Thursday, April 24, 2014

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014

As part of National Poetry Month, the wonderfully creative poets and poetry lovers at the Academy of American Poets at annually hold a day called Poem in Your Pocket Day.

On this day, we are to slip a copy of a favorite poem into our pockets, pulling it out to share with friends, co-workers, etc. And while I do have a poem printed up to share with my Expository Essay class at today's ECII Class Day co-op meeting, I also want to pull this poem from my virtual pocket to share it with you all.

This poem was shared with me just yesterday--and wasn't at all the poem I had planned to share (I was leaning toward another offering by my favorite poet, e.e. cummings). A friend of mine who isn't the first person of whom I think when the term "poetry" comes to mind, heard this poem on NPR this week, found a copy, and e-mailed it to me. She's a gifted gardener, so I can see why this poem in particular would appeal to her; it is truly lovely...and thought-provoking as well, as all truly great poems are.

So here's the poem I will have in my pocket (or at least in my briefcase since my skirt has no pockets) throughout the day today:

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014

~ Mary Oliver
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Wishing you all a wonderful day of sharing poetry...or perhaps having poetry shared with YOU!! 

Poetically yours,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy 450th Birthday, William Shakespeare!!

Okay, I will confess it right here in public:

Hi, my name is Susanne, and I am a Shakespeare Geek. 

I have the watch to prove it.

You see, it all started in my senior year at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, California. My English teacher, Bobbi Jordan, was teaching a one-semester English elective on Shakespeare.

That class changed my life.

We read the plays mostly aloud in class, Mrs. Jordan assigning parts (and keeping the choicest ones for herself, as she unashamedly announced on the first day of class). As Mrs. Jordan had spent her summers in college traveling as part of a Shakespearean troupe, she really knew her stuff. Occasionally she would drag some characters out of their seats and quickly block a scene as they read their parts from our well-worn Folger Library editions of the plays.

So instead of the normal Shakespearean fare that every college-prep high school student was forced to endure: Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet (in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, respectively), we read A Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, King Lear, Two Gentlemen of Verona, etc. Mrs. Jordan also took us on a field trip to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego to see a dress rehearsal of The Merry Wives of Windsor. (It helps when one's teacher knows the director!)

And we had quite the celebration for Shakespeare's birthday. During the first week of April, we all had to draw the name of a fellow student out of a hat and hand-craft a gift for that person to give them on Shakespeare's birthday. I remember embroidering the initials "M.A." on handkerchiefs as my gift to a very popular girl, and I still have the beribboned floral wreath headpiece that a shy young man (I don't remember his name, but can still envision his face) gave me. The wreath, rather faded and a little bedraggled, hangs on my mirror in our bedroom.

But it was the sheer joy in Mrs. Jordan's approach to the Bard that made me want to read more of his work. One of her assignments was for us to read a play NOT on our lists---one we had never read before--and write a response to it. I chose Measure for Measure which has been and remains my favorite Shakespeare play, period. I was thrilled to finally see in on stage at the Old Globe several years ago. Isabella's steadfastness of faith in the face of true evil inspires me--as well as her willingness to forgive when she senses the repentant heart behind the apology.

And thus started my love of Shakespeare and his works. I took Shakespeare classes at Point Loma Nazarene University from Dr. DeSaegher and Dr. Bennett, and then I retook the latter professor's Histories and Comedies class when Dr. Maxine Walker (then Crain) joined the department. My two partners-in-crime, Johanna and Vera, and I would huddle in the office of our department chair, Dr. Seamans, while he was on sabbatical, reading the plays aloud in parts as we prepared for class together. And after I received my Master of Arts in English and was teaching at PLNU, I was asked by Dr. Seamans to cover his Shakespeare class's discussion of Henry V as he had to be at a conference.

At Brave Writer, I somehow slipped into teaching Shakespeare each May--which is officially "Shakespeare Month" at Brave Writer. I now teach The Shakespeare Family Workshop course for families each spring (which is now in its third of five weeks), followed by a Literary Analysis course on one of Shakespeare's plays. This year we'll be taking on Romeo & Juliet which I have rather been avoiding since seeing a 4+ hour production at San Diego State University that was agony to behold. (We should have followed Dr. Seamans' example of escaping at intermission, especially as I heard my brother chanting "Die, Juliet, die" under his breath as the play came to its close--finally!!)

And in the 2014-2015 school year, I plan to teach a class at the ECII Class Day with Heritage Christian School called Discussing Shakespeare. The plan is to mirror Mrs. Jordan's class and over the course of the year, read eight plays: three comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice), two histories (Richard III, Henry V), and three tragedies (Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet). We'll focus on reading certain scenes in class, perhaps doing some scenes for the end-of-the-year opening, watching scenes from YouTube or DVD's, and just discussing the plays as a class--something that is rather lacking in most homeschools.

So, after all that, today is Shakespeare's 450th birthday!! As I posted to my Shakespeare Family Workshop, I have a few ideas for how we can celebrate:

So let’s celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week in our homes. Here are some ideas:

  • Perhaps gather around the table with scones and jam and some Earl Grey tea and read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud (you can find Shakespeare sonnet apps for your smart phone or check out this site: Shakespeare's sonnets),

  • Read some of Shakespeare’s famous monologues aloud dramatically, perhaps even in costume. Check this listing from on Shakespeare Monologues, featuring 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!

  • Perform a Shakespeare scene as a puppet show or act out a scene in costume; either memorize parts or make copies of the scene for all the actors. Here are some scenes and scripts for kids from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.:

  • Watch your favorite Shakespeare play on film (mine is Kenneth Branagh'sMuch 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.

  • 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.

  • Better 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. 
So how are you going to celebrate the Bard's Birthday?? It isn't every day that the most famous writer in the English language turns 450, right? 

With warm regards from your friendly Shakespeare Geek,

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Is National Poetry Month!!

Yes, April is National Poetry Month!! 

Did you hear that?

We have an entire month dedicated to reading, writing, and basking in poetry!!

So where do we start?

2014 National Poetry Month Poster

The Academy of American Poets hosts all sorts of poetry fun at their site I worked ahead and ordered one of the free National Poetry Month posters (see image above) for our home school; I hung it up as soon as the clock struck midnight. Here's their page devoted to National Poetry Month. And they even have a National Poetry Month FAQ, so check it out!

It was through that I first started reading the Poem-A-Day e-mails which first started as a National Poetry Month treat (yes, only available in April) but has now been expanded to a year-round event. A free service, recipients receive a contemporary poem (usually published within the current year) on weekdays while weekends are reserved for classic poems, a.k.a. "old friends." You may sign up for this amazing gift of starting your day with poetry here: Poem-A-Day

In addition, started the annual celebration of Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day in which we are encouraged to tuck a favorite poem (written by us or by a favorite poet) into our pocket and share it with at least one other person during the course of our day. Which day? April 24 is the official Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, so prepare!! More information can be obtained on the page Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day

In 2013 as part of National Poetry Month, sponsored a Dear Poet Project in which students and teachers could write letters to some of the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. More about the project and some of the letters may be viewed here: 2013 Dear Poet Project. Although the project is not being extended to this year's celebration of National Poetry Month, a lesson plan has been designed for students in grades 7-10: Letters to Poets Lesson Plan.

Well, Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Poet's Market on the Writer's Digest website, is hosting the annual PAD (Poem A Day) Challenge in which he'll post a different prompt for each day in April, and everyone tosses their efforts into the ring. I took this challenge in 2010 and really enjoyed the process. This year there are a host of professional judges, plus a book of the best poems (as selected by said judges) will be published by Writer's Market, and a little journal-type books is also available with this year's prompts and "room to add your own" (see above image) is available already. It's a pretty cool opportunity, indeed. Here's the link: PAD Challenge Guidelines. And here's where participants will post their poems on the Writer's Digest site: Poetic Asides: PAD Challenge

I'm in an especially poetry-induced euphoria as I've spent the last week teaching poetry through Brave Writer's Playing with Poetry Family Workshop. In this four-week course, I taught the basics of poetry analysis and structure and how to read and truly enjoy poetry. Then we wrote the following types of poems: free verse including autobiographical and "I Am From..." free verse poems; visual poetry including shape poems, concrete poems, and acrostics; cinquains and diamante poems; the Japanese poetry forms of haiku and tanka; conventional poetry, including couplets, tercets (and terza rima), quatrains, and limericks; and finally alternative poetry which encompassed fragmented poems, "After..." poems, kennings, and then various types of "found" poems including black-out poems, highlighted poems, and book spine poems, among others.

While several of my own poems became part of the class, I wrote a new fragmented poem (a poem written entirely in sentence fragments--usually an editor's nightmare!) that I thought I'd share with you in honor of National Poetry Month. This is only a second draft, so I may go back through it later and revise certain lines:

when the world was newly-burnished,
as the sun ducked behind the rounded hills
suffusing the sky with rose and gold,
the hues ever darkening
before the night falls.

because creation is awash in peaceful activity
the lamb curling up beside the lion,
the rabbit teasing the fox,
nudging bushy tail with wiggling nose.
just before the evening coolness in which He strolls daily

admiring the beauty of His creativity,
no longer alone in the gloaming—
but enjoying the heartbeat of companionship at last.
when the pregnant hush comes,
suspending all in that fearful, frozen moment—

as the woman reaches up
into the forbidden, the deadly,
grasping the delectable fruit,
plucking it, admiring its golden rosiness in her palm--
ruining all as her teeth break the bitter skin.

~copyright 2014 by Susanne Barrett
All rights reserved. 

So I wish you all a wonderful celebration of National Poetry Month!! Please feel free to link to any special poems you've been writing or reading, and I'll share some of my favorite poems this month as well.

Poetically yours,

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Value of Visual Arts

This morning's Daily Reflection from The High Calling is entitled "How Art Helps Me to Be Still." I am reproducing the reflection in its entirety here, or you may click on the Daily Reflection title above to read it on the website.

How Art Helps Me to Be Still

Our God says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me.” 
Being still has never come easily to me, and I know I’m not alone. Whenever I ask friends how they are doing, the answer is inevitably some variation of, “I’m so busy!” Busy with work, busy with family, busy with looking for work, busy looking for the spouse with whom to have a family—we are all so very busy. Yet God says, “Calm down…” Or, in another well-known translation, “Be still and know that I am God.” How does this happen? How can we help one another to “calm down”?
At the end of 2013, I was, of course, busy. Despite the fact that I had taken the months of November and December off from work in order to observe a sabbatical, somehow my life was as hectic as ever. It is so ingrained in me to be doing things—writing, creating, and producing results—that to stop, to calm down, seemed impossible for me. The more I tried to be still, the antsier I became to be active and to achieve something.
There was one thing during those two months, however, that helped me come to a full stop: looking at art. During my two months off, I made it a practice to visit art galleries and museums regularly, not in order to attend openings or to research opportunities for the artists I represent, but rather to simply experience the gift that fine art is.
Over the Christmas holiday, my husband and I visited the National Gallery of Art. The museum was crowded with tourists, noisy with a cacophony of different languages being spoken, and docents trying to talk above the din. Yet, as I made my way through several galleries of impressionist paintings and stood before Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge” series of three paintings, it was as if the noise did not exist. I stopped and stood, transfixed by the beauty, inspired by the breath of God’s Spirit right there in Gallery 87. In those moments, things that had weighed me down for months seemed trivial and unimportant. Encountering the beauty, skill, and inspiration in these works lifted my eyes away from myself and toward the glory that was before me.
Art—good art—can give us busy people a huge gift. It can help us stop and be still. You simply cannot rush through the experience of looking at art. Viewing art—experiencing art—demands that we slow down and set aside the cares of the world for a few moments in order to see—really see—what is before us.
A life of worship is a life that includes times of being still. While many find stillness through meditation, or prayer, or sitting quietly in a room surrounded by stained glass, I find stillness in the sanctuary of the gallery. It is there, the awe I feel when I experience great art, inevitably that leads to a sense of awe for the One who created all things, and from whom all blessings flow.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What comes to your mind when you consider the admonition to “be still and know that I am God”? Have you ever been transfixed by a painting or sculpture? Take a moment and reflect on what it was that so captured your heart and mind. Was it the color palette? The forms on the canvas? The textures? The scene itself? When, or in what circumstances, do you feel most able to “calm down” and consider God’s God-ness? 
PRAYER: Creator God, how difficult it is for so many of us to quiet our hearts, calm down, and be still as we consider your majesty and wonder. Help us to identify the places where we are able to be still, so that we may be among those who know that you are God and among those who honor you. Amen.
As a busy homeschooling mom with two graduated young people and two still at home for school (grades 8 and 11 this year) and an instructor at Brave Writer and at Heritage Christian School's co-op Class Days (not to mention my own business of grading essays via e-mail and copy editing/proofreading), I struggle with busy-ness. Big time.
Especially during this Lent, a time a year in which I try to instill a new way of drawing closer to God, I am focusing on morning and evening prayer times. I use an app on my phone called Prayer Popper which "pops" four times a day with daily prayers for Keith and the kids, extended family, friends, myself, etc. I use my morning and evening devotional time for worship. 
In the mornings and evenings, I use the Book of Common Prayer 2011 (which I helped to edit; we just published our second printing which is gorgeous!!). I pray through Morning Prayer, including the Lectionary Readings for Morning Prayer (one Old Testament reading and one New Testament reading) and the appointed Psalms for the day. (The Psalter, which uses the ESV Bible, divided the 150 Psalms into morning and evening readings for 30 days, i.e., for each month.) Today I read the selection for Day 22: Morning Prayer which was Psalm 107. I pray through the various canticles which are mostly straight Scripture (again, all ESV), pray the Apostle's Creed and The Lord's Prayer, then the Collect for the week (a collective prayer for the entire Anglican Communion, the second largest global Christian denomination after Roman Catholicism) which changes each Sunday, then the various Morning Prayer and Family Morning Prayer Collects. This one is my favorite:
For God's Blessing This Day
O GOD, we ask your grace and protection for this new day; Keep us clear-minded in all things and focused on our calling; Grant us patience in our difficulties; Give us grace to be just and honest in all our dealings, to be calm, peace-filled, and full of compassion; Make us ready to love others, according to our ability and opportunity; Direct us in all our ways; Defend us from all danger and trouble; Keep us and those who are dear to us under your fatherly care and protection; As you know our needs before we ask,send us your help; Through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. Psalm 145.8; 1 Peter 3.11; Psalm 119.105; John 10.29
(Book of Common Prayer 2011: Family Prayers: Morning Prayers 57)
The Scripture references at the end of the Collects show the Biblical basis for each particular Collect and is a new aid in this BCP. At night, I pray through both Evening Prayer and Compline, again adding the Collects from Family Prayers: Evening Prayer. 
In addition to using the BCP 2011 for my times of being still with God, I also pray through the Morning and Evening prayers in John Baillie's Diary of Private Prayer. I have been using this prayer book off and on (and more on than off) for over fifteen years and have yet to tire of it. The prayers are beautifully worded, focused on our relationship with God and our worship of Him, and are short and to-the-point.   
Also, in the mornings I am using The Magnificat Lenten Companion, a .99 cent e-book from either Magnificat or Amazon. This little devotional book reminds me a great deal of the evangelical booklets Our Daily Bread. Actually, I'm using the 2013 version which I purchased last year and didn't finish--so why purchase a new one? ;) In the evenings, I've dusted off The One Year Book Of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based on Great Hymns of the Faith. (Amazon states that there are 70-some paperback copies of this book starting at only $.16--yes, that's sixteen cents!! (plus shipping, of course). Still, that's an amazing book for less than a latte at Starbucks!) The left page has a hymn, the right page the back story of the hymn followed by a verse or two of Scripture for meditation. 
I also take time to copy Scriptures and quotations from my prayers and readings that seem especially significant to me into my Quotation Journal/Commonplace Book. 
So while art is a wonderful way to "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46.10), I find that my Lenten readings and prayers are doing the same thing--and beautifully. 
But I do still find myself turning to art to calm my mind, heart, and soul. A slow stroll through The San Diego Museum of Art and the neighboring Timken Gallery (the latter of which is free!!) does help me to still and center myself in the Artist of All Creation. Here are my favorite pieces from each museum:
I love both the subject matter and the rich colors in this painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, (link includes information about the painting) by the Italian artist Guernico, painted in 1654-1655. The attention to detail and the amazing SIZE of this work are draw me in; I can hear the Scripture whispered in my ear as I peruse the facial expressions, the depth of color, and the overall emotion. 
Return of the Prodigal Son by Guernico (1654-1655)
It's difficult to choose only one work from the San Diego Museum of Art as I have many paintings there that I love. But Keith and I chose only one to purchase as a print; it hangs above our piano in the living room. The Young Shepherdess (link includes more info on the painting) was painted by the French artist, William-Adolphe Borguereau in 1885. The peaceful pastoral scene behind her, the stillness of the shepherdess, her calm expression with the exception of the restlessness in her eyes all quiet my very soul. It's a remarkable painting, drawing me in with the subtle use of color and the lovely details of Realism--along with the sheer size: this painting is over five feet in height and two feet in width, making her nearly life-sized. I can sit and watch her for hours, wondering what she's thinking and dreaming as she watches over the sheep in her charge.  
Young Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bourguereau (1885)
I won't take the time to share a great deal about two of my favorite non-San Diego-based paintings as they aren't really works that encourage calm meditation, but I'll post links for you, anyway. Both were in London, are HUGE in size, and simply mesmerized me; I sat before each of them for over half an hour, absorbing them fully, especially the use of light and dark and the richness of color: 
So let's find our own path to combat busyness of body, mind, heart, and soul through artwork and through our daily time with God. However you center yourself contemplatively, we need to take the time to focus on a creative outlet, a way to draw close to our Creator, the original Artist who created the heavens and the earth.   
Wishing you peace, this day and always,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: Perry's Dorchester Terrace

With my busyness lately, teaching classes at Heritage Class Days and at Brave Writer, not to mention homeschooling two teen boys and writing my third novel (which is coming along far too slowly, thank you), I haven't kept up with one of my favorite authors, Scottish mystery writer Anne Perry. While some readers enjoy her William Monk series of mysteries, they're a bit too dark and hopeless for me.

Instead, I prefer her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries which are set in Victorian England, mostly London. I was delighted the other day to check Goodreads and find that Perry has not added one but two new books to the Pitt series since I read the last one, Treason at Lisson Grove (which was one of my favorites!).

So I ordered both new books from the library and just finished the first, Dorchester Terrace. I plan to start reading Midnight at Marble Arch tomorrow. ;) My only worry is to return the latter before it's due as I had to get it through the county library circuit (actually, it's from the San Diego Public Library), and thus it cannot be renewed.

I appreciate seeing Thomas and Charlotte's relationship develop over the years, from their first encounter when Pitt seeks a serial murderer in Charlotte's neighborhood, one who kills her older sister, Sarah. Pitt, the son of a gamekeeper, and Charlotte, a young society miss, do not hit it off right away--but they slowly grow closer and Charlotte marries him, despite her step down in society by becoming a mere policeman's wife.

They become a team, Pitt the detective and Charlotte, often with her younger sister Emily, their mother, plus Emily's Great Aunt Vespasia, helping with societal connections from time to time in order to solve a case. Perry's writing is rich, complex, and beautiful--she keeps the writing out of the way of the story yet every word resonates. All of these elements combine flawlessly to form the recipe for a wonderful mystery series, and Perry always leaves me guessing until the very end.

My Review: Spoiler-Free
The 25th book in this series, Dorchester Terrace gives us another incredible Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery. Pitt is now Head of Special Branch and faces his first real threat: the possible assassination of a visiting Hapsburg duke from Austria. It's definitely a mystery that keeps one guessing until the very end--to the second-to-the-last page, in fact.

I do miss how active Charlotte's role used to be in helping Thomas to solve the various murders he came across, but now with his appointment as Victor Narraway's successor, he cannot share the various threats with her--or his trepidation that a gamekeeper's son and policeman holds a place usually given to a member of the nobility, or at least the upper class.

But Charlotte does get drawn into the case in her own way, of course, as do Emily and Jack. Plus, Aunt Vespasia and Narraway are very much involved behind the scenes in this mystery--which is really two different crimes/potential crimes which link together about 3/4 the way through the book. Dorchester Terrace is yet another brilliant success for Perry!

So the books in my library stack (several of which will need to be renewed):
Midnight at Marble Arch by Anne Perry (Thomas and Charlotte Pitt #26)
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale (sequel to Austenland)
Why Shoot a Butler?  by Georgette Heyer (in progress when the Pitt mysteries arrived and set aside until I finish them)
North by Northanger and The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries--oops, they're overdue! I'll have to renew them immediately!)
Getting over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald

So, happy reading to all!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent Begins Wednesday!

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.

(If you'd like to read more about the practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent, see my page "On Lent," a talk I gave to a women's Bible study at Lake Murray Community Church in 2010.)   

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.

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,

(Partially from the Archives....)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quotations of the Week

I love quotations. Over the past twelve years I have filled one entire journal with quotations, and I started a new quotation journal last August. The old-fashioned name for a quotation journal is a commonplace book.

So, for this week I've chosen two quotations on the subject of creativity by a very famous person from my current commonplace book:

"Creativity is intelligence having fun."

~Albert Einstein

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

~Albert Einstein 

From The Book of Common Prayer 2011 for this week:



LORD God, who sees that we cannot trust in anything that we do; By your power may we be defended against all adversity for your mercy's sake; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Psalm 3.7-8; 129.17-18; Hebrews 7.35)

So as Lent approaches, I pray that God will reveal to me what He wants me to focus upon during these 40 days in the spiritual wilderness, just as Christ spent 40 days in the desert before starting His earthly ministry. We can learn much if only we quiet our minds, hearts, and souls so that we can hear Him speaking to us. How easy it is to be distracted by the Internet and Facebook, by television and Netflix, by cell phones and Instagram, and yes, even by blogging. So I pray that as I take time for silence, I will relax into His Spirit and be truly teachable. 

Wishing you all a blessed pre-Lent,

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Favorite Painter: Fra Angelico

Considering that my Master of Arts in English from Catholic University of San Diego was in Medieval Literature (with many courses taught by an amazing nun with a Harvard Ph.D.), it's not surprising that my favorite artist would also be from the medieval period.

Fra Angelico was born the same year that Chaucer died: 1400. Although he only lived fifty years, he produced an incredible body of artistic work.

Earlier this week, the Church celebrated his Feast Day, and the following is from the daily "Saint of the Day" e-mail from that I received on Tuesday:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Blessed John of Fiesole
(c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works. 

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

So let's take a look at some of his more famous works:

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
The Visitation by Fra Angelico
Madonna and Child by Fra Angelico
The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico
The Resurrection by Fra Angelico
The last painting here was the only wallpaper I ever used on my first laptop computer. The colors, especially of the first three paintings, are still so vivid, and his figures are pre-Renaissance in their three-dimensionality versus the usual flat, two-dimensional work of the medieval period. 

So I hope that you will enjoy the work of this amazing medieval artist as much as I have and continue to do!

Artistically yours,

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Odd Saint Valentine's Day....

This Saint Valentine's Day is unlike any other in my and Keith's 30+ year relationship.

I won't be seeing him today.

Since his dad (who is 82) had knee replacement surgery just before Thanksgiving and also has been struggling with the progression of his Parkinson's disease, Keith has been spending anywhere from two to five nights per week in Ramona. Fortunately, Keith's brother, who built a house adjoining his family's large home for their parents (although their Mom died before it was completed), has quite a long to-do list for Keith to tackle, paying him a discounted rate to build a storage shed and a treehouse for their kids (two of their kids have already graduated from high school, so this fun place is for their three younger ones, ages 8-11), to begin with. In addition to being there to keep watch over his dad and to work on Kevin's projects. Keith has also been helping the younger kids with their chores and homework when they get home from school since they're often alone until dinner time.

And Keith left yesterday to spend last night and tonight in Ramona; he'll be home Saturday evening.

So we're apart for Saint Valentine's Day.

Since 1997, it has been our family tradition to take the grandkids to my parents' house for pizza and ice cream sundaes on Valentine's Day while we "parents" enjoy an evening out. We began this tradition after my mom's father died on Valentine's Day in 1996, and she wanted her grandchildren with her on the anniversary of his death. The kids still get out the craft stuff and create Valentine's Day cards while Keith and I and my siblings and their spouses go out on our dates.

So tonight we're still heading to Pacific Beach to spend the evening with my parents; I'll just be staying there for the pizza and sundaes, too.

Last night I wrote out Valentine's cards for the kids, writing each one a personal note of encouragement and affirmation with a different Scripture verse for each, telling them how much they are loved (and also set two large Reese's Hearts on each of their placemats). Elizabeth made everyone cool Star Wars Valentines with a glo-stick attached as a light saber, along with a small box of Valentine's Nerds (my favorite non-chocolate candy) and three Ghiradelli milk chocolate-caramel squares. Yum!

But family traditions aside, this day is special because of the love of one man, Saint Valentine, and his dedication to God. I found a very interesting history of Saint Valentine's Day at the History Channel site. Following are excerpts from that history:

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine's Day — should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap."
And from a website called Women for Faith and Family comes additional information about Saint Valentine's Day and a call to "re-Christianize" this holy day:
The popular customs connected with Saint Valentine's Day's probably originated in medieval Europe. At that time, when "courtly love" was in flower, there was a common belief in England and France that on February 14th, precisely half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.

Thus, we read in the 14th century English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer's "Parliament of Foules":

For this was on Seynt Valentynes' day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
(Chaucer's original spelling).

This belief about "love-birds" is probably the reason Saint Valentine's feast day came to be seen as specially consecrated to lovers, and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lover's tokens. The literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century in both France and England contain allusions to this practice.

This association with romantic love, along with the medieval revival of interest in classic literature, no doubt led to the "paganizing" of this martyr's feast, so that the Roman god, Cupid (the counterpart of Eros in Greek mythology), supplanted the saint in the celebration of the feast. In Roman mythology, Cupid, the son of Venus, was a winged immortal who had the mischievous habit of shooting invisible arrows into the hearts of mortals, which inflamed them with blind and helpless passion -- for the next person they might see.

The Golden Legend, a medieval book of stories about saints, says that Valentine, a priest, was imprisioned by the emperor Claudius II for leading people to Christ. While Valentine was being interrogated by a Roman officer, the priest preached Christ as the "one and only Light". The officer, who had a blind daughter, challenged Valentine to pray to Christ for her cure. The girl was cured, and the entire family were converted to Christianity. According to legend, while awaiting execution, he wrote notes of instruction, affection and encouragement to the Christian community in Rome, which were secretly delivered by a boy who visited him in prison.

It is ironic that a Roman Christian who died defending the faith is now chiefly associated with a pagan god, Cupid.

I would like to close with a prayer for Saint Valentine's Day:

Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You gave Saint Valentine the courage to witness to the gospel of Christ, even to the point of giving his life for it. Help us to endure all suffering for love of you, and to seek you with all our hearts; for you alone are the source of life and love. Grant that we may have the courage and love to be strong witnesses of your truth to our friends and family and to the whole world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wishing you all a blessed remembrance of Saint Valentine and of Christ's command to "Love one another,"


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