Saturday, January 01, 2005

Christmas 2007

Dear Friends and Family,

This Advent Season we celebrate the Gift of Life! We rejoice at the response of the Virgin Mary who opened up her womb to the Savior of the World, by exclaiming “Let it be done to me according to your word.” We are humbled by the courage of Joseph who risked scandal and disgrace, to be a father to God’s Son. The Nativity Story is familiar but timeless. We can picture a cool, starry night and the angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest.” We hear the cries of the baby Jesus as Mary gives birth in a stable of low estate, but now see Him smiling in the manger being worshipped by shepherds and friendly beasts. His tears piercingly remind us that life is frail, painful, hard, and ominously real; but His smile poignantly reveals that life is a miracle, a gift, a treasure, a luminous reality. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Celebrating the Season of Advent as a college student at Princeton captures some of the emotion of the first Christmas. Unlike my good friend from Alaska who relocated a Christmas tree outside a dumpster to his dorm room, we have no such boughs of holly in Hamilton 324, yet our merriment is not limited by lack of decorations. The Jingle Bell a capella arch sing, carol singing around a blazing fireplace in Murray Dodge Hall, candlelit Christmas Vespers with scripture lessons and choral music, and a holiday party where five students adorned me with wrapping paper, tinsel, ribbons and bows in a human Christmas tree competition, are all ways to enjoy the Yuletide here. Of course there is school work, but the good news is that Handel’s Messiah is an excellent study companion, and singing along with teenage rock stars to an upbeat tempo version of “Angels, We Have Heard on High” is a proven way to relieve stress. These are special times. Just the other night, we turned our large common room into a movie theater and invited friends to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and served a seasonal cup of eggnog. George Bailey, the Messiah, jingle bells, and candles are not just my favorite tokens of the season – they are universal yuletide treasures that resonate among human hearts the joy and hope of the season. For unto us a child is born...silent night, holy night…please, God, I want to live again…all I want for Christmas is You.

Back on the home front, all is calm after a year of change and growth. Much of the growth was precipitated by our family’s desire to keep multiple generations of the family together. Last year, to our joy, Grandma and Grandpa decided to move from Minnesota into our home. The project of building an addition to our house is nearly complete and Grandma was able to move into her new home just before Thanksgiving. Grandpa, on bedrest suffering from advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease, moved into the main house. It has been inspiring, to see from afar, how especially Mom’s life has been rearranged by love to care for her dad’s high level of need.

In many ways, the construction of the home addition was done in the spirit of an old-fashioned barn-raising, as the building of the new home turned out to be a cross-country and local community effort. The project was spearheaded by a neighbor and phenomenal craftsman, Lawrence, beginning in March. Lawrence’s relatives, friends and neighbors all pitched in. My brothers and I installed a sidewalk, and built a long retaining wall (fondly known as the Great Wall of Bentley) as well as a flat, accessible parking place in the front of the house. We were joined in the heat and fun of summer’s outdoor labor by my friend, Tsheko, from Princeton, by Jake and Mariah, our friends from Oregon and by Sarah’s good friend, Adam, from Kansas. Meanwhile, the girls were joined in their projects of interior design, painting and shingle preparation by neighbors and friends alike.

At Bentley Farm, our neighbor Hans finished building a vintage Dutch model house and has received approval to build twenty-three more homes on Bentley Farm. The houses will all be built in the back woods, and the farm land is now protected under a conservation easement.

In addition to the community and familial efforts of this past year, we have all celebrated and shared with each other in the joys and challenges of our individual vocations and occupations.

Sarah invests much time in the lives of her family members, friends and chemistry students. She continues to travel from coast-to-coast for both the continuation of friendships and professional development, but I think some of her favorite trips involve visiting her brothers at college! Sarah enjoys savoring every moment of life through writing and is largely responsible for the upkeep of the Bentley Farm Gazette (

Isaac is so honored to be pursuing his dream of becoming a rural vet practitioner at Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine. All of those years spent reading James Herriot’s classic series are now becoming a living and breathing reality for Isaac. He says that he never knew, when reading Herriot’s books, how much time studying was required to get to the stage of owning an old pickup to make the farm rounds.

I am in my junior year at Princeton University, pursuing geological engineering and a certificate in teacher preparation. This summer, two Princeton friends and I embarked on an epic adventure to hike Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. I also had a very special trip to the British Isles over the week of fall break with three other juniors and a German professor. We learned how to punt (navigate a flat boat along the Cam by poling off the river bottom), attended a vespers service at King’s College, and went into London for a day trip.

Luke began his college experience at Dutchess Community College this year. Luke pours his heart and time into his studies, always keeping in the forefront of his mind his hope of becoming a pediatrician. This summer, Luke helped Isaac restore our great-grandfather’s 1956 outboard motor. With the purchase of a 1968 row boat, we spent a few idyllic summer nights on the Hudson River. Luke also enjoys working around the farm in a new John Deere tractor complete with cab, radio and air conditioning.

Hannah joined her older brother Luke this fall at Dutchess and they enjoy taking several classes together. They even look forward to transferring to the same college after graduating from Dutchess! Hannah’s friends, Allie and Madeline, make her college experience fun and meaningful. Hannah also likes to spend time with her sisters, be it on outdoor hikes and picnics or day trips to New York City for such events as watching Laud M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables in the theater.

Jacob is now the oldest at home during the day and is reforming his reputation as a mischievous chap, looking forward to the day when he is the junior law partner in Angell & Angell. This summer, Jacob enjoyed mowing the many lawns of Bentley Farm and working on outdoor projects with his older brothers. Jacob was the most successful Angell in history at the Dutchess County Fair by winning Junior Champion as well as placing first in his showmanship class with his heifer Vanilla.

Rebecca brightens up the Angell household with her smile and affectionate ways. She is very kind and tender and serves the occupation of the family nurse. She reminds us all of Beth in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Rebecca has recently acquired some of Hannah’s milking skills by helping out at Clarence Knapp’s dairy farm every evening.

Caleb is a passionate, caring young man who has an opinion on just about anything. He is an avid Yankees fan, Redwall book series aficionado, and clever thinker. Caleb enjoyed playing on a church little league team this summer and always will take me up on a game of catch. Caleb bonded with Tsheko—who visited us for a month this summer—and had many heartfelt conversations with him. Uncle Mark is a mentor to Caleb and recently set up a paper and pencil version of fantasy baseball with him and Jacob.

Dad and Mom continue to pour their lives into the Kingdom of God on Earth by serving the growing family with love and dedication. They have seen the family through much change and found that dedicated parenting does not allow for waning of duties with time. Mom and Dad’s desire to make our family life an active Christian community has required much vision and dedication. In his outside-of-home activities, Dad continues to find meaning in his efforts to creatively work for justice and mercy within the criminal justice system. He also serves on the Town of Stanford Planning Board and Zoning Committee where he brings his vision of agrarian values in the midst of progress to bear.

Earlier this semester, Princeton’s Evangelical and Catholic fellowships hosted a weekend series of lectures and discussion entitled the Christian Worldview Conference. During a bioethics panel discussion, the distinguished scholar Nigel Cameron presented a simplified Christian case for human rights. On the blackboard he wrote Homo sapiens on the left, Imago Dei on the right, and drew an arch connecting the two under which he wrote JC. This truth that humankind is created in the image of God, not only informs our understanding of human dignity and worth, but actually tells us of the uniqueness of our Savior. It is, as the Apostle Paul writes, Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. The truth and joy of Christmas is that the preeminent Imago Dei became a member of Homo sapiens. Jesus Christ was born, God became man, Emmanuel dwelt among us. This reality gives us the reason to live, to embrace life, and to adore God.

Merry Christmas! Nathaniel Angell