Reflections on Christmas and the New Year

During this Christmas season, as I meditate on the image of the innocent, vulnerable baby Jesus, I am reminded of the opportunity for spiritual renewal. I think most of us can relate on some level, even those who do not identify themselves as Christians. Perhaps it is simply the idea of birth and a chance to begin again that calls to us, that gives us hope as this year comes to a close and a New Year beckons.

At the surface there is really nothing glamorous about Christmas. Do you ever wonder what courage, trust and faith Mary and Joseph had? We have Joseph breaking the law, knowing what he should do with a seemingly “adulterous woman,” but he doesn’t divorce Mary as the Law clearly tells him to do, even though he has no direct way of knowing that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18–24].[1]  Think about the fact that they were homeless – born in a stable surrounded by unknown Shepherds and animals. What is the meaning of all  this? And what does this have to do with me?

Inspired by the purity of the baby Jesus, I reflect on the scripture from Matthew 18:3, where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Of course, as we mature, we must take on the responsibilities of adulthood. But all too often, along the way we become focused solely on worldly life. Our behavior and our choices are influenced by the people who are most important to us. In the past, it was parents, friends, and teachers. Today, we have a great many more connections through social media and the internet. These influences mold us into who we are. Along the way, we are prone to losing our innocence, and if we are not aware, we can also lose our potential for divinity.

The biblical creation story in the Torah (Old Testament) states, “Let us make humans in our image” (Genesis 1:26). The plural pronoun is the first hint that we are going to be brought into a relational, participatory, and shared life. The secret is planted within our deepest identity and slowly reveals itself. Then, for the most part, we turn away until our life as we know it comes close to the end.[2]

Father Richard Rohr views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are: “The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is a pure and total gift, given equally to all.”[3]

Contemplation Leads Us to Truth

Contemplation teaches us how to observe our own small mind and, frankly, to see how inadequate it is to the task in front of us. As Eckhart Tolle says, 98% of human thought is “repetitive and pointless.” 

“Why do you look to one another for approval instead of the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5:44). So many of us accept our self-image from within a system of false images. Whether we describe ourselves as smart, strong, good looking, or a loser—all are just words created by humans. This will never work. We must find our true self hidden within—that Divine image we are made in. St. Teresa of Ávila envisioned God telling her, “If you wish to find Me, in yourself seek Me.”[4] 

The one who is spirit took on flesh for all eternity. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “It is really, I suggest, a timeless truth about God, that human nature, and the human experience of weakness and sleep and ignorance, are somehow included in his whole divine life.” Jesus had to be made like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). His body is not insignificant.

Transformation through Love

So, I ask the question, “Why? And what does this have to do with me?” We all have some kind of image of God, but how do we know these are not false images? I believe we cannot begin to find the answer until we are willing to be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. This is based in trust, to be willing to let go and let be. As Meister Eckhart says, “For the person who has learned to let go and let be, nothing can ever get in the way again.” 

Whether you are Christian or not, we can start with an image of the baby Jesus, the ultimate expression of God’s humility, and let go of all the garbage we carry. Christmas to me is a reminder that God became human so that we may become Divine. Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior, group membership, ritual, or hiding from it (“Hiding from God” Genesis 3:8, “How did you know you were naked?” Genesis 3:11).  When we don’t see ourselves as Divine, we can easily instead experience nakedness, vulnerability, guilt, shame, and rebellion. We must rise above, recognize, and realize (see Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–10) and thus fall in love with the God within and share it.[5]

Our Lady of Vladimir: The Virgin of Tenderness

Our Lady of Vladimir, my personal favorite icon, also known as Vladimir Mother of God, and the Theotokos of Vladimir, is a 12th-century Byzantine icon depicting the Virgin and Child.

Icons are images of a sacred person or scene used in the Eastern churches of the Christian world. True icons are the culmination of a long period of prayer, meditation, and fasting undertaken by the artist. In this way, the artist is brought close in spirit to God. Thus, icons are often called “a meeting of heaven and earth” or “windows into heaven.”[6]

This icon, depicting the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ nestled against her cheek, is also known as “The Virgin of Tenderness.”[7] From antiquity, Mary has been called Theotokos” or “God-Bearer” (Mother of God). The Theotokos is the most elevated human being in the Eastern and Western church. She is the ultimate example of the human capacity to surrender, trusting in God and following that trust.[8]

May each of us begin again and truly live, believing that we are made in the image of God. Let us manifest selfless love, let us be the Light in the world, and with joy in our hearts, let us be of service to others. Let us truly reflect the birth of Christ in our souls. This Divine heart within is a spiritual portrait of the heart of the universe: strongly aglow with the divine fire, beaming light in every direction, and at the same time open because it is wounded.[9]

Wishing a Joyous Christmas, Winter Solstice, belated Chanukah, and a Happy New Year to you all and our world. May our prayers be our words in deeds, and may our earth be made very peaceful because of each of us.

Donnie and Jen


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Great Embodiment,” homily, December 25, 2015. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 22; https://store.cac.org/collections/all/products/the-naked-now?&utm_source=cm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cm&utm_content=reference

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and believe (Convergent: 2019), 59, 60–61. 

[4] Teresa, “Seeking God,” in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 3, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications: 1985), 385.

[5] Rohr, R. Finding Ourselves in God, Monday, November 29, 2021, https://cac.org/finding-ourselves-in-god-2021-11-29/?utm_source=cm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dm&utm_content=summary

[6] https://stlukes-parish.org/the-icon-of-our-lady-of-vladimir

[7] https://russianicon.com/our-lady-of-vladimir-the-most-valuable-icon-in-russia/

[8] https://www.catholic.org/mary/theo.php

[9] David Richo, The Sacred Heart of the World: Restoring Mystical Devotion to Our Spiritual Life (Paulist Press: 2007), 5–6, 8, 21, 22–23, 99. 

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Thanksgiving Musings: On Gratitude, Apples, and a Delicious Holiday Apple Cake

We need to make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good.

Peter Maurin (1877–1949)

50 Thanksgiving Bible Verses and Scriptures about Gratitude and Giving  Thanks

Many of us are looking forward to once again gathering with friends and family at Thanksgiving. Along with enjoying our favorite delicious holiday foods and other traditions, let’s remember that the heart of Thanksgiving is gratitude. In the midst of the crucible of change that the world is experiencing, we need to focus our attention and efforts on loving each other more, and doing what we can to make the world a better place for everyone.

I offer this simple Thanksgiving prayer of reflection: “May I trust my own goodness. May I see the goodness in others. May we always remain hopeful and live in the present with gratitude and love in our hearts.” 

“Hope says God has not abandoned us in the world … He pursues us, dwells in us, intervenes for us and will not forget us.” Scott McClellian[1]

Apples: A Traditional Harvest Food

Celebrating the bounty of the harvest is one of the joys of Thanksgiving. Apples are among

25 Different Types of Apples — Apple Varieties and Their Tastes

my favorite fall foods, and the humble fruit has a wide array of health benefits. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Apples are a good source of nutrients, including minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and ursolic acid. Preclinical studies have found apple pomace and its isolated extracts improve lipid metabolism, antioxidant status, and gastrointestinal function and demonstrate a positive effect on metabolic disorders (eg, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, etc.).[2]

Epidemiological studies show that frequent apple consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and that apples are an ideal food for cholesterol management.[3],[4],[5] Consumption of apples and the individual flavonoid compounds, quercetin and epicatechin are associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.[6]

Apples contain over one hundred phenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.These phenolic acids and flavonoids comprise six major classes: phenolcarboxylic acids (e.g., chlorogenic acid), anthocyanins (e.g., cyanidin glycosides), flavonols (e.g., quercetin glycosides), dihydrochalcones (e.g., phloridzin), flavan-3-ols (e.g., catechin), and procyanidins (e.g., procyanidin B2).[7]

Synergy is the Key

The key to the health benefits of apples is the combination of active compounds, known as the synergistic effect. A major proportion of the bioactive components in apples, including high molecular weight polyphenols, are converted by the colonic microbiota to bioavailable and biologically active compounds with systemic health benefits, in addition to modulating microbial composition.[8]

Apples have been found to inhibit chronic disease, including cancer cell proliferation[9],[10],[11],[12] and tumors.[13],[14]

In studies, fresh Red Delicious apple extract inhibited cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner in colon cancer. Apple extract also inhibited human liver tumor cells. Researchers found that tumor proliferation was inhibited 57% by extract containing apple skin and 40% by extract not containing skin.[15]

Apples inhibit tyrosinase and possess anti-melanoma effects in B16 mouse melanoma cells, as well.[16]

For those trying to lose excess weight, I highly recommend eating an apple before a meal. Apples are low in calories, highly nutritious, and help you to feel satisfied and less hungry. There are other health benefits to eating an apple daily, as well. A recent study found that whole Gala apple consumption is an effective dietary strategy to mitigate high fat meal-induced postprandial inflammation that exacerbates cardiovascular disease risk in overweight and obesity.[17] And another recent study showed the replacement of calories in the Western diet with apple pomace attenuated non-alcoholic fatty liver disease risk.[18] 

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.” ~ Rumi

Do you know how New York City got the nickname “The Big Apple”?

The Big Apple SVG Cut File - Snap Click Supply Co.

Although New York State is America’s top apple grower, after the state of Washington, the New York City nickname has nothing to do with fruit production. The Big Apple moniker first gained popularity in connection with horseracing. Around 1920, New York City newspaper reporter John Fitz Gerald, whose beat was the track, heard African-American stable hands in New Orleans say they were going to “the big apple,” a reference to New York City, whose race tracks were considered big-time venues. Fitz Gerald soon began making mention of the Big Apple in his newspaper columns. In the 1930s, jazz musicians adopted the term to indicate New York City was home to big-league jazz clubs.[19]

Since Thanksgiving is “as American as apple pie” I thought I might throw you a curve ball and present an Upside Down Apple Cake recipe as an alternative. https://www.donnieyance.com/upside-down-apple-cake/


[1] McClellian, Scott, June 6, 2013, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/how-we-misunderstand-hope

[2] Skinner RC, Gigliotti JC, Ku KM, Tou JC. A comprehensive analysis of the composition, health benefits, and safety of apple pomace. Nutr Rev. 2018 Dec 1;76(12):893-909. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy033. PMID: 30085116.

[3] Nagasako-Akazome, Y.; Kanda, T.; Ikeda, M.; Shimasaki, H. Serum cholesterol-lowering effect of apple polyphenols in healthy subjects. J. Oleo. Sci. 2005, 54 143-151

[4] Nagasako-Akazome, Y.; Kanda, T.; Ohtake, Y.; Shimasaki, H.; Kobayashi, T  Apple polyphenols influence cholesterol metabolism in healthy subjects with relatively high body mass index, J. Oleo. Sci. 2007, 56, 417-428.

[5] Chai, S.C.; Hooshmand, S.; Saadat, R.L.; Payton, M.E.; Daily apple versus dried plum: Impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors in postmenopausal women. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2012, 1158-1168

[6] Bondonno NP, Lewis JR, Blekkenhorst LC, Bondonno CP, Shin JH, Croft KD, Woodman RJ, Wong G, Lim WH, Gopinath B, Flood VM, Russell J, Mitchell P, Hodgson JM. Association of flavonoids and flavonoid-rich foods with all-cause mortality: The Blue Mountains Eye Study. Clin Nutr. 2020 Jan;39(1):141-150. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.01.004. Epub 2019 Jan 17. PMID: 30718096.

[7] Shoji T, Masumoto S, Moriichi N, Ohtake Y, Kanda T. Administration of Apple Polyphenol Supplements for Skin Conditions in Healthy Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1071. Published 2020 Apr 13. doi:10.3390/nu12041071

[8] Koutsos, A. Tuohy, KM.  et. al.,  Apples and Cardiovascular Health – Is the Got Microbiota a Core Consideration? Nutrients 2015, 7, 3959-3998; doi:10.3390/nu7063959

[9] Veeriah S, Miene C, Habermann N, et al. Apple polyphenols modulate expression of selected genes related to toxicological defense and stress response in human colon adenoma cells. International Journal of Cancer 2008; 122(12): 2647-2655.

[10] Eberhardt MV, Lee CY, Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of fresh apples. Nature 2002; 405(6789): 903-904.

[11] Liu JR, Dong HW, Chen BQ, Zhao P, Liu RH. Fresh apples suppress mammary carcinogenesis and proliferative activity and induce apoptosis in mammary tumors of the Sprague-Dawley rat. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jan 14;57(1):297-304.

[12] Reagan-Shaw S, Eggert D, Mukhtar H, Ahmad N. Antiproliferative effects of apple peel extract against cancer cells. Nutr Cancer. 2010 May;62(4):517-2

[13] Fridrich D, Kern M, Pahlke G, Volz N, Will F, Dietrich H, Marko D. Apple polyphenols diminish the phosphorylation of the epidermal growth factor receptor in HT29 colon carcinoma cells. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 May;51(5):594-601.

[14] Kern M, Tjaden Z, Ngiewih Y, Puppel N, Will F, Dietrich H, Pahlke G, Marko D. Inhibitors of the epidermal growth factor receptor in apple juice extract. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Apr;49(4):317-28

[15] Eberhardt MV, Lee CY, Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of fresh apples. Nature. 2000 Jun 22;405(6789):903-4. doi: 10.1038/35016151. PMID: 10879522.

[16] Shoji T, Masumoto S, Moriichi N, Kobori M, Kanda T, Shinmoto H, Tsushida T. Procyanidin trimers to pentamers fractionated from apple inhibit melanogenesis in B16 mouse melanoma cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Jul 27; 53(15):6105-11.

[17] Liddle DM , Lin X , Ward EM , Cox LC , Wright AJ , Robinson LE . Apple consumption reduces markers of postprandial inflammation following a high fat meal in overweight and obese adults: A randomized, crossover trial. Food Funct. 2021 Jul 21;12(14):6348-6362. doi: 10.1039/d1fo00392e. Epub 2021 Jun 8. PMID: 34105575.

[18] Skinner RC, Warren DC, Lateef SN, Benedito VA, Tou JC. Apple Pomace Consumption Favorably Alters Hepatic Lipid Metabolism in Young Female Sprague-Dawley Rats Fed a Western Diet. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 3;10(12):1882. doi: 10.3390/nu10121882. PMID: 30513881; PMCID: PMC6316627.

[19] Nix, Elizabeth, Why is New York City named the Big Apple? July 23, 2014, https://www.history.com › news › why-is-new-york-city-nicknamed-the-big-apple

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Christmas Blessing

Christmas is preeminently a feast of joy. There’s a gladness that infuses the Christmas season, expressed in the exchange of gifts and warm greetings, the familiar refrains of Christmas music, the decorated tree and lights, and the radiant faces of children with sparkling eyes as they eagerly await Christmas day. During this season, we share a glimpse of humanity’s deep longing for celebration, joy, love, peace, sharing, and unity. These are the true gifts of Christmas.

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Reflections As We Move Into The New Year

As we move into 2014, I continue to reflect on the homily given by Pope Francis on Christmas, and I feel moved to share these thoughts with you. My intention is to convey my reflections, and is not in any way meant to offend those who are not of the Christian faith. I believe that there are many paths to God, and I am dedicated to the study of theology and the practice of living with devotion. My only desire is to move the world and myself to a higher place, where love, humility, and boundless compassion help us all progress in our spiritual renewal. In this way, we can rekindle hope, and actively involve ourselves in molding a positive future through our actions.

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Thanksgiving Gratitude

My wife Jen and I are off to Israel to teach for a week (see flyer below). For the first time, we won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving with our children. Although we would much prefer to be with our children, family, and friends on this and every other holiday, we recognize that this is a unique opportunity for us to share knowledge that is greatly needed. And we are grateful for this opportunity.

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The Hope of Spring

Spring brings the awakening of the earth from the long rest of winter, evidenced by the blossoming of trees and flowers and the tender green of emerging plants. A natural time of renewal and hope, spring is also the season of Easter, which is my favorite holiday. Often referred to as ‘Pascha’ in the Eastern Christian tradition, Easter is the most significant and sacred Christian feast day and the high point of the liturgical year. Pascal, which means “to be born on, or to be associated with Passover day” also means something of great significance. Passover is the traditional eight-day Jewish celebration of the freedom of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Because the Hebrew holiday Passover coincides closely with the later Christian holiday of Easter, the Latin word came to be used for both occasions.

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