Friday, August 31, 2007


Keith took this photo very early Tuesday morning. We decided to set our alarm for 2:30 AM and wake the kids if the eclipse was "worth it." Living out in the country has its benefits; among many, we can see the stars, moon, and night sjy much more clearly out here in the boondocks than the city dwellers do. So when the beeping of the alarm sounded in the middle of the night, Keith and I reluctantly crawled out of bed, bundled up, stumbled downstairs, and opened the front door onto the porch.

What we saw made us immediately go back inside and start waking kids.

I woke the boys who were sleepily willing to put on jackets and were awestruck by the eclipse, by the magic we could watch from our own front porch. Elizabeth, however, groaned and turned over, snapping at us grumpily and refusing to budge. Her loss ... kinda.

The three boys, Keith, and I passed around Keith's excellent binoculars and Keith set up his tripod and camera to capture photos, including the one above. We thoroughly enjoyed watching the thin sliver of reflected sunshine grow smaller and smaller until all the white brightness disappeared into the deep orange of the shadowy eclipse. We sat watching, spellbound, until the eclipse was complete at 2:53 AM. After the eclipse completed, we sent the boys to bed and slid back into bed ourselves, regretting that Elizabeth had missed the wonder of watching the lunar eclipse.

We found out the next morning that the dogneeding to go out, had awakened Elizabeth at 3:30 AM. So when she trotted the dog out to his special place for doing his "thing," she unwillingly caught a blurry glimpse (without her contacts) of the full eclipse.

So we were all a bit tired, a bit grumpy, a bit short-tempered on Tuesday after losing sleep during the night (Keith never did get back to sleep, and I didn't sleep much, either). But it was well-worth the trouble to watch one of the wonders of Creation at work last night, right from the comfort of our front porch -- in a silenced awe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The "Dark Night" of Mother Teresa

I hope you ate your Wheaties -- this is a loooong post....,8599,1655415,00.html

It's everywhere. Time Magazine started it (address above), and now many voices, Christian and secular, are chiming in on the reports of Mother Teresa's spiritual doubts as related in the just-released book of her letters, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday). I'm sure that blogs galore are discussing the Time article, and I found myself addressing the topic in Sunday School at Lake Murray and again today with our piano teacher.

The thing is, this idea of the spiritual darkness that Mother Teresa experienced is not new to me. I read a little about it this summer in the chapter devoted to her in James Martin's My Life with the Saints that I have mentioned in this blog previously. And you know what: it didn't really surprise me.

You see, I've been rather fascinated with the sixteenth-century monk St. John of the Cross since I first read an excerpt of his Dark Night of the Soul in Richard Foster's Devotional Classics four years ago. St. John writes about how those people whom God wishes to draw especially close to Him will experience this "dark night of the soul." The "darkness" will grow these blessed ones in their faith and cleanse them of their sins. He writes, "For the truth is that the feelings we receive in our devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and it is beyond our comprehension." Wow.

So for someone as led of God as Mother Teresa, I'm not at all surprised that she experienced the "dark night" that St. John describes. The aspect of her "dark night" that most impresses me is that despite it lasting for well over fifty years (with a five-week break in 1959), Mother Teresa kept serving. She kept "seeing
Jesus" in the face of the sick and dying she helped each day in the ghettos of Calcutta. She didn't throw up her hands and declare "I quit" merely because she didn't FEEL God's presence. She expressed her darkness to her superiors who continued to encourage her (with varying effectiveness), and she just kept on "keepin' on."

The thought that occurred to me today after chatting with our piano teacher, who is a great fan of Teresa and was quite upset at the Times article, originally came from Dr. James Dobson. In one of his early books on marriage entitled Love Is a Decision, Dr. Dobson wrote about how we can't rely on our feelings in our marriages. We may not always feel "in love" with our spouse, especially if he leaves his socks on the floor again or if she backs into the mailbox again. Love is a DECISION. We have to DECIDE to love, even when we don't especially feel like it. It's the decision, not the feeling, that's of the utmost importance.

James Martin, whom I mentioned before and who is quoted in the Times article, also makes this point: "'Let's say you're married and you fall in love and you believe with all your heart that marriage is a sacrament. And your wife, God forbid, gets a stroke and she's comatose. And you will never experience her love again. It's like loving and caring for a person for 50 years and once in a while you complain to your spiritual director, but you know on the deepest level that she loves you even though she's silent and that what you're doing makes sense. Mother Teresa knew that what she was doing made sense.'"

This advice runs counter to much of today's postmodern culture. Many people today file divorce papers if they no longer FEEL in love (I have a family situation right now that backs this up). Look at what happened to Terri Schiavo who was put to death as a result of her husband who had already moved on and fathered two children with another woman rather than remaining faithful to his injured wife. The analogy between marriage and faith holds, I think. If people don't FEEL God, they may believe that God no longer loves them, that they have lost their faith, that God is holding back on them and therefore He is not a God to be trusted or believed. My credit goes to Teresa for continuing to believe, even when God hadn't made Himself known to her for YEARS after He had been most mystically communicative with her early in her life. In my eyes, that's FAITH with a capital everything.

Earlier in her life, Teresa had prayed a very bold prayer: she asked God to help her to truly share in Christ's passion and suffering on the cross. One of her spiritual advisors remarked to her that perhaps her prayer was answered in that she was experiencing Christ's moment of abandonment by God, the moment in which He cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" The Times article quoted one of her spiritual advisors: "Neuner would later write, 'It was the redeeming experience of her life when she realized that the night of her heart was the special share she had in Jesus' passion.' And she thanked Neuner profusely: 'I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness.'"

Teresa's spiritual darkness, and even her few doubts, reminded me strongly of the Psalms of David, particularly Psalm 42, starting in the ninth verse:

I say to God, my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk around mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?"
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say continually,
"Where is your God?"

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
My help and my God.

David often cried out to the Lord in the Psalms. He moaned and complained; he railed and even doubted. But he always returned to praise, and that's what Mother Teresa's letters show more than anything else: faith despite the lack of "evidence" that God was present and active in her life. And David's expression of his very real feelings have become perhaps the most beloved portion of the Old Testament, if not of the entire Bible. The Psalms are more than history; they are the cry of a man's heart, as well as many of our hearts. Teresa's cries seem very like David's poetry.

Reading what Teresa wrote to her spiritual advisors over the years strikes me with her honesty, especially since she had asked to have all these letters destroyed after her death. It bothers me that her letters were published despite her requests to keep them private, that the Church overruled her wishes. That really bugs me. But at the same time, I recognize that while some may say something like, "See? God doesn't 'talk' to everyone who wants to hear Him -- he didn't 'talk' to Mother Teresa, so why should He 'talk' to me," others will say, "She kept on trying, working, serving even though she didn't feel God's presence. Maybe I can keep going, too."

The writer of the Time article quoted Rev. Matthew Lamb who asserted that this book, controversial as it is becoming, may end up becoming as helpful a work of devotion as those written by St. Augustine and Thomas Merton. I think that her letters may have the same sort of eternal impact as other great devotional letters and spiritiual autobiographies. But to quote the old adage, only time will tell.

When I Googled "Mother Teresa," I found a short article by Brian McLaren, the emergent church leader. He wrote, "What we need is what Mother Teresa had: a faith that is tried and tested by doubt, and remains strong enough to send us into the world with love for God expressed through love for our neighbors, especially those most in need." May the universal church acknowledge this gift left, albeit unwillingly, to those of us who remain on this earth and hope in heaven.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Which Peanuts Character?

Which Peanuts Character are You?

You are Sally!
Take this quiz!

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I hope that the "ditz" part is wrong, but the rest is quite MOI.

Which character are you? Let me know in the comments if you post this on your own blog....

Before I Kick the Bucket....

Today on the Lamp Post (see sidebar under sites of interest) Carol brought up the idea of making lists of what we want to do before "kick the bucket." I thought I'd repost here what I wrote on the forum, just for those of you who aren't Lamp Post devotees. As I remarked there, I can sure tell that the Personality DNA test I did recently that pegged me as a Dreamer (abeit a Considerate one) was spot-on. So here's my not-close-to-exhaustive list of some of the things I Want To Do Before I Die, and some notes on how I'm progressing with some of them:

-- Live in English countryside for a full calendar year
-- Worship in Canterbury Cathedral and King's College Chapel, Cambridge
-- Teach college classes again (teaching high school students this year, college prep and honors levels)
-- Grow a cottage garden (trying -- not easy in So Cal with water issues)
-- Learn Latin (working on this now as I teach the boys)
-- Relearn German (Was almost fluent and have lost most of it)
-- Publish some articles in Christian magazines on my subject matter (bridging the gap between Catholics and Protestants, especially evangelicals; liturgical worship)
-- Write and publish a non-fiction book (working on this now)
-- Publish a book of poetry (will be doing a public reading in October)
-- Study at Cambridge (more dream than reality....)
-- Get my doctorate in English (thinking about applying in 5-10 years when the kids can mostly homeschool themselves)
-- Visit and explore the East Coast with our kids: Charleston all the way up to Prince Edward Island, and especially seeing Concord where all the Transcendentalists hung out (Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, etc.). If we can't do all that, then at least see the Boston area up to PEI. (Ideally I'd like to do this in the next two years before E goes to college.)
-- Visit Italy and see the cathedrals and the great art of the Masters
-- Learn how to spin and weave (some day!)
-- Learn how to make lace (fascinating!)
-- Spend a month in a monastery (and write while there)
-- See the Mediterranean area: Greece, Egypt, Israel and visit areas of antiquity
-- Learn to make my own soap and candles

Some of these are nearly impossible; some are quite reasonable when I have the time. Some depend on more than just me (can't force publishers to accept my work).

But it's fun to dream, isn't it?

What do YOU want to do before you kick the bucket?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More Measure for Measure

Today our Logos Reading and Discussion group from Lake Murray met to discuss Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Several of us had seen it on Tuesday, but several had not. The conversation was quite animated with Bill and Guy (Kitty's husband) joining us. All together, we had ten people attending -- enjoying the wonderful lunch that Kitty prepared for us. Keith had sent along creme bruleee in order to celebrate Kitty's birthday this week, half chocolate and half fig and walnut.

Back to the discussion: our main discussion revolved around the motivation of the two main characters: the Duke and Isabella. Bill didn't like either character; he couldn't forgive Isabella for putting her virginity above her brother's life and he saw the Duke as the true villain who was trying to control everyone and could have stopped the chain of events at any time. I happen to like and admire Isabella; purity was something that was greatly valued in past time periods, much more than it is today. Giving up her body would have ruined her soul, so I don't blame her in a way. I do agree that the Duke is a far less than stellar character; his refusal to tighten the laws himself and instead have Angelo do so was reprehensible. He couldn't stand to lose the popularity of the people; his too-gracious mercy was also evident at the closing of the play when everyone was forgiven and the laws again relaxed.

The ideal of Christianity wasn't truly represented by anyone but Escalusm whose name means "scales." He provided the balance, the wisdom, the moderation, in which the Law should be applied and judged, unlike the too-permissive Duke or the too-legalistic Angelo. We also discussed the place of women in that time and the lack of choices they had. In addition, we talked about marriage contracts, how they worked, and why Claudio's "sin" wasn't really a sin at all, but a "letter of the Law" or Phariseic offense. The discussion led around to sin and how God sees it, and how none of us are perfect, no not one, which I believe is one of the themes of the play. Also the Church was talked about, whether the Puritans were being singled-out by Shakespeare or whether the Catholic Church was being criticized as well. All these different aspects made the discussion a very spirited exchange -- all in good, clean fun.

Lisa, the one who was blessed by the garden tea yesterday, jumped right in and argued with Bill and others on several fronts. I found out later that she had received her undergraduate degree in English from Harvard. No wonder she was so much fun to argue and discuss with! She stated her opinions with confidence and wasn't afraid to have her ideas disagreed with; Bill was much the same. Kristen jumped in, as did Kitty and myself as well as the men, so our discussion was extremely spirited and deep -- just the way I had hoped it would be.

We also shared some of our favorite quotes; mine was from the end of Act I and was spoken by Lucio, of all people: "Our doubts are traitors,/ And make us lose the good we oft night win/ By fearing to attempt." I deal with self-doubt so very much, so these lines hit home, despite the character stating it, who was Lucio the Lecher. More than a little ironic....

So now I shelve my Shakespeare volume and begin to think about our next month's book for discussion: Jane Eyre. I know it well, and am very much anticipating a wonderfully animated discussion next month when Logos gathers again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Labyrinth

Sheri and I arrived at the labyrinth at La Providencia in the rural Peutz Valley (northwest of Alpine) at nearly seven in the evening. After winding our way for two miles through a valley that had obviously been ravaged by the 2003 Cedar Fire, we spied the small sign to the left and drove up a steep driveway to park in front of a small manufactured home. Sheri had called the Catholic Sisters who have maintained this place of prayer for the past thirty years, and, according to Sheri, they were most happy to have us there although we only waved at one of them from afar. The labyrinth is made up of small rounded stones slightly to the east of the house; two cement benches flank the labyrinth entrance. I sat on one and Sheri took the other as silence fell between us and we settled into our solitary time with God.

Sitting on the cold grey bench, I opened my Book of Common Prayer and prayed Evening Prayer, all but the General Thanksgiving. As I prayed, Sheri moved to the entrance of the labyrinth and began tracing her way to the center, a process that takes ten minutes or so, depending on how quickly one walks. Sheri told me before we settled on the benches that the usual way a labyrinth works is that one prays as one follows the path, and then arriving at the center, one sits and meditates. Then as one traces the way back out of the labyrinth, one releases to God all the things prayed about on the way into the center.

I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth, watching Sheri for a moment as she paced the winding pathway, and then I started. I prayed over our future, Keith, the kids and their futures, my extended family, and my health issues, and it seemed that I arrived at the center of the labyrinth very quickly despite trying to slow my steps. I sat down crosslegged on the dirt next to Sheri, closed my eyes to the sunset world around me, rested my upturned hands on my knees, and meditated using the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I matched my breathing to the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ" (as I deeply inhale) "Son of God" (as I slowly exhale) "have mercy on me" (inhale) "a sinner" (exhale). I felt relaxed, unhurried, as I concentrated on God. I tried to ignore the loud music emanating from a home hidden in the dense underbrush across the street (although I think it was Christian music), and not concentrating on the noise was easier than I thought it would be. Sheri rose from the ground several minutes before I did and worked her way out of the labyrinth, tussling my hair as she walked the portion of the path I was facing as I sat in the center. I rose, too, feeling much refreshed by the meditation, and also began tracing my path outwards, releasing to God all whom I had prayed over on my way in.

Too soon I found myself outside the labyrinth again, and Sheri meanwhile had discovered the origin of the wide, stone-lined path that went up a nearby hill to a large wooden cross on its crest. Along the sides of the path were wooden poles, each topped with a small pitched roof protecting small copper plates about 4 inches by 4 inches each that portrayed the Stations of the Cross. Two of the Stations had been untouched by the fire, the ones that showed Jesus falling. Eleven poles had been burned but the copper plates had been found and remounted, although blackened and scarred by the fire. Only one Station had to be completely reworked from the copper. According to what I had read online and also according to a small sign at the bottom of the hill, the Stations had come to symbolize the devastation of the fires four years ago to many who had lost all to the blazes. After we climbed to the summit after contemplating and quietly discussing each of the fourteen Stations, we came to the tall roughly-hewn cross. Large stones were piled at its base as well as a charred chunk of wood that also represented the loss of the more than 3000 homes and 17 lives taken by the Cedar Fire. Sheri climbed onto a large rock and contemplated the sunset (see photo on my 365 blog) while I stood spellbound as the last vestiges of sunset color waned and night began to fall in earnest. After we walked down the hill, I prayed aloud the General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer, and then we drove back into Alpine as the sky darkened for a glass of pinot grigio and a shared chocolate bread pudding at the Meditteranean restaurant.

To come to this still place at sunset was so refreshing to my soul. To walk, pray, meditate, release, observe, contemplate, appreciate, climb, and wonder in silence and in a solitude mixed with easy companionship brought me to a space of inner stillness, a peace I've been craving all this hectic summer. God bless these dear elderly Sisters who watch over and care for this sacred place, and thanks be to God for the beauty of His Creation and for the gift of prayer and for the joy of release and for the peacefulness of my mind.

Peaceful for now, anyway, even if it will not remain so long....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Measure for Measure

The theatre lights slowly began to darken. The audience ceased their conversations, quieted their rustlings, settled into their seats. A star or two winked at the theatre goers from the open skies above as the spotlights fixes upon a single oblong wooden table on the stage. From stage right emerged three men in Victorian garb, and thus the language of the Bard entered our ears, our minds, our hearts....

San Diego's famed Old Globe Theatre's Summer Shakespeare Festival is an event not to be missed. Each summer the troupe presents three Shakespeare plays, with all the players taking on multiple parts. The actor portraying Hamlet this summer was also acting the part of Angelo in Measure for Measure. The stage is simply set, adaptable for all three plays this summer, including the two aforementioned as well as Two Gentlemen of Verona.

E and I drove down the mountain to attend, picking up church friends Lalita and Judy. This was Lalita's first Shakespeare play, something she felt equal to tackling after reading Measure for Measure for our new Logos reading and discussion group at church. Judy, a college professor, hadn't been to the Globe for a while. Before the play started, we met up with more church friends: the Belseys, the Reynolds, the Keeseys, and the Huffs. In addition to our church friends, Carol and George were also able to attend; I met Carol online eight years ago and we've taken part in an online community since then and have also met in person several times. She and her husband and two sons have been missionaries to Malaysia in the past and hope to go back to the field when God so directs. (They're down from Oregon visiting Carol's family.) Thus, we were in excellent company to experience this challenging play, my favorite Shakespearean work since I first studied and wrote about it in a high school Shakespeare class.

Measure for Measure is set in Vienna; this production used the Victorian time period to excellent effect. The Duke of Vienna has allowed the strict laws governing public and private behaviour to lapse, and asks his deputy, Angelo, to enforce the laws in his absence. But the Duke doesn't leave; instead, he disguises himself as a friar so he can see how his subjects react to the tightening of the laws that he's unwilling to do on his own because he's afraid that doing so will risk his own popularity. During his "absence," a young man, Claudio, is discovered to have gotten his fiancee with child and, according to the law, he must be put to death. His sister, Isabella, who is ready to become a nun, is alerted of his plight and goes to Angelo to plead Claudio's cause. Angelo immediately falls "in lust" with the fair and virtuous Isabella, and states that he will free Claudio only if Isabella allows him the liberty of her virginity. The disguised Duke steps in and presents the idea of using Angelo's former fiancee, who had lost her dowry and thus had been illegally set aside by Angelo, to take Isabella's place in a darkened garden so that Angelo would not know that the woman he was with was not Isabella. Despite this subterfuge, Angelo still asks for Claudio's head by a certain time the next day. Again the Duke steps in and substitutes the head of a prisoner who had died a natural death. In the end, Angelo is unmasked and must marry the woman he wronged; Claudio is reunited with his pregnant fiancee and they are married, and the Duke, now revealed for who he is, asks Isabella to marry him. This particular production ends with Isabella removing her veil and giving the Duke a loving glance across the stage as the lights dim.

Much comic relief intermixes the serious scenes as the "bawds" of the town are gathered and sent to prison, according to the strict laws. Pompey, the main clownish dude, ends up helping the executioner, mimicking his every move. Mistress Overdone, who is "overdone" in every sense of the word, is hilarious, and the bawds provide the comic relief needed for such a serious "comedy."

The play was extremely well-acted; Isabella especially was played beautifully by an actress new to the Old Globe, Stephanie Fieger. Carol and George stayed after the play for a short discussion with the actors, and Ms. Fieger revealed that she is a believer -- the passion for her faith and virtue was so well done that I wasn't terribly surprised to hear that she is a Christian. With the title of the play coming from the seventh chapter of the gospel of St. Matthew: "...with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" in King James' vernacular, Christian questions and themes abound. How shall the Law be enforced? How does hypocrisy affect the spirit of the Law? What place does mercy have with the Law? How does faith affect how we view the Law and other people? Is virtue of more importance than life?

After the play, our church group gathered at Denny's over dessert (and more substantial meals for some) and discussed whether we felt the Duke was the villain (he could have brought the events to a halt at any time; he didn't want to lose his popularity by enforcing the law and was willing to let another take the "fall" for him, etc.), whether virginity is as valued in today's society (Bill mentioned perhaps a twist more analagous to today's society: a man having to "service" another man rather than a virginal nun-type being asked to give up her spotlessness), and other topics. Our Logos group will discuss the play in more depth at Kitty's home after church this Sunday, a gathering that I'm looking forward to very much.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

First Day of School

The first day of our eleventh home schooling year was a success, thanks be to God! The kids and I haven't really felt like hitting the books; this summer flew by way too fast, and we definitely don't feel as if it were time for school to begin again. But despite our longing for more summer vacation, our first day went well.

We started off with Bible lessons in which we're starting with the book of First Chronicles. After I read the Bible verses aloud and we have prayer time, we studied our memory verses; we're learning the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians over the next six weeks. Then I read some poems aloud to all four kids, after which E went back to her room to do her work where it's quiet. After she left the school table, I read aloud to the boys from their religion book for Sonlight 6, The International Children's Bible Field Guide which had some interesting information about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Right now the Scrolls are on display at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, and we're looking forward to our lecture and special showing in early October.

Then the boys tackled their new Latin and Greek vocabulary book in which they're learning the root word "ped" (foot) this week. Then math was next on the agenda; I explained the concepts to each of the older boys, then worked with B on his math and phonics while the other two worked their math probelms. At least it was all review! :)

After a short recess during which I watered my flower beds, we went over the boys' language arts which yesterday included a lengthy dictation section. From there we did copywork, penmanship, and spelling. Our first Latin lesson from Latina Christiana brought our morning session to a close.

After lunch and recess, we hit the history books for Sonlight 6: First Half World History (Story of the World: Ancient World and Usborne Encyclopedia of World History), followed by art history (Usborne introduction to Art -- a gorgeous book!), and literature in which I started reading aloud from The Golden Goblet, a story set in ancient Egypt. The day finished up with Physical Science; we're using a new program that involves a lot of hands-on work and all the info is on the computer where the boys can check their responses to the questions all by themselves as they fill out the pages in their log books. Later this week they get to build a racer about which they're really excited! Then the boys only had their readers and piano practice to do on their own.

Overall, it was an excellent day. Except for their readers and piano, the boys were done with their work by 3 PM, after starting at 9 AM and having two breaks. E also finished by 3 PM with all her high school work.

After starting off the day with us, she went back to her room to do her religion curriculum from Sonlight 300, then she proceeded onto Algebra lessons. Then she did her poetry unit for world lit, her biology, her Latin II, her world history, and read part of Great Expectations for her online literary analysis class that starts next week.

So a good day was had by all. For us, the key is getting the more difficult subjects like math and writing done when the boys are fresh so it goes quicker and easier. I've also started handing them the answer keys when they've showed me their finished math pages and allowed them to find their own mistakes which saves me a great deal of time and trouble. I wasn't sure how the boys would take to Latin, but J claims it's his favorite subject while T prefers science.

So off we go on another year of the home schooling adventure! It's nice to get used to our schedules befoe we have to add in Class Days starting September 13. Those days will be long and tiring, but they'll be greatly helpful as the kids will all receive tutelage in subjects I'm not so talented in, like art, PE, and biology lab. I'm also looking forward to teaching a class again -- actually, I'll have two: a college-prep class and an honors/AP class. I love being in front of a class, something I haven't done much of since dropping Class Day several years ago. It will be a hassle getting us all down to Del Cerro by 9:30, packing lunches, grading papers, making sure the kids do their Class Day homework, etc. But it will all be worth the trouble and stress ... and that's the key to home schooling. To offer our kids Latin and art history and other subjects that simply aren't available in the schools anymore is worth the trouble and stress.

More than worth it, actually.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Homeschool Prep....

This week has been a very busy one. We're starting up our home school on Monday, and I've spent this week tossing out old workbooks, old papers, old pencils. I weeded through our stash of preschool and Kindergarten books and passed them to my friend Sheri. I unpacked three boxes of books from ABeka, along with a huge Sonlight box and smaller boxes from SMARR (high school world lit) and Education Explorations (boys' physical science). I labeled all the new Sonlight materials for the boys' world history books with little yellow dots so I can tell each grade by their particular color which helps greatly when we have Sonlight materials from grade Kindergarten to ninth grade on our shelves. I grouped the books for this year's studies on readily accessible shelves.

I've figured out the instructor's guides for E's SMARR World Lit, for the boys' hands-on physical science, for the boys' new language arts program from Sonlight, and for the boys' new spelling program. I dug out from our shelves a vocabulary book on Greek and Latin roots, an art history book by Usborne that's simply gorgeous, and the thick poetry book that the boys will use with their world history program this year. I sorted each boys' books into their own drawer and stacked E's materials on her bed for her to organize as she likes.

I got on the computer and wrote up the kids' new course schedules, their weekly schedules, and their weekly spreadsheets that I'll fill in each Sunday night for the next thirty-six weeks. I handwrote out their Course of Study forms and mailed them to our school so they'll be in each child's file for future reference. E's school schedule binder is ready to go, as is the boys' schedule of assignments. I'll start scheduling on Sunday afternoon; the first week always takes longer to schedule as I'm not completely used to the new curricula.

I've lined up our wonderful math tutor to teach E and T on Fridays, and T and J's piano teacher is set to come on Wednesday afternoons. (I'm trading writing lessons for the piano teacher's daughter every other week, so we only have to pay half.) Class Days will be every second Thursday, and I'm hoping to attend our Lady Bereans Bible Study at Lake Murray on the weeks we don't have Class Days. E is signed up for Brave Writer's online Literary Analysis course (on Great Expectations) which will run for six weeks starting August 27, and she'll probably take another in the spring on Pride and Prejudice; these classes will allow her the experience of discussing works of literature.

The school year starts for us on Monday, August 20 so that we can take a three-week Christmas break and a two-week Easter break. Class Days start on September 13, so we'll have a few weeks to adjust to our schedules before we have to throw Class Days into the schedule. E will be taking Biology Lab and Self Defense. The boys are each taking PE and art, and for their third classes, T will take Chess Club, J Cooking, and B "Fun Science." I'll be teaching Intermediate Writing (college prep) and Advanced Writing (honors) to high school students.

So the school table has been scrubbed down and a new centerpiece graces the home school table that Keith made for us years ago. All the drawers are filled with reams of paper; pencils have been sharpened and placed inside pencil cases. Teacher's Guides are stacked neatly beside the globe, ready for instruction on Monday morning. Workbooks, spiral notebooks, sketch books, pencil cases, binders filled with worksheets, etc., are all in the proper drawer for each student. Even the chandelier above the table has been dusted, and the CD ROMs are lined up neatly in their holder on the computer desk. Even the science program has been loaded onto the computer, ready for lessons.

School starts on Monday. And we are ready.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Poetry, Poetry...

Tonight at our second writing workshop group in our town, all of us were simply astounded that eleven people came -- that's a HUGE number for such a small town. One woman shared part of a story she wrote for the Alpine Sun. I read one of my poems, one that I wrote at Ad-Lib (Christian arts retreat) last fall, and everyone seemed to like it. Then Teresa, one of our creative art meeting regulars, read a few of her poems, several which were humorous and one which was very serious. Our leader, Dave, then read two pages from the opening of his novel -- what a great hook! Judith distributed some preliminary copies of her book of poetry. I wish that we had had enough time to hear her read her work; her poems are so amazing and I so enjoy hearing her read them.

We had a couple of new people, one of whom asked a lot of questions about publishing, agents, etc. But it was a good group meeting, a good incentive for me to keep working on my writing and not allow it to slip into the background as it usually does. My goal was to have my book intro ready to pass around tonight, or at least part of it. Right now it's in that gangly teenager stage where it's kinda going everywhere, is very awkward and more than a little shy. So I hope to expand in some areas, tighten in other areas, revise doggedly, and somehow bring to a graceful close. We'll see how much I get done in the next four weeks....

So here's the poem I revised this afternoon and read tonight:

Retreat 2006

Self-doubt assails –
Making assault after assault
Against my weakened battlements.
Am I worthy of the name?
Does what I do contain anything of
Truth? Beauty? Glory?

I feel emptied –
A cistern violently overturned,
The depths now dry,
Useless, wasted.

But then she comes,
Pressing a golden
Aspen leaf
Into my palm –
As she assures me of
My worth in His eyes,
Of the delight He takes in me –
His dear, dear daughter --
And of the possibilities
In what I have accomplished,
In what I will create
As I express what He has
Wrought in me.

Perhaps I am indeed
A writer.

(Copyright 2007 by Susanne Barrett. Do not copy, reprint, or use in part or entirety without written permission of the author.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Perseid Meteor Shower

Last night E, T, and J and I (B fell asleep) stayed up, walked out into the meadow behind our home by flashlight, then stood there and watched meteors of the annual Perseid shower -- we knew it was a bright one when a few of us sucked in our breath at the same time.

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual event; last year we were clouded over and the main part of the shower was in the middle of the night. Last night the most active time was just around 10 PM, so it wasn't too difficult to allow the kids to stay up a little later than usual in order to watch a few bright streaks across the sky. One of the benefits to living in a small town far away from the city lights is that meteor showers show up quite nicely.

So standing together in the middle of the meadow, arms over each other's shoulders, we watched for meteors, for that streak of light across a corner of a constellation as we identified the Big Dipper, Orion, and a few other common groupings in the summer sky. The evening was mild for the mountains; I wore a light cardigan but the boys and E were in t-shirts and the boys in shorts.

The peace of the evening was amazing. The beauty of the Milky Way stretching over our heads, the quiet that comes as eyes search the skies for meteors, the soft breeze that moved over us and past us, the giggles as we pick our way through the sage brush back home ... those are the memories I took away from the meteor watch in the meadow. last night was a memory-maker for me, and I hope it was for our kids as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Go Ye Therefore....

Today was a delightful day at church. In addition to having one of my dear friends visiting from out of state, a total surprise (see 365 blog for photo), three young people who grew up in our church are home from the missions field in East Asia and shared their experiences with the church body who raised them up, sent them, supported them, and continues to pray for them.

Kim and Dylan are brother and sister; Dylan is home after his first year in East Asia, and Kim is home after her second year (one year there, one home, another year there). They've been home for about five or six weeks and are returning to East Asia within the next week. Kristen originally traveled to East Asia with Kim and has been ministering there for three years; she and Kim have been on the same team and have also been roommates, with Dylan ministering on a different team about two hours away. This year, Dylan and Kim will be on the same team with Kristen, when she returns in several months, on another team who will be ministering directly to Muslim East Asians. Her new location will mean learning another East Asian language. I do not envy her that task by any means!

It was such a blessing to watch these twenty-somethings give the message today, describing their experiences, telling stories, relating prayer requests. These young people were in the junior high youth group when we first started attending Lake Murray, and they made the point that the kids in the junior high class today (one of which is mine) are the future missionaries of our church. How we pray that will indeed be the case!

Also today I had time to chat with Bonnie, another twenty-something who used to be E and T's Sunday School teacher and also was one of my students at our home school ISP's Class Days (co-op classes). Bonnie has recently moved to Hollywood with another young woman from our church, and Bonnie has been working almost daily as an extra on several TV shows. We were astounded when she asked E and me, "Do you guys watch House? Hugh Laurie is totally cool." She talked about how he hangs around between takes, talking with the director and sitting with the extras. Bonnie also told us that extras aren't allowed to talk with the main actors unless the actors talk to them first -- which happened on the set of Weeds where Bonnie had a nice conversation about chocolate labs with Mary Kate Olsen. Bonnie has also played a tourist on Las Vegas and a background nurse on ER. Bonnie is another young woman whom we watched grow up and mature, and here she is, acting in Hollywood and fulfilling her dreams (she was a drama major in college after being homeschooled all the way through 12th grade). It's a nice change for her after being a behind-the-scenes person at a local theatre, Lamb's Players. Being in front of the camera, even as an extra who "crosses" behind the main actors, is a thrill, for all of us as well as for her. We'll definitely keep our eyes peeled for Bonnie when House starts airing in late September and throughout the season on several shows.

I pray that our own four kids will indeed "get" the vision of where God wants them to be and what God wants them to do as they grow older. Whether it's on the mission field of a closed country, or on the mission field of Hollywood, I pray that God will reveal to them where their personal mission field is, and that they'll be obedient in following where He leads as He has gifted them. I looked at our young twenty-somethings today with such awe (and not just because of Hugh Laurie), amazed at how God has worked in their lives and how He has enabled them to "go, therefore, and teach all nations," even if the "nation" is Hollywood....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Homeschooling Seminar

I spent six hours in a homeschooling seminar today -- not my favorite way to spend a Saturday but still a day away from the kids and with GROWN UPs.

I had no idea that college planning needed to start in the sophomore year of high school -- I had always thought that we were clear until the junior year, and later in that as well. But as E starts 10th grade, we need to meet with our principal this October to discuss career options and the best way to accomplish her plans. Also, E needs to take the PSATs this fall, the SATs for the first time this spring. Then repeat both tests in the junior year, and possibly the Sat a third time in the fall of the senior year if the numbers aren't high enough on the previous tests. There are also preparation classes to consider as well. Today we were told that GPAs must match SAT scores -- an "A" average should score around 1400, a 3.0 around 1200, etc.

I remember applying to colleges being much more simple when I was a student. A 1050 on the SAT with no PSAT and no prep -- no problem for me getting accepted at the school of my choice. A 3.78 GPA spoke more loudly than the SAT scores which were sufficient to allow me to skip mathematics in college all together. I didn't look at colleges until my senior year and applications weren't important until January. (And obviously colleges sure were less expensive in the mid-eighties as well.)

So we have much pondering, much planning, and much praying to do as E progresses through her high school years. She's a focused student and is well on track to get her classes finished in good time and with decent grades. But I don't want to think about all this when the boys go through high school....

Today's seminar also covered our school's online grading option which will save lots of paper, paperwork, and time. With nearly 500 families and 1000 students in our school, dealing with online grade submission should be a big help for both parents and the school administrators. The morning seminar was mostly for new home schoolers, but it was nice to get a few pointers to streamline paperwork, especially attendance sheets and grading reports. The afternoon seminar was for homeschooling through high school which I wrote about above. The one thing we need to figure out is what makes a class Honors vs. College Prep. I've been giving E Honors English and have also been counting her Latin as Honors as it's so much more involved than usual language programs. I will need to double-check her transcripts to be sure I've been consistent with Latin; I'm not sure I graded her as Honors for her first semester.

We start school on the 20th of this month, so now my time for our last week needs to be devoted to opening boxes of books, labeling my Sonlight books, organizing my bookshelves and the kids' drawers, and drawing up new spreadsheets for their weekly assignments. I also have a couple of new curricula to figure out: the boys' science and E's literature. So I guess that summer vacation is pretty much over and done, although we are planning a beach day for Thursday as a "last hurrah."

School is just around the corner ... SIGH. I feel as though I haven't had much of a summer and now it's over ... DOUBLE SIGH.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about saints lately. Although all Christians are considered saints, I'm thinking about those who lived the Christian life especially well. Those who have been recognized by the Church as having followed God through exceptional difficulties, who have died for faith in Christ, who have been extraordinary prayer warriors, theologians, teachers, servants, and lovers of God and all peoples. Those we read about and think, "Wow! I don't know if I could do what St. (fill in the blank) did. I don't know if I could have lived as s/he did, prayed as s/he did, loved as s/he did." These are the people I've been thinking about: the "Saints" with a capital "S."

I grew up in a tradition that didn't acknowledge the Saints. I couldn't tell one from the other in art as, as a child, we paraded through the Timken Gallery in Balboa Park, although some, as I look at them now with my own children in tow, have fascinated me for years. I came to the idea of the Saints in almost complete ignorance. I could spot the Virgin and the infant Christ, and that was about it.

Six years ago, I flew back to the Carolinas to meet with a group of women whom I had come to know via the Internet. Our lovely hostess arranged a trip to the Bob Jones University Art Museum which hosts the most extensive collection of Christian art outside of the Vatican. A sweet art docent, obviously a student at the ultra-conservative university, started us on our tour by saying in her soft drawl something to the effect of: "We at the Bob Jones Art Museum do not necessarily ascribe to the Catholic beliefs found in the following examples of art." We smothered smiles and exchanged knowing looks amongst ourselves as we started exploring room after room of the most incredible Christian art. We examined work after work full of Saints that I couldn't distinguish from one another. One guy kept popping up in paintings by several artists with arrows sticking out of him; we were informed that he was St. Sebastian. We discovered the Apostles each had a symbol that delineated one from another: St. Mark's attribute was a lion, St. Peter's keys, St. John's an eagle, etc. These attributes provided clues as we figured out who was whom in each painting.

These attributes or symbols were of the utmost importance. The symbol provided a way for an illiterate populace to identify Saints, especially as most of the art was created to decorate the interior of churches. As books were not available to the general public, each painting was like reading the story of a particular Saint or group of Saints. Some paintings told of horrific martyrdoms, like St. Lawrence being grilled alive after hiding all the Pope's books or St. Sebastian being shot through by arrows, from which he miraculously survived, before being beaten to death with cudgels and his body thrown into a sewer. Some told of the Virgin Martyrs, those young women whose faith in Christ allowed them to suffer severe indignities and terrible deaths with calm and peace; the stories of St. Barbara, St, Apollonia, St. Agatha, St. Dorothy, and St. Lucy are but a few that have been depicted in great works of art as well as in illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period.

So as we slowly moved from painting to painting, from room to room within the magnificent University Art Museum, I felt my heart become convicted because I knew so little of these brave men and women who had gone before me in the faith. Of the Biblical Saints I knew, of course -- the Apostles, St. Barnabas, St. Stephen the First Martyr, and of the Virgin herself. But of the others I simply did not know. Some stories may indeed be the stuff of legend (much like those inspirational e-mail forwards that make the rounds and are far from verifiable), but a great many we know of through their own writings (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Benedict, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross) or through the writings of others (St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, the Virgin Martyrs, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas a Beckett, etc.).

I knew I had much to learn, so when I found a large book on the Saints in the Bob Jones University Art Museum bookstore, I knew I had to purchase it. Called One Hundred Saints and gorgeously illustrated with art by Masters, it uses the text of the classic Lives of the Saints by Rev. Alban Butler to tell, through word and art, the story of each of the one hundred Saints in the book. I've spent hours poring over the beautiful and sometimes terrifying art while pondering the stories of bravery and heroism in the face of adversity and death that so many of the Saints faced to God's credit and glory. Even though I now am familiar with some of these Saint's amazing stories, I still feel as if I have much to learn in order to be more like them who were indeed like Christ Himself.

St. Paul calls us to follow Him as He follows Christ (Philippians 4:9), so we too can (and perhaps should) find the in the stories of the Saints of the Church the bravery we need to face our hardships, the joy we need in the face of sorrow, and the worship of the King of Heaven and Earth that we need to walk our own path this day and always. The Saints can be friends whose stories encourage us, strengthen us, and fortify us for wherever our lives take us on this side of heaven....

In another post I'll discuss the idea of "praying" to the Saints.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

New Personality Test

Today I spent seven hours with the board members of our creative arts council plus the board members of our umbrella organization. The first activity we did was the DiSC Personnel Test, a test our director paid for so we could better analyze the personalities and gifts of our board members. "D" stands for Dominance; "I" for Influence; "S" for Steadiness; "C" for Conscientiousness.

Now, I've done a BUNCH of personality-type tests. I'm an ISFJ (Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging) on the Meyers-Briggs test. On the Personality DNA test below I ended up as a Creative Dreamer. And now on the DiSC, I ended up as Steadiness, with Conscientiousness being one point behind. My overall profile ended up being Perfectionist/Specialist.

The interesting dynamic of the nine of us is that six ended up being "I" (Influence) and the other three of us (the Treasurer and his wife, along with myself, the Secretary) were "S." Both of our directors, though, have "D" as their next most dominant and they find that they can easily step into the Dominance role. I was the only one who was borderline "C" (Conscientious).

An ideal corporate board (which is what each of our councils are) would have at least one of each personality type. The other art board, our umbrella corporation (Southern California Center for Youth, Nature, and the Arts), is made up of ALL "I" personality types which is not the best mix -- lots of creative ideas but no one to do the grunt work to actually make it happen. Our board, Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council, is much more balanced with our director and associate directors being of the "I" type, and the other board members being "S" (any myself one point from a tie with "C") which gives us a pretty good balance of ideas and follow-through.

For the "S" personality type, tendencies include: performing in a consistent, predictable manner, demonstrating patience, developing specialized skills, helping others, showing loyalty, being a good listener, calming excited people, and creating a stable and harmonious work environment. "C" tendencies include: adhering to key standards, concentrating on key details, thinking analytically, weighing pros and cons, being diplomatic with people, using subtle or indirect appraoches to conflict, checking for accuracy, analyzing performance critically, and using a systematic approach to situations or activities. Both of these describe me very closely.

When I added up all my "D" (dominance) answers, I ended up with -21 (yup, that's a negative 21), "I" (influence) -3, "S" (steadiness) +12, and "C" (conscientious) +11. My numbers put me in the Perfectionist Pattern: "Perfectionists are systematic, precise thinkers and workers who follow procedure in both their personal and work lives. Extremely conscientious, they are diligent in work that requires attention to detail and accuracy...." My graph, however, looked more like the Specialist Pattern: "With their controlled stance and modest manner, Specialists are able to work well with a number of behavioral styles. They are considerate, patient, and always willing to help those they consider friends. Most effective in specialized areas, Specialists plan their work along directed channels and acheive remarkably consistent performance. Appreciation from others help to maintain that level of consistency...." Again, I think that both of these Patterns describe me well.

Overall, I thought that the DiSC Profile was very helpful in defining each board member's personality and will be an important tool for our director to use as we build the board slowly over the next few years. It will also help her to be able to delegate the jobs to the people best suited to excel in those areas. We also spent time brainstorming ideas, both organizational and program-oriented, using a tree analogy: we talked about the roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit of our art organizations and how we can consider new ideas for each area.

Although the art classes this summer went very well, we need to include more of the community in our activities which isn't easy in the spread-out areas of the backcountry region in which we live. Transportation and poverty are both problems as is community unity and spirit. But we hope that we can spread the love of art among our children as well as encourage established artists here in the backcountry who are willing to look beyond themselves and be willing to invest in the community with their creativity and expertise. We shall see how this day of patterning and planning will affect the longevity and creativity of our arts council.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Park Days....

Today was another lovely, cool day in the Southern California mountains. For the second day in a row, the boys all wanted to explore the park.

For a small town (population 1200), we have a terrific county park. My parents brought me and my siblings to this very park to ride our bikes and play in the creek while they challenged each other to a mean game of tennis on the smooth concrete courts. Next to the tennis court sits a basketball court, and next to it is a wide green lawn with a volleyball net and a soccer field. Across the asphalt is a brand-new playground area for kids, with an area set aside for toddlers in addition to a huge play area for older kids, surrounded by picnic benches and oak trees. Around the playgrounds runs concrete paths which are perfect for skateboarding, rollerblading, and bicycle riding. It's a simply gorgeous park, surrounded by purplish mountains, tawny fields, and old-growth trees.

Today the boys went looking for frogs and found a couple specimens, one of which hopped out of T's hands and onto his t-shirt. I sat under a tree in my favorite old beach chair, reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (for the first time, naughty me!) and peering over the top of the shabby library copy every time one of the boys called, "Look at me, Mom!" or "Watch this!" It was such a lovely day in such a lovely place, watching my kids run about, playing games and exploring the natural world.

I love living in a place where I spent so many happy hours of my childhood, and where I can watch my own kids doing the same.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Weather Outside Is...

... Simply Delightful!

August usually finds us limply draped over couches with fans directing their too-warm air on us. Temperatures usually climb near 110 each day, and we close the house at seven AM and don't open it again until after dinner. During the sweltering afternoons, we watch movies in the darkened and coolish living room rather than brave the great outdoors and the subsequent great heat. We live for swimming invitations, for trips to the beach, for air-conditioned restaurants and malls.

Not so this August.

Today, and for the past week, our highs have remained very comfortably in the mid-eighties. July has been extremely reasonable all together with most days in the mid-nineties and only a few days popping over the century mark. This afternoon I took T and J over to the park here in town (see photo above) where I actually brought (and wore) a sweater for sitting in the shade while I finished reading Eusebius and the boys played basketball, skateboarded, and hunted frogs (see 365 blog for photos). Going to the park on an August day is hardly ever a comfortable proposition unless one has a huge container of very-iced tea and plays in the water spout. But today it was as lovely and as cool as a day in May -- which makes me rather nervous about this fall with our hottest months of September and October still on the way. Yes, it's been the coolest summer in our six years of mountain living, unseasonably cool in fact, with the exception of the last week of June.

An old San Diego native weatherman coined this lovely little ditty regarding San Diego weather:

Spring comes in summer,
Summer comes in fall,
Fall comes in winter,
And winter not at all.

Now that doesn't exactly apply to the mountain regions which do get a touch of winter, but overall, it's pretty much the truth around here. The heat is still to come this fall, and I'm sure I'll look back on this post and laugh sardonically as I wipe my face with ice and drape myself near the fans....

Church Fathers

I just finished skimming over quite a tome that our little library had to get via inter-library loan from UCSD: Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius Pamphili. Eventually I would like my own copy, but they run a bit pricey and we haven't got the funds for books at the moment.

I found it very interesting; the unfortunate thing is that it's due on Thursday, and I've already renewed it once. I have one day to write down all my notes which I marked with little orange sticky notes.

I learned the most about the heresies of the time: Monatonism, Arianism, etc. I also got more of a "feel" for the biggies of the Church: Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, etc. The stories of the different martyrdoms throughout the first three centuries of the Church was also fascinating, and in a way, inspiring.

Eusebius was one of the biggies of the Church as well -- Bishop of Caesarea for over twenty-five years until the mid-300s, present at the Council of Nicaea which produced the Nicene Creed which he signed, and a peacemaker among different factions and heresies.

Reading this work also made me want to read works by the Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Polycarp, among others. The period of the Early Church up through the Council of Nicaea absolutely fascinates me, and I want to read more by the major Church Fathers of this time period, both for my own enjoyment and also as material for the book.

I still have quite the stack of reading material in my book bag, all of which are intended to help with research and writing my book: Bede's A History of the English Church and People, The Rule of St. Benedict, Thomas Howard's Evangelical isn't Enough (a re-read), plus several books on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer as well as a whole 'nother stack o' library books upstairs that I haven't even touched yet (and will have to renew).

Right now I'm hoping to get my intro drafted before school starts on August 20 and finish taking notes on Eusebius. The rest will have to be squeezed into moments at the school table while the boys are doing copywork and math. Aaah, the life of home schooling....

Monday, August 6, 2007

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. In my Sunday School class at Lake Murray, we examined Raphael's painting above when we studied the passage in Matthew. I took a copy of the painting wih me today to the special service at Alpine Anglican, the last Anglican service I'll be able to attend until September 7 when Father Acker will be back from vacation. So I couldn't miss the service, even on a Monday morning.

Here's the Collect for today's feast day:

O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Gospel Reading for The Transfiguration, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which starts from St. Luke ix. 28:

And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias [Elijah]: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.

Part of the reason I love celebrating the Church Year is that I find myself much more focused on the life of Christ and walking with Him more concretely than I would otherwise. Having special days on which to celebrate the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, the Ascension, and other "minor" events in the life of Jesus (besides the biggies of His birth, His crucifixion, His Resurrection) makes me much more Scripturally aware and more prayerful. And celebrating these Scriptural events reminds me more fully that Jesus, while being fully God, is also fully Man, and He walked this earth two thousand years ago: talking, healing, praying, traveling, touching those around Him with His love and compassion, challenging the religious leaders of the time with their legalism and negativity.

Celebrating the Church Calendar is amazing -- to walk alongside Christ as He ministered and taught, as He walked and lived His earthly Life -- has transformed me heart-deep. Words escape me in expressing how following the Calendar of the Church has changed my faith life, but I can say this: my faith feels more real, more alive, more personal, more tangible, since I started experiencing the Christian Year. And for that, I thank and praise the Lord my Saviour.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Summer Gardening....

I spent most of Saturday in my garden. August is not the prettiest month for my poor garden -- the heat has wilted many a plant, and the majority of the flowers are past their first blooms. August is the time for dead-heading cosmos (above), roses, snapdragons, lavender, shasta daisies, and dianthus. August is the time for pulling out spent pansies and stocks. August is the time when the sweet alyssum takes over my front beds (I don't plant it; it just reseeds) and when the roses and poppies go through a second bloom cycle.

August is the glory-time for hollyhocks, but not for much else. Some flowers are barely hanging on; others have given up the ghost and won't reappear until next April. August is the time for the herbs to wilt a bit, with the parsley and cilantro yellow and fade and even the mints look a bit weather-weary. The tomato plants look abused while they put all their energy into the production of delectably red grape tomatoes rather than green leaves.

I spent yesterday with my great-grandmother's clippers in hand, cutting dead blooms off a great many plants as well as sitting in a shady spot, weeding my new bed for the first time since we put it in. Why does grass flourish there so beautifully yet refuse to grow in the lawn area nearby?????? A few milkweeds have remain hidden in my beds and are now rearing their ugly heads, mocking me, daring me to pull them out without gloves and pierce myself on their wickedly barbed stalks.

At one point I stopped plucking weeds from between my salvias and sat there, appreciating the beauty around me. The sky was a lovely blue, studded with the occasional white cloud. The pine tops in the neighbor's yard bent slightly with the breeze, the same breeze that brought me the scents of pine and of vanilla. I closed my eyes, tilted my chin, and allowed the sun warm my face (probably adding a few freckles, too). My bare toes dug into the cool earth, and I wrapped my arms around my knees, drinking it all in.

This summer has been unseasonably reasonable. Usually the temperatures in July and August top out near 110 each day, with the usual accompanying misery. And, no, it's not a "dry heat" as we often receive afternoon showers which lower the temps by twenty degrees but also bring stifling humidity. But this summer the thermometer has remained in the high eighties to low nineties for the most part, a most enjoyable change. Yes, sweat still trickles down my back, down my face which I swipe somewhat dry with my old black gardening skirt.

But it's still fairly comfortable, this gardening work. A work done by my great-grandmother with the same clippers I grasp in my right hand. I think of her lovely little garden behind her miniscule house that I remember exploring as a child, with the long row of climbing roses separating her yard from the next. I think of my grandmother proudly tending her camellias and gardenias, asking us kids to pick the plums that she magically turned into the palest pink plum jelly. I think of my mother who still loves gardening, digging her gardening fork around the shasta daisies, turning the damp earth beneath her fingers, handing me the scissors to gather roses to decorate the dinner table. Gardening is part of my heritage, part of my soul, part of who I am and whom I desire to be. It's far more than a simple chore, I think, as I sit in the dirt, my face upheld to the sun.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Theology Questions.....

I found these questions on Sandie's blog (see sidebar under "Blogs of Interest") and have shamelessly plagiarized them....

1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 high), how would you rate your theological knowledge and breadth/depth of reading?

I would give myself around a 4. I've read some but am woefully ignorant of others, especially the post-moderns.

2. What thoughts and feelings come to your mind when you hear the word “theology”?

I think about how people relate to God -- how we view God, how we think about and write about God and His world, how we struggle with the big questions that will probably never be answered until we're with Him, face to face.

3. Who is your favorite theologian, and why?

I'm a big fan of Brother Lawrence. He simpifies all of theology down to praying without ceasing, to serving God with every dish washed, with every floor swept, with every person spoken to. That's my goal -- to communicate with God all the time, my thoughts continually focused on His thoughts.

4. Who is your least favorite theologian, and why?

Tim La Haye. His anti-Catholic bias and his unrelenting (and I believe incorrect) Rapture theology have done quite a bit of damage to the Church, imho. He's taught others to draw lines between Christians rather than to love people who also love our Savior. And the Rapture ideas have planted both unholy fear and innate smugness in the Church, neither of which I think are helpful.

5. Which theologians have you been meaning to read, but have not gotten to yet?

Julian of Norwich and Margery of Kempe are high on my list, as are Bonhoeffer, Chesteron, Nouwen, and Merton.

6. If you are Catholic, can you name a favorite Protestant theologian, and if Protestant, Catholic?

I don't really consider myself one or the other, so I'll name my favorite from each tradition. My favorite Catholic theologian is probably St. John of the Cross (although I love the Early Church Fathers, too), and my favorite Protestant theologian is Richard Foster.

7. What theologies do you love like a rescue dog that saved your life?

Philip Yancey's wide-open theology has probably brought me the most joy. Especially his Soul Survivor -- it said everything I believed and wanted to express. Also Thomas Howard's Evangelical Is Not Enough again spoke of everything I believed and was too reserved to express. Both opened up my theology beyond Protestant vs. Catholic to see the beauty and power possible with the unity of the two.

8. What theologies do you see commonly abused and wish people would stop it?

Tim La Haye is right up there, especially his Rapture stuff. And Luther at times, too. People have taken Luther's ideas wayyyy too far, and now we have how many denominations?????? Ugh.

9. What theologies do you think are from the pit of hell, inspired by demonic powers?

I can't say that I've seen any theologies that are "from the pit of hell, inspired by demonic powers." Perhaps Arianism?

10. What theological concept is most needed but ignored in contemporary Christianity?

I think that the concept of corporate confession and Reconciliation (confessing to a priest or pastor/elder) is very much needed in the evangelical movement. Overall, a return to a more anciently-minded worship in evangelical churches is needed, imho -- a return to reverence, to silence and solitude -- a movement away from mere entertainment (not that all evangelical churches are like this, but more than enough are) toward the real, deep, messy, true stuff of faith. The idea of convincing the evangelical movement toward a more ancient model is the crux of the book I'm working on at present....

Friday, August 3, 2007

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Your love. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Personality DNA

You are a Dreamer

Your combination of abstract thinking, appreciation of beauty, and cautiousness makes you a DREAMER.
You often imagine how things could be better, and you have very specific visions of this different future.
Beauty and style are important to you, and you have a discerning eye when it comes to how things look.
Although you often think more broadly, you prefer comfort to adventure, choosing to stay within the boundaries of your current situation.
Your preferences for artistic works are very refined, although you vastly prefer some types and styles to others.
Though your dreams are quite vivid, you are cautious in following up on them.
You are aware of both your positive and negative qualities, so that your ego doesn't get in your way.
A sense of vulnerability sometimes holds you back, stifling your creative tendencies.
You're not one to force your positions on a group, and you tend to be fair in evaluating different options.
You're not afraid to let your emotions guide you, and you're generally considerate of others' feelings as well.
You prefer to have time to plan for things, feeling better with a schedule than with keeping plans up in the air until the last minute.

If you want to be different:
Your imagination is a wonderful asset, but don't just dream—be bold enough to take action and explore new things!
Consider a wider range of details and possibilities when thinking about the present and the future—don't be too set in your ways.

You are Considerate

You trust others, care about them, and are slow to judge them, making you CONSIDERATE.
You value your close relationships very much, and are more likely to spend time in small, tightly-knit groups of friends than in large crowds.
You enjoy exploring the world through observation, quietly watching others.
Relating to others so well, and understanding their emotions, leads you to trust people in general, even though you're somewhat shy and reserved at times.
Your belief that people are generally well-intentioned contributes to your sympathy regarding their problems.
Although you may not vocalize it often, you have an awareness of how society affects individuals, and you understand complex causes of people's behavior.
You like to look at all sides of a situation before making a judgment, particularly when that situation involves important things in other people's lives.
Your close friends know you as a good listener.

If you want to be different:
Because other people would benefit immensely from your understanding and insight, you should try to be more outgoing in social situations, even when they make you uncomfortable. Others will want to hear what you have to say!


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