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Celebrations, the Trinity, and a review of “The Feasts” (and a giveaway, too!)

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Celebrations are a big part of family life, and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately (my son Luke is on the cusp of his sixth birthday, a fact which he does not fail to remind us multiple times a day).  Even beyond birthdays, there are so many occasions we remember in our family: the day Scott and I had our first date, the day we got married, the days the boys were baptized, the day our beloved friend Mary passed away, the first day of the school year.  We mark these dates on the calendar; we remember them with rituals and photographs and –depending on the occasion –  gratitude or tears or smiles (sometimes all three).

Catholicism isn’t much different, really.  This is a massive family with a lot of things to remember: special events, special people, special truths.   And while it’s easy to overlook these feast days in the hectic pace of our busy lives, life is so much richer when we take time to recall and remember.

That’s why I love the new book The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us As Catholics by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. It’s a celebration of the many feasts and seasons in the Christian calendar, everything from Advent to Easter to the Ascension and the many  Marian feasts.   “The feasts are to time what churches are to space,” the authors explain in the Introduction.  “They are moments we mark off as sacred.”  Wuerl and Aquilina explain why we humans crave and need these celebrations: “In the feasts we recognize that God has given us a good life, and we ‘have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10).  The feasts are a fixed occasion to indulge in the joy God made us to desire — and made us to possess in the end.”

Sign me up!

What’s so nice about this book is that it doesn’t just ponder the general importance of the feasts, it also takes a detailed look at some of the most beloved ones.  Wuerl and Aquilina zero their focus in on a sampling of feasts, solemnities, and memorials (these terms are all clearly explained in the book) for closer examination.  They share the history and the traditions of each feast day, also explaining the beliefs behind each one.  In so doing, they invite us to reflect on what — exactly — these feasts mean in our own lives.

Take, for example, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, which is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost.

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Holy Trinity Window, St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Scott Moyer.

The Holy Trinity is one of those truths that it’s pretty hard to get my head around.  (Actually, who am I kidding?  It’s impossible to get my head around.) As the authors explain,  God  “is one and yet is three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Three in one.

How does that work, exactly?  I have no idea.  And yet I believe in it, because — as I once said to a non-Catholic friend of mine — it’s just crazy enough to be true.  (She understood exactly what I meant.)  As the book puts it, “The truth about the Trinity is so mysterious that it exceeds human understanding.  It is inaccessible to unaided reason.”

And while I like reason in most things, I  have learned through forty-one years of living that there is a huge veil of mystery around this world, some things I’ll simply never know this side of the grave.  I am okay with that, because what matters with me is not the How but the What, and the Why.

I don’t know how God manages to be three separate persons in one.  But I like what that says: God is all about community.  Other people and other relationships matter, and no one is an island.   Even though my innate tendency is toward being an introvert, a life lived alone is not the life that is most healthy for me.  Family and friends and coworkers and neighbors and a broader community are vital: they stretch me, challenge me, enrich me.  I find God in those interactions, and I’m challenged to act like God for others as well.

As the authors write, “If we say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), we can do so only because we know that God is not a solitude, but a community, a plurality.”  And if God is a community, there are implications for us as well: to strive to be like God in our own interactions.  We’re challenged not to be remote from others but to engage, whether that’s with the son who wants to play blocks with us or the stranger who stops to ask directions even when we’re in a hurry.  We’re meant to remember ourselves as beings who operate in relation to  others, not spinning out there on our own.

That’s what the Trinity calls me to remember.  It’s a reminder I need, honestly, as I live out my life both in the smaller context of my immediate family and the larger context of a global one.   I’m glad there is a day in the calendar that is dedicated to this truth, and I’m grateful that this book invited me to ponder it more deeply.

Have I whet your appetite for feast days?  If you’re interested in reading The Feasts, you’re in luck:  Image Books has kindly donated a copy for me to give away.  To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section below.   Entries will close at midnight on Wednesday, September 17th, after which I’ll randomly choose a winner.  (Many thanks to Image Books for the review copy.  And I’m just one stop on the blog tour for the book, so be sure to check out the other blog-stops for more reflections on these fascinating feasts.)

And the winner of the “Mary and Me” giveaway is …

… Jill L!  Congratulations, Jill!

Thanks to all who entered.  I just may do this again sometime, so keep checking back.

And while you’re at it, have a terrific weekend.

In all things: Lake days and Sriracha fries edition

St. Ignatius believed that you can find evidence of God in all things.  I believe it, too … and here’s how I’ve been finding God lately.

SEEING

We recently returned from visiting Scott’s family in upstate New York.   While there, we got to spend time at two lakes — Otsego Lake in Cooperstown:

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and Minerva Lake in the Adirondacks, where Scott’s cousin organized a family reunion.

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“Feast for the eyes” doesn’t begin to describe these two bodies of water.  Glorious.

RELAXING (kind of)

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I luxuriated in this hammock at Otsego Lake, rocking back and forth, gazing at the leafy sky above me and thinking all sorts of spiritual thoughts.  Then two small boys suddenly showed up and began swinging me wildly back and forth, giggling loudly, while I held on for dear life.  Such is life as a mother.  (I have to admit, I was laughing too — and I remembered that God is found in laughter as much as in silent meditation).

EATING

Scott and I slipped out for a lunchtime date, the boys securely in the care of his sister and parents.  We decided to try the Sriracha fries with green onion and cilantro, because we love spicy stuff.

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Let’s just say that if I didn’t already believe in God, these would seal the deal.  Holy cow, they were good.

VISITING

Seeing Scott’s parents and sister was a treat; we see them so rarely, being on the other side of the country, and I always wish we could change that.  But at least we can savor the time we do have.  And it was great to see Scott’s extended family at the reunion his cousin organized.  I met several of his cousins for the first time, and Scott got to see some of them for the first time in about twenty-five years, so it was a blessing for both of us.

PARENTING

Back home in CA, my older son was delighted to finally go get his very own library card.  Talk about a rite of passage!  As Rita Mae Brown said, “When I got my library card, that’s when my life began.”  It was exciting for him and for book-nerd Mom.  I snapped photos like it was prom day.

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CELEBRATING

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My mom has sheet music for every occasion.

Two days after returning home, Scott and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary.  We had a great dinner at one of our “special occasion restaurants” (otherwise known as a restaurant without a kids’ menu) where I ordered quail with truffle risotto (yum).  It must have been the quail that got me thinking of this, but I started quizzing him on his knowledge of CA lore, being that he’s a native New Yorker and all.  He got the state flower right, but he guessed that the CA state motto was “Duuuuude.”  No wonder I love the guy.

WRITING

The dotMagis blog is in the middle of its annual month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality, and they invited me to write about a time when I found God in an unexpected place.  My story involves my youngest son, a running leap, the edge of a bunk bed, and an ambulance.  You can read it all here.  Check out all the other posts, too — there’s a wealth of spiritual insight there, and there will be a new one every day of July.

Where have you found God lately?  

 

Taking the longview in an instant-feedback world

Every blogger knows the experience of posting what you think is the best blogpost you have ever written, only to get exactly zero comments.

And every parent knows the experience of sharing something you adore with your kids and thinking it’ll transform their lives, only to be met with an utter lack of visible enthusiasm.

And every English teacher knows the experience of teaching that poem that you love with every cell of your being, only to look out at a sea of students who appear to be counting the seconds until lunchtime.

As a blogger, mom, and teacher, I’ve had all three experiences.  And while they are a bummer in the moment, I’ve learned that I have to take the longview.  Ideas are like seeds: they have to germinate, and they’re slow to sprout sometimes.  And sometimes what we put out there into the world touches people deeply without our knowing it.  There’s a form of trust that goes into all of these activities, I believe — trust that what we share will find a home, will reach the people who need it, even if we never ever hear about it.

Just the other day the boys and I were going through the huge overstuffed bookshelf in their room, weeding through the board books they no longer read and figuring out which to give away and which to keep (they have their mom’s inability to get rid of books, alas).  In the process of doing so, we came across a few treasures we haven’t seen for a while, including this book.  It was mine when I was a child (that dirt in the right-hand corner is about three decades old).

 

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I read through the book again, for the first time in a long time, and came across this poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It’s a gem, and  a potent reminder that we all need to keep on singing and taking the longview.

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Amen to that.

The Book Pile: Jesus, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and three novels

So my last Book Pile post was in … January.  Oof.  I’ve been reading; I just haven’t been blogging about it.

Let’s fix that, shall we?

Here are some of the highlights of the last few months.

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The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Power and the Glory was – in a word – powerful.  It’s the story of a priest on the run in Mexico in the 1930s, a time and place when Catholicism was outlawed.  You know what’s coming as you read it — you know there’s no way the priest will avoid his persecutors forever — but it’s the journey that makes this book. It’s a journey not only through Mexico, but also into the heart of an all-too human priest who loathes himself for his flaws but still allows himself to be a conduit of grace to others. The tenacious, sacramental beauty of Catholicism is a big part of this book; faith isn’t an abstraction, but a concrete, and it is lived out in every one of the priest’s interactions with others.  I love it when a novel affirms my faith as powerfully as this one does.

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This was a very readable coming-of-age novel about a somewhat awkward teenage girl whose beloved artist uncle dies of AIDS.  What I found striking is that the narrator is fourteen in 1987, and I was fourteen in 1987, so the book was an uncanny trip back into the past for me.  It made me remember that there was a time when you never heard the word “gay” in the media without hearing the word “AIDS” in the very next breath (so grateful that is no longer the case).  The book as a whole is a very poignant story about grief and friendship and the complexity of love, and a testament to the fact that some relationships can’t be neatly labeled or categorized.

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Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof by Alisa Solomon

“Fiddler on the Roof,” is near to my heart, in part because I was in a production of it  in high school.  Wonder of Wonders was a  fascinating and very thorough book about how Shalom Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the milkman turned into the Broadway musical we know and love.  What  I found most fascinating was the process by which the play took shape, such as how the song “Tradition” ended up being the thematic key that made everything else fall into place.   The composer and lyricist also ended up discarding a lot of songs, many of them probably very good, when it turned out that they didn’t fit with the overall tone and flow of the play … a good lesson for any writer  who really loves that paragraph she wrote but has to cut it out for the good of the chapter as a whole.

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The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

Saw this one at the library and picked it up on a whim.  Good call.  It’s historical fiction, about a young woman in England who ends up traveling to South Africa, where she finds herself acclimating both to a new marriage and to the brutal world of the diamond trade.   I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but  I think it’s a book that every young woman should read because it is a witness to the importance of sharpening your powers of perception when it comes to men.   The writing is excellent, too, walking that line between being believable for historical fiction yet still feeling modern.

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Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ by Joe Paprocki

I’ve read other books by Joe Paprocki, and I love his  concrete, accessible way of approaching big concepts of faith.  He grabs you with engaging and funny anecdotes, and before you know it, you’re suddenly exploring the core ideas of Christianity.  This book is eminently enjoyable, but also challenging in all the right ways.  It offered some new angles for thinking about my relationship with Jesus, and I’ll be going back to certain passages for more reflection.  It’s really a book for every Christian who wants a spiritual shot in the arm.

Now it’s your turn!  What have you been reading (and enjoying) lately?