Category Archives: Mmmm …. books

The vulnerability of being a parent

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“It was a few months after the birth of Matthew that I kept thinking of a well-known quotation from Elizabeth Stone, one I’d heard years before becoming a mom: ‘Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’ Bingo, I thought as I toted Matthew around in his infant seat.  That’s exactly how it feels.  Matthew is outside of me now, in that big scary world, and that is a very vulnerable place for a heart to be.

One day I thought back to those pictures of Mary’s immaculate heart.  For the first time ever, that image made perfect sense to me.  Like me, Mary was a mom.  Like me, she had a beloved child who was out there in the world, where any number of things could assail him.  Like me, she must have felt as though the dearest, most vital part of her — her very heart — was exposed and vulnerable.

Once I made that connection, I could no longer dismiss those images as creepy or perplexing.  I realized they were, in fact, a perfect way of showing how visceral this maternal-love thing really is.  It’s not just something you feel in your head or in your soul.  It’s in your very organs, in every cell of your body, in the mechanisms that make you tick. Like any other mom, Mary felt that love, in all its exhilarating and terrifying depth.”

– from Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood (Loyola Press, 2013)

 

Angels in words, pictures, and music

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Along with Santas, elves, and reindeer, angels make a big appearance this time of year.  And yet unlike many of the other characters associated with the holidays, angels aren’t Christmas-specific.  In fact, as a new book points out, they  are fascinating beings whose presence in the Bible can point us toward a fuller understanding of God’s work.

All God’s Angels: Loving and Learning from Angelic Messengers (Paraclete Press)  is one of the loveliest books to cross my path this year.  Each short chapter focuses on an angel story from the Bible, everything from Genesis to Revelation.  In pithy, wise reflections, author Martin Shannon meditates on each story and what it reveals about angels, about God, and — ultimately — about our human selves.  I love the approach; I’ve never before read these Bible stories and thought about the angels as anything other than peripheral figures, so I found the new perspective fascinating.

Each chapter is illustrated by a colorful reproduction of a work of art, everything from a Byzantine mosaic of the angel guarding Eden to Eugene Delacroix’s famous picture of Jacob wrestling the angel.

Delacroix's classic image

Delacroix’s classic image

These pictures are powerful complements to the chapters, particularly because Shannon also comments on the artwork, pointing out little details that help emphasize the mood and meaning of the story.

Between the words and the art, this book is a glorious celebration of these mysterious beings who end up on our Christmas trees and coffee mugs but whose history and involvement in salvation is so much more rich than it seems.  It’s a lovely, inspiring little book and would be a great Christmas gift for anyone looking for a dose of inspiration.

And if you want to fully immerse yourself in all things angelic, read the book to the strains of this lovely song.  It’s one of my favorite carols of all time, courtesy of John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers.

Enjoy!

 

 

In the [soccer] fields with God

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My grandmother had this lovely little book when I was a child.  It was one of a few kids’ titles she had in a plastic shopping bag in the spare bedroom closet. When my sister and I came to visit, she’d often take them out for us to read.

I never read this book as often as I did the others.  Perhaps it was because it was a book of poems and prayers, not the stories and narrative-driven books I preferred.

But I found this book again recently, and last night, during a few quiet moments at my prayer desk, I leafed through it.  The gentle, detailed illustrations charmed me.  And as I turned the pages, I felt a nostalgic sense of cozy well-being, the kind I always felt at my grandparents’ house.  Grandma suddenly felt very close; I imagined her seeing the book in a store somewhere (it was long, long before Amazon!), admiring the sweet drawings and poems (Grandma loved all things literary), and buying it to have on hand for her four grandkids.

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One poem in particular caught my eye.  It’s called “Out in the Fields with God,” and the book lists it as being by an unknown poet.  A little online sleuthing, and I found that it’s often attributed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Either way, it’s a gem:

The little cares that fretted me.
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea.
Among the winds at play;
Among the lowing of the herds,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.
The foolish fears of what may happen,
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay;
Among the husking of the corn
Where drowsy poppies nod,
Where ill thoughts die and good are born.
Out in the fields with God.

I’m not often in fields, in my modern suburban life.  The one exception would be soccer fields.  And though soccer fields can often feel more like opportunities for tension and care (I die a thousand deaths during every game, I swear, especially if my son is playing goalie), there is something so beautiful about being outdoors in the fresh fall air on a Saturday.

Two Saturdays ago, it was especially true.  We’d had the first real rain of the season the day  before, and the air was so sweet and fresh and clean, and the colors seemed so much more vivid than they usually do.  The entire experience of being outdoors in the morning just made my soul expand.

And then I saw these beautiful flowers growing by the fields, and they seemed like a little gift on a Saturday morning, a reminder that there is beauty everywhere if I am willing to look for it.

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In the book of poems, I felt closer to my grandma.  In the fields, I felt closer to God.

Every day, there is grace.

Announcing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion

 

Bobblehead Pope Francis is as excited as I am.

Bobblehead Pope Francis is as excited as I am.

Life has been so busy this year  with Taste and See getting out there in the world that I haven’t mentioned anything about another, very exciting book project: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion.  This fat little book with a gorgeous cover is the brainchild of editors Lisa Hendey and Sarah Reinhard, and I am honored to have been one of many women (and even a few men) who helped write it.

This is a daily devotions book that you can pick up and start anytime.   Each day has a short reflection (sometimes inspired by Scripture, sometimes by the life of a saint, sometimes by a holiday or a meaningful quotation), a prayer, and a way to integrate the ideas of the devotion into your own life.  Short and sweet!

When I got my copies last night, I tried to keep myself from reading days’ worth of devotions at once, and I failed miserably.  It’s just so fun to read the collective wisdom of so many wonderful writers, each with a unique voice but all united around the shared goal of helping moms feed their souls and nourish their faith.

So if you’re looking to establish that new routine now that the kiddos are back in school (or almost!), check out this book.  It’s a great one to read in those few minutes while you sip your morning coffee, or to have in your bag as you wait in the carpool line.

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Why you should never, ever throw anything away

Downsizing is hot these days.  Just ask Marie Kondo, who is surely a millionaire a few times over.  And I like sorting through the things I don’t need and creating more space in my closets, drawers, and just generally in my life.  I’ve tried to do that over the past nine months, with some success.

But tidying up has its limitations.    If I had downsized too aggressively at any point in the past thirty years, I would not still have the utterly awesome Mickey Mouse Cookbook I had as a child.

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I loved it when I was young and I kept it for sentimental reasons lo these many decades.  You know what?  I’m darn glad I did, because this summer, my own children rediscovered it and were utterly fascinated.

And so we embarked on a summertime project.  I decided to teach my boys a little bit more about how to cook, with the help of Mickey and the gang.

Over the summer, I’ve let the boys take turns picking recipes from the cookbook, and we’ve worked on making them together.  I should add that we’re not exactly talking about Julia Child here; the recipes are remarkably easy, some of them more about dumping in a pan than actually cooking, but it doesn’t matter.  The boys have loved the challenge, and whether it’s Big Bad Wolf’s Brownies or Cinderella’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I’ve loved tasting their creations.

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There was even one evening where I actually found myself sitting on the couch with a glass of Cabernet while someone else made dinner.  That someone else was my nine-year-old, who was making Chip n’ Dale’s Triple Decker Sandwiches with great concentration and skill.  I enjoyed the rare sensation of not being in the kitchen at 6 pm and  thought: Wow, I sure am glad I kept that cookbook.

So the moral of the story is to never ever throw anything away because you never know when it might be useful.  Just kidding, of course; I think the moral is to carefully weigh what you keep and what you give away.  Just because you have had something for over thirty years doesn’t mean you need to keep it forever, but it also doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it, either.

Listen to your gut, and if the book makes you smile after all these years, consider that it might make your own kids smile, too.