Friday, February 19, 2021

Reading

It's Lent. And I can already feel the spiritual battle intensifying. Memento mori. The prayers for Ash Wed. Mass are so beautiful, reminding me what I am--dust, but God's beloved dust, and so He redeems me. I always remember my mother whenever this Gospel (Matthew 6:16-21) is read because she lived it. She had this beautiful secret life of prayer and fasting and giving, not out of her excess, but in her poverty. Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas influenced her hugely. It was the first adult novel I read at the age of 12 and although I had already lost my faith by then, I still understood this secret life of hers. But now, as a grown woman of faith, I can only say, she lived an extraordinary life, hidden.

Another mother I have to gush over is Daniel Nayeri's mom. Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story) is a memoir like no other I've read and it resonated deeply because although we've never been refugees, we've had similar experiences being poor in the US (it's hard but you have the freedom to work hard to rise out of poverty), some of the same feelings regarding poop (haha, there's a lot of poop in this book and it's all true), the stories of your ancestors that you carry with you (numbered, mythic) and what it means to convert. There are a thousand reasons, but his mother says the simplest thing: because it's TRUE. It's brilliant. Read these two pages for yourself. I want to put this book in everybody's hands because it's that wonderful. I laughed; I cried. 


  


I've been praying for discernment, especially when it comes to my writing, and I'm halfway through Jumpstart and Efficient Creativity and what an explosion of ideas. I'm actually feeling a bit scattered because there aren't enough hours in the day to write. What has helped is clearing my desk of all the scraps of papers and dumping them in an ideas folder. There are only five things now--the polishing of my historical fiction, a short story that I've not written a single word but just daydreaming (and I love how perfect it is at this stage), and three little picture books in various states.

I have to share a couple of PBs I've been reading because they are so poetic and gorgeous: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlan and Marla Frazee (the picture with the rain reminds of the beautiful photos Max took of raindrops); Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. I'm a sucker for immigrant stories but to have it in PB form invites you to look again and again.  









May you all have a blessed and fruitful Lent. If you have special intentions, write to me and I will pray for you.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Jumpstart on Writing

Many of you know what a difficult time I've had after my shoulder surgery. Although I couldn't do much for the first two months, I was healing, though I couldn't tell at the time (too much pain). Physical therapy is when I started feeling it. Every week, a milestone! Music is what sustained me during those days, both listening and singing. Pain really and truly recedes when you are focused on something else. But I missed writing. And with limited energy/strength I wanted to save it for writing Christmas cards and letters to as many people as I could think of because how difficult the lockdowns have been for so many. After the kids left for school, I thought it's time to get back to my own creative writing projects. 

Surprise! 

I was rusty and hated everything I wrote. I was more interested in cleaning house and tidying up because it was like PT--I could see results! And all the books I read only made me feel inadequate. Why bother writing? But I was missing it and getting crankier by the day. But luckily, I remembered Julianna Baggott had some things on creativity so I signed up for her 6 week course: Jumpstart. And also Efficient Creativity

Wow! 

What a difference it is to take a structured course, remembering why I am so desperate to write. She begins at the beginning--memories. This is the best $10 I've spent this year, the best thing I've done for my writing life in a long while. I don't usually suffer from writer's block but I knew something broke with that surgery.  

Julianna is amazing. I'd already read a few of her books. Why does she not have a book on process? I hope someday she writes one because she's a fantastic teacher. Her advice on musing/day-dreaming is gold. She also asks good questions and makes demands and as I was writing about my own process, I realized what a blessing the migraines have been. So yes, they prevented me from doing many things, but they afforded me that all-important time for daydreaming. Maybe this is why, when I could write, I was in a good place. I'd already done a lot of pre-writing imagining. 

Anyway, if Christmas holidays and lockdowns and kids at home all day have put a dent in your writing, I highly recommend you take Jumpstart and/or Efficient Creativity. You can do them at your own pace even though Julianna has them both structured for 6 weeks. Please do share in the comments what you do when you've gotten out of the writing habit, if you ever have had trouble writing. 

The Christmas cycle ended with Candlemas. We had a beautiful High Mass at Sacred Heart (Part 1 and Part 2) and it's already the season of Septuagesima--a three week preparation for Lent, which will arrive Feb. 17th. I love the traditional calendar for this period. Book group has started for Michael and they're reading Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed. I'm reading these other books. Capturing Music: the Story of Notation by Thomas Forrest Kelly is gorgeous. I might even begin to understand some of the markings on that last page that we sang for Candlemas :)

 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Saint Ambrose on Saint Agnes

Jose de Ribera, 1591-1652 AD
I love saint stories and am often shocked by how young some of these saints are. Today is the feast of St. Agnes of Rome--we hear her name in the canon of the Mass. She was known for her beauty and piety; she had consecrated herself to Christ at a young age. When she was 12 or 13, she was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods but she refused. She was dragged naked to a brothel so that she could be defiled and her hair grew to cover her body. Several men offered to marry her, but she remained steadfast to her vow. And so she was beheaded. A virgin-martyr.

Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve. St. Agnes ~300 A.D.

Here's what St. Ambrose of Milan had to say about her nearly a hundred years later in an essay On Virgins: Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. There was little or no room in that small body for a wound. Yet she shows no fear of the blood-stained hands of her executioners. She offers her whole body to be put to the sword by fierce soldiers. She is too young to know of death, yet is ready to face it. Dragged against her will to the altars, she stretches out her hands to the Lord in the midst of the flames, making the triumphant sign of Christ the victor on the altars of sacrilege. She puts her neck and hands in iron chains, but no chain can hold fast her tiny limbs. In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. She stood still, she prayed, she offered her neck. You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned. His right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl's peril, while she had no fear for herself. One victim, but a twin martyrdom, to modesty and religion; Agnes preserved her virginity and gained a martyr's crown


What a saint for our days--for purity, modesty, chastity. St. Agnes, pray for us.

I'm reading a beautiful book "...AND YOU ARE CHRIST'S"  the Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life by Fr. Dubay. It allows me, even as a married person, to contemplate love in its highest form. "The Christian virgin is to be a lover before anything else. This is why one does what he does. Only one who is in love gives up everything for the beloved." 


And still I can't help but grin thinking about the story about the old monk who disappeared, so the new one goes looking for him in the scriptorium, and finds the old man sobbing: we made a mistake; the word was celebrate.   

Friday, January 15, 2021

Reading

It's been a while since I shared some good books. So without further ado:

My Sister, My Soul: An Arabian Night's Tale by Joan Friday is an imaginative look into the lives of Sheherezade and her sister Dunyazad. I love stories about the bonds of sisterhood and Ms. Friday delivers with a superbly crafted story. Both characters are richly drawn and come to life and their growth through the 1001 nights is beautifully rendered. The details of life in the harem with both their luxuries and confines made me grateful to live here and now with all the freedoms I enjoy. It also made me want to have someone pour scented water over me, feed me peeled grapefruit, dress me in silky soft gowns, and tell me stories. Ah, the life.

The Woman in the Trees: a novel about America's first approved Marian apparition by Theoni Bell was another beautiful story about family. Think Little House meets a saint. In this case, the saint, Adele Brise, is real and Slainie's family is fictional. It starts with the terrible Peshtigo fire that killed thousands of people but which miraculously spared the chapel and the people on its grounds no doubt because of the prayers of Adele and Our Lady of Good Help. The author backtracks to Slainie's childhood, her family's emigration from Belgium to Wisconsin and the hardships they endure. Slainie's story resonated deeply with me, especially since she struggles with an unbelieving mother. I also enjoyed all the places mentioned because we lived in Belgium for a couple of years and I have a couple of writing friends in WI and keep thinking I need to make a pilgrimage to the Champion shrine. All in good time.   

The Joy of Encouragement: Unlock the Power of Building Others Up by David Jeremiah was a book that came upon my radar in such a timely manner. This Advent, the Lord placed "encourage" upon my heart and no wonder, with so many people losing hope at the way our nation is going, we need to be salt and light. I am striving to live this daily. 

Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution by Tucker Carlson is not the typical book I read. But when I saw this at the thrift store, I knew I would understand better what is going on in the US. And indeed I do. What I appreciated most is how unbiased and fair he is in his reporting, something the mainstream media seems to have forgotten.

I, of course, have no answers for the problems besetting our nation, except to pray. So at this time I want to include a very special picture book that my friend Michelle Shahid made in a limited edition: Offer it Up to the Heavenly Cup. She packed the essence of Salvifici Doloris by Pope St. John Paul II for kids.  

 
Finally, a few artsy books: The Snuggle is Real: a Have a Little Pun Collection by Frida Clements is pure fun. 



My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown by Meera Lee Patel is thoughtful and reminded me that perfect love casts out fear. I copied a couple of quotes: Fear is here to uncover your greatest wish. Every fear is connected to a wish or hope I have. Fear invites the impossible to happen.



Brilliant! 25 Catholic Scientists, Mathematicians, and Supersmart People by David and Jaclyn Warren is a wonderful introduction to several Catholic scientists, some who are saints, accompanied by beautiful black-and-white art. This is a book that many children and adults will enjoy and perhaps spark an even greater interest in learning the mind of God, for science is exactly that--giving us a glimpse into our Creator. 




Happy reading, friends. And please do tell me what gems you've come across.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Christmas Blessings


What a joy for us to sing at the Midnight Latin Mass at Stella Maris; it was recorded for those who aren't able to come to church. Our choir director, Huey, and his wife, Tatiana, sing beautifully together and at Communion, Tatiana sang one of my favorite anthems, O Magnum Mysterium, a solo piece composed by Morten Lauridsen (~1:08). And for the first time we sang on Christmas Day too at Sacred Heart. We are so blessed. 

It's been such a gift to have the children home for an extended time--below I post some pictures of our time together. They left this morning to resume their studies at Ave Maria. They are in the best possible place, under the care of our Lady, our Mother, our Queen, who, if we ask, will clothe us in all her virtues and prepare us to be a gift to her Divine Son.

And...Dagny's bunny inspired me to get some faux rabbit fur scarves--they are soooo soft. 


Alas our Nativity is never safe from the cats. Benny has been chewing on the twigs and this year after we moved our three Kings to the Nativity he managed to decapitate one of the Kings. But all's well with a bit of glue :) Despite the many broken pieces, I treasure this Nativity, our first, where many hours have been spent contemplating the Incarnation. May Christmas blessings be yours throughout the New Year.