gathered as we were at our family cabin, we were stunningly aware that there was more we didn’t know, than what we did, about the heavens that summer. Mostly, we were simply awed and humbled by a vast and nearly incomprehensible universe flung so grandly light-years beyond us. Only God could do that, and if He did that - He can do anything.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Matthew 2:1,2, 7-8

Constellation picture files from Wikimedia Commons
Milky Way by Serge Brunier
Big Dipper by Gh5046
Orion by Mouser
Cassiopeia by Randal J. Ferret

*This nearly life-sized outdoor nativity scene was produced over a four year period of time with church youth at a summer family camp. I designed and sketched each figure, the kids enlarged and traced them onto exterior plywood, cut them out, primed and painted them. I did final painting in the fall. Many hours of effort went into creating this, which is displayed each year in front of our church.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Shepherds Wore Tennis Shoes

The shepherds wore tennis shoes, Mary checked her makeup, one of the wise men got the giggles, the sheep were noisy and nearly knocked the manger over to get to the hay...

When our son was young, I spent many years helping with Sunday School. Each year, inevitably, as fall progressed into winter the time came to plan for the yearly production - Christmas Program. Things do not always go as smoothly with these things as we adults would sometimes like. We never knew for sure how many kids would be there each week for the essential costume “fittings”, practicing of lines to say and songs to sing. And so one year, we tried a new approach.

In early November, we began to work on this Christmas program. We wanted to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. We wanted music. We wanted everyone to be in it, and we wanted it to be a little different. Well, it certainly was.

Each week, we’d costume the kids on the spot, using whatever odds and ends we had on hand. Then, we’d head outdoors for a photo shoot, while I diligently tried to capture them on film (This was before we all had digital cameras.) The first week, using everyone present, we asked the kids to become “Jews trudging to Judea”- across the back of the church property and through Murial’s pasture. The 2nd week the younger kids were transformed into angels, complete with tinsel halos and wonderful, childish humor. The 3rd week we met in a nearby field, hastily dressing preadolescence boys in scraps of burlap and other rough fabric. Handing them wooden staffs, we lit a small fire and cautiously tried to herd a small flock of leery sheep within camera range. The 4th week we met at our house, using our old barn and 3 sheep for the crucial manger scene. It was a night I’ll never forget.

It did occur to me our schedule was tight. If we missed one week, or I ruined one roll of film, we would not be able to complete our plans. But we blundered ahead and somehow it all worked out. The day of the program we all sat back and relaxed (more or less). We did tell story of Jesus’ birth. The Kids' Choir sang, a couple of kids played piano pieces, a few of the older ones read our rendition of the Christmas Story. And all the while, on the screen in the front of the sanctuary, flashed picture after picture of our precious children - every single one of them. Not everyone sang on key, nor remembered all the words. The musicians tripped over some of their notes, the narrators missed some of their cues, some of the slides were too dark or slightly out of focus. None of that really mattered - and to this day, one memory stands out in my mind.

Picture this: a cold, dark, rainy night in an old, dingy barn - rain beating down on the tin roof, crowded with wise men, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, baby and hay-filled manger - and real sheep. The noisy, smelly kind. We were only pretending, but in doing so we got a little closer to each other, a little closer to that baby born so long ago - a little closer to the real meaning of Christmas.

Let none of us forget - that is where it all began.

It is the children who help us remember.


So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
      (O fir tree, o fir tree)
Wie treu sind deine blatter.
     (How loyal are your leaves)
Du grunst nicht nur zur sommerzeit
     (You're green not only in the summertime)
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
     (No, also in winter when it snows)

As the time approaches to once again put up our Christmas tree, we are again having the conversation about whether or not to buy an artificial one. Oh I know, the artificial ones are easier with far less bother and mess. Take them out of the box, straighten out the branches a bit, and they're ready to go. But to me, nothing replaces the color, texture, and heavenly scent of a real tree.

By legend, Saint Boniface, a 7th century monk from England, used the triangular shape of a fir tree as a symbol to teach Germans about the Holy Trinity. Those he converted revered the fir tree as a religious symbol, thus began the association between the fir tree and Christmas. Late in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees in their homes or outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring. In the 1500s/1600s, historical records in France, Switzerland, and Germany describe trees decorated with apples, cheese, dates, nuts, paper flowers, cakes, tinsel, and sugar hanging from the branches. Legend even has it that Martin Luther decorated a small fir tree with candles to teach his children how the trees in the forest shimmered with snow on a dark night. He dedicated the tree in honor of Christ's birth. The modern-day Christmas tree evolved from these early German traditions.

The history of the Christmas tree in the U.S. dates back to the time of George Washington and his defeat of the German Hessians in the year 1776. The war was during the Christmas season, which for the Germans was a time for food, songs, and decorated trees. Preoccupied with their celebrations, the Hessians became easy prey for Mr. Washington. After the war in 1776, many Germans stayed in the United States, introduced the Christmas tree, and shared their traditions.

Even then, there were differences of opinion. Many early Americans thought the tree should not be displayed at Christmas because it had been pronounced a pagan symbol. The New England Puritans' governor, William Bradford, worked to put an end to the “heathen tradition” of decorated trees and tried to penalize any such display. There's still nothing new under the sun...

In today's world, there are other considerations: How much fossil fuel does it take to produce, handle, and ship all those artificial trees half-way around the world? What happens to them when they finally wear out or are no longer wanted? How many local tree farmers could be helped to put food on their family's table if we all would just "buy local"? What's the experience of finding and cutting one of God's lovely creations really worth?

No, I'm sorry - I still prefer the REAL thing.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Isaiah 9:6

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa's Angel

One fall evening some years ago I received a worried call. The director/owner of the small independent school where I taught called from Seattle to ask a favor. The 3rd teacher at our tiny school lived in another community but spent the week in town, staying at the school and driving home each weekend. On this evening her husband, from whom she as separated, was missing and had apparently drowned. Would I call her and offer what support I could?

The line at the school was busy, but I kept dialing until I finally reached her. Her husband’s friends at the marina where he kept his boat had notified her that someone had been found dead in the water there. Her husband had not been seen since the evening before and they were all sure it must be him. She had not been able to get any information from the authorities and was beside herself. When I learned she was alone, I told her I’d be there soon.

I found her on the front porch, smoking. She needed a cigarette and she needed to talk, so I hauled a thick old comforter out. With our backs against the front wall and the quilt over our knees, she told me that everything pointed toward the body being her husband’s. Due to its recent discovery, it had not yet been positively identified, so there was nothing to do but wait. Although they were beginning divorce proceedings, she and her husband had been married for many years and she wished him no harm. I had no idea what to say, but offered what I could. Then I just listened until she grew quiet.

Back inside, she resumed her vigil by the phone. Before long, we were joined by a chaplain from a local law agency. He was a plump little guy with a snowy white beard and offered us some measure of comfort, as we no longer felt quite so alone. He asked only enough questions to learn what the situation was and then we prayed together. In between phone calls (my friend was still trying, unsuccessfully, to get information), we talked to pass the time. He seemed in no hurry at all and eventually asked us about the school - our mission there was working with teens-at-risk. I answered his questions and explained about our work with the kids and our many needs. As the night wore on, the chaplain left and eventually, at my friend’s urging, I went home. There still was no word.

By morning, we had the confirmation. In returning to his boat in the dark, her husband had apparently fallen off the dock and hit his head hard enough to render him unconscious in the water. We attended his funeral and in the spring we attended the funeral of our director, who died of a massive stroke after successful bypass surgery. We were left to pick up the pieces of the school - and to try to help 16 teens deal with the loss. Somehow, sharing tears and prayers, we did.

VCR Photo by Colin McCormick at English Wikipedia

By the next December, my friend had left to move on with her life and the school was under new management. One afternoon a student appeared breathless at my desk. “Hey, Santa Claus just came! I’m not kiddin’ - this old guy with a white beard just came by and dropped off a VCR, a printer and some other stuff we need. He said you’d know all about it.” I hurried to the front door and peeked out just in time to catch a glimpse of the guy climbing into his car. Aaah - not Santa, perhaps, but an angel for sure.

Computer Printer Photo by Christian Gidlöf

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Mathew 7:7-8

VCR and Computer Printer picture files
from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Of Things Not Seen

What, oh what have I done?” Shaking my head, I silently berated myself as I viewed the two branched stubs sticking pathetically out of the soil. Previously, these had been poinsettias. Technically, they still were, although any resemblance to the lovely green and red Christmas plants was totally gone. Only bare stubs remained.
During my growing-up years in Montana, I was always surrounded by poinsettias at Christmas. My parents owned a floral/greenhouse business and for many years my father grew them. He shipped in the small starts, planted, watered, fed, and babied them. Poinsettias are fussy - they require just the right amount of daylight and dark hours plus certain day/night temperatures to bloom. My father gave them what they needed and fretted for months, but he believed they would come through. To attempt such a thing in single-paned glass houses in Montana winters takes believing - otherwise one would never bother. He bothered and believed, and each year the plants survived and flourished.

Some years ago, the director of the small alternative school I taught at gave us two women teachers each a small poinsettia for Christmas. Jack wasn’t real comfortable giving people things, but he loved plants, so this seemed appropriate to him. That May, Jack died of a massive stroke following successful bypass surgery. He was only 59. In June, when we closed the school not knowing what, if any, future it had, the poinsettias were still very small. The other teacher did not want hers - the memory was too painful, so I took them both. I believed I could keep them going. I so wanted to...

Both plants grew and produced marvelous red blooms for several years. Although not beginning until January, they continued well into July. This particular summer they were overgrown and scraggly-looking, so I sought information from one of my favorite old gardening books: Crockett’s Victory Garden. In the late 70’s my husband and I were great fans of this gardening show on PBS. Jim Crockett was our kind of gardener - gentle, down-to-earth, and very knowledgeable. “Cut ‘em down.” he said.” Cut ‘em down to within two to three inches of the soil and by fall you’ll have stout, healthy plants.” I trusted Crockett - all of his other tips had worked for us. Still, as I painfully eyed these sad plants, I had my doubts. I figured I’d either killed them or they’d do exactly as Crockett said.

They did. Two strong, lush green plants sat in our kitchen window that December and I trusted that the red would follow in due time. It did.

Belief...Bother...Trust...And through them all - FAITH.


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.
Hebrews 11.1 and 3

Friday, December 17, 2010

Berries and Thorns

As daylight hours dwindle and winter holidays approach, I’m eyeing with eager anticipation a healthy wild specimen of Ilex aquifolium growing at the edge of our yard. An invasive species, this introduced European ornamental is an aggressive plant that can grow 35 feet tall and out-competes native species by casting a deep shadow and creating a thick, prickly barrier. Although toxic to humans, some birds do eat the berries and when the stones are passed they often grow wherever they land. The tree behind our fence has quietly been thriving for several years and is now about 8 feet tall. I had planned to cut it down, but now I cannot - it is just too beautiful. With glossy, deep green leaves and brilliant scarlet berries, it’s most striking in winter. The ancient Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79) first described Holly under the Latin name Aquifolius or needle leaf - how right he was!

Many superstitions surround Holly. The Druids believed it was sacred and stayed green all year because it was favored by the sun. Believing it to be inhabited by forest spirits, in winter they decorated their huts with the evergreen so that the spirits might have shelter from the weather. In Medieval Europe, it was placed around homes to offer protection from thunder and lightening. Berries and leaves were used to ward off witchcraft and the evil eye. Considered a man’s plant, it was believed to bring good luck and protection to men, while ivy brought the same to women. Thus, the “Holly and the Ivy.” Early day Romans gave gifts of Holly to their friends during the festival of Saturnalia as good luck charms and protection against evil. Early Christians adopted the custom, but because of all these superstitions, at one time they were forbidden to decorate with this plant, especially during Saturnalia. The custom of Christmas decorations is deeply rooted; in old church calendars we find Christmas Eve marked templa exornantur - “churches are decked”.

In some areas, it is still thought that whoever brings the first sprig of Christmas Holly into the home will wear the pants that year. In Wales, family quarrels are thought to occur if it is brought into the house before Christmas Eve. In Germany, it is unlucky to step on berries; a severe winter will occur if berries are plentiful.

Holly is one of the trees said to be the tree of Christ’s cross. One early Christian legend says that the trees of the forest refused the defilement of the cross, splintering into tiny pieces at the touch of the ax. Only Holly allowed itself to be cut and formed into a cross. Because Christ was crucified on it and his Crown of Thorns was formed of its leaves, it has been reduced to the status of a “scrub” tree. Erroneously thought to have once been white, the berries are said to have become red with the blood of Christ. Indeed, one of its folk names is “Christ’s Thorn”. Another legend says that Holly first appeared under the footsteps of Christ, as He walked the earth; according to another, it first grew leaves in winter to hide the Holy family from Herod’s soldiers. It has been an evergreen ever since, as a token of Christ’s gratitude.

Because it spreads rapidly and crowds out native plants, perhaps I will eliminate this shrub in the spring. But, whatever its history, legends, and unsavory habits,  Holly is a most welcome Christmas decoration in our home. After all, how many can simply walk out the back door and cut it? How grateful I am that it brightens the winter landscape. Thanks, perhaps, to a passing bird - and the good Lord, of course!

...The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn...

Old English Christmas Carol

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Whose Holiday stamps?

These are the holiday stamps...” That should have been my clue. At the Post Office buying Christmas stamps for the cards we send each year, I was unprepared for the array spread before me. I had expected two choices - a religious design and a secular one - but there must have been five or six. A rather elegant one caught my eye; it had a simple, classic design with deep blue background, gold, stylized Christmas tree and the word “Greetings” across the bottom. Perfect. I probably bought fifty or so.

Designed by the Islamic calligrapher Mohammed Zakariya

 Back home I busied myself over the next week signing and writing notes on the cards, putting on the address and return address labels as well as the beautiful stamps. About halfway through the cards, I took a close look at the stamps - something didn’t look quite right. Under close scrutiny the gold Christmas tree didn’t really look like a tree, even a stylized one. And there was something else I hadn’t noticed - in the top left corner in large letters was the word EID. Huh?

Running out of stamps before the cards were finished, I returned to the Post Office. Again I asked for Christmas stamps and explained that I wasn’t sure what I got before and I’d like to know what they were. The busy postal worker quickly spread the choices out again, but when I pointed out the blue one, she had no idea what it was. She dug out a book that explained all of the stamps and flipped through page after page until she found the blue one. “Oh! That one is for an Islamic holiday!” “Oh great.” I said, for this was December, 2001 - shortly after 9/11. “Well, I’d like one for my holiday - Christmas.”These are the holiday stamps...” This time I chose a bright, cheerful one with colorful candles ablaze across it. At least the rest of our cards would bear a more appropriate stamp.

Jewish menorah design: Hannah Smotrich

It was not to be. I completed the cards and affixed the colorful stamps, only noticing after I was finished that those stamps bore the word HANUKKAH across the top - for a Jewish holiday.

After thirty-two years of issuing Christmas stamps, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new series of “Holiday Celebration” stamps in 1996. The first stamp in that series commemorated the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which remembers the revolt led by Judah Maccabee against the government of Antiochus IV in 165 BC. The Kwanzaa holiday stamp first appeared in 1997. Kwanzaa is a non-religious African-American festival which synthesizes and reinvents traditional African "first fruits" celebrations.The Eid stamp, introduced in 2001, featured gold Arabic calligraphy on a lapis background and commemorated two of the most important Muslim festivals  - or eids - in the Islamic calendar: Eid ul-Fitr, marking the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. On these days, Muslims wish each other “Eid mubarak,” the phrase featured in Islamic calligraphy on that stamp (the golden “tree” I bought.) It translates literally as “blessed festival,” and can be paraphrased as “May your religious holiday be blessed. “

All of our Christmas cards that year were sent with love and good cheer and not one of them carried a Christmas stamp. If our family and friends noticed, they respectfully chose not to comment. Maybe they thought we were being unusually open-minded in that troubled year which so greatly needed international understanding. Or, perhaps they were as ignorant and distracted as I was and simply didn’t notice.

Artist: Ned Seidler
This year, I chose something different: beautiful brand-new Evergreens stamps that feature close-up views of foliage and cones of four different conifers:   ponderosa pine, eastern red cedar, blue spruce, and balsam fir. Because we live in a area profuse with evergreens, decorating with them at Christmas time is a family tradition for us. Besides, it was simply easier to select them... 

May your holiday be bright and blessed, filled with love and understanding, and may you...

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit -
just as you were called to one hope when you were called -
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:3 - 6

Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11

Hanukkah Stamp 1996: U.S. Postal Service - first postage stamp issued for Hanukkah.

Kwanzaa stamp 1997: The first 32-cent stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service . 

Eid Stamp 2001: 34-cent postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service on the 1st of September, 2001.

Evergreen stamps 2010: Because decorating with evergreens during the winter holiday season is a popular and appealing tradition, the U.S. Postal Service joins in the winter celebrations by issuing these this year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fairy Tale

Fairy fluttered through my life briefly, on the fragile wings of youth, enthusiasm, optimism and vulnerability. Perhaps she does not even remember me, but the memory of her is deeply stamped on my heart, along with unanswered questions.

Images smile out at me (always smiling) from the pages of a scrapbook, now 37 years old. Five pictures - the only tangible evidence of her ever having been there. Other pictures, glued in my mind, divulge more, though not much, of the Fairy I once knew: a mysterious child with the dark, kinky hair, brown eyes and mocha-colored skin of mixed race; tall for her 9 years, long and lean with graceful fingers and an adorable pixie face. Teased for her unusual name, she was always clean, neat, quiet, shy, and almost painfully polite. Her grandmother insisted on it - she had her reasons.

One Fall an article in our rural Colorado paper citing a need for Girl Scout leaders caught my eye. I’d once been a Brownie and Girl Scout, but our troop folded in Jr. High due to a lack of leaders. With that memory still strong, how could I not respond?

Soon, I was deeply involved with a troop of 3rd and 4th grade Junior Girl Scouts. Fairy was in that troop and, as it turned out, was also our next door neighbor. Her grandfather, a quiet, kindly black man, worked in town. Her grandmother, Millie, was white, had some health problems and stayed home most of the time. She did not drive, so I brought Fairy home from the Scout meetings. They had moved west from Chicago, but kept to themselves and I never knew their backgrounds or how they came to raise Fairy. Their house was a ramshackle affair inside and out; they had seen better days and hoped to again. Millie once showed me her neatly packed away fine linens and china, shared her dream of a spacious new home they would build “someday”. Fairy adored her grandparents; she and Millie spent much time together and would sometimes wander over to visit. They’d pick wild Lambs’ quarter (which I considered weeds) from our garden to cook for their greens.

Once, I answered a frantic knocking at our door. There stood Fairy, barefoot, shivering and pale as a ghost. Her story spilled out - her dad was beating her grandmother; she’d hidden in her bedroom, climbed out the window and sprinted across the forest floor to the only safety she could think of close by. We locked the door, bundled her in a quilt, called the sheriff and fixed her cocoa. The 3 of us waited until we saw the sheriff’s car come and go and the phone rang. Millie, knowing where Fairy would go, said she was OK and Fairy could come home. I drove her back, learned that her father did live in the area, would sometimes get drunk and become violent. Millie seemed to accept it as a fact of life; Fairy was terrified.

Soon afterward we moved out of state. Back to visit once, I stopped in to see them. They were not much for writing, so eventually we lost contact. A few years later, in a Christmas letter from another former Colorado neighbor, we learned that Fairy’s grandfather had been killed. His car had slid on ice through a stop sign at the bottom of the road, careened into the trees, and wedged in a gully hidden by brush and snow. It wasn’t until the spring thaw that they found his body...

When I read that, I cried bitterly, and my heart went out to Fairy - and to all the children like her who live with intolerance, poverty, violence and grief. I wonder how she and Millie fared, what kind of a woman she grew into, if she found happiness and security? Is she still smiling? Did my having known her for two short years make any difference in her life?

I do know that she affected mine. Every year around this time, memories of her come flooding back. Fairy, you are in my thoughts...

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
       is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
      he leads forth the prisoners with singing;

      but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; 
      protect me from men of violence
      who plan to trip my feet.

Psalm 68:5 - 6 and 141:4