Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hymn: "Son of Man and Son of God"

My Prayer Times with The Divine Hours (This photo was taken before the BCP 2011 was completed, so please forgive the 1928 BCP shown here.... ;)

Three times each day I pick up one of the three Divine Hours prayer books edited by Phyllis Tickle. Together, all three take us through the entire year with The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime, and The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.

This series of prayer books contains The Morning Office, The Midday Office, and The Vespers Office for each day. Then each month has a separate section for a week of Compline Prayers that can be prayed for each day of the week throughout the month. Because I pray the Compline from The Book of Common Prayer 2011, the vast majority of the time, I pray The Divine Hours three times each day: before breakfast, before lunch, and before bed.
Image from Amazon
While the Morning and Midday offices contain both a Reading from the Scriptures plus a reading from the Psalms, The Vespers Office usually contains a hymn or poem instead of Readings from the Old or New Testaments. Often these hymns are ancient to the church but very new and fresh to me.

The Vespers Office for last Tuesday had a wonderful old hymn that reads like a poem (as many song lyrics do--we study song lyrics as poems in The Playing with Poetry Workshop at Brave Writer), and I wanted to share it here with all of you. (When I perused a short Wikipedia bio of William Mercer, he is indeed referred to as a poet in the post, so either he wrote this hymn as a protest (as he espoused the Protestant cause during and after the Reformation) or someone else set this poem to music. Either way, the words seemed to sear themselves into my soul....

The Hymn: "Son of Man and Son of God" by William Mercer (d. 1675) 

How bright appears the Morning Star,
With mercy beaming from afar;
The host of heaven rejoices;
          O righteous Branch, O Jesse's Rod!
          You Son of Man and Son of God!
We, too, will lift our voices:
Jesus! Jesus! Holy, holy, yet most lowly,
Please draw near us, Emmanuel, come and hear us.

Though circled by the hosts on high,
He deigned to cast a pitying eye
Upon his helpless creature;
          The whole creation's Head and Lord,
          By highest seraphim adore,
Assumed our very nature;
Jesus, grant us, through your merit, to inherit     
Your salvation hear, O hear, our supplication.

Rejoice, you heavens; O earth, reply;
With praise, you sinners, fill the sky,
For this his Incarnation.
          Incarnate God, put forth your power,
          Ride on, ride on, great Conqueror, 
Till all shall know your salvation.
Let us cry, "Bless the Lord," and again,"Bless the Lord"
Praise be given evermore, by earth and heaven. 

I especially appreciated the internal rhyme, such as "Holy, holy, yet most lowly" and "through your merit, to inherit." I wish that I knew the melody to such a lovely and carefully-crafted poem. 

As long as I'm posting about The Divine Hours, I think I'll post this week's Collect from the BCP 2011:


O LORD, from you all good things come; Grant to us, by your holy inspiration, to think of good things and then accomplish them by your merciful guidance; Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: James 1.17; John 15.5; 2 Corinthians 3.5; Philippians 1.6)

So what are some of your favorite hymns? Leave your answers in the responses. Thanks!!

Wishing you a blessed week in the love and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ,

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shakespeare 400 This Weekend!!!

On Friday evening, I was skimming through Pinterest and saw the above image--and immediately loved it, pinned it to my "Bardilicious" Board, and "favorited" it...and then noticed my name below the image!!

The amazing graphic artists at Brave Writer designed this incredible Shakespeare 400 collage image to accompany my post for the Brave Writer blog which happened to be from my current online Shakespeare Family Workshop at Brave Writer. So here's the rest of my post on Shakespeare 400:

William Shakespeare: 23 April 1564-23 April 1616

To mark William Shakespeare's 452nd birthday this week, (he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and children at that time were usually baptized three days after birth) and the 400th anniversary of his death, celebration is going on in the United States as well as in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In fact, yesterday, April 23, 2016 was World Shakespeare Day!!! 

When I was in a Shakespeare class in high school, we had a HUGE birthday party for Shakespeare with British food and drink (rather like a high tea). A month beforehand, we had each drawn the name of a fellow student for which we were to make a handmade gift. I remember hemming handkerchiefs in pink embroidery thread with the initials “M.A.” for one student, and I still have the floral wreath strung with ribbons (meant to be worn on the head) hanging on my bedroom wall…although I don't remember which young man made it for me (or more likely, his mother made it on his behalf, LOL). 

So how is the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard being celebrated?
Celebrations in Great Britain:

At Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC):

In New York City:

Here in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre:

So let’s celebrate Shakespeare's birthday/deathday this week in our homes. Here are some ideas: 
  • Shakespeare Teatime/Meal! Gather around the table with scones and jam and some Earl Grey tea (or, if you want to prepare authentic Elizabethan fare, check out this site: and read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud. You can find Shakespeare sonnet apps for your smart phone or check out this site: (Parents may wish to pre-read the sonnet choices beforehand as some get a bit too, um, romantic....) 
  • Shakespeare Character Party Game! Write the names of famous Shakespeare characters on 3X5 cards with a Sharpie (pick characters that the kids know) and without letting the person see, tape a card to each person's back. Then each person asks "yes-no" type questions of other players to try to determine which character's name is on his/her back. When someone guesses their character, tape a different character to his/her back. Several rounds may be played, depending on the number of players. (Sample questions: Am I male or female? Is my father dead? Is a play named after me?)
  • Shakespeare Copywork with Quills! Make quills from feathers (either dip feathers into ink or insert the innards of a ball point pen into the bottom of a feather and wrap with florist tape if needed; see this link: Instructables) and copy some favorite Shakespeare quotations or insults onto parchment (or regular) paper. (Barnes and Noble carries a good selection of quills and calligraphy ink.)
  • Shakespeare Trivia! Play some Shakespeare trivia games on SporcleShakespeare Trivia Home Page such as "Shakespeare vs. Batman Quotes," "Shakespeare Threats & Insults," and "Complete the Shakespeare Quote." (Note: these quizzes are *challenging*--I missed quite a few!)  
  • Shakespeare Monologues! Read some of Shakespeare’s famous monologues aloud dramatically, perhaps even in costume. Here’s a site with a listing of some of the best single-person speeches, one list for men and one for women: Try performing them for family members and/or friends or at a co-op! 
  • Shakespeare at the Movies! Watch your favorite Shakespeare play on film (mine is Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing).  Check your local library or Netflix for some excellent titles, and the International Movie DataBase ( includes some helpful parents guides with advisory content for you along with ratings and information on most film versions. 
  • Shakespeare Documentary! For older kids, check out Michael Woods’ in-depth documentary In Search of Shakespeare which first aired on PBS in 2004 ( Both the DVD and the companion book should be readily available through most public libraries. 
  • Shakespeare Live!! Best yet, see a live Shakespeare play as soon as possible. Check out college/university performances near you as they’re usually much less expensive than professional productions.  
How are you planning to celebrate??? 

So, Happy 452nd Birthday (and 400th Deathday)
William Shakespeare!!

“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”
~Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Wishing you a Bardilicious weekend,

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Book of Common Prayer and Third Sunday After Easter

Book of Common Prayer 2011
First printing of the Book of Common Prayer 2011; we are now on the second printing with red covers. 

A re-post from the Archives with a few revisions....

As one of the editors of the Book of Common Prayer 2011, I am quite attached to it and have been using it as a private and family devotional even before it was officially in print. Plus, Father Acker (the author/translator of the Book of Common Prayer 2011) and I use it for corporate worship during the Friday Healing Services at Blessed Trinity that I have now been attending for nearly twelve years, first at Christ the King Anglican and now at Blessed Trinity after Father Acker left the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. (For more info, see this article: Alpine Leaves SD Episcopal Church.)

For the past several years, I have been posting the Collect for each week from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 here in the sidebar of my blog and also on the Book of Common Prayer 2011 Facebook page. I thought I'd also take a moment and post each week's prayer here in the blog itself and explain a little about what a Collect is and how it is used in the Anglican tradition.

The History of the BCP
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) came out of the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church under King Henry VIII around 1530. Many people believe that this separation marks the beginning of the Church of England, but that fact may not be the case.

A number of Anglicans believe that it is quite possible that Joseph of Arimathea, the man who asked Pilate for Jesus' body and buried it in his own tomb, was a merchant who traveled by sea to many ports, including those along the southern coast of England. It is rumored that Joseph shared the Gospel with his trade partners in coastal towns as early as 37 AD, fewer than five years after Christ's death and resurrection, and helped start a few rudimentary churches. If this  story is true (and there seems to be slight proof to support it), then the Gospel reached England and gained a toehold in the British Isles before even the Church in Rome was established. I found a reference in Wikipedia which states, "Alford also asserts that 'It is perfectly certain that, before St Paul had come to Rome, Aristobulus was away in Britain.' This is in accord with the date given by Gildas the Wise (425–512 AD) that the 'Light of Christ' shone in Britain in the last year of Emperor Tiberias (37 AD)."

The English Church, even under the authority of the Catholic Church based in Rome, did its own thing more often than not due to the distance from Rome to Britain. So it was not surprising that the Church of England was established during the Protestant Reformation as the Catholic Church in England was always rather independent of Roman authority.

In 1549, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote the first Book of Common Prayer. As the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer 2011 states, "The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is not just a collection of prayers or liturgies but rather represents the life and worship of God's people. Thomas Cranmer crafted the first BCP (1549) as a single volume incorporating not only English Sarum usage but also current reformed, ancient Gallican, and Eastern Rite liturgies. Cranmer simplified, shortened, and used language that was readily understood not only by the clergy but also by the whole fellowship." The Preface continues, "Holy Scripture gives voice to our language of prayer and is integral to the BCP tradition. The texts and rites are intentionally scriptural."

What's a Collect?
The Preface to the BCP 2011 informs us, "Each Sunday in the Christian Year has a theme about living in relationship with a holy God and with one another. This theme is found in the Propers for that Sunday which consist of a prayer [called a Collect] and two or more readings from Scripture....During the week, we continue to pray the prayer and to apply the lessons [the readings from Scripture] from our Sunday gatherings as we go about our daily life. We read additional portions of Scripture in a planned sequence of readings [called the Lectionary] so that we may hear all of God's Word, not just the highlights."

So here is the Collect for this week and the Sunday Bible readings:


ALMIGHTY God, you show the light of your truth to those in error so that they might return to the path of righteousness; May all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ reject everything contrary to the Faith, and follow everything consistent with the same; Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: 1 Peter 3.10-11; Ephesians 5.13-15; 2 Peter 1.5-8)

1 Peter 2.11-17; John 16.16-22; Psalm 66.1-8; Acts 3.1-13

I wish you all a blessed week as Eastertide continues until Pentecost, fifty days after Easter.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday

Revised and updated from the Archives....

I always enjoy Palm Sunday greatly as the opening of my favorite time of the liturgical year: Holy Week. During this week, I try to focus on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples, on His humility in washing the disciples' feet, on His institution of the Lord's Supper during Passover, on His agony in Gethsemane, on His trial before the authorities, on His suffering as He was beaten and scourged almost to the point of death, on the brutal mockery He endured for our sakes, upon the sorrow and passion of His crucifixion, and finally on the joy of His miraculous and glorious Resurrection. 

The fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures always strikes me fully during this week--so many details foretold hundreds of years ahead regarding the final week of Jesus' earthly life come true in the New Testament Gospel accounts of this last week of Jesus' earthly life.

In the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we read first a quotation from the Old Testament:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" [Zechariah 9:9].
The disciples ... brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:4-9, ESV).

By the way, the Book of Zechariah was written between 520-518 BC, more than half a millennium before the time of Jesus' earthly life.  

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY and eternal Father, who in your tender love for humanity, sent your Son Jesus Christ as a man to dwell among us and in mortal flesh to suffer death upon the cross, so that all people might learn true humility; In your mercy, grant that we may follow him in his sufferings and share in his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Philippians 2.4-8; 3.9-10; Hebrews 12.3)

In liturgical churches, the palms distributed in Palm Sunday's services are bent and folded into crosses and then saved by being put behind icons or framed pictures of Jesus until the Sunday before the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned and the ashes used to anoint the foreheads of those attending the Ash Wednesday services as a new Lenten season begins. I love how the palms come full circle: the Holy Week from one year coming into the beginning of the next year's Lent. As Benedict states in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, "There's a double meaning in that." 

I missed any sense of liturgy in the Palm Sunday service at Pine Valley Community Church; no one mentioned that it was Palm Sunday. We didn't sing the praise song "Hosanna in the Highest." No palms were seen anywhere. I texted Father Acker of Blessed Trinity to save me some palms that I keep on the shelf above my desk until the next Lent rolls around. In past years at Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, our church home for twenty years, we often entered the sanctuary on Palm Sunday to see huge palm fronds strewn along the front of the auditorium, and we always sang several praise songs that include the all-important word for this day: "Hosanna." And frequently one of the pastors or elders read the Triumphal Entry from one of the Gospels.

At Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, which meets on Sundays at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon, they had a Blessing of the Palms as well as a Passion Theater in which various congregants take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and Pilate, and the rest of the congregation will be The People...the People who demanded over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" mere days after welcoming Jesus with enthusiastic cries of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosannah in the highest!"  

My week will be very busy with Holy Week services: a Messianic Seder with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon on Tuesday evening at 6:30, Maundy Thursday evening services including footwashing also at the SCAIR Center at 6:30, the Good Friday liturgy again with the Blessed Trinity Anglican at the rectory in Alpine at 6:30 in the evening, and the Holy Saturday Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the entire Christian Year, also at the rectory in Alpine a little later in the evening (7:00 PM) so that the rectory is darkened as we bring in the Paschal Light, lighting our candles from the huge beeswax candle with the red Alpha and Omega on the side and with five nails pressed into the beeswax to represent the five wounds of Christ. Then we'll celebrate Resurrection Sunday with services in the front yard of the Pine Valley Community Church parsonage after a community Easter breakfast at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center across the street from the parsonage. With a new pastor this year, I am hoping for a joyful and exuberant celebration of the Resurrection, preferably with the singing of my favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."

I wish a blessed Holy Week to you and yours, dear readers. May we all experience the sorrow of Christ's sacrifical death for us and the joy of His glorious Resurrection by which He saved all people, past, present, and future, from all of their sins, past, present, and future.

Following in His footsteps this Holy Week,

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Passion Sunday

Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) c. 1441-42
Updated from the Archives...

Today is Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Most of us are familiar with Palm Sunday, but what is Passion Sunday? Well, it's the beginning of Passiontide.

But what is Passiontide? 

The Catholic Encylopedia states that the season of Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, to the end of Holy Saturday Vigil. The second week of Passiontide is referred to as Holy Week, which we are far more familiar with than Passiontide itself. During this time, liturgical churches cover all crosses, crucifixes, and images of Christ and His Saints with an unornamented cloth of deep purple or black. There was one year when I did cover all of my icons, crosses, and other Christian images with black cloth, but it's not a practice that I felt was particularly helpful for me.

But I have adopted the above image of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by my favorite artist, the medieval genius known best by his nickname, Fra Angelico (real name: Guido di Pietro), as the wallpaper on my laptop during Passiontide as a reminder of Christ's human sufferings, which He, the sinless Son of God, bore for our sake.

However, The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, "The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: 'Jesus autem abscondebat se.' Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden."

In addition to the veiling of crosses and images, the Gloria Patri is omitted from the liturgy, and fasting is intensified. The focus of prayer is on the sufferings of Christ: upon the humiliations He, the King of Kings, endured on our behalf. The lessons (our daily Scripture readings) focus on His sufferings as well. Passiontide reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the extreme physical as well as spiritual agony that He willingly endured the consequences of every single sin committed by every single person who has ever lived in the past, is now living in the present, and will ever live in the future. This is the "cup" about which He prayed to the Lord, asking His Father if this suffering beyond measure could "pass by" Him, but Jesus concluded His prayer with these amazing words: "Not my will but Yours be done."

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

ALMIGHTY God, your Son Jesus Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come and entered once for all into the holy places, securing us an eternal redemption; Mercifully look upon your people, so that by your great goodness we may be governed and protected forever, in body and spirit, by the Blood of Christ; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5.23.)

May Christ's prayer as well as the Collect for this week resonate within all of us during Passiontide as we prepare our hearts for the sorrows and joys of Holy Week.

"Not my will but Yours be done."

In His grace,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When Troubles Come....

The Book of Common Prayer 2011

Our family has been going through a very difficult time since early November. I'm not going to get into the details at this point, but let's say that God has given us many lessons on being people of faith and prayer over the last several months.

God has given me great solace in my devotionals, namely The Book of Common Prayer 2011 and The Divine Hours trilogy by Phyllis Tickle which is partially based on The Book of Common Prayer. The beauty of both books is that Scripture is laid out to be prayed several times per day. I pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline from the BCP 2011, and then I pray the Morning Office, the Midday Office, and the Vespers Office from The Divine Hours. In addition, I'm also praying my way through the classic My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

So around 9:00 A.M., I read and meditate on the day's reading from My Utmost for His Highest, pray The Morning Office from The Divine Hours, and then pray through the morning's selection from the Psalter in the BCP 2011 which is in the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Scriptures. Later in the morning, I'll pray Morning Prayer with Benjamin as part of our "Opening" for starting our day of home education which includes reading the Old Testament and New Testament readings for Morning Prayer as indicated in the Lectionary of the BCP 2011.

As lunch begins around 12:30 PM, I pray the Midday Office from The Divine Hours as well as pray through my prayer list on my Prayer Popper Android app.

And before bed, I pray through the Vespers Office from The Divine Hours and then the evening daily portion of the BCP 2011 Psalter, plus both Evening Prayer and Compline, also from the BCP 2011. And the Vespers Office often contains a hymn in place of the Scripture readings that are usually included in the Morning Office and Midday Office. And these Scriptures from The Divine Hours have been really speaking directly to my heart.

Earlier this week, I came across this Concluding Prayer of the Church from Wednesday's Midday Office in The Divine Hours:

O Lord my God, to you and your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. Fill my memory with the record of your mighty works; enlighten my understanding with the light of your Holy Spirit; and may all the desires of my heart and will center in what you would have me to do. Make me an instrument of your salvation for the people entrusted to my care, and let me by my life and speaking set forth your true and living Word. Be always with me in carrying out the duties of my salvation; in praises heighten my love and gratitude; in speaking of You give me readiness of thought and expression; and grant that, by the clearness and brightness of your holy Word, all the world may be drawn to your blessed kingdom. All this I ask for the sake of your Son my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, page 160)

And that same evening, Wednesday, in The Vespers Office, I came across this hymn:

Oh, Love, How Deep
Attributed to Thomas a Kempis

Oh, love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortal’s sake!

He sent no angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world himself he came.

For us baptized, for us he bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
For us temptation sharp he knew;
For us the tempter over threw.

For us he prayed; for us he taught;
For us his daily works he wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not himself but us.

For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us he gave his dying breath.

For us he rose from death again;
For us he went on high to reign;
For us he sent his Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

~Latin, 15th Century

So it is with God's Word, prayer, hymns filling us "Up to the brim, and even above the brimwith Scriptural truths, and the prayers of His beloved people who encourage us when another setback strikes and celebrate with us when all seems (temporarily, at least,) well.

Wishing you all a blessed Lord's Day,

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lenten Study: God Hides in Plain Sight

Revised and updated from the Archives....

Back in 2013, my Pine Valley neighbor (hey, in a town this size, we're all neighbors!) Judith Dupree invited me to drive all the way to Saint Paul's Cathedral in downtown San Diego. Dean Nelson, whom Judith has known for years in the San Diego Christian Writers Guild, was going to be leading an adult Sunday School class at the large Episcopal Church next to Balboa Park.

Dean and I go way back as well. Brought into the Literature Department at Point Loma Nazarene University to start a journalism program the same year that I started at PLNU, Dean was my creative writing professor. In addition, a small group of students often skipped chapel to hang out in the faculty lounge and debate theological issues--and Dean was usually at the center of the debates. (And yes, I had to pay $70 in chapel fines after graduation before the registrar would hand over my diploma.) Plus, when I returned to PLNU after earning my Master's in English from the University of San Diego, Dean was kind enough to offer to share his office with me as my classes were first thing in the morning and his were...not. ;) 

Judith and I, along with our beautiful sidekick Kitty, now also an instructor at PLNU, have been faithful attendees at PLNU's annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea, Dean's brilliant brainchild. We've enjoyed hearing from such wonderful and varied writers as Ray Bradbury, Kathleen Norris, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Amy Tan, Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, Billy Collins, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more. Dean has also been very kind in trekking up the mountain to lead several workshops for our little Writers' Workshop here in Pine Valley--and  he'll be gracing us with his presence once again on March 19 at our local library.

In 2009 Dean published an amazing little book called God Hides in Plain Sight. The last time Dean came up the mountain to speak to our group, I purchased a copy which he signed: "To Susanne--colleague, fellow writer, office-sharer, friend! Dean Nelson"

But I haven't had time to open the book, and from its place of honor on my desk, it's been staring at me, almost beckoning me to read it. But homeschooling, online classes to teach, essays to grade for co-op classes, etc., have kept me from opening the book and diving in.

Dean Nelson at The Writer's Symposium by the Sea
When Dean spoke about the introduction to the book at Saint Paul's back in 2013, it was to a room of about 60-70 attendees in which I was one of only about five people without white or gray hair. As usual, his humor was disarming and amusing--something I've always loved about Dean's lectures. But for the first time, Dean was speaking about faith and faith alone--unlike his usual talks about writing that I've attended in the past.

And as Judith said to me on our long drive home, "I didn't know that Dean and I had so much in common theologically." And I agree.

The subtitle of God Hides in Plain Sight is "How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World." He lays out this idea of seeing God in the ordinary, daily events of our lives through the seven sacraments in this order: vocation, communion, confession, confirmation, marriage, baptism, last rites, and, adding a new one, service. He quotes from Thomas Merton and Eugene Peterson, from Frederick Buechner to Walker Percy, and while his disarming humor is seen throughout the book, it leads us into a deeper place...a place where we see God not just in mountain top experiences or worship on Sunday mornings, but also in the most ordinary moments, during the most mundane tasks.

Although I haven't yet come across a mention of him (yet), Dean's main point reminds me greatly of Brother Lawrence and his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, which, after the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, is perhaps the book that has influenced me the most spiritually. Brother Lawrence was a lowly dishwasher in a Carmelite monastery in the 1600's, but while he scrubbed pots, he basked in God's constant presence. He often complained about having to "go to the chapel for prayers" because he was already deeply in prayer whenever the bell rang.

And I was pleased to see several allusions to one of my favorite Christian books, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which also started for me as a Lenten study many years ago. And then about seven years ago, my neighbor Sheri and I did a wonderful study of Celebration of Discipline together, meeting to discuss the readings and ponder our responses to the study guide questions. It was one of the most spiritually-rich studies I had ever taken part in, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

So back in 2013, I picked up the book but only managed to read to about page 45. I could tell even then that reading this book is going to be huge--perhaps even life-changing. Not to reduce Dean's importance, but the crux of this book isn't about the author although Dean relates a lot of personal anecdotes; it's about how we need to learn to see God differently than we do now. The meaning of this book is not about intellectual knowledge...although it starts there. It's about heart-recognition of God at work in our lives and about spirit-to-Spirit communication.

This quotation is from Dean's introduction to God Hides in Plain Sight:

"Grace pursues and precedes. It bends us toward God.... When we're paying attention, we see that grace is breaking into our everyday moments, making them different--sacred--drawing us into the presence of God. It's not about us getting a hold of the sacred. It's about the sacred getting a hold of us."

Dean's book has been sitting on my desk--the only non-school book there--for three years. So when I was praying about which book to study for Lent this year, Dean's book immediately sprang to mind. And I'm so glad that it did.

Now that God Hides in Plain Sight is off my "back burner" of thought and shifted to the front where it's at full boil, I'm reading 6-7 pages each day and letting it really sink in. In addition, I'm underlining passage after passage and making copious notes in the margins, so I pity anyone who will read my copy after I finish with it. With books of this importance, I tend to hold scribbled conversations with the author in the margins, but at least with this particular book, I may be able to chat with Dean face-to-face.

In fact, I'm rather counting on it...even though I won't have it completely finished by the time he comes up the mountain in March since his next workshop with us is the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday.

God Hides in Plain Sight is exactly the book I need right now as our family is going through a very difficult time and may very well be upending our lives in ways we can hardly imagine, possibly including moving out of state, despite our kids being sixth-generation San Diegans, within the next few months. So I need to see God at work right now...more than ever.

Reading with you,

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Poet Nikki Giovanni at 2016 Writer's Symposium by the Sea

Photo by Susanne Barrett at PLNU
I've attended the Writer's Symposium by the Sea many times over the 21 years since Dr. Dean Nelson, my creative writing professor and later office-mate at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), started inviting some of the most renowned authors to share their thoughts on the art and craft of writing.

Of course, PLNU is a place where I have nestled, heart and soul, since first hearing of the college during my senior year of high school when I escaped from Algebra II with friends to view yet another college presentation. (However, any college presentation was a vast improvement over Mr. Winters' droning on and on about algebraic formulas I'd never see again.) But by the time that the PLNU presentation was over, I knew that I'd be throwing aside my plans for the famous English departments at Dartmouth and UC Santa Cruz (Go, Banana Slugs!) in order to attend this Christian college that was half the population of my high school.

And I adored every moment of my time at PLNU. I cried on graduation day as I didn't want to leave this family of people who loved all things literary as much as I did. So I returned with my Master of Arts and began my teaching career.

That was nearly 24 years ago, and walking on campus this week made me feel as though I had never left.

This year's Writer's Symposium by the Sea featured four writers: sports writer/announcer Dick Enberg, young adult writer Robin Jones Gunn (whose event we attended), African-American poet Nikki Giovanni (we attended two of her events), and Christian feminist blogger/writer Sarah Bessey (whom I really wanted to see, but it just wasn't possible). My lovely friend, poet and author Judith Deem Dupree, kindly purchased my tickets as an early birthday present, and we attended the three sessions together.

(I'm assisting Judith with various aspects of her new book, Sky Mesa Journal, to be published by Wipf and Stock later this year. It's a joy to work with her on this amazing piece of prose-poetry ponderings.)

The talk by Robin Jones Gunn was wonderful, but the two talks we attended with the legendary Nikki Giovanni were amazing! She's a 72 year old black woman who speaks her mind, no matter who her audience may be. On the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, Nikki does not mince words. And she drops the most amazing names: she babysat for Morgan (Freeman)'s kids; she went to Maya (Angelou)'s house, she interviewed Rosa (Parks) in her living room, she entertained the Queen of Ghana with a bottle of Utopia beer ($250/pint), she met with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (at their request), etc.

The afternoon session with Nikki Giovanni, which was supposed to be for faculty and students (but Rachel, the departmental assistant, smuggled Judith and me in) was definitely tamer than the evening session, but it was still memorable. I snapped the above photo just before Nikki began reading some of her poems--and does she ever read her poems in an interesting manner (this reading was posted on YouTube; it's not from the Writer's Symposium, but I will post the interviews and readings as soon as they are available):

In all of the interviews Dean Nelson has done over the 21 years of the Writer's Symposium by the Sea with writers as varied as Garrison Keillor, Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Yancey, Anne Lamott, etc., I've never seen him lose control of an interview. Until now. It wasn't a bad thing--it was interesting and rather hilarious to watch Nikki grab onto one random topic and then another so fast that I don't think that anyone could have caught up with her.

She read more poems in the evening session, and Dean started off the interview by teasing her about being mentioned in a Kanye West song, and it happens that Nikki is a very good friend of Kanye's mother. She quickly moved through Downton Abbey, mentioning how hilarious it was that Mr. Carson had to cook in last Sunday's episode, to having a bat named after her, to taking Barack Obama to task for plagiarizing her phrase "We shall overcome."

"Poems have work to do," she says. They are to inform, delight, and leave something with people. When asked about the lack of punctuation in some of her poems, she advised Dean that these poems "work on the breath" like a song. "Poets build bridges," she says next, then applauds Pope Francis for his bridge-building.

Yet she was a history major in college. But she does say about African American feminism, "We want to be part of the ones who forgive, not to be the ones who put Jesus on the cross."

"Very few dumb people quote me," Nikki asserts with a wicked grin before complaining that the Fisk Jubilee Singers should have been on Downton Abbey last season. A professor at Virginia Tech, she glories when her students are successful.

"Poems are right there with good wine and caviar" she advises, but she means red wine only, for earlier in this interview she had asked rhetorically, "Whoever fell in love over white wine?"

"Black women are the best things that ever happened in the world. It's a great thing to be black. I recommend it," she says with another mischievous smile.

In both the afternoon and evening talks, Nikki made this statement: "I married my mother, and she widowed me." She openly describes her mother as a victim of physical abuse...a situation which gave her an innate skepticism about men. "We have to be willing to tell the truth," she says.

Then she's talking about having no interior doors in her house. Not even on the bathroom. "It's my house, and I plan to live in it." She continues, "Doors are stupid. They're a waste of wood."

She advised us at both talks to read something every day. In the afternoon talk, she recommended the comic strip "Zits." Nikki is also a Trekkie, yet in the next moment she says that all of the recent talk about race is "tiresome."

"Life is interesting--why not enjoy it?" she states at the end of the afternoon talk. And she finishes the evening talk by citing the title to one of her books, Chasing Utopia, which wasn't philosophical at all; rather, it was about trying to obtain a bottle of the world's most expensive beer, Utopia, at $250/pint.

The entire evening interview will be shown on UCSD-TV in about six weeks, and then will be posted on their Writer's Symposium site where we can watch all of the previous interviews Dean has conducted since the Symposium began 21 years ago: UCSD-TV Writer's Symposium by the Sea. The interview with Nikki Giovanni and the other speakers will be at the top of the page when they are posted.

So it was a lovely week--especially staying with a dear friend who now works at PLNU in the Literature Department as an adjunct. We spent both evenings chatting while grading essays and preparing lessons for our students. Perhaps we can get together when the pressures of teaching are not quite so manic. Leaving her home after praying together lightened my stress-load considerably.

Wishing you all a wonderful week,

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,


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