Friday, September 29, 2006

Poor Ribsy!

A few days ago I got out several "chapter books" and let the Sweet Girl choose what we would read next. She's been very excited lately about the notion of "chapter books" -- which in this context simply means bigger kid books divided into chapters -- since she seems to realize it's a sign of growing up. The other day she asked me if we could read "Wilbur" again sometime (i.e. Charlotte's Web) and of course I said yes. Then she asked, a little worriedly, "Are you big enough for Wilbur?" (referencing herself with the "you" there). I had to laugh. She was, of course, "big enough" this past summer even before she turned four. She practically hung on every word.

This time around she chose Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. I was very happy about that as I always seem to get a yen to read Cleary in the fall, maybe because so many of her stories seem set around back-to-school time. I think the cover illustration of Ribsy in the bathtub is what really snagged her attention, and thus far the bathtub scene has been her favorite. Who wouldn't get the giggles when listening to a story about a dog in a bath with lots and lots of violet scented bubbles?

It's always fascinating to guage her growing interactions with stories. We read a bunch of Cleary a couple of years ago, on road trips -- sort of "road testing" these books that neither of us had read in years, seeing if they were as good as we remembered (they were) before our daughter got old enough to read them. At that time, she was a toddlerish two, a sort of sweet lump of cuteness sucking her fingers in her carseat and falling asleep if I read too long (we'd just keep going and finish the stories ourselves). Now I can hardly read a paragraph (sometimes more like two sentences!) before she interrupts with questions. She's been a bit worried about ol' Ribsy this time around, asking anxiously "WHY can't Ribsy find Klickitat Street?" I made a parental decision to forgo the gifts of suspense and anticipation this time around in order to allay her fears. I told her Ribsy would find Henry again, and I used the opportunity to teach her the word "perseverance" as in "Ribsy perseveres; he keeps trying and trying to get home to Henry!"

It's interesting what words she picks up on too. One begins to realize how much of the vocabulary that seems most foreign to her is old-fashioned vocabularly we don't use much these days. She's asked me why some people call Ribsy "fellow" and was curious about the "cloakroom" in the classroom. She gets the giggles almost every time someone refers to poor lost Ribsy as "pooch" too.

I love Beverly Cleary, but this is definitely the most fun I've ever had reading one of her books. I love having a growing and learning listener right beside me!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

And the winner is...Jack Prelutsky!

A week or so ago I posted a little item about the naming of the first American Children's Poet Laureate. I hadn't heard the names of anyone under consideration, but my first instinct that they might name Jack Prelutsky (who is, incidentally, alive and well and still writing and publishing!) proved to be right!

Prelutsky is actually only 66. I was thinking of him as older, perhaps because I associate him with Shel Silverstein. Turns out that Silverstein was only born eight years before Prelutsky, though he passed away in 1999.

We've only begun enjoying Prelutsky's poems in the last year or so, but he's been writing funny and imaginative poems since 1967.

Here's a stanza from a Prelutsky poem we like:

Ten brown bears with big bow ties
gobbled plates of apple pies,
and with every pie they ate,
they piled up an empty plate.

I also really like

In her garden, Sarah Small
grows galoshes, short and tall.
Shirts of yellow, hats of red
beautify her flower bed.

Both of these are taken from poems from his rhyme collection The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders, published by Greenwillow in 2002.

Prelutsky was awarded $25,000 and gets to spend the next two years promoting children's poetry. Sounds like a lovely way to spend two years!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Sweet Girl Wants to Know

"Does a bug hug a bug?"

"Does a squid sneeze?"

"How many years until I'm 100?"


"So it seems the most important starting point for prayer is yielding: laying down our defenses, taking off masks, recognizing that God has already called us and is already waiting for us to come to him. Yielding is putting aside our self-importance, our cares and schedules and undertakings, in order, very simply, to be with God. It is the yielding up of everything that keeps us from the Lord, letting go of anxiety and restlessness. It is the gift to him of time, the only coin we have to spend: the gift of ourselves, one we find all too difficult to give." (Emilie Griffin, Clinging)

I keep going back to this paragraph in Griffin's little book. How many times I think "I don't have time" to just rest in the stillness and wait upon God. How many times I use the excuse of busyness, or don't really even try to make excuses. And how often, I wonder, is it because it can just be so hard to quiet my soul, to rest, to wait, to listen, to yield? Because it goes against the grain of so much of the rest of the tenor of my rushed and crammed-with-thinking kind of day. Because I might be afraid of what I hear?

Remember Michael Card's song "In Stillness and Simplicity": Is the reason we're not still, to hear you speak, because we don't believe you will? and then In stillness and simplicity, I lose myself in finding thee...

All of this weaving together with this line I read recently from Evelyn Underhill:
"Try to arrange things so that you can have a reasonable bit of quiet every day and do not be scrupulous and think it selfish to make a decided struggle for this. You are obeying God's call and giving Him the opportunity to teach you what He wants you to know, and so make you more useful to Him and to other souls.” (Evelyn Underhill’s letters, p. 141)

I will keep trying, even if for only a few minutes a day (and often late at night, when I seem to need it most and can move most easily into it) to put myself in a place of resting and listening.

Monday, September 25, 2006

It's a Small (Blog) World, After All...

Hmm. Jim Wallis, over at Sojourners, has started a new blog. It's called God's Politics (named after his recent book by that same title). Sojourners, of course, tries to engage in political discussion from what I think one could term "progressive evangelicalism" or "evangelicals on the left." And while I may not always agree one hundred percent with their perspectives, I always find the perspectives of Wallis and company thoughtful, thought-provoking and worthwhile. Link, if interested:

One of the intriguing things on "God's Politics" right now is an on-going conversation Jim Wallis has been having with Ralph Reed. I confess I've been too busy to read their full exchange, but I have enjoyed skimming it. Today, for some reason, I decided to click on the comments section attached to Reed's latest. I don't know why I did this -- comment boxes on political and religious blogs often worry and frustrate me far more than the articles posted, because lots of folks "take the gloves" off and forget how to be charitable when "conversing" via comments. Still, once in a while you can find something worthwhile and refreshing in the comments.

Let me just say this: I never thought I'd hear Ralph Reed quote Robert Kennedy (which he did in the final paragraph of his article!). Then again, I never thought I'd hear anyone quote folk singer Dar Williams to Ralph Reed, as happened in the comments. Hee!

The blog world certainly is an interesting one!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Deep Peace...

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you,
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you.
(A Gaelic Blessing adapted from an old Gaelic rune)

I'm listening to an absolutely lovely CD this evening: Gloria: The Sacred Music of John Rutter. It's a new discovery and I'm basking in some of the wonderful arrangements of beautiful praise.

The sweet girl is beginning to want to sing. I think because she learned to talk so late, she was extra shy of ever joining in with songs...although we've always been a singing family, and D. and I have both sung to her a lot for years. She loves music and has always enjoyed it, been soothed by it, loved moving to it. But it's only been in recent months that she's begun to join in and trying to sing. I especially love hearing her on praise songs, when she gets excited and raises her hands and looks up with a shining light in her eyes. Some of her favorites right now: "I Love You, Lord" and "As the Deer" (which she makes us all hold hands to sing, including her dolls and bears, because as she earnestly says "it's a very special song").

I too love to sing, and need to do it more! And this Rutter music is definitely feeding a music and praise hunger in me right now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Two Thoughts on the Heart

"When we have met our Lord in the silent intimacy of our prayer, then we will also meet the market, and in the town square. But when we have not met him in the center of our own hearts, we cannot expect to meet him in the busyness of our daily lives." (Henri Nouwen)

"If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

I came across these two quotes a number of pages apart in Cornelius Plantinga's book Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. (Hat tip to the wonderful Hearts and Minds Booknotes for putting me onto this fine book. I can't seem to get hyperlinks working, but they're at

I'm still thinking through both quotes, and they're trying to spin/weave themselves into something that feels suspiciously like a poem but hasn't really become one yet.

The Solzhenitsyn quote feels particularly sobering on a day when we've learned that the number of U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan now equals the death toll from September 11.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

HP 7: The Invisibility Cloak (Some Speculations)

Okay, I have to engage in at least a little bit of speculation here regarding JKR's recent comment about Harry's invisibility cloak. Not only because it's fun (and I keep kicking around ideas, so I may as well write them down) but because I find myself not wanting to go over to the HogPro boards until I've thought through my own ideas first. I'm sure far more savvy HP readers will be way ahead of me. So forgive me if I plod.

Let's start with some basic parsing. Rowling said we should have asked why Dumbledore had James' cloak "at the time James died" which is a very interesting statement. When Harry first receives the cloak, anonymously, on his first Christmas morning at Hogwarts, the note reads
Your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well.

Hmmm. "Left this in my possession before he died." Had it "at the time James died." I know, they're really close, but there is just a teeny weeny bit of difference in emphasis. And it's interesting that in both cases, James' death is referenced.

So many things keep pointing us back to Godric's Hollow and the night of Harry's parents' death, the night Voldemort tried to kill baby Harry, only to have the AK curse rebound and send him into involuntary un-embodied exile (which we now know was as close as someone could come to killing him, given the dark and twisted steps V. had taken to try to ensure his own immortality).

I keep trying to piece together that night, as well as we can, given what Rowling has given us in the first six books. There are sizeable holes in our information, but it does seem clear that an awful lot of people were at (or nearby, or watching over) the Potters' house that night. Voldemort was there, of course, and Peter Pettigrew had to be closeby. We know that much because he was the Potters' secret keeper, and only by divulging where they were (and breaking the Fidelius Charm -- interesting to note that he was "breaking Fidelius" or "breaking faith") could V. have found them in the first place. James' best friend and Harry's godfather Sirius Black was their first choice for secret keeper, but apparently (?) Sirius thought he seemed the obvious choice, and convinced James and Lily to use Peter instead, a decision he regretted the rest of his life. We can also speculate that Peter had to be around in order to retrieve Voldemort's wand -- someone had to take care of it and get it back to him later, and P.P. seems the likeliest candidate.

But we know Sirius had to be somewhat nearby too, or at least close enough to rush to the scene once he heard what happened -- and how did the word get out so quickly? -- because Sirius shows up in time to loan Hagrid his flying motorbike. Sirius had come with the intention of rescuing Harry -- we know that from PoA when Hagrid is recounting the evening to Fudge and McGonagall and tells them that Sirius had said "give me Harry" but Hagrid was already there under Dumbledore's orders to take Harry away. Presumably Sirius loaned him his bike, Hagrid flew off to get baby Harry to Dumbledore (meeting him on the wall outside 4 Privet Drive in one of the first scenes of the first book). Back at Godric's Hollow, by this time the muggles have come round to see what's happening (Hagrid described the house as almost destroyed) and Peter runs into Sirius, accuses him of the crime he himself has just committed, and fakes his own death in front of witnesses (taking a number of innocent muggles with him). This leaves an enraged and unhinged Sirius behind to be taken into wizarding custody for a crime he didn't commit.

Does this sound right? I feel like I'm patching together a quilt!

And how did Hagrid get there so quickly? It's clear Dumbledore was watching Godric's Hollow. He knew the Potters' lives were in danger, perhaps better than anyone (because he knew the prophecy) so he was clearly standing guard or had someone else standing guard. Maybe the Potters' kept a portrait of Dumbledore at their house? (Sorry! Highly unlikely, but I couldn't resist.) My guess is that Dumbledore had set careful watches/guards on both the Potters' and the Longbottoms' homes since at the time that the prophecy was made, he wasn't sure which child it meant and which one Voldemort was most likely to go after. I really need to go look at the end of OotP again and revisit that whole conversation Dumbledore has with Harry about that time period. (Also I'm unclear if we know from the patched together quilt of past events exactly when Alice and Frank Longbottom were tortured into insanity. And do we know WHY they were tortured? Beyond the fact that they were on the right side, I mean? Could they have been tortured because they wouldn't reveal the Potters' whereabouts?)

Back to Hagrid. How did he get there so fast? Does he know how to appararte? His wizarding training was never completed because he got expelled, but I'm guessing he's gotten a bit of extra training on the side from Dumbledore. But if he COULD apparate, why didn't he just do so with baby Harry instead of borrowing Sirius' motorbike --unless he knew how to apparate himself but had never practiced "side by side" appartion and was too scared to do so with the baby? Could Hagrid have been on the spot at Dumbledore's orders? Dumbledore was worried; so worried about the Potters that he himself wanted to be their secret keeper. And we know how much he trusts Hagrid. I would trust Hagrid with my life. But if you were going to station Hagrid somewhere nearby, how would you hide him? Would the invisiblity cloak work for this? I know it's not big enough to cover Hagrid, but I think something similar to an "engorgement charm" might be used to make it temporarily larger.

The only problem I have with Hagrid being in the vicinity that night is that I can't imagine him just staying put and watching everything unfold without losing his temper, rushing in, bellowing like anything, and trying to take out that ruddy Voldemort all by himself. The only thing that makes sense is if he purposefully was told to stay put no matter what -- and did so out of obedience to Dumbledore's orders. We know that Voldemort can apparate, and I think it would have been relatively easy for him to do so into the Potters' house once the Fidelius Charm had broken. The Fidelius was the strongest protection -- any other magical protection on the house was likely easy to breach once the Fidelius had been breached. So perhaps Hagrid, hidden in the vicinity, didn't see anyone go in and didn't know anything was going on until he suddenly saw green, flashing light and heard screaming and shouting. And by then, of course, it was too late.

Yes, I know...Snape is another candidate for having been there that night, under Dumbledore's orders. Snape himself knew the prophecy, or at least part of it. But would Dumbledore have sent Snape, knowing how Snape felt about James? What would be the point? (Unless he also knew how he felt about Lily, but now I'm *really* reaching into the realm of speculation...) And could Snape, even though he's a brilliant actor, have seen what happened that night at Godric's Hollow (and known his own role in the unfolding of the tragedy) and remained so outwardly cold and unfeeling to Harry (for six years!) regarding his parents and his loss? If he had been there that night would that night not have become one of his worst memories, or (if you still believe Snape's bad through and through) at least a memory that he would definitely need to safeguard from Harry ever accessing? And if so, why wasn't it one of the memories he placed in the pensieve for safe keeping before he had his occlumency lessons with Harry? (Unless we assume it was there, and Harry just didn't have time to see everything.)

When I start to think about why Snape might have been there that night, one of the only things I think of is that it had something to do with trying to block the making of the final horcrux. I would bet that Snape, drenched as he was in the dark arts during his formative years, might know a thing or two about horcruxes. But did he know Voldemort was trying to make seven of them? Did Dumbledore even know that much at that point in time? I am feeling really muddied about the timeline here! Can anyone else (please!) come up with a reason why Snape, or for that matter anyone else, might have been present under the invisibility cloak?

I'm not saying that the invisibility cloak had to play a role that night, but it seems likely given JKR's words that Dumbledore's possession of it "at the time James died" is "significant" even "crucial." I've frankly wondered why Dumbledore had it and not, say, Sirius. If you had a valuable treasure like that and wanted to ensure your child would have it one day, in the event of your own likely death (considering there was a war on and the Potters were on the frontlines) who would you give it to? Seems to me you'd give it to your child's godfather. So why Dumbledore, especially since Dumbledore, of all people, wouldn't ever need it, as JKR has helpfully pointed out to us here again (and first pointed out in the chapter on the Mirror of Erised in Sorcerer's Stone, when Dumbledore tells Harry straight out that he doesn't need an invisibility cloak to be invisible)? Unless James entrusted it to Dumbledore because Dumbledore told him someone else in the Order of the Phoenix needed to use in, perhaps in part to help protect the Potters. Just how rare are these cloaks, I wonder?

A couple more notes and then I'll wrap this up. It does seem interesting when we consider other times we've seen the invisibility cloak in action. Once in PoA -- Harry carelessly leaves it at the base of the Whomping Willow, Snape puts it on and thus is able to get into the Shrieking Shack unnoticed (where he hears all the stuff Lupin and Sirius are saying about Pettigrew, etc...although I need to go back to that sometime and figure out just where Snape must have begun listening). Secondly, we see it at the end of HBP when Dumbledore instructs Harry to wear it -- then immobilizes him so that he's both invisible and not able to move during the scene where he witnesses Dumbledore's death. It seems clear here (and indeed early on in Sorcerer's Stone, when he first gives Harry the cloak) that Dumbledore is providing protection but also encouraging Harry to move forward in his daunting task of facing evil, and in some ways schooling him in some very hard and difficult lessons. I can't help but think Dumbledore, by choosing the manner of his death (at least in part) also chose to have Harry witness it for a reason. All of which leads me back to the probability that asking someone to be in a difficult and dangerous place, under the protection of the cloak, is something Dumbledore would have been prepared to do that night at Godric's Hollow if he truly felt it was necessary. Was it? And if so, who did he ask? At any rate, we know Dumbledore did ask Harry to wear it in a a difficult and dangerous place 16 years later on the night of his own death, in the same ongoing battle...and perhaps that image is a kind of full circle pattern.

So interesting this all has to do with an invisibility cloak, of all things. The end of Rowling's story seems "cloaked" for now. Although I suspect what we need to unlock it is more visible than we realize, if only we could figure out what pieces are most important and how to fit them all together!

Monday, September 18, 2006

HP 7: The Invisibility Cloak

Hmmm...couldn't resist a Harry Potter posting this evening, as I just took a break and hopped over to HP blogland for the first time in a while. Turns out JK Rowling has updated her site again, as of September 13, with a question she says she's never been asked, but should have been asked. Surprisingly, here it is (and it wasn't anything I was expecting):

Why did Dumbledore have James’ invisibility cloak at the time of James’ death, given that Dumbledore could make himself invisible without a cloak?

And here's another intriguing bit: her "answer" (if you could call it that) is that there IS an answer, which she claims is "significant" and one could even say "crucial."

Hmm....plot to book 7 thickens.

Accio thinking caps!

First Children's Poet Laureate in U.S.

From U.S. Newswire, I just read this:

The Poetry Foundation will inaugurate the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, as part of the third annual Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago on Sept. 27.

The Children's Poet Laureate award will be given to a living American writer in recognition of a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for the young child. The award aims to raise the general public's awareness that children have a natural receptivity to poetry written specifically for them which, when nurtured, can grow into a lifelong love for poetry.

What great news! I confess I had not ever thought about whether or not there was a poet laureate for children in this country. Now that I'm thinking about it, I definitely think there should be one. Glad it will come to be. I wonder who's being considered? Is Jack Prelutsky still alive? (I think so...)

How about Nikki Grimes? She'd be great.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I Was Just Wondering....

The sweet girl came up with another really great question for me today. She was in the bathroom and I was in the kitchen, and suddenly I heard a bump followed by a yell. Startled, I glanced up and then heard her shout in an agitated and indignant voice: "I FELL OFF the potty!" This is not (thankfully) something she does every day. I called back "what happend?" and she shouted "I was TRYING to count my toes!"

At this point D. and I (he was also in the kitchen) were having a hard time swallowing our laughter. Chuckling, I headed into the bathroom where I said teasingly "You were counting your toes? You still have ten!" And sweet girl, rubbing her head somewhat ruefully from the bump against the sink, looked down at her feet and asked thoughtfully "Will you still have ten toes when you're eleven?"

I really am beginning to think she might end up writing science fiction...

Friday, September 15, 2006

First Frost Notes

No, I'm not giving a weather report here. Certainly no sign of frost yet! In fact, today's been a bit warm and muggy, reminding me that no matter how much most of us feel as though fall's already here, we're actually in the last few days of late, late summer.

My "first Frost notes" refer to what I suspect will be my first post of many on Robert Frost's poems in the coming months. I've begun my straight read-through of New Enlarged Anthology of Robert Frost's Poems, the beloved paperback that has been my favorite Frost companion for years. I've read "at" it again and again, but I have a bad habit of going mostly to the poems I know and love and not always venturing into the poems that don't immediately grab my attention in their first few lines. But Frost is one of the poets of my heart (among other things, he and I share a birthday) and I've decided this book merits slower, more methodical attention. Thus I am beginning at the beginning and plowing through, over, around and under all kinds of poems: beloved, strange, unfamiliar, not-read-that-one-for-years and more.

And my "Frost notes" here will be just that: jottings of lines that particularly grab my attention for whatever reason. I may or may not always add accompanying commentary. But I do want to use this blog as a repository for the Frost lines that speak to me with particular resonance.

Thus far, I've found (or re-found) these gems:

I had a lover's quarrel with the world. --from "The Lesson for Today"

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight...

"Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."
--From "The Tuft of Flowers"

It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot.
And after all really they're ebony skinned:
The blue's but a mist from the breath of the wind,
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.
-- From "Blueberries"

You couldn't care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
--From "Home Burial"

That last line, from "Home Burial" is one that I've always found particularly poignant. I don't think it's true, by the way, that since we cannot go the whole way with someone in their grief, we shouldn't try to go at all. But I think it feels deeply true to the person travelling through deep grief, as is the woman in this poem. Therefore the line has a solid ring of realness to it, a way of making me emphatically nod my head whenever I get to it. I'm frequently in awe of how Frost captures voices, not just that they sound interesting or quirky, but that the lines of dialogue in his poems have such authenticity. It's all the more astounding when you realize how carefully metered his dialogue is. Perhaps that's not as astounding as it seems; I suspect that most of our conversation is more rhythmic than we realize. Frost must have had an uncanny ear for that though. I wonder if he found it hard to make art seem so artless.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Evening Prayer

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

~from Daily Devotions (In the Early Evening) from the Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Kind of Weather Are You?

I spent late afternoon saying good-byes, then singing and dancing in the rain with my daughter. Then listening to a new Art Garfunkel CD (well, new to me) that I picked up at the library sale on Saturday, and realizing how much I liked the song "What I Love About Rain." And tonight I took this weather quiz. Why am I not surprised by the results?

You Are Rain

You can be warm and sexy. Or cold and unwelcoming.
Either way, you slowly bring out the beauty around you.

You are best known for: your touch

Your dominant state: changing

I DO love rain; it's always been my favorite weather. Still I wonder if the quiz results might have come out differently if this had been a different kind of day...

Reading Round-Up (Several Months Overdue)

I can't remember the last time I did a "reading round-up." I'm fairly certain I didn't do one all summer. Ah well. I'll do my best now to capture a few of the books/authors I've been enjoying, though I suspect I will not recall them all and may need to update as certain books come back to me. (My memory is truly not working well of late...I think I'm too tired!)

Inwardly, I've jokingly referred to one part of my reading list as "Christian radicals." But there's something about that category that actually seems to fit a small group of books I've been reading for the past several weeks. I noted it here when I read Life as I Remember It by Rich Mullins. I actually still have a few reflections in that book to finish. I recently finished Mike Yankoski's Under the Overpass (Multnomah) the true account of a young man's experiences from a period of time when he chose to live on the streets in several U.S. cities, to experience firsthand the life of the homeless and poor. This book sets up some interesting contrasts to another book I'm currently reading, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (Zondervan). Shane's radical activism has deeper roots. I confess one reason I wanted to read Shane's book is that we know him, at least a little: in his undergraduate years at Eastern University, our alma mater, Shane was a student worker in the admissions office where my husband supervised student workers, and he also worked on a drama ministry team that D. was still connected to in an advisory capacity. So we've followed Shane's passion and the life of his inner-city community (the Simple Way in Philadelphia) with interest, received their newsletter from just about the very start, and kept him in our prayers (his picture currently resides in our family's "missionary book" which we use at family prayer times).

C.S. Lewis reminds me that it's important to read "old books," not just new; in fact, he recommends that at least every other book we read be an "old" one, so we can try to overcome chronological snobbery (and cultural myopia). It occurs to me that I would do well to turn to some older radicals in the faith. I've yet to find and read a really good biography of St. Francis of Assisi, something I've been meaning to do for years. If anyone has any recommendations...

In the category of children's literature, I've read so much that there's no way I can come close to recounting everything. Probably my best "find" this year has been Elizabeth Enright, a novelist who wrote from the 1930s-1960s. I've enjoyed three of the Melendy books (stories about a family of siblings named Melendy). I think there's a fourth but I'm not sure. This past weekend I hit the jackpot at a used book sale at the library and found all three of the Melendy books I've read bound in one volume; despite some yellowing to the pages and cover, it was in good shape and I suspect will make delightful rainy day reading for the sweet girl one day, so I snapped it up. Mostly recently I finished Enright's Gone-Away Lake, which garnered her a Newbery honor in 1958. I've yet to tackle her 1939 Newbery Medal winning Thimble Summer, but plan to read both that and the sequel to Gone-Away Lake sometime in the coming year.

My James Herriot phase has been a long one this summer. I read Animal Stories and Every Living Thing and all eight of the collected pictures books in his Children's Treasury (this last with my daughter). A couple of weeks ago I started the biography of Herriot written by his son, James Wight: The Real James Herriot. I've also been losing myself in Herriot's lovely travelogue reflections (and even moreso in the pictures) of James Herriot's Yorkshire.

I'm's a very rainy afternoon and the sweet girl is napping. I was up way too late last night, working with my class, so I think I will go curl up on the couch for a bit and rest while the rain falls. More soon on other books I've enjoyed!

Monday, September 11, 2006


Here in the United States, I know we're all remembering the events of five years ago this morning. Remembering with love, with prayers, with tears. With gratitude and with pain.

It's odd, remembering moments from an exact date so clearly. That morning has become a kind of "frozen snapshot" for many of us, although I realize how important it is that we recall that it was not yet a snapshot that day, but a real and tragic event that deeply affected the lives of so many people.

When I was younger, people would often ask "where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot?" and I would wonder about the events of that day, which happened four and half years before I was born. In my lifetime, I think there have only been two historic national events that come close to having that evocative power for me: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York in 2001.

Sweet Girl, of course, will not ever remember the events of 2001. She was not yet born; in fact, not quite conceived (she was conceived just a few weeks later). In many ways, her conception was a deeper source of joy and gratitude for me that perhaps it might have even been otherwise, coming on the heels of my miscarriage that June and then the events of 9/11. I felt as though that tiny person growing inside me was a gift, a real gift, a tiny seed of hope. And now I see her lovely face and hear her tinkling laughter and feel the strength of her skinny arms when they wrap round my neck to give me a "biiiiggg huuuugg" and I know that she really is a gift and a blessing, and that her sphere of blessing is widening as her world widens. May she grow more and more into gifts of wonder, compassion and peace-making.

And may we all remember too that for many places around the world, "9/11" kinds of days, days of displacement and suffering, happened before and have happened since. The crisis in Darfur has worsened again in recent weeks, just as one example. The Sudanese governement has launched another offensive, and in the past three years hundreds of thousands have died and literally more than 2 million people have become refugees. May our hearts ache with pain over the suffering of our brothers and sisters there and elsewhere, even as we remember the aching hearts of fellow Americans.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12, ESV

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Old Friends

September always brings so many routines, in the weather. This year it's bringing one more huge change, unique to this year. One of my oldest and dearest friends is moving next week to Australia.

I met Shoshana just a couple of weeks or so after we moved here nine years ago. For four plus years, I worked for her as the administrative assistant at the synagogue where she was rabbi. After I left that job, we remained very good friends.

When I met her, she was engaged to be married. I remember hearing the stories of their cyberspace meeting, their subsequent long-distance romance, and finally of her wedding. I remember meeting Bobby, kind and gentle and a great science fiction writer. I remember her morning sickenss when she was pregnant with her first son, and how (before she she had made knowledge of the pregnancy public) she would wear sea bands in the office and then whip them off surreptiously whenever a member of the congregation came in. I remember when she fainted on the bimah because of low blood pressure, and how she worried about being able to make it up and down during high holy day prayers when she was pregnant. I remember making something like eighty phone calls to help announce Yonatan's birth. I remember his bris; what a beautiful baby he was. And I remember too all the times I carried him around with me at the synagogue, showing him the stained glass windows and singing songs to him, or playing with him on the floor of the office while his Ima worked at the computer. We used to joke that he'd become part of my job description. I didn't mind -- holding that little one during the first few months of his life was very healing for me in ways that are difficult to explain. It was in holding Y. that I realized, finally, that I really did feel ready for motherhood myself, after a long unsure journey toward that destination.

I still remember all the boxes and boxes from their move -- from a town several miles away to a little house here in our town, just a few blocks from us. We were amazed that B. had coded every box with a letter and number so that they knew exactly what was in every box and where it would end up going. We stayed late at their old apartment the night before the movers arrived, helping to pack the last things.

I remember all the luna bars S. ate during her second pregnancy. She used to joke that the next baby would be partially made of luna bars. And maybe he is! Nadav's always had a sweet face and sweet personality, so perhaps it had something to do with those sweet nutrition bars! And how many trips to DeWalt's health store did I make to buy S. her favorite lunch -- Amy's broccoli and cheddar potpies! Sometimes I'd get one too, and we'd chat in the big, silvery synagogue kitchen while they cooked in the microwave.

I've always loved Shoshana's parents. Devoted grandparents that they are, they've made countless trips here, for birthdays but also just to spend ordinary day to day time with their daughter and her family. I was able to recommend the wonderful bed and breakfast place (owned by my former seminary professor and his wife) that they stayed in every time they came. I will miss their visits, their zestful energy and enthusiasm.

And so many other memories -- sharing in the boys' early birthday parties (they were both born in January, but two years apart, so they celebrate jointly) and in this last one, when my own sweet girl went bowling for the first time. Hearing about B's latest project -- his varied interests and creative ideas seemed to know no bounds! Meals shared, books borrowed, phone calls and emails and countless "drop-in" visits to their small home and garden. Caring for that garden last summer when they went on their annual Montana vacation. Getting to know their wonderful tuxedo cat, Shavit, whom they rescued from the streets -- and whom they heartbreakingly gave to a new home just this past week. S' 40th birthday last year, which they combined with fourth of July festivities.

My sweet girl's second birthday when the boys came to share cake and ice cream, to play with her toy kitchen, and to give her the lovely ballerina bear peek-a-boo pillow she still plays with. Last year's Halloween party when Sarah was the only girl among seven kids -- Shoshana's boys, Sheila's boys, and Deb's boys, the six of them looking goofy and fabulous in their various superhero and other boyish costumes, ranged on the stairs, and Sarah, giggling in the front, wearing her ladybug outfit. (Sheila and family moved in March...)

These memories are just the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, we will miss them and their whole family very much. The movers came on Friday so the family was exhausted and we took them lots of vegetarian Chinese food for dinner. We all sat on their front lawn on their old fouton (which hadn't fit on the truck after all) covered by a plastic tarp, and we ate and drank and enjoyed a picnic together. I looked around at the boys -- who will soon be 6 and 8 -- and at my own precious girl, now 4 -- and I realized what an awful lot of living we have all been through together, as neighbors and as friends.

And on Wednesday, they will leave for the land of kangaroos and koalas half a world away. The leaves will begin turning here on Maplewood; some of the prettiest autumn trees in town are right in their block. They'll be heading into spring at their new place.

Change is hard. It's good, it means we're growing and alive, but oh yes, sometimes it's hard.

Blessings on old friends for a good journey into new growth and green.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Autumn Reading Challenge

I've wandered far afield in recent months from my pledge to keep track of what I'm reading via this blog. Some of it is due to lack of discipline, but more of it is due to the fact that life's been so busy that this has become, in the main, more of a general journal than I ever expected it to. As much as I love books, life is full of other experiences too, many of which I enjoy "reading" (or letting read me!) and reflecting on!

I do plan to do some sort of a round-up to reflect a bit on what I've been reading in recent months. Until then, however, I thought I would challenge myself with the "Autumn Reading Challenge" found at a blog called "Seasonal Soundings."

I'm sure I'll tweak this list a bit -- because I tend to follow fairytale breadcrumb trails from book to book, I often end up reading lots of things I didn't plan to read. But here's at least some of what I'm challenging myself with in the coming autumn months (and perhaps a bit of the winter too).

The Irrestible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (I'm part-way through this and want to finish it)

I just started Jim Wight’s biography of his dad The Real James Herriot and also James Herriot’s Yorkshire.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Because I've never read it, and I promised myself after reading A Tale of Two Cities (last summer) that I would read more Dickens!

Miniatures and Morals – The Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart (this has been on my wishlist forever; haven't been able to get it via library and can't afford to buy it...but if I can find a copy, by golly, I plan to read it!)

Essays from Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness compiled by Rowell, Stevenson and Williams; and Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality bu Richard Schmidt. These are both on the reading list for a course called Anglican Way of Theology, which I'm being allowed to sit in on as an online guest. I consider this enrichment reading which will help me in the course I'm teaching online (Episcopal Ethos).

I've decided to revisit Robert Frost this fall; my favorite edition of the poems has Louis Untermeyer's intro. and notes. I have favorites in that collection that I've read over and over, but I'm not sure I've ever attempted a read-through of all the poems in it from start to finish. I started last night right before bed.

I'm also adding the following to my list: The Sense of the Call - A Sabbath Way of Life for those who serve God, the Church, and the World, by Marva Dawn. I really like her work and I think this book might be very appropriate for this season of our family's life. I'm hoping the seminary library has a copy or I can get it via loan!

Historic Parallels: Rauschenbusch and Cabrini?

Books and Culture's e-letter today contained a review by Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom. Jenkins, with his emphasis on Christianity as a global movement, is always fascinating and thought-provoking.

I've had an exhausting day and am still wending my way through his review of the new, multi-volumed (some still in process) Cambridge History of Christianity but this little bit struck me as especially interesting food for thought:

Equally, Christian movements and trends often transcend the boundaries between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, though this fact is lost when movements are studied in isolation. In the 1670s, for instance, German Protestantism was transformed by the Pietist movement, which stressed personal devotion and heart-religion in a tradition that overemphasized clericalism and scholarship. At exactly the same time, Roman Catholic mystics elevated the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Protestant-Catholic parallels and connections emerge time and again in the chc volume on the 19th century, inevitably since the various countries were dealing with similar political issues in the aftermath of the European revolutions, and to varying degrees were experiencing modernization and industrialization. In response, Protestants, Catholics, and (later) Orthodox formulated innovative strategies and evolved similar responses—fideistic and devotional movements, missionary enthusiasm, calls for moral purity. The well-known feminization and domestication of Victorian Protestantism finds a close parallel in the complex of Marian devotions in contemporary Europe.

This seems like an obvious "duh" observation, but to my tired mind it seemed pretty profound. We do tend to study movements, especially denominational/sectarian ones, in isolation. I have spent some time studying the Pietist movement, for instance, and I've got more than a passing familiarity with Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart (since I spent almost five years working for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) but I don't think I ever thought to connect their roots/beginnings. Worth exploring I should think.

I do wonder how often this is true in Christian history...the church, in its varied forms and traditions, responds to key cultural and world events, and those responses naturally look different, coming as they do from such diverse traditions, but perhaps share a deeper core than the traditions might realize.

I am thinking, of course, of my own personal favorite historic era in American history -- the early 1900s, specifically prior to 1925. I've spent a lot of time in company with two almost larger than life religious figures from that era: Walter Rauschenbusch, male, Protestant, Baptist, father of the Social Gospel (about whom I wrote my thesis) and Frances Xavier Cabrini, female, Catholic, Roman, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart (and about whom I wrote an essay, among other things). On the surface, they were seemingly very different people, but I've often wondered what interesting comparisons might surface if one pushed a bit at their unique responses, as missioners/missionaries especially, to the effects of industrialization in America. Both had a real heart for the poor, though I think all in all Cabrini's activism was more vital (and more theologically healthy) and her legacy more long-lasting. Rauschenbusch's Victorian sensibilities about the family and Cabrini's Marian devotion both seem to be a part of the overarching climate Jenkins' references too.

I need to think more about this.