Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sweet Talk

True confession. We're turning the corner toward May and we're still eating Valentine candy conversation hearts.

The sweet girl loves those little hearts. So this year we got a big bag of them and we've been doling them out like treasure. After all these months, we're finally nearing the end of the bag, and she's still thoroughly enjoying them. She especially loves "reading" them and asking what the different phrases mean.

Today's said "sweet talk." What was sweet talk? she wanted to know.

"It's when you say something sweet to someone, like 'I love you,'" I explained.

"What are some other sweet talks?" she wondered. And then decided "I hug you," and "I kiss you" definitely qualified.

And then she sweet talked me and gave me a hug and a kiss.

It made an otherwise pretty discouraging day a whole lot brighter.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Nature's First Green is Gold..."

Well, it's happened. Enough tender, brand new green graced the trees that, when I looked out over the landscape yesterday evening, it seemed to shimmer with pale green and gold. And I knew the day had come to recite Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

It's my yearly tradition. I think I have done this just about every year since I first memorized the poem in the 10th grade. I don't think of the poem too often at other times of the year, and I try not to say it until I look out of a window or glance around me as I'm walking and get hit with that shimmering, golden sense of settled spring. Or at least as "settled" as a season can ever be in this flaming-with-beauty-but-oh-so-fallen-world we live in.

Yesterday was the shimmering day when the poem popped into my mind and heart. We were in the car on the way home from eating dinner and picking up a little bakery cake for our anniversary celebration. "Oh!" I suddenly exclaimed. "The trees! Nature's first green is gold..." D. immediately turned down the radio and told the sweet girl, "It's time for Mommy to recite her spring poem!" And so I did.

And it's still April, which is National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Third Volume of C.S. Lewis' Letters

The third volume of C.S. Lewis' Letters, edited by Walter Hooper, was released a few months ago by HarperSanFrancisco. A writer named Michael Ward has reviewed the book for Books and Culture. An interesting review, which can be found here.

In some ways, the review is as much about Walter Hooper as it is about C.S. Lewis, but that's part of what makes it interesting. Hooper has always been a somewhat mysterious figure -- he was briefly Lewis' personal secretary; he's edited and prepared for publication a lot of Lewis' posthumous work; and the late Kathryn Lindskoog, another Lewis scholar, accused him of playing around a bit too freely with Lewis' legacy. The lynchpin in that argument was that Lewis hadn't really written the story The Dark Tower, which Hooper claimed to have found among Lewis' papers (and subsequently published). Although I'm sure her arguments were more sophisticated than this, what Lindskoog's main argument seemed to be was that the story just wasn't good enough to have been written by Lewis.

That last accusation seems to have finally and thankfully been laid to rest, and Ward has only good things to say about Hooper's charitable stance towards Lindskoog in the footnotes of this particular volume, although obviously Hooper had a big chance to say "I told you so." It turns out that another scholar had seen the unfinished story among Lewis' papers. And that even C.S. Lewis (thank you very much) could write pretty awful first drafts.

The review is also worth reading for the insights into the collecting and editing process behind such an enormous project. There are approximately 2,000 letters in this final volume! And many of them had to be unpacked (literary references/allusions, explanations as to who Lewis was writing to and why...Hooper even tracked down some of the correspondents or their descendants so he could try to get a handle on the "unheard" side of various conversations). Sounds like an enormous task, but also enormously satisfying.

I've only read Lewis' Letters to Children (a slim little volume edited by Marjorie Lamp Mead) but I am thinking I really need to put Hooper's three volumes on my to-be-read list. I love reading letters, and I love Lewis.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"The Great Snape Debate"

On Saturday, I was in a Borders Express and picked up a copy of the Borders exclusive book The Great Snape Debate. (Hat Tip to for the heads up.) Yes, yet another "waiting for book 7" Harry Potter read. Just think how much fun it will be to have these speculative books in years to come, when the whole world knows the entire saga forwards and backwards!

This little book is a bit of publicity stunt, I guess, but such a smart one! My Borders is even hosting an actual debate Saturday after next, where people will come in and discuss Snape. The book is published by BenBella Press, the folks who do the "smart pop" series (I recently read their Flirting With Pride and Prejudice, to which I gave a mixed review over at Epinions). BenBella is known for having authors engage topics with a mixture of academic seriousness and fun.

The Great Snape Debate
, as you might guess, contains essays debating Snape's loyalty and where it lies. To make it even more fun, the book is designed as a "flip book" with two covers. One side of the book is titled "The Case for Snape's Innocence" and has a cauldron with what looks like phoenix-shaped flames rising from it. When you flip the book, the other side reads "The Case for Snape's Guilt" and has the same cauldron with a big ol' green cobra-like serpent rearing his head. I have to keep the book flipped to the "Innocence" side, not only because of my own firm beliefs in Snape's ultimate loyalties, but because I'm afraid the cheesy but creepy looking snake might freak out my daughter.

With so many of these kinds of speculative books coming out in the months leading up to the release of Deathly Hallows, I honestly would not have bought this one (or perhaps even looked at it twice) except that one of the three contributing authors is Orson Scott Card. That hooked me immediately. Card is a superb writer, and also (and this is what really interests me) a superb writer about writing. I knew he was a Harry fan, and I was curious to hear his take on what he thinks Rowling has been up to with Snape's character as well as with the series in general. His main essay is found right in the middle of the book (near the flip section) and is entitled "Who is Snape?" He traces his development as a character throughout the series, and speculates a bit as to the way his role may have evolved in Rowling's own creative process. I don't think I agree with all of his ideas, but that makes it more fun.

One of the more interesting observations he makes (and unpacks) is that "1. The character is the servant of the story... (and) 2. The author is also the servant of her most deeply held beliefs -- the things that she believes without even knowing she believes them. "

As fun as it is, The Great Snape Debate is not, as far as I can tell from my selective reading of the essays thus far, anywhere near the caliber of some of the really excellent pre-book 7 work. My favorite two, and I would wager two of the very best, are Janet Batchler's What Will Harry Do? and John Granger's Unlocking Harry Potter. If you can only read (or purchase) two books concerning Harry Potter before we reach the final installment, those are the two. Janet brings a screenwriter's eye to the unfolding drama of the series, helping readers notice "set-ups" and be on the lookout for "pay-offs." Her book is comprehensive, painstaking, sticks with the canon, and is a lot of fun to read! John's book is a tour de force...especially when it comes to looking at HP in light of alchemical literature and postmodernism. I'm still working my way slowly through it and enjoying every bit.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing my re-read of Harry, and have just finished Prisoner of Azkaban. I think it's still my favorite book of the first six. What's your's?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wanted: Something Resembling a Wedding Cake

D. and I were married fifteen years ago this Wednesday! This is the first year the sweet girl really has some sense of what it means to celebrate a wedding anniversary (she's catching on that it's kind of like an extra birthday for Mommy and Daddy!) and she has determined that we should have cake and ice cream. She has even agreed to contribute her small pack of penguin party plates to the occasion -- she and her Daddy found some the other day when they were in a party store looking for some supplies for a church event, and she wanted to save them for something special.

She wants vanilla ice cream, of course (her favorite) but has been rather adamant that her Daddy and I should have a wedding cake. I am guessing she's a bit enamored of the photo of our wedding cake; it's part of a collage of framed wedding pictures that we keep on the wall in between our dining room and the kitchen.

I don't really think at this late date we can order even a small cake decorated like a wedding cake (which is what we've been contemplating) but I find myself wishing a bit wistfully we lived somewhere near the bakery that made our actual wedding cake. Yes, that's our wedding cake in the photo. I'm sorry I couldn't color correct it a bit better, as it wasn't quite as golden looking as it appears. But it was delicious. Neither D. nor I is much of a cake eater, but even we agreed that this was by far the tastiest wedding cake we'd ever eaten. We found a little bakery in Berwyn, Pennsylvania and every cake sample we tried we loved. We ended up getting a melt-in-your-mouth spice cake with a buttercream frosting. Absolutely wonderful.

I remember we tried to save the top layer for our first anniversary, but the box wasn't sealed properly and the cake got freezer burned. We still lived near Philadelphia at the time, thus weren't too far from the bakery. We took in a picture and they gladly recreated a small version of the top layer of our cake from the year before, which we enjoyed on a bed and breakfast get-away.

Well...we probably won't go to such lengths this year, fifteen years and hundreds of miles away from the creation of the original cake. But I do think we will probably look for something at least a little wedding-cake-ish to enjoy that evening, to satisfy the budding romantic traditionalist that is our little girl.

Oh, okay. I'm a romantic traditionalist myself. She has to get it somewhere, right?!

And yes, that really is Mickey and Minnie on top of our cake.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


My beloved husband brought a gift home from the New Wineskins conference he attended last week, a CD by the wonderful Wellspring, an interdenominational worship group based in the north of England. They have led worship at Wineskins for a long time -- we heard them there when we attended the conference as seminarians seven years ago. This is only the second CD of their's that we have, and if possible, I love listening to it even more than the first.

There is so much richness on this recording, including a heart-rending version of the "Theme from Schindler's List" with Clare McFarlane on violin. And the piece my heart keeps going back to during this week in which we've been confronted head-on by the pain and brokenness of our beautiful world: Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" arranged for harps, string and viola. I have fallen head over heels for this melody, which seems to hold within it so much tenderness and gentility, as though the musicians are stepping through a fragile garden of notes and reminding us all to dance with our arms raised in praise even as we long for wholeness and restoration.

If you're interested, you can learn more about Wellspring at their website here. All of their music is beautifully rendered and played with joy and reverence, honoring God.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Classical Music and Funny Riddles

One of the joys of parenting is watching your child develop her own tastes and delights. It's fun to note the kinds of loves she shares with you and the things that she begins to make uniquely her's. The sweet girl's love of chocolate? That's a passion she shares with me, of course! Her enjoyment in measuring things with a ruler or a measuring tape? That comes from Dad. Her utter fascination with penguins? No idea. She just loves penguins, and frankly we've enjoyed heading down that particular "learning trail" with the sweet girl's passion in the lead.

Two of her developing tastes recently are classical music and funny riddles. The love of classical music she comes by very honestly, because we've always played a lot of it around the house. In the first year of her life, in particular, since I was spending more time at home, I tuned in almost everyday to WQED, our wonderful all-classical radio station. But we also listen to a lot of it on CD, and two of her favorite videos of all-time also have classical soundtracks: one is a nature video set to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," and the other is the original Fantasia.

She really loves all kinds of music (we have pretty eclectic tastes ourselves) so it's been interesting to see lately the kinds of music she's beginning to ask for by name. Not long ago she asked me what kind of music she had especially liked as a baby, and I dug out the "Baby Mozart" and "Baby Bach" CDs, remembering how often we'd played them in the first couple years of her life. These are classical CDs produced by the Baby Einstein folks, and include various short pieces by each composer, usually rendered with gentle instrumentation -- a lot of piano and various bell-like instruments. It had been a while since we'd played one; somehow they'd gotten relegated to the back of the stack. But we listened to them both the other day and it was wonderful, watching her listen (and dance) to these pieces as though she'd never heard them before, although I remember how she heard them dozens of time as an infant/toddler. She started asking questions immediately: what was *that* music called? Why does this one go fast and that one sound slow? And telling me which ones she liked to dance to. We started talking about who wrote this music, and she was fascinated with their names: Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (that one made her giggle!). We also talked about when these composers lived, which helped stretch her burgeoning understanding of time/history.

She began looking at the back of the CD cases and noticed there were a couple of other CDs advertised on the back that we didn't have. She wanted to know what they were called, and I told her one was "Baby Vivaldi" and one was "Baby Beethoven." Vivaldi she recognized from her video, but Beethoven's name fascinated her. "Can we get that?" she asked, and I told her we could check the library. They had it, so now we're in a continual round of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. She loves them all but has informed us quite positively (and many times over) that Mozart is her favorite.

At the same time that she's been realizing her love for this music, she's also been enjoying riddles. She likes popsicles, especially the ones with riddles on the stick. Granted most of the time she doesn't get the riddle until we explain it, and sometimes not even then, but a few of them have really tickled her funny bone: the flying turtle called a "shellicopter" and the bunnies who use "hoppy discs" on their computer are her favorites. Once in a while, we will all come up with riddles together, and it's great to see her trying to come up with humorous double-meanings for words even as she's still learning what a lot of words mean.

Today the classical music love and the funny riddle love came together in a wonderfully delightful way. She and I were talking about what music she'd like to listen to while she rested during nap time, and she asked for Bach. Only in typical sweet-girl fashion, she decided to play with the word and giggled as she said "Beak" instead of "Bach." "Is that the kind of music a bird listens to?" I asked her. "Johann Sebastian Beak?" She giggled, realizing we'd made another riddle. And then as I was tucking her into bed for her quiet time with her bears and a book, she giggled some more and informed me: "Mommy, you know what a sheep likes to listen to? BAA-thoven!"

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The stories of the students and teachers shot at Virginia Tech. yesterday rend the heart. What words make sense in light of something like this?

I have been a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a student, a teacher; all of us know what it means to be those things (or others like them) and to love the others bound to our hearts who make those roles real. So we all mourn together.

Though the green fields are my delight,
elegy is my fate. I have come to be
survivor of many and of much
that I love, that I won't live to see
come again into this world.

Things that mattered to me once
won't matter any more,
for I have left the safe shore
where magnificence of art
could suffice my heart.

(From "Requiem" by Wendell Berry)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Neville Longbottom and the Importance of Memory

I've been re-reading the Harry Potter series prior to the release of book 7 this coming July. I've also been reading John Granger's excellent new book: Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, which is fascinating as always, especially the chapters on Harry as alchemical literature.

So I've got HP on the brain, and while I've been jotting some notes over at Re-Reading Harry, the "joint online journal" Erin and I have been contributing to off and on for the past couple of months, I thought I would put some of my musings here as well.

As usual when I read Harry, I find myself loving the character of Neville Longbottom. One of the things that has always fascinated me about Neville is his deep connection to the theme of memory, which for my money is one of the most interesting, and in some ways unexplored, themes of the entire series.

I had hoped that I might manage to write a lengthy, coherent essay about the memory theme, at least sometime prior to July, but that's looking less likely. But I thought I would at least begin journaling some of my musings here. Who knows? They might begin to take shape and grow into an essay. So in no particular "ordered" fashion, here goes my first go-round.

Our introduction to Neville comes at the same time as our introduction to Hermione Granger; the fact that the two of them come upon Harry and Ron in the train compartment on the way to their first year at Hogwarts, and then the four of them journey together in one boat when the first years follow Hagrid on the lake, is a bit of a tip-off, I think. These four are the important four, even though Neville will stay on the periphery of the trio through most of the first six books at least. Other students have important and recurring roles to play: the Weasley twins, Ginny Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Luna Lovegood...but only Neville, from the very beginning, seems like a shadow member of the trio, almost making it seem like a quartet. Given Rowling's fascination with the numbers 2, 4 and 7 (tip of the hat to John Granger's chapter on arithmancy!) I think the fact that Neville makes the trio a foursome is somehow significant.

When Hermione and Neville meet Harry and Ron on the train, they're looking for Neville's toad, Trevor. Trevor, bless his little toady heart, seems to serve at least a dual purpose besides the obvious one of being the plot device that brings the kids together. First of all, he's a toad, not a rat or a cat or an owl, which apparently makes him the low animal on the totem pole of animals that Hogwarts students are allowed to have with them at school.

The fact that Neville has a lowly toad underlines Neville's lower, outsider status. In many ways, he's even more of an outsider figure than the other three. Yes, Harry is Harry -- the most unusual student in his year (at the very least) and marked since birth as different. He's also an orphan who was raised by Muggles. Ron comes from good wizarding stock and has popular brothers, but is quite poor (old hand-me-down robe, wand?, and even the rat) and is also a "younger brother." Hermione, besides the fact that she's a girl, comes from total Muggle parentage. Neville, as it turns out, comes from good wizarding stock himself, but at least at the beginning of the series we're led to believe (and certainly he believes himself) that he's not much better than a squib. He even says as much in Chamber of Secrets when his friends try to point out to him that he doesn't need the amulets and other "protections" that he's wearing, in fear of the unknown monster unleashed by Slytherin's heir. They remind him he's a pureblood wizard, so not likely on the heir of Slytherin's hit-list, but Neville reminds them stubbornly that the heir went after Filch first, and that "everybody knows" that just like Mr. Filch, he (Neville) is "practically a squib." It's interesting that Neville feels a connection to the non-magical caretaker.

Besides underlining Neville's lowly, outsider, almost-non-magical status, Trevor's presence -- or rather absence -- underlines Neville's lack of ability to keep track of things. From the first, Neville is characterized as someone who is forgetful and who loses things, even things that matter to him. This is a theme that will continue to expand all through the series, especially the first three books. Neville's memory problems plague him and also lead to some serious problems for his friends.

Neville's poor performance in Potions -- from the very first class (that oh so important first class that we've come to realize contained huge amounts of important foreshadowing for the rest of the series) comes in part because of his poor memory. Granted, it's hard to remember anything when you have Snape breathing down your neck and making you feel like an idiot -- later in the series we realize that Neville's performance even in Potions improves dramatically when he's able to brew things in front of another teacher or examiner. But that in itself is interesting and something I want to come back to: how anxiety and stress affects Neville's ability to remember things and keep them in the proper order.

So Neville's forgetfulness and inability to brew correct potions gets Harry in trouble from the start, mostly because Snape is looking for any old excuse he can find to land Harry in hot water. "You -- Potter -- why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's another point you've lost for Gryffindor." (SS, "The Potions Master," p. 139).

More explicitly, Neville's "remembrall" (a magical ball his grandmother sends him...the white smoke inside the glass turns red if you're holding it and you've forgotten something) really affects Harry's destiny. After Neville breaks his arm in their first flying lesson, Madam Hooch hurries him off the infirmary and Draco Malfoy finds the remembrall in the grass. Never one to miss an opportunity to show off and torment other kids, Draco taunts Harry when he tries to recover the ball for Neville, then flies off with it, claiming he's going to hide it in a tree. Instead he throws it, and Harry, flying for the first time, has to make a spectacular dive in order to grab it. The whole scene is a very destiny-shaping scene for Harry: he learns he's a natural born flyer; it's one of the first times (but certainly not the last!) we see him trying to help out an underdog (that "saving people thing" in embryo); and because McGonagall sees Harry's amazing dive, she makes Harry the new Gryffindor seeker, the youngest house player at Hogwarts in a century. All of those things happen because of the presence of the remembrall.

"Remembrall" -- a "remember ball" that helps you "remember all" -- JKR's wonderful ability to play with words comes to the fore here. I love this one in particular because so much of the Harry Potter stories have to do with Harry's gradual uncovering/recovering of the memories that shaped who he is at the deepest core. If Hogwarts has a "foundation story" (tip of the hat once more to John Granger, this time to his reflections on postmodernism) well, so does Harry, albeit perhaps in a slightly different sense of the word "foundation." Harry's "foundation story" -- the story that provides the scaffolding for who he is, how he sees the world, and what he will become -- is the story of the first year of his life, particularly the final night of his parents' lives at Godric's Hollow when they die at Voldemort's hand when Harry is just a year old. Because they die protecting him (especially his mother) Harry is doubly-marked that night, not only marked by the killing curse that goes awry, but more deeply by his mother's sacrificial love. The foundation or core of Harry is forged that night: he is a beloved son worth dying for, a truth that will shape him for the rest of his days.

But there is so much of that night that Harry doesn't remember. He longs to remember; he tries hard to remember -- even in the early pages of SS, we see him straining his memory during long nights in his cramped cupboard, trying to recall his parents. The unfolding of the full memory has not yet occurred, but we've been watching it unfold gradually as the series progresses, and we've been realizing how crucial the full recovery of that memory is. First Harry recalls the green light, later the high, cruel laughter of Voldemort, and by Prisoner of Azkaban he can remember his mother's screams and her voice. He's also given more information about that night from various sources, including Voldemort himself as well as Dumbledore. We are watching Harry "remember all" -- flying high and sometimes at great risk in his seeking of the elusive and important truth that shaped him, and by extension (because of the story in which he finds himself, and the destiny to which he's called) the entire world/community in which he lives.

Whew! I've wandered far afield from Neville, and I want to get back there. I plan to. I'd like to think more about Neville's memory problems and how they help shape the story, and how they throw light on other aspects of memory in these stories. More reflections soon.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Red Letter Day (Literally)

The sweet girl's progress in learning to read has been rolling merrily along. Once in a while I grasp how well she's doing; I suddenly realize she is not only getting more adept at sounding out words, but she's beginning to "sight read" certain words that have appeared over and over again in our lessons (having first learned them phonetically) and she's gaining confidence. She's also becoming more acclimated to all the things we take for granted about reading (because we've been doing it so long, our brains just process these things naturally without us having to stop and think) like reading left to right, pausing at spaces between words, and moving to the beginning of the next line down when she gets to the end of a line. I really appreciate the way the Distar method reinforces all those things visually.

Yesterday we walked to the post office in the late afternoon, so I could mail the last of our taxes (yes, they're all done...hallelujah!). I like to see the tax envelopes postmarked before my eyes at the counter, but I had some other things to mail too, so we stopped at the drop boxes on the way in. S. has always loved these, from the time she was too tiny to reach the slots and I had to pick her up and help her stretch so she could drop the envelopes clutched in her little chubby baby fingers. Now she doesn't even have to stand on tiptoe (when did THAT happen!) and drops the envelopes in oh so casually.

There's a sign in between the slots informing people not to mail certain envelopes or packages that weigh more than 16 oz., etc. Most of the sign is in fairly small lettering, but right in the middle, in fairly good sized bright red capital letters, is the word STOP! I was scrambling through my pockets for the last of my envelopes when suddenly my little girl pipes up with the question, "Mommy, why does that say STOP?"

It took me a few seconds to realize that she'd asked me WHY the sign said what it said, not WHAT did the sign say. In other words, she had read the word, all on her own, without any prompting or encouragement, and silently.

Wow. Maybe this seems small, but to me it really did feel like a red letter event. Never mind that the answer to her actual question was kind of boring (she didn't really care much about how much people's mail weighed) it still gave me the opportunity to practice some casual confidence building. After I answered her question, I said, "you know, you read the word stop. That was good reading!" She looked almost as surprised as I felt, and then came that lovely sweet girl smile.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Bible and Children

An interesting post over at titusonenine on "Teaching Children the Bible".

I especially found this bit thought-provoking:

"...when we commit something to memory, it sinks deep and often resurfaces in surprising ways to meet new situations. Biblical fragments (”knit together in my mother’s womb,” “her price is far above rubies,” “plans for your welfare and not for harm”) happily can grow with us, providing both a touchstone to the past and points of connection to new people and new meanings. We stuff our memories with so many things (lyrics to Sesame Street songs, Santa’s reindeer), why worry about adding the names of the apostles and the words of Psalm 23 to the mix?

Those biblical words are, in fact, the common language we speak as Christians, part of the tool kit with which we build ourselves and our communities of faith. If nothing else, the Bible’s existence means that we do not have to start from scratch in building a community of faith. And its infinitely multivocal and multiform self also means that there is plenty of material to work with as we and our communities change. Thinking again about how scripture works, I have become convinced that having a canon matters, not just because the words are uniquely inspired or holy or true, but because this is the core set of stories that we’ve all agreed to share and that have shaped us and our forebears in manifold ways. There are always other stories and always many interpretations, but those who have called themselves Christian for all these years have these characters and plots in common.

Spending time building up that core, then, is essential..." (Nancy Ammerman)

I think some of this could be said even more strongly, but the core of what's here is good and worth reflecting on.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lewis and Aesop

Because it ended up being a sick day (I'm not feeling too well myself; hope I'm not coming down with this!) the sweet girl and I ended up doing a lot of cuddling and reading today. At dinner we read a few of Aesop's Fables and I found myself struck by major, and I mean major, Lewisian echoes in two of the earlier stories.

The first one was "The Donkey in the Lion's Skin" (with the moral "Clothes may disguise a fool until he opens his mouth.") I immediately thought of poor Puzzle, who dresses up and pretends to be Aslan at the instigation of Shift in The Last Battle, the seventh and final of the Chronicles of Narnia.

An even deeper echo for me was in the very next fable, "The Hunter and the Woodsman" (moral: "A hero must be brave in deed as well as in word.")

"'Pray tell me,' the Hunter said to the Woodsman, 'have you seen the marks of the Lion's footsteps? Or perhaps you can tell me where his den is?'

'I will do better than tell you,' the Woodsman replied courteously. 'I will take you right to him.'

The Hunter turned pale. His teeth began to chatter. 'N-o thank you,' he said. 'I did not ask for that! It is only his tracks that I am in search of, not the Lion himself.'"

I thought of these words from Lewis in his book Miracles:

"An 'impersonal God' -- well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads -- better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap -- best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband -- that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion ('Man's search for God!') suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?"

And of course I thought of Aslan, whose heavy, majestic tread can inspire fear and awe in hearts, and also quiet those fears...those strong yet velveted paws, coming ever nearer. It's a dreadful thing to come face to face with the Lion. And yet it's also the best, safest, most beautiful place for us to be.

On the Prowl...for Good Nature Documentaries

Easter Monday finds us at home. D. had to leave at 5 am for his week-long conference. I had taken the day off from the office, which turned out to be a very good thing both because I'm exhausted and because the sweet girl has been sick with a bad cold or some sort of virus. She's been feeling miserable off and on since Saturday, and yesterday morning, had it not been Easter, I don't think I would have had the heart to drag her out anywhere. As it was, we only made it to church, and she felt so miserable that she basically curled up in my lap or her Daddy's (or sometimes stretched across both) and dozed through almost the entire church service. She perked up after a nap and enjoyed coloring easter eggs...she even made a green one with a face which she has dubbed "Mr. Eggman." (That Beatle-esque named cracked my husband up, who said "goo-goo-ja-joob" when he saw it, of course.) My favorite line of the evening was when S. admonished me, almost sternly, NOT to eat Mr. Eggman. I have a feeling he may be around for a while...

Anyway, she seemed to feel better for a while this morning, but is now lounging lethargically on the couch, her eyes looking bleary again. She has sore throat and a cough. She's been feverish, and I thought that had broken this morning, but she's warm again. I'm giving her the special treat of eating lunch (otherwise known as "picking at my food because I don't have any apetite") on a t.v. tray while she watches, for the fourth time in 24 hours, "Fuzzy Wuzzy Bears."

"Fuzzy Wuzzy Bears" is an old documentary video done for kids (I think it was distributed by the BBC and Time-Life). I picked it up for a dollar in a library sale sometime a few months ago, and once in a while, S. drags it out and watches it over and over. She's always had a real passion for bears, so it's not surprising she'd enjoy it so much. It's fairly well done. The music is hokey, and the overly enthusiastic narrator voice can grate a bit on adult ears (he sounds like the long-lost twin of sports commentator Bob Costas) but the footage is good, and a wide variety of bears presented, along with some good, age-appropriate information about each. They even throw in a bit about raccoons, whom they call the "cousins" of bears (is this true? not sure). D. insists it was just because the production had some raccoon footage they wanted to throw into the mix!

It's well-done enough that I'd pick up more in this series if I could find them, but alas, it was done so long ago that unless I find a bunch more at a garage or library sale, I doubt they'll be available anywhere.

Does anyone have any good recommendations for nature videos/documentaries for children ages 4-7? I can find wonderful books and websites for this age-group, and we were blessed with a gift subscription to "Our Big Backyard" but I have had a really hard time finding good videos for children. Maybe there's an assumption that every kid has cable, thus access to Discovery Channel and Animal Planet (but they must produce videos and dvd's, right?). I tried looking up the title to the old series S. is watching this morning "Growing Up Wild," but it turns out that name has been used in another, more recent series by Animal Planet which didn't seem to be getting very good reviews on Netflix. Before I put it in the queue to check it out myself, I thought I'd ask around.

Our library has a handful of videos, but they're either not very well-done, or they're a little bit too old for the sweet girl. I'm looking for something between *Baby Einstein* and *Eyewitness Video* (the ones narrated by Martin Sheen, which seem geared for slightly older kids and sometimes have a bit of an odd tone). Because we live in a city and don't have a yard, I am always on the lookout for good photos and videos of real animals and plants so I can try to widen the sweet girl's view of the creation. Any ideas appreciated!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost it's grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Brought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

("In Christ Alone" by the Newsboys)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lift High the Cross

Listening to one of my favorite renditions of the melody of one of my favorite hymns, Lift High the Cross. The version I'm listening to is beautifully done by the Moody Bible Institute's Women's Concert Choir Bell Ensemble (yes, thereby done by "Moody Women"!) on the CD compilation called "Images of Christ." I don't know if this lovely CD is available anymore anymore; it was originally distributed with a special issue of the unfortunately-now-defunct magazine "Christianity and the Arts." I love listening to it, especially during Holy Week.

Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
his sacred Name.

Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God. Refrain

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine. Refrain

Each newborn soldier of the Crucified
bears on the brow the seal of him who died. Refrain

This is the sign which Satan's legions fear
and angels veil their faces to rever. Refrain

Saved by this Cross whereon their Lord was slain,
the sons of Adam their lost home regain. Refrain

From north and south, from east and west they raise
in growing unison their songs of praise. Refrain

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee. Refrain

Let every race and every language tell
of him who saves our souls from death and hell. Refrain

From farthest regions let their homage bring,
and on his Cross adore their Savior King. Refrain

Set up thy throne, that earth's despair may cease
beneath the shadow of its healing peace. Refrain

For thy blest Cross which doth for all atone
creation's praises rise before thy throne. Refrain

Words: George William Kitchen and Michael Robert Newbolt, 1916

Music: Crucifer

Meter: 10 10 with Refrain

My other favorite piece on the CD is the Moody Oratorio Chorus & Orchestra performing Handel's Worthy of the Lamb/Amen which I mentioned yesterday. The opening organ note alone almost makes me tremble, and when the chorus of voices comes in with the majestic and solemn "Worthy is the Lamb" I feel like trembling more. I love how Handel can move from that deep, solemn cadence, so heavy with worship that the notes almost seem to drag with gravity and weight, to quick, lilting bright brass tones and the joyful playfulness of voices, men's and women's voices, chasing one another around in breathless adoration and praise.

A blessed holy Saturday. I can't remember a colder, snowier one -- we've had snow showers off and on all day, the flakes looking lovely and petal-like as they drift down past the trees that have only begun to blossom in the past few days. Almost Easter!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Come, Follow Me

To prodigal children lost in a distant land, to disciples who forsook him and fled, to a thief who believed or maybe took pity and pretended to believe, to those who did not know that what they did they did to God, to the whole bedraggled company of humankind he had abandoned heaven to join, he says: ‘Come. Everything is ready now. In your fears and your laughter, in your friendships and farewells, in your loves and losses, in what you have been able to do and in what you know you will never get done, come, follow me. We are going home to the waiting Father.”

--Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon

Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain

It's Good Friday, and I woke up with those words from Revelation ringing in my ears. That's probably because I played the beautiful rendition by Handel several times yesterday while making dinner. It's become the anthem of this Holy Week.

It's been an odd week, without nearly enough time to focus, center on Jesus, and pray. This is the first year I've done parish administrative work during Holy Week, and there is a lot to be done around a church office in preparing for Easter. I know the work itself is good, especially in the ways it paves the way for others to come into God's presence during this holy time, but I've missed having more inner, contemplative time.

It turns out that I've done most of my best praying with my four year old, as her Daddy and I have been trying to share, in various ways all week, the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. My good friend Sandy, whose husband is a current seminarian at Trinity, let us know earlier this week that some of the seminary students had set up a very moving stations of the cross in the seminary chapel basement, and so S. and I went over there the other afternoon and went through the stations together.

It was a moving experience on several levels, one of the most basic being that I hadn't been in the chapel building in over two years. The first few years we lived here, I worshiped in that space daily (as a student) and then at least weekly (via seminary mid-week eucharist, and/or Sunday morning worship when our parish was housed there). The sweet girl was baptized in that chapel. And the basement area where the first station was set up was the space in which I used to tutor students in an after-school program, as well as where I used to attend some classes. In other words, that little building is a space which I loved and lived and worshiped in for a number of years, and it felt sacred and set apart for that reason alone.

Then the stations themselves were very powerful. A combination of symbols, signs and artwork, much of the art done by children or young people. S. was most taken with the room with the giant wooden cross on the floor, and the temple curtain ripped in two right next to it. The room was lit by reddish light, and there was a pile of nails near the cross as well as some tiny, shiny medallions that looked red in the light and recalled drops of blood. We sat for a while in front of that ripped curtain talking about how Jesus' death, in our place and on our behalf, made a way through the "wall" or the curtain that had blocked our way to God the Father. I could sense these truths seeping into my little girl's heart. I could sense them seeping deeper into mine.

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Don't Just Take Notes...Eat This Book!

In case anyone's been intrigued by the title of the Peterson book I've been reading, Eat This Book, I thought I would unpack the image a bit. The subtitle of this excellent book of reflections is The Holy Community at Table with Holy Scripture.

Peterson is exploring the image of "eating the book" found in Revelation 10, when the angel gives the scroll to the apostle John (who is having his visions on the island of Patmos) and instructs him to eat it. As Peterson writes:

"John started to write down what he was hearing -- he'd never heard a sermon like this one-- but then was told not to. A voice told John to take the book from the huge angel, this God-Messenger preaching from his world-straddling pulpit. And so he did. He walked up to the angel and said, 'Give me the book.' The angel gave it to him, but then said, 'Here it is; eat it...Eat this book.' Don't just take notes on the sermon. Eat the book. And John did it. He put away his notebook and pencil. He ate the book (Rev. 10: 9-10a)...

St. John wasn't the first biblical prophet to eat a book as if it were a peanut butter sandwich. Ezekiel had also been given a book and commanded to eat it (Ezek. 2:8-3:3). Jeremiah also 'ate' God's revelation, his version of the Holy Bible (Jer. 15:16). Ezekiel and Jeremiah, like John, lived in a time in which there was widespread pressure to live by a very different text than the one revealed by God in these Holy Scriptures. The diet of Holy Scripture for all three of them issued in sentences of tensile strength, metaphors of blazing clarity, and a prophetic life of courageous suffering. If we are in danger (which we certainly are) of succumbing to the widespread setting aside of the Holy Scriptures and replacing them with the authoritative text of our own experience -- our needs and wants and feelings -- for authoritative direction in our actual day-by-day living, these three rough-and-tumble prophets -- John, Ezekiel, Jeremiah -- responsible for the spiritual formation of God's people in the worst of times (Babylonian exile and Roman persecution) ought to be able to convince us of their gut-level necessity.

Every word in this book is intended to do something in us, give health and wholeness, vitality and holiness, to our souls and body. That's why the Christian community has expended an enormous amount of energy and intelligence in learning how to 'eat this book...' (pgs. 13, 15-16)

I really found the parallels of our time with the prophets' time (exile) and John's time (persecution) resonant, especially in that danger that Peterson highlights about our tendency to replace the Scriptures with our own selves. I think that is a big part of sinful human nature down through the ages, in all attempt to live outside of the ways God calls us to live. That's part of our bentness. You would think that in times of trouble, we would automatically turn to resources beyond ourselves, especially God-inspired and God-breathed words that have proven to be strong and true and to lead the community of the faithful down the right paths toward Jesus. But we get inverted, we turn inward and try to come up with our own ways and our own paths, which is especially dangerous when we often forget that our "selves" have been deeply formed by something...and if not this book, then by the "book" of the world, the culture all around us.

It was really helpful for me to read his unpacking of the "eating the book" metaphor, here and in other places. There's a tendency (in me, at least) to think that if I assimilate things with my mind and at least on some level with my heart, then I've done the best I can do. What Peterson is talking about here is us assimilating what God has revealed, so fully that it's as though we've ingested it. Note that he doesn't say "every word in this book is intended to do something for us" or even "to" us, but IN US.

How do we do this? How do we read the Word faithfully and truly, and not just read it, but eat it, as though we've sat down to a feast? I need help with this, as we all do (that's one reason we often read it in community) and I need to continually ask God to give me a hunger for this book he wants me to eat.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reading Round-Up, Beginning of April

I finished Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book last week, and plan to post some thoughts here soon.

My re-reading marathon of the Harry Potter books has finally gathered steam; I should be finished with Sorcerer's Stone soon. The revealing of the intriguing US and UK cover art for book 7 has inspired me, and my desire to re-read all six HP books before July 21 (the release date for Deathly Hallows) has been reinvigorated. What marvelous stories! I've just finished the chapter where Harry first finds the Mirror of Erised. I wonder if we will ever see that mirror again?

I almost reached my fun goal of finishing the Hannah Swensen mystery series by the end of the winter. I read Sugar Cookie, Peach Cobbler and Cherry Cheesecake Murders (books 6-8) and was only stymied in my quest by the fact that book 9, Key Lime Pie Murder, was only published a few weeks ago. So the few new copies have about a million holds in the inter-county library system. I added my name to the hold list and will enjoy it whenever it arrives -- these are not books I will spend actual money to acquire, but I have found them enjoyable entertainment.

I'm only a few chapters into Perils and Peace: Vol. 1: Chronicles of the Ancient Church by Mindy and Brandon Withrow. This is the first volume in "History Lives" -- a church history series written for 9-14 year olds. Thus far I am pretty impressed, both with its accuracy and with the way it engages young readers. I think I will be adding this whole series to our home library, as it will only be a few years down the road that the sweet girl will be ready to tackle them. They're relatively unexpensive paperbacks too, but nicely produced by Christian Focus Publishers in Scotland.

I finished Tony Tanner's essays in Jane Austen on "Pride and Prejudice" and "Emma," and am now full-swing into his essay on "Persuasion." These essays do a great job of engaging Austen's novels and characters, and almost always make me think. I would dearly love to argue a bit with Mr. Tanner on some of his points regarding "Emma" -- mostly because I think he tends to sell Mr. Knightley's character a bit short. But then, I've always been a bit in love with Mr. Knightley. Perhaps it takes a woman to really understand his character fully!

We've finished up the second Carolyn Heywood Betsy book, Betsy and Billy, during family reading. I need to come up with a new, longer "chapter" book to read with S. soon. Favorites on her read-aloud list right now include Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish, and a delightfully funny book called Earthquack! (a creative re-telling of "Chicken Little"). Thankfully, with the advent of spring we appear to be out of our Snowbaby phase. Yes, it's a lovely little picture book, but I'm afraid S. took some of its content a little too much to heart. She loves to act out the stories she loves most, and since "Snowbaby could not, would not sleep" as she frequently reminded us for what was probably only two weeks but felt like two months, she was actually staying up late at night trying not to close her eyes because she wanted to be just like Snowbaby in the story. Did we renew this gem last week at the library? No, we did not!

Once again, I'm sure I'm reading more than this...but my tired brain is not coming up with anything else at the moment, so I'll sign off for now.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

All Glory, Laud and Honor

All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King!
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David's royal Son,
who in the Lord's Name comest,
the King and Blessed One. Refrain

The company of angels
are praising thee on high;
and mortal men and all things
created make reply. Refrain

The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before thee we present. Refrain

To thee before thy passion
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted,
our melody we raise. Refrain

Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King. Refrain

Words: Theodulph of Orleans (ca. 750-821), ca. 820
Trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1854,
as altered in Hymns Ancient and Modern

I love Palm Sunday. When I was growing up, the various churches we attended did not always celebrate with actual palms. In fact, I have no concrete memory of ever being in a Palm Sunday processional until I was a married adult and had begun going to the Episcopal Church. Every year since, I've been so thankful to be in churches (all Episcopal/Anglican) that invite us into Holy Week with a narrative reading of the passion reading and a processional with palms.

This year I felt especially moved by the processional. It was pouring rain, so we couldn't start outside like usual. We ended up processing upstairs to our unfinished/unrenovated third floor, and walking around that large space, then going back down the stairs on the other side of the church building and processing back into our basement "sanctuary." I loved watching the Sweet Girl toil up the stairs, waving her palm, and then skip beside me, her eyes wide as she noticed the palm branches waving in the hands of our fellow congregants.

Maybe because I'm the parish administrator, thus the person who maintains the parish prayer lists, I felt much more "in tune" this year with the lives and needs of the people processing around the room. I felt acutely aware of the fact that each person walking around waving the sign of Jesus' victory was a loved and precious son or daughter of God. Each of them is living an ordinary life, and trying to live it to God's glory. The four month old babe in arms will be baptized next week; that grandmother who came in early with her five year old granddaughter so they could set the communion table together has been rejoicing in new found health after recently losing thirty pounds; the tall, very pale man with the somber eyes was recently diagnosed with cancer and just started chemo last week.

Times change, the details of life circumstances change, but people really don't -- not their needs, their bodies, minds and spirits, their hearts. Just as the first people to laud and honor Jesus with palm branches desperately and achingly needed his loving kingship, so too those of us who walked in their footsteps today. The biggest difference is that we're on the other side of his cross and resurrection, so we know more of the story of which we're a part. I wonder how many of the people who lined the road to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday became a part of the first community of the Way, and remembered the triumphal entry as Jesus' first step toward Golgotha.