Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reviews of Several Pride and Prejudice Variations

Darcy and Elizabeth from the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, 1995
Since graduate school and my introduction to Jane Austen's novels, I have become entranced by the time period, the stories, and especially the characters created by this pastor's daughter with a rapier wit. I have devoured and adored several of Austen's novels: Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion among them. (Northanger Abbey is all right, but Emma I truly dislike...unless it's in the form of the '90s eminently-quotable chick-flick Clueless.)

So imagine my pleasant realization several years ago that an entire sub-genre of literature exists devoted to sequels, variations, continuations, and the like of Austen's works! I quickly located such books through our library branch, ordering novels by Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace, among others. Then I discovered Austen Variations where these two wonderful writers and several more Austenesque writers shared their love of all things Austen, along with excerpts from their works. I was hooked!

I have been drafting a couple of Austenesque stories myself, and I've been fortunate enough to do some proofreading for Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace; in fact, I'm currently proofing the third novel in Maria Grace's Jane Austen's Dragons series. Yes, somehow dragons and Austen have become the perfect pairing!! I proofread the second book in the series, and now I can't wait to see what happens in the third volume. It's a brilliant combination, and I have to admit to reading these first two novels close to a dozen times each!!

So as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon, here are a few other variations of Pride and Prejudice that I've been reading:

Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this "Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary" which takes place after Darcy and Bingley leave Netherfield after the ball, Mr. Darcy is seriously injured in a freak accident in town while shopping for Christmas presents. Somehow, the cards set with each gift, including ones he bought for Elizabeth but had no intention of actually giving to her, were mixed up, providing many tangles for Mr. Darcy to untie, including the gifts that were mistakenly sent to Elizabeth along with a card written to a former mistress. Yikes!

Darcy and Bingley return to Netherfield for Christmas to untangle the mess, and more hilarity ensues. It's quite the comedy of errors, but as we know to expect a happy-ever-after ending after so many twists and turns of fate, can we be surprised when Elizabeth and Darcy end up together at last?

A light and delightful read--truly enjoyable and very well-written. Ms. Jeffers triumphs again!

Mrs Darcy's Dilemma Mrs Darcy's Dilemma by Diana Birchall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an intriguing book as it looks at Darcy and Elizabeth 25 years into the future. They are the parents of three children, but Fitzwilliam, the eldest, is not like either his father nor his mother. He's a bit of a dolt with a passion for one thing: horseflesh. He races. He bets on races. He is idle and rather dissipated. Their next eldest, Henry, is much like Elizabeth. As the second son, his heart and mind are set on the church. Their youngest, whose come-out is looming, is Jane who seems to combine the best of both parents.

The "dilemma" refers to whether Darcy and Elizabeth should invite two of the Wickhams' eight children for an extended visit. The elder of the two daughters is Lydia all over again, but with Wickhams' scheming ways. The younger is a sweet girl, preparing to enter service as a governess to help her financially-challenged family. But will these two girls, who are ready for their come-outs, become hindrances to their sons? There lies the dilemma.

We also get to see the Bingleys (and their only child, a son who has reached his majority and is more like his cousin Fitzwilliam than like either of his parents, except perhaps with Bingley's impetuous, somewhat thoughtless, manner) and Lydia...and far too much of Kitty who is married to the local rector.

I found this book difficult to put down; I spent far too much time reading this book in the tub until pruney. It's a compelling read--to see our beloved characters this far into the future and measure how much--and how little--each has changed over the years.

If I could give a book a 4 1/2, I would do so here. I try to save "5" for classics and such, so a 4 1/2 would be fairer than a plain old 4.

Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Caitlin Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely Pride and Prejudice variation taking place four years after Austen's novel...but with Darcy and Elizabeth not meeting again after his botched proposal at Hunsford; she goes to the Lake District with the Gardiners and never makes it to Pemberley. Mr. Bingley does not return to Netherfield, either.

But once Jane is engaged to a man in trade and after she reads the quiet announcements in the newspaper of Mr. Darcy's marriage to his cousin, Anne deBourgh, Elizabeth becomes restless and happily accepts the invitation of Mr. Bennet's widowed but wealthy sister, Mrs. Mountford, to visit her in Staffordshire. The visit becomes a long-term situation in which Mrs. Mountford takes Elizabeth to London for a couple of seasons and loves her as the daughter she never had. Now moving in more elevated circles, Elizabeth at age 24 has truly become the young gentlewoman she was born to be. On a visit to Bath, however, she meets Miss Bingley and Georgiana Darcy, and she soon comes face-to-face with Mr. Darcy.

The majority of the novel takes place in Bath as the recently-bereaved Darcy and Elizabeth are thrown together by Mrs. Mountford's new friendship with the Countess of Matlock, Darcy's aunt, as well as Elizabeth's friendship with Georgiana. Elizabeth is also pursued by a Mr. Yorke, an acquaintance of Darcy's, and while Mr. Yorke seems bent on marriage, Elizabeth is less certain because of her "odd" feelings for Mr. Darcy.

This variation was a delightful read!! I finished it (the first time) in fewer than 24 hours; it was truly non-put-downable (I know--it's not a real word, but it will have to do.) And I've read it twice more since then!

Very romantic, very different, with new characters introduced and old favorites (and non-favorites, i.e., Miss Caroline Bingley) returning, this is one of the most delightful Austen variations I've read.

Yes, I just re-read Ardently, and it was truly just as good the second time as the first. I did remember what happens with the young Mr. Yorke, a college friend of Darcy's, who pursues Elizabeth in Bath, but I also remembered the ending, so I wasn't too upset at Mr. Yorke and Miss Bingley as I might have been otherwise. But goodness! Miss Bingley can't help but rub salt into people's wounds when they're down, can she?

A wonderful read--very interesting, especially Darcy's reason for marrying; I had forgotten that part!!
* * * * *

I shared the beginnings of one of my own Austen variations last week at our local writers' workshop, and I think I'll continue drafting it to see if it goes anywhere. But in the meantime, I'll keep reading books in this delightful sub-genre, especially as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon for Maria Grace! 

Reading, always reading,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Reviews: A Stellar Medieval Mystery Series!

The Pine Valley branch of the San Diego County Library
Last fall, after checking out my books from our little county library branch (which is basically the social hub of our mountain village of 1500 souls), I stopped at the book cart by the door to peruse the donated books for sale. I soon found two books in a mystery series set in medieval England and snatched them up for a quarter each. While I am usually adamant about reading a book series in order, one book was the second in the series, so I felt that I'd be starting close enough to the beginning and could order the rest from the library.

And I became hooked. I love historical mysteries, and this one was meticulously researched and showed the daily life of Oxford in the 1160s. I quickly liked the humble Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon just starting his career. His turn of thought was intriguing, and the way in which faith and the church were so integrated into daily life in this time and place was fascinating. Only twenty pages into the second book of the series and with the fourth book already purchased, I quickly ordered the first and third books from the library and settled into a new favorite mystery series.

Here are my reviews of the sixth and seventh books of the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr:

Rest Not in Peace Rest Not in Peace by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sixth adventure/mystery of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, involves a murder in Bampton Castle where Hugh also works as bailiff to Lord Gilbert. Sir Henry, a former soldier who fought alongside Lord Gilbert, dies taking one of Hugh's remedies for sleeplessness. Lady Margery immediately accuses Hugh of murder, but Hugh discovers a very sneaky way in which Sir Henry was killed while he was sleeping deeply because of Hugh's remedy. More suspects start to line up among Sir Henry's knights and staff. Lady Margery makes herself decidedly unwelcome at Bampton Castle, and Lord Gilbert tries to hurry Hugh in his sleuthing, as always aided by Hugh's lovely and very insightful wife, Kate.

This series is just so consistently amazing in its accurate portrayal of life in a medieval English village near Oxford in the late 1360s. The author has certainly done his homework into life in Bampton; there really was a Lord Gilbert Talbot with his wife Lady Petronilla who lived at Bampton Castle during this time period. In fact, there are a few ruins of the castle still visible about the town of Bampton (where many of the village scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed). The living by the church bells and saints' days is shown as well as the dangers of the time, the food served both at the castle and at Galen House where Hugh, Kate, and Baby Bessie live, plus the different medieval occupations and levels of society are well-researched. Even the turn of phrase throughout the books never allows readers to forget the time period in which these mysteries are set.

I am now placing my order with the library for Book #7 in the Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles. Such a brilliant series!!

The Abbot's Agreement The Abbot's Agreement by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful medieval mystery set in Bampton--or near Bampton, in this case, for this seventh mystery in the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Also bailiff to Sir Gilbert, Hugh de Singleton is on his way to Oxford to purchase or commission a Bible; his trusty personal guard Arthur traveling with him for safety. Nearing an abbey where they have helped solve a mystery previously, they come across the body of a young man which has been set upon by ravens and other forest creatures. Despite the body's level of decomposition and damage from birds and other creatures, Hugh discovers that the cause of death was murder. The aging abbot, recalling Hugh's facility in solving past mysteries, offers to commission a Bible for him from the abbey's scribes if he will stay and solve the murder. Hugh agrees.

But mysterious circumstance after mysterious circumstance build, confusing Hugh and Arthur as to the identity of the murderer. Another attempted murder within the abbey walls adds to the dilemma, besides the fact that Hugh's wife, Kate, is nearing the birth of their second child, and he hates to be away from home at this time.

Another terrific medieval "who-dunnit," meticulously researched and wonderfully suspenseful!! I am sooooooo enjoying this series!!

* * * * *

And yes, I am ordering the eighth book in the series as soon as I get halfway through my current library book. 

Reading with you, 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

He Is Risen!! Alleluia!!

The Resurrection of Christ and the Women in the Tomb (c. 1440-1442) by Fra Angelico
He Is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!! 

The liturgical greeting for Eastertide is one that goes back centuries. But my favorite Resurrection Day hymn goes back only to the eighteenth century. Written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley the English church reformer, I miss singing this hymn today with great gusto and joy as it is being sung at churches around the world. These words and the soaring music truly expressed my Easter joy in a Risen Saviour!

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 

2. Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

Last night's Holy Saturday Vigil was so powerful. Lighting the Pascal fire from flint and steel, then lighting the Pascal Candle which is embedded with five small nails representing the five wounds of Christ, then praying together before processing into the darkened chapel with "The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!!" We stop and sing this three times, each time lighting more of the candles. Then we pray by candlelight and Father sings the ancient Holy Saturday liturgy in plainsong--it's soooooo beautiful!!

The Paschal Candle, with the Greek letters "Alpha" and "Omega", the year, and the nails representing the Five Wounds of Christ

Then we read several long Scripture passages which tell our salvation history as God's people. We then re-affirmed our baptismal vows and celebrated the First Evensong of Eastertide!! With what joy did we greet the end of this amazing vigil, definitely my favorite service in the Anglican tradition. The candles, the incense, the Scripture passages, the vows, the prayers, and the joy of the Resurrection after the sorrow of Good Friday.

The Good Friday liturgy was equally powerful, but it was filled with sorrow rather than the impending joy of the Vigil. To read the Passion of the Christ from the Gospel of Saint John be crying out "Crucify Him!! Crucify Him!!" with the crowd, to stand at the foot of the huge Santos crucifix and venerating the wood, feeling the roughness beneath my fingers as I looked on the carved wooden image representing my dying--no, my dead Lord. Kris next to me was wiping tears as was I, and Chris' wife, Mary, was sobbing. My heart was so heavy as I imagined His suffering...for us! For me! For those whom I love! For every person ever created on this earth and every person who will be created in the future. His Love is that big!! Alleluia!! Thanks be to God!! 

The Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (141-1442), fresco  
 The Collect for Easter Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:
This Collect is prayed daily through the octave (Easter Week).
ALMIGHTY God, who through your only eternal Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life; Grant that, by your mighty power going before us, we may die daily to sin and live with him forever in the glory of his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Acts 2.24; John 9.25; 1 Peter 1.3; Hebrews 2.14-15; James 1.4)

Easter Sunrise Service at Pine Valley Bible Conference Center, 6:30 AM
I rose early to attend the first Easter Sunrise Service in Pine Valley in a loooooong time! It was 34 degrees, so everyone bundled up with blankets and travels mugs full of hot drinks while we were led in worship and Pastor Noble gave the message. After breakfast in the Dining Hall at PVBCC, we attended 9:00 AM services at Pine Valley Community Church. before heading an hour away to Ramona to have Easter dinner with Keith's family.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!! 
Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hosanna in the Highest! It's Palm Sunday!!

Revised and updated from the Archives...

I always enjoy Palm Sunday greatly as the opening of my favorite time of the liturgical year: Holy Week. During this week, I try to focus on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples, on His humility in washing the disciples' feet, on His institution of the Lord's Supper during Passover, on His agony in Gethsemane, on His trial before the authorities, on His suffering as He was beaten and scourged almost to the point of death, on the brutal mockery He endured for our sakes, upon the sorrow and passion of His crucifixion, and finally on the joy of His miraculous and glorious Resurrection. 

The fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures always strikes me strongly during this week--so many details foretold hundreds of years before this final week of Jesus' earthly life come true in the New Testament Gospel accounts of this holy week, this last week of Jesus' human life.

In the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we read first a quotation from the Old Testament:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" [Zechariah 9:9].
The disciples ... brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:4-9, ESV).

By the way, the Book of Zechariah was written between 520-518 BC, more than half a millennium before the time of Jesus' Incarnation.  

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY and eternal Father, who in your tender love for humanity, sent your Son Jesus Christ as a man to dwell among us and in mortal flesh to suffer death upon the cross, so that all people might learn true humility; In your mercy, grant that we may follow him in his sufferings and share in his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Philippians 2.4-8; 3.9-10; Hebrews 12.3)

In liturgical churches, the palms distributed in Palm Sunday's services are often bent and folded into crosses and then saved by being put behind icons or framed pictures of Jesus until the Sunday before the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned. The palm ashesare then used to anoint the foreheads of those attending the Ash Wednesday services as a new Lenten season begins. I love how the palms come full circle: the Holy Week from one year coming into the beginning of the next year's Lent. As Benedict states in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, "There's a double meaning in that." 

Usually I miss the liturgy of the Palm Sunday service at Pine Valley Community Church; often no one even mentions that it's Palm Sunday. But this year was different in such a great way!! The worship leader, Keith, opened the service by reading the Triumphal Entry from the Gospel of John, and we sang a praise song with the chorus: "Hosanna, Hosanna/ You are the God who saves us/ Worthy of all our praises." So we got to sing our Hosannas!! Pastor Noble extended the Palm Sunday theme by opening the sermon with Palm Sunday and the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah which he then tied into his sermon on Mark 2:1-12. I would have loved to have seen at least one palm somewhere, but today's service was a huge leap forward in celebrating Palm Sunday!! We also sang two hymns (often we're only singing praise songs): "Come Thou Font" and "All Creatures of our God and King." I texted Father Acker of Blessed Trinity to save me some palms that I keep on the shelf above my desk until the Sunday before the next Lent. 

In past years at Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, our church home for twenty years, we often entered the sanctuary on Palm Sunday to see huge palm fronds strewn along the front of the auditorium (and sometimes down the center aisle), and we always sang several praise songs that include the all-important word for this day: "Hosanna!!" And frequently one of the pastors or elders read of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem from one of the Gospels.

At Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, which meets on Sundays at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon, they had a Blessing of the Palms as well as a Passion Theater in which various congregants take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and Pilate, and the rest of the congregation will be The People...the People who demanded over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" mere days after welcoming Jesus with enthusiastic cries of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"  

Side note: I looked up "Hosanna" to find its precise meaning. The best definition that I found came from John H. Stek on the site Bible Study Tools in which he defines "Hosanna" with the sentence: In Christ, "the age-old cry, 'Lord, save us,' has become the glad doxology, 'Hosanna,' which equals: 'Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved.'" 

I have to of course include perhaps the most common Palm Sunday hymn, "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," the lyrics of which were originally written by Theodulf of Orleans who lived c. 750-821: 

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!

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created made reply:
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthems
Before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise:
Thou didst accept their praises--
Accept the praise we bring.
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King!

My week will be very busy with Holy Week services: a Messianic Seder with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at Pepperwood Park in El Cajon on Tuesday evening at 6:15, Maundy Thursday evening services including footwashing also at the SCAIR Center at 6:30, the Good Friday liturgy again with the Blessed Trinity Anglican at the Larkspur Drive rectory in Alpine at 5:30 in the evening, and the Holy Saturday Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the entire Christian Year, also on Larkspur Drive in Alpine a little later in the evening (7:30 PM) so that the rectory is darkened as we bring in the Paschal Light, lighting our candles from the huge beeswax candle with the red "Alpha" and "Omega" Greek letters on the side and with five small nails pressed into the beeswax to represent the five wounds of Christ. 

Then we'll celebrate Resurrection Sunday with our first sunrise service since we've attended Pine Valley Community Church (four years this Easter!) then a community Easter breakfast, both held at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center. Then we'll meet back at Pine Valley Community Church at 9:00 for one all-church Easter service. I am hoping for a joyful and exuberant celebration of the Resurrection, preferably with the singing of my favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." (One can only hope!!)

Today is also the Annunciation, the day in which we remember and celebrate the Angel Gabriel announcing God's will to Mary who replied with the words that we all should say to God each day, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38 ESV). So today is a double-feast day of the solemnity of the Annunciation and the celebration of Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week. (It's also Timothy's 23rd birthday--so today is a real party for us!)

I wish a blessed Holy Week to you and yours, dear readers. May we all experience the sorrow of Christ's sacrifical death for us and the joy of His glorious Resurrection by which He saved all people, past, present, and future, from all of their sins, past, present, and future.

Following in His footsteps this Holy Week,

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Passiontide Begins....

Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) c. 1441-42

Updated from the Archives...
Today is Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Most of us are familiar with Palm Sunday, but what is Passion Sunday? Well, it's the beginning of Passiontide. 

But what is Passiontide? 

The Catholic Encylopedia states that the season of Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, to the end of Holy Saturday Vigil. The second week of Passiontide is referred to as Holy Week, which we are far more familiar with than Passiontide itself. During this time, liturgical churches cover all crosses, crucifixes, and images of Christ and His Saints with an unornamented cloth of deep purple or black. There was one year when I did cover all of my icons, crosses, and other Christian images with black cloth, but it's not a practice that I felt was particularly helpful for me.

But I have adopted the above image of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by my favorite artist, the medieval genius known best by his nickname, Fra Angelico (real name: Guido di Pietro), as the wallpaper on my laptop during Passiontide as a reminder of Christ's human sufferings, which He, the sinless Son of God, bore for our sake.

However, The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, "The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel, the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: 'Jesus autem abscondebat se.' Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden."

My prayer corner during Passiontide, with images/icons veiled

In addition to the veiling of crosses and images, the Gloria Patri is omitted from the liturgy, and fasting is intensified. The focus of prayer is on the sufferings of Christ: upon the humiliations, He, the King of Kings, endured on our behalf. The lessons (our daily Scripture readings) focus on His sufferings as well. Passiontide reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the extreme physical as well as spiritual agony that He willingly endured the consequences of every single sin committed by every single person who has ever lived in the past, is now living in the present, and will ever live in the future. This is the "cup" about which He prayed to the Lord, asking His Father if this suffering beyond measure could "pass by" Him, but Jesus concluded His prayer with these amazing words: "Not my will but Yours be done."

The Collect for Passion Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY God, your Son Jesus Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come and entered once for all into the holy places, securing us an eternal redemption; Mercifully look upon your people, so that by your great goodness we may be governed and protected forever, in body and spirit, by the Blood of Christ; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5.23.)

May Christ's prayer, as well as the Collect for this week, resonate within all of us during Passiontide as we prepare our hearts for the sorrows and joys of Holy Week.

"Not my will but Yours be done."

In His grace,

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Mary and the Child Jesus (center) with Saints Felicity (left) and Perpetua (right)

Since my early teens, I have been fascinated by saints' stories. Not just with Catholic saints, but with the people of God who experienced persecution and even martyrdom. When the kids were school-age, one year I read aloud daily from a book called Jesus Freaks, a collection of stories of martyrdom compiled by Voice of the Martyrs and the Christian music group dc Talk. This anthology was filled with stories of those who suffered for Christ, many in the 20th century, and also those who were persecuted and martyred in the early centuries of the church.

As a young mother, I was especially taken by the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers of infants who gave their children to family members and faced martyrdom in Carthage rather than renounce their Christian faith.

Thanks to Franciscan Media's Saint of the Day e-mails, today I revisited the story of these two remarkable and inspiring women who love Jesus more than anything in this world--even including their children. The friendship between these two women also struck me, as Perpetua was a young noblewoman, well-educated and well-off financially, while Felicity was a slave woman. But both went bravely to their deaths. We know so much about these women because Perpetua chronicled their days of imprisonment in writing, a work that has been passed down through the centuries and can be read here as a PDF: Perpetua's Journal.

Here is the Saint of the Day entry for today, courtesy of Franciscan Media:

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
Saint of the Day for March 7
died in the year of our Lord 203

Saints Perpetua and Felicity’s Story

“When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
So writes Perpetua: young, beautiful, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa, mother of an infant son and chronicler of the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Septimius Severus.
Perpetua’s mother was a Christian and her father a pagan. He continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned at 22.
In her diary, Perpetua describes her period of captivity: “What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby…. Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slavewoman and expectant mother–and three companions, Revocatus, Secundulus, and Saturninus, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts.
Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
Perpetua’s record of her trial and imprisonment ends the day before the games. “Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will.” The diary was finished by an eyewitness.


Persecution for religious beliefs is not confined to Christians in ancient times. Consider Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who with her family, was forced into hiding and later died in Bergen-Belsen, one of Hitler’s death camps during World War II. Anne, like Perpetua and Felicity, endured hardship and suffering and finally death because she committed herself to God. In her diary, Anne writes, “It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God.”
* * * * *
As we approach the halfway mark of Lent tomorrow (Day 20), it helps me to focus on those who gave their lives rather than renounce their faith in Christ. Their stories put the troubles of my life into perspective. And isn't perspective something that we all need so desperately? I know that I do!! 
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." ~Tertullian (c.155 -- c.240 AD)
"More Christians have died for their faith in this current [20th] century than all other centuries of church history combined." ~Dan Wooding, "Modern Persecution,"
Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey,

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of a Favorite Lenten Devotional

Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups by Richard J. Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been perhaps the most influential book, aside from the Scriptures, that I have ever read. The selections opened my eyes to so many of the great thinkers and mystic believers of the Christian faith--most of whom I had never heard of before.

I read this book as my Lenten devotion first in 2003 when I was first exploring the idea of the catholic (small "c" catholic, as in universal) church, and again for Lent 2007.

In this large paperback, now completely dog-eared and with copious underlinings throughout the text (in two different colors from my two different readings) and even occasional notes in the margins, I met John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Brother Lawrence, Saint Benedict, John Chrysostom, Thomas a' Kempis, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, Watchman Nee, and so many others. And I also became reacquainted with C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan, Saint Augustine, Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many more people of faith whose works I had read at Point Loma Nazarene University or since in my evangelical faith.

Each short reading (generally two to five pages) is followed by reflection questions and suggested exercises, taking these works of the Christian faith beyond the theological into the practical.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for every Christian, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (even though it rests almost exclusively in Western Christianity), or Protestant, and especially to evangelicals who may not be aware of the depth and breadth of Christian thought through the two millennia of the Church.

A brilliant book. If I could give it ten stars, I would. Truly.

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With Lenten blessings,

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter Arrives--and My Review of What Angels Fear

Winter in Pine Valley

As winter finally arrives in Pine Valley with snow flurries and what we call "snail"--hail-like balls of ice that float to the ground like snow--reading in front of the fire with a cup of tea is the epitome of bliss. It's been a mild, mild winter so far, with highs usually in the 60s and even the 70s through most of December and January. Then finally in mid-February, winter decided to pay us a visit with lows in the mid-teens and highs in the 30s.

The woodburning stove is burning nearly 'round the clock, and the new wood splitter that Keith bought with our Christmas money from my parents is getting quite the workout. The huge pile of wood that Keith accumulated over the summer and fall months is slowly being split, the older stuff first, of course. Then we wheelbarrow each load to the front porch and from there we bring armloads into the house. 

So here's my newest read--the beginnings of a wonderful series set in the Regency period in England. I love the characters already and am looking forward to their next adventure. 

What Angels FearWhat Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1811 London, What Angels Fear is a very interesting mystery (the first in a series) in which Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is accused of the horrendously violent rape and murder of a beautiful eighteen-year-old stage actress--in a church, no less. As he seeks to clear his name, Devlin is forced to work with Kat Boleyn, also an actress and the woman to whom he proposed marriage six years earlier, who left him so that she would not ruin his life. Meanwhile, more and more "evidence" seems to pile up against the Viscount, and his intelligence work in the Napoleonic Wars serves him in good stead as he seeks the true murderer. All these events occur in the days prior to the Regency of the Prince as his father, George III, sinks further into madness.

Surrounded by political intrigue, familial ties that bind too tightly, his continued love for Kat as they work together to solve the murder of her friend and fellow actress Rachel, plus the fear that the killer will strike again, Viscount Devlin, along with the sneaky and bright urchin, Tom, peels back the layers of this crime only to find himself and Rachel in mortal danger as the end of the book approaches.

Well-written with deep character development and compelling suspense, I will continue reading this brilliant St. Cyr mystery series.

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Reading with you,

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't read anything by L.M. Montgomery until I was in my mid-twenties and finally read the Anne of Green Gables series. And I was hooked. In my opinion, Montgomery writes the most beautiful prose in the English language. I've re-read the Anne series more times than I can count; my boxed set of paperbacks are nearly coming apart at the binding and the pages are well-yellowed with age and use.

I ran across this title when reading the Here in the Bonny Glen blog by Melissa Wiley, and she mentioned re-reading this book yet again. I quickly ordered it from the library and absolutely adored it!

Valancy Stirling is a character with whom I identified immediately. Her repressed childhood was nothing like mine, and I married young (at 19!). But I understand her love of nature and her longing for life to go beyond the boxed-in existence she was forced into through fear of what her family and the ubiquitous "they" might think. I cried with Valancy as she lived a life she hated and felt so fortunate myself in living in a place surrounded by natural beauty.

And I admired her reaction to the distressing medical news--her decision to go and truly LIVE her life the way she wanted. Ignoring the town gossip and her family's pleas for her to return home to her loveless mother and horrid aunt because she was making them "look bad." Leaving her home to "work"--no Stirling woman would ever stoop to work, for genteel poverty was far more respectable--shocked her family and the entire town. But only then does Valancy learn what it is to truly live.

This book is beautifully written and is ever so poignant; I found myself in tears more than once. Montgomery's beautiful prose combined with a heroine who suffers quietly for 29 years of her life and then finally breaks free of society's constraints to live at last!! I was in love!!

This is a book that I, like Melissa, will return to again and again.

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Reading with you,

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the 40th day (not counting Sundays which are always a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ) before Easter. 

Most evangelicals do not celebrate Lent, and in coming from a more liturgical background, mostly Presbyterian and Methodist, I have marked Lent in one way or another since my college days at Point Loma Nazarene University. 

But about twenty years ago, I became quite passionate about celebrating the Church Year, including Advent and Lent. Partly from the wonderful book Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman (a pastor's wife) and partly from my interest in the Book of Common Prayer, I began celebrating Lent in great earnest. 

I was thrilled when our former church, Lake Murray Community Church, began to celebrate Advent, yet the pastors and elders would not mark Lent in any way. We celebrated Holy Week, but not Ash Wednesday or Lent as a whole. 

A few years ago, my Bible study leader at our evangelical church asked me to share about Ash Wednesday and Lent in our inductive Bible study. The pastor allowed it, but would not grant permission for another Bible study to join us. Here is a summary of my talk on Ash Wednesday and Lent which may be found in the links under the Meditative Meanderings header: On Lent

About six years ago, I spent Ash Wednesday at the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, the largest of the California Missions, with my dear friend Carmen. Our day retreat concluded with the Imposition of Ashes, marking us as Christ's Own as crosses were drawn on our foreheads with ashes, a Biblical symbol of repentance. 

This Ash Wednesday I plan to attend morning services at Larkspur House with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church. 

I find Ash Wednesday among the most moving of all the services of the year. As I humble myself, marked by repentance as belonging to Christ, I feel more His than ever, and I invariably weep at the poignant sweetness of being branded (albeit temporarily) as His. 

God has impressed upon me which habits to surrender to Him this Lent. It is going to be extremely difficult in fasting from these things, but that is the nature of Lent: to remove what may be impeding our relationship with Christ and allow better habits to take their place--habits which glorify Him. It's a time of spiritual housecleaning, and it takes much prayer, effort, and discipline to exchange one habit for another. 

"A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit."

A few other quotations I unearthed today and added to my second Quotation Journal: 

"The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare.... By it we gain strength against the prince of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help."
--Pope Benedict XVI, from Non Ambigimus

I respect this idea of Lent being a tool of spiritual warfare, allowing us, through the power of Christ, to vanquish our enemy. 

"Renounce yourselves in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting."
--Saint Benedict, from Chapter Four of The Rule

This giving up of self is at the heart of Lent, allowing us the opportunity to change our hearts' perspectives, letting go of that which binds us to the world and grasping that which pulls us closer to the heart of Christ our Lord. 

Here is the Collect for Ash Wednesday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011. This Collect is prayed daily during the Lenten season until Maundy Thursday:

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who turn to you; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts; As we are truly sorry for our sins and admit our guilt, may we obtain from you, the God of all mercy, complete release and forgiveness; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Wisdom 11.23-26; Psalm 51.10)

So as I pray for myself in offering up some very pleasant diversions in order to focus more on Jesus, I pray for us all who celebrate the Christian Year to have a Holy Lent, one set apart for the glory of our Lord. 

Walking the pilgrim pathway with you,


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