Saturday, December 23, 2017

Praises to God via Saint Francis

I have long been a follower of American Catholic's "Saint of the Day" e-mails which tell the stories of various saints from around the world. As I read a story of one of God's people each morning, all so different yet so focused on Him, I am encouraged and inspired, and the challenges of my life seem to grow a bit lighter, become a bit more do-able. 

This Advent I have also followed Franciscan Media's daily Advent Calendar videos and posts, in addition to this being my third year with Dynamic Catholic's Best Advent Ever videos and follow-up questions and activities. And I continue with my usual online Life for Leaders Daily Devotional which, although evangelical (partially supported by Fuller Theological Seminary), also follows the seasons of the Christian Year and thus is Advent-focused at this time.

Away from the computer, I've been reading and praying through Franciscan Media's Advent with the Saints and The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper, the latter of which was given to me by Father Gregory at Blessed Trinity Anglican. In fact, he gave me two copies, so I gave the other to Pastor Noble at Pine Valley Community Church; Megan told me that their whole family is reading through it together.

So as Advent draws to a close tomorrow night with the arrival of Christmastide, I wanted to share a wonderful prayer of praise called "Praises of God" by Saint Francis of Assisi that was part of today's Advent devotional at Franciscan Media's Advent Calendar. Enjoy!!

Wishing you and yours a holy Advent and a joyous Christmastide!!


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yes--Further Book Reviews!

Once again I'm posting reviews of books from my Goodreads account to here. Some reviews are rather brief while others may get a bit lengthy, but I definitely enjoyed them all! Not all are Austen variations--one is fiction, and the other is a mystery, and then, yes, the other ones are variations of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Imprisoned with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Imprisoned with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Wynne Mabry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very sweet story in which Darcy and Elizabeth are somehow locked into a dungeon at the home of Lady Catherine's nearest neighbor...and this awkward situation occurs the very next day after Darcy's botched proposal at the parsonage! But when Darcy and Elizabeth discover that their imprisonment was not an accident at all but a means to blackmail Darcy regarding his sister's near-elopement with Wickham, events start unfolding quite quickly.

This is more a novella-length book; it's definitely not long, and while I really enjoyed it and couldn't put it down (I read it basically in a few hours), I wish that it had lasted longer than just the wedding. I always want to know more about the Darcy marriage after the wedding, so I feel just as pulled-to-a-stop in this variation as I did in Austen's original.

I definitely liked this Darcy, though; although proud, he was quick to mend his faults when confronted with them during their "imprisonment." And he always strove for Elizabeth's happiness, defending her to Lady Catherine and the rest of his family. And this Elizabeth was also quick to see this more attractive side of Darcy and to enjoy his company. There was a little pride and awkwardness on both sides when first imprisoned together, but they soon understood each other much better, and their relationship deepened as a result.

I really enjoyed this variation of Pride and Prejudice; it was well-written and flowed well; I just would have liked the story to continue for a few chapters further than it did.

First Among Sequels First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful foray into fiction with Thursday Next! There is a definite time jump between Book 4 of this series and Book 5. Thursday is still married to Landen and has three kids: Friday is now 16 (so we've jumped 14 years with this book), Tuesday is 12, and Jenny is 10. Thursday continues her Spec-Ops and Jurisfiction work but secretly as she is afraid to tell Landen that she is endangering herself. The "front" for continuing her policing of both literary crimes and the Bookworld is her flooring-installation business...Acme Carpets which employs past characters from Spec Ops Bowden Cable, Stig the Neantherthal, Spike the vampire killer, etc.

Thursday is also saddled with an apprentice...Thursday5 from the "flop" of the Thursday Next books, The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco, the only Thursday Next book that Thursday herself had any "say" in...the only Thursday Next book without gratuitous sex and violence (not that the first four really had any of that, either). And somehow Thursday gets a second apprentice, the overconfident and just plain mean Thursday1-4 from the first four Thursday Next books, starting, of course, with The Eyre Affair. And if that isn't confusing yet interesting enough...things *really* start getting weird.

Darcy and Elizabeth: A Promise Kept Darcy and Elizabeth: A Promise Kept by Brenda J. Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful adventure. Six years after last seeing each other in Kent, Elizabeth and Darcy are thrown together when Charles Bingley, married to Jane, becomes deathly ill and asks Darcy, who remained unmarried and with whom he had been estranged, to care for his pregnant wife, two daughters, and Elizabeth who remains as their governess while he sails for Spain to improve his health. Darcy keeps his promise to Darcy and cares for Bingley's family and business. But Bingley's cousin, co-owner of Bingley's business, has been cheating him, and Darcy has much to unravel. More adventures and surprises fill this novel which contains nary a dull moment.

I had read this story just over a year ago and very much enjoyed it but somehow never fully reviewed it. It's a wonderful tale that twisted and turned throughout its length. A stunning read! I would give it a 4.5 if I could!

Rain and Retribution Rain and Retribution by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth flees a forced marriage to Mr. Collins with the assistance of the Hills, trying to get to London to the Gardiners'. But in the pouring rain, her conveyance breaks down, and Mr. Darcy comes to the rescue. When they stop at an inn, Elizabeth becomes ill and thus is compromised, and Mr. Darcy offers marriage...which Elizabeth accepts. Once the several days of rain abate and Elizabeth is able to travel, they marry quickly at Darcy House...and then the romancing begins. :)

I don't want to give away any more of the plot, but I found this variation of Pride and Prejudice to be so compelling that I literally could not put it down. The plot of Rain and Retribution is full of twists and turns, and I definitely found myself ignoring my work so that I could continue reading!! I love Leslie's novels, and this one is definitely amazing!!

A Corpse at St Andrews Chapel A Corpse at St Andrews Chapel by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't usually start book series with the second book, but in this case, books #2 and #4 of the wonderfully medieval mysteries Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles were sitting on the paperback cart besides our small town library's door, and the covers, then the titles, struck me. I invested my quarter and purchased book #2, and once I had started it, made sure I acquired book #4 on my next library trip.

I quite enjoyed this leisurely mystery, full of details of medieval life in a village outside of Oxford. John Wyclif is also a character as Hugh's mentor, so Hugh often makes pre-Reformation remarks about the abuses of the Church and the value of reading Scriptures for oneself. So I value these insights into medieval faith and practice and the contemplative life of those who follow Christ very much.

The mysteries were also quite intriguing. The books are written in first person, so we get all of Hugh's thoughts and musings along the way. I can't help but to like Hugh; he's an unassuming man of 25-ish, knowing well his weaknesses and well as his strengths. We also get to see him fall in love with the daughter of an Oxford stationer whose beauty and sweetness are a great pull for the students at Oxford.

Not only is Hugh a surgeon, but he is also Lord Gilbert's bailiff, so any problems on the lord's lands end up as Hugh's problems as Lord Gilbert is often at his other holdings.

So this series has quite drawn me in, and after the wonderful cliffhanger in the last sentence of this volume, I may have to hunt down the third book before proceeding to the fourth volume that I already have at hand. We shall see....

A Less Agreeable Man A Less Agreeable Man by Maria Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another of Maria Grace's wonderful Pride and Prejudice variations that I was privileged to proofread...twice this time! (Although my second go-through was sent to her while Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, so they may turn up in the printed book.)

I have long been a devoted fan of Maria Grace before I even knew her through the Austen Variations site. I had come across her work (under a different name) on and fell in love with her stories there. The book that became Mistaking Her Character (the first in the Queen of Rosings Park series) was definitely a favorite, and then she published the second volume of the series serially on Austen Variations, which I also adored. So this third book was definitely high on my list to read...and I loved proofing it, too. Both times. ;)

While the first volume of the series involved Elizabeth and Darcy, and the second volume recounted Lydia's experiences at a boarding school for young ladies who have gone astray, the third volume returns us to Hunsford and Miss Mary Bennet, who, after her physician father leaves Rosings Park following the death of Anne de Bourgh, stays with the Collinses as a favor to the pregnant Charlotte. But Lady Catherine is just not herself since the death of her daughter, and Rosings is in serious financial difficulties. Mary also remains at Hunsford because she is betrothed to Mr. Michaels, the steward Darcy hired to tend to Rosings Park and to keep the highly-indebted holdings from succumbing completely after years of Lady Catherine's mismanagement.

Mary has much to accomplish as she keeps Charlotte, who is carrying twins, company and also helps greatly at the parsonage in doing what Charlotte can no longer do. Plus, Mary seems to be the only person who can manage Lady Catherine when she is in her more fractious moods, thinking her daughter is still alive, etc. And Mary is one of the few people to whom Colonel Fitzwilliam, the heir of Rosings Park after Anne's death, will listen to. So Mary is greatly put-upon as she resides at Hunsford, especially since she is no favorite of her cousin, Mr. Collins.

This story is filled with tragedy laced with hope, and it's truly a wonderful testament to the strength and faithfulness of one often-overlooked (and overworked!) woman who holds all the threads of Rosings Park in her capable hands...while doubting herself continually.

While this book can be read by itself, it's best to read the whole series in order, especially the first book, Mistaking Her Character.

* * * * *

Keep on reading!! 


Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday in Advent

Updated from the Archives...

A  few years ago at Pine Valley Community Church, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Our interim pastor, Pastor Jim, started informing our church about Advent, and the topic of his sermons up until Christmas would be the significance of the four candles in the Advent wreath: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, plus the central white candle, the Christ candle. This is a different set of meanings from the sobering Anglican tradition (Death, Judgment, Heaven [thus the lightening of the penitential purple candles to a rose-colored one], and Hell) as well as the evangelical tradition we observed at Lake Murray (Prophecy Candle, Bethlehem Candle, Shepherd Candle, Angel Candle).

As regular readers of this blog will know, celebrating the Christian Year is one of my passions, and Advent has been central to our family's devotional life since the kids were small. So I was thrilled beyond belief to have Advent being preached from the pulpit; I somehow managed to restrain myself from standing up and applauding mid-sermon. ;) 

The term "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and refers to the first Incarnation of Christ as well as the expected second coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest to the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30), and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

Advent also marks the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition.

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 the year we moved to Pine Valley with 25 hand-embroidered pockets for candy/gifts and a laminated Scripture verse attached to each one:

This year, with all four of our "kids" grown (but thankfully still living at home), gathering everyone each evening for a celebration of Advent seems far less than possible. So we decided to celebrate Advent as a family just on Sundays. But of course, Elizabeth had a work event last night, so we've postponed our first Advent celebration until tonight, Monday night. 

I also found a wonderful FREE Advent devotional that can be read only on Sundays or can be spread out over the course of each week of Advent. It's from one of my favorite Christian resources, The High Calling, and here's the link: Advent Devotional

The Book of Common Prayer 2011 has the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent which is to be prayed during the Advent season until Christmas Day:


ALMIGHTY God, give us grace to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now during this present life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, so that at the last day when he will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to eternal life; Through him who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (References: Romans 13.12; 2 Timothy 4.1; Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17)

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

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world. Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Three candles are violet and the fourth is rose. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent.

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is purple, the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week which points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death: The Nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the Crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is not only to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the purple color of Lent. In the four weeks of Advent, the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called "Gaudete Sunday," from the Latin word for "rejoice"). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season. 

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history; it is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life in this double-focus on past and future. 

Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." 

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

My favorite Advent devotional is Watching for the Light, and from it I have jotted down some wonderful quotations, including the one for this week:
"Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent--that is, a time of waiting for the Ultimate."
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This year I ordered the then-free (now $3.99) Advent with the Saints from And of course, Ann Voskamp's Advent materials are amazing!  

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

Wishing you a blessed and holy Advent,

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Brave Writer Podcast!!

This week I was featured on the Brave Writer Podcast and spoke with Julie about Poetry, Fanfiction, and Chronic Illness, plus the classes I'm teaching this fall and spring. Being the senior teacher on staff, I joined Brave Writer when we were teaching classes via e-mail on Yahoo Groups! Now Brave Writer has grown to thirty instructors (when I joined, there were four of us, including Julie!) and has taught 20,000 students in our online classes!

Julie has become a force in home education, and her amazing team has created a social media presence through the Brave Writer Lifestyle that allows homeschooling parents to find assistance, encouragement, and even counsel/coaching through Julie's Homeschool Alliance.

Here's the link to the Brave Writer Blog post where you may listen to the 45-minute podcast, download the show notes, and have access to all of the information, plus there's a written Brave Writer teacher interview at the end: Brave Writer Blog Podcast with Susanne Barrett. I'll copy and paste the written interview here for you (The blue links are Brave Writer affiliate links):

What kind of a writer were you in high school?
In high school, I mostly wrote poetry. I discovered the joys of reading and writing poetry due to my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Sebastian. [He] also taught an elective class in creative writing, and there I learned to write poetry—mostly free verse heavily influenced by Dickinson—no surprise there! In fact, many of the poetry forms I teach in the Playing with Poetry Workshop I first learned in Mr. Sebastian’s class.
What is one of your favorite classroom moments?
Well, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite, but my most memorable classroom moment was when I was teaching Writing 116 (the MLA Research Essay) at PLNU, and the new English Department chairperson came in to observe my teaching. I was horribly morning-sick with our second child, and this class started at 7:30 AM. I managed to teach despite severe nausea, and my class was soooo wonderful; they knew how sick I was feeling (and why), and they kept the discussions flowing beautifully. As soon as the department chair left, I rushed out and vomited spectacularly into the trash can outside the classroom door…in full sight of and to the applause of my entire class. I was red-faced for a week…and the department chair teased me about it for years.
What inspires you?
Truly beautiful writing. Truly gorgeous landscapes. The music of the wind in the treetops. Candlelight, dip pens, bottled ink, and a blank journal page. The scent of old books and notes written in the margins by previous owners of said old books.
What would your autobiography be called?
The Bookish Theoric (a quote from Shakespeare’s Othello)
Which superpower would you like to have? What is a superpower you already have?
I would love to be able to function on two hours of sleep—then I could do so many things I enjoy doing. My family claims I already have “the editing eye”—I can spot grammar errors anywhere and everywhere.
Where would you go in a time machine?
I would meet the Brontë family in Victorian England and spend an afternoon chatting with them at their parsonage in West Yorkshire. They were so brilliant—three sister writers and a brother artist/poet, plus a wise father/pastor.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
Jane Eyre. Easiest question here. I love her quiet strength as she stands up stubbornly for what she believes in. Her thirst for learning when young, her desire to serve others, her curiosity and intelligence, her unobtrusive talents in art and teaching, and her strength of character—all of these qualities drew me to her the first time I read Jane Eyre.
What’s your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of?
I love the rich smell of fresh plums which remind me of picking fruit from gnarled trees for my grandmother and watching her make her famous plum jelly. Aaaah, the pride in seeing jar after jar of palest-pink jelly on the pantry shelf. I also love the slightly spicy scent of Cécile Brünner climbing roses—roses that my great-grandmother grew in her little city garden.
What was your favorite toy growing up?
My stuffed Camel-with the Wrinkled-Knees from the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. He was blue with printed patches, and I promptly named him “Camelot.” He (with my help, of course) used to type extremely insulting letters on my mother’s college typewriter to my brother’s stuffed blue poodle, Pierre. I saved much of their correspondence and keep their badly-spelt letters upstairs in my heirloom box.
Cake or pie?
Cake, of course!! I adore every kind of cake except for pineapple-upside-down and German chocolate. My favorite is still yellow cake with chocolate frosting which was my brother’s and my birthday cake every year. (He was born on my third birthday.)
When you were little, what did you want to be?
I knew as early as fourth grade that I wanted to be a teacher. Before that, I wanted to be Aurora from Sleeping Beauty or a ballerina. (I did take ballet, jazz, and tap classes and fell in love with tap; I wasn’t nearly flexible enough for ballet!)
What’s something you’d like us to know about reading Shakespeare?
Always, always, always read Shakespeare out loud!! My high school Shakespeare teacher had spent her college summers traveling in a Shakespearean acting troupe up and down the Eastern seaboard, and she always “cast” the plays we were to read aloud in class, saving the best roles for herself. (And Mrs. Jordan made a mighty fine Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew, I can tell you!) And be sure to attend live Shakespeare performances of decent quality.
If live performances aren’t available or in one’s budget, then check out some great film performances from the library; I especially recommend the 2009 Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart and the 1993 Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (but please preview the latter—there are some adult-type glimpses here and there).
Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard, not merely read from a book. However, if a Shakespeare play needs to be read, then read it aloud in a family/group or at least read along with an audio version; Librivox has free audio versions of most of Shakespeare’s plays. In addition, most libraries have excellent audio versions on CD available (Arkangel productions are usually amazing!). And HAVE FUN!! Shakespeare is meant to be enjoyed; reading his work is not a chore merely to be survived.
Hope you enjoyed all this!! 
And I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"American Soul"

This week U2 dropped another amazing single from their upcoming Songs of Experience album, and while I've loved "The Best Thing About Me" (especially hearing it live at their concert in September), I think I love "American Soul" even more.

My neighbor (we Pine Valleyans are all "neighbors" up here in a town of 1500) has been working with Jacob Needleman, author of American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders which explains a lot about the mess America is in right now.

We've lost our soul.

And my neighbor, in her eighties, also loved the music and lyrics to U2's "American Soul" because some of the same ideas from Needleman's book--and Judith's latest writings in both poetry and prose--reflect the loss of America's soul.

At the U2 concert in San Diego in September, the pre-concert "show" was a selection of poetry about America. I didn't notice it scrolling down the large screens at first...until I caught a beloved line written by Langston Hughes, one of my top five poets. Poem after poem scrolled...another by Hughes, then Carl Sandburg, Rita Dove, Robinson Jeffers, even Robert Pinsky (whom I met at February's Writer's Symposium by the Sea)...all poems about the heart and soul of America. And the whole concert was backed by the imagery of America--the Joshua Tree songs as well as the new rhythms and lyrics, familiar because of their source and the talent of U2, but new-to-us in an uncomfortable-comfortable way that gently scolded and taught and celebrated.

So U2's "American Soul" reminds us of who we've been...and who we can be again.

Here are the lyrics, courtesy of

"American Soul"

Blessed are the bullies
For one day they will have to stand up to themselves
Blessed are the liars
For the truth can be awkward

It’s not a place
This country is to be a sound
Of drum and bass
You close your eyes to look around
Look around, around
Look around, it’s a sound
Look around, look around
It’s a sound

It’s not a place
This country is to me a thought
That offers grace
For every welcome that is sought

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul

It’s not a place
This is a dream the whole world owns
The pilgrim’s face
It had your heart to call her home

Hold on, brother John
Too many mothers weeping
Dream on, brother John
In your dreams you can’t be sleeping

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul
American, American

Put your hands in the air
Hold up the sky
It could be too late
But we still gotta try

There’s a moment in a life
Where the soul can die
In a person, in a country
When you believe the lie
The lie, the lie, the lie

There's a promise at the heart
Of every good dream
It's a call to action
Not to fantasy

The end of the dream
The start of what's real
Let it be unity
Let it be community
For refugees like you and me
A country to receive us
Will you be my sanctuary

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul

You are rock’n’roll
You and I are rock’n’roll
You are rock’n’roll
Came here lookin’ for American Soul
American Soul, American Soul

May our soul be renewed, America!! 


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Yes--Even More Book Reviews!!

This bundle of reviews is all Austen, all the time!! They vary from a modern P&P-like story to a collection of Darcy short stories to a Georgiana romance, with more P&P tales sandwiched in between. So enjoy these reviews!!

Leap of Hope: Chance at an Austen Kind of Life Leap of Hope: Chance at an Austen Kind of Life by Shannon Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hope, a college student, has died...and finds herself at the Crossroads Center with the option of returning to her former life or taking on a new identity. Given her love of all things Austen, she decides to pursue a life in Regency England, a la Pride and Prejudice, and she does so, with many adventures and a lovely romance to follow!!

A delightful read although it took me quite a while to get into it...which may have been my crazy schedule not leaving me much patience for reading something different. But I really enjoyed this book once Hope became Katherine Barrett (yes, the same last name as mine--isn't that wonderful??) in a family very similar to the Bennets of Longbourn. A wonderful romance develops between Kathleen and a rather morose gentleman...with many surprises along the way!

Three Dates with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation AnthologyThree Dates with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Anthology by Elizabeth Ann West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I had read one of these stories before, all three were memorable tales of Darcy and Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice fame. The second story (novel-length), A Winter Wrong, I had purchased separately, but I had not before read the short story "Much to Conceal" or the novel-length By Consequence of Marriage. This last is the first of a trilogy, and I have been so engrossed in it that I think I need to obtain the other two novels in "The Moralities of Marriage" series.

Wonderful stories, and especially wonderful portraits of Darcy. A lovely collection!

The Whisky Wedding: a Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet storyThe Whisky Wedding: A Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet story by Elizabeth Ann West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth goes off in search of Lydia after Wickham and she elope. While Jane, Uncle Gardiner, and Mr. Bennet head to London, Mrs. Gardiner, the children, and Elizabeth travel to Gretna Green to see if the couple had truly eloped to Scotland.

Once in Gretna Green and with no sign of her sister or the despised Wickham, Elizabeth leaves her aunt, who is determined to return to England, and travels to the next few towns in Scotland in case Lydia and Wickham went farther to marry. While traveling, her carriage had a serious accident, resulting in the death of a child, and Elizabeth is seriously injured. Mr. Darcy finds her as he is staying a short way away at his Scottish estate, and he whisks her away, not realizing how very injured she is. And the story goes on from there.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Darcy in this one, and Elizabeth meets him with every intention of apologizing for her horrible rejection of his proposals at Hunsford. So they are both in love with each other (Darcy more than Elizabeth, but she catches up quickly). The main problem is his family when they return to London...and her family, too, actually.

The "bad guy" who isn't truly "bad" is Lady Matlock who is trying to patch up Georgiana's debacle at Ramsgate, Lydia's botched elopement, and Darcy and Elizabeth's actual elopement. But she goes about it badly, disproving of all of the Bennets (some with good reason!) and alienating Darcy, Elizabeth, and the Colonel in the process.

I couldn't put this one down--really wonderful!!!

Believing in Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Believing in Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Renata McMann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story starts out strangely, with the death of one of the characters, accidentally but at the fault of Lady Catherine. Elizabeth saves one of the characters, to the detriment of the one who does die. Darcy steps in to assist with the final arrangements on behalf of the widow, and shortly another character also dies, placing Darcy in a strange predicament and at odds with Elizabeth.

The whole Bennet family must be shuffled off here and there, and Mrs. Bennet is of course inconsolable...especially because no one wants to stay with her and listen to her complaining day in and out. It's a very different and highly-interesting variation of Pride and Prejudice and it's quite, quite intriguing...and not predictable at all.

Particular Attachments Particular Attachments by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps because I had read several of the opening chapters at Austen Variations, I had a more challenging time than usual in sinking into this novel. But once I did, I went gangbusters trying to find out what happens between Georgiana Darcy and her childhood nemesis, Nathaniel. Considering the crazy week I've just managed to survive while juggling the teaching of two Brave Writer classes and grading many essays for my business, it was a miracle that I finished this book at all.

It does help to read Particular Intentions first so that one knows Darcy and Elizabeth's story before launching into the story of Georgiana and Nathaniel as well as Lydia and her Mr. Hanson. Four years have passed since the first book in the series, and Georgiana, who has delayed her come-out to age twenty because she plans to never marry, is finally convinced to enter London society. And the annoying Nathaniel is immediately at her side. She ignores him. She teases him. He makes her angrier than anyone else on earth...and the sparks fly! But Georgiana's past seems to be catching up with her, and she must tell Nathaniel a dreadful that will ruin her in society forever.

Once I got about a quarter of the way into this book, I couldn't put it down. I even brushed my teeth with Kindle in hand, eager for the next encounter between Georgiana and the persistent Nathaniel. A delightful book in every way!!

I rarely give 5's to any book except for classics, but this novel deserves it--and then some!

* * * * *

I hope that you have enjoyed this very Austen-heavy set of book reviews. When I'm stressed, I tend to return to old favorites...or, in the case of Austen variations, new retellings of old favorites! 

Happy reading! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Celebration of All Saints!

All Saints Byzantine Icon

Revised from the Archives...

Aaaah, one of the most joyous holy days of the year -- All Saints' Day! On this day, we celebrate all of the holy people who, for the past two thousand years, have followed Christ with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This pilgrim pathway we walk in not an untrod road; Christians have walked this path, this Way, for two millennia and have given us encouragement, warnings, exhortation, and, most of all, the example of a beautifully Christ-led life. As Saint Paul taught the Church in Philippi, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9, my emphasis). As Saint Paul exhorts the Church to follow his human example as a follower of Christ, so may we also look back through the ages to the examples of other saints, other holy people, and draw encouragement and lessons from their lives. 

The term "Saints" seem to raise the hackles of many evangelicals -- but it doesn't have to be that way. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the "High Church" Anglicans seem to have the corner on the Saints of the Church, and many, if not most, of the Protestant community (especially evangelicals) misunderstand the concept and importance of Saints. Many believe, as I used to, that mistaken Christians pray *to* the Saints rather than praying to God. We'll get to that idea in a few minutes.

First of all, what is a "saint"? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English states that a saint is: 1) a holy or good person whom Christians believe will go to heaven after death. 2) a person of great goodness who is declared to be a saint by the Church after death. 3) (informal) a very good or kind person.

So, basically, if we love the Lord and have asked Him to live in our hearts, then we are saints! We see this use of "saint" often in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul's Epistles.

Then there are the extraordinary saints, those who have lived lives of exemplary obedience to God, often to the death. The Church has designated these special people as "Saints." I find their stories extremely interesting and valuable in my own Christian life. In fact, I purchased a beautiful coffee table book called One Hundred Saints. The text is Butler's Lives of the Saints (1759), and it is gorgeously illustrated with artwork depicting each particular Saint's life. Some of my family and friends have wondered at my having such a book, but when I tell them that I purchased it at Bob Jones University, their objections are usually quelled. (Few people know that Bob Jones University has the largest collection of Christian art in the world outside of the Vatican, including room after room full of depictions of Saints and an entire room devoted to Byzantine icons, my favorites!) Although the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, it is the text of the Saints' lives that captivate me most.

When I read about a particular Saint and their devotion (and often martyrdom) to Christ, I find that I am encouraged in dealing with my own difficulties. These Saints faced far more treacherous problems than I will likely be called upon to face, yet they demonstrate their love for Christ in remarkable ways through the strength of His Spirit. The stories of the Saints point me to Jesus, where my attention should be, and away from myself. Their examples glorify God and encourage me in loving and serving others in His Spirit.

Many believe that Catholic and Orthodox Christians "pray to the saints." In fact, some of their prayers sound very much like they are doing exactly that. But when I asked my Catholic friends about praying to the Saints, they gently corrected my misunderstanding. They replied that when Catholics "pray" to a Saint, they are asking that Saint to pray FOR them, just as we evangelicals might ask a close friend or a pastor to pray for us.

Then I asked, "Why would people in heaven pray? Aren't they in eternal bliss, not to be disturbed by sorrow, etc.? My Catholic friends replied with a Scripture reference: Revelation 5:8 which shows Saint John watching the Saints offer up their prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Well, for whom are the Saints praying? They can't be praying for people in heaven as they have no need of prayer. So the Saints must be praying for those still on earth, right? Yes, we pray to the Father and to the Son, but we also marshall our prayers by asking friends to pray for us, right? So why not ask someone (such as a Saint) to pray for us when they are right there in the Presence of our Father?

It makes sense to me, at least.

So the Saints inspire us to love God and others, and to show that love in ways that glorify Christ. If we want to, we can ask them for prayer, just as we would ask a dear friend or leader.

The Collect (a prayer to be prayed collectively, not only by a congregation but throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion) for All Saints' Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is as follows (and is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave (for eight days, through next Thursday):

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is a more modern rendition of the Collect for All Saints from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY God, you have woven your disciples into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son, Christ our Lord; Give us grace to follow your Saints in righteous and holy living, and to come to the joy beyond words which you have prepared for those who truly love you; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

The Epistle Reading for this Holy Day can be found in seventh chapter of the Revelation to St. John, starting in the second verse. (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17) 

The Gospel Reading for All Saints' Day is written in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting in the first verse. (Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes).

All Souls' Day (November 2)

I hope to attend the All Souls' Day service on Thursday with Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity Anglican and the folks at Pepperwood Park. If I am not able to do so, at least this morning in our homeschool devotional time Benjamin and I will pray the Collect and read the Epistle and Gospel readings for this Holy Day. We will also discuss the Saints and what a blessing we can all be in helping and encouraging each other in this Christian life as well as looking back through the ages to find other wise and holy people who can also encourage us through their examples and, sometimes, through their own writings. We are so blessed to be able to share this pilgrim pathway with other believers, both in the present and from the past. What a beautiful gift from God to His saints!

As I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest

"There is no such thing as a private life -- 'a world within a world' -- for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other." ("Ye Are Not Your Own," November 1)

And as I also read in The Crozier Connection, the newsletter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Mid-America Diocese of the Anglican Communion of North America for November of this year a letter from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Dr. Ray R. Sutton: 

"Hebrews 12:1 specifically says, 'Seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.' Clouds are obviously in the sky. Yet these are clouds in another world. They are heavenly clouds. These clouds are filled with 'witnesses,' those who have died in Christ. They are there, but they are not dead. They are alive through faith in the Resurrected, Living Jesus Christ. And significantly, we are surrounded by them, which means somehow we who believe in Christ in the present, are with them; and they are with us.... We are together in the present in a mysterious way. As such they of old are our contemporaries."

For Christians, all of our lives entwine around each others'. No one is separate; no one is alone. And today, All Saints' Day, is one day in which we can formally and joyfully celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. 

And, as the daily Saint-of-the-Day e-mail from reminds us, this Solemnity doesn't just mark those Saints who have gone through the long process of being proclaimed "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church; rather, "Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known." Amen and Amen!

A blessed All Saints' Day to you!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Saint Luke: Physician, Apostle, and Evangelist

Partially from the Archives....

From's Saint of the Day e-mail for today:

Saint Luke

Saint of the Day for October 18

(d. c. 84)

Saint Luke’s Story
Luke wrote one of the major portions of the New Testament, a two-volume work comprising the third Gospel and 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 Gospelwriters. Tradition holds him to be a native of Antioch, and Paul calls him “our beloved physician.” His Gospel was probably written between 70 and 85 A.D.
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.
Luke’s unique character may best be seen by the emphases of his Gospel, which has been given a number of subtitles:
1) The Gospel of Mercy
2) The Gospel of Universal Salvation
3) The Gospel of the Poor
4) The Gospel of Absolute Renunciation
5) The Gospel of Prayer and the Holy Spirit
6) The Gospel of Joy


Luke wrote as a Gentile for Gentile Christians. His Gospel and Acts of the Apostles reveal his expertise in classic Greek style as well as his knowledge of Jewish sources. There is a warmth to Luke’s writing that sets it apart from that of the other synoptic Gospels, and yet it beautifully complements those works. The treasure of the Scriptures is a true gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

Saint Luke is the Patron Saint of:


* * * * *
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 in remembrance of Saint Luke:

ALMIGHTY God, you inspired your holy servant Luke the Physician to write an orderly account of 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)

Each Friday morning for the past thirteen years, Father Acker and I (and now often Father Gregory) meet for weekly healing services including Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. During this time of prayer and praise, we pray 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 pray 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. 
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 fifteen-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. 
Our women's Bible study at Pine Valley Community Church is working our way through Kay Arthur's Precept studies in Romans; this year we're tackling Part Three: Romans 8-11. And in the video this week (which were filmed when Kay Arthur sported the fluffy hair and "colorful" fashions of the '80s!), Kay assured us that God brings suffering into our lives to refine us, to help us to become more loving, more compassionate, and more like Christ. I was relieved that she didn't follow the "name it and claim it" factions of evangelical thought--in fact, she gently disparaged the whole name). I felt strengthened and inspired by her thoughts on Romans 8 and Christian suffering. 

It is also 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 great consolation and inspiration:
Detail of St. Theresa of Avila by François Gérard

"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.
Soli Deo Gloria,


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