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...
Our 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!