Monday, January 13, 2020

Retreat...and Write

We've had a wonderful Christmas holiday with our family and friends and I had a birthday celebration. We went to see what I think is one of the best movies in recent history: A Hidden Life. It's about a young Austrian farmer who refuses to make an oath to Hitler and who suffers and is condemned to death. His family suffers as well. It makes me question whether I would have such courage. It is beautifully filmed and really allows one to experience the feelings of this man and his wife as they consider what it means to have free will, what it means to do the right thing, even when it cannot change the course of history. If there's only one movie you watch this year, make it A Hidden Life (reviewed in the link).

So thankful to God for all the blessings, the trials, this writing life. What a delight to receive complimentary copies of Shalom Tidings that featured a little review of Bound as well as my article on the parable of the Sower and cultivating the soil of our hearts. It is what I must continue to do. And as it turns out, the Saint Generator picked St. Patrick--he's a reminder to live my baptismal promises. The inspirational word was Beauty! Ah, time to retreat into my imagination and write more beautiful stories. How is the New Year shaping up for you?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy Holidays

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday. I know it's not always easy being with family members who are difficult or demanding but as our pastor reminds us, even Jesus came amongst us through a family, thus sanctifying ordinary family life. And speaking of family, I read two books, both featuring tightly knit families. I'm so glad I saved Behind These Hands by Linda Vigen Phillips for the holidays. I'd picked it up in Sept. at the Write 2 Ignite Conference and Linda kindly signed it for me. She writes so beautifully, lyrically, and does she know how to weave plot threads tightly together, just like a Bach fugue. The story begins with Claire's pressing concern the upcoming music competition and how it might change her friendship with Juan, another musical prodigy. Then we learn about her younger brothers, Davy and Trent, and what they're battling and what it means for the whole family. The disease is Batten, which I'd never heard of before, but just as Claire learns, so do we. It's a terminal disease; there is no cure but progressive neurological impairment. It's a genetic abnormality of the lysosomes, which are responsible for cleaning up and recycling wastes in cells. Just think, if your cells cannot process waste products, they will be poisoned by them. 

Claire calls it a monster. G. K. Chesterton wrote about dragons being real, but what happens to a person when he cannot defeat the dragon? This book shows how to live courageously with a monster breathing down your neck. I recommend this book highly.

I'm not a poet but I do find free verse too...too breathy at times, the line breaks too random. When we read, we pause naturally. Line breaks force you to slow down. I think a mix of prose and poems would be more powerful because not all aspects of Claire's life demand the same level of introspection and attention. Still, it's a well-crafted story about a family navigating one of the most difficult circumstances in life--the knowledge that your child will die young. 

Burnt Bread and Chutney by Carmit Delman is a fascinating look into how the culture of Jewish Indians (Bene Israel) shaped the author, how she didn't fit in the Indian community nor the Jewish community in America because the first is mostly Hindu and the latter is mostly white. Talk about being a minority within a minority. She includes bits and pieces of her grandmother's diary. It reminded me of my mother's tall notebook where she had copied some sayings and facts from Mother Teresa and other saints. But I also wish she'd written some of her thoughts about the ordinary, every day. Perhaps she did and threw them away, like I do :)


Midnight Mass was lovely. Note the four small red candles below the Altar flowers--these contain the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine, St. Cecelia, and Blessed Seelos. They are not usually displayed, just during High Mass. I wonder now if this has anything to do with relic stealing from the olden days. I didn't know about this until I read The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony. She's woven a wonderful story of three women during 10th century France--a penitent nun who guards a relic of St. Catherine, a pilgrim who has no one, nothing, only her faith that St. Catherine will pray for her to be cured of her deformity, and a princess who wants to believe St. Catherine will give her a sign, protect her somehow from marriage to a pagan. I love historical fiction like this that's meticulously researched and masterfully written. But I digress...     

ur pastor gave a much-needed catechesis on the Eucharist recognizing that all present aren't believers, that all aren't here voluntarily. What's happening in the Mass? God comes to us! He comes to us in Spirit, in Word, and in His very Self. Christ transforms bread into His Body, the wine into His Precious Blood. Why? Transformation is the key. He comes to be with us, to transform us--hate into love, fear into hope, sinners into saints.

He gave another beautiful reflection for New Year's Day and on the word happy. The Greek root has to do with "pining" and happiness is to be without pining. We try to satisfy all our wants and needs and we live in a world of addiction but even the addict knows he doesn't get pleasure from his ever-increasing needs. So how does one get happy? Pursue goodness. We are made for truth, goodness, and beauty. I love our lowcountry Christmas with seashells and starfish, palmettos and Spanish moss! Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Messiah by Handel

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Song of the Angels (1881).jpg
Bouguereau (1825-1905) Song of the Angels (1881 A.D.)
I think this might be my most favorite recording of Messiah! It's small and intimate and a joy to listen and watch! Makes me want to dance! Enjoy! Merry Christmas! And below the Nativity scene in our little church. Note that the wise men haven't arrived yet...they're still up on the Altar. The altar boys move them closer and closer each day until at Epiphany they're at the manger.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Kyrie eleison

On this Christmas Eve, I give you a medieval chant--love the drone and Eastern influence. We've been experimenting with it too:

Friday, December 20, 2019


I've read so many interesting books this fall so let me share the best if you are looking for a gift for a young child or writer in your life. I recommend all these but one, as you'll see. 

Silent Night by Brigitte Weninger and Julie Wintz-Litty is a beautiful story of this beloved Christmas carol. Will it be ready in time for Midnight Mass? 

Hanukkah is right around the corner and what better way than to celebrate with a new book: Kugel for Hanukkah? by Gretchen Everin. I reviewed it earlier. You might think it strange for a Catholic to be interested in a Jewish holiday but you have to realize that Catholics honor these Maccabean martyrs as saints. The story is documented in Maccabees 1 and 2 and part of Scripture that's read in church. Jesus Christ celebrated Hannukah (see John 10:22-23). I do so love how the Jewish and Catholic faiths dovetail. They each illuminate the other.

I came across a gem on the Picture Book Builders blog: The Lost Words by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris. I immediately ordered it for our library and they were all oohing and aahing over it when I came to pick it up. It is a gorgeous book. Enjoy! 

Our local newspaper ran an interview with John Conley, author of Daniel Island Unearthed and I was so impressed I got a copy for myself. It's a field guide to the artefacts one can dig up. I love living here. 

Try not to throw up at the next picture. It was completely coincidental that these next three books ended up in a pile together. I was re-reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser for a nonfiction workshop and James' Fifty Shades (it is truly awful and also pornographic) ended up in the same pile of library books. I wanted to skim through it because of a very interesting book, The Bestseller Code by Jodi Archer and Matthew Jockers, that was first discussed on Writer Unboxed by Keith Cronin. Almost all of us know the elements of a good story instinctively; we respond to them in books and movies, and as writers we analyze them. What Archer and Jockers did was to feed bestselling books to a computer and have it spit out patterns. We know that our characters must go through trials, have ups and downs, but the essence of the bestselling book is that these emotional ups and downs need to happen at regular intervals. What was fascinating was how similar the curves were for Fifty Shades (romance) and the Da Vinci Code (thriller). The only difference lies in the end. Da Vinci ends on an up-note whereas Fifty Shades plummets because it's the setup for the sequel. I found The Bestseller Code very enjoyable and informative and I think we all can learn from it and the bestselling books. Fortunately, not all bestsellers are poorly written. There's enough variety for people with different tastes. 

I'd read reviews of My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, calling it darkly comic. I didn't want to read it. Yet another discussion on Writer Unboxed piqued my interest. I didn't find it funny at all. It is a beautifully written story about two sisters, one who is beautiful and attracts men like honey, and the other who literally cleans up her messes. My heart ached for the narrator because how well I understand those deep familial bonds, but I also wanted her to have a true and faithful love. I wanted to rewrite the ending on a more hopeful note. The author is a poet and you can tell because of the spare and beautiful language she uses to tell a story that lingers in one's heart long after you've closed the book.

The title of Jordan Peterson cracks me up because even God gave only Ten Commandments. The men's reading group has been going through 12 Rules for Life this fall. Max was the first to read it in our family--it was his birthday present last year. This is one of the few books by psychologists that actually makes sense. So much common sense.

I always pick up extra copies of Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren whenever I see them at the thrift store. It's one of the best books I've ever read in developing a deeper relationship with Christ. It makes a wonderful Lenten or Advent meditation or let's face it, anytime meditation. Last year I discovered a companion journal at the library book sale and it was in pristine condition. What a treasure. It's been a God-send.


Finally, I want to draw your attention to a slim gem of a book that I discovered on Kristi's blog: it's a meditation on the Prayer of Jabez. It is beautiful and it reminds me very much of John 10:10 I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. The Christian life is that of abundance! May you have the peace and joy and blessings in abundance. 

I'm writing Christmas cards and listening to beautiful Advent music. One of my favorites is Rorate Caeli and the reflection by Msgr. Charles Pope is so lovely, as is the plainchant and Byrd arrangement of the first verse sung by Voces8. I've been captivated by this group ever since I listened to their Ave Maria. Of course, I'm also practicing our Christmas menu for choir. But it won't be Christmas until the kids are home--soon, soon!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Thanksgiving and Advent

Where to even begin? So many blessings! We went down to Ave Maria, FL to visit our children for Thanksgiving since they only get Thu and Fri off. So fun to see them in their dorm rooms but we whisked them away to Key West and to Hemingway's house because they were in desperate need of some kitty cuddles. At least half the cats are polydactyls--with extra toes so they look like they have thumbs. Below I share some beautiful moments together. I definitely want to return for a longer time to explore the other little islands that make up the Florida Keys. Now, I wait to have the children home for Christmas!

Upon our return home, Michael had a glass of his home-brewed beer to relax. And the next day we began the nitty-gritty work of correcting the trouble spots in both the chant and Mozart Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It was a wonderful celebration and I'm still filled with a tremendous joy. 

I came upon a very interesting article about Mozart and Gregorian chant as I was researching a quote in Father's homily about Mozart's desire to compose a chant in favor of all his work. He did say at the end of his life that he would have gladly renounced his entire work for the joy of composing the Introit of the Mass of the Dead. This confession is extraordinarily humble, but it would have been a great loss for humanity if it had been carried out. What this shows is that Mozart discovered in Gregorian chant the language of plenitude of the adult man, which is fully reached in the heavens.   All I can say is that there is definitely something transcendent in the Gregorian chant. It is very meditative, allowing one to cast aside the cares of the world and instead place ourselves in the very presence of God. I give you the Introit for the Feast of St. Nicholas. It's as if all barriers to time and space are broken. A most blessed Advent to all as we prepare for the coming of the Infant Jesus into our hearts in silent wonder.