A Place in the Choir

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I attended Mass last year at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Before Mass started I noticed a young woman had walked into the church with a service dog. The two sat in the front of the church – I sat in the back and a lot of people sat between us as the church was full that morning.

At the conclusion of the Mass, while we congregants sang the recessional, I heard a strangled cry, a sort of moaning, echoing from the somewhere in the church. Having worked in health care for thirty years, my emergency response adrenaline kicked in and I searched the church for who might be in distress and may need help immediately. “Call 911” ran through my mind as I stood up in the last pew with my phone in hand, ready to go to someone’s aid. Then I caught sight of the service dog at the front of the church and realized it was this dear canine servant who was singing along with the rest of us, howling away, happily joining in. As the dog yowled merrily, I recalled the lines of a folk tune written by folk musician and singer-songwriter, Bill Staines:

“All God’s critters got a place in the choir

Some sing low, some sing higher

Some sing out loud on the telephone wires

And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got, now.”

And some merrily howl along during the recessional at church.

“The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”

The Allure of Library Book Kits

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Have you heard about book club book kits? They are available from many libraries. Below are a couple of pics of a book kit from my local library. (The unreadable white sheet of copy paper on the table in front of the book kit bag is the Readers’ Discussion Guide. It has suggestions for ways to run a book club and ideas to help get the discussion rolling.)

BCBK’s contain 10-12 books – one large letter edition and one audio book, where possible – and a Readers’Discussion Guide in each kit. They are the only library “book” that has a return date that is six weeks from the date of check-out rather than three weeks. This extended period of time allows users to dispense the books, read, meet, discuss and return the kit, and pick up the next book kit so that the book club can meet monthly.

For those who want to join a book club but find buying a book every month financially prohibitive, or for people who simply prefer to use the library, BCBK’s are a super option. Laura, a librarian at my local library, said that the popularity of BCBK’s is becoming greater every year.

Maybe it’s time to start a book club using book kits? Check it out! 📚

Road Trip Roundup

Went on a lovely drive yesterday. It was a beautiful day — sunny, high clouds, perfect for a road trip to Tallahassee, FL.

One of the things on our “to do” list was to visit Bradley’s Country Store. Just a bit outside of Tallahassee proper, we arrived there by means of a country lane, County Road 27. Portions of this narrow but scenic roadway are crowned with a canopy of tree branches that reach over to each other from both sides of the road and sometimes meet in the middle overhead. The canopy drive is a beautiful thing to behold and delight to experience.

We arrived at Bradley’s early in the afternoon on a Thursday. As you can see from the picture above, the store is small and the parking lot in front of the store is small, also. Even though we visited on a slow business day, there were plenty of cars and customers coming and going at Bradley’s during our short visit.

Established in 1927, Bradley’s is known for stone ground corn grits and homemade sausage, which is what attracted us to their place of business. On entering the wood A-frame structure, we caught the delicious fragrance of sausage being cooked — a fragrance that draws you to the back of the old wood building, back behind the jar filled and product-laden shelves to the meat market where customers line up for a sausage link on a bun. Irresistible! It was obvious by the earnest faces of those in line that purchasing this item was the reason for their visit to the Bradley’s. There was plenty of foot traffic moving from the front to the back of the store, and we filed right in with the throngs of lunch-seeking pilgrims. That sausage dog was quite a treat!

The store’s board walls are lined with old painted-metal trade signs and advertising images. One large section of wall is covered from floor to ceiling with plaques, most of which are printed with black lettering on distressed wood panels. These are obviously new but fit the old-timey atmosphere of Bradley’s Country Store. A small square plaque on the wall said, “CALL YOUR MOMMA.” That item almost came home with me.

You can see in the picture that Bradley’s has a nice front porch with wooden rockers available for use. Inside, this inviting old building has well used, uneven floorboards,(watch your step), numerous shelves of home canned pickles, peppers, salsa, and sauces, and plenty of other nostalgia-inducing (and I didn’t even grow up in the South!) goodies. There are several Southern cuisine cookbooks to browse, homemade lavender soaps to admire, and of course, Bradley’s homemade sausage and stone ground grits. The staff was cordial, helpful, and knowledgeable.

We happily purchased some of Bradley’s Country Store’s most famous foodstuffs that day (you can order online as well) which we plan to share with family and friends soon. Cheese grits, anyone?

http://www.bradleyscountrystore.com/index.php?route=common/home

Reading is more than what you think…

I am saddened by the number of people who are suspicious of and even offended by fables, fantasy,  and allegories. Imagination was an ever-present commodity in my home as I was growing up. My brothers and sisters and I walked around with a book in one hand and a pen in the other. Music was a continuous soundtrack in our home- always in the background, but often the main event, too. We children envied and emulated the quick-witted and clever around us. Mother recited long rhymes at the drop of a hat, and quoted poems & silly songs during our bath times or in other mundane, potentially boring (for her?) situations. We listened to the opera every Saturday (“Texaco Presents… the Metropolitan Opera!”) as we youngsters cleaned our large, old, kid-filled home.

And then there was the Mass — especially Sunday High Mass — a holy, ritual-filled hour that taught us the transcendence of God, the reality of miracles, and the glory of heaven. Truth, beauty, goodness, all around. Sorrow, alcohol, and physical abuse all around, too. But a book or the movies could serve as a way to cope with pain and confusion, calm one’s fears and present the possibility of a future happy ending. “Bookish tendencies”  are good skills to have when it comes to dealing with the harsh realities of home.

I think my childhood reading of myths and fables helped to teach me to read between the lines in real life — which is another survival skill, by the way.  I am thankful for the books of C.S. Lewis, Edward Eager. and J.R.R. Tolkien both for the comfort their works provided and the skills their stories brought with them. So, my advice to you is to read a wonderful book of fantasy soon, then trust your imagination to lead you to a deeper understanding of the world around you,

Final day of “Fun With Flannery”

What?! It’s over! Fun With Flannery is finished?? NO! Rats! Dang. Phooey. Sadness… sigh.

 

Flannery

But what an amazing week of discovery it was, led by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior. A teacher I know frequently warns his students, “Don’t miss your moment!” This workshop was certainly the moment to experience an immersion into Flannery O’Connor –  her writing style, her art and her calling.

The larger context of the Fun With Flannery class is The Glen Workshop –  a marvelous week long art-and-faith event which seems to defy everyone’s attempts at describing it. I like the paragraph on the landing page of The Glen’s website:

“Situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains [in Santa Fe, New Mexico], the Glen Workshop is equal parts creative workshop, arts festival, and spiritual retreat. The Glen’s arresting natural environment is contrasted by its casual and inviting crowd of artists, writers, musicians, art appreciators, and spiritual wayfarers of all stripes.”

If as an artist you are dry as dust, this gathering of kindred souls in the High Desert location of St John’s College, where The Glen takes place, will drench you in beauty, friendship and inspiration. The Glen Worksop is sponsored by Image Journal which is out of Seattle Pacific University,

But back to Flannery O’Connor. All thirteen of us Glensters agreed that the most surprising discovery of the workshop was the power of reading O’Connor’s stories aloud.  As we listened to a story, often read in long sections, Flannery’s uncanny insight into the human heart became more illuminating, more comical, more touching,  more shocking.

In addition, each short story video Dr. Prior presented gave us a new picture of a Flannery story, illustrating how wondrously visual she is in her writing. Color, setting, sunlight, shadows, symbols — all play a part in an O’Connor short story. “Flannery has a purpose for everything she puts in her stories, ” said Dr. Prior, “Nothing is extra, nothing is wasted.”

What about the violence contained in O’Connor’s stories? It wasn’t long before the class could see the paradox that Dr. Prior suggested was in Flannery’s work:  Violence was a means of grace for her characters. Violence was O’Connor’s method to force her figures to shake-off the blinders of the skewed moral judgments and cliched thinking that plagued them. As we students progressed through nine short stories together, we found that the lens we used to study Flannery’s tales transfigured itself into a mirror which reflected back to us our own flawed judgments and prejudices.  One commentator in the documentary we watched on Flannery’s life, called Uncommon Grace (2015), said that O’Connor was “continuing Jesus’ work by telling parables to the modern world.”  After spending a week deep-diving into Flannery O’Connor’s life and art, I believe she was indeed a parable teller of extraordinary skill.

Flannery O’Connor died in 1964 at age thirty-nine from lupus, an autoimmune disease. At that time, according to Wikipedia, Flannery’s oeuvre included two novels, three short story collections, and five other works. An addition to her work, a prayer journal, was published in 2013. I am hopeful that more of Flannery’s work will be published in the future.

 

 

Flannery rules…

 

Can this be day three of Fun With Flannery? Again we had a deep and insightful discussion which included viewing a movie  based on O’Connor’s short story, “The River.” We will also watch a film version of her short story “The Comforts of Home” in a future class. The film interpretations of O’Connor’s stories have added significantly to our discussions and understanding of Flannery’s work. So grateful that Prof Prior has included them in the class. Paul Anderson, Director of Programs at the Glen Workshop, was gracious enough to take a class picture of the Flannery Glensters. Good country people, every one of them.😊

Arrived at the Glen Workshop!

Arrival at the Santa Fe airport was on time. The shuttle that took us from the airport (pictured left )to Saint John’s College, the site of the workshop, made several stops which allowed bus risers to get a glimpse of the city of Santa Fe — very enticing! Mountains are all around- what a gorgeous setting!
Tomorrow morning we will begin the workshop at 9am. Professor Karen Swallow Prior is the mastermind behind the class ( there are many other excellent classes offered as well, as you can discover when you go to the link) called Fun With Flannery, an in-depth look at the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. So, let the fun begin!

To the High Desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we journey…

 

… At the B19 Gate in the Phoenix Airport- American Airlines. Waiting for the flight to Santa Fe to arrive, then from the Santa Fe airport to a shuttle for a ride to St John’s College and check-in for The Glen Workshop. Never expected to be here too early to get into the dorms 😳but it just might happen! (Hope to include pictures of the Glen Workshop experience, but the WordPress mobile platform just crashed! Maybe pics can be edited in later…)

“I Will Lay My Burden Down…”

Shirley Dobson told this story many years ago at a Women of Faith gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is how I remember it:

Shirley and her husband had been associated with a rural retreat center for many years. It was a breathtaking location with many wooded paths lacing through the hilly acreage. During one of their stays at the center, Shirley was struggling with a burden that was all consuming. She told us that she prayed about it constantly, but could not escape her worries. Eventually, she came upon on a plan: she decided to find a rock to represent her concerns then place it at the foot of a favorite tree along a trail at the center.  In that way, she said, she could physically surrender her anxiety to God and be free of it. Shirley did this and a sense of relief filled her.

Time passed. When Shirley was next at the retreat center the news was announced that the property had been sold, and the grounds would soon be closed. Shirley immediately thought of her “burden” rock at the base of the tree and ran quickly to the site to collect it. When she arrived at the spot,  she saw that the roots of the tree had grown over her rock. There was no possible way for her to take it back – to pick up her burden again. She had given it to God and he obviously intended to keep it.

Shirley explained how shocked and embarrassed she was when she saw the rock… and how thankful. She told us that she then realized a pattern in her life: she would give her burdens to God in prayer, but later take them back again, convinced that God was not up to the task of caring for her problems. Seeing the rock, her burden, embedded in the soil, surrounded by the roots of the tree taught her the truth of the matter – God is able and God is faithful.rocks and roots

How to Read an Eye Chart

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December, 2010

I haven’t hung out with three-year old kids for a long time, and I miss it. I didn’t realize this until today. I work at a medical clinic, and every now and then a child who has come in with an adult needs to be cared for while their grown-up has an exam, or x-rays or blood drawn. Today I happened to be available to watch over a three-year-old girl whose real name I never learned. The name she wanted to be called was “Tangled”.

“Tangled?” I asked – twice. She simply nodded. Now if I had been chummy with more three-year-old kids, I would have known that Tangled is the name of a Disney movie, a re-make of the Rapunzel story. But, alas, I have been buddy-ing with people my own age, so I was completely in the dark. Thankfully one of my co-workers enlightened me.

This happy, lively, three-year old had long, straight, brown hair with bangs, fair skin, and blue eyes. The top of her head did not quite reach my hip, so as we walked along the clinic hallway hand in hand, I saw only the top of her head. I began to chat away on subjects that I thought might interest my young companion.  Tangled, on the other hand, wasn’t much into conversation. She was scoping the place out,  and soon her gaze landed on the clinic’s colorful sticker collection. She said nothing but looked intently up at the wide array of stickers on the display rack.

“Would you like to pick out a sticker or two?” I said. I saw the top of her head bob up and down. “Which ones would you like?” I asked, waving my hand in front of the stickers like Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. “Farm animals, monkeys, cars?” She shook her head no. “Have you got any ‘Tangled’?” she asked. I searched high and low for the sticker of her choice but came up empty. I offered her everything we had, but she said “No, thank you.” I had forgotten that a three-year old could be so definite about her choices. She had her eyes on the prize and stayed with her decision although the monkey stickers almost won her over.

Her mom hadn’t emerged from the exam room yet, so we went for another stroll around the hallways when I spotted a Kindergarten Eye Exam Chart on the treatment room door. We walked up to the chartKindergaten Eye Chart and looked at it. One by one, I pointed to the symbols on the chart, and asked her to name them.  She got them all – the heart, the star, the cup – and she even correctly identified the ship and the moon. “Very bright three-year old,” I thought to myself. Then I pointed to the flag symbol, not really expecting her to know what it was. “What is this, Tangled? Can you tell me something about this shape?” I asked. She looked at it for a moment and then she glanced up at me and said, “It means my Daddy is gone to fight in the war.” Stunned speechless, I stared down at my little friend.

Her mom came out of the room then, and Tangled ran off to join her. I waved goodbye, and stood in front of the eye chart for a few minutes. What a profound answer that little one had given about the flag symbol on the eye chart. Clear, definite, precise – she couldn’t call the symbol by its specific name,  but she knew what it meant to her: Daddy, his absence, his important work. I think she passed her eye exam with flying colors, don’t you?