Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Abandonment to Divine Providence (RR)

by Jean-Pierre De Caussade

Started: 13 September 2007
Finished: 26 September 2007

There are some books which are almost too good to be able to describe.

It is the same way with people--some are too incredible for mere words, no matter what the words. When I was in the military, I could write an Airman Performance Report or an Officer Evaluation Report on those who worked at average or even above average level, but when it came time to writing annual evaluations on those people who were superstars, no words could ever do justice to such individuals. I'd struggle for days, stay up nights and feel dissatisfied with whatever I wrote in the end. Please bear that in mind here--this is just such a book.

This 33 karat diamond of a book wasn't published until a hundred and ten years after the author's death. Father Caussade never knew he wrote this book; what we read today was originally a collection of letters written when he was the spiritual director to the Visitation nuns of Nancy in France--as well as notes from talks he gave them.

Born in 1675 in the south of France, there is almost nothing known about Caussade--no picture survives, no physical description, and very few facts. But we do know he was born during an era when the Catholic faith was rich and vibrant; he grew up in the shadow of such giants as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. In fact, although he was a Jesuit, his writings reflect more Carmelite and Salesian spirituality, than they do Ignatian influence.

One of the many beautiful things about this book is its simplicity. Another is its brevity. I have read both versions--translations--depicted above, Sacrament of the Present Moment, being the newer of the two. I prefer the older, but each has its place. Both titular phrases are Fr. Caussade's own words for the profound yet childlike concept he is trying to teach us. Remain in the here-and-now; that is where the incarnate Christ dwells.

'Short books often have great power.'¹ This one is a perfect example. There is one central theme and it is -- give or "abandon" yourself to God/Divine Providence -- and no harm can come to you. "Be Not Afraid," as Jesus said, and Pope John Paul II reiterated in his late twentieth century pontificate. The book is a series of meditations, meant to be consumed in small bite-sized pieces and then savored or contemplated. That is why it is perfect both as an audio book and a devotional. It constantly circles back to the gentle reminder we have but one three-fold duty--to abandon ourselves to His Will, trust Him in everything and live in the Present Moment. Such a sweetly elemental principal! We humans want to complicate everything; He wants to simplify things. We want to hold on to our problems; He wants to relieve us of them.

Recently, I have been filling my poor head with facts from confusing technical reading which doesn't clarify or solve anything. Fortunately, at the same time, I have also been listening to my Ignatian Press tapes, while driving in the car, of Mark Taheny as he reads Abandonment. Talk about peace and transport--peace in transport. I look forward to my time alone absorbing these Christ-like words which reassure me that all I need to do is surrender to Him and love. Do my Christian duty always and forget about what others think about me. If I am misunderstood, so much the better--so was He. And when I slip up and fall into sin--which I will do (as we all do)--I throw myself on His Loving Mercy.

Let go of the past. Forget about the future. Be in the present. He is taking care of everything else. All things work together for our good if we let Him work in our lives. What does not make sense now, does not matter. If He wills it, it is--that is enough.

As with most spiritual books different parts are helpful with each read. On this particular listening I was struck by the sixth and seventh sections of Chapter Six:

(6) An abandoned soul is not afraid of its enemies, but finds them useful allies.

'I am more afraid of what I and my friends do than anything done by my enemies. There is nothing more prudent than to offer no resistance to one's enemies and face them with simple abandonment. This is to run before the wind and stay at peace. Simplicity is always victorious when faced with worldly wisdom and easily avoids all its tricks without understanding them or even being conscious of them. God makes the soul take such suitable measures that they completely confound those who seek to trap it. It benefits by all their efforts, and what is meant to degrade it only increases its virtue.'

(7) An abandoned soul never need try to justify itself by word or deed. God does that.

'The huge, unyielding rock that shelters the soul from all storms is the divine will, which is always there, though hidden beneath the veil of trials and the most commonplace actions. Deep within those shadows is the hand of God to support and carry us to complete self-abandonment. And when the soul has arrived at this sublime state it need fear nothing which is said against it, for there is no longer anything for it to do in self-defense.'

These are not the complete sections, but I have quoted enough to convey the gist of each. The reminder to me was that the reading I had been doing--at someone else's request--was looking for a worldly solution to problems. Listening to Fr. Caussade I remembered that at core, all problems are essentially spiritual because we are spirit. One of my favorite sayings is, "We are spiritual beings having a human experience." Yes, I am a sinner; we all are. We sin every day by our thoughts, words and actions, but God forgives us for all our sins, so long as we truly repent. The only sin He can't forgive is the one for which we are not truly sorry.

I am eternally grateful for this wonderful little book--which I have already read many times--and to which I hope to return many more times. God bless you Father Caussade!

1 John Beevers, translated by with an Introduction by, Abandonment to Divine Providence, copyright 1975, Image Books, Doubleday.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

Started: 17 September 2007
Finished: 23 September 2007

"Thanks a lot Mom and Dad for the happy childhood! You've ruined any chances I ever had of becoming a famous author!"

So reads a favorite T-shirt which my children and I love.

Jeannette Walls joins the ranks of Dickens and many other beloved authors who owe their first foot in the door of the world of Literature to regaling their abysmal childhood.

What is it about the unhappy child, the child-survivor, the child-made-good against-all-odds that inspires us so?

The Glass Castle is the story of the Walls family: Rex and Rose Mary, and their four children, Lori, Jeannette, Brian and Maureen. Rex and Rose Mary were married in 1956, which happens to be the same year my parents were married; the make-up and order of children in their family also mirrors the order of my own birth family: girl, girl, boy, girl--even to the spacing of the years.

But there the similarities end. My father was an excellent provider, loving husband, good father, devout Catholic and always hard-working and sober. My mother was a devoted wife, dedicated mother, faithful Catholic and a home-maker extraordinaire, even if her heart wasn't in it so much for the Martha Stuart aspect of it as to make sure she kept a clean home, provided us with nutritious meals and clean clothes. My parents considered our education a priority and ensured we attended the best private or public schools they could afford--up to and including four years of college.

Contrast this with the Walls' family and you have a difference so marked as to make me get down on my knees and thank God for my parents. And yet, Jeannette Walls today is a famous author and winner of numerous awards for this tale of courage in the face of overwhelming adversities. Would I trade places with her? Not for a second!

Beginning with her earliest memory of being severely burned when she caught herself on fire while cooking her own hot dog at age three, Jeannette relates her family's unique saga which is travelogue, adventure and a series of believe-it-or-not vignettes. Many times throughout my reading of The Glass Castle I found myself wishing parts of the narrative were not true, as one small happiness or gain after another was crushed, mutilated and/or eliminated. The family sank further and further into poverty and degradation as the children grew up and became aware of all the world around them had to offer...and which was denied to them.

I suppose my reaction says more about me than the book. Rose Mary Walls would have blithely dismissed my compassion and concern with a wave of her hand, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger," and gone back to her painting. That was the sort of mother she was--a self-professed "excitement-addict".

Rex Walls was an alcoholic, four pack a day smoker, who led--or drove--himself and his family from one place (home?) to another all through Jeannette's early childhood until they were finally forced to return to his hometown of Welch, West Virginia. But from another perspective, he was also a misunderstood genius who, when he was sober, taught his children physics, geology, philosophy (of sorts) and a love of life.

The four Walls children grew up fast--as children of such parents must if they are to survive. They learned to take charge of their own fates and get what they needed. Perhaps it is the secret of their later successes.

The Glass Castle is ironic in that a castle is supposed to provide protection, whereas -- as anyone knows -- glass is both see through and easily shattered, a metaphor for the family life Rex and Rose Mary built for their four children, who joined together to work hard and help each other escape their own parents.

My own beloved parents just celebrated their fifty-first wedding anniversary this month. Although our family is far from perfect, it is rich in humor, wisdom, stories and trust. Thank you Mom and Dad for building our family on the solid foundations of Faith, Hope and Love!

This book was loaned to me by a friend and I am grateful, but it's worth mentioning this is a book you wouldn't regret buying. Had it been my copy, I'm sure it would be heavily highlighted by now. As it is, I have it annotated with numerous post-it© tabs which I'll go back and glance at one more time before I remove them and return the book (sniff) reluctantly to its owner. It was a DEAR book. (See previous Blog entry.) It was also a dear book from a dear person! Thank you!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

What is D.E.A.R.?

In my daughter's first school they had a concept called, Drop Everything And Read, or D.E.A.R. At various times during the week there were scheduled and even unscheduled, spontaneous DEAR times. In the classroom this meant, 'close your textbooks, pull out your library, or whatever book you were reading for the Accelerated Reader (AR) Program, and begin reading'. No homework or other schoolwork was allowed during DEAR time. Strangely enough -- for my children (and me) -- many students positively hated DEAR time.

But the idea caught and tickled my fancy. In actuality, I had been practicing 'DEAR' all my life, but just hadn't had a name for it. Most of the happiest times of my life were DEAR times--pun intended!

In fact when I went to school, I'd frequently gotten in trouble for doing something very similar to what schools today are trying to encourage students to!! The irony of it was not wasted on me.

When family or friends offer me a book, I usually try to practice DEAR. (In fact, several of the books on my To Be Read list are recommendations from Loved Ones.)* I don't recommend, buy or share books offhandedly; I do it with love, much thought, care and attention. So I really hope those I share my selections with will read what I give them.

Therefore, when someone gives or recommends a book to me, Booklady, how can I do any less?

So when a friend asked if I wanted to borrow her copy of The Glass Castle and I said, "Yes," I knew DEAR was required. However, with my parents visiting us from out-of-town for the first time in 6 years, it wasn't possible to drop everything--but I could certainly drop all the other books I was currently reading--and I did.

Next entry...The Glass Castle!

*While my father was visiting he reminded me of another book he wants me to read, The Resurrection of the Shroud.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

As a Man Thinketh (RR)

by James Allen

This is one of those charmingly quaint little books which is worth owning. I have a Longmeadow Press edition (postcard size, 4 x 6 inches, 64 pages) which I bought at least 15 years ago and have read many times. Last evening I read it again in one sitting of approximately an hour.

Every time I've settled down with this magnificent meditational masterpiece, I have been in need of its author's gentle influence and it has yet to fail me. I tend to suffer from negative, or out-of-balance, thinking. So many miles of 'driving' with my thoughts and they get even more shaken-up, or inclined towards the wrong direction. When this happens, I know it's time for a mental realignment. A quiet but firm reminder from this eloquent author that our thoughts are the parents of our actions usually does the trick.

As you will have noticed from the title, Mr. Allen lived and wrote a while ago--a century to be specific. He wrote before the days of Political Correctness, so even though he referred to 'man' and 'men', in actuality, he had all of us in mind. Please forgive me if I adopt his all-encompassing parlance in speaking about people of both genders; it is what I grew up with and it does not seem offensive to me, a woman, to be included with all of mankind.

Our author was born in 1864 and only lived to be 48; he wrote 19 books in his obscure literary career of 9 years. When James was still a young boy, his father left the family home in England and went to America to earn enough money to recoup the losses from the failed family business. Unfortunately, he was robbed and murdered before he was ever able to fulfill his plans. The family's ensuing financial crisis forced James to leave school and go to work as a private secretary, a position which would be known as an administrative assistant today. He continued to work in this capacity until 1902, when he devoted himself full-time to his writing. After the publication of his first book, From Poverty to Power, he moved to Ifracombe, a little town on England's southwest coast. As a Man Thinketh was his second book and his most famous. His wife, Lily, apparently had to convince him to publish it; he wasn't persuaded it was good enough! How ironic! It would seem that the author suffered from the same problem as yours truly! He must have needed to read his own book!

When I learned these few stark facts about our author, I was touched and even more moved by his book. He wasn't writing from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. He knew what it was to see life from the 'depths of despair' as my dear friend Anne (with an "e") Shirley from the legendary Green Gables would say. All joking aside, Mr. Allen's life was no picnic; it was short and full of disappointment, loss and pain. Yet, he has left us a work of poignant human testimony, inspiration and wisdom.

Each time I've read As A Man Thinketh, I've been in a different place in my life and needed something unique from the book. Therefore, a new chapter has jumped out at me at each successive read. At this particular juncture, the fourth chapter, Thought and Purpose, offered the critical insight I was seeking. At another time when I was suffering from ill-health, the third chapter was more relevant.

There are 7 chapters in all, plus a forward and you can see them listed below:

Foreword by James Allen
1. Thought and Character
2. Effect of Thought on Circumstances
3. Effect of Thought on Health and the Body
4. Thought and Purpose
5. The Thought-Factor in Achievement
6. Visions and Ideals
7. Serenity

To call one a 'chapter' is to put a grand title on a small creature, yet each is a little nugget of wisdom, complete unto itself.

And without further ado, let me let Mr. Allen speak for himself.

'Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.' p19

'Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound.' p20

'A man only begins to be a man when he ceases to whine and revile, and commences to search for the hidden justice which regulates his life. And as he adapts his mind to that regulating factor, he ceases to accuse others as the cause of his condition, and builds himself up in strong and noble thoughts.' p27

'Let a man cease from his sinful thoughts, and all the world will soften toward him, and be ready to help him.' p30

'To put away aimlessness and weakness, and to begin to think with purpose, is to enter the ranks of those strong ones who only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment; who make all conditions serve them and who think strongly, attempt fearlessly and accomplish masterfully.' p42

'There can be no progress, no achievement without sacrifice.' p48

'The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.' p55

God bless you Mr. Allen for this wonderful little book which has given me so much encouragement, genuine help and profound insight when I most needed it!

I happily and readily award you my 5 star award as the best of books and include this book on my list of books to read again and again and again! I hope you will too!


Friday, September 14, 2007

The Mysteries of Divine Humility

A Prayer: Though You are God, You know more about Humility than we can ever begin to assimilate, Sweet Jesus. While it is not strange for God to know everything; it is amazing to have such an incredible example of Humility in God's human existence. It would have been so much easier, not too mention expected, for You to have come in Power and Glory. Instead you have manifested yourself to us in Humility because it is a virtue which You so cherish in your children. Throughout Your life on earth, Jesus, You gave us countless examples of humble submission to the Father's Holy Will.

When I wrote these mysteries (below) almost four years ago, I did so because it was my earnest desire to begin to grow in Humility, the first of all virtues. Recently You have answered those prayers in an unanticipated, although probably not a unique, way. You have humbled me through my own human failings. Although this is not the way I hoped nor envisioned my prayers would be answered, I thank You, Jesus!

Ever since my computer crashed two years ago, I thought these mysteries were lost. I vaguely remembered them, but had ceased praying them on a regular basis because I had developed a new set of mysteries. Today when I was cleaning my front room, I happened to pull out the book, "Stories of the Rose" by Anne Winston-Allen and what did I find but my own copy of these mysteries! I am sure your dear Mother, Jesus, was telling me it was time to resume praying these mysteries daily. Thank you both! Amen.

Here are these mysteries for any who would join me in praying them. I would also encourage you to read Stories of the Rose!

The First Mystery of Divine Humility: Jesus calls His Disciples.

Just as You called the twelve Apostles all those years ago, Jesus, You are still calling new disciples today. Your calls to me, LORD, come in many forms and ways and not always when I want to hear them--in fact usually when I do not want to hear them, sinner that I am. You call me to constant prayer, to help the poor, to put others ahead of myself, to follow Your teachings and those of the Church. But most of all You call me to pick up my cross each day and bear it lovingly.

Today, I hear Your call, LORD, and humbly I obey.

The Second Mystery of Divine Humility: Jesus restores sight to the Blind.

Just as You restored sight to the physically blind during Your lifetime on earth Jesus, You are still enabling the blind to see, especially the spiritually blind. In this highly visual world in which we live, it is so easy to be blind to spiritual realities. We see a way of dress, but not a person. We see a hairstyle, but not a soul. We see an enemy, but not a child of God. We see those who have wronged us, but not what we have done wrong. We see our pain, but not our sin. We see a culture of Death, but not the great gift that is Life. Help us, oh LORD, begin to see as You do!

Today, I see through the new eyes of Humility and Love which You have given me--washed free from illusion, LORD.

The Third Mystery of Divine Humility: Jesus gives only Good Gifts.

Just as You gave good wine at the Wedding Feast and multiplied the loaves and the fishes, Jesus, You always want to give us what is best for us at the time. Everything that comes from You is for our sanctification or for Your Glory. We must learn -- again and again -- how to trust as little children, knowing Your Wisdom and Love will turn all to Grace. If You are for us, who can be against us? I want to be like the Good Thief on the cross, dear Jesus, turning to You and saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!" Please LORD, that is the Gift I desire above all else--to be with You for eternity!

Today, I humbly and gratefully accept all that You give me, LORD--the bitter and the sweet.

The Fourth Mystery of Divine Humility: Jesus teaches and transforms us through God's Great Mercy.

Just as you taught the Parable of the Forgiving Father, Jesus, You are still transforming lives by instructing and leading us to Divine Mercy. Whether we are the Prodigal child or the Self-Righteous one, You bring us to the seat of Our Heavenly and Forgiving Father. He is happy to forgive us as we forgive each other. Let God's Great Mercy be an inspiration and example to each of us in all of our human relationships.

Today, I stand humbly before God and my brothers and sisters, sinful and sorrowful, but also grateful for forgiveness and rich in Your generous mercy.

The Fifth Mystery of Divine Humility: Jesus raises us from the Dead.

Just as You brought Lazarus back from the dead, Jesus, You will also raise us up one day. Your offer of Eternal Life is open to all who willingly give up the passing attractions of this life. We must die to self, as you told Nicodemus to do, Jesus, in order to be born again. Life in the Kingdom of Heaven is there for all who would have it. We need only pick up our cross and follow You.

Today, may I humbly surrender my will to Your Will, offering You this mortal life in hopes of Resurrection to Eternal Life.

May I always be inspired by the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, guided by my Divine Savior, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to come to God, the Father, in simple, trusting and holy humility. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde

Started: 30 August 2007
Finished: 13 September 2007

If I was to give out awards for 'Wackiest Book I've read This Year', The Eyre Affair would get it, hands down. It's the most hard-to-classify book I've read in a long time. 'If ever?' she asks with a puzzling look on her face.

Part time-travel, part literature-lover-lore, part mystery, part sci-fi and part something else--too nebulous to define.

Some folks on my British Classics Book Group were talking about the series and warned me it was 'different' but they also said if you like Brit Lit, then you're sure to love it. I do and I did!

Don't let my reading dates (above) fool you. This book can be read in far less time. I've just had too much on my plate recently and have put this down when I wanted to pick it up. I am sure when I treat myself to my next Fforde 'sweetie'--as the English like to call them--I'll probably devour it in a two- or at most three-day stretch. And yes, I would classify the book as a candy--no real nutritional value, morally speaking, but very, very enjoyable. On the other hand, nothing objectionable or offensive either--rather old-fashioned in that respect.

So, now that I've thoroughly confused you, what is The Eyre Affair about?

Thursday Next, a Literary Detective, is the main character; she's 36 years old and works solving crimes involving Literature in 1980's England--but it is a very different country than we know or remember because all sorts of things we thought happened either haven't yet or might not due to all sort of time-travel complications. Yes, well I did try to warn you--weird and wacky! A couple of examples: the Crimean War is still going on, which if you remember from your history books should have ended almost 130 years earlier and Winston Churchill seems to have died -- unknown -- as a young boy. Time travel apparently can have disastrous results.

Thursday's father has a face that can stop a clock; no, he isn't ugly; he can literally stop Time. And he frequently does--to drop in on his daughter for a chat, pass on info or ask questions--often with quite humorous consequences.

Now if all this sounds improbable, try to imagine a world where people actually care enough about Literature to even have Literary Detectives in the first place! But they do. And the theft of the original Jane Eyre manuscript is enough to send the entire world running to read their copies of this book, because in this world people can enter books and characters can leave manuscripts. Thursday has her work cut out for her. Her adversaries have no less interesting names than Acheron Hades and Jack Schitt, if you'll forgive my French. However, on the side of good, Thursday is helped by no less than the formidable Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, Esq., himself, Jane's employer and, well, I should say no more, in case you have not read Jane Eyre.

But then if you haven't read Jane Eyre in the first place, much of the subtle humor and even a good deal of the plot will be lost. Indeed, Mr. Fforde's appeal will be to a rather limited audience. However to those who love British Literature as much as yours truly, this was truly a gem in the rough.

The best website about the book is the one by the author himself. If you're going to read even one in the series, check it out!

Thanks folks at British Classics for the tip!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars:
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine you with caresses,
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spuméd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist.
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou can’st limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpséd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

World Trade Center -- A Movie Review

Although I usually review books, sometimes it is difficult for me to read--especially when I can't concentrate. Usually when something difficult happens and I most need to lose myself in a good book, I just can't. I usually can't pray at times like that either; I need God most, but He seems farthest away. Of course He isn't--that is when He is closest. And He proved it to me last night. He gave me the perfect movie to watch!

World Trade Center by Oliver Stone is the movie to watch day after tomorrow if you want to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country on 911.

I'll be honest, I expected it to be a bit cheesy--guess that's the cynic in me. Or maybe I've just watched too many disaster flicks. This is not a disaster flick! Forget Towering Inferno and all those idiotic portrayals of romantic adventure. This is the real thing--the way the Almighty designs things. Not us.

World Trade Center is a true story about two men, Will Jimeno and John Loughlin, and their families and what happens to them on the day of September 11th, 2001. It starts out like any other day. They report to their jobs as Port Authority police officers and are soon rushed into the burning World Trade Center to help rescue people but became trapped themselves when the tower collapses. They were with a number of other officers--I'm not sure exactly how many--but they are the only two in their group who survive under tons of heavens-only-knows-what.

Have you watched or read anything about 911 since 2001?

I haven't. I can't explain why. At the time it happened, it was all anyone talked about, thought about, dreamed about. The entire world was changed because of it...for awhile. Then time passed. The shock subsided. People got on with their lives. The memory dimmed. We all began to forget. I know I did.

They even touched on it in the movie--talking about and trying to remember the last things they said to their loved ones. The wife of John Loughlin couldn't remember what she'd said last to her husband. The mother of an elevator operator remembered she'd gotten angry with her son.

Why do we stop focusing on what is important? Or rather who is important in our lives?

Are we just too busy? Do we try to do too much? What are we doing wrong? Or what are doing that is superfluous? Can we even tell?

When John Loughlin and Will Jimeno were laying buried under tons of rubble it wasn't hard for them to tell what was important--suddenly it became crystal clear--their wives and families. Miles away and frantic with worry about them, the same was true for those who loved them.

As I watched that movie last night, I remembered how I first felt when I heard about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. My family seeing how I was affected by the movie kept asking me if I wanted to stop watching it. At many points it did remind me of Mel Gibson's The Passion in terms of the horror of the men's suffering. And maybe that is exactly why I continued to watch the movie.

It felt a little like I was keeping vigil with them. If they had to experience that suffering as innocent Americans serving their country, the very least I could do was keep watch along with them. So I did. It was painful, but it was also cathartic. The problem I had been dealing with before I began watching the movie was put into perspective. What really mattered? My husband sat across the room from me--safe and healthy--my children were also alive and well. Thank God!

Fortunately, Will Jimeno and John Loughlin are found by two incredible Marines and rescued by an extraordinary team of dedicated volunteers.

God bless all of them and everyone who worked so tirelessly to do what could be done! And may God bless all those who died September 11th, 2001, and grant peace to their families. God bless America!

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Cornucopia of Book Quotes

Yesterday my oldest daughter came home saying her English teacher didn't like for them to use the expression 'a lot' when speaking about plenty and they were supposed to come up with as many alternative words and phrases as possible.

She proceeded to name off many of the following words and I added a few as well: many, abundance, ample, copious, plenty, plenteous, plentiful, profusion, overflowing, bounty, plethora, bountiful, teeming and rich.*

Then she said that someone in her class suggested a strange "c" word no one had ever heard of.

"Oh! 'Cornucopia'!" I said triumphantly.

"Yes!" She looked at me in surprise, "How did you know that?" Why do our children think we were born yesterday?

A cornucopia, I proceeded to explain to her, is an overflowing horn of plenty--like what you see pictured in many Thanksgiving pictures.

And then, because life is stranger than fiction, I happened to notice that on the cover of one of my favorite book catalogs, Bas Bleu, I saw the picture of -- yes -- a cornucopia of Books! Now what could be nicer?

So I shall put that at the top of my post where I'll begin to collect my favorite book quotes!
Here are just a couple to begin with:

"That is a good book which is opened with expectation, and closed with delight and profit." ~~Bronson Alcott

"An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books." ~~James Thomson

"I have sought for happiness everywhere, but have found it nowhere except in a little corner with a little book." ~~Thomas à Kempis

"My book and heart must never part." ~~The New England Primer (oldest known copy extant is dated 1737)

"Classic." A book which people praise and don't read. ~~Mark Twain

"Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me, from mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom." ~~Skakespeare: "The Tempest"

". . . be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue." ~~Rainer Maria Rilke

"The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already." ~~George Orwell, from 1984

"A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever." ~~Martin Farquhar Tupper

* If you can think of more, please let us know!

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

Started: 31 August 2007
Finished: 2 September 2007

What was I just writing about not getting to read a book in a couple of days? I certainly didn't expect to repeat the process again so soon. But then I didn't expect to run across a book like A Thousand Splendid Suns either.

Last year my sister, Patti, recommended Mr. Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner, which I kept meaning to read but never seemed to get around to. What the set of circumstances were which finally pushed me into reading it, I can't recall just now.

There used to be 3 things which drove me to reach for a new tome:

1.) I was getting nowhere with my current book;

2.) I watched a movie or heard about something which made me curious to learn more about a person or subject; and/or

3.) I'd finished my last book.

And while I was still homeschooling my children, the 3rd reason was usually the last and least likely of the reasons, sad to say.

I must confess The Kite Runner was nothing like I expected it to be, based on the title and the type of books my sister usually recommends. However, since it would merit a blog post in itself -- which I might do when I reread it again, it definitely being a book worth reading twice -- I won't say much about it except that it deals with father-son relationships caught in the web of the political, social, religious and historical turmoil which has devastated Afghanistan for the last half century.

From his brief biography on the back cover, Mr. Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and moved to the United States in 1980. In 2006 he was named a U.S. envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. It would seem from these sparse facts that our author writes from a deep love of country. That was my impression after reading TKR; it was confirmed upon reading A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Every once in awhile I read a book which reminds me why I am an avid reader; not just your average run-of-the-mill reader, but a serious reader. If one is a serious reader, it is not for mere pleasure, nor for idle curiosity, nor even for the collection of information and knowledge, however enjoyable and worthy those activities may be--but for the highest of all human endeavors--to Know. To See. To Love. Or at least to aspire to those lofty aspirations, because I do not think we achieve them in reading, we only seek after them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns starts off very quietly. It begins in Afghanistan at approximately the same time frame (1950's) as TKR, where and when our author seems to feel at home. The difference being that this story focuses on a young girl. For awhile we follow her life. Then abruptly we leave her and begin to follow another young girl. Frustration! But eventually, Mr. Hosseini ties the two girls'--grown into women--stories together and from then on these two women are bound together by a mystical connection more powerful than blood, which their continued suffering only strengthens.

I cannot do justice to ATSS by any description of the story, except to say that I could not put it down and it moved me constantly to tears. It's a story of almost unbelievable misery--of watching your homeland and everyone you love exploited, tortured, and/or destroyed. Yet in the face of this cruelty and wanton violence, there is gentleness, new life and a sweet budding friendship. TKR moves out of Afghanistan; ATSS remains in Kabul. We watch the city begin its deterioration after the Soviet invasion, fall into further disorder with the in-fighting of the Mujahideen and descend to utter chaos when the Taliban implement their regime of extremist misogyny.

If I were a high school English teacher, I would have every young American girl -- and the young boys, but especially the girls -- read this book. Just as I wanted my own daughters to watch the movie, Osama, disturbing as it is, I am giving them this book for the same reason. We can never truly appreciate our freedoms until we see how much we have to lose.

With no reservations, despite the violence--because it serves a purpose in this case--I give this book an unequivocal 5 stars. I'd give it a higher rating if I could. Excellent! Read it! Soon!


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Wilkie Collins and "The Moonstone" (RR)

First read in 2001, from the 15th of December to the 26th; this time, from the 25th of July until the 24th of August.

The fun in rereading a mystery -- if you can remember whodunit; usually with my memory and how long I wait between rereads, it doesn't matter anyway -- but if you can remember, the fun is in watching the story unfold with a knowing eye. I wonder if that's how it will be when we do our life reviews, except of course then we won't be able to be so dispassionate, will we?

But I digress. In The Moonstone, considered the first real mystery, which set the entire mystery genre in motion, Collins is at his humorous best.

The first time around, I enjoyed his characters and their quirky names, ofttimes forgetting to follow the plot I was so amusingly diverted by the the likes of the Robinson Crusoe-quoting head servant Betteredge, self-righteous Miss Clack's attempts to convert the world or at least her aunt, Aunt Ablewhite's inability to accomplish anything and the original Sherlock Holmes prototype, Sergeant Cuff and his love of roses. If those names aren't descriptive enough, there's also a banker named Lucre and a lawyer named Bruff.

I also enjoyed his use of third person narrative. Beginning with Gabriel Betteredge (get it? Better Edge!) Collins proceeds to Miss Clack's story (clackety clack went her tongue...or think of "The Clackers" in The Devil Wears Prada) and then narrates through Mr. Franklin Blake, etc. It's a very effective and interesting way to tell a story. You come to know the characters better and enjoy seeing the story unfold from numerous perspectives.

One of the reasons I like a book is when--and if--it opens my mind to something I did not know before. In the case of The Moonstone, there was an interesting twist, a plot that revolved around the effects of opium on a character. It was recommended that to learn more about this subject, read, Confessions of an Opium Eater. I shall have to add this to my "To Be Read" list. I had no idea, prior to reading The Moonstone, that opium has effects other than that of pain relief.

Although considered by many, including yours truly, Collins' finest novel, the author himself did not agree with that assessment of The Moonstone. Perhaps he may be forgiven this undervaluing of his masterpiece of mysteries because Mr. Collins was suffering from a painful illness at the time he wrote The Moonstone which led him to use the only pain-reliever of the day--opium--and hence his own experience of writing The Moonstone could not have been a pleasant one.

'Wilkie Collins was born on 8 January 1824 and died on 23 September 1889. In those 65 years he wrote 27 novels, more than 50 short stories, at least 15 plays, and more than 100 non-fiction pieces. A close friend of Charles Dickens from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens' death in June 1870, Collins was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens's bloomed. Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has for fifty years. Almost all his books are in print, he is studied widely, and new film and television versions of some of his books have been made. Nevertheless, there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction.'

My own personal discovery of Wilkie Collins was six years ago when I was in the middle of Charles Dickens' study. At that period of my life, I 'tackled' a new author each summer and attempted to read as many of his/her novels as possible before the (home) school year began again. The summer of 2001 was the summer of Dickens...and Hard Times, Martin Chuzzlewit and my all-time favorite, Bleak House, which is anything but bleak. In reading a biography about Dickens, I learned about his publishing pressures and a particular friend, Wilkie Collins.

"Wilkie Collins? Never heard of him. What did he write?" Then Blackstone, my favorite book-on-tape merchant featured The Moonstone on their monthly sale page. Why not? I bought it, tried it and loved it! I never guessed whodunit or how. Not that that is any surprise. I'm an Agatha Christie drop-out too. Only after reading 90% of her mysteries have I finally figured out that the murderer is usually the person who has the greatest motive, but least opportunity. Of course, often, the motive is also unknown which makes it even more difficult, if not downright impossible to solve. And if I do occasionally happen to figure out whodunit, I never manage to figure out how, so mystery writers rest easy!

But The Moonstone was the first of the mysteries and it's not a murder mystery. It involves the theft of a famous Indian diamond, yellow in color and resembling the moon. So much I'd like to tell you about The Moonstone, but unfortunately I can't for the very reason that it is a mystery and it would spoil it. However, I can say that I enjoyed it every bit as much on this second listen through. It is read by a cast of three readers, two men and a woman and they play the parts of the several male and the one female narrators of the story.

After my first unsuccessful attempt to solve the crime (I didn't feel so bad since Sergeant Cuff himself was also deceived as to who was the real culprit) I tried to interest my family in listening to the book on one of our long journeys back to St. Louis but unfortunately the car tape deck broke along the way and my hopes were dashed.

We were several tapes into the book but no one else in my family was as dismayed by this calamity as I was, which might have led me to doubt my conviction about this story, but it didn't. Then recently we watched the movie, The Woman in White, based on another of Collins' book--this one being his own personal favorite--and my entire family was quite enthralled with the story, also a very thrilling mystery. I knew that the only reason they hadn't fallen in love with The Moonstone was because they hadn't gotten far enough along in the book. Victorian stories move at a slower pace; they don't 'hook' you right away like modern tales do. Another time...

I highly recommend listening, if you can. But if not, just be sure to read it. As a piece of Literature, it is not only first-rate, but it's also History! You owe it to yourself to meet Mr. Collins and the marvelous characters he has created in this clever story. And yes, The Woman in White is good, but sorry, I still think The Moonstone is better. Wilkie Collins' fans are split down the middle, so you must read both and place your vote too!