To Indiana

Not only will December mark the bicentennial of the Hoosier state, but this year, back in August, we also celebrated”making memories naturally” with the centennial of Indiana State Parks.  Our family did not specifically decide on a fall break destination based on these facts alone, but it serendipitously turned out that way. We gave the kids the choice between Chicago or hiking in Clifty Falls State Park in southeastern Indiana. They chose hiking. I don’t think they knew what they were getting into. We hiked over seven miles, two-thirds of which was on rather rocky, uneven and steep slopes. By the end, we were close to dehydration on a sunny “autumn” day of 80 degrees.

Although I am a transplant to the Midwest, I love the homey beauty of this state. It is good for my soul to be out in it.


I have nothing to say in this post, except that I enjoy being outdoors. Here, I share with you my family’s hike – minus the whining at the end because we were thirsty and exhausted- and a bit of this 200 year old state. Happy Birthday, Indiana. Here, I share with you the state poem.


God crowned her hills with beauty,

Gave her lakes and winding streams,

Then He edged them all with woodlands

As the settings for our dreams.

Lovely are her moonlit rivers,

Shadowed by the sycamores,

Where the fragrant winds of Summer

Play along the willowed shores.

I must roam those wooded hillsides,

I must heed the native call,

For a Pagan voice within me

Seems to answer to it all.

I must walk where squirrels scamper

Down a rustic old rail fence,

Where a choir of birds is singing

In the woodland…green and dense.

I must learn more of my homeland

For it’s paradise to me,

There’s no haven quite as peaceful,

There’s no place I’d rather be.

Indiana…is a garden

Where the seeds of peace have grown,

Where each tree, and vine, and flower

Has a beauty…all its own.

Lovely are the fields and meadows,

That reach out to hills that rise

Where the dreamy Wabash River

Wanders on…through paradise.

by Arthur Franklin Mapes

Blending Nature Journals, Science and YouTube

img_6857Sometimes it is difficult to plan out every single academic subject. As long as I have a solid idea where we are with Math and Language Arts, the other subjects can live in a state of flux at times. While I might want S’s curriculum a little more focused and firm in content, this is particularly true for G’s lessons. We might use our Magic School Bus science kit for a couple of weeks, abandon it for a human anatomy book the next week, and finally just not have time for any official science for a few more weeks. I think this is ok when you are six. Science is around us, and our backyard and sun room have provided us with automatic sources for nature studies.

One of the first things we did after moving in to our current home just over a year ago was to set up a few bird feeders outside our sun room windows. I have written about the amount of time we spend watching all our feathered friends. Last month G and I printed out several pictures of our favorite birds we tend to see in our neighborhood. We used them to create a poster for our sunroom. G meticulously keeps track of their appearances at the feeders and the trees by placing tally marks as he sights them.


Exploring the nature of the Midwest, its flora and fauna, is the most  obvious form of science I can engage in with G. Honestly, it demands little of my time in a season where I feel I need to expend my efforts on other things. A walk through a trees-y trail or wading in a creek and our appetites are enhanced for further study. These have often inspired us in our library  choices.

G and I have time on Tuesdays between dropping S off at co-op before his own class begins. It is inconvenient to drive all the way home so we usually pack a few books, read at a cafe or go to a nearby park. Last Tuesday G drew some birds.


Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson and Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock have become great tools to keep us well informed and asking good questions. G found a great spot under a tree in which to draw his favorite bird, currently the Eastern Bluebird. He is not particularly adept at drawing, so he initially found this task overwhelming in just drawing from a nature book. Then, he remembered YouTube. We found some great little videos taking us step by step in drawing our chosen birds. Here is his Eastern Bluebird. You can find the video we watched here.


G used a very similar one for his Northern Cardinal. Watch it here.


Our geography lessons have us in Central America now, so not only did we find a book filled with gorgeous amphibian photography, but G also included the Panamanian Golden Frog in his nature journal. The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs, a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle describes the predicament of these brightly colored amphibians and a skin disease that began striking their population in the mid 1990s. We actually found a specific drawing lesson for this particular frog. You can try it here.


YouTube often has a bad reputation for inappropriate content and mindless twaddle, and rightly so, but we try to take advantage of some of the goodness it does offer.


A Book Discussion (and a Sermon Quote): The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith

“The Green Ember burns; the seed of the New World smolders. Healing is on the horizon, but a fire comes first. Bear the flame.”

-S.D. Smith in The Green Ember, p. 364


We could easily become discouraged. The world has become obsessed with hatred and bigotry and violence. Our public voice of dissonance has no hint of forbearance. Children’s problems are growing weightier, darker, and their literature is reflecting that in the name of “reality,” “daily life” and “awareness.” It is not any worse than previous generations have experienced, but it is certainly a marked characteristic of our current culture. For this very reason I am pleased my family and I have found S.D. Smith. Somehow, through a share on Facebook, or maybe a pop up on my newsfeed, we discovered The Green Ember series.

Building on the Christian fantasy genre, Smith has created an inspiring world of anthropomorphized animals who are attempting to battle the evil in their own world as it spreads throughout the Great Wood, and beyond, into all Natalia.

Rabbits with swords.

After wolves attack their village, set fire to their home, and take off with their parents and baby brother, Heather and Picket begin a journey. It is a coming of age story in which Smith seemingly draws on his love for C.S. Lewis. Not only are they seeking their family, but are likewise in search of a more peaceful world. After a previously unknown Uncle Wilfred and his adopted son Smalls rescue them from the wolves of Redeye Garlackson, they are sequestered in Cloud Mountain, a hidden community determined to preserve the old peace and order of the Great Wood. The rabbits live in true community as they prepare for eventual battle, and continue developing beautiful skills of creativity, artisanship and industry.

“Everywhere they looked, energetic work was underway.” p. 200

Smith utilizes a great deal of Christian imagery throughout the book.

“Of course!” Emma said. “Now, they do other work like everyone else: gardening, cleaning, teaching – whatever’s needed. But all the crafts are honored here. We’re heralds of the Mended Wood.”

The Green Ember, p. 155

We see similar ideas within the early Church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…”

Acts 2:44-46

Endearing characters are introduced, such as the slightly bumbling, clay-flinging Eefaw Potter, or the sweet, grandmotherly sage, Old Mrs. Weaver. They slowly begin to help heal and strengthen  the aching hearts of Heather and Picket as they grow into the vision of Cloud Mountain. I won’t reveal what events transpire, but they are distressing to the rabbit siblings, and demonstrate how betrayal and true evil exist even in their fantasy world.

My boys and I completed the first in the series, and are midway through the newly published sequel Ember Falls. I love that even though there are many battle scenes and deaths, this is not too scary a read aloud for my six year old, and yet it has maintained the interest of my twelve year old. I love that family members within the book unabashedly profess their love and affection for one another, that there is not bullying among the allies, but a focused purpose in defeating the evil. To borrow an expression from Andrew Pudewa from the Institute of Excellence in Writing, this is not so much a “twisted” or “broken” story, but a “healing” story. It is a glorious tale of fighting evil in unison. Heather and Picket are fully aware they are still in the middle of their story. They are painfully unaware how it will all end, but the unity of Cloud Mountain has taught them of a greater hope. The Great Wood may have been razed by the destructive fire, but as they repeat triumphantly,

“It shall not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Yes, Old Testament concepts of the remnant  (Jeremiah 42:2, Ezra 9:8) resonate here as the rabbits huddle in their warrens awaiting eagerly for the heir of King Jupiter to appear. We can see the imagery of a broken or a cursed world becoming new and healed and mended.

He glanced at Smalls, then said in a strong , defiant voice, “It will not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Then the group, all but Picket and Heather, each struck the air with a fist and called out in an echoing reply, “The Mended Wood!”

p. 132

“Cursed is the ground because of you…”

Genesis 3:17

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Romans 8:21

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

This past Sunday our minister chose the oddest text, three brief seemingly insignificant verses at the close of the epistle to the Philippians. You can listen to the sermon here if you like. He discussed several observations based on the fact that there were Christians in Caesar’s household. At this particular time, this would have meant the infamous Nero. Among the fact that these people had witnessed blatant evil, but saw themselves ultimately, defiantly as citizens in the kingdom of heaven, they all understood they were a proleptic community.

Proleptic. Living into our future reality as if we are already there. It is living in anticipation of the future promised or hoped for.

“Here we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed. Those painters are seeing what is not yet but we hope will be. They are really seeing, but it’s a different kind of sight. They anticipate the Mended Wood. So do all in this community, in our various ways….This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.”

p. 220

This is the inspiring image The Green Ember series provides us. Through Heather and Picket, Mrs. Weaver, Emma, the gentle doctor-in-training, Uncle Wilfred, Smalls and others, we see a group of rabbits wholly living out the vision of the Mended Wood, even in desperate times. S.D. Smith draws on the beauty of Christ’s church, working together, as if they have already fully entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Bear the flame.”

The Theology of Pooh


In 1982 Benjamin Hoff published The Tao of Pooh, followed a decade later by The Te of Piglet. Both books were intended to familiarize Westerners with the Eastern philosophy of Taoism using the lovable “Bear of Very little Brain.” My intentions are nearly the inverse. That is, I hope to explain my delight at reading aloud through The House at Pooh Corner with my six-year-old G, and being charmed by the following passage.

The passage takes place on the heels of  a friendly game of Poohsticks at the bridge, the game in which the players drop  their sticks and race to the other side of the bridge to see whose stick is swept to the other side first. Eeyore, who wins more times than the others, claims you must throw it in a “twitchy sort of way.”The game is surprisingly interrupted by Eeyore floating down the stream on his back, feet all protruding up in the air. Eeyore insists he was bounced into the stream. The others very quickly begin to blame Tigger and attribute the most unflattering motives to him.

“Hush!” said Rabbit, holding up  his paw. “What does Christopher Robin think about it all? That’s the point.”

I think we all ought to play Poosticks.”

So they did. And Eeyore, who had never played it before, won more times that anybody else; and Roo fell in twice, the first time by accident and the second time on purpose, because he suddenly saw Kanga coming from the Forest, and he knew he’d have to go to bed anyhow. So then Rabbit said he’d go with them; and Tigger and Eeyore went off together… Christopher Robin and Pooh and Piglet were left on the bridge by themselves.

For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.

“Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think, said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.


And there was no more discussion or disagreement about whether or not Tigger had, in fact, bounced Eeyore into the stream. They had forgotten their arguments and differences.

I have titled this post “The Theology of Pooh,” but really that is a misnomer, for this really has much more to do with our good friend and spiritual leader, Christopher Robin. It was C.R. who so cleverly and surreptitiously diverted the animals’ attentions away from their disagreements and differences, and instead, encouraged them to play together. In the cheerful prospect of a game of Poohsticks, Rabbit and Eeyore laid down their need to ascertain Tigger’s motives, and simply joined in the fun. Couldn’t we learn from this? Would it be possible, as Christians, not to be troubled any longer by petty actions or motives or differences in others if we played together more often? Served others together? What if we gulped like Piglet might, held Pooh’s someone’s hand, and did something differently? This post should really celebrate the wisdom of C.R. in this instance. “The Theology of Christopher Robin” might be better. Wouldn’t our unity be stronger, our testimony more powerful as a flexible, focused, playful,serving Church? So, really this post should instead be titled “The Ecclesiology of Christopher Robin.”

Is there anyway for us to see that it doesn’t always matter if Eeyore was bounced into the stream intentionally or not, if we help him out of it in the end?

And as Christopher Robin himself would say, “Silly old Bear.”

“…this feeling in being in one’s own place”

Willa Cather’s 1931 novel on Quebec and the last days of Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1697-1698) is not one of my my favorites, but there is this passage that pulls  at me.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb.  A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbour’s houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this?  For this rock and winter, this feeling of being in ones’ own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 2, VII by Willa Cather

Day after day Cecile had walked about those streets trying to capture that lost content and take it home again. She felt almost as if she no longer had a home; often wished she could follow the squirrels into their holes and hide away with them for the winter.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 5, IV by Willa Cather

It is not only Cather at her most eloquent and poignant, but it also bruises my soul with its beauty and love for a home never fully realized. Just as Cather endured homesickness for Virginia as a child when she was uprooted to the vast plains of Nebraska at age nine, so often did her characters feel the tug of nostalgia and the yearning for ties to land. In fact, land and location were primary characters in many of her novels. It did more than provide back drops to stories, but rather shaped the characters, sometimes even overshadowing them.  Antonia Shimerda from My Antonia, though born in Bohemia, was inextricably tied to Nebraska’s wheat and wind. Here, in the above excerpt, little Cecile born in faraway France, pulls the tiny, illegitimate Jacques through the snow on her sled, and knows she belongs to this “rock.” Quebec has claimed her.

There is a longing we all have to belong that will never be fully satisfied. We may feel awkward and foreign no matter where we go. Whether we fear leaving our hometown or whether we have an insatiable wanderlust, it all comes from the same place – a deep yearning for what is truly home. Last year I wrote about this here more at length using other favorite examples from literature.

Cather may not have recognized this as a spiritual quest, but we see her characters’ repeated struggles with belonging and place. One day, we will be there, never more looking around us, never more torn between belonging and being the “other,” never straddling coming and going. We will simply be in our own place. That place which has long been prepared for us. To which our hearts long. Home.

It was promised

“I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”

John 14:2b-4



Storms and mercy

Indiana experienced severe thunderstorms, flash floods and even some tornadoes this past week. While my family has remained safe, and our home unscathed, we have known others in power outages, and have seen videos from neighboring towns with storms knocking down coffee shops and flipping homes. They have experienced the harshness of what nature can bring.


The sky has displayed both the frightening power and the soothing gentleness of its Creator. The LORD is both mighty and tender. He is angry storm clouds, moaning winds. He is a barely detectable sweep of a butterfly’s wing, a placating touch lightly lain on a shoulder. He is all of our talents manifest at the peak of their practice. He is the mercy when we fail in our constant fragility. He is love, and all in between.

This past weekend I went with some girlfriends to watch the Meryl Strep biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, the peculiarly popular opera singing with the infamously off key voice. As she lay in her bed dying tears welling from her eyes, tears of disappointment, she finds a moment of triumph with a somewhat self-deprecating smile. She tells her husband,

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing.

At the end of the day, as I lay my head on my pillow with eyes either welling with tears, or feeling a sense of triumph, I can say equally well,

Some may say I didn’t parent well, but no one can say I didn’t parent.

And the mighty hand of the Creator will bring power and gentleness to rest in their appropriate places. There will be storms of mercy that fall, filling in the spots where I was off key.



Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

Through the pages of an Avonlea farm

A bright, pleasant winter day, twenty years ago this December, I married the guy who brought me coffee every day in the university cafeteria, whether we sat together or not, whether  we were dating one another at the time or not. Every day. He was also the guy to whom I read Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” on a park bench in the small town where we studied, and the one who serenaded me on his guitar. I figured with these solids to his credit, my life would likely be headed in the right direction with him. It hasn’t all been “sunbursts and marble halls,” but I have always known I made the right decision.  And this July we were finally able to take a trip – just the two of us!- to a place I have longed to visit ever since I was eleven or twelve years old, ever since I became acquainted with Anne-with-an-“e” and suffered the Murrays alongside Emily Byrd Starr. Prince Edward Island!IMG_6485

Come, rest awhile, and let us idly stray

In glimmering valleys, cool and far away.

Come from the greedy mart, the troubled street,

And listen to the music, faint and sweet,

That echoes ever to a listening ear,

Unheard by those who will not pause to hear-….

And near at hand, would you but see them, lie

All lovely things beloved in days gone by.

You have forgotten what it is to smile

In your too busy life-come, rest awhile.

~L.M. Montgomery

And so, we took her advice.

With little agenda, other than B&B reservations, we both gloried in the rolling emerald hills, the ivory blooms of the potato fields and the red, rusty cliffs of Montgomery’s native island. In short, we fell in love.


“…the garden and the orchard and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world. Don’t you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this?”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 32

Here is the stately grand home of Alexander McDonald of Cincinnati, built in 1895 where we stayed our first few nights. It is featured as the White Sands Hotel in Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 Anne of Green Gables production starring Megan Follows.


A quick walk across the street led us to pristine white sands and a chilly sea. Devoid of the tourist traps at the eastern edge of PEI National Park, there were a scant number of beach tourists. We felt we enjoyed our own private beach. The seagulls, terns and sand pipers generously made room for us.


Dan and Becky James are second-generation owners of the Kindred Spirits Inn and Cottages where we stayed next.


Just a quick walk through a path in the trees and around the edge of a golf course takes you directly to the House of Green Gables where visitors can tour the home and grounds once belonging to Montgomery’s aunt and uncle, which also inspired the setting for my favorite spirited red-head.

Dan’s father bought the place back in the mid 80s, and it has been well maintained. Quaint and charming, but with convenient amenities, it was a lovely oasis tucked into the trees in otherwise kitschy Cavendish. Dan also gives fabulous sunset tours around the local bay delivering history, bird identification and friendly conversation.

Our last night on the island came too soon. Just south of Cavendish, in the heart of the potato and wheat fields, in glorious green hills which never seem to end, lies New Glasgow, famous for its dairy farms and lobster suppers. My Mother’s Country Inn is also a family acquisition.



The owner’s mother was actually born in in the 1850 farm house and ran the B&B until her daughter and Swedish born husband took responsibility just over twenty years ago. Now, they are looking to retire. This will be their last season operating the gorgeous property, but if you have the opportunity, do not miss the wonderfully bucolic setting. Hopefully, the new owners will maintain it with as much warmth and care.

We have tried to bring back the genuineness of the people and the relaxation we experienced while on Prince Edward Island. I hope to implement the hospitality and openness which inspired me while I was there.

“One clear star hung above the orchard and the fireflies were flirting over in Lovers’ Lane, in and out among the ferns and rustling boughs. Anne watched them as she talked and somehow felt that the wind and stars and fireflies were all tangled up together into something unutterably sweet and enchanting.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 181

Now, I am home, my husband is traveling again for work, and my thoughts are focused on getting a new school curriculum started for my kids. A new co-op meeting is tonight for S and G, and A, my oldest, will be starting his high school career at a private school. New beginnings. New worries – or maybe the same ones, just wrapped up in a different bow. Raising boys to men is hard, isn’t it? And it makes me appreciate all those before me who have done it so well. This is when I fall back on God’s grace and hold on to faith, knowing He  can do it all better than I. And this is where there might be some parenting reassurance hidden in between the pages of the Cuthbert’s Avonlea farm.

“As it was [Matthew] was free to spoil Anne…as much as he liked. But it was not such a bad arrangement after all; a little “appreciation” sometimes does quite as much good as all the conscientious “bringing up” in the world.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 195


So often I worry, and forget about praise and appreciation and understanding and patience. It’s hard when you are in the middle of fuming at 14-year-old negative attitudes. Oh! If I only had to deal with someone dyeing their hair green! Right? In any case, it was a wonderful break, a lightening of the load, and upon our return I discovered something extraordinary. There are many “kindred spirits” right here in my midst. I am not sure why but it surprised me how many friends approached me asking about my trip, wanting to start comparing “Anne” stories. Growing up, I seemed to love her alone. Now, there are many with whom I seem to connect.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 161


Island Hymn

Fair Island of the sea,

We raise our song to thee,

The bright and blest;

Loyally now we stand

As brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love thee best.

Upon our princely Isle

May kindest fortune smile

In coming years;

Peace and prosperity

In all her borders be,

From every evil free,

And weakling fears.

Prince Edward Isle, to thee

Our hearts shall faithful be

Where’er we dwell;

Forever may we stand

As  brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love so well.

~lyrics by L.M. Montgomery


Willow painting

Our summers tend to be slower paced. We don’t schedule in that many events for our kids, preferring them to experience boredom and togetherness, coming up with their own fun. We usually make an overnight trip to Chicago or Cincinnati, and occasionally play tourist about our own city.  I do not deal well with hectic, frenetic days, but feel much happier with fewer items on my agenda.

This year our three boys are spending a week at a local farm camp in the mornings.  They are feeding pigs and chickens, learning some ecology, weeding the vegetable garden, and getting brown in the Indiana sun. Once home, and after lunch, they are outside again (I love this about them!).

Lately, A is either at the neighborhood basketball courts or on his bike. S often rides his longboard down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Since G is not old enough, according to our guidelines, to leave the block unaccompanied, he opts for the backyard. Sometimes he plays with a brother, sometimes alone. Today after watching a bit of the EURO 2016, I kick a soccer ball with him all around our yard.

For not even six years old, that kid is really fast. He looks like someone has set an old VHS tape on fast forward. Honestly, I tire of that pretty easily, so I hide under our willow tree in hopes he will be inspired to join me in a calmer, more imaginative venture. He does.


“Let’s make a fort!” he exclaims. “And I’m going to paint dragons and pictures for the fort’s entryway.”

I slip and refer to it as a studio.  “It’s not an art studio,” G insists, “it’s the painting on the fortress walls.” I stand corrected.

G instructs me to collect the supplies while he lies against the tree, some of the unwieldy branches swishing across his legs. I let him tell me what to do…this time, and bring cardboard, tape, rope and paint on a plastic palette, along with a few brushes. G sits up, and asks me to help him tie the “canvas” to a willow tree branch.


He gets to work.


And this occupies him for twenty or thirty minutes.



Eventually he brings out his pop up tent and a couple of stuffed animals. It’s getting crowded under the willow. I have to crawl in to the tent first; he follows. And, so, one imaginative idea begets another.

It’s a beautiful summer afternoon.


The burdock and the nettle I preferred,

but best of all the silver willow tree.

Its weeping limbs fanned my unrest with dreams…

~Anna Akhmatova

On their Behalf


All written in the mid-twentieth century the following novels, although originally written in varying languages – English, French, and Serbo-Croatian, spanning three continents and even more countries – the United States, France, South Africa and Bosnia, share some important similarities.  The following novels would make terrible summer reading. They are not books with which to relax in the warm sun under the shade of your patio furniture in the backyard, or lightly skim as you dig your toes in the sand on your family vacation.  They are slow-moving, difficult, reflective books requiring readers to digest them slowly.  They are not feel-good reads for a light, breezy day.  Strange that I  find myself reflecting on them at this time of year? Not really.  Once my boys’ history and science, math and grammar are put away for the year, my mind is freer to explore my own thoughts.  And, apparently, this June that means death and priests, philosophy and apartheid.

The following are four novels to compare and contrast. They share some weighty themes and interesting literary emphases.


Death Comes for the Archbishopop  by the American writer Willa Cather was originally published in 1927. It recounts the tale of two Catholic priests in the hills of New Mexico territory in 1851 who battle arid deserts, ancient customs and their own vices and loneliness.


The Diary of a Country Priest was written by Georges Bernanos in 1937.  It is an ambitious novel with a seemingly unambitious plot.  A French priest finds himself caring for very mundane, prosaic parishioners in an ordinary French village.  These parishioners are mean gossipers, fault finders and antagonistic. The priest is confronted with the need to forgive and be forgiven, even as he knows he is dying.


The South African classic Cry, the Beloved Country by the late Alan Paton did not immediately end apartheid when it was published in 1948, but it certainly spurred on the dialog which forged its path. Written primarily from the perspective of an aging Zulu pastor, this novel deals with race-relations, ethnicities, murder, forgiveness, healing and our human dignity before God.


Published in 1966, in what was then known as Yugoslavia, Mesa Selimovic wrote his best known novel, Death and the Dervish.  It is unfortunate that the Bosnian writer is little known in the United States, as this book not only enlightens the reader to the region’s history and psychology, but also deals in relatable, contemporary themes. Throughout its pages a Moslem dervish from the  eighteenth century is in search of his brother who has been arrested by the Turkish authorities.  Enmeshed in their lies, he begins to question his own purpose and his place in society.

Each of these novels is deeply philosophical, spiritual, and fundamentally asks difficult questions about humanity’s purpose and direction. Each of them uniquely deals with social justice.

We shift our ground again when a black man does achieve something remarkable, and then feel deep pity for a man who is condemned to the loneliness of being remarkable, and decide that it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable. Thus even our God becomes a confused and inconsistent creature, giving gifts and denying them employment. Is it strange then that our civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma? The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 155


In each novel someone is intervening in someone else’s behalf. Father for a wayward son, a brother for an estranged brother.  The protagonist is a priest – or in one case a dervish – a spiritual leader who finds himself vulnerable and in need of being led.

Monks suffer for souls, our pain is on behalf of souls. This thought came to me yesterday evening and remained all night long beside my bed, a guardian angel.

from The Diary of a Country Priest, p. 28

Every one of these novels are political in varying degrees.  They do not feature characters inspiring coups, but quietly, desperately searching for a better, more peaceable life, free from foreign rule. 

In each novel there is a struggle with authority. There is a tension between races. There is a grave injustice and there is suffering. Death is a prominent theme in each novel, as well as forgiveness.

I’ve done something bad to him…I needed his friendship, like air, but I was ready to lose it because I couldn’t hide that lie from him. I wanted him to forgive me, but he did even more: he gave me still greater love…Most beautiful is that his love doesn’t even need to be earned. If I’d had to earn it I’d never have received it, or I’d have lost it long ago.

from Death and the Dervish, pp. 271-272

My death is here. A death like any other, and I shall enter into it with the feelings of a very commonplace, very ordinary man. It is even certain that I shall be no better at dying than I am at controlling my life. I shall be just as clumsy and awkward…Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don’t know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take…Yet I would have wished to be, once, just once, magnificently generous to You!

from The Diary of a Country Priest, pp. 279-280

Far away from large cities, these stories are rural, primarily set in villages, far removed from fast-paced, sophisticated worlds.  And so the pace of the novels are slow, sometimes plodding, thoughtful to the point that the plots are frequently moved along by the dialog.

These are novels inextricably tied to land or place, filled with beautiful imagery and lush language.

It was the Indian manner to vanish into the landscape, not to stand out against it. The Hopi villages that were set upon rock mesas were made to look like the rock on which they sat, were imperceptible at a distance.

from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 233

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.  These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing to it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke…About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 3


The geography and time period are characters themselves as significant and pivotal as any others in the novel. They are bound to the soil on which they tread, to the people and languages with which they speak. Bosnia, the American Southwest, bucolic France, and South Africa are more than mere backdrops. They imbue meaning and urgency to these stories. Although each novel is set in a different time period, there is an amazing timelessness in their themes.

These are all spiritual struggles. The Bible and the Koran are liberally referenced and quoted.

A beautiful word is like a tree, its roots are deep in the ground, its branches rise up to the sky.

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 310 quoting The Koran, Sura xiv, 24

On the day of  my death, when they carry my coffin,

do not think that I will feel pain for this world.

Do not cry and say: it is a great loss!

When milk sours, the loss is greater.

I shall not vanish when you see them lay me in the grave.

Do the sun and moon vanish when they set?

This seems like a death to you, but it is a birth…..

What grain does not sprout when it is put into the ground?

So why do you not believe in the grain of men?

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 12, quoted inexactly from several passages in The Koran

-I have ever thought that a Christian would be free from suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered.  And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is not life without suffering.

Kumalo looked at his friend with joy. You are a preacher, he said.

His friend held out his rough calloused hands. Do I look like a preacher? he asked.

Kumalo laughed. I look at your heart, not your hands, he said. Thank you for your help, my friend.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 227


Our protagonists seek and find their answers not simply in their own experiences, nor in the advice of their compatriots, but through the lens of spiritual truth and vision.

One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.

~from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 50