Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Fourth Day of Christmas: The Holy Innocents

Massacre of the Holy Innocents by Antonio Visconti, courtesy of AmericanCatholic.org

Collected from several archived posts plus new material...

Although today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, it is not a particularly joyful day. December 28 marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children aged two and under, who were ordered to be killed by the paranoid King Herod "the Great." Most Biblical historians seem to believe that only about twenty children were murdered as a result of Herod's inhumane order, but even the death of one child would make this day one of sorrowful remembrance.

Yet this event was foretold in the Old Testament as Saint Matthew tells us in his gospel, Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV), which is also the Gospel reading for this day:


13 Now when they [the Wise Men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.”



The Collect for this day, the Holy Innocents, from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

ALMIGHTY God, whose innocent children cried out in suffering at the hands of Herod; Remove from us all evil desires, and by your grace, may we be innocent in our lives and constant in our faith, even at our death, so that our voices may glorify your holy Name; Through Jesus Christ who suffered for us, and now lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen. (References: Psalm 8.2; Matthew 2.16-18; Philippians 3.13-14)


* * *

From AmericanCatholic.org's Saint of the Day e-mail:

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.
Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and, warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.
Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.

Reflection

The Holy Innocents are few, in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth—a human person, destined for eternity and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
* * *
The "Coventry Carol" of the 15th century also reminds us of the slaying of the Holy Innocents which we recall today:Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child
By by, lully, lullay, thou little tiny child
By by, lully lullay

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By by, lully lullay?

Herod, the king
In his raging
Charg├Ęd he hath this day
His men of might 

In his own sight,
All young children to slay

That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay! 

Entrance to the "old" cemetery at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California

On the occasions that I have visited the lovely San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, one of the original California Missions that remains an active parish to this day, I have found myself drawn to the cemetery. (I love cemeteries,especially old ones; I find them to be places of great peace and wholeness.) When we visit San Luis Rey where our dear friends' daughter is resting in peace, I always stop to pause at the marker inside one of the entrances to the old portion of the mission cemetery (pictured above) which remembers the Holy Innocents who have died via abortion and their mothers who have suffered as a result. whether one supports or opposes abortion, most women who have undergone the process, whatever their reasons may be, suffer greatly as a result. So we pray peace for them and for a happy reunion with their children in heaven. I can't help to be touched by these sacred places and glimpse the grief of the Rachels of this world.  

If you live in the San Diego area, stop by there sometime. Enjoy the gorgeous architecture, the amazing church, the wonderful history. Then stroll around through the cemetery and give a thought and a prayer for those Innocents who have perished, both 2000 years ago in Bethlehem as well as daily in our country and around the world, from both abortion and from the scourge of genocide.


Lord, grant them eternal rest; 
May your everlasting light shine upon them.

In His peace,


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Third Day of Christmas: The Feast Day of St. John

Saint John the Evangelist attributed to Flemish artist David de Haen, 1621

Updated from the Archives....

Today is the Third Day of Christmas and also the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist. 

Following is the Collect for the Day from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

MERCIFUL Lord, let the bright beams of your light shine upon your Church; By the teaching of blessed John, the apostle and evangelist, may we be enlightened and walk in the light of your truth, so that we may finally come to everlasting life; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (References: 1 John 1.3-6; John 8.12, 12.35; Revelation 21.23-24)

The Bible Readings for today are from the First Epistle of St. John 1:1-10, and from the Gospel according to St. John 21.19-25.  

Allow me to share the Epistle reading, quoted from the English Standard Version of the Bible:

1 John 1:1-10, ESV:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

St. John's is my favorite Gospel, perhaps my favorite book in the New Testament. John's Gospel reveals Jesus the Divine so wonderfully as it focuses on Christ's last week on earth as the Son of Man. His prayer for unity among His followers in the 17th chapter is perhaps my favorite chapter, with the sixth chapter a close runner-up. I love how St. John refers to himself throughout the Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and that he relates how Jesus, hanging on the cross, entrusted His Mother to St. John.

The daily email from AmericanCatholic.org relates this information about St. John the Divine (as he is called to distinguish him from the many other Johns who became saints):


It is God who calls; human beings answer. The vocation of John and his brother James is stated very simply in the Gospels, along with that of Peter and his brother Andrew: Jesus called them; they followed. The absoluteness of their response is indicated by the account. James and John “were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21b-22).

For the three former fishermen—Peter, James and John—that faith was to be rewarded by a special friendship with Jesus. They alone were privileged to be present at the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemane. But John’s friendship was even more special. Tradition assigns to him the Fourth Gospel, although most modern Scripture scholars think it unlikely that the apostle and the evangelist are the same person.

John’s own Gospel refers to him as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2), the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and the one to whom he gave the exquisite honor, as he stood beneath the cross, of caring for his mother. “Woman, behold your son....Behold, your mother” (John 19:26b, 27b).

Because of the depth of his Gospel, John is usually thought of as the eagle of theology, soaring in high regions that other writers did not enter. But the ever-frank Gospels reveal some very human traits. Jesus gave James and John the nickname, “sons of thunder.”

On the first Easter, Mary Magdalene “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him’” (John 20:2). John recalls, perhaps with a smile, that he and Peter ran side by side, but then “the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first” (John 20:4b). He did not enter, but waited for Peter and let him go in first. “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8).

John was with Peter when the first great miracle after the Resurrection took place—the cure of the man crippled from birth—which led to their spending the night in jail together. The mysterious experience of the Resurrection is perhaps best contained in the words of Acts: “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The evangelist wrote the great Gospel, the letters and the Book of Revelation. His Gospel is a very personal account. He sees the glorious and divine Jesus already in the incidents of his mortal life. At the Last Supper, John’s Jesus speaks as if he were already in heaven. It is the Gospel of Jesus’ glory.

Comment:
It is a long way from being eager to sit on a throne of power or to call down fire from heaven to becoming the man who could write: “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

He wrote what may be called a summary of the Bible: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 John 4:16).



So I wish you all a joyous Third Day of Christmastide and a blessed remembrance of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist! 

With warmest Christmastide wishes,

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Second Day of Christmas: St. Stephen and Boxing Day



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. 
Thus, we have a lovely gift bag of toffee to deliver to our lovely postmistresses at the Pine Valley Post Office. With Elizabeth utilizing their services frequently for her doTERRA business, they have been extremely helpful. Plus, in a town too small for home mail delivery, the post office becomes a hub for neighbor meeting neighbor and for visiting with our postmistresses who seem to resemble the Three Graces of yore as they problem-solve and assist us so kindly.



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[a] 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,[a] 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,

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy First Day of Christmas!

The meadow outside our back gate, Christmas Eve Morning, 2016, taken by Keith Barrett

Here in the mountains east of (usually) sunny San Diego, we woke to a blanket of snow this Christmas Eve, and more snow is due tonight--just a smidge. This will be our first White Christmas is the fifteen years we've lived in this small mountain community.

Now, onto Christmastide . . . .

For some reason, most evangelical Christians--and many outside of the church--believe that the Twelve Days of Christmas precede December 25, with Christmas Day being the Twelfth Day.

But as I became more Anglican in belief and practice, I soon discovered that the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25 and end on January 5, Twelfth Night. We always have a wonderful Twelfth Night party at the home of our parish priest, Father Acker, and his lovely wife Alice makes the most splendid trifle along with other treats. Nothing says "Twelfth Night" to me more than a tiny glass of sweet sherry and a heaping helping of Alice's trifle!

Christianity Today has posted a very cool article on celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas right here: "The Real 12 Days of Christmas."

And then there's the celebrating of Christmas for twelve days rather than trying to squeeze so much time with family and friends into only one day!

Christmas ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 in which the Magi, whom my younger brother used to call "The Wise Guys," visit the Child Jesus and present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When our kids were younger, we used to allow Christmas as a timeto receive gifts from extended family and the kids would get their stockings from Keith and me, but their big family gift would be given to them on Epiphany: our first Xbox (of many!), an air hockey table, etc., with smaller gifts opened one a day throughout the Twelve Days of Christmastide.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, courtesy of Wikipedia
But I've always come back to the lovely "Twelve Days of Christmas" song which I first learned from my parents' 8-track Christmas tape of Mitch Miller and the Sing-Along Gang. Now I much prefer Bing Crosby's version. And although there is a great deal of debate about the authenticity of Christian content in the "Twelve Days of Christmas," I like to believe in possible Christian significance wherever I can find it.

The Catholic News Agency has posted "The History of the Twelve Days of Christmas," and the reason for this song was of vast importance to Catholics during the English Reformation:

"The song, 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is an English Christmas carol. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember." 

Even though my favorite Urban Legends site debunks these Christian meanings as "false," they also couldn't show evidence for this NOT being true. So whatever the historical truth is, the devotional below, courtesy of Christian Research Institute, points us to Jesus in a wonderful way. 

Enjoy!

On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)


On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Two Turtle Doves: The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.


On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Three French Hens: The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)


On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Four Calling Birds: The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.


On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Five Gold Rings: The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.


On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Six Geese A-laying: The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).


On the 7th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Seven Swans A-swimming: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)


On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Eight Maids A-milking: The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)


On the 9th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Nine Ladies Dancing: The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness, 6) goodness, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)


On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Ten Lords A-leaping: The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)


On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Eleven Pipers Piping: The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.


On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Twelve Drummers Drumming: The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting. 

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2006, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved

*****

The Collect for Christmas Eve from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

O GOD, you made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of your one true light; As we have known the mystery of his light on earth, may we receive him as our Redeemer and come to behold the radiance of his glory in heaven; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

(The Collect and Readings for Christmastide will be included in the sidebar of this blog through December 31.)

Our Home, Christmas Eve Morning, 2016, taken by Keith Barrett

From our home to yours, we wish you and yours a joyous Christmastide and a healthy and blessed New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Further Book Reviews!


Okay, this is the last of the book reviews I have written this fall. The problem is that once my MLA Research Essay class at Brave Writer progressed to grading first drafts around the first week of November, all tracking (much less reviewing!) of books ceased.

Thus, my great task for the first week of Christmastide (before January 1) is to catch up with at least marking which books I've read and perhaps remembering enough of each to review them. It's not easy when renewing so many books with the same characters (i.e., Pride and Prejudice variations and continuations), plus my mindset at the time was rather garbled since grading so many essays really robs one of brain power. My health also doesn't do well with remembering plots and characters as my shorter-term memory is affected by my medications.

So here are my "last batch" of book reviews from Goodreads until I catch up after Christmas. Enjoy!!


Vinegar Girl Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the years, I've read a good number of Anne Tyler's novels--at least a majority of them. Somehow the disconnect that her characters usually experience--a disconnect with other characters, with society, with "normalcy" (whatever that is!)--leaves me anxious, unsettled. Perhaps that is Tyler's goal. Or perhaps it's just my own peculiar response evoked by Tyler's spare style and unique perspectives.

I was thrilled to read that Tyler's latest novel, Vinegar Girl, is based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Tyler's Kate is a modern twenty-something girl who is disconnected from her brilliant yet absent-minded professor father because of the hours--days even--that he spends in his university lab. Kate is also disconnected from her teenage sister Bunny who is cute, adorable, beloved by all, but as selfish as the day is long. And Kate is also disconnected from herself; she works as a teacher's aide with preschoolers and kindergarteners yet can't relate well to these small humans, the staff, or the boy she is crushing on.

Then her father has a brilliant idea that could solve the pressing problem of losing his Russian lab assistant, and Kate is dragged into the world of Pyotr who sees America, life, and even Kate with an abandoned joyful enthusiasm. Will Kate remain a "vinegar girl," or will she soften and sweeten, perhaps even glimpsing the mere possibility of happiness?

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Hogarth Press has been releasing books by modern authors that are based on one of the Bard's plays. If this is an average sampling of the results of this book series, I can't wait to read more.



Pride and Persistence
Pride and Persistence by Jeanna Ellsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very intriguing twist on Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Pride and Persistence starts in Kent. When Darcy delivers his letter to Elizabeth on the morning after his disastrous proposal, he has a devastating accident and is carried, unconscious, to the parsonage. Unable to be moved because of the seriousness of his injuries, Elizabeth takes care of Darcy with a level head and also wishes to apologize--not for refusing his proposal but for the mean-spirited manner of her refusal.

But once Darcy finally awakens, something is wrong with him beyond his broken foot and head injury, and only Elizabeth seems able to deal effectively with him. And thus begins Darcy's persistence in winning Elizabeth--mind, heart, and soul.

Jenna Ellsworth is one of my favorite writers of Austen variations, and this one was as wonderful as the rest. My favorite is still To Refine Like Silver, but Pride and Persistence is definitely a delightful read, one I highly recommend.



Infamous Relations: A Pride And Prejudice Infamous Relations: A Pride And Prejudice "What If?" Tale by Catherine Bilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful follow-up to one of my favorite variations of Pride and Prejudice, Infamous Relations is the backwards follow-up to The Best of Relations in which Elizabeth's Aunt Gardiner was portrayed as a distant cousin to Mr. Darcy but one which he respected. However, in Infamous Relations, we see both Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine at their very worst, causing Elizabeth great harm.

I very much enjoyed this different story which is set mostly at Hunsford in Kent when Elizabeth visits Charlotte Collins. After Mr. Darcy's regrettable proposal, he seeks to give Elizabeth his letter of explanation, and there the story veers into an alternate reality in which we see the worst of both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's relations.

Definitely suspenseful, sometimes angsty, and an absolute page-turner, Infamous Relations is one of the most intriguing Pride and Prejudice "What If?" tales I've read.


A Lesson Hard Learned A Lesson Hard Learned by Wendi Sotis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this variation of Austen's famed Pride and Prejudice, A Lesson Hard Learned starts just as Darcy and Elizabeth meet again in London after the debacle in Hunsford. But Darcy cannot stay to continue their awkward reunion; instead, he must travel to Virginia to bring back his cousin who was widowed while visiting her husband's family. Plus, her father, the Earl of Matlock, is dying, so Darcy must return his cousin to England as quickly as possible despite her marriage-minded machinations and some perilous events at sea.

While Darcy is away on this necessary family business, Elizabeth enjoys her trip to Derbyshire with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. In a moment of thoughtless enthusiasm, Elizabeth is injured at Matlock and is cared for by the Countess and Georgiana, both of whom have figured from Darcy's letters that he is in love with her. Due to the Earl's illness, Georgie removes Elizabeth to nearby Pemberley to recover from her head injury and broken ankle.

And then more events occur, but suffice it to say that Darcy is thrilled to find Elizabeth at Pemberley upon his return....

This is a lovely, well-researched, and rather exciting book that I read in just a couple of days despite much work on my proverbial plate. It's wonderfully written and well-paced--a delightful read!

I'm currently reading Ms. Sotis's All Hallows Eve which is even better than this one, so I think that I can safely recommend reading any or even all of her many variations of Pride and Prejudice!


Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so it may look as though I read this variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice in fewer that 24 hours, but that's not quite the case. Maria Grace has kindly posted the first several chapters, serial style, on the her own website Random Bits of Fascination as well as on Austen Variations, so I had a head start and took off flying yesterday afternoon, finishing this morning.

The dragonlore in this first novel of Maria Grace's Jane Austen's Dragons series, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon is incredible. I felt as if I stepped into a completely different Austenesque reality than usual, and I was taken in well before the end of the first chapter. Some people can hear dragons, and Elizabeth and Mary are the only of Mr. Bennet's daughters thus gifted. Mr. Bennet, the Blue Order's Historian, is well-versed in dragonlore, and he is also the Keeper of Longbourn, the ancestral dragon.

But news of a stolen dragon egg reaches Mr. Bennet, and he and his dragon-hearing daughters are commanded by the Order to assist in finding the missing egg before it hatches or else the centuries-old treaty between human beings and dragonkind would be in serious jeopardy. And the owner of the stolen egg is an abrasive fellow named Fitzwilliam Darcy....

I won't say any more because I don't want to ruin the plot; the information given here is basically from the first chapter only. ;)

This book was officially released yesterday, and, as I had posted on the site, "I gobbled up the book as quickly as Longbourn consumes sheep!"

I've been a longtime fan of everything Maria Grace writes, starting with her work posted on FanFiction.net and now through her own website as well as via Austen Variations, and this book is definitely my very favorite of the bunch!

My only regret is how long I'll have to wait to see how the story continues in Volume 2 of this series. (Write fast, Maria!! Please????)

I rarely give 5's to books other than classics and have done so for fewer than a dozen of the over 300 Austen variations I've read, but this book would get a 6 from me if it were possible! Brilliant, brilliant work!!

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Thank you for reading my reviews, and I hope that you will have a wonderfully bookish 2017 ahead! I will post my completed booklist (and movie list) for 2016 on the last day of the year, as always.

With warmest holy-day regards,

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