Liturgy for Lent: Saints and Sanctified Time

Oscar RomeroI’m sharing this post from Episcopalian priest Mike Angell’s blog, one of my new favorites. Wishing all those who celebrate Holy Week and Easter a blessed time of reflection and renewal.

Mike Angell

Mike: Today is one of the most important Feast days for my own faith. March 24th is the celebration of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Episcopal Church, marking the day of his martyrdom in 1980. I’ve marched through the streets of San Salvador with friends from the Anglican Church of El Salvador many times to remember the archbishop who stood with the poor. Romero has not yet been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, that is coming later this year, but the Episcopal Church added him to our calendar in 2009. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Feasts, Fasts, and the marking of time. Ellis and I are in Mexico, and on Friday we were at Chichen Itza for the Vernal Equinox. We saw the sun’s shadow make the body of a snake down the side of a temple, designed to help the Mayans mark this time of…

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Lent, Lenz, Spring

Crocus biflorus photo by Reginald Hulhoven from Wikimedia Commons

Crocus biflorus
photo by Reginald Hulhoven from Wikimedia Commons

Christians are now observing the season of Lent, a time of fasting and penitence, reflection and contemplation. But the church season’s development in the Northern hemisphere also draws on the powerful pulls of body and earth, of humankind’s connection to the natural world, which, like our bodies, is a creation and temple of God.

The word itself, “Lent,” derives from the Germanic root “lang,” meaning “long,” which also forms the basis of the present-day German “Lenz” (“Spring”). According to the 1964 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, “Lent” (and, one assumes, the German “Lenz”) takes its meaning from the lengthening of days in the spring.

Historically, Lent began as a time of preparation for new converts to the Christian faith before their baptism at Easter, and I imagine that over the centuries many pre-Christian traditions and practices associated with the seasonal transition became part of religious tradition as well. In earlier societies, this seasonal transition was a time to use up winter stores before they went bad (hence, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a time for one last big winter feast).  A time to fast because those winter stores, even those that keep, are running low.

A good time to clear out larders and cupboards, making room for the coming abundance of spring. A good time to clear out and examine old habits, tossing out those which haven’t served us well, making room for the abundance of life promised by Christ’s incarnation in human form and loving sacrifice. Spring’s rebirth reminds us that spiritual rebirth is possible, too, something that isn’t always easy to believe in the season of cold and “winter’s discontent.”

The earthly season reminds us that scarcity (those dwindling stores of winter food) can coexist with hope, symbolized by the lengthening of days. (Ancients did not have to deal with the less welcome intrusion of Daylight Savings Time!)

The Germans actually have two words for spring, and both are used in one of my favorite pieces of music, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The Drunken Man in Spring”), the fifth movement from Mahler’s great song cycle Das Lied von die Erde (The Song of the Earth). Especially lovely is Mahler’s setting of the line “Der Lenz ist da!” (“Spring is here!”).

I located a performance on YouTube, sung by tenor Fritz Wunderlich. The English translation follows the German text, and you can see that this celebration of spring is as far removed as possible from the somber beginnings of Lent! I’m certainly not advocating celebrating spring’s arrival by getting drunk, but this is a wonderful piece of music, and you can also take the “drunkenness” metaphorically, as the exuberance of becoming bedazzled by the beauty of nature and the miraculous nature of the season:

Wenn nur ein Traum das Leben ist,
Warum denn Müh’ und Plag’!?
Ich trinke, bis ich nicht mehr kann,
Den ganzen, lieben Tag!

Und wenn ich nicht mehr trinken kann,
Weil Kehl’ und Seele voll,
So tauml’ ich bis zu meiner Tür
Und schlafe wundervoll!

Was hör’ ich beim Erwachen? Horch!
Ein Vogel singt im Baum.
Ich frag’ ihn, ob schon Frühling sei,
Mir ist als wie im Traum.

Der Vogel zwitschert: Ja!
Der Lenz ist da, sei kommen über Nacht!
Aus tiefstem Schauen lauscht’ ich auf,
Der Vogel singt und lacht!

Ich fülle mir den Becher neu
Und leer’ ihn bis zum Grund
Und singe, bis der Mond erglänzt
Am schwarzen Firmament!

Und wenn ich nicht mehr singen kann,
So schlaf’ ich wieder ein.
Was geht mich denn der Frühling an!?
Laßt mich betrunken sein!

If life is but a dream,
why work and worry?
I drink until I no more can,
the whole, blessed day!

And if I can drink no more
as throat and soul are full,
then I stagger to my door
and sleep wonderfully!

What do I hear on waking? Hark!
A bird sings in the tree.
I ask him if it’s spring already;
to me it’s as if I’m in a dream.

The bird chirps Yes!
The spring is here, it came overnight!
From deep wonderment I listen;
the bird sings and laughs!

I fill my cup anew
and drink it to the bottom
and sing until the moon shines
in the black firmament!

And if I can not sing,
then I fall asleep again.
What to me is spring?
Let me be drunk!

Frost Forest on my Window

Frost_on_windowFrost forest
On my window
Snowflake trees on
Icy slopes

(fleeting, passing)

Soon will sun
Melt
My frost forest
Spring is on her way
***

Writing, editing, and winter ailments have kept me from the blog,
BUT
After multiple revisions, my latest novel is ready for show time.
A big editing job is finally done.
My energy level is up.
I’m ready for Spring!

Seasonal Music by Malcolm Dalglish

Years ago I stumbled on the album Hymnody of Earth by Malcolm Dalglish in a bin of holiday CDs in Tower Records (remember Tower?). I was attracted by the title, naturally, and also noticed that most of the lyrics were by Wendell Berry, whose poetry I already knew and loved. That clinched it. I bought the CD and it has become one of my favorite Christmas albums. The Hymnody really should be listened to as a whole, but I hope to give you a little taste here to encourage you to purchase it for yourself. According to the composer’s website, there are two versions/performances of the work available; I have the earlier one from 1991. The later version (1999) has some additional numbers.

The first  piece is an arrangement for two solo singers and guitar; I don’t know if the arrangement is the composer’s or not, but it is lovely and effective and the musicians, Sarah Stevens and Ben Belinski, do a great job. The simplicity of the church setting (Snowmass Chapel) harmonizes nicely with the essential simplicity of the music. The opening verses are in Latin and the two-part voice lines written in the style of early medieval chant. The piece, “Psalm of Solstice,” is Hymnody‘s opening number.

Next, a lovely, very moving performance of “For the Future” (unfortunately the singers and location are not given (I can’t tell if the setting is a church or concert hall).  Here are the lyrics by Wendell Berry (If you follow this blog, you should become acquainted with his work. If anyone is today’s patron saint of trees, it is he!):

Planting trees early in spring,
we make a place for birds to sing
in time to come. How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no other guarantee
that singing will ever be.

The next number on our little concert preview is “Great Trees,” performed by AKSARA. It can only be watched on youtube itself, and here is the link. The a cappella women’s group nicely balances out the a cappella men’s group on the number that follows. Lyrics again by Wendell Berry.

The final number, “Paradise,” is also the final piece on Dalglish’s 1991 Hymnody album, in mood a sort of sacred version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Like the opening number, it is written in medieval style. The all-male Cantus soloists present a moving performance:

Direct links to the youtube performances:

Psalm of Solstice, arr. for guitar and solo voices

For the Future

Great Trees

Paradise

Wishing you and yours a peaceful holiday season!

 

Interview with Fir Tree

santa_final_smToday I am presenting an interview of one of my own characters. The Fir Tree first made an appearance several years ago in the short story “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree,” and has been hanging around the corners of my mind ever since, angling for a sequel. Though that remains so far unwritten, I thought I would appease the Tree by inviting it to come to the blog for a seasonal interview. Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 EST and you’ll be in the running for a “Saint Nick” giveaway book.

(For reasons that will become apparent, this interview was conducted by a third party.)

SAT: How did you meet your writer?

FT: I was planted by a lovely man named Jack, and lived in their backyard for years and years. But time passes more swiftly for humans than it does for trees; Jack and his wife grew too old to take care of the house and yard. Eventually they sold it to Aunt Nancy and her husband. Aunt Nancy loved to garden and made sure I had plenty of yummy compost and trimmed me every year. But nowadays she stays inside more, writing, she says. Someone needs to tell her to get out and take care of me and the other plants in the yard!

SAT: Did you ever think that your life would end up being put in a story?

FT: No, I didn’t. But after I told Aunt Nancy about my little adventure with Saint Nick, she decided to write it down.

SAT: What are your favorite scenes in the “Saint Nick” story?

FT: It really is MY book. Aunt Nancy just wrote down what I told her and added a beginning and end. I suppose her parts are all right, but the really good stuff is all mine. I think I did an especially good job with the snow scene at the end, when I was worried that the ax murderer would return.

SAT: Did you have any difficulty collaborating with your author, er, scribe?

FT: To give Aunt Nancy credit, no, I didn’t. She was fascinated by the whole thing. But now all she wants to do is stay inside and write. If I’d known that’s what my story would lead to, maybe I would have kept it to myself.

SAT: Have you ever appeared in your writer’s dreams?

FT: I wish. If I did, she’d get off that stupid computer and pay attention to those of us who live in her backyard!

SAT: Do you have any hobbies?

FT: I really enjoy bird watching, and I’m in the perfect spot. There’s a hawk couple who live in the neighborhood, and it’s especially exciting when they drop by. Keeps those loud-mouthed squirrels in line, heh-heh.

SAT: Have you ever wished that you were a human instead of a tree?

FT: Of course not. Humans can be pretty strange, if you don’t mind my saying so. I think it’s much more satisfying being a tree. The other trees and plants in the yard are all friends, and so are the birds and rabbits. The squirrels, now—that’s another matter. They’re the rough element in the yard, if you know what I mean.

SAT: Are you happy with your story?

FT: Oh yes! Fir trees mean Christmas and “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” is a wonderful Christmas story. But Aunt Nancy can’t take credit for that–most of the story is MINE. My words. My adventure.

SAT: If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?

FT: Aunt Nancy’s beginning. What she calls a “punk haircut” is all her fault for not trimming me soon enough in the summer, and I don’t see why she had to mention it at all. It gives readers the wrong impression.

SAT: Do you like the way the book ended?

FT: I suppose the bit Aunt Nancy wrote at the end was all right, but personally I think it should have ended with my words. Other than that, I have no complaints. What she said was true.

SAT: I hear that you’re interested in a sequel. Any ideas?

FT: Plenty! If she’s going to be inside writing anyway, she might as well write about me.

SAT: Do you prefer paper books or electronic?

FT: A touchy question. Unless the paper is recycled, it comes from TREES. The very thought makes me queasy. Though Aunt Nancy says electronic readers may end up in landfills and that’s bad, too. If it were up to me, the book would be electronic ONLY.ADAMS St Nick No Title copy

SAT: What do you think of the book cover and illustrations?

FT: I have to admit Aunt Nancy had the right idea: she thought the cover should be all about me. And she found a great designer and a great illustrator. I just love my portraits!

SAT: Do you have any secrets that your author doesn’t know about?

FT: <giggle> I’m not telling.

Thank you, Fir Tree! Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 for a chance to win your own copy of “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree.”

Short Story Winner!

My short story “The Black Cat” won this year’s Halloween short story contest sponsored by the online magazine Kings River Life, where it was published last Saturday. If you’re curious, you can read it here.

black cat (krl)

photo by Margaret Mendel for Kings River Life

I wrote the short story last fall, my first “creation” since leaving the day job, but the idea had been kicking around in my head for a while. Shortly after I decided to experiment with self-publishing a Christmas short story, “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree,” which appeared in December 2011, I got the idea of writing other holiday-themed stories featuring Saint Nick. I’ve always loved Halloween (I grew up watching Dark Shadows and reading Edgar Allan Poe) and I love cats, so writing a Halloween story that featured a black cat was an appealing notion.

I decided to frame the story by setting the first part on the Saturday night before the Feast of Saint Francis, which many churches celebrate with a Blessing of the Animals. The feast day proper of the much-beloved saint is Oct. 4, and the Blessing of the Animals usually takes place either on that day or the following Sunday. The last part of the story takes place on Halloween.

While my Christmas story featuring Saint Nick cast him as the original saint—aka, Santa Claus, in “The Black Cat” Nick appears merely as a “regular” human, a kind man but shrewd, his personality toned down somewhat from the occasionally crotchety Saint Nick of my Fir Tree story. (“Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” takes place the day after Christmas, when Nick is in search of a much-needed vacation, so his crotchetiness is quite understandable!) The black cat herself has another inspiration, but to discover that, you’ll have to read the story.

Two Autumn Poems

Goldenrod big- 1024px-Field-of-goldenrod-flowers
Autumn Poem of Innocence

Goldenrod laughs in the wind
Tosses back its yellow hair

Flame-colored maple
Leaves dancing in the wind
Swirl and bow and swirl again

Cloudless blue sky
Bright autumn sun

Cheery pumpkins grace our doorsteps
Cornears unfurl colorful seeds

 

Photo by Nicole Gordine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Nicole Gordine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Grey Squirrel, photo by BirdPhotos.com, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Grey Squirrel, photo by BirdPhotos.com, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Autumn Poem of Experience

Soon bright pumpkins squirrels will ravage
Corn kernels scatter
Bare cobs leave
Broken rinds
Remains of furry ones’ feast.
(Squirrels disdain to do their dishes)

Rain squalls pound goldenrods’ hair
Branches hurl
Trees uproot.

Will the Monarch grace us?
Or is its beauty vanished,
Vanquished,
Bleared, smeared by human greed?

Yet the seasons cycle on
Dead leaves go to the compost bin
Life begins anew

Monarch Butterfly- BBGMonarchButterflyWings

I want to thank fellow blogger Jeff (StuffJeffReads) for keeping William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience in the forefront of my mind this past year. Once I realized the dichotomy of innocence/experience was the perfect way to organize the two initial images—the goldenrod and the Monarch butterfly—the rest of the poetic diptych soon fell into place. “Bleared, smeared” obviously echoes Gerard Manley Hopkin’s line in “God’s Grandeur,” just as “Will the Monarch grace us?” echoes T.S. Eliot’s “Will the sunflower turn to us,” in “Burnt Norton.”

Late Summer Poem

iStock_000005311669SmallCool August morning
Open window to sunlight and air
Of Edenic purity

Play of sunlight across telephone wires
Wingèd insects golden flash, disappear
Webbed spiderwork glistens, disappears
Athena’s handmaiden, busy at her loom,
Weaves across telephone wires,
Golden in sunlight,
Vanishes beneath

Flash of bird shadow
Shower of droplets, last night’s rain,
Shimmer of cicada song
Flash, shower, shimmer, vanish, disappear

Maple wing seeds carpet the street
Golden coins of summer’s last spending.

composed August 24, 2014

This poem was inspired by the poetry of one of my favorite bloggers, Elouise (http://tellingthetruth1993.wordpress.com/). I wanted to keep the impressions of this morning, but writing them in prose felt like “work” and I needed a day off. Then I thought of Elouise’s lovely nature poetry and realized that was how I wanted to capture these moments. Who knows, maybe I’ll do it again.

Taking Stock

It’s been just over a year since I left the day job for the freedom of freelance editing and writing. Although I’m no longer officially involved in the academic world, September still feels like the start of a new year to me—much more than January, and I suspect it always will. As I re-start the blog after its long summer vacation, it feels like a good time to take stock of the past year, of what I’ve done and where I’m going, and of what I want to do here in this space with the blog.

The Thinker, sculpture by Auguste Rodin Picture taken in Musee Rodin in Paris, France by wikipedian Pufacz

The Thinker, sculpture by Auguste Rodin Picture taken in Musee Rodin in Paris, France by wikipedian Pufacz

What have I learned?

  • Leaving the day job isn’t a magic bullet. I still struggle with insomnia, waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get my mind to shut down; I still have days when I don’t feel my best; I still have moments of doubt and depression. Yet, overall I am much happier with my day-to-day existence than I was before.
  • I need to remind myself to be grateful that I am able to work from home, set my own schedule, and do the things that are most important to me. I got used to the new routine very quickly! It feels so natural now that I have to stop and tell myself that I am truly privileged.
  • There are still only 24 hours in a day. I’m still learning to manage my time: when to wake up; setting my morning routine; when to exercise; how to balance taking care of myself (time to prepare healthy meals and take daily walks) with accomplishing the writing and other tasks that are important to me. The one cardinal rule that I established back when I was working full time still holds: first things first. For me, that means once the morning routine is done I go immediately to the book I’m working on, 5 days a week.
  • The importance of the online community. My critique partners and my wonderful developmental editor are all people whom I have yet to meet face to face, yet they provide so much support for me as a writer that I truly can’t imagine trying to finish and polish a book without their moral support and critical input. I also love the connections that I’ve made with fellow bloggers who write about subjects that are close to my heart: green living things; writing and books; deeper questions of life and spirituality.

What have I accomplished?

  • I finished polishing and tweaking my genre-bending novel CHIMERA, which deals with a Jesuit priest on sabbatical in Paris who runs into a talking gargoyle on Notre Dame.
  • I began a completely new novel for middle-grade/tween kids, about a 13-year-old witch who must cope with her family’s mysterious move to the “mortal” world. Thanks to my wonderful critique partner, Gigi Pandian, who read through the first draft, and my equally wonderful editor, Ramona Defelice Long, who critiqued the first 50 pages, I’m now close to finishing a polished revision that will be ready for my other “critters” and Ramona’s eagle eye this fall.
  • I completed a short story, “The Black Cat,” and drafted another, “Saint Nick and the Easter Rabbit,” which I intend to finish polishing once the middle-grade novel is done.
  • All in all, a very productive year for me, and I feel pleased with the results.

What’s ahead for the blog?

  • I have a number of interviews scheduled with authors of historical fiction, and I’m quite excited to have these folks as my guests:

Sept. 18  Jeri Westerson, The Crispin Guest series

In these “medieval noir” books, disgraced former knight Crispin Guest turns his talents to private investigation in 14th-century London.

Oct. 9  Liz ZelvinVoyage of Strangers

Young marrano sailor Diego returns from a voyage of discovery to find that his sister Rachel is in danger from the Inquisition as a secret Jew. After failing to find safety in Spain, they sail with Admiral Columbus on the second voyage to Hispaniola, where they must struggle with divided loyalties as the Spaniards’ greed for gold and conquest clashes with the local Taino people’s way of life.

Oct. 16  Judith Starkston, Hand of Fire

Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Oct. 23  Judith Rock, The Charles du Luc series

Mystery series featuring a Jesuit priest in 17th-century Paris

  • I’ll also continue to write posts on nature, my personal “saints,” poetry and books, and whatever else happens to take my fancy.
  • End of speech. Wishing everyone a Happy New Fall!

Farmers Market

Last Saturday I made my first visit of the season to our local farmers market. I get such a kick out of seeing all the lovely fresh produce, and I was looking forward to seeing what was on offer after such a long, cold winter.

Farmers & Artisans market at Farmington Michigan

photo by Scott Stevenson of Artziephartzie graphic design

The organic stand where I buy most of my veggies was open. I picked up fresh greens: salad mix, Swiss chard, and kale—a mix of curly and the smooth dark-leaved varieties. A bunch of asparagus—it seems late for it, but everything will probably be late this year. That’s fine with me; we haven’t actually had local asparagus yet this spring.

There were even tomatoes, though these were marked “not organic.” I took a couple of little ones; local produce is less likely to have been sprayed, and a lot goes into the process of official organic certification, so maybe their greenhouse plants still had a few hoops to jump through.

I bought scallions/green onions from another vendor: nice big, fat white bulbs that will be lovely with salads and other cold dishes.

Funny, cooking wasn’t on my radar of things I thought I’d enjoy when I left the day job, but it’s been a big part of my new life. It was such a pleasure to get home with my finds and start rinsing the kale, getting it ready to steam for a yummy kale sandwich (tortilla spread with my favorite mustard; greens topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice and garlic powder). I’m not eating completely vegetarian, but I’m enjoying more vegetable courses than before.

Most of all, I love the feeling of unity with the earth that eating and buying organic gives me. It makes everything hang together: the health of the soil, the planet, and the health of the people who tend it and eat it. It gives a feeling of harmony, and puts me in mind of one of my favorite “saints”: poet-farmer Wendell Berry, whose writings celebrate the earth and those who care for it.

Welcome, Summer and Spring!

 

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