Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday of Easter Week

After dropping off the boys at our co-op location for their annual standardized testing as required by Heritage Christian School, our homeschooling group, I drove ten minutes down the freeway to the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the oldest church in California, founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra. The first of the 21 California missions, The Mission San Diego is still an active parish church; in fact, a dear friend of mine sings in their choir each Sunday at noon Mass.

I sought the Mission today for quiet and solitude. I browsed the museum gift shop first, finding a helpful booklet on the Stations of the Cross that I purchased. After paying my three dollar admission, I headed straight to the mission church with my book bag. The church was empty, and I set down my bag on the first pew and slid to my knees on the pillowed altar step to pray.

After lighting a prayer candle, I settled into the second pew (so I had a kneeler available) and spent the next two hours with my ESV Bible, my 1928 Book of Common Prayer, my Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, and my prayer journal. I also got up and stood in front of each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross that lined the walls of the church, seven per side.

As my fountain pen scrawled line after line in my journal, I prayed for my family, for our kids, for generous spirits and loving hearts. I prayed Collects from the Book of Common Prayer, including the long Gospel selections that are part of Holy Week. I prayed through Divine Hours' Holy Week psalms and Scriptures while the soft strains of chant music calmed my heart. The flickering candles lit the room, along with clouded light streaming through open windows. The low whispers of a woman across the aisle praying the rosary, her beads rattling one against the other in her hands. My back became sore from kneeling, so much so that I'm quite happy to be seeing my chiropractor tomorrow rather than Friday.

The Collects I prayed today were:

Tuesday Before Easter
O LORD God, whose blessed Son, our Saviour, gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame; Grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Palm Sunday
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And the Gospel reading for today, from Saint Mark's Gospel:
AND straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it. And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing. And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee. But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, and began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

After my two hours in the mission church, I wandered through the adjoining meditation garden, enjoying the spicy scent of fuschia-hued stocks and the beauty of yellow roses amid life-sized saint statues including a Saint Francis wishing well.

Before long, I had to gather my things and return to my little '91 Corolla in order to pick up my boys as they completed Day Two of testing. I'm very glad to have had this time during Holy Week to devote to prayer and His Word--exactly the way I want to spend Holy Week this year.

Wishing you a most blessed Holy Week,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quotation for Holy Week

With Holy Week arriving this week, this quotation by Henri Nouwen struck me with its power and truth:

"Passion is a kind of waiting - waiting for what other people are going to do. Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the good news to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say "Yes" or "No." That is the great drama of Jesus' passion: he had to wait upon how people were going to respond. How would they come? To betray him or to follow him? In a way, his agony is not simply the agony of approaching death. It is also the agony of having to wait."
--Henri Nouwen

A Week of Gratitude

It's been a busy but wonderful week, a week worthy of the Gratitude Community as I wend my way to 1000 Gifts. I thank our God and Father...

141. For our son T's 15th birthday, spent at the beautiful tidepools in North Pacific Beach/South La Jolla. Such a lovely day! Photos may be seen here.

142. For a break from homeschooling of two weeks for Easter break--the kids and I are ecstatic! Woo-hoo!!!!

143. For the beginnings of Holy Week, my favorite week of the year--I'm very much looking forward to the Triduum services at Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity.

144. For the middle boys having their standardized testing this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I have to drive them all the way into San Diego and then wait for them to finish three hours later--but I love studying and reading at a nearby Starbucks: three hours of solitude and almost silence (except for Starbucks' funky music, grinding of coffee, and swirl of blenders). This morning I spent almost two hours in prayer and Scripture readings in Morning Prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I hope to spend Tuesday morning at the San Diego Mission de Alcala.

145. For unusually warm weather this week, a solid sign that spring is not just around the corner; spring has arrived indeed!!!

146. For having a full pantry and bills all paid--such a blessing!

147. For God's divine direction in a sticky situation.

148. For dear poet friends like Judith and Kathryn who love me and encourage me in pursuing poetry, telling me the truth in love and helping my work to develop.

149. For the blessing of Elizabeth being able to attend Point Loma Nazarene University in the fall.

150. For the service of Maundy Thursday, the sorrow of Good Friday, the pensive waiting of Holy Saturday, and the inexpressible power and joy of Resurrection Sunday this week!

Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week,

holy experience

Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Evening with Kathleen Norris

On Wednesday night I attended Point Loma Nazarene University's Writers Symposium by the Sea with dear poet friends Kathryn Belsey and Judith Dupree. We came to hear poet and writer Kathleen Norris speak on her newest book, Acedia & Me, and on writing in general.

As usual at the Writers Symposium, Dean Nelson, Head of the Journalism Department, interviews the writer, and Kathleen Norris and Dean had a very lively discussion. Norris mentioned that she was raised to believe that one could not be both a writer and a Christian, but she had to put both writing and faith together in order to become a successful author. Her first book, Dakota,had a first run of only 8500 copies but eventually sold over 200,000. Cloister Walk discussed monasticism as a Christian tradition before the "splits" that tore Christendom into pieces.

Her latest book, Acedia & Me consists of ideas about the "malady" of acedia which she describes as "an inability to care"--a supreme indifference characterized by restlessness and boredom. Norris calls it "a nasty condition" with dissatisfaction and irritability with sadness--she first experienced acedia at age 15. Later she read about acedia and realized it was first written about in 400 AD and is placed in the category of sloth in the Seven Deadly Sins. When asked about the cause of acedia, Norris replied, "Being human." She stated that acedia rejects the bore of the daily grind and calls it the "national disease" that afflicts American society.

The opposite of acedia is zeal, enthusiasm--love. Love says, "Yes, it matters" and requires commitment.

Later in her interview, Norris mentioned three subjects that have been taught so badly that "it's a miracle that anyone survives them" because teachers teach only the rules and not the joy of creation:
1. Christian faith
2. Poetry
3. Math and sciences

She also laments the fact that in Christianity, our differences are seen as being much more importance than our similarities. Our current problems in the Christian Church, she says, are nothing new; in fact, they are the same problems that plagued the Early Church.

Norris also gave some excellent advice to writers, especially to young writers--advice I shared with both of my co-op classes, the 4th-6th graders and the 10th-12th graders. She advised:
1. Read a lot--all different kinds of writings
2. Learn to self-edit our work
3. Love revision more than writing

Dean reminded her that a theologian called her "a modern Augustine." Her response, to general laughter: "What was he smoking?" Others have compared her to Elvis--more laughter from the audience.

The funniest story she told was about her husband's death, believe it or not. Norris says that something funny always happens in serious moments in her family. She continued with the story of her husband's last day or two in the hospital before his death, and a kind-hearted chaplain came to David's room, offering to read Psalm 27. But Kathleen Norris, knowing her poet's husband's love of language, asked which translation the chaplain's Bible was. When he replied, "NIV," she replied, "I'm sorry, but that's not acceptable." She explained that her husband would only appreciate the Psalms in the King James Version. She pulled out a Book of Common Prayer that was "close enough" to KJV, and the chaplain finally was able to sit down and read Psalm 27 from the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer (which I assume was 1928 as the Psalter is from the 1540 Great Bible).

Kathleen Norris provided a wonderful evening of poetry, prose, and Christian writing at Point Loma Nazarene University, another lovely Writers Symposium by the Sea.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Busy Week!

It's been a crazy-busy week--crazier and busier than usual, anyway. It's my last week of One Thing: Grammar at Brave Writer, plus my subscriptions were due this week for the April editions of The Arrow and The Boomerang.

In addition, we had Class Day with Heritage Christian where I teach 4th-6th grade poetry and 10th-12th grade expository writing. So I had two stacks of papers to grade and lessons to prepare. Plus besides Class Day on Thursday, we celebrated our oldest son's 15th birthday with a trip to some tidepools along the coast. I took a ton of photos, so some will be forthcoming here, on my photo blog, and on Facebook.

I also attended an evening of PLNU's Writers Symposium by the Sea where I heard Kathleen Norris speak. More forthcoming on her talk as well--she was absolutely incredible!

And next week is Holy Week. I'm disappointed that Alpine Anglican is not hosting their Seder meal next week, but I'm very much looking forward to the Triduum services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

So I'll be catching you up over the next few days as our Easter break starts tomorrow, and I have a week without a Brave Writer class. However, I will be teaching Literary Analysis: The Short Story (six weeks) starting on April 5 and One Thing Shakespeare: Hamlet (four weeks) beginning May 3. Both are new classes, so I have lots of preparation to do. But I promise to catch up here as well. Promise!

Wishing all a blessed weekend in our Lord,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Poem: Tone-Deaf?

Carry On Tuesday Prompt #45: Opening of Paul Lawrence Dunbar's “The Poet and His Song”:
“A song is but a little thing,
And yet what joy it is to sing!”

A little thing of
.....a song it is--
.....composed in keen stanza.
Muscular language
.....hefts soul-weight,
The union of Creator and poet--
.....a divine marriage
.....of meter and image,
..........birthing glory.

So I jot on,
.....seeking the mystical union
..........of starry climes and blotted ink.
But my images stumble,
.....shapeless shirts in my dryer
..........spinning round and round.
I grasp vainly,
.....trying to capture nebulous thought--
.....burning my fingers on hot metaphor.
Impressive images escape
.....the tip of my pen nib
..........where ink enters the depths.

Is such grace intended for me?

Or am I as an appreciative listener doomed,
.....politely applauding others' gloried imagery
..........while stifling my own cracked voice,
..........unable to carry the tune?
Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Monday, March 22, 2010

Multitudes of Gratitude

And thus continues my list in the Gratitude Community of Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience on my journey to 1000 Gifts as I thank God for...

131. ...the strength to pedal 3-5 miles per day on my recumbent stationary bike lately. It's been years since I've been able to exercise at any level, much less several miles on my bike as I am now.

132. ...the joy of returning to Point Loma Nazarene University for Preview Day with my daughter who hopes to live on campus there next year as a journalism major. Such a beautiful, godly place--makes my heart sing!

133. ...my supportive husband who is helping me shed the pounds that accompanied my medications over the last two years.

134. ...my teen and "tween" boys who stop to hug me several times each day. I try not to see it as a diversionary tactic when their math is unfinished....

135. ...the community of faith-hearted and like-minded people at High Calling Blogs who write passionately about poetry, art, literature, culture, and how faith intertwines us all.

136. ...the Writers Symposium by the Sea at PLNU this week, and my tickets that arrived today to see Kathleen Norris on Wednesday night with my dear friend Kathryn.

137. ...the spring days that bring daffodils and the urge to dig fingers deeply into soil, despite the risk of dirt-crescented fingernails.

138. ...in spite of the spring days, the warmth of roaring fire at my feet while I type is welcome, warming me to very bone, releasing and relaxing cold-tightened muscles.

139. ...a minor thing, really, but the beginning of a new season of Dancing with the Stars is a fun diversion. I do love watching ballroom dancing, and perhaps, someday, dancing once again myself.

140. ...the relief of being caught-up on our bills--thanks be to God!

holy experience

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Quotation: Saying Grace

("Saying Grace" by Norman Rockwell)

As I perused my quotation journal this afternoon, my mind continued flitting in many directions, an impatient butterfly that cannot find a place to land, to rest. The Health Care vote pends in the House as I type, and although our family has been unable to afford health insurance for almost a year, this monstrous bill is certainly NOT the answer. An issue has come up this past week that is scary and sends our family into trust-God territory in a huge way, one requiring a quick decision and stepping into the unknown in faith and hope. And then there's the everyday things: home education, our daughter attending college in the fall, work at Brave Writer, classes at our co-op, etc. So my mind is flitting and fluttering, focusing on little yet thinking of much.

And the thought of thanksgiving comes to mind--of grace, faith, hope. A quotation by G.K. Chesterton seems to express much of my thoughts right now:

"You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and the pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."

--G.K. Chesterton
Wishing you all a gracious week,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Lenten "Satchel"

As I browsed through some of the wonderful posts at High Calling Blogs this afternoon, I came across such a stunning post that I just *have* to share it with you--especially as the topic of the post is near and dear to my own faith journey, not to mention my heart.

The Lenten Satchel by Gordon Atkinson.

As he laid out the things in his "Lenten Satchel," I realized the parallel to my own journey of faith and the value of "things" to focus my worship. So both above, where I have my Lenten prayer things laid out on our school table on a quiet Monday without kids at home (a rarity!), and below, where my little bedside prayer corner is displayed, are some beloved things that lead me into His Presence.

The Anglican Prayer Beads I purchased at Full Circle Beads, and they come with a little prayer pamphlet with prayers for many occasions as well as a guide on using the prayer beads (the white paper in upper right). My favorite pewter standing cross is also pictured, along with a candle in a green jar that reminds me of light and growth and beauty and other God-things.

I also have my prayer list included above, along with my ESV Bible in its new cover, gift of a dear friend for proofreading her Master's thesis of incredible poetry (I should be giving her a gift for the privilege of reading it!), my 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the spring volume of Phyllis Tickle's Divine Hours series.

My icons are a favorite aid to worship: the top one I bought at the county fair several years ago; the bottom one I purchased from Eighth Day Books when they displayed their wares at an arts retreat I attended in 2006.

The frames to the right of the icons are precious, too. The top one is a copy of Dickinson's poem "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" copied and illustrated by my daughter and given to me as a gift. The bottom one is a copy of an Old Master painting that I don't remember now and am too rushed (and lazy) to research. On the table are my stack of Bibles and prayer books, and a standing golden cross that one of my boys gave me for Christmas from the dollar store. My beads are usually hung on the bed poster, but here they are on top of a collection of daily prayers from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which I have since given to my friends Rollo and Sarah Casiple as they minister in Miami.

Along with these items, I use a bottle of sepia ink and a rosewood dip pen to write in my journals--my daily journal, my spiritual journal, and my poetry journal. On past contemplative retreats I have taken charcoals and/or pastels for sketching on watercolor paper, and sometimes drawing or colored pencils; watercolors are a possibility, but I'm just not sufficiently artistic to create anything worthwhile. Although my artistic talents are minimal at best, drawing items in nature--flowers, leaves, stones, grasses, trees--relaxes me, opens my mind and heart, and brings me into the Presence of my God.

And that's the purpose for all of these things: to provide time and space for reflection, for contemplation, for unimpeded thought and prayer. And the needs for such reflection far supercedes the Lenten season but is also at the very heart of this time in the Christian Year.

Wishing you all a blessed, creative, meaningful, deeps-of-deep-places Lent,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Random Acts of Poetry: Streetwise

HighCallingBlogs.com Christian Blog Network

I just joined High Calling Blogs this week after following a poet friend over to their site, and then I couldn't refuse their poem challenge for this week: Streetwise: write about a specific street. My memory immediately took me back to my childhood home where I lived from first grade until marriage in El Cajon, California (a suburb of San Diego).

716 El Rancho Drive
Sunning themselves,
.....the ranch houses spread out
.....in late-afternoon rays.
The old neighborhood in silence exhales.

With dusk creeps
.....a witching moment:
.....the clouded street crinkled with puddles
..........peoples itself.

The now-me glimpses the then-me--
.....dotted with freckles, braids coming undone,
.....the scrape of rollerskates against
..........shallow slope of asphalt.

Memory-teens on wooden skateboards
.....careen fearlessly around the blind turn.
Transparent figures tackle,
.....football wings through darkening sky--
.....echoes of teasing taunts and laughter
..........rise with dribble of basketball,
..........swishing all-air through rusty hoop.

Banana-seated bicycles clatter,
.....skimming surface--
.....front wheels pop from pavement,
..........daring jumps from plywood ramps.
Spectral shapes slide behind mulberry trees,
.....hiding, seeking, racing past rail fences
.....toward homebase.

Toward home--
.....in the gloaming before
.....streetlamps dispel memories.

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Saint Patrick

I have often written about Saint Patrick, one of my favorite saints, on this blog. Rather than rewriting, I thought that in remembrance of this amazing man of God I would direct you to some of my posts of years past.

So feel free to join me in remembering and celebrating Saint Patrick, Apostle to Ireland, with these posts:

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick, British Missionary to Ireland

The Breastplate Prayer of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick's Prayer for the Faithful

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, a Collect for "A Saint's Day":
O Almighty God, who hast called us to faith in Thee, and hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses; Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints, and especially of Thy servant Saint Patrick, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through Thy mercy, we, with them, attain to Thine eternal joy; through Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So I wish you all a blessed remembrance and joyous celebration of the life, ministry, and prayers of this incredible missionary. May we serve our Lord with similar devotion, submission, courage, and bravery as we walk in the footsteps of Saint Patrick and countless Christians along the Pilgrim Pathway that leads to eternal communion with Christ our Lord.

God's blessings be upon each of you this Saint Patrick's Day, my friends,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Poem: "Special"

Carry on Tuesday Prompt #44: Opening line of Isabel Allende's 1999 novel Daughter of Fortune:
"Everyone is born with some special talent."


"Everyone is born with
some special talent,"
.....II heard in soothing tones.
No consolation, that.
If everyone is "special,"
then no one really is,

.....I hiss under my breath.

What a horrid word: "special":

So many vibrant thoughts
.....tremble at the tip of my pen:
God-Words, these are,
.....not people-words.
.....brimming with sincere promises,
.....all Yes! in Christ.

Once again I bend,
.....touch nib to paper.
.....allow myself to flow
..........freely and powerfully
......... across virgin pages.
Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Monday, March 15, 2010

Multitudes of Gratitude

On this Monday, Monday, I continue to add to my One Thousand Gifts at the Gratitude Community at Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience:

I thank God for...

121. ... new ink cartridges for my Waterman fountain pen, the best pen in the whole world when it comes to lightness in hand and absence of pain when writing.

122. ... warm spring days and the blooming of daffodils on my front garden

123. ... the warm, sleepy feeling that comes from a glass of Riesling with dinner

124. ... the return to our usual homeschooling schedule after trips and hauling wood and...

125. ... the new clothes I bought this weekend--a very rare thing!

126. ... gardening plans festering in my brain this spring and a community garden burgeoning in our small town

127. ... just bought tickets to see Kathleen Norris at PLNU's Writers Symposium by the Sea

128. ... my dear husband who makes such wonderful dinners for us each night when I'm too tired to move

129. ... dear friends like Diana who make me laugh at the most ridiculous things imaginable

130. ... the soothing "tick...tick...tick" of my grandmother's Seth Thomas clock on our mantel, a peaceful sound from my childhood

holy experience

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Quotation of the Week

Father Acker and Acolyte Benjamin

Liturgy, "the work of the people," is a beautiful thing. As we pray, worship, meditate, praise, sing, we are in the Presence of the King and Creator of heaven and earth. Liturgy refuses to be a "Sunday only" activity: each action of our daily lives can be an act of worship, an example of liturgy. I pray that my days can be thus consecrated, made holy by and through Him--each seemingly insignificant thought, word, and action set apart for His purposes. 

This quotation speaks to us of the power and glory of liturgy:
"The real 'action' in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential."

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI

Father, may this week be consecrated to you, every act one of worship, a breath of living liturgy. Use my mind, my heart, my soul, my words, my actions, my very being, for Your glory this week, that others may see You in me and that my life may be set apart, holy unto You. Work in and through me this week, O Lord, in Your Love, Mercy, and Grace.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Glimpses of Spring

In our little mountain town, the blooming of the daffodils is the first hint that spring may be peeking shyly around the corner of March. Much frost and even snow may precede spring's actual arrival in our little hamlet at 4000 feet above and 50 miles east of San Diego. The barren ground surrounding our house greens with tiny sprouting things--even though winter chill has not yet left the mountains.

The golden daffodils, stretching fragile necks forward to greet the sun, promise me that spring is indeed traveling in our general direction. As I sketch garden plans in my mind while huddled in front of the fire warming stiff, chilled fingers, I know that the yellow harbingers of spring wait for me just outside the front door, lining up in grand procession in my front flowerbed, facing the waning afternoon sun.

Tiny white buds opening on the spindly peach tree also bring the promise of warmer days and of afternoons in my garden, weeding and planting. In the last slanting rays of daylight, on this last day before we start saving daylight once again (yet another harbinger of warmer days), I unearth the metal clippers belonging to my great-grandmother and cut away the dross of last year's growth. Her love of flowers and beautiful gardens sing in my very DNA. The dry brown deadness I clip, seeing the beginnings of green at the base of the dead--this year's growth pushing through last year's. I quickly prune away the frozen remains of last fall from the flowerpots on our porch steps, thrilling to the unmistakeable signs of spring, my mind spinning with the herbs and flowers I wish to grow in them: snapdragons, lavender, rosemary, primroses, poppies, thyme, stocks (my favorite flower), and even the simple white alyssum that spreads with alacrity through my flower beds.

But the daffodils opening their sun-faces this week are the best promise of spring--a welcome change from the shivering cold of January and February, and, yes--even March and April, in this little chill town nestled in the lap of the high mountains surrounding us.

And the promise remains, whispered by the greening ground and the sunny daffs: spring is coming. It is promised.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aaahh, A Vacation for the Brain!

Aaaah! After a busy week, I dream a spa day, complete with cut, color, brow care, mani, and pedi. Since doing so is impossible due to our budget, I have instead curled up with books--unfortunately sans hammock.

Mysteries have long been my "brain vacation" literature of choice. When a friend returned the first of the Thomas/Charlotte mysteries by Anne Perry, I quickly found myself immersed in The Cater Street Hangman, the first of the series. It's one of only two in the series I own, having picked them up at library sales for a dime each; the rest I ordered from the library in order. As this first book was published in 1979, Perry has accumulated a goodly number of titles that I've kept up with over the years and am thinking about rereading. I enjoy watching the relationship between the husband and wife team of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt grow as Charlotte often assists Thomas with his cases as a detective in Victorian London.

But without any Anne Perry books in the house besides the first and one about halfway through the series, I picked up the first in my other favorite mystery series, Victoria Thompson's Gaslight series, set in turn-of-the-century New York, with Teddy Roosevelt the Police Commissioner.

Murder on Astor Place is the first in the series, written in 1999, and Thompson has added a new book each year since, with a new one coming this year (I hope!). Featuring widow Sarah Brandt, a midwife, who helps Detective Sargeant Frank Malloy, an Irish detective, solve mysteries, the books are well-written, absorbing, and complex. The growing romance between Sarah and Malloy is intriguing, too, becoming less antagonistic as they get to know each other and work together to solve many murders. We discover the back stories of solving the murder of Sarah's doctor husband and also are introduced to Frank's mother and disabled son. Frank's Irish crustiness and selfish desires to bribe his way to a Captaincy is changed by his friendship and growing feelings for Sarah.

So what kinds of books do you read for "brain vacations"? If you are a lover of mysteries, I am always looking for a new series to sink my brain into for a wee vacation.

And now I shall lay back in my jacuzzi spa (specially designed for people with rheumatoid arthritis) for my nightly "poach," as Keith calls it, with Murder on Astor Place: the perfect way to finish the day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mid-Lenten Thoughts

Why a photo of a Boston Cream Pie in a Lenten post? Because it has been my downfall.

As part of my Lenten discipline, I had promised myself I would fast from sweets, gluten, and other "junk" food during Lent, except on Sundays (which are not part of the 40 days of fasting). But when one's birthday is always smack-dab in the middle of Lent, it seems to cause a domino-effect that has me sliding into temptation and trouble.

Yes, I can have my birthday be an exception to Lent. But somehow it still snowballs. Keith didn't have time to make my Boston Cream Pie until a couple of days after my birthday, so I enjoyed my piece, saving the last piece to enjoy on Sunday.

But then there was some chocolate ganache leftover.

So last night the kids pulled out the last few cream puffs from the freezer while I remelted the ganache. I was determined not to have any. But as the chocolate melted, I just couldn't resist. How could a few cream puffs topped with ganache matter? There were eight cream puffs left, four for Keith and four for me.

And I caved.

You know, they didn't taste that good after all.

And then there was the leftover manicotti from Sunday's dinner. We haven't had manicotti for years since we haven't been able to find gluten-free manicotti noodles. But we had leftover ricotta from another meal, so I thought manicotti, stuffed with three cheeses and some sausage, would be a fun Sunday treat, despite the gluten.

But we had leftovers.

And I ate the leftover manicotti for lunch. Both Monday and Tuesday.

It is so easy to rationalize our sins, whether they be as seemingly insignificant as eating gluten or cream puffs during Lent or holding a grudge or finding ourselves envious over another's possessions, lifestyle, etc.

The thought "Well, it would be wasteful to not eat these leftovers" persuaded me to take the manicotti plunge. Two days in a row.

The thought "Well, the ganache is still 'part' of my birthday dessert, so it's really okay" echoed by my husband talked me into slathering the chocolately goodness over four small cream puffs.

And I just let it happen.

My digestive system is chiming in with my conscience regarding my poor choices in eating gluten. I chose to avoid these foods for health reasons, praying that Lenten discipline would help propel me into healthier eating habits all the year through. Then I discovered the problem.

I'm fasting for me, and not for God. Aye, there's the rub.

"Giving things up for Lent" is not what Lent is about. Lent is allowing God into the secret hidey-holes of my soul, asking Him to shine His light into the dank, dark crevices and reveal my sin to me so I can confess it and be forgiven. Cleansed. Made right, not by myself, but by Him who formed me from the dust of the earth.

But I am a forgetful, leaky person. My good intentions slip away at the first mention of ganache, of pasta. Did I truly forget that I wanted to fast from these foods? Nope, not at all. I willfully went forward, allowing myself to believe my weak rationales.

Lent teaches me that I can't do it on my own. I am not self-sufficient. I need help. I need Him.

I need someone to save me from myself.

And He comes, sweeping me off my feet into His loving arms, whispering assurances in my ear, washing me in His forgiveness, cleansing me in His love.

Because that's who He is: God is love.

And He's not our human love that is built on feelings and happenstance and duty and flakiness and poor reasoning and lapses in judgment and hormones and emotions.

His love is perfect. Everlasting. Unchangeable. Eternal.

His love is not based on what we do. Or what we neglect to do. Or how much or how badly we sin.

His love is based on who we are. He formed each of us lovingly, giving us this gift and that one, not giving us those other gifts. We are each unique, yet each made in His own image.

We are His children. He is "Our Father who art in heaven."

Our earthly fathers are not perfect. They made mistakes. They erred. They are forgetful and leaky, just as we are.

But not God. He doesn't make mistakes. We are His workmanship, His masterpiece, His poema (Greek for "workmanship" in Ephesians 2:10).

This Lent we walk forward in His forgiveness, our sin plowed to the surface where we can see it, confess it, be forgiven for it, and continue germinating His grace in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Spring greens the hills before us, birthing forth fresh newness that we inhale deeply, allowing it to tingle in our lungs, our limbs. Joy branches forth. All has been forgiven, is forgiven, will be forgiven.

Christ our Saviour walks this pilgrim pathway with us, arm in arm, hand in hand. We never walk this Lenten path alone...

... Thanks be to God!

holy experience

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Poem: Celestial Navigation

The Carry On Tuesday prompt for this week, #43, comes from the opening lines of The Beatles' song "Love Me Too":

"Each day just goes so fast
I turn around--it's past."

Celestial Navigation
Each day goes so fast--
voyaging, we embark,
weatherworn mates,
compassing unfamiliar seas.
Shall we navigate by the stars?

I turn around—it's past.
Our children older by a day.
Time speeds through my fingers
like hempen sail cord
as we tack clumsily,
struggling to split the wind.

Our vessel heaves
upon white-tipped brine.
“Squalls Ahead”
warns teenage years,
We secure the boom once again,
returning to our course.

The salt breeze stings my eyes.
Submerging my fears,
I weep my hope.

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

P.S. Here's a photo of a Mariner 31, very similar to the sailboat I grew up sailing with my family:

Continuing the Attitude of Gratitude

As I add to my list, plodding on toward the goal of One Thousand Gifts as part of Holy Experience's Gratitude Community, I can't help but be overwhelmed by the goodness of God. Little things are not little to Him -- all manifestations of His grace are gigantic, miraculous, far beyond the telling.

So, a day late but never too late, I add a note of gratitude for:

111. ... WOOD! Lake Murray is taking down a long row of mature eucalyptus trees, and Keith, his brother, and our three boys have been hauling the wood the 37 miles from church to our home. The wood will need to be split soon as eucalyptus hardens as it sits, so we'll have a HUGE splitting party soon. Next winter we will be warm and toasty, and I am *so* looking forward to it. We've been scrounging wood this winter as we haven't had enough money to fill our propane tank, but next winter even if we can't fill the tank, we're assured of a comfy winter.

112. ... for the power of words, how ideas germinate and imagery blooms in the most unlikely places.

113. ... part and parcel of #112, I am so grateful that God has gifted me with the desire to keep pushing my poetry writing, to keep baring my heart and extending my shy boundaries far past my comfort zone.

114. ... for my full Brave Writer classes this winter. My One Thing Poetry & One Thing Grammar courses have *never* been so large before, and it feels so wonderful to be helping so many families and to be an active help financially. Thanks be to God!!!

115. ... for our fun trip to Disneyland and California Adventure last week with my parents, my brother and his two kids, and myself and our four kids. Much fun was had by all, and after a very busy month, it was delightful to enjoy rides and fun times.

116. ... for my hard-working husband, boys, and daughter. They all work so hard physically, and I'm so proud of them.

117. ... for a wonderful birthday and a superb lunch at Jeremy's On the Hill just outside historic Julian, with two incredible women who are poets and "of the deeps" both faith-wise and wise-wise.

118. ... for music, specifically that of Billie Holiday and the Twilight: New Moon Soundtrack -- both are excellent writing music even though recorded 70 years apart.

119. ... for beauty popping out everywhere in this early spring, for rush of March winds, for greening of browns and golds, for daffodils raising faces to the sun, for rains slaking thirst of parched ground.

120. ... for a Holy Lent, far from perfectly kept, but always keeping me on my knees. For this I thank Thee, O Lord.

holy experience

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Quotation for the Week

(Image from AmericanCatholic.org)

As we pass into the third week of Lent, I still am thinking Lenten thoughts, focusing on Lenten disciplines, praying for Lenten strength, hoping for Lenten revelation. As I seek Him to strengthen my body and soul during these 40 days, I find myself drawing ever closer to Him who loves us with an everlasting love, a perfect love. Never-ending.

"A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace."
-- James Kushner
And I can't help falling to my knees in worshipful response, asking Him to lead me further, farther, and more deeply into the mysteries of our faith.

As I sign my personal e-mails: Soli Deo Gloria,


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