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Showing posts from 2009

The Minutes of This Week

Daily schedule: Laid in bed all day. Got up occasionally to eat and put in an hour or so of work. Isn't Lyme disease fun?
Playlist for daily rest periods: Billy the Kid and Rodeo by Aaron Copland; The Last of the Mohicans; The Village; Lady in the WaterTo ward off depression, listened frequently to the Reba McEntire/Justin Timberlake duet, "The Only Promise That Remains."WEDNESDAY: Saw The Screwtape Letters- literally one of the best live performances I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot.THURSDAY: Held a friend's newborn. I had forgotten how cute and cuddly babies are.FRIDAY: Saw my sister's latest play. Left Alexandria at 11:oo p.m. (snow had just started). Arrived home three hours later due to crippling effect of snowstorms on Northern Virginia drivers. It was an adventure.SATURDAY: It snowed while my family cut various capers indoors and out, such as digging the minivan out of the snow on the side of the road and relocating it to the driveway, escort…

Book Discoveries

Yay! Just when I think to myself that there can't possibly be another good author out there, I discover that there is. Here are three series I am currently enjoying:
The Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis PetersAnne Rice's Vampire Chronicles: Yes, I have a bloodthirsty side. Okay, maybe not. But I do love Rice's sensual prose and completely unpredictable plots. These stories are truly grandiose.The Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester: My brother introduced me to these. Splendid writing full of nautical terminology that is so artfully used I can pretend I understand it. Humorous and harrowing adventures. A unique characteristic of Forester's storytelling is his pacing - sometimes crawling along through the moments, other times skipping blithely over whole days or even years. If I could start my life over, I think I'd give more careful consideration to becoming a sailor.

Brain Fog

"You seem more alert," said a friend the other day. We hadn't seen each other in over six months. It was the first comment someone had made about my Lyme treatment that actually made sense. People keep telling me how healthy I look, and it's a wonderful compliment, really, but healthy is not how I feel. I've been taking the antibiotics for about a month now and I've been nothing but tired. (Although the predictably low energy is an improvement over the wildly unpredictable crashes I was experiencing more frequently over the last nine months or so.)

Despite the low energy, I've found myself waking up earlier than usual in the mornings, and very motivated to work. It's been puzzling. Previously I could lay in bed for days (or so it felt) and not really care that I wasn't doing anything interesting. Now I try to stay busy, because otherwise I feel bored. Now where did that idea come from? I guess my brain isn't tired anymore. All along I thought i…

Companiable Silence

A friend visited me today, and after we had talked and eaten, she worked on the computer while I did ribbon embroidery, then she took a nap while I read, and then she read while I did dishes. It made me think of the time another friend and I ate almost an entire meal together without speaking (we were each reading something, I admit), and at one point she said, "We would make good hermits."
I think a good friend is someone you can be quiet with.

Large-Family Math

There are ten people living in my house with four cars among us, two of which are disabled in the driveway (including the twelve-seater); a third has been stalling randomly. My brother just arrived home for the weekend with his pickup (seats three). Tomorrow morning we must all arrive at church at two different times, along with the two fellow churchmembers who ride with us. After the service we must arrive home in time for four of us to depart for various activities including a work shift. If you do the math, you'll find it adds up to an irrational number.

"Behind November came deep winter . . .

A calm day had settled into a crystalline evening; the world wore a North Pole coloring: all its lights and tints looked like the 'reflets' of white, or violet, or pale green gems. The hills were a lilac-blue; the setting sun had purple in its red; the sky was ice, all silvered azure; when the stars rose, they were of white crystal - not gold; gray, or cerulean, or faint emerald hues - cool, pure, and transparent - tinged the mass of the landscape.

"What is this by itself in a wood no longer green, no longer even russet; a wood, neutral tint - this dark blue moving object? Why, it is a schoolboy . . . who has left his companions, now trudging home by the high road, and is seeking a certain tree, with a certain mossy mound at its root - convenient as a seat. Why is he lingering here? - the air is cold, and the time wears late . . . Does he feel the chaste charm nature wears tonight? A pearl-white moon smiles through the gray trees . . ."

~ Charlotte Bronte, Shirley, ch.…

Don't Forget to Dream

Today, my good friend said that my next step in life should be to plant a garden. "And you could have a chicken," she added. "In fact, you could have a farm."

And a longstanding dream came flooding back over me: the small house with the big garden and the goat or the cow and the donkey and the farm dog and the barn cats and the berry patch and the pond with weeping willows around it and the Easter lily bank and Christmas tree grove. As we talked I added a lighthouse or silo which would be my office where I would write. "And you need an apple tree or apricot tree," said my friend.

It's been a while since I've let myself really dream. I miss it.

The Amazing Charlotte Bronte

Okay, so I did not like The Professor one bit - it's no wonder Charlotte couldn't get it published during her lifetime. But I just started Shirley, and it's splendid.

The story of Charlotte's own life is like a novel. Her life must have been extremely barren for her to have assigned so much value to the experience of attending school in Brussels, being taught by Constantin Heger, and falling in love with him. But only a mind as rich, introspective, and imaginative as hers could have reevaluated that experience again and again in her various novels, repictured Heger as Rochester, Emanuel, and Moore, and recast over and over that deeply rewarding relationship of intellects. And then to settle down neatly at the end of her life to a loving marriage with an Irish curate who had a sense of humor! (One guesses that laughter is the thing she needed most after all those years of rigid loneliness.)

Strange Turns

My life has gone in some very peculiar directions. I am contemplating that thought because this week I am house/dogsitting, meaning that I have an entire house to myself and not a whole lot to do. So, what have I chosen to do with my time? That's the peculiar part.
Years ago (before I got sick) I always said that I would rather clean than cook. Things sure have changed. Given my own kitchen for a week, I'm thrilled to be using a convection oven and gas range. I'm picking out new recipes to try from The Joy of Cooking and following them exactly. Yesterday, for instance, I learned how to make a poaching paper that lays neatly on top of a simmering pot of fish fillets, lemon, onion, carrot, and celery. My biggest mistake with that dish was leaving out the salt. (Today I refurbished the fish and vegetables with a brown butter sauce.) I bought portobello mushrooms for the first time. I've learned how to dress a salad, not just slosh the vinaigrette on top. I've discover…

Called Out of Darkness

I just finished a splendid book, Anne Rice's "spiritual confession." This is one of those utterly beautiful spiritual works that brings me to tears at points. Rice grasps the heart of Christianity.I have about twenty strips of paper sticking out of the book where I marked meaningful passages. The chapters are arranged thematically, and as a memoir this book is reminiscent of Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings. Here are some themes I found particularly interesting. Rice sees beauty and art as redemptive. She firmly identifies herself as an artist, as someone who lives a certain way and pursues certain goals out of a belief in beauty and creativity. My favorite description in the book reflects this.My father listening to the opera on Saturday afternoons was a delightful part of our world. He would sit at a table in the back bedroom working on his woodcarvings, and the sounds of the opera would fill the house. I loved the voice of Milton Cross, who always read a…

More Mysteries!

I've gone through the Dorothy Sayers mysteries three times, read every single Agatha Christie in my county library system, and completed the Josephine Tey canon this past year by obtaining To Love and Be Wise via interlibrary loan. What shall I read? Like Cookie Monster, I wandered panicked among the library bookshelves muttering "Me want mysteries," and lighted once again upon Ellis Peters. I'd tried the Brother Cadfael mysteries twice before, and did not find them quite as perfect as Sayers and Christie nor as fetching as Tey. Nonetheless, I am now on a medieval kick and Cadfael fits the bill.

I just finished Monk's Hood and very much enjoyed the vividly described abbey and town.

Here is a helpful and attractive set of webpages by a Brother Cadfael fan, including a bibliography of the mysteries in order.

"The love that qualifies someone

to shepherd others develops only when suffering persuades us to give up our self-preserving agendas, when dark nights make Christ's presence necessary (no longer a luxury), when trials make us willing to abandon ourselves fully to Christ because we need him so badly. The profound intiimacy with Christ that only suffering can create enables us to enter other people's lives with the Spirit's healing power."

~ Larry Crabb, Hope When You're Hurting, ch. 15

It Takes a Little Getting Used To

Today was one of those days. Projects didn't get done; I was sick; the house was full of activity and disorienting; there was conflict at dinner and I cried in front of everyone. On the flip side, I went on a beautiful walk this morning, I spent little money on a big purchase, the most important project did get done, I made beets for dinner and beets make me happy, and we watched the first episode of Bleak House tonight.

Let me tell you a little secret. I'm a control freak. Oh, wait, you have that problem too? And days like today drive me crazy. Everything's out of control, including me. The most painful part of a day like today is the moment when I realize that God wants me to let go, not hang on. It feels like I'm loosing my grip on a sturdy branch and letting myself spin down into a whirlpool.

I don't like His way of doing things. It's messy and painful and it's not the way I would do it! But there's a part of me that knows life is supposed to be beaut…

News Flashes

Everybody reads Rebecca. Daphne Du Maurier's House on the Strand delivers in just the same way - evocative and slightly creepy.My sister and I just got back from visiting friends in Florida. We went to the beach a lot, drank way too much tea (is there such a thing? Well, I'm still trying to give up my daily third cup), and talked. And talked. And talked. I think I know what heaven will be like.Richard John Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon took me months to read, but it was worth it. He teeters on the brink of universalism and his writing is cumbersome - just ignore all that.I had to go all the way to Florida to get a motorcycle ride - make that two, since we switched bikes at one point. It was a nice long ride that made up for the four years since my last one. Also, it was my first time on a crotch rocket. It was surprisingly easy to stay balanced, so there's absolutely no excuse for those girls you see clinging like ivy to the backs of their rocket-riding men. Th…

Psalm 62:5-7

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Villette (A Mini-Critique)

This story is about the inner turmoil of suffering. Lucy Snowe believes she is a sort of cosmic target, so she develops artifical ways of coping - turning off her emotions, hopes, everything that is most human in her - in order to avoid disappointment. She wants to turn herself into an automaton (Jane Eyre's worst fear).

M. Emanuel (aptly named) is a redemptive figure. He begins by drawing out the real Lucy. He discovers what she really thinks and feels. Then he provides for her beyond her highest expectations.

The religious element in this story is unavoidable. Lucy's struggle is with God. Why does He weave a life of suffering for her? The counterargument to her accusation is that He provides for her in miraculous ways - through the priest, the Brettons, the bookseller, and M. Emanuel.

You cannot read this story without wanting to know more about Charlotte Bronte. The psychological portrait of Lucy Snowe is true to life on an extraordinarily deep level. Lucy's emotional land…

Can't Post Now . . .

I'm too busy reading Villette, Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Yes, it's as good as Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte was brilliant - her style more distinctive than any other English writer, her descriptions of emotion brutally precise. Stop reading my blog; read the book!

The Rest of the Fairytale

Once there was a girl who thought that God was a dark prince, mean and sneaky, and when she danced with him at the ball she was afraid. When he said "I love you" she didn't believe him, because she knew he just liked to tease and torture her, and how could he love someone like her anyway? She pretended to love him, though, so that he wouldn't put her in the dungeon. She even thanked him for the presents he gave her, even though she was afraid to open them - afraid a hideous insect would jump out and make her go insane.

This went on for a very, very, very long time - enough to make any man give up, but because He was God He didn't. Finally one day He took off His mask, and His face was so kind it made her cry. He was, in fact, the kindest, most honest, most gentle and loving person she had ever met or ever would meet. Everything He said was absolutely true all the time, through and through. And so they lived happily ever after.

Psalm 34, Selections

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.


Modification of a Journal Entry

I've just realized that my fundamental sin is embarassingly childish. On some very early day (before my first memory), I discovered that by being "good," I could work around the obstacles in my world. I became an expert on avoiding pain, especially the pain of a command I didn't want to obey. (Sometimes, God's will leads us where we do not want to go.) If I had been honest with Him, we might have talked like this: Me: I want this (or that).God: You may not have it.And there things would have ended. But I did not want to admit the reality of my selfishness or the possibility that He might deny my desires, so I had to avoid the conversation entirely. I had to invent a different God, one who operated according to strange and manipulative rules. I had to turn my relationship with Him into an abstract, cosmic struggle, when all along it was really this: the Father commanding His child, the child saying "I refuse." Such a simple, everyday event--literally, fo…

Spring . . . Sometime

Still cold; cloudy days, and rain . . . every now and then I catch a glimpse of a tree veiled in pale, transparent color . . . or a smudge of yellow or purple on the ground where a daffodil or crocus has managed to bloom. Sheer brushstrokes of color imperceptibly appear. This spring is so slow. Maybe shy, hesitant--scared to come out, scared the seasons will reverse and a black and haggard winter will leap out at her. Maybe I'm scared too.

In Honor of Books Finished Yesterday

She was barnacled with pieces of popular wisdom.

~ Graham Greene, Brighton Rock, pt. 7, ch. 8

Paradoxically, then, though Christ himself accomplishes the work of our sanctification, the more he does so the more it tends to cost us. The further we advance the more he tends to take away our own strength and deprive us of our own human and natural resources, so that in the end we find ourselves in complete poverty and darkness. This is the situation that we find most terrible, and it is against this that we rebel. For the strange, sanctifying mystery of Christ's death in us, we substitute the more familiar and comforting routine of our own activity: we abandon his will and take refuge in the more trivial, but more "satisfying," procedures which interest us and enable us to be interesting in the eyes of others. We think that in this way we can find peace, and make our lives fruitful: but we delude ourselves, and our activity turns out to be spiritually sterile.

~ Thomas Merton,…

We must not only see ourselves as we are,

in all our nothingness and insignificance; we must not only learn to love and appreciate our own emptiness, but we must accept completely the reality of our life as it is, because it is the very reality which Christ wills to take to himself, which he transforms and sanctifies in his own image and likeness.

~ Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, pt. 3, "Flesh and Spirit"

The Real Me

I still get really sick every few months when I accidentally eat the wrong food, and the weather and other stress factors can exacerbate the reaction. My friend calls it a "flare-up," and it happened this week. I was exhausted, and so stiff I could barely walk. Today I'm feeling better, but it gets worse again in the evenings - another early bedtime; who knew a person could sleep so much?

It's easy to smile and be the nice Christian girl when I'm feeling fine. The world looks so beautiful when I'm healthy! But then I get sick, and I can't do anything that makes me feel productive, and I get scared that I'll spend the rest of my life wrapped in a blanket with only my nose poking out, and I'm impatient with my family because noises make my skin hurt, and I'm angry at God, and beauty makes me choke. I worry, worry, worry and all the ingratitude inside me comes to the surface.

I hate being sick, but it's good medicine. It strips away the veneer …


Yes, I go to a Baptist church, but I'm celebrating Lent this year because every year Easter seems to come with even less warning and less impact. I hope that 40 days of preparation will help me appreciate Easter more.

I am giving up tea--not the first cup of the day (that's necessary to dispel the morning fog in my head), but the second, third, and fourth in which I indulge throughout the workday "to keep the creative juices flowing."

One of these days I will elucidate my personal theology of food (or, what I have learned about the spiritual life through having a digestive disorder), and then you might not find it so amusing that I consider giving up tea to be a Lenten endeavor.

Two Activities Not for the Faint of Heart

Directing: But my sister is doing an admirable job of it. See this favorable review. (No, I'm not biased or anything.)

Reading England Made Me: It has never been a success. The question is, why is it still being published? Because of Greene-ophiles like me. The style is tortuous, the characters unreal. And yet . . . and yet: Graham Greene captures place and plot with stunning adeptness. Towards the end of this mostly clumsy tale, there is still that delicate moment when we forsee the Farrants' doom and pity them, and so learn to care about them. England Made Me leads to A Burnt-Out Case and The Human Factor and all the rest. This is nascent Greene, stumbling blindly about with a weird faith in what he would become.

Weekend Miscellaney

You Can't Take It With You, produced by Castaways Repertory Theatre and directed by my sister: Community theater is fun because you always know someone in the cast. This production is especially entertaining because my sister is directing it (oh, wait, did I say that already?) and because it's zany with a little bit of wisdom tossed in. Everyone in the cast shines, no matter what their previous theater experience. That is probably due to the impressive directing, but maybe I'm biased.

Prince William Forest Park: There are 37 miles of hiking trails here; on Saturday I tried out the Laurel Loop Trail. It's easy and goes past the South Fork Quantico Creek. Some of the creek was partly covered with about two inches of ice, and none of the mountain laurel was in bloom yet.

Silence does not exist in our lives

merely for its own sake. It is ordered to something else. Silence is the mother of speech. A lifetime of silence is ordered to an ultimate declaration, which can be put into words, a declaration of all we have lived for.

~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island, ch. 16


You know when you tell people about your travel plans, and they say, "Oh, once you get there, you'll never want to leave"? That's the way it is with Graham Greene's novels.

The first time I went to Greeneland, I didn't particularly want to go back. The occasion was The End of the Affair, a few years back (I was told it was a suitable followup to Brideshead Revisited), and frankly I wasn't too impressed. I liked the story but the writing not so much. But then I started up again this past summer with Orient Express, which just might be Greene's most carefully crafted novel. After that, why leave?

I could write for paragraphs about Graham Greene, but this is only a blog post. So I'll pick just one thing out of many that I love about his books . . . every single one is different. It's funny because he worries over the same themes over and over and over again, and yet you can't ever predict how a story is going to end. The Man Within, one of his …