Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Keeping a Holy Lent

From multiple posts in the Archives....

Lent is a precious, precious time for me--I look forward to it with even more anticipation than Advent and Christmas.

Don't get me wrong--I adore Advent and Christmas: the family traditions, the Christmas carols (especially the carols!!), the snugness of the house as winter approaches, the scent of cinnamon and baking wafting from the kitchen, and the anticipation of unveiling the secrets wrapped under the tree.

But while Christmas is an amazing time of year, I admit that the excessive busyness and the hype get to me, robbing me of the joy I should be feeling in celebrating Christ's Incarnation...which is why I look forward with such anticipation to Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday.

There is little hype and full concentration on living out God's Word in our lives, of God-at-work in the Spiritual Spring Cleaning which is Lent.

Several years ago I read an incredible post about something dear to my heart--written by the wonderful Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience (my favorite blog). She shared about the process of making Easter as meaningful in our lives as Christmas.

That's a convicting thought, isn't it?

If we invest all this effort, time, money into Christmas, celebrating the Incarnation, how can we not do at least the same, if not more, to celebrate the Resurrection?

Ann writes:
And Advent completes at Lent.

When Christ completes what He came to do.

She continues:
We call it the “spirit of Christmas,” the spirit of giving, and we try to contain it to holly and poinsettias, when it is holy and it is more. The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of Easter, the Love that so loved the world, that He gave.

And the words that stings heart and motivates soul:
The Incarnation of Christ was meant for the Crucifixion of Christ and we never incarnate Christ until we abdicate self.

And "abdicat[ing] self" is the whole meaning behind the practice of Lent.

And I think it's perhaps why Lent feels so precious to me. For in the abdication of self, we may gain the merest glimpse of His glory--the swirl of His cloak, His whisper in the wind, His hand on our shoulder as He nudges us onward in His holiness.

And thus Lent is one way to join Christ on His journey to Calvary. It's a gift, really--to become one of the weeping women of His beloved city, the city He wept over, clad in dusty garments and worn sandals, the women of Jerusalem whom He took the time to greet and to warn despite searing pain and the weight of the world on His shoulders--beaten raw, seeping blood.
"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming...." (Luke 23:28-29, ESV)
Lent allows us to join Jesus on the Road to Calvary, sharing a minuscule bit of His pain as we follow in His footsteps, only imagining what He willingly bore for us--the agony, the betrayals, the sin of past, present, and future generations--of all humanity. Even the mere visualization stabs my heart...much less the real experience of Christ's obedient suffering.

The following was composed in 2007-8 by myself and Pastor Stephen Sammons of Lake Murray Community Church on Ash Wednesday and Lent:

Irenaeus (125AD–195AD), mentions the idea of spending some time fasting in preparation of Easter. This developed into the observance of Lent (Council of Nicea, 325AD). Lent is the forty days (not including Sundays as they are always days of celebrating the Resurrection) preceding Easter. The forty days of Lent are used to parallel the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying, before starting His earthly ministry. “Ash Wednesday” has been historically recognized as the day to initiate the period of fasting and repentance known as Lent. It's called "Ash Wednesday" because ashes were traditionally used to mark the foreheads or hands of those who attended church on that day.

In the Old Testament, ashes are a sign of humility and repentance of sin. (See 2 Sam. 13:19 and 15:2; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6, Jer. 6:26 ). Jesus mentions repenting in sackcloth and ashes in Matthew 11:21. A mark is a sign of ownership; in Ezekiel 9:4-6, a mark on the foreheads of the people provided protection to those who served God. Therefore, a mark of ashes was used to show repentance of our sins and complete ownership by God.

God calls us to do spiritual housecleaning everyday. Our spiritual life is a day by day (in fact, moment by moment) walk with our Heavenly Father. However, this day can serve as a good reminder of the need for us to take a spiritual inventory. Take this occasion to come quietly and reverently before the Lord, offering your life to Him to examine. Ask Him where He wants to work. Ask Him what He wants to change. Maybe there are some patterns of thinking and habits that you have fallen into that need reevaluated; maybe God is calling you to some new habits and a new manner of investing your precious time so it can reap eternal benefits.

Set aside some time and let the Lord work in your heart. Then, as the Lord leads, pray about not only what to do, but also, how the Lord would have you implement the ideas into your life. An added value is for each of us to share with one another what God is doing in our hearts. In this way, we can develop accountability and have partners in the journey who can hold us up in prayer.

I have written many posts on Lent; check out these links if you'd like to read more about this practice--and how I personally have practiced it. I also gave a talk on Lent for a ladies' Bible Study at Lake Murray Community Church several years ago; it's linked under the header: On Lent

Quotations for the Week and Lent 2012
The Discipline of Fasting: Lent 2011 
On the Road to Calvary: Lent 2011
My Lenten Rule: 2011
Ash Wednesday Retreat: Lent 2011
My Lenten Satchel: Lent 2010
Mid-Lenten Thoughts: Lent 2010
First Week of Lent: 2010
Lenten Reflection: Part 1 (2010)
Ash Wednesday: 2009
Evangelicals Seeking Ancient Paths (including Lent!)
Why Lent? Act 3 Ministries Article: Lent 2008
My Lenten Rule: 2008 (Father Acker explains Lenten Rule)
Ash Wednesday: 2008 (co-written with Pastor Stephen Sammons)
Lenten Reflections: 2007

After poking around online for a bit, looking for some new additions to my Commonplace Book, I've chosen two quotations about Lent for this week (see sidebar):

"The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare."

~Pope Benedict XVI

"The Lord measures our perfection neither by the multitude nor by the magnitude of our deeds, but by the manner in which we perform them."

~Saint John of the Cross

During this Lent, may we walk with Him as He stumbles forward, humanly-weak but divinely-strong, as "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8, ESV).

And may we be so obedient in our Lenten disciplines, empowered by Christ and not ourselves as He molds us into His image, cutting away the sinful dross that accumulates in our lives all-too-easily.

Stumbling ever onward in His sacred footfalls,

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Downton Drama....

The Cast of Downton Abbey, Series Six

Yes, I admit it. I am a Downton Abbey addict.

This post merely lays out who's who as the series begins and will not contain spoilers beyond the basics revealed in Episode One of Series (Season) One.

Elizabeth and I watched the first season, which we checked out from the library, in the week before the second season started on PBS. And we've both been glued to the joys and tragedies and loves of the Crawley family and their servants ever since.

It's been quite the rollercoaster of a ride, after all. We start with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 in the first episode and the death of the Earl of Grantham's heir--yes, the heir to the Earl's title and to Downton Abbey, a ginormous estate in Yorkshire. The present Earl, who married a wealthy American socialite to keep Downton in the black, is father to three young women, but only a male heir may succeed to the title and the lands. Mary, the eldest, is quite put-out that she cannot inherit, and thus she is unofficially engaged to the male cousin who is Lord Grantham's heir so that she can assume the title and the lands through marriage. However, tragedy (the first of many!) strikes when the heir apparently perishes at sea during the Titanic's maiden voyage.

It doesn't help that the second daughter, Edith, is truly in love with the heir apparent, and she resents Mary for needing to marry the man she loves in order to gain her birthright. Mary really could not care less about her sister, and they are always at each other's throats. (It doesn't help that Mary is beautiful--and she knows it--while Edith is the rather plain middle child.) The youngest daughter, Sybil, is "a darling" who has a bit of a rebellious streak when it comes to politics. She sees all people as equal...and as fundamentally good, and everyone adores the gentle and kind-hearted Sybil.

And all of the events at Downton are surveyed by the Dowager Countess of Grantham, portrayed by the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith, who zings one-liners as if she were constantly in a duel...and often is. Fortunately, she usually wins the decision with a single deadly thrust, delivered with great aplomb and often with wisdom, despite her snark. We can see immediately that Mary is definitely her grandmother's protege.

And now a new heir must be traced through the family tree...and we meet Matthew Crawley, a rather middle-class lawyer, who lives with his widowed mother, Isobel. Matthew's father had been a doctor, and Isobel a nurse, so the family is of the professional class, not of the nobility.

Until now.

Of course, if Mary wants to assume her "rightful" title of the Countess of Grantham, she will have to marry this rather abrupt stranger. He quite likes her at first sight, but she takes an instant dislike to him. Needless to say, sparks fly.

Meanwhile, downstairs we have the butler, Mr. Carson, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, and the cook, Mrs. Patmore, all of whom keep the great house running smoothly. There are several footmen, namely Thomas and William, along with several housemaids, including Anna and Gwen, plus the scullery maid, Daisy, who is ruthlessly ordered about by Mrs. Patmore. Miss O'Brien serves as lady's maid to the Countess. As the first episode opens, a new valet for the Earl arrives, a man with a cane named Mr. Bates who served with His Lordship in the military. Doubts regarding the new valet's ability to do his work properly start circulating immediately. Oh, and a chauffeur is also hired for the first time at Downton, a handsome young Irishman with decidedly socialist political leanings.

And now as tonight's episode takes us to the halfway point of the sixth and final series/season, I applauded with tears in my eyes as the cast of Downton Abbey won a Screen Actor's Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast in a Television Drama. I really don't want to see this amazing show end, but end it must. Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of the series, is simply brilliant, and the $1 million cost of producing each episode (usually 8-9 per series/season) is worth it.

Truly, Downton Abbey is one of the best television shows ever produced; it's high-class all the way from the filming at Highclere Castle, to the fine ensemble of actors portraying interesting and intriguing characters, to the incredible twists and turns of the storyline, to the incredible detail invested into costumes and historical accuracy--all of these elements come together to create a drama of the highest integrity, quality, and brilliance.

And our television will once again be tuned to PBS at nine o'clock tonight to watch yet another episode in the lives and loves of the Crawley family and their servants.

And if you haven't yet experienced the magic that is Downton Abbey (which means that you must be living beneath a rock!!), my advice is to pop yourself some popcorn and get settled in front of the fire as you insert the first series/season DVD into your player. And then sigh with contentment as the lovely theme music begins....

Oh, and you should see my Pinterest Board of Downton Drama...with nearly 500 images. (But beware because those images reveal most, if not all, of the show's spoilers, so I advise that all perusing of this board be done by only devoted Downton fans who have watched the entire series until now and also have a pretty good idea how Series Six will end....)

Watching with you,

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Talk: Reviews of Recently-Read Mysteries

I have long been a devoted fan of mysteries. From my very first Encyclopedia Brown books through my tween/teen obsession with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and then into adulthood with the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Anne Perry, Victoria Thompson, and now Kate Carlisle, I just can't get enough of a good mystery.

And of course this love of the "whodunnit" has transferred to my TV viewing as well: all of the CSI variations, all three NCIS shows, Castle, Hawaii 5-0, Rizzoli and Isles, Criminal Minds, Bones, Elementary, and last season's favorite, Forever, plus the British shows Sherlock and Rosemary and Thyme and my Australian fave, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

So yes, mysteries are my thing. Thus, here are my thoughts on the mysteries I've read and reviewed recently on Goodreads, some definitely better than others....

The Remains of the DeadThe Remains of the Dead by Wendy Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly good mystery series. I grabbed the first two books in the series about a Seattle woman named Sadie who started her own crime clean-up service after the suicide of her brother. After discovering her brother's body two weeks after his suicide, and having to clean up what was left of his remains, Sadie starts the bio-cleaning service so that other bereaved families do not have to do what she had to do: clean up the blood, bone fragments, decomp, etc. of their family members.

But after Sadie starts this business, she discovers that she can both see and hear the dead. Helping the dead to cross over is a rewarding sideline to her business although her one employee, Zach, one of the few who knows her secret "gift," tries to not consider her crazy as she often speaks to what seems like thin air. It doesn't help that she also has a crush on Zach, a very handsome former cop who developed a drug addiction after being injured on the job.

So the first book in the series was decent--not terribly exciting but intriguing. I'm almost finished reading the second book in the series as well.

Devil May RideDevil May Ride by Wendy Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Ghost Dusters Mystery series I've read, and I doubt I'll read more. They're okay, but I'm not particularly enamored of the characters, the plots, and the gross details of bio-cleaning crime scenes.

The paranormal aspects along with a fairly good mystery and a decent vein of humor make this series enjoyable enough, but not stellar. I mean, if there was nothing else for me to read, I wouldn't mind. But that's not enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. I happened to pick these two up as a reading friend at the library turned them in, and she said that they were decent. And they were.

But I think I'm done. After I finish up Anne Perry's The Angel Court Affair, I'll probably return to my Pride and Prejudice variations as I continue writing my own Austenish tale....

The Angel Court AffairThe Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, The Angel Court Affair is not one of the most exciting stories in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series by Anne Perry. In fact, this book is the first one in the entire series of thirty-some books that I didn't gobble up in fewer than 48 hours; I had to renew it from the library for another three weeks in order to finish reading it.

I'm not sure why I felt that The Angel Court Affair wasn't as intriguing as the rest of the series...probably because I've been missing Charlotte too much in these last few books. In the vast majority of this series, Charlotte was able to assist Thomas with his cases, often navigating the upper-crust victims and suspects far beyond Pitt's social reach but not above Charlotte's (even though she married "down"). For the past few books, Charlotte's been barely on the periphery, and I miss her caustic sense of humor, love for her family, and intrepid fearlessness. With her husband as the head of Special Branch, she is by necessity excluded from his work, and every case could end his career with an abruptness that would cause the whole family's heads to spin. At least Pitt's former boss, Victor Narraway, is still available for consults, especially since he retired and has married Aunt Vespasia, the Pitts' "aunt" more by affinity than by marriage through Charlotte's sister, Emily, who has also assisted with many a case in the past.

So I miss Charlotte and Emily's intrusion into Pitt's cases, and although the new "girl" serving the Pitts is nice enough, she's no Gracie who also assisted in Pitt's cases before marrying Pitt's former sergeant. Although this series was never humorous, the "shine" of this series is missing--the heart of the series, I guess. It's as if everyone grew up and moved out of the neighborhood. And that absence leaves a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

I'm not sure what will happen in the next Pitt mystery, but I hope it's an improvement over this one.

Ripped From the PagesRipped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful mystery (the 9th!) in Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile Mystery series, Ripped from the Pages takes place in Dharma, a commune-like town in Sonoma's wine country. Brooklyn Wainwright, a restorer and binder of antiquarian books, comes across--yes--another dead body. Her boyfriend, hunky British former MI-6 agent, Derek Stone, joins Brooklyn while their San Francisco apartment is being remodeled, and they settle down to early harvest time. An expansion of a wine storage cave yields a secret room full of pre-World War II treasure...and a dead body. The mystery is afoot!

I just love this series of mysteries, partly because I am addicted to books (the older, the better!), and partly because I love a good mystery, and partly because I adore quirky characters.... And Kate Carlisle has come up with quite the assortment of quirk in Dharma (where Brooklyn and her numerous siblings grew up)... everyone from Brooklyn's mother who is the "Grand Raven Mistress of her local druidic coven" to the founder of Dharma, affectionately nicknamed "Guru Bob" by Brooklyn and the other young people who grew up in this artsy little village (which seems to have more than its share of homicides).

Antiquarian books, a good mystery, and quirkiness to the nth degree...what isn't there to love in this ninth installment of the Bibliophile Mysteries? (Except having to wait for the tenth installment in June 2016, of course...especially after the final sentence of this book!)

(Write quickly, Kate!)

This last one is more ghost story than mystery, but I wanted to include it here....

The Tiny Steps: A Ghost Story From The Tiny Staircase SeriesThe Tiny Steps: A Ghost Story From The Tiny Staircase Series by David J. Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story was of great interest to me as I not only attended Point Loma Nazarene University as a student, but I also taught there as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages.

As a freshman living on campus before marrying my husband, I worked on the yearbook staff and experienced some spooky stuff happening one night when we were working late on a deadline for the sports section. Our office was upstairs in Cabrillo Hall...which I found out later was supposedly haunted. The building had been the home of Madame Tingley, the leader of a Theosophist colony on the peninsula of Point Loma, not far from downtown San Diego, in the early 1900's. Cabrillo Hall and the administration building, Mieras Hall, were both original to the Theosophist society.

Thus, this ghost story, expertly revealed detail by detail by David Schmidt, a far more recent student of PLNU, was gripping, especially as it was interspersed with the history of Madame Tingley and the Theosophists. Mr. Schmidt separates fact from fiction as he slowly rolls out the story of the experiences of a campus security guard he interviewed after Cabrillo Hall was relocated as part of the refurbishing of the campus for PLNU's centennial in 2002. (The university had started as Pasadena College in 1902 and moved to its present location, the former Cal Western campus, in 1972/3.) Cabrillo Hall was a music building when I was a student; after its move across campus in the wake of building a new student commons and music building with a performance hall, it became classrooms on the main floor (our daughter Elizabeth had her German class in Cabrillo) and staff offices on the second floor. The basement, which had been used for storage when I was a student, has been converted to studios for art students.

I won't retell the bizarre experiences of the unnamed security guard, but this short story would be a perfect story to read aloud at a spooky mountain camp out, a beach bonfire, a Halloween get-together, or a freshman prank. ;) The perfect mixture of superb story-telling and historical background, The Tiny Steps deserves a place in the lore of PLNU...and will also be enjoyed by those who have no connection to the campus at all.

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Value of Church History

Revised Post from the Archives....

Earlier this month, I was praying from one of my favorite prayer books, John Baillie's little gem, A Diary of Private Prayer. The second half of the prayer for the morning of the fifth day is a prayer I would never have considered praying before I started learning about the liturgical church. Now it's an idea that encourages me more than I can possibly express:
"O Thou who wast, and art, and art to come, I thank Thee that this Christian way whereon I walk is no untried or uncharted road, but a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs. I thank Thee for the finger-posts and danger-signals with which it is marked at every turning and which may be known to me through the study of the Bible, and all history, and of all the great literature of the world. Beyond all, I give Thee devout and humble thanks for the great gift of Jesus Christ, the Pioneer of our faith. I praise Thee that Thou hast caused me to be born in an age and in a land which have known His Name, and that I am not called upon to face any temptation or trial which He did not first endure.

"Forbid it, Lord, that I should fail to profit by these great memories of the ages that are gone by, or to enter into the glorious inheritance which Thou hast prepared for me; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen."

Benjamin and I have been reading about the Reformation in his ABeka World History textbook. It's a well-known text used by many Christian schools and homeschooling families alike, but I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed (and sometimes downright angry!) I was at their treatment of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in the Lord. (The other three kids read this textbook as well, and while we definitely discussed these points, B and I delved into the nitty-gritty of the topic and the way in which it was mishandled because I'm reading the text aloud to him.) Because I know church history fairly well (also another subject in our home school this year--again for the fourth time), I was alert to their obvious bias which, to my perhaps over-sensitive spirit on this topic so near and dear to my heart, seemed to border on hatred and was definitely built on exaggeration and half-truths.

I'll not get on my soapbox about "majoring on the majors" as far as evangelicals and Roman Catholics go (besides the fact that we share 85% of Christian doctrine in common), so I'll focus on the topic at hand, This journey through the Reformation highlighted one of the weaknesses of evangelical "tradition" (for lack of a better word) in that it often seems to divorce itself from church history and Biblical tradition. How can we move forward as God's ambassadors without knowing where the church has been? As an evangelical, I knew nothing about the church from the end of the New Testament to Martin Luther posting the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. Nothing. I truly appreciate the church history review we had in Lake Murray Community Church's adult Sunday School class many years ago, but I had already invested several years of study into the topic on my own before the class was taught. To me, the overall ignorance of evangelicals regarding church history is lamentable and decidedly unhelpful in being an ambassador for Christ.

Almost all evangelicals would state that our main focus of study as Christians needs to be the Bible, God's Word, and our personal relationship with God. And they are right. But church history may be compared to a map of our Christian walk, allowing us to recognize and thus avoid some of the pitfalls and detours as well as the traps set by our immortal enemy along the way.

So where do we find this road map? For beginners, I recommend Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language. It reads delightfully like a novel and is very fair-minded in not "taking sides" in the many issues that have cropped up over two millennia. For those who want a more in-depth resource, The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales (in two volumes or both volumes bound together; the link takes you to volume one only) is a great read.

If you appreciate beautifully-illustrated books, The Story of Christianity by Collins and Price is both informative and gorgeous. This is the volume that Sonlight, our main homeschool curriculum, uses as the "spine" for their high school church history course, and it's the book that Benjamin and I are reading now for our church history elective. One author of this lovely book is Protestant, and the other is Catholic, so an excellent balance is maintained. Our other three kids have either read this book or I've read it aloud to them during their school days

Knowing the "Pilgrim Pathway" is of the utmost importance to our Christian walk. The French writer, poet, and politician Lamartine stated, "History teaches everything including the future." I think the same case can be made for church history. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way in, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).

One of my favorite Scripture quotations is from Psalm 84;4 in another of my devotional books, The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle (a series in three volumes)in which this verse is translated beautifully as:

"Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrim's way."

~Psalm 84:4, The Divine Hours

Wishing you all a blessed week in the love and grace of our Lord Christ!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Happy Epiphany!

Updated from my archive...

Today, January 6th, is the celebration of The Epiphany, or The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the Anglican tradition. Below you'll find an excellent description and explanation of Epiphany from the CRI (Christian Resource Institute) website which I edited down to cover the basics. (The author, Dennis Bratcher, was a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University from which I received my undergrad degree and also at which I taught as an Adjunct in the Literature Department when my children were quite young.)

The Collect for Epiphany from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

O God, by the leading of a star, you revealed your only eternal Son to the peoples of the earth; In your mercy grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life behold your glory and power face to face; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (References: 1 Corinthians 13.12; Matthew 2.7-11; Luke 2.30-33; Psalm 63.2)

From the CRI website:
The Season of Epiphany
Dennis Bratcher

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. This is an occasion for feasting in some cultures, including the baking of a special King's Cake as part of the festivities of Epiphany. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide. For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. In some western traditions, the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year.

As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.

The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children.


In past years, we have given our children their "big gift" on Epiphany. When Keith's business was doing well, we gave them an X-Box or a the complete set of Star Wars movies, or something else "big" for them all to share. This year we can't do that, but while we usually take down the Christmas things (always a somewhat depressing job in itself), we're more focused on the serious El Nino flooding happening in San Diego today.

Last night I attended the Twelfth Night party with Blessed Trinity, celebrating the final evening of Christmastide with fellow Anglicans and with the Father Acker and Alice's neighbors in Alpine. Despite the rains, we still managed a small bonfire as we burned the greens, then we enjoyed a lovely dinner and finished with Alice's amazing Christmastide trifle. :)

But now we must return to the life of common days, with teaching and grading and everything else that comes with life with a family of six.

I wish you and yours a blessed Epiphanytide, and also blessings as we all return to the joy and work of ordinary days.

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." -- St. Matthew 5:16, KJV


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Books I Read in 2015

The most erudite of all of the variations of Pride and Prejudice that I read this year, the New York Times Bestseller Longbourn explores Austen's famous novel from the point of view of the Bennets' servants

I've read quite a few books this year...yes, quite a few. According to my Goodreads list, I've read nearly 70 books although the list below includes only 55.

I've been immersing myself in variations and continuations of Austen books, mostly Pride and Prejudice, in preparation for writing my own book in this genre; the oldest Pride and Prejudice "fan fiction" novel here dates back to 1949, long before the term "fan fiction" came into being.

The source of most of these novels is the amazing website Austen Variations which features both short stories and full-on chapter books based on Austen's works, plus historical, literary, and sociological articles on the Regency period and on Austen and her family. It's a treasure-trove for Austen fans.

So here's a graphic of my list: Susanne's Year in Books 2015 on Goodreads

The Bibliophile Mystery series is definitely one of my favorite set of mysteries and features a bookbinder with a penchant for finding dead bodies and piecing together clues....

And here's the list I made on the sidebar of my blog. I think that the Goodreads list is more accurate if there are any discrepancies:

  • A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart (2010)
  • A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Choice by Reina M. Williams (2011)
  • A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Folly by Reina M. Williams (2013)
  • A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2011)
  • A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler (2015)
  • Alone with Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds (2015)
  • An Improper Suitor by Monica Fairview (2008)
  • Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Caitlin Williams (2015)
  • Darcy and Elizabeth: Behind Pemberley's Walls (short story) by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2015)
  • Darcy and Elizabeth: Lost in Love (short story) by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2015)
  • Darcy Chooses by Gianna Thomas (2015)
  • Darcy and Elizabeth: A Most Unlikely Couple by Brenda J. Webb (2014)
  • Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb (2012)
  • Haunting Mr. Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory (2014)
  • Her Royal Spyness (#1) by Rhys Bowen (2007)
  • In the Arms of Mr. Darcy (Darcy Saga #4) by Sharon Lathan (2010)
  • Lizzy Bennet's Diary by Cassandra Grafton (2014)
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013)
  • Longbourn to London by Linda Beutler (2014)
  • Lord of Glory: A Lenten Devotional on the Names of Christ by Ray Pritchard (2014)
  • Loving Mr. Darcy (Darcy Saga #2) by Sharon Lathan (2009)
  • Most Truly: A P&P Novella by Reina M. Williams (2013)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Darcy Saga #1) by Sharon Lathan (2009)
  • Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride by Helen Halstead (2007)
  • Mr. Darcy's Persistent Pursuit by Elaine Owen (2014)
  • Mr. Darcy's Promise by Jenna Ellsworth (2014)
  • Mr. Darcy's Refuge by Abigail Reynolds (2012)
  • Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe (2011)
  • Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds (2010)
  • My Dearest Mr. Darcy (Darcy Saga #3) by Sharon Lathan (2010)
  • Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise (2008)
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1992)
  • Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell (2010)
  • Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt (1949)
  • Pemberley or P&P Continued by Emma Tennant (1993)
  • Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier (re-read) (1938)
  • Remembrance of the Past by Lory Lilian (2011)
  • Ripped from the Pages (Bibliophile Mystery #9) by Kate Carlisle (2015)
  • Sketching Mr. Darcy by Lory Lilian (2015)
  • So Gradually: A Pride and Prejudice Tale by Jessica Schlenker (2008)
  • Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (Mitford #10) by Jan Karon (2014)
  • The Best of Relations by Catherine Bilson (2015)
  • The Darcy Cousins by Monica Fairview (2010)
  • The Late Scholar (Lord Peter #4) by Jill Paton Walsh (2013)
  • The One Year Book of Hymns by Tyndale House (1995)
  • The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview (2009)
  • The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2011)
  • The Perfect Match by Lory Lillian (2014)
  • The Red Chrysanthemum by Linda Beutler (2013)
  • The Tiny Steps by David J.Schmidt (2015)
  • The Trouble with Mr. Darcy (Darcy Saga #5) by Sharon Lathan (2010)
  • To Refine Like Silver by Jenna Ellsworth (2014)
  • Twelfth Night by Shakespeare (1601) (re-read)
  • Without Reserve by Abigail Reynolds (2004)
  • Yours Forevermore, Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory (2015)

Wishing you a joyous and healthy 2016,

Films Watched in 2015

Here's a list of the films I watched in 2015. I'm not much of a movie-watcher; I prefer television shows because they're shorter and take less time, plus I enjoy watching characters develop over several seasons rather than a mere two hours.

But here's my list:

Ant-Man (2015--in theatres)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
From Time to Time (2009)
Into the Woods (2014)
Jurassic World (2015-in theatres-twice!)
Kingsman:The Secret Service (2015--twice--in theatres and DVD)
Lost in Austen (2008)
Maleficent (2014)
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Series 1-3 (2012-2015)
Pixels (2015-in theatres)
Rebecca (1940)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015--in theatres-twice!)
The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014)
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015-in theatres)
The Imitation Game (2014)
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Theory of Everything (2014)
Valkyrie (2008)

Wishing you a blessed and joyous 2016,

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Joyous Christmastide

Christmas Carols through the ages....

A repost from the Archives--this Adventide has been crazy-busy!

Christmastide is an amazing time of year. While the vast majority of Americans begin the Christmas "season" the day after Thanksgiving and pack away decorations promptly on December 26th, those of us who follow the tradition of the Christian Year have quite a different tradition, one that centers more fully around Christ and His Love for the world.

Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and finishes at sunset on Christmas Eve. While many secular Advent calendars, covered with images of Santa Claus and filled with chocolate goodies behind each window, act more as a "countdown to Christmas," the Christian practice of Advent is so, so much more.

"Advent" means "coming" or "arrival." Thus, Advent is partially our waiting to celebrate the arrival of Christ in human form two thousand years ago on that "silent night" in Bethlehem, born of a poor virgin girl in a cave because there was no room in the inn.

But waiting to celebrate Christ's first coming is not the main focus of Advent. No, indeed! Advent is even more about our awaiting the second coming of Christ our Lord, when he "shall come in majesty to judge the living and the dead" in His "kingdom which has no end."

Advent, with its liturgical color of purple, is a kind of a "miniature Lent," a time to evaluate and re-evaluate how we are waiting for Christ's imminent return. Are we living as we should? Are we as kind and as generous as we can be? Are we focused on God in prayer and in reading, studying, and applying His Word? Have we allowed slothful or sinful habits to take a foothold in our lives? These, and many others, are the questions that Advent forces us to face as we await His coming.

My favorite Collect (a collective prayer, prayed daily for a week by the whole of the Anglican Church) for Advent comes from the Second Sunday in Advent (All Collects in this post are quoted from The Book of Common Prayer 2011):
BLESSED Lord, you caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Help us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; Which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then Christmas Eve arrives at last, and as the sun sets and the Holy Day begins, we gather for Lessons and Carols, God's Word read aloud between the beautiful carols of the faith. By far, my favorite Christmas carol is "O Holy Night." The words are so beautiful and true--I "fall to [my] knees" in my heart each time I hear about "the night when Christ was born." Here are the lyrics:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wise men from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
Then comes Christmas morning with our reading of Saint Luke's Gospel, and this Collect which is prayed daily through the Twelve Days of Christmastide:

ALMIGHTY God, you gave your only and eternal son to take our nature upon him and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin; Grant us, who have been reborn and made your children by adoption and grace, daily renewal by your Holy Spirit; Through Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

But the joys of Christmas cannot be contained to only one day; we celebrate Christmas for all Twelve Days, starting with Christmas Eve and concluding on the Eve of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which arrives with sunset on January 5th.

Yet between Christmas Day and Epiphany are additional Holy Days. December 26th marks Saint Stephen's Day, memorialized by the carol "Good King Wenceslas":
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, reminds us to be bold in our sharing of the Good News and to live lives that glorify Christ, no matter the cost.

December 27th is Saint John's Day--Saint John, the evangelist and writer of several book of the Bible: The Gospel According to Saint John, the Epistles St. John I, II, and III, and the Revelation According to Saint John. So on that day we remember Saint John, one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ as well as the man to which Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary while Jesus suffered on the cross: "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26-27). John refers to himself throughout his Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The Collect for Saint John's Feast Day follows:
MERCIFUL Lord, let the bright beams of your light shine upon your Church; By the teaching of blessed John, the apostle and evangelist, may we be enlightened and walk in the light of your truth, so that we may finally come to everlasting life; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
December 28th marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children under two years of age whom King Herod ordered killed in order to destroy the prophesied king who had been born in Bethlehem: "Then Herod...sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matthew 2:16). But the Lord had protected Jesus by sending a message to Joseph in a dream to flee with the child and his family to Egypt where they remained until Herod's death.

Entrance to the Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery

Since the decision of Roe v. Wade in the early 1970's, the Catholic Church also recognizes the Remembrance of the Holy Innocents to be a day to also remember the millions of unborn children whose lives have been lost through abortion. When our family visits the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside where our dear friends' daughter is resting in peace, I always stop to pause at the marker inside one of the entrances to the old portion of the mission cemetery which remembers the Holy Innocents who have died via abortion and their mothers who have suffered as a result, for whether one supports or opposes the practice, most women who have undergone the process, whatever their reasons may be, suffer greatly as a result. So we pray peace for them and for a happy reunion with their children in heaven.

January 1 marks the Circumcision of Christ as it occurs on the eighth day, according to Jewish Law, after Christmas Day:
ALMIGHTY God, for our sake your blessed Son was circumcised and bound to the keeping of the whole Law; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, so that in heart and body, we may put away earthly desires and in all things be bound to the keeping of your blessed will; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Another Sunday (and sometimes two) occur during Christmastide, and thus another Collect is prayed, but the Collect for Christmas Day is prayed daily throughout all Twelve Days, until the Eve of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. This last night of Christmas is a night for celebration and revelry as shown in Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night which was performed for Queen Elizabeth at Twelfth Night festivities. Twelfth Night is always a wonderful celebration, and we join the members of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity in praying in the season of Epiphany (more on Epiphanytide later) and then celebrating with sherry and trifle in the Ackers' living room.

In my e-mail signature during Christmastide, I have included a quotation from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, spoken by Scrooge at the end of the book:

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year."

--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

So I wish you all a blessed Christmastide!!! May the glory of our Lord and Saviour shine brightly through our lives as we live and love like Jesus, during this season and always!

A blessed Christmastide to you and yours,

Monday, November 30, 2015

The First Sunday in Advent

Updated from the Archives...

A year ago at Pine Valley Community Church, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Our interim pastor, Pastor Jim, started informing our church about Advent, and the topic of his sermons up until Christmas will be the significance of the four candles in the Advent wreath: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, plus the central white candle, the Christ candle. This is a different set of meanings from the sobering Anglican tradition (Death, Judgment, Heaven [thus the lightening of the penitential purple candles to a rose-colored one], and Hell) as well as the evangelical tradition we observed at Lake Murray (Prophecy Candle, Bethlehem Candle, Shepherd Candle, Angel Candle).

As regular readers of this blog will know, celebrating the Christian Year is one of my passions, and Advent has been central to our family's devotional life since the kids were small. So I was thrilled beyond belief to have Advent being preached from the pulpit; I somehow managed to restrain myself from standing up and applauding mid-sermon. ;) 

The term "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and refers to the first Incarnation of Christ as well as the expected second coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest to the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30), and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

Advent also marks the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition.

We've been celebrating Advent since 2001 in our household. Keith made us the tabletop Advent wreath above, and through the years we have celebrated Advent with different materials. We read through the adventure books Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels which tell an adventure story that ends on December 24th at the manger and the birth of the Christ Child. We've also used a little book called Christ in the Carols, a devotional with the lyrics to and the background of each carol with a closing meditation and prayer. We've used the Scripture readings from Focus on the Family or the Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. As the kids grow up, each year we do something slightly different.

Each family member has his/her turn to light the Advent candle(s) in the wreath and to read the Scripture from the Advent calendar wall hanging Keith's sister made for us the year we moved to Pine Valley with 25 hand-embroidered pockets for candy/gifts and a laminated Scripture verse attached to each one:

This year, with three of our "kids" grown (but thankfully still living at home), gathering everyone each evening for a celebration of Advent seems far less than possible. So we decided to celebrate Advent as a family just on Sundays. But of course, Elizabeth had a work event last night, so we've postponed our first Advent celebration until tonight, Monday night. 

I also found a wonderful FREE Advent devotional that can be read only on Sundays or can be spread out over the course of each week of Advent. It's from one of my favorite Christian resources, The High Calling, and here's the link: 2015 Advent Devotional

The Book of Common Prayer 2011 has the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent which is to be prayed during the Advent season until Christmas Day:


ALMIGHTY God, give us grace to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now during this present life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, so that at the last day when he will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to eternal life; Through him who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (References: Romans 13.12; 2 Timothy 4.1; Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17)

Advent is richly symbolic. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is “the light of the world” and that we are also called to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” The purple of the candles symbolizes the royalty of Christ, the Almighty who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” The rose candle reminds us that hope and peace are near, available only through God. The white candle, the Christ candle, recalls Christ’s holiness, purity – He who was without sin who died for the sins of all. The greenery, symbolizing abundant life, surrounds a circular wreath – never ending, eternal life. The red of the holly berries reminds us of His blood to be shed on the cross for us.

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world. Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Three candles are violet and the fourth is rose. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent.

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is purple, the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week which points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death: The Nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the Crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is not only to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the purple color of Lent. In the four weeks of Advent, the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called "Gaudete Sunday," from the Latin word for "rejoice"). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season. 

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history; it is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life in this double-focus on past and future. 

Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, and glorious resurrection. 

My favorite Advent devotional is Watching for the Light, and from it I have jotted down some wonderful quotations, including the one for this week:
"Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent--that is, a time of waiting for the Ultimate."
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer
So enjoy your family or church celebrations of the Advent season. I'm so glad I started the Advent tradition when our kids were fairly small so that it has become an important part of their childhood memories and their walk in faith. 

Wishing you a blessed and holy Advent,


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