Reflections on Winter holidays

I was raised Christian—American Baptist specifically—and I love Christmas. The most potent memories are, not surprisingly for me, filled with singing. The Christmas Eve service at the First Baptist Church in Franklin, Indiana, was especially magical. There were carols, choirs, string instruments, organ, candlelight and the story of Jesus’ birth. Together, it made me weep with joy and hope for the world.

I still love Christmas music, and yeah, I probably start listening to it way too early. My favorite CD right now is “More Joyful Sounds” by North Central High School’s Counterpoints. My eyes fill up when I listen to those young people (many of whom I know) sing, and I know that the world is going to be okay because of the light they carry.

For the last 13 years, I’ve celebrated this darkest season of the year with the annual Winter Solstice Celebration, an earth-affirming, non-denominational event presented by Central Indiana Unitarian Universalists. This free, family-friendly evening has the things I love from my childhood celebrations—choir, crowd singing, strings (cello specifically), stories, candlelight—with the addition of tingsha (a small cymbal used in Tibetan Buddhist prayer), West African drums, raucous clapping and aisle dancing (voluntary, of course), stretches of meditative silence (always with babies chirping because this is for EVERYONE), a stunning altar in the center of the room created by local artists, and a large feast to conclude this festive night of sound and spirit.

I always—ALWAYS—come away feeling different … centered, grounded, and whole. This celebration helps me honor the darkness (that’s where seeds grow after all), celebrate the Light, and reclaim the communal joy that is too often missing in our lives.

However you name that Light, where ever you find that Light, and however you mark this season, I wish you joy and peace, and yes, singing!

Pam Blevins Hinkle
Director, Spirit & Place
(and also music coordinator for Winter Solstice Celebration, co-director of SongSquad, and co-founder, Indy Justice Choir)

Plan for Miracles

Win Blevins is an award-winning writer and dedicated follower of his dreams. He’s also my Dad, and in 1994, he said three words to me that changed everything.

Twenty years ago, my family was living in an old dairy farm that had been transformed into a church just north of Pittsburgh, PA. We lived in the old milk house, spent hours swinging on the porch, petting bunnies and discovering fairy rings in the woods. But while the environment appeared peaceful, my insides were roiling with the mismatch between who I was and who I wanted to become.

Win's shirt translated from French means play, dance, eat, repeat.

Win’s shirt translated from French means play, dance, eat, repeat.

Enter Dad.

Shortly after arriving for a visit, he took a walk and returned with a perfectly straight stick as thick as my index finger and about a foot long. Without explaining why, he asked me to write down one-line prayers on a sheet of paper. (And though I’m comfortable with such a task now, back then it felt, um, weird.)

Without reading it, he tore each line from the sheet, curled it around the stick, and wound richly colored yarn around my prayers. At the end of the day, he solemnly handed me a beautiful prayer stick covered in red, blue, green, and golden yarn, and said, “Plan for miracles.”

Plan for miracles? That was a head-scratcher. Can you plan for a miracle? A miracle is something inexplicably wonderful and surprising, perhaps even divine. But you can’t count on them; you can’t build them into your plan. Or can you?

Many of my prayers on that stick were about making music. That simple intention started a steady stream of answered prayers. It got me directing and producing, improvising and chanting, composing and arranging, and it introduced me to countless artists, musicians, poets, dancers, and people of faith whose creativity and spirituality are inseparable. Miraculous? Oh, yeah.

Naming and claiming your dream—whether you call it a prayer, a vision, or an intention—is a powerful and prophetic act. Twenty-one years later, that prayer stick still calls me to make music and calls me out when I don’t. And it reminds me, again and again, to plan for miracles.

Thanks, Dad.

Pam Blevins Hinkle is a musician and director of Spirit & Place, which celebrates the theme of DREAM during it’s annual festival from November 6-15, 2015. Pam recently received the IUPUI Inspirational Woman Award in the staff category. Pam’s father Win Blevins is an award-winning author of more than 30 books and is the 2015 recipient of the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature. The award is given by Western Writers of America as its highest honor.