Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day, Saint Stephen's Day, and the 2nd Day of Christmas

Repost from the archives...

"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen...."

Many, if not most evangelicals, have no idea when the "Feast of Stephen" referenced in the above carol occurs. For many, the day after Christmas is the day to clean up the detritus of Christmas and to pack away the tree and other decorations as Christmas is now over. Some head to malls to return gifts or to take advantage of "After-Christmas" sales. Until about twelve years ago, I was one of them, although our family tradition was to pack up the Christmas decorations on New Year's Day.

But as I've learned more about liturgical worship, specifically Anglican traditions, I've unearthed several joyful surprises. The first, and most important, is that Christmas Day is only the FIRST Day of Christmas, which lasts for twelve days, finishing with a wonderful Twelfth Night feast. Thus today is merely the Second Day of Christmas, and we have much more celebrating to do over the next ten days or so!

I also discovered the uniquely English tradition, also practiced in Australia and Canada, of Boxing Day. I found this explanation on 
the British Shoppe website:

Boxing Day takes its name from the ancient practice of opening boxes that contained money given to those who had given their service during the year. It was also the day when alms boxes, placed in churches on Christmas Day, were opened. The money was then given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. Another name for Boxing Day used to be Offering Day.
The earliest boxes of all were not box shaped, as you might imagine, nor were they made of wood. They were, in fact, earthenware containers with a slit in the top (rather like piggy banks.) 
During the seventeenth century it became the custom for apprentices to ask their master’s customers for money at Christmas time. They collected this money in earthenware containers, which could be opened only by being smashed, and on Boxing Day the apprentices would eagerly have a ‘smashing time’, hence the expression, seeing how much they had collected. 
A later tradition, and the one which has survived to this day, was the distribution of Christmas ‘boxes’, gifts of money to people who had provided services throughout the year – the postman, the lamp-lighter, parish beadles, parish watchmen, dustmen and turn-cocks – which happened on the day after Christmas Day. 

So today is a three-fold day: the 2nd Day of Christmas, Boxing Day, and the Feast of St. Stephen. As Stephen's assignment as Deacon in the early church involved caring for the poor, we also ought to remember the story told in the carol, "Good King Wenceslas." One of my favorite Christmas devotional books, Christ in the Carols, tells of King Wenceslas:
"King Wenceslas the Holy, who ruled Bohemia from A.D. 1378 to 1419, was known for his good works and his care of the poor.... Rather than order his servants to leave a few morsels for the underprivileged peasant or send his page out to find the man and deliver some seasonal gift, Wenceslas chooses to take action himself. Leaving the warmth of his castle, the king braves fierce wind and bitter cold to search out the man. Whether factual or myth, Wenceslas' great compassion in this song reflects God's heart for the lost and the poor.
"Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. This is the primary reason that God chose to become man. Not content to send others in his place, the King of glory left heaven and came looking for us. Braving hostile elements, even unto death, he personally sought us out.... Like the page, we are to follow in our Master's footsteps as He continues to pursue the abandoned, the orphaned, the poor, and the lost...."
All we know about Saint Stephen is taken right from the Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke. In the sixth chapter of Acts, Stephen is named as one of the deacons, "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (v. 3) to make sure that all of the widows were adequately cared for. In the eighth verse, we read: "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the peoples," for which reason Stephen was arrested, falsely accused of blasphemy. As Stephen heard the false charges laid upon him, "all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (v. 15). At that point, Stephen speaks before the council, relating the history of Israel from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Solomon, and he finished his "defense" with these words: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye always did resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (v. 51). Their response can be read in the Epistle written below. 

The Epistle reading for today from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 is from the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, relating the martyrdom of Saint Stephen:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him [Stephen]. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. --English Standard Version 
The Gospel reading for Saint Stephen's Day is from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, starting at the 34th verse:
34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes,some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” -English Standard Version
Jesus' words of condemnation to Jerusalem which mentioned the murders of the righteous, from A to Z (Abel to Zechariah). Christ's Words to Jerusalem often makes me tear up; His sorrow is palpable as he cries out to those He loves enough to sacrifice His life to save.

And today is also the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Here is the Collect (collective or public prayer) for this day from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:
GRANT, O Lord, that in our earthly sufferings in witness to your truth, we may always look to heaven, and by faith see the coming glory that shall be revealed; And, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may we learn to love and bless our persecutors, following the example of your first martyr Stephen who called to you, blessed Jesus, our only Mediator and Advocate, who stands at the right hand of God, helping all who suffer for your sake; Who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Acts 7.56; John 15.20; 1 Peter 4.13-14; 2 Corinthians 4.17-18)
Saint Stephen was the first martyr of the Church, and his feast day, falling on the Second Day of Christmas, reminds us that in the midst of the joys of Christmastide is also the cross, borne by Christ and His devoted followers.

Here is the closing of the familiar carol, "Good King Wenceslas": the end of the fifth verse:
"Therefore Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."
May we follow the advice of the final stanza of this familiar carol, especially on this, the Second Day of Christmastide!

Celebrating Christmastide with you,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Celebrating Advent 2013

We've been celebrating Advent since 2001 in our household. Keith made us the tabletop Advent wreath above, and through the years we have celebrated Advent with different materials. We read through the adventure books Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels which tell an adventure story that ends on December 24th at the manger and the birth of the Christ Child. We've also used a little book called Christ in the Carols, a devotional with the lyrics to and the background of each carol with a closing meditation and prayer. We've used the Scripture readings from Focus on the Family or the Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. As the kids grow up, each year we do something slightly different.

Each family member has his/her turn to light the Advent candle(s) in the wreath and to read the Scripture from the Advent calendar wall hanging Keith's sister made for us with 25 hand-embroidered pockets for candy/gifts and a laminated Scripture verse attached to each one.

This year we're using a Scripture reading plan from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. On the right side of the home page is a calendar where we click on the date and the Advent Scripture readings for that date come up: an Old Testament reading, a responsorial Psalm, and a Gospel/New Testament reading. We add the Advent Collects from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 and a spontaneous prayer afterward, and we have our Advent celebrations for 2013.

For more about the significance of Advent, here's a post I've written in the past: First Sunday in Advent.

And here is my post from 2012 on The Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday) which explains why we use a rose/pink candle for this Sunday rather than the usual purple for the rest of the Sundays in Advent...among other Advent ponderings....

Wishing you a holy and truly blessed Advent season!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Out with the Old Year and in with the New!

On this celebration of Saint Andrew the Apostle, I post this Daily Reflection from in its entirety as we say goodbye to another Church Year and welcome a New Church Year...
Daily Reflection
by Mark K. Roberts
Ending the Year and Looking Forward with Hope
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.

(Ephesians 1:18)
Today is the last day of the year. No, this reflection was not written for December 31. And, no, I have not fallen on my head recently. I know today isn't the last day of the secular calendar year. But it is the last day of the Christian Year, sometimes called the Church Year or Liturgical Year. This year, which gives order and meaning to the worship and prayers of millions of Christians throughout the world, ends today. Tomorrow is the first day of the new year, the first day of Advent. (If the whole notion of the sacred year is unfamiliar to you, you might like to check out an article I've written called: Introduction to the Christian Year.)

Beginning tomorrow and extending to Christmas Eve, the Daily Reflections will focus on Advent themes. Many of the reflections in the next 25 days will be mine. Others will be written by trusted colleagues and friends. Some of these reflections will address the Advent idea specifically. Others will be more muted, though always engaging Advent yearning, hope, or vision.

Today, I want to circle back to a verse from Ephesians upon which we reflected a year ago. It reads: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people" (1:18). Here, Paul prays that the readers of his letter might "know the hope" to which God has called them. The word "hope," when used in Scripture, does not mean "wishful thinking." Hope is not pretending as if something will be the case when reason tells us otherwise. Rather, biblical hope is more like confidence, a sense of quiet certainty about how things will be.

Did you know you were called to hope? God has called you out of hopelessness into hope, into confidence that God has the future well in hand. You have been called to live with assurance that God is working all things out according to his will, that one day he will unite all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). In that day, God will claim you as part of his glorious inheritance. You will belong fully to him, along with all of God's people, and God will rejoice over you.

Advent is a season of hope. In Advent, we remember the promises God once made to his people, promises that were fulfilled in the first advent (which means "coming") of Jesus Christ. In this season, we also remember the promises God has made to us, promises that remain to be fulfilled, promises that will come to pass in the second advent of Christ.

Thus, as we end the year and begin a new year together, may I invite you to join me in our celebration of Advent. May God renew in us a genuine hope, so that we may live out our calling as his people.

When you hear the phrase "Christian hope," what comes to mind? What do you think? How do you feel? Do you need more hope in your life? Are you ready to begin the new Christian Year with Advent, a season of waiting with hope?

Gracious God, on this last day of the year, as we look ahead to Advent, may the eyes of our hearts be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people. Amen.

Wishing you all a Blessed New Christian Year and a Holy Advent,

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quotations in Honor of Thanksgiving

"For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist and poet

"I thank God for this most amazing day: for the leaping green spirits of the trees and a blue dream of sky." 
~e.e. cummings (1894-1962), American poet and artist

"O Lord, that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!"
~William Shakspeare (1564-1616), British playwright and poet

"The very fact that a man is thankful implies Someone to be thankful to."
~John Baillie (1886-1960), Scottish minister and theologian

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues."
~Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), Roman philosopher

"A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things."
~Plato (c.428 BC-c.347 BC), Greek philosopher

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
~John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), American statesman and President

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."
~G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), British poet, writer, and Christian apologist

"The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live." 
~Ann Voskamp (1973-), Canadian writer and blogger

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel."
~Author Unknown

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving and the blessings of faith, family, harvest, and home,

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Quotation of the Week: All Souls Day

Yesterday was the remembrance of All Souls Day, a day for celebrating the lives of those who have gone on before us. Living only 17 miles north of the border with Mexico, we've become familiar with the Day of the Dead festivities that are common in the Mexican culture. Wikipedia tells us,

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where the day is a bank holiday. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

Day of the Dead "Catrina" dolls
For me, All Souls Day brings to mind the difficult autumn of 1991. I was pregnant with our first child, and both of my grandmothers and my long-time boss were ill. I was often in the loo ridding myself of my breakfast, and seeing so many beloved people around me so ill was extremely difficult. My boss Dennis was in the hospital in October with AIDS. He had first hired me in 1983 at B. Dalton Booksellers, then transferred me to a larger store when he was promoted. Dennis also hired me twice (both before and after graduate school) after he moved on to managing the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Bookstore in downtown San Diego. For more about Dennis, follow this link to an earlier blog post about him: Dennis.

I was too sick to see Dennis in the hospital, but in our last phone conversation, he asked, "Are you barfing, Maynard?" ("Maynard" was our pet name for each other...from the old Malt o' Meal commercials.) He died on October 11. My maternal grandmother died two months to the day later on December 11 which was just about the same time that my paternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimers.

So when All Saints and All Souls come around each year, I find myself thinking about Dennis and my grandmothers, remembering fun times (like rubberband fights through the bookstore with "Maynard," and watching my maternal grandmother paint; she also taught me to set a table properly). So when I ran across this quotation on Twitter earlier this week, it resonated with me:

"Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship."
~Henri M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

So I do choose the ongoing companionship of Dennis and my grandmothers, knowing that their loving influence will be with me always. The "great cloud of witnesses" who accompany us on our lifelong journey are made up of these beloved presences who may be beyonf the veil for now but are waiting for us to join them. The veil always seems a little thinner during this Christian triduum of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day--and the memories of our beloved ones are that much the sweeter.

Wishing you a blessed week,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hallowe'en and the Vigil of All Hallows Eve

(re-post from 2009 with some additions)

"If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” -- Luke 11:36, ESV

The Vigil of All Saints, also known as All Hallows Eve or Hallowe'en, has been celebrated since 835 A.D. when All Saints Day was moved to its present date, November 1. All Saints' Day is the celebration of all who have walked the pilgrim pathway on the straight path, entering by the narrow gate. We can admire these saints and emulate their lives as we, too, journey this pilgrim pathway trod hard and fast by the footsteps of those who have traveled it before us.

However, Hallowe'en, the Vigil of All Saints, has been transformed from a night of fun and "well-mannered frivolity" to an evening that is dark, even dangerous. In my childhood, I remember Hallowe'en being a night of fun and neighborliness, and in our small mountain village, it remains so with several families providing small parties in their front yards for the parents to sit down around small fire pits and chat while the kids visit the houses on the street.

In our village, there's only one area with street lights and concrete curbs (nope, we have no sidewalks in our town--concrete curbing is the best we have, and even that's rare), and that's where most of the Hallowe'en activity is concentrated. In the middle of this area, the local church hosts a "Gospel Barn" in a large front yard with stories and treats for the kids while parents mill around, chatting and drinking hot cider.

After Trick-or-Treating, it's a wonderful night to curl up with the kids, a bowl of popcorn in our laps and a "scary" movie on TV, watching Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. But Hallowe'en seems to have been co-opted by older teens and adults, and a distinctly sinister tone exists that didn't when I was a child (or perhaps I was merely oblivious to it).

As states:
While this autumn feast can be used for evil purposes, our culture celebrates it as an innocent night of begging and fun. We who believe in the light of the world can use it to celebrate the Light. "Hallow" means holy and the word Halloween refers to the night before the feast of all holies, or All Saints Day. Emphasize all things good, joyful and pure. Let your children know that they are "children of the light" called to walk in the light.

Remember, though, that All Hallows Eve is a distinctly Christian feast, and Fr. Bosco Peters posted the actual Hallowe'en liturgy on his website Liturgy New Zealand which I reproduce for our use below:

The Paschal/Easter candle, with the five nails for the five wounds of Christ 

All Saints' Vigil (Halloween)
(congregational responses are in bold)

Liturgical Colour: White

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

Let us pray.

God of glory, as daylight fades, we give you thanks for surrounding us with the brightness of the evening light; as you enfold us with the radiance of this light, so shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ the light of the world. Amen.

Grant us, compassionate God, the lamp of love which never fails, that it may burn in us and shed its light on those around us, and that by its brightness we may have a vision of that holy City, where the true and never-failing Light lives: Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

God of the universe, you are the source of life and light: dispel the darkness of our hearts, that by your brightness we may know you to be the true God and the eternal light, loving and living, now and for ever. Amen.

Be our light in the darkness, God we pray, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eternal God, who led your ancient people into freedom by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: Grant that we who walk in the light of your presence may rejoice in the liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Any of the following may follow: Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, readings, a sermon, baptism, the eucharist. A Renewal of Baptism may be used at an appropriate point.

A Renewal of Baptism
I invite you (to stand) to affirm your commitment to Christ and your rejection of all that is evil.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God. From the beginning, believers have continued in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.

Will you commit yourself to this life?

I will, with God's help.

Will you forgive others as you are forgiven?

I will, with God's help.

Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself, and strive for peace and justice?

I will, with God's help.

Will you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life and work?

I will, with God's help.

With the whole Church will you proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ?

I will, with God's help. (NZPB p. 390)

Let us give thanks to God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

We thank you God for your love in all creation, especially for your gift of water to sustain, refresh, and cleanse all life.

We thank you for your covenant with your people Israel; through the Red Sea waters you led them to freedom in the promised land. In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptised by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. Through the deep waters of death Jesus fulfilled his baptism. He died to set us free and was raised to be exalted Lord of all.

We thank you that through the waters of baptism you cleanse us, renew us by your Spirit, and raise us to new life. In the new covenant we are made members of your Church and share in your eternal kingdom.

We pray that all who have passed through the waters of baptism may continue for ever in the risen life of Christ. Through Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all praise and thanks be yours, Redeemer God, now and for ever. Amen. (cf. NZPB pages 385-386)

God our creator, the rock of our salvation, we thank you for our new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for our fellowship in the household of faith with all those who have been baptised in your name; keep us faithful to the calling of our baptism, now and for ever. Amen.

A Blessed and Safe All-Hallows Eve to you and yours, my blogging friends!!

In God's Holy keeping,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Notion to NaNo (WriMo)....

With my horrendously busy schedule, taking on a time-consuming challenge such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) seems utterly foolish. With homeschooling two teen boys, teaching two concurrent year-long expository essay courses at our homeschool group's twice-monthly co-op Class Days, plus teaching an online literary analysis class at Brave Writer on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby--all of these activities will definitely keep me on my toes this month.

So why add writing a 50,000 word novel in a mere 30 days?

Because I need to.

Currently I publish my novels online, and up until January, I had posted a new chapter each week on a fairly regular basis. But my newest novel is coming along much more slowly, partially because these chapters are averaging 4,000-5,000 words while my other two novels averaged 2500-3000 words per chapter, and partially because I just haven't had much free time. (I'm still flattered that my novels and stories have garnered 3 million+ reads/hits on the two websites!!)

I just posted the tenth chapter (not counting the prologue) of my third novel this week; thus, I've only posted ten chapters over seven months. Not a great record.  

So although my ultimate goal is to finish NaNoWriMo with a fifth "win" to my name when I complete 50,000 words in 30 days, my more realistic goal is to just get some chapters roughed out so that I can post chapters twice monthly.When I polled my readers, I received nearly unanimous encouragement to post the longer chapters every two weeks rather than shorter but weekly chapters.

In addition, in the midst of teaching and grading essays and assignments, I just really need to take a step back from the busy-ness that is my life and give myself permission to express myself creatively. Although I only started writing fiction with NaNoWriMo 2008, I have come to love the freedom of writing fiction, of following my characters in my mind and watching them in action, then jotting down what they say and do. Writing is relaxing for me, providing an excellent break from being teacher and editor/grader as I am on a daily basis.

Plus, I also offer my expository essay students extra credit for participating in NaNoWriMo: they receive one extra credit point for every 1,000 words they log on the site. So I would feel like a heel for not participating alongside them.

And my novel is entering a very intriguing stage, and I can't wait to see what happens next!! :D 

If you are joining the NaNoWriMo Adventure, please add me to your buddy list; my user name is SusanneB --no period following. :)

So we'll see how far I can get in NaNoWriMo 2013!!

Happy Writing!!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saint Luke: Physician, Apostle, and Evangelist

This morning at Morning Prayer and Holy Communion at Victoria House, the rectory for Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, Father Acker and I celebrated the Feast Day of Saint Luke which fell exactly on today, October 18. I love how the Anglican Church celebrates the feast days of the Biblical Saints--the Saints of the New Testament--while still seeing every follower of Christ as a saint as well.

Here is the Collect, the prayer prayed collectively by the Anglican Communion today (well, yesterday as I'm writing this at 1:00 AM):

ALMIGHTY God, you inspired your holy servant Luke the Physician to write an orderly accountof the Gospel and of the healing power of your Son; As he delivered your restoring words of wholeness, deliver us now from all sickness of body and soul; Through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Scriptural references for this prayer: Luke 1.1-2; Colossians 4.14; Proverbs 22.1-2; 1Timothy 6.3-4)

As we do each Friday morning during Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, we prayed this portion of The Liturgy for Healing (Book of Common Prayer 2011 page 145):

Bless physicians, nurses, all all others who minister to the suffering; grant them wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience.

[Response:]Lord, have mercy upon us.

And as we also do each Friday, we prayed this portion of the Holy Communion service called The Prayer for the Church (Book of Common Prayer 2011 page 110):

And we humbly ask you in your goodness, O Lord, to comfort, visit, and relieve all those who [are in need of your healing touch, remembering especially (and we pray for God's healing to be upon those we mention by name and affliction) and] all those who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, danger, distress, or any other difficulty; Relieve and strengthen, help and deliver them by your mighty hand. Lord, in your mercy;

[Response:] Hear our prayer.

But today we also took time to thank God for doctors and nurses, many of which we prayed for by name, asking God's blessing upon them for strength and wisdom in their service to their patients. It was lovely to pray for my own doctors, both of whom are amazing men of God who invest prayer as well as research into their treatment of the whole person: body, mind, and soul.

I am so grateful for Dr. Adema, our family practictioner/osteopath and Dr. Burns, our chiropractor. Although the latter is retired, he has had the best insights into my autoimmune issues of any of the fourteen doctors I saw before finally getting a diagnosis for my chronic pain and fatigue. Dr. Adema continues to treat us, and with our daughter and son dealing with chronic fatigue and chronic pain issues as well, we've determined a genetic mutation that seems to be at the root of our issues. My daughter is using essential oils for herself and for me, and we're seeing some excellent results.

So as we thank God today for the example He gave us of a wonderful human physician, apostle, and evangelist in Saint Luke, we also thank Him for His healing His timing. Some Christians (and even some pastors and elders) have been suspicious of my twelve-year illness, claiming that either I didn't have enough faith for God to heal me or that I had such sin in my life that He was refusing to heal me--the usual evangelical arguments about illness.

It is in the stories of the Catholic Saints that I've found value in physical suffering--as well as in the Psalms which we read through each month in The Book of Common Prayer 2011. The Psalter breaks down the 150 Psalms into 60 readings, 30 for Morning Prayer and 30 for Evening Prayer. So the first few psalms are arranged under Day 1 Morning and Day 1 Evening, each numbered day corresponding to the day of the month. And it is in the saints such as Saint Teresa of Avila who endured illness for most of her life that I have found consolation and inspiration:

"Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough."
-- Saint Teresa of Avila

"God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how halfhearted such insights may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.”  
--Saint Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle

"One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer." --St. Teresa of Avila

And thus we return to Saint Luke the Physician who allowed The Great Physician to work through him in traveling with Saint Paul and in writing the Gospel According to Saint Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. The Saint of the Day e-mail from teaches us more about Saint Luke and leads us to pray for those who suffer through illness:

Friday, October 18, 2013
St. Luke

Luke wrote one of the major portions of the New Testament, a two-volume work comprising the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In the two books he shows the parallel between the life of Christ and that of the Church. He is the only Gentile Christian among the Gospel writers. Tradition holds him to be a native of Antioch, and Paul calls him "our beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14). His Gospel was probably written between A.D. 70 and 85.

Luke appears in Acts during Paul’s second journey, remains at Philippi for several years until Paul returns from his third journey, accompanies Paul to Jerusalem and remains near him when he is imprisoned in Caesarea. During these two years, Luke had time to seek information and interview persons who had known Jesus. He accompanied Paul on the dangerous journey to Rome where he was a faithful companion. "Only Luke is with me," Paul writes (2 Timothy 4:11).

Luke wrote as a Gentile for Gentile Christians. This Gospel reveals Luke's expertise in classic Greek style as well as his knowledge of Jewish sources.

The character of Luke may best be seen by the emphases of his Gospel, which has been given a number of subtitles: (1) The Gospel of Mercy: Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion and patience with the sinners and the suffering. He has a broadminded openness to all, showing concern for Samaritans, lepers, publicans, soldiers, public sinners, unlettered shepherds, the poor. Luke alone records the stories of the sinful woman, the lost sheep and coin, the prodigal son, the good thief. (2) The Gospel of Universal Salvation: Jesus died for all. He is the son of Adam, not just of David, and Gentiles are his friends too. (3) The Gospel of the Poor: "Little people" are prominent—Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Simeon and the elderly widow, Anna. He is also concerned with what we now call "evangelical poverty." (4) The Gospel of Absolute Renunciation: He stresses the need for total dedication to Christ. (5) The Gospel of Prayer and the Holy Spirit: He shows Jesus at prayer before every important step of his ministry. The Spirit is bringing the Church to its final perfection. (6) The Gospel of Joy: Luke succeeds in portraying the joy of salvation that permeated the primitive Church.

"Then [Jesus] led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God" (Luke 24:50-53).
Today I took especial joy in praying for my family, my church families, and for friends who suffer physically. Whether it was rejoicing in a case of pre-eclampsia in a missionary friend which led to the slightly premature but healthy birth of a little girl, to praying for the wife of our former bishop who has Stage 4 lung cancer, to praying healing upon young girls I've met through writing web sites and struggle with brain tumors, with tumor-growing diseases, with blood platelet disorders, with leukemia, but who continue to write joyfully because writing is their calling--these are the ones we lifted up together as we asked for God's healing...and continue to do so each Friday morning in the rectory dining room.

Praying with you,

P.S. The Book of Common Prayer 2011 is going into its second printing!! This smaller order is being printed and should ship very soon. This edition will be in red leather with slightly larger print and will have a few corrections from the first printing. I amso thrilled to have been one of the editors for this project; it truly was a labor of love to use a modern Bible translation such as the English Standard Version (ESV) to bring the beauty and depth of ancient worship into the 21st century. We'll be taking pre-orders soon, so watch our website and Facebook page. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Saint Teresa of Avila

(Image: Saint Teresa of Avila, courtesy

Although I'm not a Roman Catholic, I consider myself a high-church Anglican, or an Anglo-Catholic. In the Anglican tradition, our Book of Common Prayer recognizes only Biblical saints from the New Testament such as Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint James, Saint Andrew, Saint Elizabeth, etc.

But today's Saint of the Day e-mail from touched my mind and my soul. I've read a little about Saint Teresa of Avila in the past, and I definitely have a great interest in the women saints of the century preceding her time period, namely in the British friends Saint Julian of Norwich and Saint Margery of Kempe. But I ask you to read Teresa's tale as distributed in the Saint of the Day e-mail and ponder the three-fold gifts that the Holy Spirit, working through a willing Saint Teresa, provided to the Church and to us, especially to us women as we seek to follow Christ with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.

In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena (April 29) were the first women so honored.

Ours is a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.

Teresa knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer), but she grew to be able to embrace suffering, even desire it: "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value."

Saint Teresa is indeed a woman we can model our lives on. In her approach to prayer, her philosophy of suffering, her service of others, we find a life balanced in service to God and others while remaining deeply in tune spiritually and actively committed to much-needed reforms. As one of the first female Doctors of the Church, Saint Teresa is formally recognized as a Christian philosopher, theologian, and teacher, one from whom we can learn much.

Quotation for the Week:

"Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul."

~Saint Teresa of Avila

May God grant us all a blessed remembrance of Saint Teresa of Avila, and may He bless us this week as we seek to love Him and all others He places in our path.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Writing Life

Well, another weekend has come and gone, and I didn't have time (again) to draft a chapter for my third online novel. Currently I have a prologue and nine chapters written and posted under a pen name on two different websites. From the two novels and several short stories I have completed plus my Work in Progress (WIP), my work has garnered nearly three million reads/hits to date.

But with summer gone and real life (i.e., the school year) getting rolling, I'm again having the worst time trying to find time to write.

Yes, I know I'm a busy wife and mom. And home educator. And writing/literature instructor, both online and in the classroom. And editor/grader with my own business. With four kids and a husband at home (oh, and a dachshund!), plus two teen boys to homeschool in grades 8 and 11, three online courses to teach this fall, and one co-op essay writing class to teach, plus proofreading/editing for several ministries in addition to grading essays for my own business, I guess that writing is being forced to take a backseat to deadlines, exams, and teaching.

And we won't get into the several autoimmune disorders that doctors have diagnosed.

Last week I ran across a quotation on Twitter, and it struck me funny in a dry way. Perhaps it's not really humorous at all; it could just be Truth staring down her nose at me.

"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life."

~Lawrence Kasdan

Yeah, that's about how having this next chapter to draft hanging over my head right now feels like, especially as I write this post at 3:45 AM.

But I do pray for wise time management so that I can set aside a few blocks of time each week for writing.

Have a wonderful week!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our Homeschooling Plans, 2013-2014

For the first time in ten years, I only have two students at home this year for school. Jonathan is starting his junior year of high school while Benjamin is beginning eighth grade. And here are our courses and text materials for this year:

Jonathan, Grade 11:
Bible: Morning Prayer and daily Old Testament and New Testament readings from the Book of Common Prayer 2011. Theology: One Hundred Most Important Events in Christian History; God Hides in Plain Sight
American Literature: ABeka American Literature text; English from the Roots Up, Volumes I & II (Greek and Latin root words); Brave Writer courses
US History: ABeka United States History text
Algebra II: Saxon Algebra II (with tutoring by Johanna Vignol)
Chemistry: Apologia Chemistry, Second Edition; Lab Classes at Heritage Christian School (East County II Class Day)
Driver’s Education at Heritage Christian School (Lake Jennings Class Day)
PE: Volleyball and Basketball at Heritage Christian School (ECII Class Day); Sports Camp Junior Coach, August 2013
Guitar III: Weekly lessons with Father Keith Acker of Alpine’s Free Teen Guitar Class

Benjamin, Grade 8:
Bible: Morning Prayer and daily Old Testament and New Testament readings from the Book of Common Prayer 2011. Theology: One Hundred Most Important Events in Christian History, God Hides in Plain Sight
Language Arts: Spelling Power; Daily Grams Grade Eight; English from the Roots Up, Volumes I & II (Greek and Latin root words); 20 minutes Bible reading; 20 minutes Harry Potter books; Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing program, Daily Copywork; American Literature Read-Alouds
Pre-Algebra: Saxon Algebra ½ (second half)
US History: The Story of US (second half starting with the Civil War in Volume 6 of 10 vols)
Science: Apologia General Science ; Lab Classes at ECII Class Day
PE: Volleyball and Basketball at Heritage Christian School (ECII Class Day)
Typing: Writing Skills: Keyboarding Skills

And I will be teaching a combined 3rd period course of Expository Essay I and II (formerly Intermediate and Advanced Writing) to high school juniors and seniors at Heritage Christian School's ECII Class Day, in addition to my three fall online courses in Literary Analysis: American PoetryThe MLA Research Essay, and Literary Analysis: The Great Gatsby at Brave Writer, plus new students are joining longtime students for my Online Essay Grading Service. So we are hoping for an educational, enjoyable, productive school year ahead for us!!


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Home Schooling?

I found this on Facebook as posted by Yvette Bauman, and it's very appropriate as we are in our first week of Year # 17 of our home education adventure. Obviously, home schooling is not for every family, but it has been a wonderful mode of education for us. It requires a lot of time, sacrifices, and willingness to be parent and teacher at the same time which is not always easy when one has three teen boys in the house. Although we have our occasional bad days, overall we love the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling provides for our family.

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

God Hides in Plain Sight

Last week my Pine Valley neighbor (hey, in a town this size, we're all neighbors!) Judith invited me to drive all the way to Saint Paul's Cathedral in downtown San Diego. Dean Nelson, whom Judith has known for years in writing circles, was going to be leading an adult Sunday School class at the large Episcopal Church next to Balboa Park.

Dean and I go way back as well. Brought into the Literature Department at Point Loma Nazarene University to start a journalism program the same year that I started at PLNU, Dean was my creative writing professor. In addition, a small group of students often skipped chapel to hang out in the faculty lounge and debate theological issues--and Dean was usually at the center of the debates. (And yes, I had to pay $70 in chapel fines after graduation before the registrar would hand over my diploma.) Plus, when I returned to PLNU after earning my Master's in English from USD, Dean was kind enough to offer to share his office with me as my classes were first thing in the morning and his were...not. ;) 

Judith and I, along with our beautiful sidekick Kitty, have been faithful attendees at PLNU's annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea, Dean's brilliant brainchild. We've enjoyed hearing from such wonderful and varied writers as Ray Bradbury, Kathleen Norris, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Amy Tan, Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, Billy Collins, and many more. Dean has also been very kind in trekking up the mountain to lead several workshops for our little Writers' Workshop here in Pine Valley--and we hope to make it happen again late this fall.

In 2009 Dean published an amazing little book called God Hides in Plain Sight. The last time Dean came up the mountain to speak to our group, I purchased a copy which he signed: "To Susanne--colleague, fellow writer, office-sharer, friend! Dean Nelson"

But I haven't had time to open the book, and from its place of honor on my desk, it's been staring at me, almost beckoning me to read it. But homeschooling, online classes to teach, essays to grade for co-op classes, etc., have kept me from opening the book and diving in.

Until Sunday.

Dean Nelson at The Writer's Symposium by the Sea
Dean spoke about the introduction to the book on Sunday at Saint Paul's--to a room in which I was one of only about five people without gray/white hair. As usual, his humor was disarming and amusing--something I've always loved about Dean's lectures. But for the first time, Dean was speaking about faith and faith alone--unlike his usual talks about writing that I've attended in the past.

And as Judith said to me on our long drive home, "I didn't know that Dean and I had so much in common theologically." And I agree.

The subtitle of God Hides in Plain Sight is "How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World." He lays out this idea of seeing God in the ordinary, daily events of our lives through the seven sacraments in this order: vocation, communion, confession, confirmation, marriage, baptism, last rites, and, adding a new one, service. He quotes from Thomas Merton and Eugene Peterson, from Frederick Buechner to Walker Percy, and while his disarming humor is seen throughout the book, it leads us into a deeper place...a place where we see God not just in mountain top experiences or worship on Sunday mornings, but also in the most ordinary moments, during the most mundane tasks.

Although I haven't yet come across a mention of him (yet), Dean's main point reminds me greatly of Brother Lawrence and his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, which, after the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, is perhaps the book that has influenced me the most spiritually. Brother Lawrence was a lowly dishwasher in a Carmelite monastery in the 1600's, but while he scrubbed pots, he basked in God's constant presence. He often complained about having to "go to the chapel for prayers" because he was already deeply in prayer whenever the bell rang.

I've read the introduction and am partway through the first chapter of Dean's book, and I can tell already that reading this book is going to be huge--perhaps even life-changing. Not to reduce Dean's importance, but the crux of this book isn't about the author--it's about how we need to learn to see God differently than we do now. The meaning of this book is not about intellectual knowledge--although it starts there. It's about heart-recognition and spirit-to-Spirit communication.

My Quotation of the Week comes from Dean's introduction to God Hides in Plain Sight:

"Grace pursues and precedes. It bends us toward God.... When we're paying attention, we see that grace is breaking into our everyday moments, making them different--sacred--drawing us into the presence of God. It's not about us getting a hold of the sacred. It's about the sacred getting a hold of us."

During the month of September, Dean will continue speaking about the book, doing two chapters each Thursday evening at Saint Paul's. Driving 100 miles round-trip will not be easy for Judith and me, but we're going to try to attend Dean's class at least once.

I'm so glad that Judith talked me into making a long drive Sunday morning so that God could take God Hides in Plain Sight off my "back burner" of thought and move it to the front where it's at full boil. I hope to read a little of the book each day and let it really sink in. I'm already underlining passage after passage and making copious notes in the margins, so I pity anyone who will read my copy after I'm done. With books of this importance, I tend to hold scribbled conversations with the author in the margins, but at least with this particular book, I may be able to chat with Dean face-to-face.

In fact, I'm rather counting on it.

Reading with you,


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