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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?

Garden of enchantment

View from inside the garden house.

View from inside the garden house.

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

– Henry James

I kicked off my summer vacation with a silent retreat — and, a few days later, with a return visit to the gardens and estate of Filoli, site of my desperately-needed Artist’s Date in April.  (I could go solo because it was the last week of school for the kids  … and believe you me, I crammed a lot into that week alone!).

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Filoli is becoming like a religion to me.  This place does something to my soul.  If it seems crazy  to go twice in the space of two months, it really isn’t, because there are new things blooming all the time.

In place of the lilac I adored in April, this time there were hydrangeas.

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The rosebeds were budding, too — clearly we were past the first bloom for many of them, but others were still showing off their color.

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And — amazingly — there were still some pansies in bloom.

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This time, I was captivated by this narrow walkway, between the lawn and the brick marking the boundary of the walled garden.

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I know ivy is a parasite, but isn’t it beautiful?  I’ve always liked it … probably the result of having read so many novels about ivy-clad English estates.

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And somehow, I noticed trees more this time than I did before.  Check out this one, right along the side of the house.  It’s massive.

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Anyhow, it was a truly beautiful day.  I filled the creative well and did some quiet meditation on a bench and found myself wanting to go home and plant more flowers, which I did a few days later.

I also found myself thinking about sharing Filoli with the boys.  I’m not sure taking them both together is a good idea; they feed off each other’s energy, and the paved walkways and nooks and arches would surely make them go into superhero mode.  It is not exactly conducive to the quiet beauty of the place to have two little boys tearing here and there, pretending to be Spiderman and the Green Lantern (the superheroes du jour).

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But maybe if I take them singly?  I’m thinking about it.  Because I love sharing places I love with people I love.  And if this place feeds my imagination, which it does, what will it do for two impressionable young kids?  They’ve never seen a place remotely like this; it’ll be like an enchanted garden to them.

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Of course, if I bring them here separately, it means I’ll have to come here twice more this summer, at least.

And know what?   I’m perfectly fine with that.

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Blog tour for “Angels and Saints” by Scott Hahn, with thoughts on saints in general (and one saint in particular)

 

Coolest bracelet ever (each medallion is a different saint).

Coolest bracelet ever (each medallion is a different saint).  Also cool: there’s a book giveaway at the end of this post.

It’s fair to say that the saints and I have had an interesting history.  As a kid with a vivid imagination, tales of gruesome martyrdoms positively freaked me out.  For years,  I assiduously avoided books about the saints.

But as an adult, I’ve grown to see the saints as friends.  I ask my favorites  to pray for me in the same way I might ask a buddy to do.  I read about their lives in the same way I would read about the life of a writer or artist I admire: because it’s fascinating to learn how someone grew into the person they became, and because their lives inspire me to achieve my own full potential.  And the  thousands of different saint stories all  bear witness to a fundamental truth: each of us is unique, and each of us has our own unique path to travel.  There is not simply one way to be holy.

So I’m always on the lookout for good books on the saints.  Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones is one of them.

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Angels and Saints
is an edifying read that does a few unique things.  First of all, it explains the traditional understanding of saints and angels in light of Scripture, which is not something I’ve seen in other books.  Secondly, it talks about various practices with regards to the saints, explaining the concept of “patron saint” and what that whole relic thing is all about (if you’ve ever visited European churches, you’ve surely wondered about that.  I know I did.)

What I enjoyed most of all was how Dr. Hahn devotes the last half of the book to telling the stories of a  sampling of different saints and angels throughout the centuries.  One of them is St. Maxilimian Kolbe, often called The Saint of Auschwitz.

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Kolbe was a Polish priest who was arrested by the Gestapo and ultimately taken to Auschwitz.   On a July day in 1941, the guards found that one of the prisoners was missing and presumably had escaped.  In retaliation, they randomly chose ten prisoners to die by starvation.  One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek,  instantly cried out for mercy, asking what would happen to his wife and children if he were killed.  Hearing him, Kolbe suddenly stepped forward and offered to take his place.

The guards agreed, and Kolbe and nine other men were sealed up in the starvation bunker.  He died on August 14, 1941.

I first heard this story in the early eighties, around the time that Kolbe was canonized.  As a Polish-American, I felt connected to him that way, but though my young mind could intuit the astonishing sacrifice he’d made, there was so much of his story that I simply couldn’t grasp as a child.

I couldn’t grasp the enormity of evil that was Auschwitz.  I had no sense for what a slow, agonizing death starvation must have been.  I couldn’t fully understand the terror of being sealed up in a dark place in the knowledge that you would never leave it.   Now, I think I have a clue, and the man’s courage staggers me.

But it’s as a mother that this story resonates with me most.  Kolbe’s sacrifice was prompted by Gajowniczek’s agonized cry of distress about leaving his family.   Kolbe must have realized, in that brief moment, that the death of a father would also mean the destruction of a family.  It would mean a wife without a husband and children without a father.   He died not just for a man right in front of him, but also a woman and children he would never see.  As a wife and mother, I can’t begin to verbalize what that action would mean to me.  Some kinds of gratitude can’t be captured in words,  just as some kinds of heroism can’t be captured in words, either.

Franciszek Gajowniczek survived the war.  His wife did too,  though tragically, both  his children were lost in a Soviet bombardment in 1945. He was present at the canonization of Fr. Kolbe in 1982, and until his death at age 94, he did what he could to speak about and honor the man who volunteered to take his place.

As I read this chapter of Angels and Saints and reflected on Kolbe’s story, I thought about how it’s a story of  sacrifice writ large, as large as it can possibly be.  It’s a story of extreme courage, extreme charity, and it’s one glimpse into the goodness that we  humans are capable of. Perhaps each saint shows a different kind of goodness, some small facet of the overall picture of a human being at once fully realized and fully holy.   I’m very glad that Dr. Hahn wrote this book, shedding more light on the thousands of men, women, and angels who make up the “great cloud of witnesses” and inspire us to our own goodness.

In telling Kolbe’s story, many invoke John 15:13 : “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  In the case of Maximilian Kolbe, perhaps “friends” can best be replaced with “a stranger and his family.”

But on second thought, maybe the verse is fine just as it is.  Perhaps one mark of a saint is that there are no strangers, only friends.

Angels and Saints is published by Image Books, who has generously offered to give away a copy to a lucky winner.  Enter using Rafflecopter below.  Entries close at the end of the day on June 10th.  

HOW TO ENTER: After entering name/email address (or signing in with Facebook), click on the button that says +1.  A window that will pop up saying “Leave a comment.”  You don’t actually have to leave a comment; just click on the button saying “I commented”, and you’re entered!

And if you’d like to visit the other stops on the blog tour — each one featuring a reflection on a different saint — check out the full list here.
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