Monday, December 31, 2007

My 2007 Book List

Here's my 2007 Book List -- a total of 50 books and one chapter of a compilation. I read little as the end of the year came about -- so involved with teaching the kids and with my writing classes that I haven't had much time, and what time I do have, I want to veg out with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. This year was definitely the year of Harry Potter!

Please direct me to your 2007 reading lists as well; I love gleaning new books from the lists of others!


Castle Rackrent and The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth. The first is more of a short story, and the second a short novel, dated 1800 and 1813, respectively. Edgeworth does not have the panache that her contemporary, Jane Austen, possesses, but worthwhile reads all the same. 7/10.

Seven Dials by Anne Perry (2006). The latest in the excellent Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Victorian-era mysteries, in which Thomas travels to Alexandria in order to unravel an unsavory murder. 8/10.

A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry (2003). A young Lady Vespasia accompanies a friend on a trip of expiation regarding the suicide of a young widow. 7/10.

A Christmas Visitor by Anne Perry (2004). And older man finds out the truth regarding the murder of his goddaughter’s husband in Northumberland. 7/10.

Plague Journal by Michael O’Brien (1999). The third in the Children of the Last Days series. Read it all in one sitting. Terrifying and well-written – it will stay with me for years. 9/10.

Death of an Expert Witness by P.D. James (1977). An Adam Dalgliesh mystery that I had read before but didn’t remember “whodunnit” until the very last page. One of the least interesting of James’ mysteries, despite the Wren chapel. 6/10.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006). A wonderful tale, rich in literature, mystery, pain of loss – extremely well-written – academic yet heart-wrenching. One of the best modern works I’ve read in a loooong time. A simply amazing book that brought me to tears at several junctures. 9/10.


Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael O’Brien (1996). The fourth book in the Children of the Last Days series, which was NOT written chronologically. Intense, frightening, so much about trusting God, having faith, dealing with evil face to face. An unforgettable book. 10/10.

Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer (2004). My first Rumpole mystery – nice and light, requiring little thought. Great escapism – will have to order more. 7/10.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). An amazing novel about an intelligent woman and the men in her life. Poignant yet inspiring, Janie is a heroine not easily forgotten. 9/10.

Murder at the Monk’s Table by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie (2006). Not the most well-written book I’ve ever read, but mildly interesting. An okay mystery – not sure I’ll pursue the rest of the series. 5/10.

The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers by Lillian Jackson Braun (2007). Not much of a mystery here – and Polly leaves Pickax to live in Paris. Not nearly as well-developed as past books; Braun seems to be losing her touch. 4/10.


The Quality of Mercy by David Roberts (2006). Based loosely on Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter series, Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne solve mysteries and finally agree to marry under the cloud of Hitler in pre- WW II Britain. Okay – nothing to write home about. A good surprise here and there, and great historical research. 6/10.


A Cry of Stone by Michael D. O’Brien (2003). The intriguing story of Rose, a native Canadian artist who lives in poverty of everything but richness of spirit. Her Catholic faith is all-in-all to her, and her ability to love is endless. A slow, rich, meditative novel, well worth the 847 pages of reading. I wasn’t ready for it to end. 9/10.

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte (1858). An intriguing portrait of a poor British man of good education who, failing at trade, seeks fortune and love in Brussels. Some disturbing anti-Catholic ranting, but an enjoyable book nevertheless. 7/10

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare (1602). Mistaken identities with twins (like Comedy of Errors) but with more wit and romance. Beautiful poetry, beautifully drawn characters, lovely all around. 10/10.


Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott (2007). A collection of essays religious, political (even though I don’t agree with her politics), humorous, and transparent. Her third book of essays or “thoughts on faith” is probably the best, although Traveling Mercies and Plan B were both excellent. Personally, I would prefer less ranting on Bush and more “thoughts on faith.” Still highly enjoyable. 9/10.

My Life with the Saints by Fr. James Martin, SJ (2006). A wonderful spiritual memoir which weaves the stories of many saints and holy people, such as Joan of Arc, St. Therese, Thomas Merton, Thomas Aquinas, Mary, Peter, Joseph, Dorothy Day and others, with Fr. Martin’s life experiences which include ministering in Africa, in inner-city jails, in Jamaica, with gang members, and in hospices. Witty at times, always evangelical in outlook, with many little tidbits of his spiritual life interwoven into wonderful research on each of the saints, this is an enjoyable and contemplative read, something to be read slowly and underlined and chewed on and meditated upon. 9/10’s What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7? (2006). Predictions regarding the seventh Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I disagree with a couple of their predictions: I don’t think Harry is a Horcrux; Dumbledore WILL return (Phoenix, remember?), and I think it’s more like a 50-50 chance that Harry will die. I also think it’s likely that one of the trio will die, although I hope not. Interesting predictions from the #1 HP fan site on the Internet, started by a homeschooler. (Vera’s gift to her goddaughter, E.) 7/10.

Also reread Harry Potter 5, 1, and 2.


Finding God in Harry Potter (2nd ed.) by John Granger (2006). Excellent book that demonstrates the Christian themes, character names, imagery, and more found in the Harry Potter series. Granger is a world-wide speaker on the HP series and a homeschooling dad of seven. His knowledge of alchemy and Scripture, as well as classical literature, makes this book a winner to any Christian Harry fan and a terrific defense to the Christian factions against the series. 9/10.

Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List by Eugene Peterson (1996). Written by the translator of The Message. I just skimmed this book, mostly to see where we had common ground in reading certain authors. Will take notes before returning this to the library. A useful little book if you want to read the best of Christian literature – he has excellent taste. 8/10.

Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird, OSA (2006). A little book that lays out the practice of contemplative prayer, leaning heavily on the medieval anonymous Cloud of the Unknowing (also on my reading list). Laird explains how silent prayer works, especially the “Jesus” prayer, and in the last chapters, gives examples of how praying the prayer can change lives. He also outlines the downfalls and difficulties of praying this way – a comprehensive and mystical little book, a gift from my chiropractor’s wife. 8/10.

The English Breakfast Murder by Laura Childs (2003). Rather insipid mystery set in a Charleston tea room. Characters were cardboardish; plot moved interminably slowly. Nothing objectionable, but nothing remarkable. Won’t be reading the rest of the series, despite learning a bit about teas. 4/10.

The Best of Father Brown Mysteries by G.K. Chesterton (1911-1935). A collection of mysteries by the great English Catholic theologian Chesterton, starring meek and humble and nondescript Father Brown. The mysteries were deep, making Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter look like Bertie Wooster. Enjoyable, challenging, but a bit on the dry side at times. 7/10.

Also reread Harry Potter 3 and 4.


Death at Dartmoor by Robin Paige (2002). Intriguing Victorian mystery starring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, along with fictional characters, including a husband-and-wife team, Lord and Lady Sheridan. No bad at all – not high literature by any means, but well-written, well-plotted, and with interesting characters. I figured out whodunnit before the clues leading toward that person were revealed, so I felt rather satisfied with the whole thing. Will probably read more in the series when I want some escapism. 7/10.

Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday by Nancy Atherton (2003). Cute, mindless mystery series set in England with an American protagonist, Lori, married to an English lord, who solves mystery with the aid of her dead aunt’s (Aunt Dimity’s) diary in which she chats with Lori and gives her hints in solving the crimes. Will probably read more if I want something absolutely mindless and entertaining. 6/10.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (2005). Having reread #1-5 before this one, I am now prepared for the seventh and final installment of Harry’s fight against evil. 10/10.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling (2007). Oh my oh my oh my! Rowling outdoes herself in the seventh and final installment of the epic of Harry Potter. She demonstrates her Christian themes more strongly than in the other books and brings the epic to a close wonderfully well. I read it through the first time in twelve hours (with interruptions) on the proverbial edge of my seat, then finished it a second time after rereading more slowly and enjoyably. Now I’m reading it aloud to the boys for a third time. It’s all sinking in – all the details and characters and themes are coming full circle. This series is as good or better than Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s LOTR. Stunning end to a wonderful era. 10/10.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (1999). Reread and discussed for the first meeting of our Logos literary group at Lake Murray. I’m again bowled over by her directness, by her transparency, by her humor, and by her stunning writing style. She lays out her testimony as an alcoholic and drug user who thought she was too cool to become a Christian with candor and wry humor. It certainly sparked a great discussion as we read aloud passages to each other in our group. A great beginning for my dream of having a literary group at church! 9/10.


Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (1996). Much better than I thought it would be – deeply wounded characters who seem annoying at first until the “onion” of their past is peeled back, layer by layer by layer. Moving, funny, poignant – no wonder there’s such a devoted following. Haven’t seen the movie and don’t think I will – some of the violent scenes would be too much on film. A complex book that is also a great summer “read.” 8/10.

Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 340). I had to get an interlibrary loan from my county branch through UCSD to finally get a copy of this tome. I not only read it but took some notes on it for my book. I’ve always wanted to read it, and now I have accomplished my goal! Not an easy read by any means but still quite interesting to me and useful for my topic. 9/10.

The Shape of Sand by Marjorie Eccles (2004). A mystery in a very strange sense – a story of romance and intrigue that shuttles between Egypt and England in two distinct time periods. All of the Jardine family thought that the mother, Beatrice, had run off with a young Egyptian in 1910 until nearly forty years later the truth is discovered and her daughters and other family members start piecing together the events that led to her disappearance. Well-written; a very good summer read. 8/10.

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (1604). My personal favorite of the Bard’s work. Set in Vienna, the Duke leaves Angelo in charge of the city to enforce the laws that the Duke has been too lax about upholding. Angelo enforces the laws to the letter and thus is prepared to put a young man to death for getting his fiancee pregnant. When the young man’s sister, Isabella, pleads his case, Angelo declares that he will free Claudio only if Isabella sleeps with him. The virtuous Isabella balks, and the disguised Duke steps in with a clever plan to unmask Angelo’s hypocrisy and save Claudio’s life. It ends as a comedy, with marriages right and left, although the tension and serious themes make it a less fun play than most of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. I like the idea of balancing judgment and mercy as well as the themes of pride and hypocrisy that permeate the play. The title obviously comes from Scripture. Isabella is one of Shakespeare’s best heroines, although in our Logos discussion, Bill didn’t like her at all because she valued her virginity over her brother’s life. 10/10.


Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells (2005). Sequel to the Divine Secrets, this hodge-podge of Ya-Ya lore finds itself turning even more serious when one of the Tres-Petites Ya-Yas (grandchildren of one of the Ya-Yas) is kidnapped by the daughter of an old enemy. The shock waves and repercussions of this event and of the years are healed at a Christmas party in which all three generations perform. The stories before this climax are funny, poignant, revealing, and true-to-life as we learn more about how the Ya-Yas first formed (at age 4!) and includes stories of the Petites Ya-Yas as well as the Tres-Petites. A good sequel, quite different in many ways from the first yet with all the same craziness and warmth of the first. 8/10.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (2007). Had to read it again.


“Julian of Norwich” – chapter from The Essentials of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill (1920). An informative and densely-written chapter that provided an excellent background for the study of Julian’s major work, which I hope to pursue soon. Underhill combines scholarly acumen with a real interest in her subject matter. I took copious notes from this one chapter, but have to return book to library for a third time; it’s just a bit much for me to handle at this juncture. 9/10.

Sweet Revenge by Diane Mott Davidson (2007). The latest in the catering mystery series set in the Colorado Rockies. A very quick read and a fun mystery. Goldy is so human and full-of-foibles that it gets a bit ridiculous at times, but still is good, clean fun. 7/10.

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God by Scott Hahn (2001). A book that I will return to when I write my chapter on Mary, but a fairly quick read and a good overview of Marian belief and doctrine from a former Presbyterian minister turned Catholic professor and apologist. Hahn makes even the most difficult and obscure doctrines and dogmas seem clear as day, although I didn’t buy into all his ideas. A great overview of the doctrines regarding Mary. 8/10.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (2005). Yes, another re-read, but simply wonderful to go through after reading the final installment several times this summer and fall. So very well-done! 9/10.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974). Pulitzer Prize winning book for general nonfiction, this book has been classified as theology, natural history, memoir, and metaphysical literature. Dillard’s writing is poetic and stunning in its depth and richness. Infused with Scripture and quotes by artists, scientists, writers, and naturalists, she ponders what nature has to show her about who God is and whether He is worth finding and pursuing. Dillard asks honest questions and is content to remain on her journey of living deeply and in the moment while still avidly seeking for higher meaning. A beautiful book of down-to-earth theology wrapped in incredibly detailed descriptions of God’s creation. I hadn’t read it since college, and am absolutely impressed with the quality of this book in every way. 10/10.


Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1947). Poetic novel of the South African political scene after World War II, including the demise of the rural farm and family. Christian values are tested as an old Anglican priest goes to the city to find out what has happened to his son, Absalom. Beautiful book – very sad yet triumphant. Written so amazingly well and deeply and “heavily.” 10/10.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Rerererereads.


They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Stories of Three Lost Boys of Sudan (2005). Amazing, heart-wrenching stories told from the point of view of three “lost boys” whose family and lives were torn apart by civil war in Sudan. Tens of thousands of these boys died throughout Africa (in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as the Sudan), and the fact that these three (two brothers and a cousin) managed not only to survive but also reunited in Kenya and were sent to San Diego to start new lives is simply miraculous. On February 5, one of the young men will be coming to our town for a book discussion, and I am looking very much forward to meeting him in person. A very hard read especially for my “mercy” gifting, but worth it. 9/10.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson (2006). An excellent treatise on how to really read and live the Bible, with an excellent discussion of lectio divina, a method developed in early monastic life for reading, meditating upon, praying, and living the Scriptures. Peterson is incisive and encouraging at the same time – an excellent book for anyone who desires to deepen one’s reading of the Bible, especially in the second half of the book which explores lectio. It took me months to finally finish this book, but it is one I will refer to for years to come. 10/10.

Praying in the New Year

Happy Seventh Day of Christmas! Today as we continue to celebrate Christmastide, we also bid farewell to the Old Year of 2007 and welcome the New Year of 2008. This morning I received an excellent plan of prayer for today from Lake Murray's former youth and worship leader, Rollo Casiple, who has been pastoring La Vina (where's a tilde when one needs it?) Community Church in downtown Miami. Rollo truly is a pastor after my own heart, drawn to the ancient elements of worship as I am. Celebrating Advent at Lake Murray was his idea, as was establishing a Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. Rollo especially finds the worship practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church extremely intriguing although he questions their relevance to today's post-modern generation.

Here's is Rollo's e-mail, one that I plan to exercise today and tonight as we pray in the New Year in our own family.

Let us usher in the New Year in prayer! In the last minute of 2007, just stop what you are doing and pray with me. Even though we might not be together tonight, let us unite in prayer and in spirit for the following requests:

The last prayer in the Bible is "Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). Peter tells us that we should be "looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:12). How better can we do it than by praying for the fulfilment of Genesis 12:3, Revelation 7:9-10 and Matthew 24:14? Pray for:

1 The speediest possible evangelization of the world — of every unreached people group, area, city and nation.

2 The Great Commission to be restored to its rightful centrality in the ministry of the Church worldwide.

3 Your part in achieving this. What is God's will for your life? In the coming year are you willing to do whatever He commands regarding the needs of the world? Is it possible God is calling you to a specific ministry in praying, supporting, or going to the ends of the earth for your Master?

4 Your local church's part. Pray that your fellowship may grow in missionary zeal and commitment in the coming year.


Praying for you all tonight and throughout the year!

Pastor Rollo

The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: And the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen. (From the closing of Holy Communion, 1928 Book of Common Prayer)

Peace be yours this Christmastide and throughout the New Year.

With love in Christ our Lord,

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The First Sunday After Christmas Day

This morning Lake Murray was once again holding only one service at 10:00, rather than two services at 9:00 and 10:45 AM. The sanctuary was standing-room only; although some families were out-of-town, others brought relatives staying with them over the Holy Days, so we were packed. The music was a mixture of praise songs and hymns -- a very nice change from the exclusive diet of praise songs we usually get in second service. Plus, with both services together, crowded though it was, we were able to see people from the other service and enjoyed chatting with a slightly different group of people than usual. I tore myself away with more difficulty than usual.

In the Anglican tradition, today is the Sixth Day of Christmas and the First Sunday After Christmas Day. The Collect for today's Christmas celebration is the same one we prayed for on Christmas Day and for all the Twelve Days of Christmas following:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle reading is found in the fourth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, starting in the first verse and proceeding to the end of the seventh verse.

The Gospel is written in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, starting in the eighteenth verse:

The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

So, as of today, we are halfway through Christmastide and are looking forward to the Twelfth Night Party at Victoria House next Saturday evening when we shall burn the greenery and also welcome in the season of Epiphany. The Anglicans also hold special services the morning of January 1 to celebrate the Circumcision of Christ -- according to Jewish law, eight days after a birth came the circumcision of the male child, and Jesus Himself was no exception. Getting up that early on New Years Day is always problematic for me, so I doubt I will attend that service, but I will be at Victoria Chapel on Friday to celebrate the 11th Day of Christmas with our usual Friday Morning Prayer and Chapel service and then back on Saturday evening for the Twelfth Night Party. Christmastide certainly is a time of remembrance and celebration!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Review: Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans, 2006. 180 pages.

I started this book last June, and at long last, I have finished it. It's not the book's fault, really. Our Logos reading and discussion group started up in July, and thus I have been reading books for our monthly discussions and have had to set aside Eat This Book far more often than I would have liked.

Dr. Peterson, best known for his popular translation of the Scriptures into modern idiomatic speech, The Message, is a man after my own heart in many ways. I attended a few lectures/discussions at Point Loma Nazarene University's Writers' Symposium by the Sea last February, and in addition to attending Anne Lamott's excellent discourse on writing, I was also unexpectedly amused and challenged by Eugene Peterson's rare public discussion. He is a true Renaissance man, turning off his television in favor of reading the great works of world literature. Literature has been instrumental in Peterson's work as both a pastor and as a translator, but especially in the former. He told us how reading Joyce's Ulysses helped him to see the value in each member of his congregation and how the study of Chaucer and Shakespeare shaped his translation of the Scriptures. Peterson also stated his belief that the first years of pastoral training should be devoted to the reading of great literature, then should proceed to the study of Hebrew and Greek, doctrine, church history, expository preaching, counseling, etc. Aaaah, now there's a pastor to whom I can relate!

To get back to his writings, Eat This Book is divided into three parts: 1) "Eat This Book" (Scripture as text, form, and script); 2) "Lectio Divina"; and 3) "The Company of Translators." Each section can be read independently of the others which made it very nice as I read this book in chunks some months apart. The first portion is rather brainy and academic, one I would skip unless the reader is especially interested in Biblical analysis and literary criticism. I found it intriguing, but that's because I am an academic at heart (or mind, whichever the case may be).

The second portion on lectio divina, the ancient monastic practice of "divine reading," was by far the most intriguing to me as I have taught the process at our church's women's retreat. I find this ancient mode of reading Scripture of vast influence in my own devotional life. If you look at the Sites of Interest in my sidebar, you will find a link on lectio that almost precisly mirrors the information Peterson gives. Basically, lectio divina is divided into four parts: lectio (reading the Scriptures); meditatio (meditating on the Scriptures); oratio (praying the Scriptures); and contemplatio (contemplating how the Scriptures can be lived, and then doing so!). The key to making lectio divina work is to use SHORT passages for applying the four modes of reading and starting with twenty-to-thirty minute time frames. Peterson explains the concept, application, and value of the ancient practice of lectio divina extremely well to the modern evangelical audience.

The third portion of Eat This Book discusses translation of the Scriptures. Peterson specifically addresses the issue of translating into modern idioms -- in other words, translating the Scriptures into language for the "common man" rather than elevating the language of the Scriptures which was meant to be read by and to ordinary people rather than by scholars and poets. Specifically, he accuses the beloved King James Version to have fallen into the "error" of elevated language as ordinary people in 1611 didn't speak the language of King James Version; only high church officials, poets, and the aristocracy used such diction and structure. It's an interesting idea that humbles my love of poetic translation and elevated language as, in my not-so humble opinion, Peterson ruined the Psalms in The Message. As I much prefer the extremely archaic and elevated language of the 1540 "Great Bible" to the King James, I'm not sure that I completely agree with Peterson on this assertion, although I do understand his major point of making the Scriptures accessible to all. And I do use The Message at times for my private prayers, although I still rely on the Psalter in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which uses the 1540 translation of the Psalms.

Overall, Eat This Book is at the same time a scholarly and a down-to-earth examination of how we read, or can read, the Scriptures. I highly recommend this book to pastors especially, but also to those who desire to deepen their own reading of God's Holy Word. If you are to read only one part, I (obviously) would urge you to read the second portion of the book on lectio divina, a way of reading, meditating, praying, and applying the Scriptures that I have found extremely helpful in my private prayers and devotional times.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents

December 28th marks the commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the young boys two years old and under, who were ordered by Herod to be slaughtered when he realized that the Magi had avoided him and refused to tell him who this "new king" was. Since abortion has become legal around the world, the Catholic Church has also used the day of the Holy Innocents to remember all the children who have perished as the result of abortion. When I visit the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside for spiritual retreats, I enjoy sitting and praying in the beautiful and peaceful cemetery behind the church. In one corner, for the past century babies and young children have been buried, and nearby hangs a large plaque that commemorates the millions of children's lives lost via abortion. So Holy Innocents' Day causes us to remember both the loss of life two thousand years ago, with women wailing and mourning for their babies, and also the millions who have died and continue to die by abortion, with the accompanying deep hurt and grief often experienced by modern women as well.

The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer reads:

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle, which I am not going to type out, can be found in the fourteenth chapter of The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John, starting in the first verse (and concluding after the fifth).

The Gospel reading is written in the second chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting at the thirteenth verse:

The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all of the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy [Jeremiah] the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Thus this day is far from a celebration in Christmastide but a time to remember the death and "lamentation" that resulted from those who were bent on destroying the child who was the Messiah, "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" as well as the death that results from the sins and wickedness of all humanity, whether that be by war, abortion, or any other loss of innocent life.

The complete inhumanity of mankind has become very real to me in the past two weeks as I have read They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three "Lost Boys" of Sudan. As one of the "Lost Boys" (two brothers and a cousin) will be coming to our town for a discussion of the book in early February, I read the book during our Christmas break. What a heartbreaking read! Thousands upon thousands of young boys were forced to trek, starving, across miles and miles of deserts, separated from their families, most of their parents dead. Some of these boys were as young as five years old. Can you imagine thousands of young boys being robbed and/or abused by soldiers or other tribes, being forced to do manual labor fifteen hours a day when they finally reached the "safety" of a refugee camp, and being trained to carry and use a gun at age eight in order to be forced into military service at age twelve. Thousands of these young boys died of starvation, heat exhaustion, illness, injury, lack of water, air and mine bombings, as well as murder by government soldiers and competing tribes. Some boys survived on "grass soup" for months with no other food available. They often had to gather firewood in areas frequented by lions and other predators or near other tribes who would rob and then kill them on sight. Others were lucky to gather grain one seed at a time from leaking bags, only to have a soldier kick the gathered grain out of their hands and beat or whip them for "stealing" and "being impudent." This book is obviously not one I would pick up on my own as I don't do well with this kind of book -- haunting nightmares, visions of my own children under these conditions, etc. But I look forward to meeting one of the authors and hearing what he has made of himself here in America (in San Diego, specifically) and how he has pursued the education and job opportunities available here. Their stories reveal the plight of so many innocent children throughout the world, both now and in times past. And I remember children like these as well, victims of war and famine, as we commemorate this day of Holy Innocents.

Recognizing the Church

Thomas Howard's writings have challenged me as few others have. He is the brother of Elisabeth Elliott, the amazing woman who has challenged and encouraged the evangelical community for the past few decades. The Howards, all six children, were raised in an evangelical household with the family focus on Scripture, prayer, and worship. And currently all six are still active in the Christian faith, with Elisabeth and Thomas being thoughtful and prolific writers who have deeply affected the modern church.

But Thomas' faith has taken a more ancient direction than that of his famous sister. In his book Evangelical Is Not Enough, a work that absolutely changed my life and perception of the Church, Thomas Howard clearly articulates the shift in his faith from the evangelical model to Anglicanism, where he remained for twenty-three years. In another of his books, On Being Catholic (which I have not yet read), he further explains his additional faith journey from Anglicanism to Roman Catholic practice.

Because of his journey from evangelical to Catholic practice, Thomas Howard is uniquely suited to comment on the weaknesses and strengths of both modes of worship and faith. The root of his journey can be seen in one central question: what is "The Church"? And in his 1993 essay for Touchstone Magazine on "Recognizing the Church," Howard presents much food for thought about the role of the worldwide Church, Protestant and Catholic. I found the essay a thoughtful yet challenging piece that I will probably "chew on" for quite some time. I think his questions and possible answers are such as should be addressed by those in all Christian traditions, particularly by evangelical pastors. The article can be read here: Recognizing the Church.

So "chew" away on this "meat" for the heart, soul, and faith. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bible Book Club

My dear friend Carol is starting a Three-Year Bible Book Club. She'll be facilitating a reading through of the Bible in THREE years, the first two years the Old Testament, and the third year the New Testament. Carol lists a certain Bible to use that is already broken down into the readings, or we can just use our own Bibles and read along with her list.

Carol will also be posting daily meditations, reflections, prayers, etc., to go along with each day's readings, and she will also facilitate a monthly "live blog" the first Monday of each month to discuss what God has taught us during the previous month. The idea is to read through these manageable passages slowly and meditatively, "chewing" on them and pondering how God wants to use these Scriptures in our lives. Basically, by any other name, it can be considered the practice of lectio divina in which we read, meditate, pray, and live what we read in the Scriptures.

The link to the Three-Year Bible Book Club is right here if you would like to check it out and perhaps even join us. Carol has issued an open invitation for in real life friends as well as online friends. All are welcome to read and comment with us.

So come and read the Bible with us for Three Years -- just five minutes of reading a day. If I can commit to it, so can YOU!

December 27: Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

The Third Day of Christmas marks the feast day of Saint John, who in his Gospel calls himself "the disciple Jesus loved." John wrote not only the Last Gospel but also three short Epistles that make up part of our New Testament. John's message can be summed up in a single command: Love One Another. His command is as real and applicable and hard to obey today as it was nearly two thousand years ago.

The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being illumined by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fittingly the Epistle is found in the very beginning of St. John's First Epistle, starting at the first verse:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The Gospel reading for St. John's feast day is written in the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, beginning at the 19th verse:

Jesus saith unto Peter, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

St. John lived an amazing life. A simple fisherman became one of the inner circle of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and at the foot of the cross was given the responsibility to care for Mary, the Mother of Christ. He was the first of the disciples to reach the empty tomb on Easter morning and became one of the great leaders of the Church, to whom God gave deep and disturbing revelations as well as the words to the Good News, the Last Gospel which rings with the Love of a Saviour to us, His people, nearly two thousand years later.

A Merry Third Day of Christmastide to you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 26: Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

The Second Day of Christmas is also known as "Boxing Day" in the U.K. and Canada, but, more importantly, it is the feast day of Saint Stephen. I didn't get up early enough this morning to make it to Victoria Chapel to celebrate St. Stephen's Day with the Anglicans, but the kids and I will have a short prayer service by the light of all the Advent candles tonight after dinner.

All we know about this saint is taken right from the Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke. In the sixth chapter of Acts, Stephen is named as one of the deacons, "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (v. 3) to make sure that all of the widows were adequately cared for. In the eighth verse, we read: "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the peoples," for which reason Stephen was arrested, falsely accused of blasphemy. As Stephen heard the false charges laid upon him, "all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (v. 15). At that point, Stephen speaks before the council, relating the history of Israel from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Solomon, and he finished his "defense" with these words: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye always did resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (v. 51). Their response can be read in the Epistle written below.

The Collect, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr, Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

The Epistle for Saint Stephen's Day comes, naturally, from the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, starting in the 55th verse:

Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul [who later became the Apostle Saint Paul]. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep [died].

The Gospel for Saint Stephen's Day is written in the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, starting at the 34th verse:

[Jesus said:] Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come unto this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Saint Stephen was the first martyr of the Church, and his feast day, falling on the Second Day of Christmas, reminds us that in the midst of the joys of Christmastide is also the cross, borne by Christ and His devoted followers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

From our family to yours, we wish you a joyful Christmastide and a blessed New Year!

Christmastide: The Nativity of Our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, Commonly Called Christmas Day -- December 25

The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Gospel reading for this first day of the twelve days of Christmas is the very beginning of the Gospel of Saint John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Alpine Anglican and Lake Murray and even the Lutheran Church in our town held early evening services, an impossibility for me to attend with a houseful of people. So I sneaked quietly into the very back row of Christ the King, an Episcopal Church also in Alpine, for 11 PM Christmas Service. I missed Lessons and Carols -- came in on the last one -- but I did get to stand in a darkened church lit only by candlelight at midnight, candle in hand, singing "Silent Night." That's the way to ring Christmas in, with tears of joy in worship rolling down one's face, right?

Happy Birthday, Jesus! Venite adoremus, Dominum! Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday in Advent

This Sunday marks the Fourth and final Sunday in Advent. At church this morning and also at home tonight, we lit the final purple candle, the Angel candle. The reading at Lake Murray today included these words from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders
and he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(9:6, NIV)

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent reads:

O Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end, amen.

Lake Murray only had one service today, so we didn't have our Advent celebration in Sunday School as usual this season. But we celebrated Advent together tonight, also reading from Isaiah as well as St. Matthew's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. We also read a devotional on the carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," a perennial Christmas favorite penned by Charles Wesley in 1739. Listening to the lyrics read as poetry somehow makes me consider the words more carefully than singing them. As Christmas is literally a day or two away, I thought I'd post the lyrics to this carol for you to enjoy as much as we have:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th' incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angel sings,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail, the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give us second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Glory, indeed, to the Newborn King! And a Joyeaux Noel to you as well!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like....


Yep, the presents are all under the tree -- just waiting for Keith to print off a couple of family photos for me to put in frames for our parents and wrap them. Today we're cleaning: the kids are doing their rooms, and tomorrow after church they'll do bathrooms and vacuuming. T's room is done, so he's cleaning and sweeping the front porch. I'm taking breaks here at the computer to avoid overdoing (yeah, right!). Keith has some decluttering to do in the patio and his desk area, plus clean curtains to hang in our bedroom and bathroom and new curtains to hang in E's room that we bought her two years ago and have never hung....

Tomorrow after church we'll buy food for the festivities and I'm going to wash towels and bathroom rugs as well as scrub down the kitchen while the kids do their cleaning and Keith gets a start on the Christmas pies. I'll also bake Jesus' birthday cake, a gluten-free spice cake that no one can tell is gluten-free. It's delicious, topped with fresh whipped cream rather than frosting. It's pure Christmas goodness, and I love watching the little ones sing Jesus "Happy Birthday" on Christmas Eve.

On Monday I'll dust and finish up the cleaning details -- final wipe downs of bathrooms, etc. Keith will finish up the pies for Christmas Day, and E and I will tidy up the kitchen afterwards. Around 4 PM Keith's side of the family will trundle their way up the mountain to our home; I've figured that with our family, we'll have about twenty people, over half of them children. Keith's dad will come with Keith's brother's family as they live next door to each other in Ramona, about an hour away. With the five kids, there's nine of them, counting Renee's sister who is visiting from Michigan. Keith's sister is coming up with her middle son, his wife, and their three kids who are coming out from Missouri. I don't know if Karen's oldest daughter is coming -- she's up in Santa Barbara studying photography at Brook's. So it will be a very busy day -- I hope I can talk a few people into stealing away for a church service if the community church is doing something on Christmas Eve. Both Lake Murray and Alpine Anglican are holding candlelight services around 6 PM, but the distances involved don't really work for us; we'll need to find something in or very near our town. I'll also check to see if the Catholic Church in the next town over has a Midnight Mass I can attend ... Christmas is a time for CHURCH! One of my favorite things about Christmas is going to church!

We'll be home with just our immediate family on Christmas Day. The Anglicans are having a simple service at the parsonage at 9:30, but I doubt I can talk my family into attending -- it's the desire of my heart to be at church on Christmas, but so far we haven't attended. I would love to change that this year, but I think I'm the only one....

Around noon, we'll drive further up the mountain to my parents' little cabin where we'll celebrate Christmas Day with my parents, my brother and his family, my uncle, my aunt and her husband, and my parents' best friends who lost their home in the recent fires. We'll enjoy a lovely ham dinner with all the fixin's, and finish off with Keith's beautiful apple and pumpkin pies. The kids are hoping for a little snow to be on the ground at the cabin, but I think that they'll find that there will be no sledding this Christmas. We'll go up to the cabin again for New Year's Day, and perhaps there will be more snow by then.

On our way home from the cabin on Christmas night, we always drive through our town, enjoying the Christmas light displays and listening to Christmas music on the radio. We usually get home by 8 PM or so, tuck the kids in, and enjoy a cuddle in front of the fire. It's a quiet evening, one I enjoy very much.

The Anglicans are holding a St. Stephen's Day service the morning after Christmas; I'll have to see if I have the energy for getting up for that -- I want to! I also want to take the kids up to the Wild Animal Park one evening this week to enjoy the lovely light displays after dark. We'll see. We really don't have any plans between Christmas and New Years -- just resting, enjoying each other, perhaps watching some movies, etc.

We've invited two families in our town to come over and play board games with us on New Year's Eve, and then we'll go up to the cabin for chili and cornbread and more board games on New Year's Day -- much better than the usual sauerkraut that our Germanic roots demand -- a great improvement, imho. (Not that I don't enjoy family traditions -- I just don't enjoy sauerkraut.)

So that's what Christmas will look like around our place. We wish you a Holy Advent, a Joyful Christmas, and a Blessed and Healthy New Year, from our family to yours!

Another Convert to Catholicism...

And a very famous one at that. You can read the story at Fox News right here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Last night our small mountain town held its first annual Caroling Party along the main street. The community church set up a sound system and had a keyboard, two guitars, and a few singers to lead the caroling, and a Power Point system flashed the lyrics on a white screen next to the singers. Many people from the community came to huddle around the portable fire pits, gripping cups of coffee, hot cider, or hot chocolate. Toddlers made up an adorable manger scene near the beginning of the evening, and after a few carols sung together, the community spent time chatting around the fire pits or in front of the tables laden with homebaked Christmas goodies and the scent of fresh popcorn from a popcorn machine wafted over the group. An hour into the two-hour event, the caroling itself began in earnest, and in the cold we gathered near the singers and musicians, and, still gripping cups of warm drinks, the community sang into the darkness, our breath creating grey clouds in the crisp night air. After we sang "O Come, All Ye Faithful," the woman standing next to me asked in which language I was singing, and I told her that this carol was originally written in Latin, and that's how I was singing it (thanks to Bing Crosby who sings it in Latin on our favorite Christmas CD and our kids using Latina Christiana).

The highlight of the evening came a bit earlier when we all sang one of my favorite carols, "O Holy Night." The lyrics are soooooo beautiful and true that I often find myself in tears of wonder at the love of God and how badly I need Him. I thought I'd post the lyrics to the carol here from our Advent devotional Christ in the Carols. I encourage you to read these words with new eyes and with a heart of worship to Our Saviour who loved and still loves this sinful world so much:

O Holy Night
(M. Cappeau de Roquemaure, translated by John S. Dwight, 19th Century)

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

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand;
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the Wise Men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need,
To our weakness is no stranger;
Behold your King!
Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His Holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

A friend on one of the Yahoo loops I take part in mentioned the busy-ness of this season and was feeling overwhelmed by all she has to accomplish over the next few days. I so understand! Yet I plan to take my own advice that I gave to her: take a few minutes in a quiet place to light a candle and meditate on Scripture or sing a carol, breathing deeply (but not inhaling the candle smoke!) in order to refocus our minds and hearts on Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour, whom we are "so busy" celebrating.

May we all keep our focus on the Reason for these Holy Days, and "His power and glory evermore proclaim" as the days of Advent wane and Christmastide approaches.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Post on the Heart of Advent:

When I have a spare few moments (ha, ha!), I like to read Michael Spencer's blog, The Internet Monk. Spencer is the Bible and English Chair at Oneida Bible Institute and is a remarkable communicator and writer. I don't always agree with him, but he always makes me consider and reconsider Christian issues from a slightly (or sometimes radically) different point-of-view. His blog address is listed in my sidebar under "Blogs of Interest" under InternetMonk.

As I perused his latest offerings today, I found an intriguing one on Advent, one of my favorite topics. His post looks carefully at the motivation behind the celebration of Advent: our need of a Saviour. Read and enjoy his beautiful and thought-provoking post on Advent here.

A blessed and holy Advent to you all!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent

The Third Sunday in Advent is known also as Rose Sunday or Gaudete Sunday as it marks the halfway mark in Advent, the transition from the penitential aspect of Advent to the joyful and celebratory part of Advent. On the third Sunday, the rose/pink candle is lit, the Shepherd's Candle.

Here is the Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

At Lake Murray we read Isaiah 40: 8-11:

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

In Sunday School we are also celebrating Advent, and our readings have been provided by William's great uncle, a priest at The Grotto of OSM in Oregon. I won't type out all that we read, but Guy, Kitty, and Dolores read aloud from Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10, and Matthew 11:2-11. We have been using the same list of readings for our nightly Advent devotions at home. We have been truly enjoying the devotions in Christ in the Carols in addition to our Scripture readings, prayers, and lighting of the candles.

So a blessed Third Week of Advent to you and yours, and a holy and joyous Christmas to you as well.

St. John of the Cross

The Feast Day of St. John of the Cross was on Friday, but unfortunately I didn't get around to posting about him until today, thanks to all the Christmas cards I've been writing.

I've been receiving daily "Saint of the Day" e-mails from, and here is their write-up of St. John of the Cross:

December 14, 2007
St. John of the Cross

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery—through death to life—strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet and theologian-priest.

Ordained a Carmelite priest at 25 (1567), John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila) and like her vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God!

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the Spiritual Canticle.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his Ascent to Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analyzed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49—a life short, but full.

John in his life and writings has a crucial word for us today. We tend to be rich, soft, comfortable. We shrink even from words like self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, discipline. We run from the cross. John’s message—like the gospel—is loud and clear: Don’t—if you really want to live!

Thomas Merton said of John: "Just as we can never separate asceticism from mysticism, so in St. John of the Cross we find darkness and light, suffering and joy, sacrifice and love united together so closely that they seem at times to be identified."

In John's words:
"Never was fount so clear,
undimmed and bright;
From it alone, I know proceeds all light
although 'tis night."

Father Acker prayed a Collect regarding our following the example of St. John of the Cross at the Friday service, but I can't locate it via Google. Aaah, well.

I first came across St. John of the Cross in the wonderful collection by Richard Foster called Devotional Classics which I often use as a Lenten devotional. His idea of the "dark night of the soul" is encouraging to me. Basically, St. John states that with some believers, God removes the emotional component in our devotional life so that we are worshipping God not for ourselves (for the feelings evoked by prayer and reading of the Scriptures) but completely, wholly, totally for God's sake alone. This "dark night of the soul" seems to have been extremely evident in the recently published works of Mother Teresa, who experienced nearly a lifetime of "dark nights" with no feeling of spiritual communion with God in the least which, according to his writings, St. John would have viewed as an enormous gift of God.

From the exerpt of St. John's writings in Devotional Classics:
"At a certain point in the spiritual journey God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage. At this stage the person will begin to engage in religious exercises and grow deeper in the spiritual life.

Such souls will likely experience what is called 'a dark night of the soul.' The 'dark night' is when those persons lose all pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life. This happens because God wants to purify them and move them on to greater heights." St. John then sets out seven sins: spiritual pride, spiritual greed, spiritual luxury, spiritual wrath, spiritual gluttony, spiritual envy, and spiritual sloth, with details regarding the conquering of each through the gift of the "dark night of the soul."

At the end of the excerpt given in Foster's compilation, St. John states: "Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night." This "dark night" is truly a GIFT of God to aid in spiritual maturity, to avoid misuse of spiritual devotions, and to "purify the soul from these imperfections." He uses the Scriptural analogy of moving from "milk to meat" in feeding our spiritual lives, and St. John of the Cross views the "dark night of the soul" as being an important part of the transition from a spiritual baby to a spiritual adult, maturing from one who desires "milk" to one who craves the "solid food [that] is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Intriguing Article: Is the Church Asleep?

I always find John H. Armstrong's articles extremely thought-provoking. He's a Texas-based Baptist pastor with a real call for ecumenism. His articles relate an awareness of the pitfalls of the modern church, including the Emergent Movement (which he likes but sees as too surface-level, needing to go much farther and actually DO more than just TALK). He dialogues respectfully with Roman Catholics and Evangelicals alike, helping both to see the common ground we share as Bible-based Christians in an increasingly non- (even anti-) Christian world.

His latest article discusses the "Church Sleeping Through the Death of Christendom." You may read it here. I think you'll find your thinking about the modern church rather turned on its ear; at least I did.

Advent blessings!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why My Brain Is Frazzled....

Thursday is our last Class Day before the Christmas break, and I have mucho grading to do. Because I only passed back one set of papers to my Intermediate (college prep) writing class last class, I have double grading to do for my larger class, plus papers for my Advanced (honors) class as well. So I had 35 papers to grade over the past two weeks; I have 23 finished and 12 yet to go -- which means I will have to grade those tomorrow. I can do four or so between classes on Thursday as I have already completed the grading for the Advanced class. So if I can do 8-9 tomorrow, I should be in good shape.

The issue lies in the time I take in grading essays. I write copious comments to each student, both marking portions of the essays with encouraging and corrective comments, plus adding a summary of my response at the end of each paper. With some of these papers ending up at five pages long at times, I can get through three to four papers per hour. It's time-consuming -- and I simply don't see how public school teachers can possibly keep up with student papers when they have up to 160 pupils each semester. When I taught a general ed requirement literature class at Point Loma of 80 students, I remember facing a stack of essays with great trepidation; it took seemingly forever to grade those papers!

So besides educating our own four students tomorrow, helping J make two dozen Rice Krispy treats to take to his cooking class Thursday that they will ship to soldiers in Iraq, plus the boys have piano lessons, and I have papers to grade. So I may not come up again for air until after Class Day and perhaps even after Friday, our last day of school until January 7. We started school two weeks early so we could take three weeks off for Christmas and two weeks for Easter. I'm definitely ready for a break after completing 17 weeks (nearly half!) of our home school. But I'll have to wait to rejoice after Friday, and definitely after I finish grading these papers....

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

It's been an eventful week in Advent. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day on Thursday the 6th with the story of the real St. Nicholas who lived in the early 4th century and was a generous giver to people in his community. The story goes that a friend of his lost all his money when his merchant ships sunk, and the merchant's daughters, three beautiful young women, were left without dowries, which were needed in order for them to marry. Desiring to help the family anonymously, St. Nicholas tossed gold coins through the oldest daughter's open window during the night, and the coins fell into her shoes and stockings that were drying on the hearth, where she found them the next morning. So THAT's why we hang stockings on our hearths for "Santa" to fill! Our kids woke up on St. Nicholas' Day to find chocolate coins in their Christmas stockings which they were allowed to eat after I read them the above story. The spirit of giving came from a real-life saint who delighted in giving rather than receiving, a good lesson for us all and especially for kids who tend to get just a wee bit greedy this time of year.

The day after St. Nicholas' Day is the feast day of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint Father Acker chose when he was first ordained twenty-five years ago Friday. St. Ambrose was known as such a wonderful preacher of God's Word that he was said to be "honey-tongued." His symbol is the bee, and as Father Acker keeps bees in his yard, all seems to fit together beautifully.

Today marks the Second Sunday in Advent, and the Collect for this day is my favorite prayer of Advent. In fact, I love this prayer so much that I use it as my e-mail signature throughout Advent. It reads:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The second Advent candle was lit today -- three times for us, in fact. In Sunday School we lit the Bethlehem candle, and then did so again in the church service at Lake Murray. And after dinner tonight the kids and I gathered around the Advent wreath that graces our kitchen table, and E lit the two candles for our family celebration.

The reading for the Second Sunday in Advent is Micah 5:2-4:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.... He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

The Bethlehem Candle reminds us that our Lord Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born in the smallest, poorest part of Israel, in a place that Pastor Rollo once called "a podunk town." Not only was He born in a stable alongside humble barn animals and was laid in a rough feeding trough, but this stable was located in the poorest area of Israel. Our Lord arrived on this earth in the humblest of circumstances in every way which emphasizes even more what He left behind Him as King of Heaven and Earth. So His humility can be our humility during this Advent season -- a reminder that these Holy Days are not about gifts and parties but is all about loving and serving in kindness and humility of heart, word, and action.

O King of all nations, Jesus Christ,
only joy of every heart,
come and save your people. Amen.

A blessed Advent from our family to yours!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Important Day: December 7

Today was quite an important day in our family. December 7 is the anniversary of the attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, a turning point not only in American history but also in our family as my mom's father was on a destroyer just outside the harbor on that fateful morning. The crew of the USS Ward spotted, fired at, and sunk a Japanese submarine just outside Pearl Harbor, a claim that was proven when the sunken sub was discovered on the ocean floor a few years ago. Then precisely four years after Pearl Harbor, the USS Ward was hit by a kamikaze in the Leyte Gulf, and my grandfather, the captain at the time, managed to safely evacuate all his men before the Ward sunk. So December 7 has always been important for my family.

This day became even more important when our fifth child (fourth living) was born on December 7, and we gave him the same middle name as my grandfather. So today we celebrate B's 8th birthday with gluten-free pancakes for breakfast and fun presents to open:

We left the house just after nine this morning through heavy rain to attend Friday chapel as usual. It was a special day at Alpine Anglican as well: the 25th anniversary of Father Acker's ordination. We celebrated with Holy Communion and a little party afterwards with cranberry bread and hot chocolate, along with a photo taken by T:

After church and a quick trip to the chiropractor for me, we drove to Balboa Park. B had asked to go to the zoo today, but with quite a rainstorm blowing through, we decided on Plan B: the Natural History Museum where we met my mom for an enjoyable and educational morning. After perusing the museum exhibits for a while, we headed to the Cafe Prado restaurant for a birthday lunch where I snapped this photo of the birthday boy (wearing our family's traditional birthday hat) and my mom:

Tonight is "Christmas on the Prado" (now called "December Nights" to be perfectly P.C.) at the park, so we stopped for a quick picture on the Prado before the crowds descend to buy hot chestnuts and kettle corn and wander through all the museums for free. It can be fun, but the crowds are crazy and a little fierce.

So we came home to allow B to play with his Legos and Bionicle dart gun, to eat pizza and chocolate chip ice cream with our birthday boy. I still can't believe that our youngest is already eight years old! What happened to my babies? My toddlers? I'm teaching the last kiddo to read. The years simply fly by ... and today is just chock full of reminders: the celebration of Father Acker's ordination twenty-five years ago (which he mentioned as "flying by" today), the celebration of B's eighth year of life, and also this sixty-sixth anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent and Christmas Devotionals

Here are the devotionals we're reading during this Advent and Christmas season.

We're reading this devotional, based on different Christmas Carols, as part of our Advent celebration. After we light the designated candle(s), we'll read Scripture for the day from a list given out by my Sunday School teacher, and then we'll read the day's devotional from the above book. We'll be using this book instead of Jotham's Journey or Tabitha's Travels which all the kids but B have outgrown. (I'll read the former to B separately.) We'll also sing the carol as well as read about it which should be interesting given two things: 1) I don't know some of these carols, and 2) none of us can carry a tune. Ah, well -- we'll be making a joyful noise....

The above book has been my regular devotional for the past three years. It contains readings by diverse Christian authors from the first century to the 20th, and it covers Advent and Christmastide up to Epiphany. I'm looking forward to rereading it as the selections always challenge me to slow down and enjoy this time of year with thought-provoking ideas.

So is your family using a special book or devotional during Advent or Christmas? Are you personally reading something illuminating during these Holy Days? Please share.

First Sunday in Advent

Today is the first day of the Church Calendar: the First Sunday in Advent. We celebrated Advent with an Advent wreath in both Sunday School and in second service at Lake Murray today. The above Advent wreath was made by Keith a few years ago for the sanctuary at Lake Murray after Rollo left for Miami and took his Advent wreath with him. :)

Here is the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which is to be prayed daily throughout the Advent Season:

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Here's some basic information about Advent that I've gleaned from several sources:

The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the four weeks before Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus in His First Advent, the Incarnation, and the anticipation of His return in His Second Advent, His Coming again to the earth. Thus, Advent celebrates the revelation of God in Christ whereby all people may be reconciled to God, a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate in the Second Coming.

Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of Christians as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. It calls us to holy living that arises from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful ambassadors of Christ’s gospel as His return is imminent.

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

Advent takes place over the four Sundays before Christmas: today, the first Sunday, we light the Prophecy Candle, which reminds us of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. On the second Sunday we light the Bethlehem Candle, which shows us that Christ was born in the poorest of towns, in utter humiliation. We light the Shepherd Candle on the third Sunday, which recalls the shepherds watching their flocks by night when Christ was born, and also symbolizes Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep. On the fourth Sunday we light the Angel candle, which reminds us of the Heavenly Host, proclaiming the Good News in Bethlehem on that night long ago, and also that the angels rejoice when one sinner turns to the Lord. Finally, on Christmas we light the Christ Candle, which reminds us whose Light we are celebrating: the light of Him who rescued us from darkness and death and reconciled us to God Himself.

The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, and glorious resurrection. We anticipate His working in our hearts as we celebrate together Advent together as a church family.

And a beautiful prayer for the beginning of Advent that we prayed together in Sunday School:

O God,
we remember the promise of your Son.
As the light from this candle,
may the bless of Christ come upon us,
brightening our way
and guiding us by his truth.
May Christ our Savior bring life
into the darkness of our world,
and to us, as we wait for his coming.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

If your family has a special way to celebrate Advent, please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to celebrate this Holy time in which we remember our Saviour's first coming as a babe in Bethlehem and anticipate His second coming as well.

A blessed Advent to you and yours!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Decorating Day

Today was the perfect day for decorating our home for Christmas. With rain and sometimes hail pattering outside, we turned on Bing, Charlotte Church, Amy Grant, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra and found ourselves dancing and decorating at the same time. We first started off with a mess of boxes in the living room:

Slowly the boxes emptied and the school table filled with our everyday knick knacks as we placed our snowmen collection, our pointsettias, our garlands, our candles, our stockings, our wreaths, and our Advent calendar and table wreath. E's job each year is to decorate our mantel with our favorite decoration: the beautiful nativity set we bought ten years ago at Costco. She carefully arranges each figure until she's content:

We did everything today except put up the tree, something we always do on Sunday evenings as a family. That's our plan for tomorrow night, of course.

But was decorating our entire house enough? Of course not! After a brief visit from my parents who were driving back down the mountain from a snowy visit to their cabin 2000 feet above our town, E and I changed clothes and drove into the city to Lake Murray where we helped to decorate the church as well. I helped with the Advent candles and nativity sets while E and friends did the tree at the front of the sanctuary:

We only stayed for just over two hours, but "many hands made light work," as the saying goes, and we had fun (and danced about to our youth pastor's "Charlie Brown Christmas" CD while working). The rain had finally finished as we drove back up the mountain, ready for Keith's perfect Chicken Parmigiana (see 365 blog entry for details) and for getting the boys into bed. It's been a tiring but good day, and I'm very much looking forward to the beginning of Advent (plus it's Communion Sunday at Lake Murray!) tomorrow. Expect a long post tomorrow as I 'splain about why I love Advent so much....

Happy HolyDays to you!


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