Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanks be to God -- I DID IT!!!!!!!

YES!!!!! I "WON"!!! I wrote 50,000 words this month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)!!!

Last year I started the story of Rebecca Phillips, Ph.D. in English Literature, a Milton scholar who, after being a life-long evangelical, becomes acquainted with the ancient Anglican Church, the Church of England founded around 37 AD. As a practicing poet and scholar of English poetry from the time period of the inception of the original Book of Common Prayer in 1549, Rebecca becomes passionate about the beautiful prayer book and a more ancient faith, to the point that she shares what God has revealed to her with her evangelical church at their women's retreat. The novel's time scope is a six-month period between mid-September and Easter, where the novel finishes. A rather staid, set-in-her-ways person, Rebecca's theological world is turned on its ear, and she learns to change and adapt to God's revelations to her.

I wrote the first half of the book during NaNoWriMo '08, and although I completed my 50,000 words last night, the story is still not yet finished. I skipped the Ash Wednesday/start of Lent chapter(s) and have barely started on the last two chapters which will cover Holy Week; the book will end with Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. The book right now is soooooo autobiographical that I left all of the characters' names the same as they are in real life. After I complete the rough draft, I'll go back through and change the names to protect the not-so-innocent. :)

However, I started down the wrong path as I picked the novel up this month. Thinking I needed some action and conflict, I wrote about Rebecca being physically attacked while on a walk in her neighborhood. She is rescued from probable r*ape by an elderly African-American woman who recognizes the two men -- and they are caught as a result. However, they get out on bail through a technicality and swear that they'll finish what they started. Rebecca lives in fear of these men and stays with the Anglican priest and his wife for a few days while the police try to gather evidence to put the two back in jail. She learns to trust God and finds the joy she experiences in the liturgy to be healing her of hatred and fear toward these two men.

It was a good story, but as I wrote more and more of it, I realized that it wasn't MY story. I was getting farther and farther from my original premise, and was very much removed from the first half of the book. Well into the month, I turned over 50 pages of writing to a yellow font (so I could still count the words for NaNoWriMo) and restarted on page three of this month's work. And it was the best decision I could have made.

As I continued the story in the second half of the month, I saw a shape slowly emerge. I knew where I was heading, and I knew where I would end the tale. An outline formed, and I saw very clearly what this novel would be and how I would get it there. For someone who hasn't written fiction since college (and sucked at it then), this emerging shape was a thing of beauty and awe to behold.

I doubt I'll ever publish this book, even if I do finish it. It's my personal tale of discovering the breadth, depth, width, and heighth of the ancient Anglican Church, and writing it as fiction gave me the freedom to play with it a little. I still hope to write a nonfiction book on the value of liturgy for evangelicals, but that will require extensive research and far more time than I can devote to the project at present. Some day, perhaps.

But for now I'm just thrilled that I finished another NaNoWriMo challenge! My hope is that I will actually work on this draft rather than letting it grow mold until the next NaNoWriMo rolls around, as I did after last year's challenge. That would be really nice....

Quotation of the Week: On Advent

(Photo courtesy of Rollo Casiple, Pastor of La Vina Community Church in Miami)

Advent is definitely one of my favorite seasons, just behind Lent and Holy Week. I love the candles, the carols, and the sense of mystery as we gather together to read and pray by candlelight that grows brighter each week as another candle is lit. Aaaaahh, Advent!

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

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

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

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

The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, and glorious resurrection.

My favorite Advent devotional is Watching for the Light, and from it I have jotted down some wonderful quotations, including the one for this week:

"Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent -- that is, a time of waiting for the Ultimate."

--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So enjoy your family or church celebrations of the Advent season. I'm so glad I started the Advent tradition when our kids were fairly small so that it has become an important part of their childhood memories.

A blessed Advent to you and yours!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

Today marks the First Sunday in Advent -- a season I look forward to even more than Christmas for three reasons:

This may be our last year to do Advent as a family since Elizabeth will be graduating from high school this June. If she lives on campus, she will miss a good part of Advent, at least half. Traditionally Elizabeth, as the eldest, starts the Advent season, lighting the First Candle on the First Sunday. She needed a little help from Timothy, but she managed it.

This morning two families, one in first service and one in second service, lit the first Advent candle, the Prophecy candle, reading aloud this prophecy from the book of Isaiah:

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Tonight the four kids and I gathered around our Advent wreath, and I read the Rite for the Beginning of Advent at Home:

As our nights grow longer and our days grow short,
we look on these earthly signs -- light and green branches --
and remember God's promise to our world:
Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come.
Listen to the words of Isaiah the prophet:
(see Isaiah 9:2-3 above)

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

Our Daily Prayers for Lighting the Advent Wreath, First Week:
O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.

Elizabeth chose for us the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and we sang the first verse. Not being a musical family, we don't sing well at all, so we elected to listen to Elizabeth read aloud the second verse. To conclude our Advent celebration, I read aloud Isaiah 40:1-5 and Elizabeth closed us in prayer.

Starting on Tuesday, the first day of December, we'll add our Advent calendar that hangs on the wall of our dining/school area. Nearly four feet tall by three feet wide, all handsewn by Keith's sister Karla for our first Advent in this house in 2001, it's a favorite part of our Advent. When the kids were little, tiny wrapped toys were stowed in the pockets, the property of whoever's "turn" it was to light the candle, choose the carol, etc. With 24 pockets plus Christmas Day, each of our four children get to have six "turns" at leading Advent. This year we have Reese's peanut butter bells in each pocket. Yum! 

Tonight was our first Advent celebration of the season, and, as always, I loved it, despite the giggles of the kids at inopportune times. But I truly do enjoy reading Scripture, praying, and singing with my kids in the light of Christ our Lord ... it's what makes Advent so precious to me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Final Days of NaNoWriMo....

Well, after today there are left a mere three days of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I just reached 40,000 words today, and I hope I can really concentrate on it tonight and tomorrow and bang out the final 10,000 words. I will most likely need through Monday (the last day) to reach the final goal of 50,000 words. It's gonna be a push, but I think it's working.

I have finally figured out how to bring the story to a natural close; there are just a lot of details to fill in between here and there. I skipped a section yesterday and poured myself into one area that will really bring up my word count quickly -- it's a scene that requires fast writing and ends up, in a weird and strange way, to start to bring the novel to its close. Although I feel well-satisfied with the story, I doubt my novel will be interesting to anyone but me. But that's okay. I'm not allowing myself to think about readers other than myself much at all. If I do, I'll start stressing too much and find myself freezing up entirely -- something I'm obviously trying to avoid quite strenuously at this point -- I don't have the time to hesitate, much less freeze.

I'm working on the retreat portion now -- when my character leads her church's women's retreat (obviously extremely autobiographical), and I've been able to pull in my own retreat talk for Lake Murray from a few years ago which explains why this portion is ramping up my word count wonderfully well. I'll have to go back and write the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday/Lenten parts and then after the retreat (which occurs during Lent) deal with Holy Week and Easter -- and Easter Sunday is where my novel will end. Watching my character walk through the liturgical year for the first time as an Evangelical Anglican is allowing me to tell my own story through fiction, my original idea when I first started this project over a year ago.

Yes, I have a goodly amount of my word count that I'll be leaving out of my current story -- about 20,000 words that added action and conflict but which took me very far from my original idea of walking my character through the liturgical year, her faith shifting and changing as she welcomes liturgy into her Christian life. I'll save aside the conflict portion in a separate file once I reach my word count goal of 50,000 words by November 30. It's actually an intriguing story, but it wasn't right for this project. The smartest decision I made all month was to jettison 20K words and return to page three of my original story line. I'm writing this book for myself, not for public consumption, but I allowed myself to be swayed by marketability of all things. Plain stupidity. I'm just glad I caught myself and was able to back up and start again. I actually have half of my current 40,000 words in my "conflict" story and half after jettisoning that story and returning to my original story for approximately 20,000 words. So now I'm building on the majority of my word count in the "right" story.

So if I can (somehow, someway) finish this challenge, with all my dithering, mistakes, and lack of imagination, I'm sure that any writer worth her ilk can definitely manage to "win" NaNoWriMo, especially when "winning" simply consists of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It's all about quantity, not quality. It's in subsequent drafts that I'll work on quality -- and I much, much prefer messing with an existing draft than dredging one up in the first place. It's the editor in me, I suppose....

So wish me luck as I enter the final three days of the NaNoWriMo Challenge! To quote the Little Engine That Could: "I think I can... I think I can... I think I can...."  I hope I can finish, anyway....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Propers from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for Thanksgiving Day:

The Collect
O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle
St. James i. 16.
DO not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The Gospel
St. Matthew vi. 25.
JESUS said, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, this day and always!
With best wishes for all joy in the Lord!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks to God

Tonight the two younger boys and I had an early dinner before driving down to Alpine, the town halfway between our mountain home and the suburbs of San Diego. Alpine has a population of about 15,000 people -- ten times as many people as our village. Whereas our town has only two churches, Lutheran and a non-denominational community church, Alpine boasts a wide assortment of churches, many gathered together under The Alpine Christian Ministerial Association.

Tonight several churches came together to worship and give thanks to God on this Thanksgiving Eve. J and three other Free Teen Guitar Class kids along with musicians from another church, all led by Father Keith Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, led us all in worship.

Blessed Trinity hosted the gathering tonight in their usual place of worship: the auditorium of Alpine Elementary. Pastor Steve Benson of Lift High the Cross Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod gave the sermon. I missed the name of the priest from Alpine's Catholic Church, Queen of Angels, but he read one of the three Bible passages. Musicians from Bethel Assembly of God joined the guitar students to provide worship music.

We started the time of worship with these opening verses (responses of the people are in bold):
Come, let us give thanks for the wonderful blessings of God!
For we have been given a wonderful land, rich and able to feed us.
And our nation was founded on the principle of faith in God.
But we have grown prosperous and not all remember God's gifts.
Then let it begin with us, and let us give thanks to our loving God.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!
So on this Thanksgiving Eve, Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, and Assembly of God Churches (and Father Acker included our family from Lake Murray Community Church, although we're in La Mesa, not Alpine) worshiped together and thanked God for His grace and mercy, good gifts and hard gifts, and, most of all, for His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Reading from the English Standard Version (what we also use at Lake Murray and also used by Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity), we listened to readings from Deuteronomy 8:10-18, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 17:11-19, and a responsibe reading of Psalm 100. We sang "Forever," (one we sang often at Lake Murray), "Give Thanks," "Give Thanks, All Ye People," "We Gather Together," and finished singing with the Doxology.

I really enjoyed "A Thanksgiving Litany":
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Creator of the universe
We thank you, Lord.
You feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
We thank you, Lord.
You set free those who are bound.
We thank you, Lord.
You raise up those whose courage falters.
We thank you, Lord.
You provide for our every need.
We thank you, Lord.
You have called us to be your people.
We thank you, Lord.
You bless your people with peace.
We thank you, Lord.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, maker of all things.
We thank you, Lord.
So spending Thanksgiving Eve worshiping and thanking our Lord and God with His people was simply perfect -- especially as the service in Alpine gathered Catholics and Lutherans, Anglicans and Assemblies of God, plus a few Evangelical Free/Anglicans to boot. It was a little taste of heaven right here on earth, a new ecumenism for which I am extremely thankful this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quotations of the Week: Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving coming this Thursday, some quotations on thankfulness and gratitude seem the most appropriate to post. So this morning I combed through several websites of Thanksgiving Quotations, copying the ones I liked best into my Quotation Journal. There is almost nothing as relaxing to me as dipping my rosewood pen into my glass bottle of sepia ink and copying into my journals. The first quotation I liked so much that I edited my e-mail signature to include it after seeing it posted by Sister Spitfire on Facebook. I only wish I knew which play it is from; I searched and searched for more information online, but to no avail. It's gonna bug me to no end.  (If you recognize it, please, please leave me a comment and end my suspense. Many thanks!)

"O Lord, that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!"

-- William Shakespeare

"I thank God for this most amazing day: for the leaping green spirits of the trees and a blue dream of sky."-- e.e. cummings (my favorite poet, by the way)

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."-- G. K. Chesterton

Wishing you all a joyous week of Thanksgiving,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Today marks the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King in Roman Catholic liturgy. In Pastor Nathan's sermon this morning at Lake Murray, he mentioned "Christ the King" at least twice as he preached on the Davidic Covenant and its relation to the Book of Revelation, which may just have been coincidence, but... ?

I read a little about this special Sunday at in which it reads:
Christ the King Sunday celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the cosmos. Officially called the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent. This year it falls on November 22, 2009.

Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
Time of Year: Final Sunday of Ordinary Time (Sunday before Advent)
Duration: One Sunday
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord
Alternate Names: Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Scriptural References: Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word "messiah," and the Greek word "Christ," both mean "anointed one," and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent (when Christians wait for his second coming in glory), Christmas (when "born this day is the King of the Jews"), Holy Week (when Christ is the Crucified King), Easter (when Jesus is resurrected in power and glory), and the Ascension (when Jesus returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world was created). However, [Pope] Pius XI wanted to specifically commemorate Christ as king, and instituted the feast in the Western calendar in 1925.

In the 21st century many Western Christians, Catholic and Protestant, celebrate Christ the King Sunday, including Anglicans and Lutherans. Unfortunately, in some mainline Protestant churches, "king" language is not popular, and the feast is downplayed. However, in a chaotic and unjust world that seems to scorn any kind of authority, many Christians proudly celebrate Christ the King Sunday, where the loving and merciful - and just - king of the universe is praised and glorified.
In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, The Feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the final Sunday in October, and the last Sunday of the Church Year is simply called "The Sunday Next Before Advent." On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the following Propers are used. (Propers are the Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel used in worship each Sunday of the Church Year and thus prayed and read in services for the week following.) So the following Collect was prayed and Scriptures were read aloud on this final Sunday of this Church Year:

The Collect
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle
Jeremiah xxiii. 5.
BEHOLD, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.

The Gospel
St. John vi. 5.
WHEN Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
So as this Church Year closes, Advent will commence this next Sunday, November 29. Advent is definitely one of my favorite seasons, second only to Lent/Holy Week. In a way, I prefer Advent over Christmas because the focus is entirely on Christ and not on the gifts, rushing around, and hype that our American culture tends to focus upon each December, rather than the joy of the birth of Our Lord. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of anticipation not only for the celebration of Christ's birth but also for Him to "come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end" (Nicene Creed). And, as Pastor Nathan closed our service at Lake Murray today with almost the last words of the Bible in Revelation 22, "'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" Yes, come, Lord Jesus, our Saviour and King!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Advice on Writing: Pep Talks from NaNoWriMo

One of the loveliest things about the madness of National Novel Writing Month
are the pep talks that arrive in my e-mail box each week. The first week's pep talk is from one of my favorite writers, Jasper Fforde as I am a huge fan of his Thursday Next series. I repost this as encouragement for all writers:

Dear Writer,

I once wrote a novel in 22 days. 31 chapters, 62,000 words. I didn’t do much else—bit of sleeping, eating, bath or two—I just had three weeks to myself and a lot of ideas, an urge to write, a 486 DOS laptop and a quiet room. The book was terrible. 62,000 words and only twenty-seven in the right order. It was ultimately junked but here’s the important thing: It was one of the best 22 days I ever spent. A colossal waste of ink it was, a waste of time it was not.

Because here’s the thing: Writing is not something you can do or you can’t. It’s not something that ‘other people do’ or ‘for smart people only’ or even ‘for people who finished school and went to University’. Nonsense. Anyone can do it. But no-one can do it straight off the bat. Like plastering, brain surgery or assembling truck engines, you have to do a bit of training—get your hands dirty—and make some mistakes. Those 22 days of mine were the start, and only the start, of my training. The next four weeks and 50,000 words will be the start of your training, too.

There’s a lot to learn, and you won’t have figured it all in 50,000 words, but it’ll be enough for you to know that you don’t know it all, and that it will come, given time. You’ll have written enough to see an improvement, and to start to have an idea over what works and what doesn’t. Writing is a subtle art that is reached mostly by self-discovery and experimentation. A manual on knitting can tell you what to do, but you won’t be able to make anything until you get your hands on some wool and some needles and put in some finger time. Writing needs to be practiced; there is a limit to how much can be gleaned from a teacher or a manual. The true essence of writing is out there, in the world, and inside, within yourself. To write, you have to give.

What do you give? Everything. Your reader is human, like you, and human experience in all its richness is something that we all share. Readers are interested in the way a writer sees things; the unique world-view that makes you the person you are, and makes your novel interesting. Ever met an odd person? Sure. Ever had a weird job? Of course. Ever been to a strange place? Definitely. Ever been frightened, sad, happy, or frustrated? You betcha. These are your nuts and bolts, the constructor set of your novel. All you need to learn is how to put it all together. How to wield the spanners.

And this is why 30 days and 50,000 words is so important. Don’t look at this early stage for every sentence to be perfect—that will come. Don’t expect every description to be spot-on. That will come too. This is an opportunity to experiment. It’s your giant blotter. An empty slate, ready to be filled. It’s an opportunity to try out dialogue, to create situations, to describe a summer’s evening. You’ll read it back to yourself and you’ll see what works, you’ll see what doesn’t. But this is a building site, and it’s not meant to be pretty, tidy, or even safe. Building sites rarely are. But every great building began as one.

So where do you start? Again, it doesn’t matter. You might like to sketch a few ideas down on the back of an envelope, spend a week organizing a master-plan or even dive in head first and see where it takes you. All can work, and none is better than any other. The trick about writing is that you do it the way that’s best for you. And during the next 50,000 words, you may start to discover that, too.

But the overriding importance is that the 50,000 words don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to be spelled properly, punctuated or even tabulated neatly on the page. It’s not important. Practice is what’s important here, because, like your granny once told you, practice does indeed make perfect. Concert violinists aren’t born that way, and the Beatles didn’t get to be good by a quirk of fate. They all put in their time. And so will you. And a concerted effort to get words on paper is one of the best ways to do it. The lessons learned over the next thirty days will be lessons that you can’t get from a teacher, or a manual, or attending lectures. The only way to write is to write. Writers write. And when they’ve written, they write some more. And the words get better, and sentences form easier, and dialogue starts to snap. It’s a great feeling when it happens. And it will. Go to it.

-Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is the best-selling author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime books. He has been writing for twenty years, but only published for ten. His training took a while. His eighth book, Shades of Grey, will be published in January 2010. He lives and writes in Wales, has a large family and likes to fly aeroplanes

So this is the best of the three pep-talks I have received. In a way, I want to post ALL of the pep-talks, and perhaps I will post the other two (another is still coming) this next week. I think they're fabulous -- what makes NaNoWriMo such a tremendous experience.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The NaNoWriMo Blues....

I've written myself into a corner. Really, I have.

As I started National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this month, I knew that finishing was going to be a long shot. I had written 50,000 words last November, and my plan was to finish it this month despite huge deadlines and a very busy month of homeschooling and grading. My story is about a literature professor/lifelong evangelical who is exposed to liturgical worship and the changes that result from this huge shift in her view of Christianity and worship. Obviously partly (mostly?) autobiographical, this novel was my way of writing my own story, of fictionalizing the research I've done over the past eight years on Anglicanism, on liturgical worship, and how valuable liturgy has become to me as an evangelical.

But this month I followed the usual advice given to most novelists: add conflict. So I added an event in which my character is physically attacked and the repercussions of this act on her faith. And I am very much regretting doing so.

I've lost the heart and soul of my story in trying to add "interest." I am by no means a writer of fiction. Characters don't come to me in the night, begging to be heard. Stories don't spin themselves out in my brain. I write nonfiction. So NaNoWriMo was a stretch for me, a good exercise in flexing my literary muscles. Last year I felt God's pull on me to write this story, and it somehow wrote itself; I felt more like a scribe than a writer. This year I am dragging words forth. Writing a thousand words seems a Herculean effort than doesn't seem to be led at all by the Holy Spirit. Big problem.

This afternoon I have a Write-In scheduled at our local library with at least one other member of our Writers' Workshop, and I am at a loss. I have fallen behind this week (again) and am plain old STUCK. I don't like what I've written, the direction the novel is taking at all. I've abandoned my first story in order to make a novel I am not planning to publish anyway marketable. What was I thinking?????

I am hoping today that I can kick the last 22,000 words out of my mind (keeping them for word count purposes -- I can't write 50,000 words in ten days) and try to move my original story forward. When I finished NaNoWriMo last year, I stopped at a very natural stopping place, but I don't know where to go from there. At all.

Part of me (and a very persuasive part at that) tells me just to shelve the whole thing and forget NaNoWriMo for this year, at least. I can always send in what I wrote last year to be printed, something I didn't do last year but something I would like to do anyway since I managed a light edit during the first week of the month and liked it well enough to print myself a copy. But part of me feels like quitting is "cheating" of some sort, and that I need to keep pushing forward, one way or another.

We are taking Thanksgiving Week off -- no homeschooling for ten days, including weekends. I can take this time to really focus my writing, or to at least start reading A Tale of Two Cities for Logos (our church's literary discussion group), or to simply rest and work on my Brave Writer deadlines due a week from tomorrow. I will do the latter, hope to do the reading, and may need to push through and finish this darn story just so I don't feel like a quitter, like less than a "real" writer.

Sigh. I suppose I'll sit down this afternoon and try to get going on some part of the story, either continuing what I have started this month just for the sake of doing so, or start again and truly continue the real story dealing with internal conflict rather than external conflict I've weakly fabricated to make my story "interesting." Or maybe I'll write a poem or two to remind myself that I can write something decent once in a while.  I feel like I have two distinctly different books here, and my left-brained self does not cope well with two disparate elements trying to meld into one -- the proverbial square peg in round hole scenario. Ugh.

And worse of all, I have New Moon stuck in my head (review coming soon), images from the wonderful, wonderful film that Elizabeth and I saw last night -- I mean, this morning -- at a midnight showing swirling through my mind, screaming tweens & teens and all.  Somehow Meyer's writing keeps spinning around in my head, taunting me this entire month with her deeply-drawn characters and great page-turning plots. I know we writers can't compare ourselves to other writers, but still ... I keep doing it, and it's contributing to my shutting down.

In half an hour I'll drive over to the Write-In and see what happens. I'll let you know how it goes....

UPDATE: The Write-In got my juices flowing and I think I just may be on track. 20,000 words I've written will not be used; I managed to save three pages of what I had already written and started from there. So including the 20K I won't be using (and turned to a yellow font for now), I'm within 350 words of 25,000 -- the halfway point. And I have some great ideas for using some already-written material that may help make up for having to write half my word count in the last ten days. Finally things are steaming forward ... I hope. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anglo-Catholic Spirituality

As my regular readers know, I am quite a fan of Rev. Bosco Peters' Liturgy website and blog. A New Zealand Anglican with true evangelical zeal and catholic understanding, Rev. Peters has taught me such a great deal regarding Anglicanism and living a life devoted to Christ my Lord.

The latest link in the chain of Anglican news is the offering by Pope Benedict XVI to accept Anglican parishes into the Roman Catholic Church as Anglican Rite Churches, including priests who are already married. It sounds like a grand offer, and some Anglican parishes may well accept it rather than trying to forge ahead on their own, trying to bring together an American Anglican Church or utilizing the authority of African or South American dioceses. However, most Anglican parishes will refuse the kindly-meant offer from the Roman Catholic Church for many of the reasons Rev. Peters lists in his blog post (see below).

In fact, Keith Acker, the Rector of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity (the church I have been attending for the past five years for Friday services) wrote an editorial on the San Diego Anglicans website regarding the Catholic offer to Anglicans: Statement from Rome on Reception of Anglican Groups and Reordination. He sees this offer as an ecumenical opportunity that, though preliminary, represents a welcome step in ecumenical dialogue.  By the way, the San Diego Anglicans group represents the nine churches that once were part of the San Diego Episcopal Diocese who have formally left the Diocese to form a more conservative, Biblical group that adheres to traditional Anglicanism.

Rev. Peters posted a thoughtful article about what part "catholic" ("small c" catholic) spirituality takes in the Anglican Church. I highly recommend reading it -- I found it helpful and enlightening: Catholic Spirituality. I love the end of the post in which he states, "Just for the record: I’m an orthodox charismatic evangelical catholic."

I think that "label" just about covers it. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Walk With Him Wednesday: Prayer Journal

(Image from

When I have a day (or even an afternoon) to spend with the Lord at a retreat, I always bring along my prayer journal. This journal is very different from my usual journal in which I write about the happenings of the past week. It also differs (obviously) from my Quotation Journal in which I jot down quotations that appeal to me. And it's also not at all like my Prayer Request Journal in which I keep a list of people to pray for each week.

No, my Prayer Journal is quite different. As I said, I really only write in my Prayer Journal when I can devote at least a couple hours to the endeavor. Usually I sit in my comfortable old beach chair that's low to the ground and just the right heighth for me to use one of my lap writing desks, either the lovely antique white one given to me by my dear poet friend Kathryn or the one I bought at Bombay two decades ago for writing in bed during graduate school. I write with my dip pen and bottle of sepia ink, the ink bottle in the back corner of the desk's top so that I cannot spill it -- it's supported on two sides and I tilt the desk just so.

So what do I write in my Prayer Journal during these retreats? I write/pray directly to Christ. I find that as I pray in writing, some issues come to mind that I need very much to pray about but that have been pushed so far into the back corner of my conscious mind that I've nearly forgotten about but definitely need to be discussed with God. Issues that I have with certain people pop up, and I take the opportunity to discuss with God my (poor) reactions to their actions and my need to forgive them. The hours fly by when I am "praying" in this manner, praying in writing, writing down my questions and observations and the answers and advice that come down to me from my Lord as our conversation progresses.

The first time I practiced this type of written prayer was during my first contemplative retreat. My dear friend Johanna sent me to a day retreat sponsored by her church, College Avenue Baptist Church, at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. One of the original California missions and still an active parish, Mission San Luis Rey possesses retreat grounds behind the mission, mission museum, and front grounds. After our opening talk, I settled on a bench where I could see the rose garden, the rolling green hills, and the original mission bells, pulled out the new journal I had purchased for the occasion, and began to write/pray about a very troubling situation our church was going through during this time.

I had seated myself around 9:30 that morning, and the lunch bell was the only thing that roused me from the pages I had written/prayed three hours later. I couldn't believe that three hours had passed! I had written close to twenty pages, venting my frustration and grief and also praying for the grace and forgiveness to move forward. As I stood up to gather my things and walk to the small refectory, I felt twenty pounds lighter in mind and heart. Writing down exactly how I felt, what made me angry about the situation (and believe me, it was an ugly, ugly set of circumstances of which I had somehow landed squarely in the middle), and what God told me to think, say, and do about the situation was such a relief.

I hold nothing back in this Prayer Journal. I never concern myself about whether my feelings I write in this journal are right or wrong; I just express them how I feel them and then lay them at the feet of the cross, an offering to Him that I try to take my hands off and let Him handle a particular situation. And it is a relief -- such a freeing, light feeling once I have gained God's perspective on a troubling situation that I didn't realize what weighing on my heart, mind, soul.

So I encourage you, dear reader, to get alone for a few hours with your favorite pen or pencil and a fresh journal and start writing to God. It's definitely a form of prayer, and because it is written, it's so helpful to reread at a later date and see how God was working or was leading me to work in particular circumstance. If it is intensely personal, something I know I never want to fall into other hands besides my own, then I shred or burn the pages once I am finished with them. Even though I no longer have those pages at my fingertips, I still remember what I wrote so much more clearly than if I had merely prayed aloud.

I'm due another day of retreat, and I have an appointment with my Prayer Journal. It's much needed as the stress I live under right now is crushing -- or would be, if Christ wasn't with me to shoulder the majority of the burden.

holy experience

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Carry On Tuesday Prompt # 27

Carry On Tuesday Prompt #27: "Some love lasts a lifetime. True love lasts forever." -- Author unknown.

This week's prompt from Carry On Tuesday was not an easy one to tackle. With so many of my friends having difficulties in their marriages, separating, divorcing, the sadness I feel for them often translates to my poems. So I apologize beforehand for the tone of this poem, but it's just what I feel when I place myself in their lives, knowing that they've struggled, hiding the scars.

This is my fifth version of this poem. I love the first stanza, but getting the rest of the poem to flow from it has not been easy, and I am still not completely pleased with this version. I'll take it to my Writers' Workshop meeting next month to see if they can give me some ideas. And please feel free to offer some of your own....

"True love lasts forever,"
she said,
trailing fingertips
through their years.

Theirs had been the same
tale often told:
love entwining,
twisting in time
into binding cords,
cutting into delicate self
if she struggled,
leaving unseen scars.

Unless, of course,
one gently gauged
the depths of her eyes....

But no one did.

Copyright 2009 Susanne Barrett

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Quotation of the Week: More On Writing

I love quotations, as those of you who read this blog regularly know all too well. I love copying them into my Quotation Journal, using my Waterman fountain pen on more rushed days, and my bottle of sepia ink and my rosewood dip pen on more leisurely days.

Each Monday (well, I aim for each Monday, anyway), I post a quotation or two to take me through the week -- to be my inspiration, my Muse, in a weird, word-birthing kind of way. So today's quote is not one of the witty sayings of a Sylvia Plath or some of the sly sarcasm of a Mark Twain or a George Bernard Shaw, but the words of a Saint of the Church.

I copied this gem in February of this year. The words of this obscure saint (unknown to me, anyway) who lived four hundred years ago explain and proclaim the heart of my desire to write. I don't write to become famous, or even published -- although those things would be nice - don't get me wrong!  But I pray that my faith will translate through the medium of words and phrases, of sentences and paragraphs, modeling symbolism, rhetoric, beauty in a way that glorifies my Lord and Saviour Christ and makes Him better known to both Christians and those who aren't Christians.

Writing about God is difficult. Much about Him is so very far beyond thought and word that most attempts fall woefully short, sounding trite and ordinary rather than the stuff of revelation, the extraordinary. So this saint's words struck me when I thumbed through my Quotation Journal this afternoon, and I chose it to share with you. 

My National Novel Writing Month project is a distinctly Christian work -- but not the usual book of Christian romance/fiction. My story chronicles one woman's path from the evangelical to the liturgical. I probably will never publish it -- but it feels good to write about it -- to let it loose -- to search for the best words to express what my heart is attempting to speak.

"Every Christian must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the gospel .... Our heart is the parchment; through my ministry the Holy Spirit is the writer because 'my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe' (Psalm 45:1)."
-- Saint Joseph of Leonissa (1556-1612)

The quotation from Psalm 45 has long been one of my favorite verses -- it's one of the few times that writers are mentioned in the Bible, the book written by the Spirit of God in the hearts and minds of His people.  Last November I felt the impetus of the Holy Spirit pushing me to write this novel I am now trying to finish this month. This time I don't feel the same spiritual prodding with the second half of the novel, but I am enjoying the process, frustrating though writing can often be.  I reached 17,000 words last night and am hoping to write 2500 words per day for the rest of the month in order to complete 50,000 words by November 30.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back at NaNoWriMo

Finally. My major deadlines are past. Class Day (our homeschool co-op classes) does not meet again until mid-December, so I don't have grading to do until December. The Arrow and The Boomerang for Brave Writer are not due until November 28, and as we're taking the whole week off before Thanksgiving, I'll have time to work on them then. (NOTE TO SELF: Order books from library now!) My winter Brave Writer classes don't start until February 1, and they are both classes I have taught in the past, so I won't have to be writing massive posts; they're all done and stored away, ready to post whenever I need them. I'm teaching One Thing: Poetry in February and One Thing: Grammar in March, both of which are lots of fun and great learning experiences for younger as well as older kids. But right now, Brave Writer does not have to be a priority. I love working for Julie, but I am welcoming the break right now.

So for the rest of the month, I have two main projects to work on: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and reading A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens for Logos, our church's monthly literary discussion group. Besides homeschooling our kids, that's it. E has submitted her college applications already, and we can't work on financial aid until January, although I am going to have her start hunting and applying for scholarships.

Today I did the math and figured out that I need to write 2500 words per day in order to finish NaNoWriMo by the end of the month. I am determined to do it, even if right now everything I write seems like utterly useless crap. But I will push forward, hoping to get the story moving in one way or another. I added a traumatic event to my poor character's life, but I'm not certain how it's going to reveal her change of heart, or how it's going to push her into further change. I keep flirting with the idea of introducing a romance into her solitary life, but it sounds so ... trite. I think I want her to develop who she is with God's help, not a man's. She's too much of a loner to make a romance work well, too awkward around people, to not self-assured. So I'm pondering where the story is going. I have lots of choices to make, and SOON.

I am quite sure that I am not going to attempt to publish this novel. I'm looking at it as exercise for my writing muscles -- a way of strengthening my writing, forcing myself to be creative in new ways that can help my non-fiction and poetry writing. There is too much wrong with this novel to ever make it work; it's basically a fictional account of the non-fiction book I've been researching, the one that developed from speaking at retreat five years ago. I haven't had much time for researching it more fully, but perhaps writing this novel and putting a face and a person to the changes I suggest may make the non-fiction book be more than a dry, scholarly treatise in which I would be "preaching to the choir" (literally as well as metaphysically).

So that's where I am, back working on my NaNoWriMo novel. I reached 14,000 words earlier today (28% of the way to my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month) and want to write another thousand words before I go to bed tonight. We'll see how it goes. I'm just excited to "feel like" a writer for a month each year; it's exhilarating to push myself through the story, seeing life through my character's eyes and setting up areas in which she can grow and change as a follower of Christ and as a literature professor. Nah, she's nothing like me, is she? [Wink, wink]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Introducing Liturgy

I really enjoy reading the blog and website of Rev. Bosco Peters of Liturgy New Zealand. This week he wrote a quite incredibly helpful post about how to introduce liturgy into non-liturgical worship (of which term he says is an oxymoron -- all worship is liturgical by definition).

Here are a few excerpts (You may read the entire post here: Introducing Liturgy):
There are those who look at thriving, fruitful, vibrant worshipping communities, see they are not “using liturgy” and suggest comments like, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, or “introducing liturgy will destroy this – you will be on a hiding to nothing.”

I disagree.

First let’s clarify. Liturgy, by definition, is doing worship together. Each of those words is important.

doing – liturgy is an activity. People too quickly associate liturgy with set words, books, etc. Liturgy is action – often accompanied by interpretive words, yes, but liturgy is action – “the work of the people”.
worship – is an active verb. It is not passive. Liturgy is not a spectator sport. We are a gathered congregation, an active assembly – not spectators or an audience. It is not watching an orchestra – it is being the orchestra.
together – liturgy is a community event. It is not individualism. Not even congregationalism. Most liturgical texts are plural, “we confess… we believe… Our Father…”

People sometimes use the term non-liturgical worship. Generally that is an oxymoron. Like saying a non-marriage wedding. Liturgy is doing worship together. Non-liturgical worship might be worshipping alone – but even when we worship alone that is done as part of the church, the body of Christ, with Jesus – even alone we can still pray “Our Father…”

Where might be some places to start? Well if there is some dialogue between leader and assembly, for example as the service starts, that might be energetically channelled through some biblical greeting and response. The deep sense of prayer might be enriched by the leader, early in the service, suggesting a general point for prayer and the whole community praying for a good period in deepening silence, and then the leader collecting this gathering silent prayer by proclaiming a collect to which the now-fully-gathered community responds heartily with the biblical “Amen....” Some communities will be stretched as they risk just listening to a reading, God’s Word, “neat” – without every text being filtered through the leader’s interpretation....
Glimmerings of a more traditional/ancient worship service materialize from time to time in our evangelical church. Once in a while we sing "The Doxology." Occasionally we do responsive readings of Scripture. Less often a pastor or worship leader reads a selection of Scripture "neat," although it often seems that the only Scripture reading we get is during the sermon ... often only a partial reading of the passage. A good, rousing hymn is welcome. And time for silent prayer and even confessional prayer once in a great while. Glimmerings. Sometimes a bit more.

As I've said in the past, I have come to appreciate Anglican liturgy because it is 90% straight Scripture and the other 10% is based on Scripture. And it is almost all "neat" -- without exegesis -- simply God's Word washing over me, through me. Psalms, Old Testament, Epistles, Gospels ... all are part of every single service. I love that. I love the ancient feel of the prayers, prayers that have been prayed through the centuries by thousands of Christians all over the world, pilgrims who have trod the pathway hard with their footsteps along the "straight and narrow." A path I am attempting to walk in His strength because I have none of my own.

But a little liturgy helps.

"Doing worship together" helps.

Anglican liturgy, evangelical liturgy -- it doesn't matter. The living, breathing Word is the important thing -- it transforms our lives one syllable at a time. We thirst, for it, hunger for it -- for Him. For a Word from Him, a Word just for us... from Him.

And we receive that Word in liturgy. In "doing worship together."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Should Christians Read the Twilight Saga?

NOTE: Some "spoilers" are revealed in this post. If you would like to read the Twilight Saga and be surprised by the plot twists, I advise you not to read this post.

Yesterday on Facebook I responded to someone who posted in frustration about all of the people reading the Twilight Saga by citing Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

I did reply -- I probably shouldn't have, but I tend to get defensive about my Twilight, especially since we just discussed it in our church's literary group last month.

First of all, I have read each of the books a minimum of four times in book form (some 5-6 times), and I have listened to the audiobooks at least once each (again, some more than once). I have watched the first movie at least half a dozen times, more or less to keep my daughter company as she adores the books and the movies. It was at her behest that I read the books in the first place.

In fact, I watched the Twilight movie long before I read the books. I was quite sure that I wouldn't care much for the books, but within the first three or four chapters, I knew I had a book series at hand that could rival Harry Potter; I devoured all four books in less than two weeks and have been rereading the books ever since.

Why have I loved these books? First of all, the true love of Bella and Edward is the stuff of literary giants, a parallel that Stephenie Meyer makes quite clear in the books. The first book has subtle hints of Pride and Prejudice; the second possesses a non-subtle connection with Romeo and Juliet, and the third a strong parallel with Wuthering Heights. I think that Bella and Edward truly rank with the literary world's great lovers -- their unselfish, sacrificial love coupled with great adventures as good battles evil everywhere around them is truly the stuff of epic romance.

Yet the romance is not the main reason for enjoying the Twilight Saga. It's the same reason I adore the Harry Potter books: the epic battle between good and evil that asks the characters to choose good over evil in every decision they make. Edward and Bella are both truly good people asked to face evil situations and make moral choices, unselfish choices, again and again in order to conquer evil and cling to what is good (to paraphrase another Bible verse).

Not only have I read the four published Twilight Saga books, but I have also read the section of Midnight Sun that Meyer has posted on her website -- about a third of the material covered in Twilight but from Edward's first person point of view rather than Bella's. It shows how truly good Bella is, just as Twilight demonstrates Edward's goodness through Bella's eyes.

In addition to good vs. evil, other Christian themes are quite obvious in the four (and one-third) books that tell Edward's, Bella's, and Jacob's stories: self-sacrifice (Edward leaving Bella to save her soul); laying down your life for family/friends (Bella does so several times, as does Edward as does Jacob); Edward and Bella wait until after they are married before having physical relations; plus, in the fourth book there is an extremely strong pro-life message.

Many Christians hear the word "vampire" and immediately cringe away, thinking that vampires = evil, which often they do. But as we understand that Edward and the Cullen family are indeed vampires, we also discover that the Cullens are "vegetarians": they hunt and drink the blood of animals rather than that of humans. Led by Carlisle who "created" Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmet when all of them were at the point of death. Carlisle's motivation: to "save" life, not lose it. Because they value life to much to take it, the Cullens exercise self-control in order to live righteous, useful lives. Carlisle has controlled his need for human blood so thoroughly that he works as a doctor, using his extended strength and senses to help save lives. He explains that his father was an Anglican priest in seventeenth-century London, and Carlisle believes that the Cullens at least have a chance of a place in heaven because of their choices.

Edward does not want Bella to become a vampire because he fears for her soul. He delays her every chance he can from becoming a vampire, but when she finally does become a vampire, Edward does so to save her life after the emergency C-section birth of their half-vampire/half-human daughter. The Cullens need to battle the "evil" vampires in order to preserve their lives and the lives of the innocent humans who live in the communities surrounding them.

Beside all the content of the saga, I have to admire Meyer's superb plotting and character development. Not that the Twilight Saga is the best-written book of all time, but it's masterfully planned and beautifully executed. If only I could infuse my novel with a shot of Meyer's magical writing style. It's really incredibly well-plotted, with characters we can't help but become attached to, both major and minor characters.

So, for these reasons, I think that Christians should indeed read The Twilight Saga and not judge others (especially other Christians) without reading it -- same thing with the Harry Potter books as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day 2009

This morning the kids and I settled down at the school table as usual to begin our day with 1928 The Book of Common Prayer, Bible reading (we're going through Revelation right now), intercessory prayer, a Bible lesson, and memory verses.

But on this Veteran's Day, I turned farther back in the prayer book to the Prayers and Thanksgivings section where we prayed the following prayers together:

For the Army.
O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Navy.
ETERNAL Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens, and rulest the raging of the sea; Vouchsafe to take into thy almighty and most gracious protection our country's Navy, and all who serve therein. Preserve them from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy; that they may be a safeguard unto the United States of America, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our land may in peace and quietness serve thee our God, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Memorial Days.
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

So this day we thanked God for my grandfather, Captain Richard E. Farwell, who served on the USS Ward, the destroyer who fired the first shot of World War II for the US when they fired on Japanese subs they discovered sneaking into Pearl Harbor before the attack began. My grandfather was captain of the Ward exactly three years later, on December 7, 1944, when the Ward was struck by a kamikazee pilot and sunk, but not before every single sailor was safely evacuated. So I salute my grandfather this day, even if only Elizabeth remembers him -- he died when she was four.

We also praised God for those who are serving our country right now. All three children of my sister-in-law Karen are serving -- one daughter and two sons. I also have several church friends whose sons and daughters are currently serving our country. Living in San Diego, which is still a hugely important Navy town, the military is paramount and military families abound. Every day feels like Veteran's Day around here, and for that I am also thankful.

So we continue praying for those who have served and for those who are serving, that our country will find itself united around our all-volunteer military whether our country is at peace or at war.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Carry On Tuesday Prompt #26

Burned out with grading so many papers, I took a few minutes to myself today to respond to Prompt #26 from Carry On Tuesday:

The opening sentence of Graham Greene's 1951 novel The End of the Affair: "A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead."

So my response to this prompt is rough, rough, ROUGH -- truly a first draft only. I wrote more, then crossed it all out. I think this sufficeth, but I may add more later, if it comes to me. We'll see....

her story
has no beginning,
no end --
just a middle
of pain,
in the right now.

hungering for
distant grace,
for a holy experience
that she can feel
that will capture her,
pour her into the chalice --
allow her to become
food and drink
with Him --
so inseparable,
the water and the wine
(the ordinary and the extraordinary)
that the two
become One.
Copyright 2009 Susanne Barrett

Still needs a lot of work, I know, but the idea intrigues me.

(Bummed that the NaNoWriMo widgets all failed. Took them down for now.)

Okay, back to grading papers. NaNoWriMo will have to wait until after Thursday -- I have two teetering stacks of papers to grade before Thursday morning. And a field trip with the boys tomorrow so not much time to grade then, either. A homeschool teacher's work is never done....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quotation of the Week: On Writing and NaNoWriMo

With National Novel Writing Month egging me on to write, quotations on writing are going to be the name of the game for the month of November.

So here are some really great quotations on the art of writing. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I know I have and will.

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."
-- James Michener

"The wastebasket is the writer's best friend."
-- Isaac Bashevis Singer

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal."
-- Pablo Picasso
So keep on writing, my friends. Whether you are feverishly trying to increase your NaNoWriMo word count or are writing an occasional poem or are a very hit-and-miss journal scribbler, keep on. It is only through writing crap that we can learn to write well. So write on bravely, my friends!

(And please tell me that the time I'm investing into my own writing is not a colossal waste of time and energy. I'm in that spot where I feel that the whole thing is the most boring novel ever written, that no one in his/her right mind will ever want to read it, and that it's complete and utter crapola. Yes, it's Week Two of NaNoWriMo. Yep, sure 'tis....)


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