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,


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