Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Walk with Him Wednesday


All summer I have been entranced by Ann Voskamp's incredible blog, A Holy Experience. Her spiritual meditations and insights combined with her lyrical prose and stunning photography make it my favorite blog to read. Not just read but sink into ... ponder ... contemplate ... pray over.

On Wednesdays Ann hosts a "Walk with Him Wednesdays" in which we share a spiritual discipline that helps us draw closer to God. For me, it is all about position.

On my knees.

This morning when I climbed the stairs to brush my teeth, I took the time that I haven't lately (I know, shame on me) to stop at my prayer corner. I don't have a prayer bench like Ann has in her home (although I would love a prie-dieu like the one pictured here), but I do have a small prayer corner in my bedroom - basically, it's my bedtable on which I have my Bibles, prayer books, cross, and candles, and on the wall are several icons and pictures. My Anglican prayer beads hang on my bedpost. The bedtable is near the window, and from my knees I see blue skies, scudding clouds, and the gray-green branches of Cuyamaca cypresses.

On my knees is where I need to be.

This morning I felt called to my little corner despite the closed shades and knelt there, deeply breathing in His Presence, His Whispered Call. Despite the crackling pain from rheumatoid arthritis, I lowered myself, knowing that this time centered on Him is worth the fire in my knees.

I knelt, and immediately felt His peace enfolding me, embracing me -- simply because I answered His Whispered Plea for Communion.

Breathing deeply, I basked in His Love. His Peace. His Grace. He filled me "up to the brim, and even above the brim," to quote Frost.


After a few moments of silence (even the beloved beings belowstairs were quieter than usual), I opened my Diary of Private Prayer to "The Thirtieth Day: Morning" and prayed the words there:

Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of earth, enduing them with forms and colours which no human skill can copy, give me to-day, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy creation.

Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes:

Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees:

Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study [or school room] I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky:

Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face:

Let the energy and vigour which in Thy wisdom Thou hast infused into every living thing stir to-day within my being, that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone:

And above all give me grace to use these beauties of earth without me and this eager stirring of life within me as a means whereby my soul may rise from creature to Creator, and from nature to nature's God.

O Thou whose divine tenderness doth ever outsoar the narrow loves and charities of earth, grant me to-day a kind and gentle heart towards all things that live. Let me not ruthlessly hurt any creature of Thine. Let me take thought also for the welfare of little children, and of those who are sick, and of the poor; remembering that what I do unto the least of these His brethren I do unto Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. (125)
Gently I closed the book and returned it to the top of the prayer book stack, a reminder to pray this evening before bed. I have been using other prayer books lately, and wonderful though they are, they still cannot entirely replace this slim volume of prayers written sixty years ago, the first prayer book I ever purchased and a frequent gift to friends near and far. I breathed deeply of the morning air spilling through the window above our bed, sensing for the first time the ever-welcome tang of autumn. I closed my eyes, listening to His Whispered UnLanguage, breathing in His Presence, breathing out myself, my stress, my busy-ness that I allowed to keep me from this little corner, from this sacred space where He has been waiting for me all along.

Touching bent fingers to forehead, heart, and shoulders in the timeless sign of Christ's cross, I took one last, deep breath of His Grace and rose to my feet, ready now for the busy day ahead.



holy experience

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michaelmas


Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Michael and the Archangels. This is a feast that I'm not terribly familiar with, so I was glad to read an informative explanation in this mornings "Saint of the Day" e-mail from AmericanCatholic.org:

Angels—messengers from God—appear frequently in Scripture, but only Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are named.

Michael appears in Daniel's vision as "the great prince" who defends Israel against its enemies; in the Book of Revelation, he leads God's armies to final victory over the forces of evil. Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, rising in the East in the fourth century. The Church in the West began to observe a feast honoring Michael and the angels in the fifth century.

Gabriel also makes an appearance in Daniel's visions, announcing Michael's role in God's plan. His best-known appearance is an encounter with a young Jewish girl named Mary, who consents to bear the Messiah.

Raphael's activity is confined to the Old Testament story of Tobit. There he appears to guide Tobit's son Tobiah through a series of fantastic adventures which lead to a threefold happy ending: Tobiah's marriage to Sarah, the healing of Tobit's blindness and the restoration of the family fortune.

The memorials of Gabriel (March 24) and Raphael (October 24) were added to the Roman calendar in 1921. The 1970 revision of the calendar joined their feasts to Michael's.

Each of these archangels performs a different mission in Scripture: Michael protects; Gabriel announces; Raphael guides. Earlier belief that inexplicable events were due to the actions of spiritual beings has given way to a scientific world-view and a different sense of cause and effect. Yet believers still experience God's protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. We cannot dismiss angels too lightly.
As I've read much British literature over the years (mostly in graduate school but also for my own enjoyment), I have come across the term "Michaelmas" as a British holiday (along with "Candlemas" which occurs on 2 February) and never knew what it celebrated; I only knew it occurred sometime in autumn. So for my own edification and perhaps for yours as well, I discovered an article about Michaelmas from the Historic-UK Web site (read complete entry here: Michaelmas):

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”.

There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin - the edge into winter - the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.
This morning I read to the kids from Revelation 12:7-12 regarding Michael the Archangel and the War in Heaven:

7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers [1] has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

(English Standard Version)


In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and in The Divine Hours series edited by Phyllis Tickle, I found several Collects to pray on Michaelmas, and I liked this one the best -- from Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime, Midday Prayer for Monday nearest September 28:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of the angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant now that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So there -- we have the historical and spiritual background of Michaelmas as well as Scripture and prayer with which to celebrate this day, remembering that although the Archangels are both wonderful in their beauty and terrible in their fury, they are created beings, made by the King of kings and the Lord of lords for His purposes and for our help. We humans, formed in the likeness of God, were created but "a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5), made by the Magnificent One, the Lord God of Hosts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quotation of the Week: On Prayer

This last week has been put my reluctant body through the wringer. My fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis pain are worse than usual, and I have been draggin myself through my tasks, highly anticipating crawling into bed until dinner is ready. I like to be up when my dear husband comes home, to greet him and ask him about his day, but my pain and exhaustion are such that I can't right now.

So I thought of prayer as I leafed through my quotation book this afternoon and almost immediately located a wonderful quotation by John Vianney on private vs. communal/liturgical prayer. I hope you enjoy it and that it feeds your soul the way it has done mine this afternoon:

"Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire, it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that."

-- St. John Vianney (1786-1859)


I'm planning to sink into His Word and pray it through the Divine Hours and the Book of Common Prayer this week for sustenance, hoping that feeding my soul will strengthen my body and enable me to accomplish all that I must do this week.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Fall Line-Up


Ah, this week was THE week -- the week of the new fall lineup on TV. Yes, I know, TV -- the bane of mental acuity. But the time that we live in is such an incredible time of quality television, with both networks and cable stations lining up extraordinary shows with memorable characters and excellent writing.

As a result of my autoimmune issues, I tend to spend my evenings on the couch in a semi-recumbent position, sometimes with my laptop when I am feeling not-so-bad and without it when the pain is worse. I need my evenings to rest, and my brain is usually too beleagured to read something edifying. So TV it is.

Unfortunately, the TV line-up is SO incredible this year that we often have two shows on at the same time, so E records one on ancient VHS tapes while we watch the other. The problem with this set-up is that we have to find time to watch the ones we recorded. But we usually make the effort, some way or another -- usually on the weekends.

So here are our shows, and there are a lot of them. These are the ones that we are already involved in -- we're only adding two new ones, and both are take-offs of existing shows.

Monday:
Dancing with the Stars (ABC): We caught this show near the end of its first season and have watched ever since. We love watching dancing "ugly ducklings" turn into graceful swans. Our favorite dance pros are Tony, Derek, Chelsie, and Julianne (who is taking this season off). The only thing we don't like: the skimpy costumes which is why we record it and watch it after the boys go to bed. But it's a wonderful show, and we very much enjoy the different types of Latin and ballroom dancing. We could do without Tom DeLay, however....

House MD (Fox): The two-hour premiere of House on Monday was terrific TV, mostly because of the wonderful writing and characters, especially the character of House himself. Hugh Laurie is an incredible actor, and the writing is sharp and realistic. The characters are compelling as are the medical stories. It's the most-watched television show in the world, and most deservedly so.

CSI Miami (CBS): This is more E's show than mine, but I watch it from time to time, mostly for the character of Calleigh. Horatio, with his sunglasses and his posing over the dead bodies, gets on my nerves a little, but the characters again are intriguing and the stories catch one's attention. My least favorite of the three CSI programs but still a quality show.

Monday Cable Shows: Elizabeth is more into Jon & Kate Plus 8 (TLC) and The Rachel Zoe Project (Bravo) than I am, but the latter is beginning to hook me in as we watch the life of a celebrity stylist and her team as they prepare their clients for the Emmys and the Oscars, etc. Even Keith has started watching it. And we'll pick up Paranormal State (A&E) when it comes back -- the boys love this one, too. The team investigating paranormal activity are actually fighting spiritual battles against demonic strongholds most of the team members seem to be Catholic Christians, and the power of Christ's Name is their main tool. Fascinating.

Tuesday:
NCIS (CBS): Our family's favorite show, and the one show that we all watch together as a family. Abby, the cheerful Goth who hangs out with nuns and is the heart of the team, is our favorite character, and we love Gibbs, Ducky, Tony, McGee, and Ziva. The stories are compelling, and the characters are flawed, realistic, and memorable. It's by far a favorite of our family, and of my parents as well. It's great family TV.

NCIS Los Angeles (CBS): A new spin-off of the original show, starring Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J. I look forward to learning more about this team and loved seeing Linda Hunt in it -- I hope she stays on. A strong possible addition to our line-up.

Flipping Out (Bravo): We're not as attached to this show as others, but it's still interesting as we watch an obsessive-compulsive house-flipper deal with clients and staff. This one we're not recording as re-runs pop up often, but it's still an interesting show.... And Elizabeth also likes 18 Kids and Counting (TLC), a show about the Duggars, a Christian homeschooling family with 18 kids and a 19th on the way. I watch it when I have time because I enjoy watching a Christian family, albeit one far more conservative than ours.

Wednesday:
So You Think You Can Dance (Fox): Usually a summer favorite, having this favorite show in the fall has really scrunched our schedule. We love watching this "American Idol of Dance" which narrows down to 20 dancers in the "final" arena in the search for "America's Favorite Dancer." One of our favorite shows, just hard to fit into our schedule. We're skipping the preliminary shows until they choose the Top 20.

Criminal Minds (CBS): Another show that's among our favorites. We've watched it from the very first show and love Reid, Emily, JJ, Hotch, Morgan, Garcia, and the gang. We weren't sure that the show would survive the loss of Mandy Patinkin, but it has become an even stronger show since his exit. A truly great crime show of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, or "Profilers."

CSI New York (CBS): This one is growing on us more and more, but I don't always watch it. I like Gary Sinise and the rest of the crew, but I haven't totally taken them in as a favorite. But a good show with compelling characters and stories.

Thursday: (AKA The BIG Night)
Bones (Fox): We missed the first season but are now officially "hooked" on this crime show with a forensic anthropoligist/novelist and an FBI agent whose chemistry is always combustible, although neither will admit it. The stories are truly excellent and the characters human, flawed, and memorable, the kind we immediately identify with. A truly great show, and one not to be missed.

Survivor (CBS): We've watched this show from the first season onward; somehow, the personal dynamics between different types of real people is always interesting and sometimes far more. One character this season on Samoa is a real piece of work, Russell, who is out to play mind games with everyone. It should be another interesting season.

CSI (CBS): The original is and always will be our favorite, especially with the return of Sarah Sidle, one of our favorite characters. Laurence Fishburne makes a nice addition with Grissom gone, and we love our original cast members. The first and the best of the CSI's.

The Mentalist (CBS): Our favorite new show from last year, mostly because of the character of Patrick Jane who combines both a childlike wonder and love of play with a keen mind and observation of people. His insights and love of fun make this show a must-see, as well as the interplay among his colleagues. Sharp writing here -- very well done! One of our Top 5, and we record it for the boys to watch now that it has moved to the 10 PM time slot.

Project Runway (Lifetime): It's back, at loooooong last! Keith also watches this one (as well as The Mentalist), and he started watching it during Season 1 while we didn't pick it up until the second season. The craftsmanship and creativity of making beautiful clothing and the drama behind the seams makes this show tops on our list.

Models of the Runway (Lifetime): A new addition this year chronicles the behind-the-seams drama of the Project Runway models who are also voted off one by one, the winning model gaining a magazine spread and $25,000. It's a great idea, and we're glad to add it to our line-up.

Friday:
Ghost Whisperer (CBS): I've watched this show pretty much from the first season, and now the boys are into it as well. It's just scary enough to be exciting, but not tooooo scary for the boys. Very cool show.

We sometimes watch Supernanny (ABC) (just to make me feel better about my mothering- HA!) or What Not to Wear (TLC) or Say Yes to the Dress (TLC), and we may add back in my old favorite Medium (CBS) which was picked up by NBC this fall. Or we sometimes watch what we've recorded earlier in the week.

So that's our fall line-up, all of which really helps to distract me from my bodily pain and entertains as well as teaches. I love watching TV with E as we enjoy mostly the same shows and will very much miss her next fall when she starts college.... (sniff!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Henri Nouwen on the Sacraments


In my e-mail box each morning I receive some wisdom from the Henri Nouwen Society, a "Daily Meditation." Today's seemed to contain more insight than usual,and since I was at Class Day all day and came home to crawl in bed for the remainder of the afternoon, thoroughly exhausted. So, since I am far too wiped out to write anything, enjoy this meditation:

Sacraments are very specific events in which God touches us through creation and transforms us into living Christs. The two main sacraments are baptism and the Eucharist. In baptism water is the way to transformation. In the Eucharist it is bread and wine. The most ordinary things in life - water, bread, and wine - become the sacred way by which God comes to us.

These sacraments are actual events. Water, bread, and wine are not simple reminders of God's love; they bring God to us. In baptism we are set free from the slavery of sin and dressed with Christ. In the Eucharist, Christ himself becomes our food and drink.
I love that last paragraph. I love that last sentence.

Okay, once I recover physically and mentally from teaching poetry to 10-12 years olds and expository writing to 16-18 year olds today, I'll post something I write myself. But until then, enjoy Nouwen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2000 Years of Church History in 4 Minutes

My friend Emily, daughter of my poetic friend, Kitty, sent me this link yesterday, and I HAD to share it with you here. Janet Batchler (writer of Batman Forever), a friend of hers from a Christian screenwriter's group in Hollywood called Act One produced this amazing video of 2000 years of church history in a mere four minutes, all set to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." The song happens to be a very popular one in our household already, so the kids were eagerly watching it over my shoulder. I would LOVE to see the written lyrics just so I could catch the names and events a little easier.

Here's the blog on which the video is embedded. I tried to embed it here, but my computer behaved in a very wonky manner every time I tried it: Quoth the Maven: Church History in 4 Minutes. ENJOY!

For someone like me who is very intrigued by church history, this little video is a gem. I happen to think that the study of church history is sadly neglected among Protestants, evangelicals especially, who seem to think that the Christian Church began with Luther, thus ignoring 75% (or more) of the Church's history, and then only focusing on the Protestant events since 1517. My daughter is a high school senior this year, and she is studying Church History through a course with Sonlight Curriculum called Kingdom History. I only wish I had time to study it with her which was my original plan.

I have spent the last six years or so studying church history on my own, and here is a list of books I highly recommend. These books are very fair to all sides, relating events but not editorializing.

The Story of Christianity: 2,000 Years of Faith by Matthew A. Price & Michael Collins. Co-written by a Catholic and a Protestant, this book's lovely illustrations remind one of the Dorling Kindersley books. This book is the "spine" of the Sonlight Kingdom History program mentioned above. It's more of an overview than an in-depth study of church history.

Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley. This books reads more like a novel than a history book -- I found it difficult to put down at times which is not always the case with history books. Again, very fair to both Catholics and Protestants although Shelley is one of the latter. I have an older version, but a newer edition includes the post-modern church and the mega-church phenomenon. It's an enjoyable read as well as an educational one.

The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day by Justo L. Gonzalez. This one I've only read sections from, but it's the text of choice for the excellent church history course at the local seminary, Bethel Seminary. I've liked the portion I've read enough to recommend it without reservations as being balanced and very, very well-researched. It's scholarly in the best sense of the word.

The video above is a fun overview of church history, and an in-depth study can also be helpful. I'm glad that the church "the Maven" attends has been doing a series on the history of the church -- it's quite refreshing and much-needed, especially in evangelical circles.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review of Brave Writer's The Writer's Jungle

This afternoon Julie e-mailed me, asking me if I would submit a review of Brave Writer's The Writer's Jungle for a Homeschool Review Contest at Successful Homeschooling. So here's the actual page of the review which I have copied below for your convenience:

Writer's Jungle Guides Us To Successful Writers!

by Susanne (Pine Valley, CA)

Product: The Writer's Jungle

Subject: Writing

Levels Used: One volume; used for children ages 8-14 (Grades 3-8)

Dates Used: 2001-present -- I think my copy is from the first printing.

Likes: Julie Bogart is unique among writing instructors in that she is not primarily an educator; she is a professional writer who happens to homeschool her five children. She recognizes aspects of teaching writing that other programs simply don't with their too-neat "Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 - Bingo! You child has written a paragraph!" approach.

Julie Bogart recognizes that writing is a messy, difficult process that can easily swamp our kids, leaving them frustrated and us moms discouraged. In _The Writer's Jungle_, Julie provides us moms with the tools we need to teach our kids not just "how to write" but how to "Become Brave Writers."

Writing is a set of skills, yes, but writing allows our children to express their true inside selves -- their hearts -- and how to encourage our kids to do so requires more than worksheets and checklists. Julie's unique approach educates US MOMS, so that we are equipped to deal with our reluctant writers who frown (or worse) upon hearing the word "write."

Although _The Writer's Jungle_ works well in helping us guide our happy writers through the jungle of writing, its main strength is in providing us with tools to help our reluctant writers through Partnership Writing, freewriting, and with games and activities that involve the whole family, all designed to shift our children from "doing an assignment" to truly "owning" their writing.

Writing is a process, a lifestyle even, one that allows mother and child to work side-by-side, each encouraging the other. And Julie Bogart brings these aspects of writing to life to help us nurture our "Brave Writers."

Dislikes: I would love to have more family-style activities to do with our kids. The ones in _The Writer's Jungle_ are truly wonderful, and more are suggested and practiced in the many online classes available at Brave Writer, but I'd love to have more of them listed and explained in _The Writer's Jungle_ itself.

Although The Writer's Jungle is expensive, just the first chapter alone is worth the financial investment. And what is truly priceless is the comaraderie produced by doing the fun games and activities together as a family. Julie relies heavily on the homeschooling philsophy of Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator who championed relationships with children, allowing them to pursue delight-directed studies such an Nature Journaling, Art and Music Study, short assignments, copywork and dictation, narration as a measure of a child's knowledge rather than testing, lots of free time to explore their world and to play, etc., all of which was quite revolutionary in the late Victorian era. Julie offers many online courses in Nature Journaling, Art Appreciation, Copywork and Dictation, Grammar Games, Poetry, Shakespeare, and many other family-focused classes.


By focusing not on the writing but on the writer, Brave Writer becomes much more than a language arts curriculum choice; it becomes a lifestyle. In fact, Julie has a free Yahoo group called The Brave Writer Lifestyle that gives us language arts reminders a la The Flylady. Yes, it's a rich, supportive, and nurturing environment we desire for our children, and Brave Writer is definitely one method of attaining it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Quotation of the Week:


I have been pondering prayer (nice alliteration!) this past week. Currently my life is so full, so rushed, that I hunger and thirst for prayer, for an extended time (a few days, or more than a few days) of silent retreat where I can bare my soul before Christ and let Him work in me.

But in the meantime, I try to pray the Morning Office of Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which takes half an hour or so. On the rare days that I don't even have that much time, I rely only on Phyllis Tickle's wonderful Divine Hours series which consists of three volumes, Prayers for Summertime, Prayers for Autumn/Wintertime, and Prayers for Springime. These volumes take us through the entire year, allowing four times of prayer each day: Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Compline. Basically the prayers are simply Scripture with a few exceptions, most of which come directly from the Book of Common Prayer. These prayers become my lifeline to retaining my sanity, and perhaps my humanity so that I don't morph into a pack of wolves or something.

So it's from this desire for prayer that I found this scribbled sentence in my Quotation Journal. Although it was written or stated by a man who respected Christ but not His followers, and for the latter reason, did not desire to convert to Christianity. However, his statement about prayer is all the more powerful:

"Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening."

-- Gandhi
, quoted on Twitter by Rev. Bosco Peters of Liturgy New Zealand

Gandhi is quite right. Prayer should unlock our souls each morning as we prepare for the day ahead of us, and it should lock up our minds as the last thing we consciously think before closing our eyes to sleep. Now, as always, there is the "rub" of obeying the Nike slogan: JUST DO IT!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Beauty of the Collect

Another of the great gifts I have discovered in the Book of Common Prayer, especially the 1928 version, is the Collect, or Collective Prayer. In addition to the weekly Collect as part of the Propers (Collect, Epistle reading, Gospel reading) for each week of the church year, many Collects can be found in Morning and Evening Prayers, in Prayers for such occasions as A Prayer for Congress, For Our Country, For the Unity of God's People, For the Church, For Missions, For Rain or For Fair Weather, For the Army, In Time of Calamity, For Children, For the Family of Nations, For a Sick Person or For a Sick Child, and For Prisoners. We also find Thanksgivings for such occasions as For Women after Childbirth, For the Fruits of the Earth, For Fair Weather, For Rain, For Plenty, For Restoring Public Peace at Home, For Recovery from Sickness, and For a Safe Return from a Journey.

The Collects are short prayers, and I instinctively recognized a form to them that was both poetic and worshipful, but Father Peters of the Liturgy New Zealand site recently wrote more about Collects. His post is about proposed changes to the New Zealand Collects, but within his post is an historcal and literary explanation of the Collect as both prayer and poem. I post this from his Web site:

In my opinion, one of the great treasures of Western Christianity is the collect. We have a treasury of collects that goes back fifteen centuries and further. A collect, like a haiku or a sonnet, has a particular, tight literary structure. It is memorable, general, and regularly expresses a profound Christian truth in a short compass. Anglicans inherit Cranmer’s magnificent translations from the crisp Latin. Roman Catholics are working on new translations of the collects (opening prayers) which will make them look a lot more like their Anglican equivalents. Many will remember memorising the great collects in Sunday School. On many occasions Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and others pray the same collect.
He continues later in his post:

A collect concludes and completes the Gathering of the Community. Individuals gather, sing (one of the most unifying human experiences), and finally (1) are invited by the presider to (2) deep silent prayer which is (3) collected by the presider praying the collect which (4) is affirmed by the community’s Amen. After this we are gathered from being individuals to being a community ready together to hear what the Spirit is saying to us as the gathered church.

The collect (like haiku or sonnet) has its own particular, recognisable structure. In the five-fold structure, three parts are always present (marked *):

*You– Address
Who – Amplification (& motive)
*Do – Petition
To – Purpose (& motive)
*Through Jesus Christ…
I find it very interesting as a poet and a teacher of poetry that Father Peters compares the structure of the Collect to the sonnet and the haiku, both of which are extremely structured poetic forms, depending on strict adherence to meter, length, and rhyme in the case of the sonnet, and to length and syllabic patterns in haiku.

My favorite Collect is A Collect for Grace which is part of the Office of Morning Prayer, so it is prayed daily. Some of my evangelical friends may not understand how praying the same prayer every day, a prayer written hundreds of years ago, may actually be prayer, but I pray it with my whole heart each and every morning, having done so for nearly a decade. Somehow my day is diminished if I do not take the time to pray this prayer:

O LORD, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Collect for Grace is a combination of thanksgiving for safe passage through another night as well as a prayer asking for protection from danger and sin as well as asking that all we do this day be pleasing unto our Lord, or "may be righteous in thy sight," to be precise. And the opening lines remind us to whom we pray: "O Lord, our Heavenly Father, Almighty and Everlasting God." So worship starts this prayer, followed by thanksgiving, then petitions, and closes by praying in the name and power of "Jesus Christ our Lord." Whether I pray this alone as part of my daily morning prayers or corporately in Victoria Chapel with Father Acker and some of my kids, it's a prayer beautiful in its simplicity yet powerful in its content.

The Collect for today, the Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity, will be prayed throughout this week:

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This Collect is paired with the Epistle reading: Galatians 6:11-18, the close of this epistle which ends with warnings and a benediction, and with Paul reminding us that he bears "the marks of Jesus" on his body. Following the Epistle reading is the Gospel reading: St. Matthew 6:24-34, the well-known passage on not worrying. But what is interesting is that the reading begins a couple of verses before the "Don't be anxious" part; it starts with "No man can serve two masters ... Ye cannot serve both God and mammon." So each Collect, as part of the Propers, is paired with Scripture readings that mold, explain, and apply the Collect.

So I have come to value the Collects, even if I have not always understood much about them. But that's an exciting part of the journey along the Pilgrim Pathway: our willingness to learn about Christ and His Bride, the Church, even if such modes of worship are a bit foreign to us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Gift of Corporate Confession

One of the most incredible parts of the Anglican liturgy, the one that swells my heart with His Grace, with His Mercy, is the corporate prayer of confession before Communion. On Friday mornings we gather in the tiny space of Victoria Chapel which Father Acker built onto the end of his garage for my family so we could continue worshiping on weekdays when the congregation gave up their beautiful church building and started worshiping at Alpine Elementary School. In the chapel there is an altar, a single long wooden pew, and a chair for Father. We can barely fit the four kids and myself in the pew; at present, only the younger two boys accompany me. But when we all fall to our knees during the prayers of corporate confession, it gets a bit crowded. Usually Jonathan kneels to my right, Benjamin to my left, and Father Acker to B's left. The boys repeat the prayer from memory while Father and I keep our prayer books open in our hands, just in case we lose our place.

The words are beautiful, worthy of prayer to our King of kings and Lord of lords. First Father calls us to this prayer of confession; while he prays this call to prayer, the boys and I slip off the pew and onto our knees on the linoleum floor:

YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.
Then he joins us in kneeling on the floor beside Benjamin, and together we all pray aloud in unison this prayer of confession to our Lord Christ:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
At the close of this prayer of confession, Father gets to his feet while we remain kneeling, and he pronounces this assurance of our forgiveness, these words I hunger to hear, making the sign of the cross over our bent heads:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I know God forgives me whenever I ask Him, but somehow I need to hear that He truly does through a human voice. Sometimes we talk about needing "God with skin on" -- people in our lives who hug us and demonstrate Christ's love to us in tangible ways. For the same reason, I also feel an overwhelming need for "God with voice" -- hearing that He truly forgives me with my very own ears makes it tangible to me, real to me, in a way that my fallen self so desperately needs.

As we pull ourselves back into the pew (this can take me a little while, even with the help of my cane), the liturgy proceeds through "comfortable words" that continue to assure us of God's forgiveness. I take comfort in His Holy Word as Father Acker speaks it aloud to us:

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him.

"COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. " St. Matt. xi. 28.
"So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St. John iii. 16.

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
"This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 1 Tim. i. 15.

Hear also what Saint John saith.
"If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins." 1 St. John ii. 1, 2.

Then the liturgy proceeds to Holy Communion, for which we are now perfectly prepared for in confessing our sins to our Lord God.

Some people may object to this mode of corporate confession, stating that reading a rote prayer does not constitute a true "heart" confession. My response is that every time I read aloud these familiar words, the Spirit directs my mind to particular sins I have committed throughout my week, and I silently confess them to Him while my mouth is saying the written prayer. It's a difficult experience to explain, but I know that I am confessing with all of my heart and that God values my heart confession and forgives me for my sin absolutely and completely. I always arise from my knees feeling considerably lighter of soul as the sins that have plagued me during the week are lifted from my shoulders to His. My response to His forgiveness is gratitude -- gratitude and a love for Him that grows ever more deeply into my soul, entwining itself around my heart and bathing me in His Presence, both now and forevermore.

Amen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Crazy Week


I have been BURIED this week under the huge responsibility of my Brave Writer MLA Research Paper class. The students are working on all of the steps involved in writing a 5-7 page research paper with an argumentative edge according to the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style. It seems as though this week started last month as I've been up working late almost every night, including being up until 3:00 AM Wednesday night/Thursday morning, typing up print and non-print source formatting. Before I separated the sources into three documents, I had written nine pages of material that night alone. In five days we've posted almost 200 posts/replies ... abd the class only has eight students. And, of course, I've replied to all of their replies. It's been simply crazy. Really crazy.

This weekend I need to write several long posts for the MLA class on taking notes, explaining summaries and paraphrases, dangers of plagiarism, note cards vs. computer notes, etc. Plus I need to write several handouts for my co-op poetry class for next Thursday, and start writing the Brave Writer monthly subscriptions The Arrow and The Boomerang which need to be completed by the end of the month. I've been doing The Boomerang (7th-9th grades) since last winter, but The Arrow (which is written for children ages 8-12) is brand-new to me. I will probably work on known entity first until I can see some samples of The Arrow from Julie. So I have a lot of my plate this week. More than usual.

Judith, my dear poet friend who lives in my town, has been asked to facilitate a Writers' Day at the beautiful Sacred Rocks Reserve next weekend -- right around the time of my deadlines. I would ADORE having a day set aside to work on my own writing in a serene and beautiful setting, but I just don't see how I can make it work right now. I have a hard time relaxing and creating when I have deadlines hanging over my head. And I've totally had to discard any thought of reading Les Miserables with our church's Logos Discussion Group at the end of the month; I don't have the time or mental energy to read a 1200+ page novel. So I broke down and ordered both the regular movie and the musical version to watch this week. Sometime this week, that is.

You may wonder why a copy of Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse is heading this post. Well, the Twilight books have been my escape this week. I sat down this week and reread what there is of the unfinished Midnight Sun on Meyer's website -- which is the Twilight story from Edward's point-of-view rather than from Bella's, one I wish Meyer would consider finishing as she stopped writing just before the meadow scene which is the crucial turning point of Edward and Bella's romance. It's so intriguing! I first read Midnight Sun in a huge rush, but this time I savored it and am even more impressed with Meyer's character development and story-telling expertise. Edward and Bella truly belong to the annals of literary romantic couples like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Romeo and Juliet, Catherine and Healthcliff, and Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, some of which Meyer uses as a background details in the books. Truly, Meyers has reached for that level and made it. Edward and Bella were created for each other, triumph through overwhelming odds, and love each other with an eternal love for the ages. Their story was just what I needed to help me relax through a very long and arduous week.

On a side note, my chiropractor today told me about a holistic doctor in LA who has had some real success in healing of patients with autoimmune disorders like mine: he tells them to rest for sixteen+ hours a day. I could only laugh -- I've been making it on 5-6 hours of sleep a night plus a two-hour nap each day this week. The kids need me more than usual with their homeschooling this year, so it's just the way it's gonna be. But I will make an effort to rest more ... as my deadlines allow, hoping for perhaps a little more pain relief than I am currently feeling.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Rather Late Quotation

I have been so inundated with my new MLA Class that adding my customary Monday quotation here entirely slipped my mind. Well, it's "better late than never," especially since I was up working on MLA source formatting for my Brave Writer class until three o'clock in the morning and, after getting up at 8:30, have been working on the class most of this morning as well. With my creativity in the tank, posting a quotation is about all I can dredge up for you today. I hope it's a slight improvement over the alternative: nothing.

The quotation I chose for this week is the most recent addition to my little journal which spans eight years of gathering snippets of wise and inspiring quotations. Here it is, a good reminder for all of us, as when we become too tired sometimes, we allow ourselves to let life drift along.

"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: 'I am with you kid. Let's go.'"

-- Maya Angelou


So enjoy -- let this quotation settle into the back of your mind, ready to inspire you when life feels particularly aimless. It's a great image, isn't it?

And ... let's go!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Unopened Letter - Carry On Tuesday Prompt #18


The Carry On Tuesday Prompt (#18) for September 15, 2009:
“The letter sat before him, unopened, propped against a coffee mug.” – opening lines of Bearing the Body (2007) by Ehud Havazelat. And my untitled response is below -- and it's very hurried and very rough, I'm afraid. But I'm gonna be brave and post it anyway, saving it in my files for a possible work-over in the future.

The letter sat before him,
unopened,
propped against a coffee mug,
exactly, precisely, where she
had placed it
before he woke.
Staring at the shabby envelope,
he sat, unmoving,
at the kitchen table -
the table they had bought
at a thrift store
after their wedding
eight years before.

They had been too young –
he knew it;
she knew it.
They had ignored them -
those voices of wisdom,
both the warnings of friends
and the muted murmurings within themselves,
too rapt with passion to recognize
their accuracy.

Reaching with a tentative finger,
he nudged the envelope,
his name scrawled in her
peculiar, slanted hand.
But he couldn't open it,
couldn't acknowledge
that she had gone
as she had been long
threatening...
promising.

With a dejected sigh,
he rubbed his hand across
his careworn face –
as if erasing her presence
from his mind,
for now -
and raised himself,
pushing his body upward with palms
braced against the chipped tabletop.
He wandered back to his bedroom
to get ready for work,
leaving her letter
unopened.

Copyright 2009 Susanne Barrett
This is only a rough draft, written in twenty minutes after very little pondering of the prompt. Life has been extraordinarily busy over the past couple of weeks, and I have two rather complex lessons to compose this afternoon and tonight for my new Brave Writer MLA Class.

I am hoping that Tuesdays will become a "break" day for me as the older two kids meet with Johanna, my longtime friend from college and the kids' high school maths tutor, and J goes to work with Keith, leaving only the youngest home with me. We usually finish his lessons by noon which gives me a quiet afternoon to work on my Class Day and Brave Writer classes for the week and catch up on a few chores. And, of course, compose my Carry on Tuesday prompt response. If you happen to write a response also, please add the link in the comments as I would LOVE to read your response as well.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Exaltation of the Holy Cross



Today's Feast Day, also called the Triumph of the Cross, is one that I am not been familiar with, so I did a little research about it this morning for my own education as well as to share here. I love learning more about the history of the Christian Church and the Holy Days celebrated by the vast majority of Christians around the world, even though they often worship very differently than I do. The more we know about each other and our different modes of worship, the more easily we can extend the brotherly and sisterly love of Christ Jesus our Lord to one another.

From today's Saint of the Day e-mail from AmericanCatholic.com:

Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ's life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior's tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.

The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus' head: Then "all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on."

To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica's dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.

Comment:
The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewelry. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls, decorated only with decaying corpses, as a threat to anyone who defied Rome's authority—including the heretic sect which refused sacrifice to Roman gods. Although believers spoke of the cross as the instrument of salvation, it seldom appeared in Christian art unless disguised as an anchor or the Chi-Rho until after Constantine's edict of toleration.

Quote:
"How splendid the cross of Christ! It brings life, not death; light, not darkness; Paradise, not its loss. It is the wood on which the Lord, like a great warrior, was wounded in hands and feet and side, but healed thereby our wounds. A tree has destroyed us, a tree now brought us life" (Theodore of Studios).
From TempoNews.com on today's celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:

Celebrated since the early days of the Church, this feast is meant to remember Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is also meant to commemorate the successful search of Emperor Constantine for the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ.

It was in 312 A.D., while Constantine the Great was in combat with Maxentius for the throne of the Roman Empire, that he prayed to the Lord God of the Christians to help him in his battle. According to stories, in response to Constantine’s prayer, a sign appeared in the sky. A radiant cross was seen with the words "IN THIS SIGN YOU WILL CONQUER" inscribed on it. Eventually, Constantine won the battle over Maxentius and he attributed the victory to the God of the Christians. The emperor then commanded that the sign of Christianity be inscribed on the Roman standards and on the shields of all the soldiers.

Believing that the cross was a very powerful sign, he sought the true cross of Jesus Christ. It was on September 14, 326, that Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found it in Jerusalem and Constantine decreed that two churches be established on Mount Calvary.

The cross of Jesus Christ is a very powerful symbol for it is a symbol of Christ’s selfless love for all humanity. Jesus transformed the cross from a symbol for punishment into a symbol of redemption. He transformed it from a symbol of meaningless death into a symbol of life-giving sacrifice.

The challenge of today’s feast is for us to look favorable at our suffering today. Our suffering, if united with the suffering of Christ, can also bring life. Like Saint Paul, we can also say that we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3).

May the cross remind us all of the hope and love that Jesus offered us. May we also be able to transform our sufferings into grace-filled moments of life and love.
Yesterday Pastor Stephen at Lake Murray Community Church preached on Romans 14:1-12 which is about how the stronger in the faith should not judge the weaker in the faith. Dr. Stephen made some perceptive statements that I'm still pondering -- about how what we may look on as strength in faith, God may see as weakness. He stated early in the sermon (taken from my notes), that genuine believers will not always agree on spiritual matters or theological points, but all are welcomed into the family of Christ. We are not to judge those who are true Christians and may practice the Christian faith differently than we do because God includes them in His Family. Differences in issues of preference (not issues of sin) are not to be judged by other believers. We cannot judge them because God is their Master and Sovereign, not us. Christians who practice their faith differently than we do need to be accepted by and loved by us as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Dr. Stephen didn't mention Roman Catholics by name, but I think his words can apply to a current specific situation. Within the last six months, a very prominent and beloved family left Lake Murray for the Roman Catholic Church. This family had been members of our church for over twenty years, raising their children up in the church; the wife had been our long-time choir director, and the husband often served as an elder and was my favorite Sunday School teacher. I recently e-mailed the wife who feels somewhat shut out of the friendships at church, and she wrote back, saying I was one of the few who had contacted her to see how they were doing, how their new church was working out, etc. She feels shunned. I am hoping that we can listen, hear, and apply what Dr. Stephen taught us yesterday about truly loving each other, even if we practice the faith in different ways. "If God doesn't judge them, then we shouldn't," he preached. "Iron sharpens iron, and we need each other." God has called us to live a life of love and acceptance among other Christians who worship differently than we do. We are not to judge them by our own standards, but by God's. There is a huge difference between following God's Word differently and those who are walking in sin, contrary to God's Word. So love and acceptance, even if we can't agree, should be the rule of life for our relationship with Christians who worship differently than we do. And I say, "Amen!"

So I love researching special days in the Church that I have never heard of before, such as today's Exaltation of the Cross, believing that my cursory knowledge may build a bridge to the lives and practices of other Christians who practice their faith in Christ differently than I do. Learn from each other. Love one another. These are what Christ calls us to do, in His grace and for His glory.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Thoughtful, Holy Experience


I read a lot of blogs. LOTS of blogs. I find them intriguing, especially ones with beautiful photographs, or brilliant, original poetry, or inspiring Christian content. So I was so pleased to find a blog that rolled all three of the elements I look for in blogs into a single place: Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience.

She writes this poetic prose that reads like free verse; the way she puts words together is simply magical. Yet her words go far beyond the merely beautiful -- in fact, they express her title perfectly: they are indeed A Holy Experience. And the addition of her stunning photographs to her deep, contemplative words and phrases. If I could only read one blog for inspiration and edification, Holy Experience would be it. Definitely.

At the bottom of her page is a short, lovely poem that explains why she writes her blog:

In the experiences of a simple/crazy life,
farming Canadian dirt, raising
half a dozen exuberant kids,
stringing sheets out on the line....

I'm praying to slow and see
the sacred in the chaos,
the Cross in the clothespin,
the flame in the bush.

Just a bit of listening, laundry, liturgy... life.
Under her "Meet Ann Voskamp" page, she writes:

Sure is good to cross paths with you in this corner of the web...
a less-traveled, quiet place for the God-hungry and true-Beauty seekers...

I'm plain Ann without the fanciful "e."
I'm a farmer's wife. I homeschool our six crazy fun farm kids.
I deal with a lot of dirt.
Especially in my own heart.
When kids & washing machine sleep,
I scrub my real dirty laundry
with words and The Word.

Every bush burns
and this place is about the flame
and the (dirty) bare feet...

Truth is, I'm a broken and bruised woman. And my life is about learning gratitude because the joy we are all looking for begins with one word: thanks. A Gratitude Community has grown up around this place, a bit of an oasis for dry souls living in the rain of Joy. Consider joining us?

...And other words just quietly linger here.
Words about how to live sacramentally.
Words about how to see God everywhere and give Him glory.
Words about how to live the sacred everyday.
But the only words that matter are the ones that I live....

It'd be grace to live The Word together...
All's grace,
Ann Voskamp
I have added her label on the sidebar of my blog (just above my music player) as a testament to my appreciation of her artistry and deep, deep faith, a faith that inspires and teaches me to live and even think more like Christ. And I encourage those who have not yet experienced Ann's Holy Experience to do so sometime. It's truly a place of hallowed ground in the blogosphere.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prayers for Our Country


I think we all remember with sharp clarity what we were doing as the events of September 11, 2001, exploded across our nation's psyche. For our family, we were in a time of transition, having worked until the wee small hours of September 11 packing up our belongings from our former house in the city to move them into storage for a couple of weeks until we could move into our mountain cabin. Here's my post about what we experienced, 3000 miles away from the real action yet close in our hearts and souls as tragic event after tragic event engulfed our nation: Remembering September 11.

This morning I woke all too aware of the date. I watched a U-Tube video of the happenings of that horrific day, eight years ago, posted on Facebook by the wife of our then-pastor. But as the four kids and I gathered around the school table and the living room for Morning Prayer, we prayed this prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
For Our Country:

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Later I also prayed another Collect, this one just a page or two past the above prayer:
For the Unity of God’s People:

O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly, union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the unity that we possessed in the aftermath of the horrific events of 9-11, of a terror-stricken and grief-laden country after which we came together as perhaps we have never done before and certainly haven't since -- may that unity of purpose as a nation return without terror as the cause. May we work with and not against each other. May we strive for the common good and not for personal gain. May we speak truth, rather than half-truths and distortions masquerading as truth. May accusations of "Socialist" and "Nazi" not be bandied about lightly, for tragedy and murder lurk behind those words just as they do behind the word "terrorist."

There's that old 70's song that comes to mind every once in a while, and it's as true of our nation now as it was in 1776 during our fight for independence, in 1865 as our country overcame civil war, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor, and as we remember today in 2001: "United we stand; divided we fall." So it was on 9/11, and so it is today.

And so we continue to pray....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Class Day Today....


Today our private home schooling group, Heritage Christian School, hosted one of their half dozen co-ops across San Diego County: East County II. We will meet at a large church eighteen times from now until June, an average of two Thursdays per month. Moms help set up, clean up, help with lunch, or be on a teaching team for two of the three periods. We arrived at 9:30 AM for a twenty-minute Opening with the whole school, but almost every other Class Day we have two Openings, one for elementary kids and another for junior/senior high students. First period started at ten in the morning and lasted 50 minutes; second period began at 11 and lunch at noon until 12:30 when third period started. At 1:20 we started cleaning our third period rooms, and at 1:30 Class Day was finished. It sounds a great deal less exhausting that it really is.

We first started Class Day in 1997 with a Kindergartner, a preschooler, and an infant. I was helping the founder of Heritage Christian teach a writing course for grades 7-12. I had to slip down to the nursery halfway through the two-hour class to nurse J. T enjoyed the pre-school and E felt so grown-up in Kindergarten. This year E is a senior taking Oral Interpretation/Theatre, Choir, and American Goverment/Economics. Last byear during lunch and after third period she has been selling her jewelry quite successfully and hopes to continue selling her work. T as a freshman and J in junior high are taking the same classes: Basketball/Volleyball, Chess, and Basketball/Volleyball. B in 4th just shifted classes yesterday as a space opened up in his first choice class, so now he is ecstatic, taking the Boys Adventure Class, Cooking, and PE. They have been looking forward to a new year of Class Day, and we managed to actually survive it.

I have been looking forward to it also, in a strange way. I taught the 4th-6th grade Poetry/Research Class first period, was free second period, and taught my usual 10th-12th grade college prep expository writing class, Intermediate Writing third period. I love teaching writing courses, and teaching poetry is my real passion, so I enjoyed being back in front of the whiteboards, dry erase markers in hand, too, although prepping a new class and a new age group was challenging. This is my youngest Class Day class ever; 7th grade is the youngest I've taught so far. It was a bit strange to have 14 ten-year-olds staring at me as we were cramped into a room far too small, but they enjoyed the poems I read to them and were excited about choosing a poet for their semester-long Poet Project.

I have a couple of children's poetry books I took along to read poems from: The Children's Classic Poetry Collection and my favorite poetry book, Talking Like the Rain, edited by X.J. Kennedy. I only had time to read from the latter, but the kids really liked the poem and interacted with them well, laughing when they "got" them and asking good questions when they didn't. I felt quite encouraged by the kids ... this class may actually work out.

I'm going to love the Intermediate Writing class as usual. Some really great kids are in there, kids who like writing and some kids who don't. But that's okay. We're already building a solid rapport and are going to be great partners in the writing process.

It's going to be a good year. A very good year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Carry On Tuesday's Prompt


I recently came across a blog called Carry On Tuesday that provides a poetry prompt that we are to write on and then post our response on our own blogs, and then on the Carry On Tuesday blog we provide a "Mr. Linky" back to the post of our poem.

This week's prompt came from the first words of a poem; you may view the prompt here: Carry On Tuesday Prompt #17 . The words we were to write from, in part or in whole, are: "Don't speak, words will only steal the moment." I used only the first two words in my poem which I am also taking to our local Writers' Workshop meeting tonight for feedback. It's a rather long poem for me, and it's been through three drafts, although it can probably use another draft or two.

“Don't Speak”

He bends over me,
work-rough finger against my lips.
“Don't speak,” whispers his eyes --
I take heed trustingly.
His love pleads with mine,
trying to prolong our moments –
time an elastic band that
can only stretch so far,
at its limit now.

Fifty-nine years had been ours.
As my feathery mind grasps at memories,
blurred, shadowy-sweet –
first date,
first dance,
first kiss,
proposal,
wedding,
birth of each child --
two of the four preceding me.
Joy, grief, more joy,
a life simply ordinary --
all seemed perfect
in my hazy retrospect.

My gaze sought his,
and we spoke our love wordlessly.
My fingers curled feebly around his strong hand
in these last, still moments
as the elastic finally gave
and I went onward,
Alone.

C 2009 Susanne Barrett
The formatting didn't come out quite right -- the "first date..." short lines should be indented in about fifteen spaces to the right, but otherwise, I think it came out okay. Opinions are solicited.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quotation of the Week and the Joy of Epistles

(My desk, with sepia ink and rosewood pen, and other ink bottles and feather-tipped pens in background)

As I opened my quotation journal, an inexpensive spiral-bound book with a spray of light purple lilacs on the yellow cover, I was struck by a quote on the first page. Dated August 4, 2001, the quotation was taken from Scripture -- an Epistle, to be precise.

The word "epistle" has always been one of my words. I think that people who write have a special set of words that send a cappuccino-shot of joy into mind and heart, and "epistle" has long been one of those words for me. Besides the Scriptural meaning of letters written by Saint Paul and others that now belong to our New Testament (which a former Sunday School teacher called "The New Deal"), the word "epistle" brings a slightly different connotation to my mind.

I'm a letter-writer. Nothing pleases me more than taking out my embossed stationery -- thick cream paper with my name in raised navy-blue script on the front of the card and my name and address embossed on the matching envelope flap -- along with a favorite pen, and sitting down to write a letter. I have a passion for old-fashioned writing implements as well. I write most frequently in my daily activities with a Waterman fountain pen, a marbled dark blue one with gold trim which allows my arthritic hand to glide across pages and pages with little discomfort as I don't have to press down while writing. At times I use the fountain pen for correspondence, but most often I pull out a different, even more old-fashioned writing instrument: a long rosewood pen with a thin metal nib (which can be removed and replaced with nibs of differing widths for differing effects) that I dip into a glass bottle of sepia ink (see above photo in which both are pictured). Sometimes ink blotches mar the page, but the gentle scratching of nib against paper is so incredibly satisfying -- a sound that settles my soul into a peace-filled place.

I have other wooden and metal "dip pens," for lack of a better word. They possess no ink supply of their own, so they must be "dipped" into ink to produce writing. Keith made a mahogany pen for me many years ago that I use when I want a different nib style. I also have a real feather pen cut to a point by a pen knife(just like Jane Austen!), and a brass nib-and-staff pen topped with a green feather that I also use at times (both feather pens are in the background of above photo). Where do I get most of my pens? Barnes and Noble, believe it or not, although the delicate nibs I prefer are found at Blick where I can buy them singly rather than in collections of all different nib widths from other arts and crafts stores.

And inks! I can use a basic black or blue ink just fine, but it's the opportunity for unusual colors that also draws me to bottles of ink. Right now I'm using blue Waterman refills for my fountain pen rather than the small device included with my pen that allows for drawing up ink from any bottle (which gets a bit messy at times, often staining my hands with queer colors). I wrote with sepia ink in the fountain pen for the first year I owned it, but I currently prefer blue (and non-messy) plastic refills. But as I cleaned out the last three boxes in the clearance section at Office Depot, I will have to return to stained fingers when I run out of refills and am forced to refill my fountain pen myself. Inks of red, burgundy, gold, blue, sepia/brown, and black sit on my desk; I recently finished the bottle of green ink I've used on Christmas cards for more years than I can count, and I would like to add violet and turquoise to my collection. Ink is an inexpensive pleasure and one that brings me great joy.

Besides the stationery and writing instruments, the simple act of writing a REAL, honest-to-goodness letter rather than an electronic missive brings pleasure to me and, I hope, to the receiver. Somehow, the letters I write sort of write themselves in that I feel more like a scribe than a writer as words of encouragement flow from my pen. I believe that the Holy Spirit of the Living, Loving God is at work, composing the words and phrases that will bring the most pleasure and encouragement to the receiver of the letter. I love the feeling of being the Lord's scribe -- to feel His Spirit moving the pen in my hand, laying down word after word, phrase after phrase, of life-giving encouragement.

Each day I receive a little daily meditation from the works of Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest who wrote so deeply about the contemplative life in Christ. The meditation I received this morning read:

To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly. Parents need to bless their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, friends their friends. In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings. We forget so quickly that we are God's beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts. Therefore we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs. Whether the blessing is given in words or with gestures, in a solemn or an informal way, our lives need to be blessed lives.
Writing epistles is a way of blessing others. Whether I write a simple thank-you note (of which I have been writing many lately) or a letter to a dear friend, God uses the opportunity for blessing as He guides each word and phrase that flows from my pen nib. And writing thus not only blesses the receiver; I am blessed deeply as I write to others. Writing notes and letters to dear friends who need whispers encouragement is one of my favorite things to do: I always pray for them as my pen moves across the page, bestowing blessings.

In this age of electronic media, the handwritten letter is becoming a lost art. Yet it is one that should not die out, for it brings much blessing both to the writer and to the receiver. Writing letters is a beautiful way to express esteem and love for our friends and our family members. A handwritten note left on a child's pillow speaks tangibly of our love for him or her. It's an art and a blessing that I hope will never disappear, even as it falls into disuse.

But even through e-mail we can write blessings. I enjoy using different fonts and colors that somewhat resemble handwritten words when sending e-mails to friends -- a little touch that lets them know I am thinking of them and care for them. But I vastly prefer paper and pen to keyboard and fonts.

And now that I've written quite an epistle myself here, I suppose that I should share the epistle that started this post about letter-writing. As I mentioned above, this quotation is inscribed on the very first page of my journal, and with my days becoming increasingly busy this week with the addition of our co-op Class Days starting this Thursday and a new online Brave Writer MLA course beginning next Monday, this Scripture struck me as being extremely appropriate:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

-- Colossians 3:23-24, King James Version

So as my days grow increasingly hectic with homeschooling four children, tutoring, teaching co-op and online courses, writing two language subscriptions each month for Brave Writer, return to our inductive Bible study group at church tomorrow (Tuesday), facilitate our local writers' workshop, and attempt to find time to read Les Miserables with our literary group at church, plus keep up Dr. Burns' website in exchange for chiropractic treatment, help with our local home school Park Day, and, above all, be a wife and mom too, I need to keep this verse in mind.

I may even copy it onto a Post-It note and stick it to my bathroom mirror to remind myself each morning as I get up, daunted by the many tasks ahead of me, and each night before I go to bed, often dissatisfied with not completing everything on my to-do list ... again: I serve the Lord Christ. Not myself and my too-high expectations, especially with several chronic pain/auto-immune challenges that sap my strength and energy. Not other people, no matter how much I desire to please them.

I serve the Lord Christ, and Him alone.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Evening Blog Post


I shouldn't be up this late. Really. I promised myself a quick peep into Google Reader, and Jen's Conversion Diary is on top alphabetically (it's all about those quote marks around "Et tu?" which I still haven't changed to her current blog name, lazy moi). So I took the quickest possible glance ... and discovered something that means I'm up far too late, fingernails clacking incessantly upon my keyboard ... AGAIN.

I always promise myself that it will take "only a minute" to write a post. And then I get drawn in more and more deeply, changing this detail and adding that. My joy in the craft of writing swallows me up, and somehow an hour slips past me as I'm totally engrossed in composing. The only other activity that engulfs me, heart and soul, to the point of losing track of time, like I do when writing is reading a really good book.

So here I start writing a "quick" post to tell about the very cool thing that Jen and her friend Elizabeth are doing: The Saturday Evening Blog Post. On the first Saturday of each month, we can post our favorite blog post of the past month on Elizabeth's blog using Mr. Linky and then post in our own blogs why we chose that particular post.

I chose a post from earlier in August which includes my latest poem that I shared with our town's little writing group. You may read it here: Poem: In the Confessional. I chose it because it tells a great deal about my life as a writer and about a topic that I feel drawn to writing about over and over during the past two years: confession. I hope you like it.

I almost chose a couple of other posts, so in case you're interested, you may read them here: Tennis, Anyone in which I describe my kids picking up my formerly favorite sport, and A Recap: God at Work which is about answered prayer as we prepared to start our twelfth year of home education.

So please feel free to join The Saturday Evening Blog Post and tell us about your favorite post of the past month! (Not bad, only half an hour!)

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