Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We drove home last night through a small blizzard as we topped the 4000-foot pass on the Interstate. After three days at what my friend Kim calls "Dizzyland" and California Adventure with my family (parents, brother and his family, sister from Montana and her family, our family -- 16 of us in all), plus taking E to Junior Cotillion and picking up the dog from Keith's niece's place, we were tired and not ready for the snow. We crawled wearily into bed, hardly considering the white stuff outside. Fortunately, Sheri turned on our heat, so we came home to a warm home.

This morning I heard the front door opening and closing, which meant that the boys were sneaking out for snow play. We had over two inches; up on Mount Laguna was more than a foot of snow. We ended up going into the city for most of the day, and most of the snow was gone by the time we got home.

We were glad to be greeted by the snow but too tired to do much about it. Except for the boys, whose love for the white stuff is never ending.

Back to "real life" now -- no more Disneyland!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Cool "Message"

On Friday Kitty and I (we met Judith later) had a lovely lunch after the rain storm at Con Pane in Point Loma before heading to the university for our second interview with The Writer's Symposium by the Sea. Eugene Peterson, the man who translated The Message, was interviewed by Dean Nelson. At first I thought, "How is this venerable pastor going to do in a rare televised interview?" But he actually had us laughing more than Anne Lamott did on Wednesday.

I had no idea he was so literary! He said, "Stories invite us into a world larger than ourselves." He spoke about the impact of Joyce's Ulysses on his pastoring (I have a long history with that work that I'll share some other time). He thought his congregation was boring, ordinary -- nothing like the "cool" congregations of his friends (later found out they were lying). But after reading Ulysses, a huge tome about one day in the life of the most ordinary of men, Peterson began to see through Joyce's eyes how interesting one ordinary person could be -- and this insight helped him greatly to have compassion and love for his congregation.

Peterson said that fiction writers (Christian or non-Christian) probe the depths -- they see truth and expand on it, making it real. He said that he STRONGLY believes that the first two years of seminary should be a study of the great literary classics because they can help a pastor really see human nature in a way that will greatly help them in their ministry. He talked about how pastors are the most impatient people on earth -- how hard it is for them to "wait and let the story unfold." In his books and sermons he refers to works of detective fiction, to the works of Annie Dillard, Flannery O'Connor, Dickens, James Joyce, Wendell Berry, Dostoyevsky, Anne Tyler, Frederick Beekner. He said this TWICE: "Every time a story is well-told, the Gospel is served." Pretty cool stuff!

Then Dean referred to Bono's quoting of Eugene Peterson. Peterson had no idea who Bono was at first, but after listening to U2's music, he's a great fan. Bono later invited Peterson to "hang out" with him for a few days, but Peterson was right in the middle of translating the Old Testament and had to turn him down. Dean looked incredulous and said, "But it was BONO!" Peterson immediately quipped back, "But it was Isaiah!" Definitely the funniest moment of the entire conference.

Peterson then turned to the idea of translation. He said, "The worst translations are the literal ones. Every time the Bible is translated, it becomes larger." He used a different editor for every book of the Bible. He was always thinking, "If Isaiah [or whoever] was saying this in contemporary America, how would he say it?" He said that he felt as though he was always working on the "edge of a precipice" as he translated the Bible.

He then said that "Reading itself is a kind of translation," and has written a book on how to read literature called Eat This Book. He said that he does a great deal of rereading; if a book is really meaningful, he'll start it again as soon as he's finished and read it a second and perhaps a third time. He said that we need more storytellers -- writing is a sacred calling. He even said that writers should be ordained as pastors are because writing is so integral to the life of the church. He also said that there is "too much thin soup" in most religious writing; he's rather read good secular literature than poor Christian literature, which is far too frequently the case.

William Blake, he said, capitalized the "I" in "Imagination" because he felt that imagination is the Holy Spirit at work -- it's almost the same thing as Faith. Imagination pulls us from what we see into what we can't see, just as Faith does. Peterson also spoke about the sanctifying imagination, how it concerns and expands reality. "Novelists don't make up their characters," says he, "they discover them." We need imagination, not facts.

Peterson talked some more about other topics as questions were asked of him: Revelations (loves it), Paul's letters (loved untangling and retangling his ideas), wariness of "faddish" things (like emergent church) in theology (especially as most of what he reads is over 500 years old). He doesn't like theology that makes Christianity "too easy" -- it's not. He also talked about his family -- how his mother was a storyteller, how he grew up in a blue-collar family where he was the first one to ever attend college, how he's awed by the mystery of language, epecially in children and his own grandchildren.

It was an amazing talk, one I felt blessed by. His sense of the importance of literature and the writer to the Christian life was freeing and encouraging. I wish that artists were given more of a place in the evangelical church. It seems we're only good for writing moralistic skits and weekly bulletin announcements. The place of the artist is a sacred calling, which is something God has been revealing to me over the last six months. May He use us for His glory as we create excellent work through His Holy Spirit!

Next year at the Writer's Symposium: Philip Yancey! Woo-hoo!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Afternoon with Anne Lamott

Ah, my 100th post! This is an excellent way to celebrate it -- my notes from the interview with Anne Lamott from yesterday. I attended with dear poets Kitty and Judith, and we thoroughly enjoyed Anne's humor and truthtelling. Here are my notes:

Yesterday, I attended the Writer's Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University, in which Anne Lamott was the keynote speaker. My former creative writing prof and later office mate, Dean Nelson, interviewed Anne. Dean is a dry-wit kind of guy, and their rapport was beautiful. I thought him a little stilted with Kathleen Norris a few years ago, but he was in his element with Donald Miller last year and with Anne yesterday.

Anne walked onto the stage, her dreadlocks bound by a scarf behind her ears and wearing an aqua cardigan, a white t-shirt, and faded jeans, with black tennis shoes and purse. She talked much more about writing than about faith, a fact she made fun of. "Everyone wants me to talk about fffaaaiiiittthhh, but talking about writing is refreshing!" Dean challenged her with a comment he had overheard at a recent venue in which Anne was featured: "Anne Lamott is the only Christian writer who has ever told me the truth." She spoke about writing the truth about her own heart, her own sin, her own ungraciousness, her own family, and getting that "me, too" response from her audience. She said that she was such a bad Christian, and other "bad" Christians find the truth about losing your temper with your kid, wishing your teenager to the outer limits, getting mad about politics, very refreshing because they feel the same. She tells the truth about being a "flawed, conflicted" person, whether in her novels or in her nonfiction. Her characters are "fearfully human," and she talked about the "false starts and messes" that are part of the writing process. She says that we have too precious and short a time on earth to deal with annoying people.

It takes her two years to write a non-fiction book, and three years to write fiction. Her book coming out next month is her 11th, and it wasn't until her 6th book that she could support herself on her writing alone. She only really loves the second and third drafts of writing. She spoke about the three levels of writing, from her book Bird by Bird:
1) down draft: awful, terrible first draft writing when you get it all on the table -- like beating a dead horse for every detail. Painful to do.
2) updraft: edit a third out of first draft, play with it, shape it.
3) dental draft: crafting each "tooth" to make sure it's strong, necessary, will hold weight.

She's starting a novel in May. First of all, you must, she says, start a book on a Monday. Just like it's stupid to start a diet on a Thursday, it's ridiculous to start a book on any other day but a Monday. Each book is a complete starting over. She loves books about good and evil, like The Stand. She talked about being part of the goodness, one day at a time. She goes through the same creative process everyone does to write a book -- she hates the first draft, dealing with the blank page, and she hates the fourth draft, when she's getting sick of it. She spoke about how the accolades of speaking at PLNU, with all her fans, will last her until she's barely home tonight, and then her self-pity will kick in. Pressure of success.

She was hilarious in talking about flying. She said that ALL flights are bad, and she's exhausted every time by the sheer willpower she has to exert to keep the plane in the air. And the guilt she feels in taveling first class......

Why did she keep writing when she wasn't making enough to live on? She felt she had something to say and a voice to say it. One book was about her dad's death -- it was irreverent and real and spoke truth. From Plan B : "Laughter is carbonated holiness." The funny and the sad pass each other often within the same paragraph in her writing. It's all about truth -- telling the truth. "Stories feed us in a way that nothing else can." She wrote non-fiction to help people get their sense of humor back. Faith is being "given a little light to see by each day, someone we can walk along with." Jesus helps us to find true nourishment. In her pastor's last sermon, she was talking about how the slaves would eat what no one else would, especially the neck bones and the ham bones. They would suck and suck on those bones until they had every possible morsel of nourishment from them. That's what faith was to them -- not just an opiate but a "recipe for liberation."

She responded to a question about how her family feels about her writing so honestly about them. She thinks before she writes, "would Sam [her son] be glad I published this?" Now that he's older, she passes it by him. There was one story in the new book about her slapping him one day, and she ended up revising it several times until it passed his muster. His friends love the "Sam stories." She wrote very nicely about her mother for a long time, but had to write the truth about their relationship (rather rocky) sometime before her mother died (the story about going to the beach in Traveling Mercies, I believe). And the story hurt her mother terribly, and it took the rest of the extended family almost two years before they forgave Anne. She quipped at the end, "If people don't want you to write about them, they should behave better." She softened and said that if you can't tell the truth in non-fiction, then use fiction, changing just enough so the person isn't readily recognizable to everyone else. "Everything that has happened to you is YOURS; you own it."

At the end she talked some politics -- her parents has been "virulent liberals" but without faith, so they were just angry all the time. She struggles with anger about the war, but as she wrote in Plan B and discussed today, she wonders if Bush knows what we don't, and therefore we have been protected in ways we'll never know. She tries to see fairly, but it's hard, says she.

It was a delightful 90 minutes, and it flew all too quickly. I had a lovely time, visiting with former colleagues from the literature department and enjoying my own dear friends, both quite amazing poets, who accompanied me. I'm looking forward to Friday's lecture with Eugene Peterson, who translated The Message. Aaah, to feel like a "real" writer again!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Today I sat in the hall at Point Loma, listening to Anne Lamott talk about, among a myriad other topics, how she loves Ash Wednesday. She read a chapter about spreading her mother's ashes with her family that was (like most of her writing) hilarious and heartwrenching within the same paragraph, but reminds her of Ash Wednesday and forgiveness and sin.

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite Holy Days. For me, I appreciate it because it's REAL. Our sin is a real thing that we (and especially I) like to sweep under the carpet and pretend it doesn't really happen. But on Ash Wednesday, I wear the proof of my sin right on my forehead, right where I am marked with that cross of ashes that claims me as Christ's. I can't hide from my sin when it's represented smack dab on my forehead. It's almost freeing -- knowing that I am faced head-on by my sin this day especially, and I NEED Lent.

Yep, I NEED Lent. I need 40 days to pray more, meditate more, read and study the Scriptures more, and to confess my sin more. I love Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday. My sin is real, but forgiven through that same cross of Christ represented on my forehead. So tonight I headed to Victoria House to meet up with eleven other people of Alpine Anglican to be anointed with ashes and to celebrate Communion. To read Psalm 51 together, on our knees, from our hearts, was cleansing and beautiful. To be marked with the ashes, hearing "Remember O Man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" as the ashes are marked in the form of the cross on my forehead is humbling yet freeing.

Last year I wrote up a blurb for a flyer on Ash Wednesday and Lent for our evangelical church that doesn't officially keep Lent. Pastor Steve added more to it, and took other stuff out, and I thought that overall, it was helpful for those who hadn't heard of Ash Wednesday and Lent (most of our church). Here it is:

Irenaeus (175AD - 195AD), mentions the idea of spending some time fasting in
preparation of Easter. This developed into the observance of Lent (Council
of Nicea, 325AD). Lent is the forty days (not including Sundays as they are
always days of celebrating the Resurrection) preceding Easter. The forty
days of Lent are used to parallel the forty days that Jesus spent in the
wilderness, fasting and praying, before starting His earthly ministry. "Ash
Wednesday" has been historically recognized as the day to initiate the
period of fasting and repentance known as Lent. It's called "Ash Wednesday"
because ashes were traditionally used to mark the foreheads or hands of
those who attended church on that day.

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

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

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

May we all humble ourselves before our Lord and Savior during these forty days before Easter, preparing ourselves for the coming of His kingdom.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Lenten Rule of Life

We received this in our bulletins at Alpine Anglican this week. A "Rule of Life" does not reduce our relationship with God to a set of rules; rather, these guidelines help us in our commitment to draw closer to our Lord and Saviour during this Holy time of Lent.

This checklist is for private use, Father stressed. For us to pray over and ask God for guidance regarding what He would have us to do to increase our love for and knowledge of Him. Then we are to keep them in our Bibles as reminders of our commitments.


Self-examination and repentance:
Review each day using:
___ 10 Commandments (BCP p. 68-69)
___ Private Confession (BCP p. 589)
___ Sacramental confession once during Lent

___ I will attend every Sunday Mass in Lent
___ I will attend ___ Weekday Mass in Lent
___ I will join in the family Daily Prayers (BCP p. 587 or 589)
___ I will attend Stations of the Cross on Fridays in Lent
___ I will pray the Daily Office daily (___Morning; ___Evening; ___ Both)
___ I will spend ___ minutes daily in prayer and meditation

Fasting and Self-Denial
___ I will fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
I will abstain:
___ Eating no meat on Wednesdays and Fridays
___ Eating meat only once a day in Lent
___ No eating between meals
___ I will give up _____________ (something specific) in Lent
___ I will take on ______________ (something specific) in Lent


___ I will use the Lenten Mite Box
___ I will give $____ to _________
___ I will make a special offering to ____________

Reading and Studying God's Word
___ I will read the book _________________
___ I will attend the Wednesday Lenten study
___ I will read the Bible ____ minutes per day

All this I will do, God being my helper.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lent Is A-Comin'

Yesterday, when B was well, the two of us attended the Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity before we went on to Lake Murray as usual. It's rare that I can attend a Sunday service with the Alpine congregation. But with Father Acker too ill to hold one Friday, I was feeling liturgy-deprived already. He was definitely feeling better, and together we bade goodbye to the "alleluias" for Lent. Father spoke a great deal about Lent, and the bulletin had a lovely checklist of ideas for a Lenten Rule of Life. As he told us, a Rule is not saying that we are downgrading our relationship to God to a bunch of rules, but that we are willing to do something extra to build our relationship to God during these forty days. There is no punishment for breaking the Rule except for our losing the opportunity to draw closer to God. Listed on the Rule sheet were ideas on self-examination/repentance, prayer, fasting/self-denial, almsgiving, and reading/studying God's Word. I am going to pray over this Rule today and tomorrow and see what God will have me do to grow closer to Him during this time of Lent.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I'm hoping to be able to attend the 6:30 PM service at Victoria Chapel with Father Acker of Alpine Anglican. I love the symbolism of the ashes: death to old self, mortal death to come but eternal life in Jesus to enjoy forever! The ashes also symbolize repentance; in the Old Testament, those who were mourning and repenting of their actions (think Job, David, etc.) covered themselves with ashes as a sign of their change of heart. With the ashes in the form of the cross, we are reminded that we are marked as Christ's own forever, in this life and in the next.

I had forgotten to ask Pastor Stephen to reprint the excellent Ash Wednesday/Lenten guide we had put in the bulletin as a flyer last year. Perhaps Veneta can dig it out and we can send it out to Lake Murray via e-mail today or tomorrow.

This week, barring becoming ill with what all four kids have right now, I also will attend the Writers' Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University. Judith, Kitty, and I have signed up for Wednesday's interview with Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies and Plan B among other works, and Friday's with Eugene Peterson, who translated The Message. On Wednesday, we're hoping to go to the college early so we can catch Lamott speaking in chapel. Then we want to go to lunch at a lovely cafe on Rosecrans before coming back for Lamott's interview (probably with Dean Nelson, my creative writing prof) at 2:00 PM. I'm looking forward to these talks as an excellent way to begin this Lenten time of especial concentration on God.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Roses Are Red...

Keith gave me two rose bushes for Valentine's Day -- one very red climber, "Blaze," and a pinkish-red simgle-blossom, "Watermelon Ice."

He helped me plant them today. He dug the holes; I planted the bare root bushes. Then after I had filled the little circles I had made around the bushes, they sunk too low and Keith had to replant them a little higher up when I ran out of steam.

I also planted some violet-pink tulips, some pale pink stocks, and three Madrid lavenders. I am DONE for -- that was much more work than I usually do in the garden at one time.

He also bought a peach tree which we'll try to plant tomorrow. I'll try to get some pictures soon -- even if I have to use Keith's ponderous Nikon -- and less than two weeks until my birthday when I will hopefully get my own digital camera.


Today when stopping by the local Rite Aid, where in the past I have sworn NEVER to purchase plants for the garden, I spied my favorite plant: lavender. After placing three plants into a nearby cart, I then saw some blue pansies -- ah, must have those. Then tulips in four-inch pots? And my favorite annuals -- stocks in a pale pink?

I got half of them planted today, plus several rose bushes trimmed back. I'm hoping to finish cutting back the roses tomorrow as well as planting the lavender and tulips along with my new Valentine rose bushes from my sweet husband. Keith needs to pull out several rogue oak trees that have taken residence in my back bed, and then we can plant. My flower garden has been a source of sadness for me since they were destroyed last fall, so slowly recreating them is hard but joyful work. I just have to be careful not to do too much at once or I'll be laid up afterwards. I will try to post some pics soon of my lovely new plants; our Santa Ana this weekend after the heavy rains earlier this week make tomorrow (Saturday) a perfect gardening day.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Discipline of Darkness

This selection, from February 14 of My Utmost for His Highest, has spoken to me more than once. I have read portions of it in several books before actually reding it in the context of this daily devotional; it seems to me to be perhaps the most profound statement Oswald Chambers makes in this collection.

At times God puts us through the discipline of darkness to teach us to heed Him. Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadow of God's hand until we learn to hear Him. ... watch where God puts you into darkness, and when you are there, keep your mouth shut.

Later he states:

...darkness is the time to listen. When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light.

The whole idea of listening in the darkness reminds me strongly of St. John of the Cross (died in 1591; co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites with St. Teresa of Avila)and his idea of the "Dark Night of the Soul" - a time of testing and refining when God robs us of pleasure in our relationship with Him, testing us to make certain that we are worshiping Him not for ourselves. but totally and completely for His sake. We are to go through this "Dark Night" on faith, learning to trust God for the joy of worship, the peace of prayer, to return when we are transformed more into His image. St. John of the Cross reminds us that not everyone goes through this "Dark Night," but it is reserved for those who are especially devoted to God. (A great excerpt of St. John of the Cross can be found in Richard Foster's Devotional Classics.)

Oswald tells us to use this time of darkness to learn to listen. St. John of the Cross tells us to use darkness as a time for faithbuilding and trusting in God when we get NOTHING out of our private devotions for ourselves. Darkness is a time for us to be more conformed into the image of Christ; it is not easy, but it IS a blessing. One definitely "in disguise."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St. Valentine's Day

My dear husband gave me what I love most for St. Valentine's Day: ROSES.

But these are not the kind that will fade away in less than a week. These are teh real deal -- Jacson and Perkin's roses for our garden. "Blaze," a gorgeous red climber, and "Watermelon Ice," a blush single bush. I look forward to the roses I will enjoy this summer. How lovely!

The whole beginning of this celebration of love was a martyrdom. Back in the year 269 A.D., a young Roman priest refused to worship the emperor. On February 14, this priest, Valentine, was martyred for the faith. This much is acknowledged as historical fact.

The legendary portion of the story states that Valentine had befriended the jailer's daughter. On the day he died, he left a letter for her, signed "From your Valentine." There started the idea of giving love notes and "Valentines."

I find inspiration in St. Valentine's story -- in his love for God and concern for others. May God's love envelop us all, as He is our first Love and eternal "Valentine."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Heart of Lectio Divina

From another devotional book, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, excerpts from the works of Father Thomas Keating, I've been reading about another passion of mine, Lectio Divina. Lectio is an ancient way of reading Scripture slowly and meditatively, letting each word and phrase speak to our hearts. Devotional material can also be read in this manner, but it's usually reserved for Scripture. I love lingering over Scripture, thinking and pondering and listening to God's voice as He speaks through His Word.

Here are some quotes from this week's entries from Keating's works:

Lectio Divina leads to a personal relationship with God. The ancient monastic way of doing lectio does not mean reading a lot. It means reading the text until you feel the call of the Spirit either to reflect on a particular passage, sentence, or phrase.... You may want to praise God, ask for something, or converse with God. Or you may feel like pouring out your heart to God.

I love how Keating talks about how lectio is a personal experience. What he writes about here reminds me of precisely what Edie told us years ago about "quiet times" -- keep reading until God speaks. It may be only a word or a phrase, but be listening for His voice.

And another passage:

The heart of the prayer is to recognize the presence and action of God and to consent to it.... The most intimate relationship with God is to be completely present to God in whatever we are doing. What we do in silence under ideal circumstances, we begin to do in daily life, remaining in the interior freedom we experienced during contemplative prayer even in the midst of intense activity.

Consenting to God is something I really desire. I want to be truly present to Him, and I want my interior life to roll into my active life. My life is so active with four kids to home school plus other commitments, but I want to have a peaceful and contemplative spirit that transfers from contemplation and silence into kids and busy-ness.

Keating's book keeps me inspired and teaches me how to accomplish a contemplative life not just in spite of but more completely because of my busy life. (I hope that makes sense!) That's invaluable, and lectio divina, "divine reading," is definitely a path that takes me into the presence of God.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Grammy Awards

Okay, okay, I'll admit it: I'm addicted to award shows. I did have an excuse to watch the Grammys: U2 was up for two awards, which they didn't win. But I always seem to find new artists I want to check out at the Grammys. A few years ago, it was Norah Jones. This year it's Corinne Bailey Rae. Such a sweet voice -- very lovely girl and lovely music.

The dresses, the costumes, the hair, the music. I loved Carrie Underwood's hair and dress, and loved even more seeing the Police reunion. Too cool. Mary J. Blige was gorgeous, body, voice, and soul. Loved how she thanked Jesus and God the way she did. Glory to Him for the gift of music in the first place. And Justin Timberlake didn't annoy me as much as usual; the DixieChicks took over that spot for me.

This morning I logged into my CD club and ordered Corinne Bailey Rae's new CD, as well as ones from John Mayer and (not related to the Grammys) Frank Sinatra. Love those old songs of his -- talk about classic! So I have new music on the way -- yay! Life can't get much better than that!

Well, if my CD club didn't charge full price for U2 and Green Day, that would be PERFECTION!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Common Things

I was reading in my morning devotional, the classic My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and came across the reading for February 7 (yes, I am running a bit behind). Here is a bit to chew on:

"...we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized."

I take great joy knowing that God is always available in the simple, in the commonplace things of life. The birds outside my window of a morning. The laughter of my children. The love of learning that occasionally sparks across the school table. The flow of poetry. The solace of a lit candle. The scent of rosemary freshly plucked for a meal, the smell lingering on my fingers. The flowers that herald spring -- the sweet pansies, the proud stocks, the joyous daffodils in their sunshine yellow. The wind in the trees -- making an odd and mournful song. In all these things, God talks to me, calls to me. What comfort! What solace! What peace.

And God is in all. Jesus is in all. Loving with my eyes and my heart is a form of worship. Revelation comes in the simple stuff. Doing our work, looking for the simple joys. Keeping eyes and heart open to Christ in other people, especially those under my nose all day.

Earlier in the same reading, Oswald writes, "The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not the answer."

How wise. When we pray, we should be looking for God, not His answering our petitions. What does He say to us in the simple moments, in the daily back and forth of "real life"? This meaning of prayer is why I find myself reaching for ancient prayers that speak to God, speak of God, in beautiful, reflective, reverential words that are beyond my own expression yet speak exactly what my heart feels in gratitude, in love, in awe, in worship, of my Lord and my God. I do ask for things, but that's not the crux of prayer for me. The meaning of prayer is to seek Him, to celebrate Him, to worship Him, and to love Him, with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.

Our God comes to us in the breath of the breeze, in a trickle of water, in a child's smile. He created it all, and He reveals Himself to us if we only are open to the simple, commonplace things of life.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Should We "Hail Mary"?

Last week at my evangelical church's morning Sunday School, a man popped up with a comment about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He said that confessing to priest was just wrong, and the priest forcing someone to babble a bunch of Hail Mary's was "evil." So I thought I'd do a little research into this prayer (and the sacrament) and see what's what.

The full text of the prayer is as follows:

Hail Mary
Full of Grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners now
And at the hour of our death.

The first four lines of the prayer are from the twenty-eighth verse of the first chapter of St. Luke's gospel, and the next line is from the forty-second verse of the same chapter. So the first section is entirely of Scripture.

From what I read, the second stanza was added around 1560-1570, during the Counter-Reformation. This section entrusts Mary with the supplications and prayers of the children of God because she, too, was human and therefore understands the human condition. She cannot answer prayer; she can only pray FOR us, the same way we could ask a friend, a family member, or a pastor, to pray for us. But since she is Jesus' mom, she is a good person to ask to pray for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the "Hail Mary" prayer is "centered on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries." So what are "mysteries" referring to? The BIG mystery is Christ coming down to earth in human form, fully God and fully human. So the Lord is magnified and praised for the "great things" He did for his lowly handmaiden, Mary, and through her for all human beings (2675). The Catechism also states, "we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners." See, Mary can't answer prayers, but she prays for us, in such a way as to bring us closer ("reconcile" us) to God.

I also looked into the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church to see what it said about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Section 1441 clearly states, "Only God forgives sin." See, the priest doesn't forgive sin -- only Jesus can do that!

The priest, as God's representative, hears a person's confession, and then assigns a penance, which "requires the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction" (Section 1450). The priest needs to fulfill certain criteria before being able to hear confessions and assign penance -- they are to pray to God for help in guiding each individual, doing all this to help the penitent draw closer to God.

Section 1460 of the CCC states, "The penance the confessor [priest/bishop] imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifice, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must all bear." So penance is for the good of the sinner. Just as if our kid broke a neighbor's window, just apologizing isn't enough; he/she is required to pay back the cost of the broken window. Penance is the same idea -- "making things right" rather than just confessing is the best way to help the sinner NOT commit the same sin again.

Section 1465 further states, "When he celebrates the sacrament of penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner." The priest is there to advise, encourage, and help the penitent return fully to God.

The Catechism continues, "The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant... and leads the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. The whole power of the sacrament of penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in intimate friendship" (Sections 1466, 1468).
That's clear enough -- the priest is but God's servant in restoring the penitent fully to God. God speaks through the priest to aid the sinner in loving and serving Jesus.

I now understand a little better why the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance is so important in liturgical churches. I'm not sure I'll ever pray the "Hail Mary," but I don't see anything wrong with doing so. Even Luther prayed this prayer; he was very into Mary and encouraged his Protestant flocks to not neglect to ask her to pray for them. In his sermon of March 11, 1523, he states, "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger!"

So we can pray the "Hail Mary" if our hearts so desire. I'm not sure mine does, but it's an interesting issue to ponder and chew upon.

Friday, February 9, 2007

An Interesting School Day...

We started off the day with a dissection of owl pellets -- the pellets that owls regurgitate all the fur and bones from their gizzard that they can't digest.

Science project. Oh goody.

Fortunately, the owl pellet was pasteurized, so the boys couldn't get any nasty germs, etc. T carefully picked it apart, finding many shrew ribs and jaws (with teeth included), and a shrew skull. We bleached the bones in a weak Clorox solution, and the boys matched up bones on the included chart to see which animals were consumed by this particular owl.

We went from owl pellets to studying how World War I. Then to grammar and spelling and math. The boys took a late afternoon break to the library's Friday afternoon kids art class, where today they were constructing three-dimensional kites out of drinking straws and string. B, although he's only 7, figured out an easier way of threading the straws. Next week they'll finish the kites.

As I sat at the library for the hour-and-a-half that the boy worked on their kites, I read the newspaper and our town's monthly newspaper, The Valley Views. While I relaxed, I had a chance to visit with several friends who also stopped by the library whom I haven't seen for a while around town. Very nice!

So a bit of a different homeschool day ... owl pellets, kites, and all.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On Top of the Fire Scare Today...

... we JUST had a small earthquake nearby. The boys were getting into bed, and E, Dash, and I were settling down to watch the Survivor premiere when the house shook, once gently and slowly and then again, more strongly and jerkingly. The windows rattled and the hanging light over the school table swayed slightly.

The boys came flying out of their room -- "Did you feel THAT, Mom?" Yep, we all did.

I just checked the USGS site and it was a minor quake of 3.3 on the Richter scale, centered less than 30 miles from our town, out in the desert. No damage anywhere.

A fire in the morning, and an earthquake in the evening. Living in Southern California is nevah, nevah dull.

A Scare.....

We Southern Californians get a little skittish when we smell smoke, especially after 2003's devastating Cedar Fire which burned nearly 20% of San Diego County, killing 19 people and destroying over 3,000 homes. Our town was under mandatory evacuation orders; our family stayed with Keith's dad "down the hill" for four days. This past summer, four different fires burned areas immediately surrounding our small town, once for which we evacuated voluntarily for three days because of the smoke and T's asthma. The sheriff's office issued reverse 911 calls to alert us to the danger, and the kids and I were outta here in under an hour; Keith stayed to watch over house and dog with the van packed and ready to go in case he had to leave quickly. Just a faint whiff of smoke causes a frisson of fear down the spine around here.

So when I stepped onto the porch a few moments ago on my way to the laundry room, I was alarmed to smell a strong scent of smoke, enough to make T start coughing. I also noticed the sun was shining hazily, with that yellowish tinge that always makes alarm bells ring in my head.

The boys noticed these signs along with me, and their faces paled. They became as skittish as colts, unable to remain in their seats for grammar and spelling because they were constantly at the window, judging the sunlight and watching for ash.

So I turned on the TV -- nothing about a local fire. I turned on the AM radio news station -- only our local Roger Hedgecock subbing for Rush and no story regarding fire on the half-past local news. Okay, it's time to start calling around town to see what's up.

I called Sheri, who was as mystified and concerned as I was, and whose husband was trying to find out what was happening from his office in the city. She assured me that she would call me if she heard anything. I called Judith next, and although she wasn't home, her husband was. And, whew! He told me that is was a "controlled burn" north of town. Now this is NOT the usual season for a controlled burn, especially with the vegetation as brown and dry as it is now, but so be it. I sighed with relief, called Sheri back, and settled the boys back down to their studies.

Smoke is no joke around here. I feel relieved that it is only a controlled burn, but the adrenaline is going to have to calm a bit before I'm ready to settle into my own work. The past is hard to forget around here, especially when fire is concerned.

A Simple Pleasure....

During our lunch hour today I stole a moment to write a letter to my eighth grade English and American History teacher, with whom the kids and I had lunch a few weeks ago. (He would be so pleased to see I used "whom" correctly and didn't end my sentence with a preposition.) He taught me grammar in such a way that I came to love the subject, and he also infused in me a passion for history that still affects me today. (That's "affect," not "effect;" one must keep those two words straight.)

Available from E's Junior Cotillion course last fall was specially ordered embossed stationery; I ordered some for E and some for myself. (Mr. Stan again would be impressed that I remembered that the stuff we write on ends in "-ery" and that stuff that stands still ends in "-ary"; what would I have done without his excellent tutelage?) As I removed the lid of the cloth-covered box this afternoon to use a card for the first time, the beauty of the experience overtook me. Moving aside the thin white tissue paper, I unearthed the stack of thick, rich, cream-hued cards, embossed in navy with my full first name, my middle initial, and my last name, in elegant script lettering. I wrote my note in blue ink to match the navy embossing, and when I had finished, I sealed it in its thick cream envelope, with my name and address again embossed in lovely raised navy script on the back flap.

What a rich experience -- an everyday ocurrence a hundred or even fifty years ago for a woman of means. But for a harried homeschool mom with an afternoon of mathematics and grammar ahead, it was a moment out of time upon which to savour and reflect. (Please pardon the British spelling, dear Mr. Stan, but at least I rewrote the last sentence so as to NOT end with "upon." And please excuse the following sentence fragment which is an example of artistic license -- I promise.)

The simple, elegant pleasures of a few moments -- nearly as restful as a hot bubble bath or European chocolate to the senses and spirit.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Dear Companion

This is the guy who cuddles with me every night. Dashwood, Dash for short, is nearly a year-and-a-half old, and is my comfort when I'm in pain and sofa-bound.

We got Dash from a family who lost their home in the devastating Cedar Fire of 2003. Keith designed their new home, and the Catholic family of seven invited us to their house warming and home blessing. The blessing of the home was a lovely ceremony, one that I will remember. This family also raises miniature dachshunds, our favorite breed of dog. After the blessing, we got to see the only puppy the family had from the latest litter. The puppy licked E's face over and over, and Keith, with a little persuasion, gave us the okay to take him home.

Dash has been part of our family since Halloween 2005. He was not easy to house train, and E took his training in hand, including weekly classes at PetSmart. He still tends to bark at any person he sees, even if they're all the way across the meadow, but otherwise, Dash is just a love of a dog. A lap dog who is always found curled up with any of the four kids during school, Dash is beloved by everyone, and even became the subject of one of T's essays for his current BraveWriter writing class.

This week the kids taught Dash to fetch a frisbee nearly his own size. I'll post the photos when I have a chance. But until then, enjoy this photo of our darlin' pup.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Summer Memory...

Unknown to us, this parade down our "main drag," Old Highway 80, last July may have been the last of the our town's summer festivals. Here, with Hap cruising ever so slowly down the main street, lined with oaks and pines, Father Acker takes a quick break from playing guitar to wave at me while I, sitting in front of the 50s diner, snap a picture of him and three of our four kids as they throw out Tootsie Rolls to the crowd. The candy wrappers are covered with stickers giving Alpine Anglican's website, phone number, and place and time for services. Clever!

My kids were in the parade TWICE. They went through early in the parade in one of Hap's firetrucks, spraying water on the crowd (and don't think the didn't bean their dear mom, either; it was an irresistible opportunity!). Just as I was beginning to worry about them as they hadn't returned to me yet, they come around again with Father in the back of the truck, tossing candy over the sides of the truck and singing along with Father's guitar-playing. I can't tell you how many people came up to me that day saying, "Yes, I saw your kids in the parade. BOTH times."

Well, those wonderful days may be over. Part of our town celebration was a rodeo, held just outside our back gate. Both rings would be going full-bore, with roping, buck-broncing, all the stuff of rodeos. People would gather in the shaded metal stands, eating nachos and drinking beer and lemonade. Inevitably, we would receive a drenching rainshower, and everyone would duck for cover for twenty minutes; then, everything was back as usual, with microphones booming and cattle lowing

Last Saturday, we were stunned and sickened to see the rings being removed from the meadow. Some guy from El Centro has bought the property and refuses to allow the town to use his land, the same land used for the last 26 years of the annual town celebration. Apparently the guy wants to build 20 houses immediately outside our gate, filling in this peaceful place, where a blue heron lurks every winter and where crows and red-tailed hawks soar, with a housing development.

See, this is a small town. 1200 people. The only "development" we've ever had was in the mid-70s, and it was not filling in the center of the town; it was on the outskirts. It didn't take over a peaceful, wildlife-rich environment that is the stuff of promising green in spring, of rodeos and laughter in summer, of beautiful purple sunsets in fall,and of peaceful snowfields in winter.

So today I'm mourning for our lovely meadow. And for our beloved town festival, which may not be occurring next year at all, parade included.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Bono and "The Priority of the Poor"

E, a friend's daughter, and I attended Journey Community Church's Friday night service. Featured tonight was an exclusive video cast of an interview of Bono by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek, a huge mega-church. The topic: "The Priority of the Poor." I felt rather guilty attending because I knew full well that a contingent of people from our own church, Lake Murray, were feeding the homeless in downtown San Diego at the very time of this service. Was I being a hearer of the Word, rather than a doer? That was only the beginning of the conviction I was to feel this night.

After singing some worship music, the video cast started off with concert footage of U2 from the Elevation tour. Bono is running around a heart-shaped catwalk that goes deep into the audience as he starts to sing "Where the Streets Have No Name," a vision of a beautiful Heaven. Then the video breaks to Bono at last year's National Prayer Breakfast, quoting from Isaiah 58 and the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Luke 4. The video then comes to the interview with the pastor. Bono talks about the One Campaign ( and how although he has no issues with Jesus and His teachings, he has a huge problem with Christians, with the judgmentalism and hypocrisy he saw in the Church, how the Church was late on Civil Rights, on Apartheid, and now on AIDs and its prevention and annihilation.

He talked about his and Alli's first trip to Ethopia in 1985, working in an orphanage with World Vision. The innate dignity of this proud people, now queuing to beg for food, being slaughtered by preventable diseases like malaria. How could these beautiful people be starving in a world of plenty? Bono spent ten years trying to forget what he saw in Africa, but by 1998 he was ready to start "spending his celebrity" as a strategy for helping Africa. He got on board with DATA and the Jubilee project of debt-relief. Redemption is an economic term, after all.

Great ideas at the right time are like a great melody -- irresistible, says Bono. But the Church has been behindhand. AIDs is the leprosy of our time, and the Church has been judgmental about the AIDs crisis. "Love thy neighbor" Bono reminds us, is a command, not mere advice. In this global village, we all are neighbors and we simply can't ignore senseless starvation, illness, and death just because it's "over there." Nothing is "over there" anymore.

Bono also said that the part of the Lord's Prayer that really gets to him is "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, ON EARTH, as it is in Heaven." Heaven on earth. (A topic of several songs on his latest CDs.) Christians, says Bono, need to indeed have the peace that passes all understanding, yet also cannot live at peace with the world. The problems that we can fix, we should fix. He advises us all to work together, for the Christians to "chill out" and work side-by-side with people with whom they may not be comfortable. This is not a duty or a burden but an opportunity, an adventure, for the Church to lead the fight for life in Africa -- for the annihilation of malaria and AIDs and TB through education and cheap medications. It's our adventure: getting involved in helping our brothers and sisters in Africa as the journey of equality among all God's children moves on.

Throughout the video cast was sprinkled concert footage of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Beautiful Day," "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (with a gospel choir in a Harlem church), and finished up with the song that started the video: "Where the Streets Have No Name."

Provoking. Strategic. Wise. Passionate. Challenging. It's Bono's charge to the Church: get involved! We can't sit on the sidelines and allow suffering to go on while we do nothing. Are we sheep or goats in the final Judgment? Are we truly serving the "least of these"?

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Today, February 2, is a Feast Day. I was surprised when Father Acker came out with cream vestments, rather than the usual green for this short "Ordinary Time" between Epiphany and Lent. But today is celebrated in the Anglican (and probably Catholic, perhaps also Orthodox) Church as "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, commonly called The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin." That's certainly a mouthful of a title!

The feast springs from the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, starting in verse 22. To summarize, Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple when the days of her purification are over, and they present Him as their first born (and therefore dedicated to the Lord). The sacrifice, according to the Law, is a pair of turtle doves or two small pigeons. While they are in the temple, they meet up with Simeon,an elderly man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord's Christ before he died. Simeon's praise, called the "Nunc Dimittis," part of the Office of Evening Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, goes like so:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. (St. Luke 2:29+)

Simeon adds to Mary, "...yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also." What a prophecy -- frightening, I'm sure, to the young mother. What a lot this woman had to ponder regarding this babe in her arms!

Then Anna, an octogenarian prophetess who has prayed in the temple night and day since her widowhood early in life, approaches the new parents, adding her blessings, thanks, and praises to God for the Christ Child.

The Collect (prayer) for the day reads thus:

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, that, as Thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto Thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May we indeed posses pure and clean hearts, not through our own paltry efforts, but through Him who was, is, and ever shall be, perfect and blameless. To HIm be all glory, honour, and praise!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

I just finished a most remarkable book. Diane Setterfield's The Thirteeth Tale is simply a masterpiece. Published in 2006, it has the feel of a book from long ago -- beautifully written with a academic yet heartwrenching eye for detail. A first person narrator, who unravels a secret from her own past, is called to Yorkshire to write the biography of one of English's most prolific novelists. The story is strange, haunting, full of twists and turns, and even as the story unfolds, a body is discovered in the old burnt-out shell of the novelist's former home. Engaging the ideas of truth and trust, of passion and loss, of twinness and fame, this novel twists and turns its plot around and back into itself beautifully.

Highly readable, wonderfully mysterious, and heartwrenching in so many ways (I hate to reuse "heartwrenching" but it describes the book so well!), The Thirteenth Tale is a masterpiece that definitely deserved its rank on the New York Times Bestseller's List. For three months, I waited for this book in our county library queue, and this book was one of the few well worth the long wait. I found myself in tears several times as I read, so moving the characters were, their stories entertwining with sadness yet hope.

It's one of the few modern novels I highly, highly recommend.


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