Tag Archives: San Francisco

It’s still Christmas in San Francisco.

At Union Square

On the way to the airport to send Kate and her boyfriend back to Washington DC yesterday, we drove around San Francisco and saw that people are still enjoying a Christmas spirit. It made me very happy, because I’m certainly not ready to take down my lights or stop eating cookies.

Present Site of Former Sutro Baths

While daylight still shined we drove to Ocean Beach where just to the north you can see the site of the Sutro Baths that were built in the 1890’s and burned down in 1966, late enough that I might have had the chance to swim in them had my grandmother taken me across the bridge from Berkeley where I visited her.

Six of the seven indoor pools of varying temperatures contained sea water that during high tide flowed directly in from the ocean, and even at low tide pumps recycled all the salt water within five hours.

The famous Cliff House is still nearby and can be seen in the background of this postcard. That picture shows its Victorian shape, one of many different forms it has been built into over more than a century. If you click here you can see a slide show of its architectural history.

Evidently the operating costs of the baths were too high to keep them going, and they had been closed not long before a fire destroyed the building. I wonder what it was like to swim there — certainly more pleasant than the frigid water outside, where a wetsuit is needed nowadays. When you see photos of people of the past on the beach they are always in multiple layers of long skirts or pants with hats.

Market Street from Twin Peaks summit

After our group ate dinner we still had some light left, and we drove up the Twin Peaks where the views are wonderful. The moon was just coming up at that point, but we stayed long enough to get this picture including the bright stripe of Market Street.

Then it was a quick drive over to Union Square and the parking garage that is directly underneath. Here I basked under the lights of tall storefronts and the Christmas tree in the middle of the square, and even palm trees with strings of lights.

Street musicians played at various spots around the square. This duo was surprisingly good for their limited equipment, and the drummer even did a fire-drumming-and-eating trick after dousing his sticks with lighter fluid.

An ice rink is set up during the winter months and it was very popular this night, even though 90 minutes will cost you $10. It appears to me everyone is having a magical experience out there on the ice, wearing their scarves and hats and gliding around under the giant Christmas tree. But if I did it, my feet would get all my attention feeling like blocks of ice themselves.

It’s good I got this extra boost of holiday cheer, because I don’t want to miss any of the joy between now and Theophany (Epiphany or Three Kings Day to some of you), and also I have more Christmasy things to write about, and I’ve run out of time and space. More on cookies and grandchildren and such like soon to come.

More Merry Christmas to you all!

Union Square

Athanasius – God in sensible things

A young woman we know is trying to love people in San Francisco for the sake of Christ. In a recent prayer letter she wrote:

San Francisco downtown

The hardest part of doing ministry in San Francisco is the cost of living factor. My rent is $1975 for my two bedroom apartment, which many in the city will tell you is a good deal. Because of the high cost of living most pastors and missionaries don’t live here. The problem is that you can’t relate to the people and become effective at reaching the city for Christ if you don’t really live among them.

People think that if they just have some fancy strategy they will see people come to Christ. These programs become like the welfare system; people just learn how to work the system, and there are so many that the homeless get to pick what they want at different meals.

They get used to sitting and allowing the word of God to come in one ear and out the other…rarely do you see any lives change. The old fashioned way of living among the people is gone from many Christians’ concept of what a missionary does. The majority of pastors live outside the city because it is cheaper. They then drive into the city where they have a reserved parking place and never spend time out in the community.

But this woman meets people on the bus and the playground, and they get to know and trust her as their lives interweave with hers. The words of her letter came back to me as I was reading On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius:

The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body. Human and human-minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world they found themselves taught the truth….For this reason was He both born and manifested as Man, for this he died and rose, in order that, eclipsing by His works all other human deeds, He might recall men from all the paths of error to Know the Father. As He says Himself, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Christ heals the lepers.

Waiting and Weakness – Christmas

Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco

The greatest pleasure and thrill of Christmas can’t be had without a little waiting, something like children of yore had to do, when their Christmas trees weren’t even ready for viewing until Christmas Day.

That thought is on my mind as I say Hello! to all the friends I see here at Pom Pom’s Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party for which we can show up four times over the next month! I had barely noticed the open invitation, with no time even to lay a finger aside of my nose, when she added me to the published guest list — I was signed up! I am happy to attend, Lord willing, by posting a blog each Wednesday.

It seems to me that the way we Eastern Orthodox Christians get into the Christmas spirit can be combined with the theme of children and simple pleasures that Pom Pom describes:

“Yesterday I asked my students, ‘Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren’t we fine right now? Don’t we have enough?’ …Here at Pom Pom’s Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn’t involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register….four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ….that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes.”

The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.

I’m not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor’s house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.

We need some weeks to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” and for it to register in our minds that God’s people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods, (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.

Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. Last year I went to one at Holy Trinity and took the picture. (By the way, I saw the same flowering plant at a winery last week and still don’t know what it is.)

One children’s book that might contribute to a child’s understanding of time and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, “a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke.”

Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.

It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger — and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.

All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: “She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.” But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.

Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn’t idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.

Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won’t say any more about that at this party.) I know I have cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.

The truth is, I’m not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don’t have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations.

Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.

I’ll post on Wednesdays more about some of the simple pleasures that our family has enjoyed over the years, even while remembering that the fullness of joy, the acting like a child, will start on December 25th. And won’t it be wonderful!

Clean Money

My grandmother had grown up on a farm where she was probably comfortable with animals and “good clean dirt.” But when we knew her she had lived in the city for a long time (not The City of San Francisco, though) and was comfortable with us washing our hands quite frequently, especially if we had handled “dirty money,” i.e., all money. She wore gloves quite a bit, for different purposes. It’s very easy for me to pull up the image of her holding her soft leather driving gloves that she had just removed, which kept the fragrance of her warm and soft hands.

When my sisters and I visited her from our farm in the Central Valley she would take us across The Bay Bridge to The City. We dressed up in our finest and made a day of it, though I have no memory of just what we did there. Today I was made to wonder if she took us to the Saint Francis Hotel for lunch, because she would have liked the fact that they keep their money clean.

As a proper housewife I appreciate the use of soap and water and the impulse to keep things fresh and sanitary for the health of my family. Probably even the saint for whom the hotel is named wouldn’t have turned down a gift of soap. Or money, whether clean or dirty.