We need poems.

There are a few pleasures left in book publishing. One is also a privilege: to occasionally be allowed to bring out books that the marketing people aren’t quite sure they’ll be able to sell well. Then, a publisher feels that he or she is able to fulfill the prophetic aspect of our work that drew us to it in the first place. Perhaps I may help to change a few minds and hearts. . . .

The poets in The Paraclete Poetry Anthology were all published with this tenacious hope, since everyone in the business knows that poetry is a hard sell. At any given time, you could quite literally count on one hand the number of poets whose work makes a solid profit for their publishers. The rest is what we call mission. That’s the first delight I have in seeing what Mark Burrows has so beautifully curated in this collection.

The second delight is the sure knowledge that I and my colleagues at Paraclete Poetry have long known: people, whether religious or not, need poems. Poems help us to quell doubts as well as raise questions. Poems help us explore our emotions and spark our imaginations. And they slow us down. To read a poem well is to go slowly, and every good poem resists what’s easy.

A third delight in this volume is a personal one. Indulge me for a moment please. This delight is what I enjoy most about poems: the way in which we (and, in this case, I) “discover” them, still. In each case, I remember where I first found the poets in this volume, and the feeling of delight I experienced when I did.

I found Br. Paul Quenon on the shelf of a monastery gift shop in Georgia in a thin volume from a small press. I soon realized it was ironic to find him on a shelf, because to know his poetry is to know that he’s rarely indoors, let alone settled in the way one assumes of a Trappist. I found Bonnie Thurston years earlier in The Christian Century. I met her first, there, as a poet, only later to know her as one of the smartest people I’ll ever meet. With Scott Cairns, the pleasure of the discovery was in the hearing, at a reading he gave twenty years ago. I know dozens of people who have come to know Cairns that way, and stayed to read more. Paul Mariani and Thomas Lynch, too, I found at readings, and then became one of their groupies. They all make poems for the page that take on a different life when spoken.

Phyllis Tickle, my old friend, I’d never read as a poet until I scoured her out-of-print work while compiling Phyllis Tickle: The Essential Writings. A longtime member of the Paraclete editorial board, she usually remarked that her career in verse was over. I laughed and cried when reading poems she’d written about her children and rural life, and quite literally forgotten, some fifty years earlier. Scholar-professor poets Greg Miller and William Woolfitt were passed to me by scholarly friends with notes such as, You need to read this. He’s good! Many important books have come to me in that way. Rainer Maria Rilke I found, like so many have, in college, but I never understood him until Mark Burrows translated and opened the work up for me. SAID, whose work also appears here in translation, was sent to me by Mark, with a note that read, “He’s one of Germany’s most respected poets today. Shades of Rumi, but much more.” I was soon hooked. Then there is the glorious Polish poet Anna Kamieńska, who barely escaped the Nazis. I first encountered a poem of hers in a collection compiled by Czesław Milosz, appropriately titled, A Book of Luminous Things, a few years before Paraclete began publishing poetry.

Fr. John-Julian was a friend and colleague before I ever knew he was a poet. He was in his eighties when we published his book of poems, and yet we felt we’d discovered a clergy-poet in the tradition of Donne and Hopkins. Rami Shapiro, too, I’d known for years, professionally, and for his other work in prose, before realizing that he was also a poet of great importance. In Rami’s case, I realized this in shul, sitting beside my wife, since many of Rami’s poems began as prayers and appear in many Jewish prayer books (siddurim). He sings like a psalmist.

They are gems, all. May this book change more than a few minds and hearts.

Jon M. Sweeney
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at Paraclete Press

(Excerpted from The Paraclete Poetry Anthology: Selected and New Poems by Mark S. Burrows.)

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“A Sense of Presence”: Poetry and the Education of the Soul

From the Introduction to The Paraclete Poetry Anthology by Mark S. Burrows

Where do we find what’s lasting? Where do the deathless
things hide? . . . Maybe we’re not altogether alone in
our empty room, in our workshop: if so many writers
love solitude it may be because they’re not really all that
lonely. There really is a higher voice that sometimes—
too rarely—speaks. We catch it only in the moments of
our greatest concentration. This voice may only speak
once, it may make itself heard only after long years of
waiting; still, it changes everything.1

We are made for poems. As children, we come to them naturally, delighting in how words play on our tongues, whether in nursery rhymes and lullabies or the songs we make up in the delicious hours of daydreaming. In their early presence in our lives, poems are companions to us in the ways they lure us into the dance of speech. They are for us tools of discovery and expression, inviting us to delight in the newness of language, initially for their sounds but just as surely for their manifold senses—and the playful hesitations that come between.2 We are made for words and seem destined for poems, giving ourselves over to their allure long before we can read. With them, we learn to new-name the world: in our first speech, we discover our world with words—some real, many imagined—that help us negotiate our lives from day to day. Indeed, words seem to discover us in childhood, finding out what they are capable of through the unexpected ways we play with them. A word on children’s lips can be an epiphany—for themselves, for those around them, perhaps even for language itself. This is one of the ways poems live.

Sadly, we seem to drift apart from such enjoyments as we grow older. Poems can come to seem a luxury at best and an irrelevance at worst, driven as we are by the duties of work and ensnared in what Wordsworth more than two centuries ago memorably described as “the world” that is

. . . too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

The problem is clearly not a new one. It is part and parcel of a form of life Wordsworth sensed, even if he could not have imagined how it might develop over the centuries of industrialization and the recent emergence of the “information age.” Yet he already knew the feeling we also experience in having “given our heart away, a sordid boon!”

A hundred years later, long before anyone could imagine the velocities of jet travel or the Internet’s conveyance of information at the speed of light, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke gave us a way of naming our plight:

My life is not this steep hour
in which you see me hurrying so. . .3

Speed has come to measure the outward shape of our experience, but Rilke knew that it had little to do with our inner core where we come to know ourselves as “the stillness between two sounds,” as he went on to put it. Even if the relentless tempo of our lives seems far removed from the temperament of our heart, our yearning for this sense of stillness suggests what philosophers and theologians have long named the soul.

As we grow older, the presence of young children reminds us of the purpose poetry might still hold for us. This happens in the quiet hours spent reading with them, or in those precious moments when we witness a child’s gleeful discovery of words. In the ways they seem instinctively attuned to the delight that words in their instrumentality play in our lives, children help us feel again the marvel of how words bring us what the poet Jane Hirshfield describes as “a doubled awareness,”4 expanding our sense of reality beyond the literal sense. Fr. John-Julian suggests this when he suggests how vision moves in two directions and with two intensities at once:

Eyes have I that see
behind the eye,
within the tree
above the sky . . .5

This ability to see “behind the eye,” to be carried by metaphor from the outer to the inner and back again, to imagine something as delightfully impossible as seeing “within the tree above the sky”: all this is what makes poems essential for the vibrancy and sanctity of life.

Notes for the Introduction

  1. Adam Zagajewski, “The Shabby and the Sublime,” in A Defense of Ardor, trans. Clare Cavanagh (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 37, 44
  2. Paul Valéry speaks of poetry as “the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense,” a claim that plays on the close sounds in the French—i.e., “le son” (the sound) and “le sens” (the sense).
  3. Rilke, 168. This and other citations, unless otherwise noted, refer to this volume.
  4. Jane Hirshfield, “Strange Reaches, Impossibility, and Big Hidden Drawers,” in Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 287.In the last of Rilke’s late Sonnets to Orpheus, he invites us to “go forth in this change, leaving and coming.” See below, 179.
  5. Hilde Domin, “Lyrik,” in Sämtliche Gedichte, 113 (my translation).
  6. Thurston, “The Sixth Day,” 84.
  7. Cairns, “Sacred Time,” p. 2. Charles Taylor speaks of this as a “sense of fullness”; see A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 5.
  8. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951), 112.
  9. Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes,” in Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays (New York: Library of America, 1995), 777.
  10. On this theme and its relation to the arts, see George Steiner, RealPresences
  11. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 226ff.
  12. The phrase echoes the ancient Hebrew text Jesus invoked in the wilderness (see Matt. 4:1–4, and Deut. 8:3). Hilde Domin, “Die Heiligen,” in Nur eine Rose als Stütze. Gedichte (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 1994), 30 (my translation).
  13. Kamieńska, “On The Threshold of the Poem,” xxix.
  14. Jane Hirshfield, Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry
  15. (Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 2008), 45, 49–50.
  16. Rilke, 180
  17. Zagajewski, 44.
  18. Rilke, 179.


“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. —J.K. Rowling

One day while shopping at our favorite international farmers market, Eliot grabbed my hand and led me to the chocolate and candy aisle where a woman wearing a hijab stood, expecting me.

“She wants to give you one!” shouted Eliot as he pointed to her purple head covering.

Because he’d told her how beautiful she was, she offered a most beautiful gift to his mother, whom she’d just met. She told me to come back for my very own hijab the next week. On a Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the market for fresh salmon and asparagus and there she was–stocking the shelves with chocolates.

We did not know each other’s names, only faces. I apologized for not coming sooner, and she led me to the back of the store. She had been keeping two hijabs in her locker waiting for me.

“We cannot tell the managers. We cannot give gifts to customers, you see?” she said with a twinkle in her eye and a smile. She told me discreetly to wait by the assorted rice, and came back a moment later with a small gray plastic bag.

“You choose. Purple or blue with this bracelet.”

I looked up at her shining face and said I’d love the blue one. We embraced, and she sent love to my little one who first introduced us through his aesthetic eye–his gift for finding beauty in the smallest and unexpected ways.

Before I drove home, I took it out of the bag and put it over my pulled-up hair and bangle earrings. I put it on and wondered what discrimination a hijab-wearing woman might endure in our culture.

I looked at the cars next to me at the stoplight and wondered what they thought, if anything. And I looked at myself in the mirror and saw how different my face was with this beautiful veil of blue around my neck and hair.

But more than that, I wondered at the God-given kindness of this elderly woman to gift me a hijab and send me off as her new friend, some sort of invisible goodness tethering us to each other and to the Kingdom of God through the beauty-loving eye of my four-year-old son.

We wonder so much about God, about humanity, about whether our everyday experiences mean something. What matters and what is dust in the wind? Do our little moments of joy or pleasure, our pings of grief and stress, mean anything on the Kingdom level?

Absolutely. Our moments matter because our humanity matters, and if we can’t find it in the chocolate aisle or by the assorted rice in the middle of our local marketplace, we will have a hard time finding it anywhere.

Excerpted from Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin B. Curtice

5 things you might not know about St. Patrick!

Learn about the rugged, fiery, faith-filled man behind the myth — the saint who was captured as a child, was converted in the lonely wilderness, and returned to spread the love of Christ in the land of his captivity.


1. “A boundary against night”
Legend has it that after St. Patrick’s death on March 17 in AD 493, there was no night for twelve days, and people said that for a whole year the nights were less dark than usual.


2. Patrick used his “weakness” as his strength
Inevitably, a man of Patrick’s force of character and achievements would have aroused some feelings of jealousy and voices of detraction….One charge that was brought against Patrick was his lack of literary education. On this count Patrick disarms the criticism by a full admission of his rusticatas, his lack of culture, and acknowledges that as he grows old he feels his deficiency more and more…..His narrative is designed to show that it was entirely God’s doing, who singled him out, untrained and unskilled though he was. He explained that there were not worldly inducements to support the divine command, that he obeyed simply without any ulterior motive, and in opposition to the wish of his family.


3. Patrick’s wish for the Irish (and you and me):
Patrick wished the Irish to have two phrases ever on their lips, Kyrie Eleison and Deo Gratias; Lord have mercy, and Thanks be to God. It was between these two prayers that Patrick lived out his full and saintly life. It is where we, too, will find fullness of life— trusting in the forgiveness of the One who loves us, and eternally grateful for everything.

4. Did you know there is a mountain named after Patrick?
Patrick spent six years of his young life near the forest of Fochlad, and the small mountain called Crochan Aigli, or “Eagle Mountain.” The latter has since been renamed Croagh Patrick; at 2,510 feet tall, it sits close to the town of Westport in County Mayo and is visited by tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, particularly on the last Sunday of July, when many of them climb the mountain barefoot. It is said that Patrick fasted for forty days on the mountain at some point during his lifetime, and from its summit drove the snakes out of Ireland.


5. Patrick’s prayer life:
In his own words: “After I came to Ireland, I was daily tending sheep, and I prayed frequently during the day, and the love of God, and His faith and fear, increased in me more and more, and the spirit was stirred. In one single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same.”
“But this I know for certain: Before I was humbled, I was like a stone lying in deep mud, until He who is powerful came and in His mercy raised me up, and cared for me and placed me in His Protection.”

(This text is taken from Ireland’s Saint: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick by J. B. Bury, edited with Introduction and Annotations by Jon M. Sweeney)


Read away the winter doldrums with Paraclete Fiction

Lights on the Mountain
by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Chapter 1

Hazel Valley
Prospect, Pennsylvania
May 1, 1952
5:53 am

When Jess Hazel left the warmth of the house that morning of the Light and trudged down the hill to the barn, he did it with unusual reluctance. He was in a dark mood, tired to the bone after another long night of poor sleep. The conversation between his parents, low and tense and punctuated by his mother’s sobs, had gone so late it was early by the time it ended. How early, he did not know. If he had risen to check the time, Clyde and Millie would have known he was lying awake in the room above theirs, every nerve stretched tight. What he did know was that by 5:30, when he’d left his bed unrested, all sound had ceased. And he knew that down in the kitchen, the percolator, which should have been working at a pot of coffee strong enough to get him through chores, was as cold and silent as the house. Seeing it, he had crept back upstairs to finish dressing in the dark, cursing the bed across from his own. Cursing the absence of his only brother in it.

The Fourth of July would mark a year since Walter had up and joined the Marines, got himself shipped off to Parris Island for basic training and from there to Korea, to help solve that peck of trouble. Jess missed him with the pain of a phantom limb. Two years and three months between them, but he and Walter were as close as twins. So close, they were, in fact, that Jess sometimes pondered, as he was inclined to do all life’s hidden things, the strength of their bond. A pure gift, he would most often decide, after considering awhile. What else could it be, when they were as different as dawn from dusk and hardly looked like kin?

He and Walter resembled one another so little, in fact, that at the drunken send-off shindig Walter’s friends had thrown—a bonfire gathering of folks who (if you didn’t count Mike and Sully Latona) were all strangers to Jess—not one person had taken them for brothers. Likeable, easygoing Walter had the dark Cherokee eyes and the small, light frame of their mother’s folks. Jess was six feet and seven inches, taller than any man in the valley, even their father. And as if the curse of absurd height had not already marked him as the peculiar son, nature had also given Jess a wiry bramble of hair, black as a crow’s wing, and sunken eyes of the palest gray. “Hungry,” a canny old woman selling lemonade at the county fair had once said of his eyes, “like a young Lincoln,” after which he had started casting them mostly downward.

He made his way around the barn to the milking shed behind, mud sucking at his boots. Storms in the south had brought to the valley warm winds and an early thaw. He thought of climbing up to the loft and knocking back in the hay as Walter used to do, he was that weary. But it would never work and he knew it. When Walter had slept in the loft, Jess had always been tending to the herd. Left to wait, the cows would complain in voices loud enough to bring an irritated Clyde. Also, it was Thursday. Pat Badger would be pulling down the lane soon, wanting milk for the weekend. Not the sort of man you asked to stand by and watch you dig sleep out of your eyes.

Sage. That was how Jess’s mother, Millie, described Pat. A single word, spoken as though she held an egg on her tongue, was somehow always closer to the point than Jess could get working with full sentences. Pat did take a keener, wider, more generous view of the world than most anyone else Jess knew. In fact, on another morning when Jess wasn’t so cross, he might have sought counsel, asked the sage old farrier to see what he couldn’t, which was how a fellow was supposed to live with any pleasure now that Walter wasn’t going to come sliding into the milking shed of an evening, late as the dickens and cheerfully unrepentant. No working wisdom out of Pat today, though. Jess had no patience for it. The man had to be tapped like a great old tree, and the sap ran very slow.

The horses had heard him coming down the hill. Big Jake thumped on the stall door with his hoof and Maggie called out, shrill and insistent, demanding Jess stop by the tack room and dip his hand into the potbellied jar on the shelf. He ignored the pair. They knew full well Millie’s ginger snaps were only given out in exchange for work. Some days they begged for them anyway. He ducked to miss the doorframe as he entered the milking shed and slipped quietly inside. The bawling of the cows only made him more eager for the peace the work of milking would bring. He set down the sanitizing buckets and began filling the troughs with fodder. When all was in readiness, he opened the lower door, letting in the noisy, complaining herd. The boss cow entered first. He greeted her as he always did, with a gentle slap on the rump. As she passed, he gazed over the bony crests of her hips to the valley stretched long and slender below the barn. Where the thin light caught the dew, the grass sparkled and glinted, as if the pasture had a sugar glaze.

So often at this hour, when the sun still hid behind the wall of Kerry Mountain, when the valley lay wrapped in the pale gray shadows of earliest dawn, Jess felt the thrill of a watcher, stealing in to witness a hidden, mystic rite. It pleased him to think that however old and practiced the ritual was now, it hadn’t always been. A gawky young first night had once had to learn this graceful way of making an exit, of taking proper leave of the world, smoothly handing it off to the day.

It was just as this rite was ending that the light appeared.

Read More (just $1.99 on Amazon.)

Also! This week for just $1.99 on Amazon!

Unveiling: A Novel by Suzanne M. Wolfe

Rachel Piers, a brilliant young conservatrice at a Manhattan art gallery, is given the dream assignment of restoring a mysterious medieval painting in a church in Rome. She seizes the opportunity to advance her career in one of the most inspiring and romantic cities in the world, leaves behind a bitter divorce and painful childhood incident. As Rachel meticulously restores the damaged artwork, she uncovers layers of her soul that she would rather be kept hidden. Written in descriptively sumptuous prose, Unveiling brings the ancient city of Rome vividly to life and reveals a courageous woman coming to terms with a tragic past.

Can You See Anything Now? by Katherine James

A debut Novel that follows a year in the small town of Trinity where the tragedy and humility of a few reveal the reality of people’s motivations and desires.

This is a story without veneer, and for readers who prefer reality to sanitized fiction—this book is unsentimental, and yet grace-filled.


Ash Wednesday – A Lenten Journey

“We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ.” —Thomas Merton

“What are you giving up for Lent?” This long-established custom of giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages, alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.

Thomas Merton’s view, that we must undergo a series of large and small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship, daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And Merton says the process is endless. It’s not about getting there, it’s about being on the way.

Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God we’re doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves in God’s hands. That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself completely in God’s hands.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (My first thought: don’t try this at home.) By exposing himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil. But he isn’t just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself in the Father’s hands.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a ministry, a life’s work. He is preparing himself for a larger call. When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar, surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.

But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus doesn’t notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.

The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only just to observe at first. “Watch how I do this,” he seems to be saying. “Notice these steps, this maneuver.” Practice, he is telling us. Practice, and you’ll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.

One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify ourselves with God’s word. When the Devil tries to goad him into turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Devil wants him to break his fast. More important, he wants to weaken Jesus’ allegiance.

What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?

We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of holiness.

We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We know we will be filled.

We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified. Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.

We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along. Intentionally. By small surrenders.

Merton says we “may have the generosity to undergo one or two such upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater rendings of our inner self. . . .”

Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally become free. Learn More.

Fed By Angels – Excerpt from “God For Us”

Fed By Angels
By Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
Excerpt from God For Us

Celebration is a paradoxical thing. It lives within the tension between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and consummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play.

Seasons of play are sweeter when they follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude.

Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work.

In liturgical terms, we fast before we feast.

In our time, we struggle with such paradoxes. Many of our feasts fall flat because there has not been a previous fast. In times past, there was generally a long fast leading up to a feast, and then a joyous celebration afterward.

Today, we have reversed that: there is a long celebration leading up to the feast and a fast afterward.

Take Christmas, for example. The season of Advent, in effect, kicks off the Christmas celebrations. The parties start, the decorations and lights go up, and the Christmas music begins to play. When Christmas finally arrives, we are already saturated and satiated with the delights of the season—we’re ready to move on. By Christmas Day, we are ready to go back to ordinary life. The Christmas season used to last until February. Now, realistically, it is over on December 25.

Celebration survives on contradiction. To feast, we must first fast. To come to real consummation, we must first live in longing. To taste specialness, we must first have a sense of what is ordinary.

When fasting, unfulfilled longing, and the ordinary rhythm of life are short-circuited, fatigue of the spirit, boredom, and disappointment invariably replace celebration and we are left with an empty feeling which asks: “Is that all?” But that is because we have short-circuited a process.

I am old enough to have known another time. Like our own, that time too had its faults, but it also had some strengths. One of its strengths was its belief—a lived belief—that feasting depends upon prior fasting.

I have clear memories of the Lenten seasons of my childhood. How strict that season was then! Fast and renunciation: no weddings, no dances, no parties, drinks and desserts only on Sundays, and generally less of everything that constitutes specialness and celebration. Churches were draped in purple. The colors were dark and the mood was penitential, but the feast that followed, Easter, was indeed special.

Lent. We know it is a season within which we are meant to fast, to intensify our longing, and to raise our spiritual temperatures, all through the crucible of non-fulfillment.

But how do we understand Lent?

Sometimes the etymology of a word can be helpful. Lent is derived from an old English word meaning springtime. In Latin, lente means slowly. Therefore, Lent points to the coming of spring, and it invites us to slow down our lives so as to be able to take stock of ourselves. While that captures some of the traditional meaning of Lent, the popular mindset generally has a different focus, looking at Lent mostly as a season within which we are asked to refrain from certain normal, healthy pleasures so as to better ready ourselves for the feast of Easter.

To further our understanding, perhaps the foremost image for this is the biblical idea of the desert. Jesus, we are told, in order to prepare for his public ministry, went voluntarily into the desert for forty days and forty nights, during which time he took no food, and, as the Gospel of Mark tells us, was put to the test by Satan, was with the wild animals, and was looked after by the angels.

Clearly this text is not to be taken literally to mean that for forty days Jesus took no food, but that he deprived himself of all the normal supports that protected him from feeling, full-force, his vulnerability, dependence, and need to surrender in deeper trust to God the Father. And in doing this, we are told, he found himself hungry and consequently vulnerable to temptations from the devil; but also, by that same token, he was more open to the Father.

Lent has for the most part been understood as a time of us to imitate this, to metaphorically spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, unprotected by normal nourishment so as to have to face “Satan” and the “wild animals” and see whether the “angels” will indeed come and look after us when we reach that point where we can no longer look after ourselves.

For us, Satan and wild animals refer particularly to the chaos inside of us that normally we either deny or simply refuse to face: our paranoia, our anger, our jealousies, our distance from others, our fantasies, our grandiosity, our addictions, our unresolved hurts, our sexual complexity, our incapacity to really pray, our faith doubts, and our dark secrets.

The normal “food” that we eat (distractions, busyness, entertainment, ordinary life) works to shield us from the deeper chaos that lurks beneath the surface of our lives.

Lent invites us to stop eating, so to speak, whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and to open ourselves to the chaos of the desert so that we can finally give the angels a chance to feed us.

That is a rich biblical image for Lent, but human experience, anthropology, and our ancient myths offer their own testimony. For example, in every culture, there are ancient stories and myths that teach that all of us, at times, have to sit in the ashes. We all know, for example, the story of Cinderella. The name itself literally means, the little girl (puella) who sits in the ashes (cinders). The moral of the story is clear: before you get to be beautiful, before you get to marry the prince or princess, before you get to go to the great feast, you must first spend some lonely time in the ashes, humbled, smudged, tending to duty, unglamorous, waiting.

Lent is that season, a time to sit in the ashes. It is not incidental that many of us begin Lent by marking our foreheads with ashes.

There is also the rich image, found in some ancient mythologies, of letting our tears reconnect us with the flow of the water of life and of letting our tears reconnect us to the origins of life. Tears, as we know, are saltwater. That is not without deep significance. The oceans too are saltwater and, as we know too, all life takes its origins there.

And so we have the mystical and poetic idea that tears reconnect us to the origins of life, that tears regenerate us, that tears cleanse us in a life-giving way, and that tears deepen the soul by letting it literally taste the origins of life.

Given the truth of that (and we have all experienced that truth), tears too are a desert to be entered into as a Lenten practice, a vehicle to reach new depths of soul.

Lent. It is a season to slowly prepare our souls. It is a time to open ourselves to the presence of God in our lives and let the angels feed us. It is a time to sit among the ashes, confident that love will abound in due time. It is a time to be washed by our tears into the water of new life, to come to real transformation and newness ready to celebrate the feast that is given us at Easter. Read More.

Celebrating the one year anniversary of Billy Graham’s death

Just in time for the first anniversary of Billy Graham’s death, Allison’s reflection on the life and work of America’s pastor is now available in paperback.

This week’s blog feature the new preface by the author, new to this edition.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Between the time my biography of Billy Graham first appeared in April of 2018 and now, as we are preparing to release the paperback version, I’ve been more than a little surprised at how many people have Billy Graham stories on the tip of their tongues. Many, many people have shared their stories with me. In almost every case, a story includes the storyteller’s surprise that they felt as if Billy were a brother or a friend to them. The common denominator in the stories seems to be his kindness, his graciousness, his easy familiarity. Mr. Graham, or Bill as he preferred being called, made friends everywhere. This aspect of his personality comes through in my book, I hope, but I choose to emphasize it in this preface because it’s an uncommon trait in CEOs of large nonprofits and corporations.

Billy was the founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association throughout eight decades of active ministry. Such leaders are usually noted for their vision and focus on the goals of the organizations they lead. They are usually no-nonsense, organization-first people. They have appropriate interpersonal intelligence, as well. But they aren’t generally friendly in the sense of seeming to genuinely care for the people they meet or who work for them. My read on Mr. Graham through the testimony of many, and my own story of knowing and working with him, was that he was an exception to the stereotype. People were not afraid to work for him and alongside him; they did not fear his criticism. Rather, they worked for him because he honestly seemed to care about their well-being. This created a loyalty, not only in his organization, but with hundreds of other Christian groups with whom he partnered. It is appropriate to suggest Billy led not only his own ministry but the rise of Evangelicalism for decades because of his affection as well as his vision.

A caring leader creates a contagion of caring and loyalty. I found the same level of friendliness and genuine care in his closest friends and co-laborers. Cliff Barrows, Sterling Huston, David Bruce, Tom Phillips, and a host of others within the Billy Graham organization displayed such care for me when I was first brought into the Association orbit in late 1998. Those friendships still exist, except where my old colleagues and friends have passed on to glory. I watched them do the same with scores and hundreds of other people. Like leader, like team. It was a rare and beautiful part of Billy Graham, and he passed it on to others.

When I was stepping aside from leading the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in late 2013, I received a call that said Mr. Graham wanted to see me. He was ninety-four at the time and living a somewhat reclusive life in his home in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His health was deteriorating and his faculties were declining. I flew in from Chicago, and under the guidance of David Bruce, Billy’s executive staff leader, I went to visit Billy one last time. I wasn’t sure he’d remember or recognize me since my fifteen years of work was done outside of his headquarters a thousand miles away. When I sat down in a chair next to him in his wheelchair he said something to the effect of, “Lon, I wanted to see you one more time and say thank you for your leadership at the Graham Center.” I remember responding, “Mr. Graham, I’m sorry I didn’t do more, I’m sorry. . . .” He cut me off mid-sentence. Then, with eyes looking directly into mine no more than three feet away, he said, “No, I have followed your ministry and know what you’ve done and I thank you.” I’ll take that encouragement with me to heaven.

Mr. Graham would not wish me to end this thought about his genuine affection and appreciation of people without saying that anything he was that was beautiful and memorable was because of Jesus Christ, his Lord. Jesus is a friend of sinners, quick to forgive and abounding in love for all. Billy mirrored that a bit because God’s Spirit dwelt within him. He would also say that Jesus is ready at every moment to receive all who call on him to become their friend, forgiver, and Lord forever. If you’ve not done that, my prayer is that this book will convince you to do so.

I conclude this preface by thanking several people who were instrumental in helping with this book. David Bruce and Tom Phillips from the Graham organization were multidecade eye witnesses of the work and life of Billy Graham. They were gracious to support this effort and give me guidance and stories. I also want to thank my writing group, the Mead Men, who listened, suggested, and corrected the manuscript. Wheaton Bible Church graciously gave me the time to do the work. Finally, my deep thanks to the Publisher of Paraclete Press, Jon Sweeney, who became a devoted and tireless editor and helper of the project. In the final month of research and writing I was diagnosed with liver cancer. Jon’s prayers and encouraging words, and the graciousness and hard work of his staff will never be forgotten.

—LON ALLISON, West Chicago, Illinois

The Miracle of Awakening

This blog is excerpted from the Introduction to Sarah Arthur’s Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. 

We arrive at Lent, those forty days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. It’s that time when the church—and the soul—faces the tomb, aware of its own mortality, seeking the promise of light on the other side. It’s a journey we make alone, yet not alone, surrounded as we are by those who have caught a glimpse of sunrise. And we need them.

Whoever has lain awake during moonless hours between midnight and dawn knows this: the darkness is final. It owns the earth utterly. It takes hold in the tick of the clock and the stillness of the woods and the shallow breath of your own mute body. Anyone taking notes during those hours would be convinced there is nothing more: no further turning of the earth, no future flourishing of existence under a warm star, no life recalled from the tomb. It is the last and definitive night.

But then, by some magic that cannot be quantified, it is not. The earth stirs, inhales, stretches. A bird pipes in a forsythia, as if talking in its sleep, startled awake by its own daring. Light, where there was no light, makes visible: first the outline of a window, then the edge of the bed, your own hand, a book open on the covers.

There’s no saying precisely when the turn happens. But it does. Every morning. From the beginning of the world.

It’s the same miracle of awakening that happens when winter changes to spring. The earth, frozen in a silence that will not break, the days brief and brutal, our own cold selves making their grim way through the dark . . . and then . . . and then . . . something shifts. Light in the east, earlier than we remembered; a lift in the air, like a warm updraft; a patch of mud that grows and grows as the snow recedes.

It’s the same turning as when the church, emptied of vestments and cold as a crypt, lights one candle. When the community finds itself, against all odds, redeemed. Lenten sorrow makes way for Easter joy, and nothing—nothing—will quench the dawn.

And it’s the same shift that happens when the soul, alone in grief or guilt or illness or isolation, finds company in the life-giving words of another. During the midnight hours we shelter our guttering faith, and by its light we read poetry and prose that transcend centuries, hemispheres. Words from poets whose battles with God do not lead to victory but to a kind of grumpy determination. Stories from novelists who have tumbled into the abyss of their own undoing— of everyone’s undoing—and found Someone there already, holding the bottom rung of the rescue ladder. Raise your eyes, these voices say. Look to the east. Do you not see it? There. The dawn. 

In this collection you will find such voices. And their words are not always easy. Lent is, after all, the season of repentance, of soul-searching, of Christ’s lonely journey to the Cross. We start in darkness together, naming its various shades, uncertain, even, that morning will come. And the night deepens, if possible, during Holy Week, when the crowds that once celebrated hope’s arrival now spurn it with venom, taking all of humanity down in the process. The stone is rolled across the cold tomb; and there we are, buried with Jesus, left with nothing but a body wound in a white sheet, destined for dust.

But take heart, these voices say. There is a power here in the bowels of the earth, a “deeper magic,” as C. S. Lewis called it.1 Death is not given the final word. In the night of the tomb, our Lord sits up, shakes off the sheet, swings his feet down onto the cold stone floor. He steps out from the crypt into the cool of a damp garden, inhales, smiles. Christ doesn’t need to turn east to greet the sunrise: he is himself the Dawn by whose “light we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The sun will not set again. That was our last night. Ever.

So, at last, we enter the season of Eastertide, which runs from Easter Monday to Pentecost. We step into the morning of a new day. These poets and novelists remind us that the sunrise is undeserved, but here we are. Our battles are ongoing but just skirmishes, really, the last desperate attempts of the losing side to go down fighting. The war itself is over. When it’s our time to physically enter the tomb of our own mortality, we know that if we have been buried with Christ, we will rise with Christ. We’ll ride on his coattails, so to speak. And what we’ll see then won’t be simply light at the end of a tunnel, but light at the end of all things, the final and permanent morning.

So let it begin. Read More

Happy marriages don’t just happen.

It’s National Marriage Week! And we are celebrating with a $1.99 Kindle special (available here!) of Jerry and Claudia Root’s and Jeremy Rios’ book, Naked and Unashamed: a guide to the necessary work of Christian marriage. Enjoy the authors’ preface to their practical and inspiring guide.

Preface: The Purpose of this Book

This book exists because, despite the abundance of magazines, articles, and self-help volumes available, people continue to struggle with marriage.

On the one hand, the cottage industry of wedding planners, consultants, Pinterest pages, and independent bloggers has shaped young hearts to dream and plan for the biggest day of their lives. The day is everything, and they will plan each element with precision, from flowers to cake decorations to party favors. Acting on this crafted desire, couples will spend an enormous amount of time and money preparing for the wedding. Ironically, they will spend little to no time or money in preparation for their marriage itself. The investment into the perfect day is all out of proportion with the investment into life together after the day. At times it even seems as if people are more interested in getting married than they are in staying married. This book exists to help couples prepare for the rest of their life together.

On the other hand, it seems that too few couples comprehend the degree of work required to make a marriage successful. Divorce rates are clear evidence of this, but so also are the many married people who are in dire need of counseling and care, who persist in loneliness and difficulty, feeling ill-equipped to navigate the unforeseen difficulties of marriage. Many people hope one day to get married; few people seem to know what it really means to be married. The truth of the matter is that happy marriages rarely just happen. In fact, the majority of the time they will require at least as much energy and preparation as is directed toward the grand celebration on the wedding day. This book exists to coach couples through strategies that will assist them to succeed.

On the wedding day, a bride and groom will make a promise before God and the witness of their friends and family—a promise to have and hold one another, in sickness and health, in wealth or poverty, until death. Sometimes these promises are uttered in a rush of devoted emotion, at the same time sometimes their demands are glibly considered; yet no couple (we trust!) sets out intentionally to fail. While no book can promise perfect success, the best we can do—and this we hope to do—is to offer hope and guidance to couples in preparation for marriage, to couples struggling in marriage, and possibly encouragement to couples thriving in marriage. Marriage, in point of fact, is a living, growing thing, and a resource such as this one hopes simply to provide a plumb to what is bent, a balm to what is broken, and an enrichment to what is thriving.

If marriage is so difficult, and if the risks are so high, then it might be tempting to conclude that it is not worth bothering about. This is unsatisfying, chiefly because we are convinced that marriage—with all its difficulties—remains one of the best hopes for human happiness and fulfillment. A successful marriage is a thing of unprecedented and radiant beauty, and as G. K. Chesterton (a great believer in marriage) said “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”[i] This book is targeted for any person who wishes, given the liabilities of marriage, to attempt to maximize its benefits and experience the fullness of its joys.

Billy Bray, Welsh preacher and evangelist, hearing once about other people’s trials of faith stood and exclaimed, “Well, friends, I have been taking vinegar and honey, but, praise the Lord, I’ve had the vinegar with a spoon, and the honey with a ladle.”[ii] Many couples may feel that in marriage they’ve had honey by the teaspoon and vinegar by the ladle. As we said, no book can promise success, and yet the couple that commits to reading together, to learning together, to discussing together, to developing good habits together—that couple will gain a significant advantage in the management and enjoyment of their common life. All marriages ought to begin with the best possible foundation. All existing marriages ought to have the courage to reexamine and correct their foundation as necessary. And, by God’s grace, the honey will outweigh the vinegar beyond measure.

[i] G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell and Company, Limited: 1910), 254.

[ii] Billy Bray, The King’s Son (London: Bible Christian Book-Room, 1874), 29.

New Year’s Resolution—be more like your dogs!

Author of Faithfully Yours for Kids, Peggy Frezon, shares her New Year’s Resolution—to be more like her dogs.

If we’re smart, we can learn a lot from our dogs. Following their example, we can learn to play with gusto, eat heartily, and nap often. We can learn how to forgive others and love unconditionally. We can also discover lessons to apply to our spiritual lives.

Keep Daily Quiet Time—My golden retriever Ernest’s quiet time consists of stretching out in a patch of sunlight streaming in through the window, resting his head on his paws, and closing his eyes. I can see his muscles relax and his expression fill with contented peace. Following his example, I curl up on my big green chair, relax my body, close my eyes and allow God to enter my mind. Allowing Him to direct my path fills me with contented peace.

Wait Faithfully—When we first rescued our senior dog Ike, he used to cry whenever I left the house. I could hear his heart-wrenching whines, even outside in the driveway as I was climbing into the car. After a while, Ike began to trust that I’d always return. He stopped crying when I left. He waited for me faithfully, in comfort that he’d be okay while I was gone. We are never truly separated from God, but when times are tough and it seems like He is far away, I can trust that He is always there. If I wait faithfully, I will hear Him and feel His loving touch again.

 Love thy Neighbor— My dogs live for walks around the neighborhood. They think everyone they meet is their friend. I love the way Ernest approaches little children so gently. And how Petey wags and pulls me toward everyone he meets. Their open and accepting approach to people warms my heart. Sometimes I find myself too busy with my own life to pay attention to others. Or I make judgments about others’ interests and feelings. But if I act more like my dogs, I’ll greet others wholeheartedly without judgment or reservation.

Devour Enthusiastically—Ernest and Petey don’t pick at their food. They gobble it up heartily, wasting no time in consuming every last morsel. God is the nourishment for my soul. I want to receive Him eagerly and joyfully, and be filled with the Bread of Life. Just like Ernest and Petey, I will not hunger or thirst!

So this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

 Adapted from Pawprints on my Heart by Peggy Frezon, Guideposts.com Jan. 2015

Chapter 2 – The Cry of the Poor

This week’s blog post is excerpted from Jean Vanier’s “We Need Each Other.” This week get the Kindle version for just $1.99 on Amazon.

The Cry of the Poor

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

(from Genesis 3)

I started L’Arche because I heard the cry of the poor. The cry of the poor is, “Do you see me as important? Am I of value?” The underlying cry of the poor is, “Do you love me?” At the very end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter the same question, “Do you love me?” By asking this, Jesus shows his vulnerability and his need for love. Jesus teaches us that he is one with the poor.

A few years ago, we welcomed Eric into our community. Eric has his own story, which began with a lot of pain. When his mother discovered the seriousness of his disability, she was devastated and heartbroken; she did not want a child like him! Both mother and Eric were wounded. His mother kept him at home until the age of four, but she did not know what to do with her little boy. Eric was not growing like other children his age, and he was also deaf and blind. At this tender age of four, his mother took him to the local hospital, where it was recommended that he be put into the regional psychiatric hospital. This is where we found Eric twelve years later. He was sixteen years old.

Eric was blind and deaf. He could not speak. He could not walk, and he had a severe intellectual disability. His mother had only come to see him once because she could not bear the lack of love and care that she saw in the hospital. I can say that I have never met a young person so vulnerable and with so much anguish. Eric was living with so much inner pain, yet within that pain lay a mystery.

Eric had not been baptized when he joined our community, but we still took him to the chapel. I remember him sitting in there, in his fragility, blindness, and deafness. There was a quietness about him, and his face was filled with peace. Did he know that he was in the chapel? He may not have known, but it seemed evident that God was present in him.

When Jesus announced the Last Judgment and told the people to come into his kingdom, he said: “When I was naked you clothed me.” The crowd responded, “But we never saw you.” Jesus continued, “When I was hungry you gave me food.” Again, the crowd responded, “But we never saw you.” It is clear that the entrance into the kingdom is through compassion, through clothing the naked, welcoming the foreigner, and visiting the prisoner; it is through welcoming the vulnerability of Eric.

Each one of us was born as a little child. This is an incredible reality in our forgotten histories. When a baby is born, the baby is vulnerable, easily wounded, fragile, and without any kind of defense. This child, held lovingly in the arms of the mother, learns through the tone of her voice, the tenderness of her touch, and her unfailing attention that he or she is loved. The child is not frightened of being vulnerable; he or she learns that it is okay to be weak and to have no defenses because he or she knows, I am loved. The message of the mother who says, in some way, “You are unique, I love you, you are precious, you are important,” is a source of joy for the child.

What happens if a child does not hear this? What happens if the child is caught up in a world of conflict, of hate, and of fear? Such is the vulnerable and broken heart of Eric. The anguish of Eric arose as he sensed that he was not wanted, that he was alone and unloved. We can understand his mother’s pain and the pain of parents who discover that their son or daughter has a severe disability. How will a mother in pain gradually discover that it is okay to be the mother of a child like this? To be the mother of Eric?

At the beginning of his life at L’Arche, Eric was incontinent, so one of the first things we did was to try and help him urinate in the toilet. One day he did! We all had champagne that day. People came in and asked what we were celebrating, and we said, “Today Eric has peed in the toilet!” Life is made up of little things. You do not have to do big things to celebrate together in joy. Every morning, one of us living with Eric would give him his bath. Even though he was sixteen, he was small. Bath time was a very precious moment. Through the touch involved in bathing Eric, we helped him to relax and to discover that he was loved.

Over the last few years, I have felt growing within me the recognition of the incredible vulnerability of Jesus, the wounded heart of Christ. The heart of Jesus is wounded because of his yearning to bring us together despite the fact that we are often resistant. The wounded heart of Eric and the wounded heart of Jesus are one. So what is L’Arche about? L’Arche exists to say to the Erics of the world, “I am glad you exist. I am happy to live with you.”

National Change a Pet’s Life Day!

Enjoy this delightful Q and A with Peggy Frezon, author of The Dog in the Dentist Chair – which releases today, National Change a Pet’s Life Day!

Q. Faithfully Yours for Kids is about animals who “visit, cuddle, help, heal and love kids.” What is one of the most surprising ways an animal helps children?
A. One of my favorite stories in the book is about JoJo, a golden retriever who jumps up
onto the dentist chair with kids who are afraid of getting their teeth worked on. I think it’s a wonderful, non-medicated, non-invasive way for a child to be calmed at the dentist. Just stroking the dog, and feeling her warmth close to them, helps comforts them. I think I like this story too because just maybe I’m a little uncomfortable at the dentist office, too.

Q. What is the most unusual animal in the book?
A. I’d have to say the most unusual animal in the book is Bacon Bits, the therapig, or therapy pig! He loves to be around kids and visits them at schools, libraries, fairs, group homes, hospitals, airports, parades, and many, many events. He’s a mini (well, at 125 lbs, not so mini!) local celebrity. The next most unusual might be the therapy rats. Kids love them! We also have stories about a cat who encourages kids to read, a black lab who helps a boy when he’s about to have a seizure, a golden retriever who surfs with special needs kids, a draft horse who helps strengthen the muscles of kids with cerebral palsy. There are many, many other ways animals help kids.

Q. Many of the animals in the book are service or therapy animals. What is the difference?
A. A therapy animal is a dog, cat, or other animal which provides comfort and affection to people. They often visit hospitals, schools, libraries, nursing homes, and group homes, offices, airports…just about anywhere. People are encouraged to pet and interact with the therapy animal. A service animal (dog) is specifically trained to perform a task or tasks that help an individual. Guide dogs for the blind, seizure alert dogs, and mobility assistance dogs are examples of service dogs. Service dogs perform tasks that the individual cannot do himself or herself, due to a disability.

Q. Are pets good for children?
A. Pets are great for kids when the whole family is on board and ready to welcome them into the family. Pets help children learn about nurturing and compassion. They help kids learn responsibility. Pets may even help a child be healthier–there is evidence that having a pet in the home during a child’s first year of life may help reduce the child’s risk of developing allergies. But most of all, the family dog or cat is often a child’s first friend. When we foster a loving connection between children and pets, and teach them to be respectful of all animals, the bonds will be forever strong.

Q. You’re a dog lover. Tell us about the dogs in your life.
A. My husband and I adopted a special dog about five years ago—he was eleven years old and had been dumped on the streets to fend for himself. He was just so sweet and loving—he’s the dog who helped us realize that God put it on our hearts to rescue senior dogs. We take them in and give them a nice retirement, a loving home for their golden years. We now have a golden retriever, Ernest, who is 10 years old. Just after we adopted him he was diagnosed with cancer. He now is a therapy dog for people with cancer. We also have a golden retriever, Petey, who’s one and a half, and doing his best to keep us all young.

Now available!


Racial Justice, Peace Not War, Human Suffering | Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God by Lon Allison

This week’s blog is an excerpt from Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God by Lon Allison. The chapter is titled Racial Justice, Peace Not War, Human Suffering and discusses Rev. Billy Graham’s relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

… The other person God would use to educate Billy on this journey was the famous Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Leighton Ford, who was heading up communications with churches in New York City in the summer of 1957, remembers that unlike invitations from many other cities, the invitation to come to New York had been offered by the Protestant council of pastors, which included many men of color. Racial Justice, Peace Not War, Human Suffering

The invitation and the connection with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Clarence B. Jones (King’s lawyer and close personal advisor) probably came to Billy by way of these men. Leighton sent a telegram to Dr. King asking if he would be willing to be on the platform and pray an invocational prayer at the beginning of one of the Madison Square Garden events. King agreed, and on July 18, 1957, he and Billy were on a crusade dais together. Over time, a friendship blossomed between the men. Billy would also have Dr. King speak to his executive staff on retreat to educate them more on racial justice. And for his part, it seems that King learned from Billy how to better hold large rallies, and Billy’s organizational structures and training were offered to him as well. At one point, the two men wondered if they should even travel together promoting the fullness of the kingdom of God: both changed hearts (the new birth) and changed societies where right replaces wrong. Billy writes:

Early on, Dr. King and I spoke about his method of using nonviolent demonstrations to bring an end to racial segregation. He urged me to keep on doing what I was doing—preaching the gospel to integrated audiences and supporting his goals by example, and not to join him in the streets. “You stay in the stadiums, Billy,” he said, “because you will have far more impact on the white establishment there than you would if you marched in the streets. Besides that, you have a constituency that will listen to you, especially among white people, who may not listen so much to me. But if a leader gets too far ahead of his people, they will lose sight of him and not follow him any longer.” I followed his advice. 

It was also during the New York City crusade of 1957 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower called and asked Billy’s advice regarding sending National Guard troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, in order to enforce desegregation laws. Billy’s answer was, “I think you’ve got to, Mr. President. You’ve got no other alternative. The discrimination must be stopped.”

In 1960, Dr. King and Graham were again together, in Brazil for the Baptist World Alliance meetings. During that time, Billy arranged a special dinner for King to meet with US Southern Baptist leaders to try and bridge the chasm between blacks and whites in the American South. “Our friendly relationship with Mike [Dr. King had by this time asked Billy to call him Mike as his other friends did] made the point with my Baptist friends,” Billy records in Just as I Am. There were, no doubt, times when King wished Billy would be more pronounced and public regarding racial discrimination, and there were probably times when Graham wished King would tone down his rhetoric, going slower on social justice, and preach the new birth in Christ more. Yet the friendship between the men was genuine.

Toward the end of his autobiography, Billy writes of the day he heard Dr. King had died. He was in Australia in the spring of 1968 preaching crusades, but taking an afternoon off to play golf, when journalists ran up and informed him that Dr. King had been shot in Memphis. They asked for a comment. “I was almost in a state of shock,” Billy writes. “Not only was I losing a friend through a vicious and senseless killing, but America was losing a social leader and a prophet, and I felt his death would be one of the greatest tragedies in our history. There on the golf course I had all the journalists and the others gathered around, and we bowed in prayer for Dr. King’s family, for the United States, and for the healing of the racial divisions of our world. I immediately looked into canceling my schedule and returning for the funeral, but it was impossible because of the great distance.” Billy devoted his life to proclaiming the Good News of the changed heart brought about by Jesus Christ in all who love and know him. His own heart, and that of his team, were changed in regard to justice, equality, and racial diversity by special men like Martin Luther King Jr…

This week only, get the Kindle for just  $1.99 on Amazon.

Piggy and the Bracelet

This blog post was written by Melinda Johnson, author of Piggy in Heaven which releases today!


One of the hardest things about death is the end of physical presence. All of your love is still present in your heart, but it loses the tangible outlets it once had. You can no longer hug your loved one, see that wonderful smile, hear that infectious laugh. You can’t run to open the door, or cook a favorite food to share. Your heart is full, but your arms are empty.
Imagination can be a healing tool when we grieve, and it’s one children turn to easily. Losing a pet is often the first time a child encounters death. In fact, that’s what prompted me to write Piggy in Heaven. It was the story my family needed as we mourned our adorable guinea pig. 
Now that this story has become a book, I am touched and delighted (and sometimes on the verge of tears, just for a minute) at the hilarious, adorable, beautiful creativity this book has inspired among my artist and crafter friends. One drew a pattern and sewed a Piggy plushy from scratch. Another made finger puppets of each character, to give you “a hand” while reading and telling the story. And my friend Meghan Inlow, jewelry designer and mompreneur at VioletandVines [https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines], offered a bespoke, limited-edition “Piggy in Heaven” bracelet. It’s something sparkly and tangible to hold, something to hang those memories on. Today I’m interviewing Meghan about how this bracelet came about.
1. First, tell me about your creative process when you are making a piece like this.  
I feel like there is so much chaos in our lives. I want each piece that I make to provide joy, inspiration, and a sense of calm to the person wearing it.  So picking out the flowers for each piece, or greenery, the shape of pendant they are hand placed in – all elements are gathered to create that calm and inspiration. The same was done with the bracelet for Piggy.  I wanted something that encompassed the book as well as a tangible way to give comfort to the child receiving it. 
2. What are the elements of this bracelet, and how did you choose them?

The bracelet that I designed and crafted for “Piggy in Heaven” includes gold sparkles, feathers, and resin, all mixed in and cradled with crystal beads in between the hand-made beads.  I wanted something to represent the heavenly aspect of the book, and I wanted it to embody peace for the child who receives it.  So after playing with a few different designs, it was finalized with these elements as well as a hand-painted charm at the bottom of the bracelet.  
Get a Piggy Memory Bracelet here! https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines
3. How did your perspective as a mom come into play for this piece?
As a mom, if my child lost their beloved pet, I thought about what would bring them a little joy and peace, but also what would be a tangible way to help comfort them. As a parent, I feel like the goal and thought was, “How do I make this time of grieving a little bit easier for my child, is there something I could give them to help them remember and feel close to their lost furry friend?”
4. Your jewelry is a wonderful example of art and nature intersecting with each other. What got you started using natural materials in your jewelry?
The beauty and diversity of nature is something that is so important for me to place into my jewelry.  I dabbled with different jewelry styles, but when I started mixing flowers with resin, they flowed together almost like a painting, and I knew that I was sold in creating nature-inspired and infused pieces.
5. People often have special memories attached to their jewelry. Why do you think that happens?
I believe that people have memories attached to their jewelry because jewelry is usually a special and important gift given.  For example, when I was 16, my grandparents gave me earrings they had created for me.  I have a pendant that my Grandmother gave me before she passed away, and my engagement ring is laced with all those special memories including my husband and when we prepared to start our lives together.  All of these beautiful memories are created around special and unique pieces of jewelry.
6. What do you love most about your creative work?
Making jewelry fulfills an extra sense of purpose within me.  It helps to relieve stress, helps me to focus on prayer, and I’m able to create wearable art and bring peace, joy, and inspiration to others. There’s also one of the bracelet by itself, if needed.
Meet Meghan Inlow!
I am a mom of 3 kiddos currently residing in Pennsylvania while my husband is working on his Master’s degree at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.  I was born and raised in California, and our family converted to the Orthodox Church about 6 years ago.  I have always had a passion for art and grew up in an artistic household.  I began doing water-color painting in 2014, which opened my eyes to different types of art I had never tried before. About a year ago, I started entering the world of jewelry making.  I started with essential oil diffuser jewelry, then moved on to wire-wrapped pendants, then finally found my niche with resin and dried flowers.  Each piece inspires me, and I love the way the flowers flow differently with every pendant.  I never thought I would have a passion for jewelry making, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I am so thankful to be part of this sweet story, and I am glad I get to share my art and creative love with everyone.
You can see Meghan’s work at Violet and Vine – here[https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines]

Children, Grief, and Imagination: An Interview with Dr. Chrissi Hart

When our much-loved guinea pig died, I wrote Piggy in Heaven to help us grieve for him. The story made us laugh, and it made us cry all over again. But story-telling opened a mental window, and we could “see” Piggy again, playing in the grass, wheeking, hopping, waiting for us somewhere in eternity, with love. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to hear the wonderful Dr. Chrissi Hart sharing Piggy in Heaven on her podcast, “Readings from Under the Grapevine.” Dr. Hart is a psychologist who works with grieving children, and she kindly shared some wisdom with me about helping your child come to terms with death.

 Melinda: At What age do children understand death?

Dr. Hart: Children discover the unpredictability of the world when a pet dies. Age and developmental level also determine how a child experiences grief. For example, younger children below age 6 years, do not understand the finality of death, which they see as temporary and reversible. They do not understand the pet is gone and is not coming back. They may have many questions, like how the pet will breathe, play or run in the ground. At around age 6 years, children develop a concept of death and that it is permanent.  They understand then that their pet is not returning.

Melinda: How does a child’s experience of losing a pet compare to grieving for a family member or friend?

Dr. Hart: The death of a pet is usually a child’s first experience of death and loss. The grief is similar and can be as profound as losing a family member or friend. Children experience similar stages of grief as adults do after the loss of a pet as they would for the loss of a family member or friend. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kubler-Ross). Children may get stuck on the sadness part or may have alternating anger and sadness.

Melinda: What are some ways that children use their imaginations to handle grief?

Dr. Hart: Young children often express their grief through play and in their drawings or paintings. They can use their imagination by thinking of the pet in a happy place like dog or cat heaven, or with God, playing, eating and running around in wonderful places. One of the best ways for children to use their imaginations to handle grief is by reading books on the subject. This can not only be therapeutic, but also an opportunity for parent-child discussions about feelings, anxieties and fears and answering the child’s questions.

Melinda: How can parents and caregivers help their children grieve in healthy ways?

Dr. Hart: Talk to your child about how they feel, listen to their responses and observe their behavior. Read books together on the loss of a pet. Have a ritual for the burial which may include a prayer. Keep a memory box of photos. Understand the grief process and where the child is at present and know that children are generally resilient and can recover quicker than adults.

Children between the ages of 2 and 7 years may have magical thinking about a loss and may feel responsible in some way, believing they caused the loss. They can be reassured that the pet’s death has nothing to do with anything they thought or did.

Melinda: What are some warning signs that a child may need extra help with grieving?

 Dr. Hart: Look for changes in behavior, such as sleep problems, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, sadness and crying, and verbalizing struggles. Regressed behavior such as toileting problems, clinging and separation anxiety are other warning signs.

Melinda: Tell us about some pets you’re hoping to meet in heaven!

 Dr. Hart: I hope to meet my cats Flopsy, Ellie and Natalia again one day!


Dr. Chrissi Hart is a Licensed Psychologist in York, Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband, adult son and daughter and their orange cat Ginger. She has a private practice with her husband, helping children and adolescents with anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, loss and bereavement. She has publications in child psychology, is the author of several Orthodox Christian children’s books and hosts the popular children’s podcast, Readings from Under the Grapevine, on Ancient Faith Radio.



His Eye is on the Sparrow

This week’s blog is written by Melinda Johnson, author of “Piggy in Heaven,” coming soon from Paraclete Press! 

“When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” – Civilla Durfee Martin, His Eye is On the Sparrow, 1905

We don’t take small animals seriously. If you’re an adult who owns a hamster, you’re probably the only one you know. At the movies or in the library, it’s easy to find a horse or a dog saving the hero’s life or demonstrating wisdom and loyalty. Epic tales about small herbivores are hard to come by. We expect to find these little creatures in cartoons and picture books or serving nobly as the comic relief. In a serious story, you might find a canary or a perky rat accessorizing a character the author hopes will be eccentric.

I have been the fortunate human guardian of, at various times, two bunnies, seven hamsters, a rotating selection of fish, and one guinea pig. All of these animals are considered children’s pets – small, adorable, and inconsequential. Yet I learned important things from each of them, and these epiphanies built on each other into a staunch belief that the tiniest members of creation are as precious and intelligent as the largest and most obviously heroic. Caring for these little pets through their lifetime and at the moment of their death has taught me beautiful lessons. I will share three with you here.

God is in the details.

Two of our tiny friends were dwarf, or miniature, hamsters. These hamsters are less than 3 inches long, and yet they are complete living creatures, with exquisite little eyes and hands, tiny beating hearts, and downy fur. When you hold one in your hand, she feels light and warm. Her fingernails and whiskers tickle equally and seem about the same circumference. If you can keep your eyes on the shy, busy little animal and let your mind leap outwards to the edges of the cosmos, you can begin to see what a miracle she is. Think of the painstaking attention it took to create one hamster. Think how many hamsters have graced our planet since time began. And that’s only hamsters! What about bunnies? Birds? Caterpillars? Lemmings? Think of every little voiceless creature you pass without seeing every day. They are all testaments to the infinite, loving creative Essence who could invent life in such diversity and detail.

Words are not the only measure of intelligence.

One of the first ways a child learns to distinguish between humans and animals is language. “I love my doggy, but he doesn’t talk.” Animals are a long step up from toys, which don’t talk or move, but that absence of words is a disappointment.

We grownups publish books and articles about animal intelligence, and we consider it newsworthy because it surprises us. Who would think a crow could make a tool? How amazing that dolphins use their own language! What if dogs can discern right from wrong? I believe our surprise results from our strong tendency to perceive animals as lesser editions of ourselves, rather than as separate and inherently mysterious creatures. Little by little, we are learning to ask how an animal expresses its inner life, instead of assuming it does not have one. We hamper these efforts by anthropomorphizing, often with the best intentions. We’re likely to offer mercy to an animal that seems “almost human” to us, and mercy is a good gift. But I hope we can stretch ourselves to admit how much of the world and its creatures may be outside our knowledge or in need of our kindness.

Pets are not replaceable.

I overheard a conversation once between a child and an adult. It went like this:

Adult: “I’m sorry about your hamster. Your mom told me it died.”

Child: “That’s okay. I’m going to get another one.”

I don’t blame anyone in this scenario. We all comfort our children as best we can. The words stayed with me because they reflect the way we gloss over the individuality of small animals. If no two snowflakes have ever been alike, no two hamsters have ever been alike. Every animal is a single instance.

Every death leaves an empty space, even the death of a miniature hamster, a bunny, or a guinea pig. You are left with love that has no outlet, and your heart hurts. A new pet is wonderfully healing, but it is a new pet; it is not the old one back again. We lessen our ability to understand and treasure life if we reduce it to a mass-produced commodity.

So when I think of that old hymn about the sparrow, and I reflect on the beloved little animals who have shared our home, I remember that not one sparrow falls to the earth outside the Father’s care. Yes, Jesus says we are “of more value than many sparrows,” but in the same moment, He is telling us that He loves the sparrows, too.

From Tain Gregory — This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Our youngest author, Tain Gregory, and his mother and co-author, Sophfronia Scott, were deeply affected by the events of that day, and wrote about their experiences and their faith in the book This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World. Tain is 14 now, and today he shares some thoughts on how he has grown since that day six years ago.

This past October, I stood with my mom in front of a crowd of people of all ages at Trinity Church in Asheville, North Carolina. We gave a speech about our book, This Child of Faith to an audience of 160 people. Many people in the meeting asked me questions about my experiences and my strong faith, but it was really nice when I got to talk to a younger boy named Collin. Collin was very energetic, and asked questions as fast as a cheetah. We talked to each other after the speech, and he asked questions about people who act mean to others. I think I really helped him a lot. My mom and I have been giving speeches in other churches in many different states. We’ve been doing this for about a year. When I started writing This Child of Faith I was only in 7th grade. Now it is almost the 1 year anniversary of the book, and a lot has changed since then.

I find it amazing that I have been going to church for nearly 8 years! I’ve gone from being a novice in the children’s church choir to being the crucifer leading the church service. I have just started confirmation class, and I have been enjoying it. Confirmation is when you confirm your faith in Christ. We are learning about ways to connect with God, and we are also learning more about Christianity. I have some really nice teachers, and really nice classmates who are there to help me on my confirmation journey. In one of our meetings, we talked about things that society wants us to believe. For example, you should listen to specific types of music and wear specific types of clothes. We wrote these on a big sheet of paper… and burned it in a fire. Then, on another sheet of paper, we wrote things that we believe. Things that no one else tells us to believe, but that we choose to believe ourselves. This was a really good exercise to show that we control what we believe, and that you can expand your faith by believing what you want. I know that believing has helped me expand my own faith a lot.

I’m thinking about this now because this week is the 6th anniversary of the shooting at my former school, Sandy Hook Elementary, and the death of my friend Ben. Ben was very close to me, and losing him was really hard. But I think that the experience of the shooting brought me a lot closer to God. When it happened, I began praying to God a lot more often because I felt sad. But God was helping me with what I was going through because he was there for me.

Today Ben reminds me of the character Asriel Dreemurr, a child, from a video game called Undertale. Both of them had a very innocent nature, and they were both very kind and friendly. And the main thing they share is that they were both killed. Recently when I was playing through Undertale, I noticed this connection between Ben and Asriel. I started to cry during Asriel’s speech at the end of the game. It was a sad speech. He died for no reason, like Ben. But I love playing Undertale anyway because I like seeing Ben and so many of my friends in the game’s characters.

Asriel is still a powerful character. Ben was also powerful and he still has the power to be here. Even though he’s gone, I feel his spirit is still here and still determined to make us happy.

And God is always there for me, and I know that he always will be there for me. Whenever I am feeling worried about myself, my family, or any of my friends, praying to God is always helpful because I can always ask him to watch over the person I am praying about. I can always trust God to watch over my friends and family because I know he will always find a way to make things better.

All you have to do is ask him for help. It’s like what Dumbledore says in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “You will find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” This is the same with God. You can always ask God for help. I have learned more about talking to God. There is one part of my book where I talk about places that I am able to pray. It explains that you can pray to God wherever you are. You don’t have to be in a church kneeling down at an altar. You can talk to God at your house, at the supermarket, even at a gas station! God is always free to listen to you because he cares about you.

Tain Gregory is a freshman at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven, Connecticut, and co-author with his mother Sophfronia Scott of the book This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World. He enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and making Minecraft Hacks.

For Advent I from David Bannon

Blessed Advent! We invite all of our readers to enter this holy season with these words from David Bannon, author of Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations. As David notes: Some text portions of this article were excerpted and edited from Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, which features ten Rückert poems not printed here. As with those in the book, the Rückert poems in this article are original translations that have never before been published in English.  

“Your hurts, small as a child”
Communion in Friedrich Rückert’s Songs on the Death of Children
Text and translations by David Bannon

Friedrich Rückert was a compassionate man. Visitors often commented on his enthusiasm, whimsy and humor.1 Hailed by The Atlantic Monthly as “the last of the grand old generation of German poets,”2 many of his lieder, or songs, were set to music by the great composers of the day. But for three decades Friedrich hid from view his most personal work.

The day after Christmas 1833, Friedrich’s youngest child, three-year-old Luise, showed symptoms of scarlet fever. She died on New Year’s Eve. His son Ernst died on January 16, twelve days after the boy turned five. Friedrich’s four remaining children survived. He was kind and attentive to them, grateful for each moment, yet his grief for Luise and Ernst was unassuaged. “That I should drink and eat, eat and drink,” he wrote, “forgetting all the while that you are lost to me!”3

Over the first six months of 1834 Friedrich composed hundreds of poems on loss and mourning. “Spare me these delights!” he cried. “They cannot fool my heart, adding grief to grief.”4 He averaged 2–3 poems each day. Some are his finest, others less so; none was intended for publication.5 He kept Luise and Ernst’s pastel portraits with him for the rest of his life.6 Six years after Friedrich’s death, in 1872, his son Heinrich compiled 425 of the poems in Kindertodtenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children).7

Your hurts, small as a child,
you brought to me, mother-like,
for consolation and care.

Now my hurt, not so small,
I bring to you:
Oh my child, console me!

So we exchange love for loss:
a heart full of care;
a hurt inconsolable.8

Friedrich’s life resonates with me. He was a scholar, translator and professor. We both taught college for years; both published on Asia extensively; both translated from Asian and other languages. We both lost children on the same day: his son died on January 16, 1534; my daughter died on January 16, 2015.

Rückert had a gift for understatement and a penchant for allusion. Before my daughter’s death, the depth and breadth of his sorrow would have been beyond my grasp. Now I find communion and solace in his poems. Occasionally I’ll come across a piece that defies literary analysis; that dares me to capture in translation a moment many bereaved parents know well:

Here rests in this chest
much that was yours;
sacred and silent:
like you, undisturbed.

Your dress in this chest,
camisole in your coffin.
Your little shoes
never to remove.

Each day from this chest
I lift dress after dress;
seeking sorrow, perhaps:
or solace or mercy.9

Friedrich chose a double entendre for this poem. Truhe, meaning chest or trunk, is also a word for coffin. It took me a year to finally go through all of my daughter’s things. Her chest is here with me as I type, carefully preserved in my office closet.

Research shows that fathers who have lost adult children are at the highest level of grief for men in every bereavement category except guilt.10 Such comparisons are useful to counselors and medical professionals—may in fact be necessary and helpful—but to the bereaved, they seem obscene. Friedrich’s children were young, my daughter was an adult; he lost two of eight, I lost my only child. A moment’s thought reveals how such measurements lose all meaning. In Rückert’s songs, I stumble through the same dark valley he walked 180 years ago. Friedrich and I share something else: an affinity for the waldesgrund. Literally translated as forest ground or floor, the term is seldom used for a glade or park; only the deep wood:

Deep in the wood
and the rocky valley
my heart and voice cry
a thousand times:
Children, are you there?
Where is here? ‘Here! Here!’

Dark wooded brush
stands between us,
I do not see you;
tell me, are you
far? near?
How near? ‘Near, near!’

Do you want to draw near
from where you are?
Always mine, the one
joy in this pain?
Mine? No? Yes?
Always yes? ‘Yes, yes!’11

Gustav Mahler later set five of Rückert’s poems to music; his Kindertotenlieder premiered in 1905. Gustav’s interpretations are moving but his most profound work was still to come. In 1907 his four- year-old daughter, Putzi, died of diphtheria and scarlet fever. As a musician, Mahler may have appreciated Rückert’s subtle tonality, cadence and repetition. Now in his grief, Gustav knew the harm and hope Friedrich put in each song:

You were the slightest:
are you, then, unharmed?
Your country, that fineness,
are you, so, unspoiled?

Your country, your slightness:
preserved, then, in
such purity, so
preserved and saved?

The slightest, dearly loved;
brightest now, and gone,
radiant once, always:
Will I see you there?12

Mahler’s next composition, Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), speaks of life, death, parting, and redemption. 13 It was Gustav’s masterpiece.


Some text portions of this article were excerpted and edited from Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, which features ten Rückert poems not printed here. As with those in the book, the Rückert poems in this article are original translations that have never before been published in English.


1 fancy and humor: Bayard Taylor, Critical Essays and Literary Notes (Putnam’s Sons, 1880): 97

2 The last of the grand: Bayard Taylor, “Friedrich Rückert,” Atlantic Monthly, 18(105) (July 1866): 33; collected in The Atlantic Monthly, v18 (Ticknor & Fields, 1866).

3 That I should drink: from “Daß ich trinken soll und essen,” Kindertodtenlieder [Songs on the Death of Children], ed. Heinrich Rückert, trans. D. Bannon (Sauerländer, 1872): 69.

4 Spare me these delights: from “Rathet mir nicht zum Vergnügen,” Rückert, 142.

5 Some are his finest: see Peter Revers, “Kindertotenlieder” in Karen Painter, ed., Mahler and His World, Revers section trans. Irene Zedlacher (Princeton University Press, 2002): 174.

6 pastel portraits: Friedrich had the portraits made in autumn 1833.

7 Six years after: In 1881, after Heinrich’s death, Marie Rückert rearranged 241 of the poems according to Friedrich’s diary in a new edition, Lied und Leid [Song and Sorrow]. See Friedrich Rückert, Gesammelte Poetische Werke, v12, ed. Conrad Beyer (Sauerländer, 1882): 477.

8 Your hurts: “Wie du sonst dein kleines Leid,” Rückert, 173.

9 Here rests: “Hier lieg’ in der Truhe,” Rückert, 279.

10 highest level of grief: William Fish, “Differences of Grief Intensity in Bereaved Parents,” in Therese Rando, ed., Parental Loss of a Child (Research Press, 1986): 223, 417, 426.

11 Deep in the wood: “Tief im Waldesgrund,” Rückert, 206-207.

12 You were the slightest: “Weil ihr wart die Kleinsten,” Rückert, 279-280.

13 Mahler’s four-year-old daughter: Maria Anna, called Putzi, 3 November 1902 – 5 July 1907.

Once on a Rainy Day I Wrote a Novel…

Cheryl Anne Tuggle is a librarian, a freelance writer and a novelist, the author of Unexpected Joy: A Novel (Anaphora Press, 2011). She is a member of the Good Seed Writers Society and a featured writer on the blog Orthodox in the Ozarks. Today’s post is written by Cheryl Anne about how she came to write her latest novel “Lights on the Mountain.”


It’s a thing people ask when you’ve authored a novel: how and why it came to be written. Answering the question, though, is a bit like trying to relate the dream you had last night. You know how it went, but just try and tell it that way.

Usually I say it started with a scene I saw through my car windshield one morning in late October. It was a cold day and raining and I was parked behind the library, waiting for my daughter to finish a vocal audition at the high school next door. As I sat watching the rain coming down, I had a sort of waking dream in which the car’s windshield changed into a farmhouse window and I was peering through it into a large kitchen. Inside the kitchen, sitting across from one another at a table were a husband and wife. No doubt because of the rain and the chill in the real air and the dark sky above my car, I sensed the air in the day-dream room was thick with tension and the atmosphere, melancholy. I needed to know, of course, what was going on in that kitchen and knew there was only one way to find out. I would have to write my way inside it.

So that’s what I say, that Lights on the Mountain began with this scene I saw through the rain. But just like the person telling that dream, as soon as I’ve said the thing, I begin to doubt it. There is after all, my own memory, confirmed by a photo my brother sent me, of a bleak, wintry-looking day on the farm of my childhood.

And there are the memories I’ve kept of the multi-colored splendor of the Pennsylvania hills in autumn and the people, with their various accents and religious faiths and their rich-tasting foods, that lived within them. Looking at the photo, pondering my recollections of the Western Pennsylvania landscape and its people, there is a question of how I knew, as I began to set the story down, to put the couple on that farm (or something like it) and in those hills. I begin to wonder which came first, my memories of the photo and the hills, or the couple and the scene. The chicken or the egg.

Also like a dream recounted is the way I realize, while trying to explain how it happened, that it’s entirely possible to lie about it without being dishonest. All I can really say is that after two drafts in which my farmer’s problem was unsatisfactorily (to me) written, I was working on a third and happened to spot Walker Percy’s Moviegoer on my bookshelf. That book, if you haven’t read it, is about a worldly man who lives in what some people say is the real sin city, New Orleans. In the midst of his everyday, city-dwelling life, Binx Bolling embarks on an somewhat loosely organized, but definitely existential, quest, what Percy has his character call “the search”. Suddenly I had my “what if”? What if I took a natural man, a quiet-natured farmer who loves his land and his work and his wife, and instead of the stereotypical salt-of-the-earth simplicity, gave him a deep, yearning heart and a wondering mind. Oh, and an otherworldly experience. And once that was done and I had given him a past and put some challenging characters in his path, I set him to working out the world’s oldest mystery, the great, divine Who-done-it. What if I did that? I asked myself. And then I did it. And that’s the somewhat true story of how this particular novel came to be written.

Come November 13, 2018, you can read the story for yourself. Feel free to share your thoughts on it here, or on Amazon and Goodreads. I look forward to reading them!


From the Foreword… Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations

When I find myself with a free day in a major city, I often look for an art museum. I wander the galleries, lingering mainly among the Impressionists and European Masters. Many museums offer listening devices that give background details on the important paintings, but I have little patience with the headsets or with the clumps of visitors that block the view of the paintings themselves. So, I move from painting to painting, reading the one-paragraph placard by each one, and leave the museum feeling nourished in some subliminal wayyet hardly enlightened.

I suspect that I am not alone in my naive approach to the visual arts. One of G. K. Chesterton’s witticisms sums up an all-too-common bias: “In the MiddleAges we have art for God’s sake, in the Renaissance we have art for man’s sake, in the nineteenth century we have art for art’s sake, and in the twentieth century we have no art for God’s sake.” A trained artist himself, Chesterton was stereotyping for effect, but in truth Christians have shown an ambivalence toward art of all kinds.

Unrivaled as a patron, and responsible for many of the finest creations, the church has at times undergone spasms of counter-reaction: whitewashing images during the iconoclasm controversy, banning and burning books, and destroying church organs. Though we moderns tend to demonstrate more tolerance, artists themselves often feel unappreciated and even estranged from the church.

Daily, art nourishes my own faith. As I write, classical music plays in the background, and I feast on books in my library. And as I’ve mentioned, I feel a strange gravitational tug toward art museums. What draws me? Beauty, of courseyet I sense something more. The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “Only mystics, clowns and artists, in my experience, speak the truth, which, as Blake was always insisting, is perceptible to the imagination rather than the mind.” Artists communicate with a different, and often more penetrating, style than preachers and theologians.

The Bible itself demonstrates this principle, for God’s acts get the bulk of attention, given far more weight than the dogma that later emerged. The apostle Paul’s left-brain exegetical passages are the exception, not the rule, easily overwhelmed by passages devoted to narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, parables, prophetic visions, and, yes, the Pentateuch’s meticulous descriptions of the visual arts.

If I hope to enrich my faith through the visual arts, I need a guide. When I enter museum galleries devoted to religious art, the paintings testify to a different era, with different principles of aesthetics at work. In this book, David Bannon’s explorations show by example what makes art worth our effort and what it can do for the person of faith.

First, art offers an unexpected vantage point. For example, one does not expect a book of Advent meditations to bear the title Wounded in Spirit. As the season approaches, upbeat Christmas carols blare from speakers in the shopping malls, and the store clerks may offer a “Merry Christmas!” greeting. From where comes this melancholy counterpoint about wounded spirits?

From the Gospel of Luke, to be precise. The old man Simeon, assured he would live to see the Messiah, and having grown gray and frail waiting for the consolation of Israel, seasons his congratulations to Mary with these words: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Somehow, in the midst of joyous celebration, he foresees the shadow looming over the Incarnation: the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, the tragic ending on an executioner’s cross. Decades later, Paul would interpret these events for the Philippians through a theological lens: a member of the Godhead stripping away the prerogatives of divinity to become a human being, and not only that but one who came in the form of a slave, even one subject to death, yes, even that most ignoble death on a cross. Christmas Day was only the first of many humiliations that Jesus would undergo.

Depression and suicides spike at Christmas, as loneliness and the memories of lost loved ones invade the background cheer. My own father died in mid-December, before his twenty-fourth birthday, an untimely death that forever cast a pall over our family’s Christmases. We know, all of us, the dissonance of which Simeon spoke to Mary: of love splattered with blood, of consolation that proves diffused and fleeting. Art brings that dissonance to the foreground, with a poignancy that wounds the spirit like a sword.

Second, art renders something unique to the artist’s own experience of that dissonance. I know the author of this book: his own griefs, mistakes for which he has paid dearly, his inconsolable loss. It surprises me not at all that David Bannon would write an Advent book with such a title. I did not, however, know before reading these pages the personal trials of Tissot or Murillo or many of the artists discussed here.

Wounded in Spirit has become my guide, revealing what no one-paragraph summary in a museum could possibly make plain: the creator’s internality that gets projected on a canvas for the rest of us to contemplate. For the artist, bringing hidden wounds into the light may become a move toward healingalthough, paradoxically, complete healing might also dry up the font of creativity.

A depressed Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “Art is superfluous. . . . Can art heal wounds, can it take the bitterness away from death? It does not quiet despair, it does not feed the hungry, it does not clothe the freezing.” Yes, art has its limits, but I would answer his rhetorical questions more positively. Art does at least contribute to the healing of wounds, by awakening a sense of companionship in those who receive it: I am not alone. More, art may present the needs of others in such a way as to arouse the very compassionate response that Rilke doubts: think of van Gogh’s portrayals of peasants and coal miners, or the AIDS quilt that toured the nation, or photographs of refugees fleeing famine and war.

Great art operates on us at a deeper level than the rational. It conveys truth rather than arguing for it, and presents reality implicitly rather than explicitly. After seeing Hans Holbein’s realistic painting of Christ’s tortured body, Dostoevsky was haunted by it, and included the scene in his novel The Idiot. Thomas Merton, a self-indulgent dandy, became captivated by Byzantine mosaics on a visit to Rome; from them, he later said, he first learned the mystery of a God of infinite power, wisdom and love who had yet become man. Reciting the poem “Love” by George Herbert led to Simone Weil’s conversion: having committed it to memory, she repeated it almost as a mantra during violent headaches until somehow, without her willing it, the poem became a prayer. “It was during one of these recitations,” she writes, “that Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

Finally, art forms a bridge between the artist’s soul and our own. Every artist, regardless of the medium, wants someone to see or hear or read or otherwise receive the result that emerges from creative labor. The literary critic Cleanth Brooks observes, “In making us see our world for what it is, the artist also makes us see ourselves for what we are.” In the process, art invites a form of meditation.

David Bannon widens the bridge of connection for me. His references to literatureTolstoy, Byron, Shelley, Longfellow, Tennyson, Emerson, Shakespeare— enrich what I learn from the visual art he discusses. And in these pages I also meet familiar mentors of thought and theology: Buechner, Merton, Tillich, Heschel, Kierkegaard, Baillie, Rilke, Nouwen, Lewis, and of course the authors of the Bible.

Among all these mentors, some familiar and many new to me, I encounter art in a more restful, meditative way than if I were standing amid a buzzing museum crowd with a headset clutched to my ear. Within these pages I find much to contemplate, applying something of what took place in the artist to my own life. I am no longer staring at strange art in a museum in a new city. Now, the images come to me, held in my hands, along with the resources I need to understand and interpret them.

According to James Baldwin, “Every artist is involved with one single effort, really, which is somehow to dig down to where reality is.” For the artist of faith, such as the representatives in this collection, reality includes the realm of eternity. Our modern, materialistic culture considers eternal matters as peripheral, not nearly so urgent as, say, making money and achieving success. The noise of surrounding culture tends to drown out a God who prefers to whisper, and we need prophetic prods in order to reorder our world.

Art freezes the moment, quickening the senses. “I am attempting to express what I saw in a flower which apparently others failed to see,” explained Georgia O’Keefe. In doing so, art nurtures that most human act, our ability to transcend the immediacy of time and space. The ordinary can become extraordinary, the instantaneous can become permanenta form of lectio divina that requires no words.

Even as I write these words, my CD changer has made mechanical noises announcing a new disc under the laser. Instantly the room fills with the throaty sounds of a Russian male choir chanting prayers in a language I cannot understand. I stop typing, shove aside the papers on my desk, and close my eyes. Memories of a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, come flooding back, including a visit to an oniondomed cathedral when I heard such sounds in person as they reverberated off the magnificent icon-covered dome above.

The following day I visited the Hermitage Museum. I walked into a room containing one of the world’s largest collections of Rembrandt paintings. His massive rendition of The Return of the Prodigal Son was the first to catch my eye, a painting so evocative that Henri Nouwen spent two days sitting before it in a folding chair, meditatingand later wrote a book with that title about his encounter. The German siege of Leningrad imperiled all these paintings, which were saved only by a heroic rescue effort. Rembrandt’s biblically themed portrayals survived not only that war, but also the atheistic frenzy of Bolsheviks who demolished churches and murdered forty two thousand priests.

Art endures. Later, a Christian convert from the darkest days of Stalin’s reign wrote, “The task of a writer is to select more universal and eternal questions, the secrets of the human heart and conscience, the confrontation of life with death, the triumph over spiritual sorrow, the laws of the history of mankind that were born in the depths of time immemorial and that will cease to exist only when the sun ceases to shine.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn devoted his life to honoring, by making permanent, the sacrifices of those who clung to such beliefs in a world gone mad.

Great religious art strives wordlessly for something similar. The paintings reproduced and discussed in these pages have become devotional for me in the best sense of the word: they inspire and inform my sense of devotion to the One who is eternally worthy.


From the Introduction of “Eye of the Beholder” by Luci N. Shaw


With feet in two worlds—the earth-bound reality and the unseen but utterly real transcendent sphere—Biblical prophets were specially chosen individuals. As commandeered by a divine call, they spoke to the people from God, and to God from the people, inhabiting the tricky threshold between heaven and earth. Their calling was to hear divine words, see divine visions, and then speak the prophetic message to their listeners, linking the transcendent and immanent. As a poet I have felt drawn to a somewhat similar task. Having ideas that seem to come from beyond me, and writing about them, seeing “pictures in my head,” images and words to describe them, have haunted me from early childhood, encouraged by my writer father. As an adult I pray and dream that the words and ideas given me might say something true and meaningful to a reader, a listener.

Presented with visions, permitted to see what others could not, prophets in Scripture were called to proclaim in human language what was “un-seeable” to their audience. Some of the most lasting and vivid poetry in Scripture came from the mouths of these prophets. Throughout biblical history there were many of them, nearly always sent by God to speak words of correction, warning or foretelling.

Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Isaiah were known as the Major Prophets because of the length, complexity, and duration of their prophecies, containing as they did image after image of blazing intensity. The so-called Minor Prophets also had this gift of perception, these glimpses of unseen reality, to be conveyed in words and actions. Habakkuk’s vision was called “a burden,” something so heavy with portent that expressing it, living it out, was a divine message on which the welfare of God’s people depended. Being called as a prophet was not an easy assignment. It set the seer apart from and often against those he was required to challenge. Presented in the language of the people, using earthy metaphors to express divine realities, many visions were written in the form of Hebraic poetry, with brilliant imagery reflecting their own settings and cultures.

The young boy Samuel, with his responsive spirit, woken from sleep three times by God, was the one chosen to call out the high priest Eli, who had grown old and tired and had forgotten to listen and obey, to the detriment of the people he was meant to lead. The proverb says it: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Through Samuel, the vision came alive and real in the lives of the people.

Perhaps this is where I find myself, like young Samuel responding as best I can to the voice, listening for messages clear enough to transmit, recording them in their primitive forms in a notebook, then in my computer where they call for revision, revision, revision. I read them aloud to catch the rhythms I hear in my head. I have done this all my life. It is my greatest joy, for which I give glory to the Great Poet who created me as part of his universe, a shard of his seventh day.

These biblical prophecies bristle with colorful imagery reflecting the settings and cultures of the hearers. Much of it follows the forms of Hebraic poetry in couplets that reiterate or contrast. Take Isaiah, whose words describe what he saw of the Mighty One: “I saw the Lord. He was high and lifted up and his throne filled the temple.” The exalted vision that follows is pure poetry. (Somehow it reaches me most powerfully when expressed in the King James Version with its grand sonorities.) Many of the prophecies were more earthbound than Isaiah’s. Think of Jeremiah’s dream of a basket of rotten figs, inedible like the people whom he was castigating. Think of Ezekiel, who literally lived his metaphor, required by God to lie, bound with cords for months, to illustrate the bondage of the people of Judah. The prophetic vision was often heavy, a prediction of imminent destruction and calamity. In Jeremiah’s time, his message of doom so angered the people that they put him in a deep, muddy pit to think it over.

At Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road, God flung him from his horse and claimed him in unmistakable terms. The vision was blinding and unspeakable, the lifechange of the man who became the apostle Paul dramatic.

In the Revelation John the Divine, exiled on Patmos, saw the blazing image of “One like the Son of Man” who transmitted to him prophetic messages for the Christian believers in seven communities of the early church. He was told, “Write what you see.” “Listen to the windwords,” is how a contemporary translation puts it. With its brilliant and mystical metaphors, John’s vision continues

with some of the most arresting and high-flown language and imagery in the Bible. It is both daunting and beatific.

In our own day, in a mechanistic society trammeled with political conflicts and a waning consciousness of the sublime, I believe poets—and particularly poets of faith— have a similar mandate. I suggest that writers who cultivate the gift of perception and awareness will make connections with what they see in imagination and how they write about it. It is a kind of translation in the hope that something of what they see and hear will open a fresh understanding, will somehow illuminate their readers. It’s like taking someone by the arm and saying, “Hey. Look this way! Have you noticed . . . ? Can you see what I am seeing?” It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking or exalted or profound, but it must speak into another human mind, building a bridge from writer to reader. It’s as if a poem hasn’t fulfilled its purpose until it makes a connection in someone else’s imagination, and enlarges, by increments, that companion mind.

We earth-bound mortals, with a cultivated consciousness, may have access to possibilities, or invisible realities. We have a connection with the seen and unseen by way of spiritual insight and our words suggest that, like John the Revelator, we “write what we see.” As we live in a creative world of beauty and terror, delight and disruption, we are called to notice the contrasts and linkages that fascinate and compel us into truth-telling and metaphorical language. As it was for Habakkuk, burdened with a prophetic vision (or a compelling image for a poem), our insights and language may burden us with something not to be gainsaid.

Not everyone in Scripture was called to be a prophet, not even the righteous. Not every human being will see reality through the eyes of imagination and vision. Yet in our own time we may also have access to the transcendent as our imaginations receive “pictures in our heads.” Rhythms and phrases take hold of us. Individual words and phrases will call to us from the pages of contemporary novels and journals, demanding to be written into poems. Ideas take shape and color and meaning. Rhythmic phrases hum in our minds waiting to be expressed in rhyme and meter. Or not.

Poets and prophets may not always be at the center of a social structure. Rather they are on “the edge of inside,” as Richard Rohr has said. We stand on a kind of threshold looking out, and in, and then, using the magic of language, we may open a window, point at a landscape and ask: “Can you see what I’m seeing?”—an introduction to enter our vision, an invitation to make a connection.

Luci Shaw

Paraclete Press and Elements Theatre Company join the worldwide celebration of All Saints Day with Battered and Bright: Celebrating the Saints

November 2 & 3, 2018 — Paraclete Press and Elements Theatre Company have a lot in common, including a passion to spread the Gospel through the written and spoken word, and offer encouragement to those of us ordinary folks hoping to get one step closer to heaven every day. This All Saints Day, Paraclete and Elements join in our mutual love of sacred literature, to present an ecumenical celebration of the Saints portrayed through the lens of theatre.

Elements Theatre Company (Orleans, MA) and Paraclete Press (Brewster, MA) present Battered and Bright: Celebrating the Saints: November 2, 7:30 pm, November 3, 3 pm & 7:30 pm, at the Church of the Transfiguration, Rock Harbor, Orleans. For tickets call 508-240-2400, visit elementstheatre.org, or purchase at the door. $35 General; $30 Senior; Free for Students and Youth 18 & under; Group rates available for 10 or more.

Meet revered Saints—Peter, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Patrick, Catherine of Siena, and Francis of Assisi—whose stories will come to life through narratives and live music. Fire-lit basins, background projections, and a large book set the stage, allowing the audience to step into the radical world of the Saints through the ages.

Jon Sweeney, Paraclete Press’s Editor-in-Chief, will moderate post-performance discussions with Artistic Director Danielle Dwyer, CJ, and Dramaturg Brad Lussier. Guest speakers include Paraclete Press authors Bert Ghezzi (The Angry Christian), Susan L. Miller (Communion of Saints: Poems), and Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle (Feeding Your Family’s Soul); St. Peter’s Lutheran Church pastor Christian Holleck (Harwich, MA); and others. Click here to meet the Casts & Panelists.


“As actors, we must take on the whole person of the character we are playing. As we charted the Saints’ journeys of spirit, walked through their lives, explored their vibrancy of faith and commitment, we found hope. There is no shame in being human—once we accept this gift, there is actual peace.”—Sr. Danielle Dwyer

Saint Francis comes to life for a new generation in stunning new title from Phil Gallery and Sibyl MacKenzie

October 4, The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi — As the world celebrates its favorite and most unifying saint, Francis of Assisi, Paraclete Press announces the release of the first title in its new San Damiano Books imprint, St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story (October 4, 2019 • ISBN 978-1-61261-973-6 • $17.99 • Hardcover).

 Watch a video trailer about the book here! 

Phil Gallery’s inspired words from the perspective of Mother Bird, paired with Sibyl MacKenzie’s vibrant, beautiful illustrations, give readers young and old an entirely new angle on Brother Francis – the boy who grew up in Assisi, ventured out as a brave knight, turned aside when he heard God’s call, and became the gentle monk who loved the Creator and all of creation with his whole heart. The familiar stories take on an even more profound meaning when told from the perspective of Francis’s brothers and sisters, the birds – and one little bird in particular who takes flight for the first time thanks to the kindness of Brother Francis – showing how all the parts of God’s creation are connected.

Praise for St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story
“This is an enchanting tale of St. Francis’ love of all creatures that shows how religious tales, in engaging prose and elegant illustrations, can guide us in the most important project of our lives: connecting with God, the Maker of all good things. This will become one of the favorite books of childhood!” –Fr. David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., Director of the Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University

“This book is great! It is a wonderful depiction of the story of the life of Saint Francis as told with amazing drawings.”
Bob O’Connor, Author of A House Divided Against Itself

“These stunning illustrations and the engaging text describe how Francis related to a great variety of animals. This book is sure to spark valuable conversations.”
-Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, Franciscan Editor, St. Anthony Messenger

“Simply stunning! This is guaranteed to stir your heart with a rousing love for God, His Saints, His Creation, and all creatures—great and small. This tender story is magnificently illustrated and a very engaging expression of the life of the beloved Saint of Assisi. I highly recommend it for children and adults alike!”

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, award-winning author of many books including Angels for Kids and My Confirmation Book

Phil Gallery is the author of four books in the award-winning “Can You Find” series that sold more than 140,000 copies. He lives in the hills of eastern West Virginia, where he and his wife Shari raised their four children.

Sibyl MacKenzie graduated from Columbia University with a degree in German Literature and has exhibited in galleries all over the US.

St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story is the first book in Paraclete’s new San Damiano Books imprint for Franciscan spirituality. San Damiano Books will publish for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

For interviews with author Phil Gallery or for review copies, please contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree: email lauram@paracletepress.com, phone 800-451-5006 ext 316.


Announcing book two in “The Pope’s Cat” series from Jon Sweeney: Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s – A Christmas Story!

For Immediate Release

For October 1, 2018 — Margaret the cat and her best friend, none other than the Pope himself, are back to entertain and teach young readers about the inside world of the Vatican, and everything that goes on at Christmastime at St. Peter’s Basilica: Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s (A Christmas Story) (October 2018 / Paraclete Press / ISBN 978-1-61261-936-1 / trade paperback / color illustrations / $10.99) by Jon M. Sweeney, illustrated by Roy DeLeon.

Picking right up where they left left off, this disarming story about the antics of mischievous Margaret and her beloved friend the Pope takes readers to iconic sites at St. Peter’s – behind the Pieta, and even up at the altar – allowing children to take part in Margaret’s first experience of the miracle of Christmas.

“This beautiful book is a love letter to the church, to Christmas, to Rome, and to St. Peter’s Basilica—and not just for children!” –James Martin, SJ

“What could be more endearing than a charming and curious stray cat? It could only be the cat that’s been adopted by the pope and has free run of the Vatican at Christmastime: Margaret! This enchanting and beautifully illustrated storybook will tickle your fancy! I highly recommend it to children and adults alike!” –Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

“Have you ever wished you could celebrate the wonder of Christmas within the beauty of the Vatican? Take a step inside St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope’s special friend Margaret the cat and see the Church’s celebration of the Nativity with fresh eyes and a glowing heart. Jon Sweeney playfully invites us into another adventure featuring exquisite color illustrations by Roy DeLeon. Sensational!” –Lisa M. Hendey

About the author: Jon M. Sweeney’s popular history, The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation, has been optioned by HBO. He’s the author of two dozen other books including The Complete Francis of AssisiWhen Saint Francis Saved the Church, winner of a 2015 award in history from the Catholic Press Association, and The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started. This is his second book for children.

About the illustrator: Roy DeLeon is an Oblate of St. Benedict, spiritual director, yoga instructor, graphic designer, and professional visual artist. He is also author of Praying with the Body.

For review copies or interviews, contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree at lauram@paracletepress.com, or 800-451-5006 ext 316.

Celebrate 90 years of a life well-loved and well-lived with Jean Vanier’s “We Need Each Other”

Paraclete Press launches a month-long celebration honoring Jean Vanier’s 90th birthday with the release of We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together (September 18, 2018 • ISBN 978-1-64060-096-6 • Hardcover • $19.99).

Vanier’s words in this book represent the culmination of 65 years of global ministry, and the definitive summary of his life’s work and deep beliefs. His message of reconciliation is something the world desperately needs in these dark times of spiritual and cultural division.

In Vanier’s own words:
 “Today we are living in a very stressed world. There is a lot of fear and even hatred for those who are different. Jesus came to preach peace and to break down the barriers that separate people. May this little book help each one of us become messengers of peace, of mercy, and of forgiveness.”

Paraclete will be celebrating Vanier’s life and message with a vibrant social media campaign throughout the month, including intimate video interviews revealing the heart of this “living saint,” reviews and online discussions of the book and its message, and video sharings from a book launch with Vanier himself at his home in France, October 7-8, 2018.

Jean Vanier
 was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2015. He is a philosopher, theologian, and man of letters with great heart and compassion. The first L’Arche Community was started in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, a village in the north of Paris, when Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities to live with him in a small house. Today, L’Arche is made up of 151 communities spread over five continents.

“This is vintage Vanier.” —Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, author of The Holy Longing and Bruised and Wounded
“Jean Vanier is a living saint.” —James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
We Need Each Other is a treasure.” —John Pattison, Englewood Review of Books

To request a review copy or an interview, please contact Laura McKendree: email lauram@paracletepress.com, call 1-800-451-5006 ext 316.

Paraclete Press Announces the Launching of a New Publishing Imprint



October 2018 — In time for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Paraclete Press releases the first title in its new imprint for Franciscan spirituality. San Damiano Books will publish for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

Coming October 4, 2018:

St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story 
by Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl MacKenzie
Format: 8.5×11, 32 pp. Hardcover / ISBN: 978-1-61261-973-6 / $17.99
Ship Date: 9/13/2018 / On Sale: 10/4/2018


“Stunning illustrations and engaging text. This book is sure to spark valuable conversations.” —Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, Franciscan Editor, St. Anthony Messenger

If the animal kingdom can understand the life and teachings of the world’s most famous saint, so can children, who will be delighted by this simple, beautiful book for the ages.


Francis of Assisi In His Own Words: The Essential Writings, 2nd edition 
by Jon M. Sweeney
Format: 5×7.5, 160 pp. Trade paper / ISBN: 978-1-64060-019-5 / $16.99
Ship Date: 10/2/18 / On Sale: 10/23/18


“A very good translation of [Francis’] original writings, in words that we can now appreciate.” —Richard Rohr, OFM

Sweeney has expanded his bestselling compilation to include six additional writings such as: “The Form of Life He Wished for Clare,” “The Sermon to the Birds,” and “The Source of True Joy.” An expanded introduction and notes add historical and theological context.

Authors under contract for 2019 include two more books for children; Wendy Murray with a new biography of St. Clare; multi-platinum recording artist John Michael Talbot reflecting on Francis of Assisi’s “Sermon on the Mount” by looking at one of the saint’s lesser-known writings, “The Admonitions”; and Amid Passing Things: Life, Prayer, and Relationship with God by new author Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR.

Happy Birthday Saint Teresa of Calcutta!

Read and enjoy this excerpt from Suzanne Henley’s Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New in honor of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s birthday (August 26th).

Chapter 4:

Clearing Your Cache and Beginning to Pray

Regardless of how many years and how earnestly you have prayed, author John McQuiston reminds us, “Always We Begin Again.” Each attempt at prayer is a new one. There are no referees, no winning score, no out-of-bounds, no penalties. You must bring your whole self to it. Several years ago I heard Richard Rohr say, “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it. I have no other way of spotting both my denied shadow self and my idealized persona.” Prayer can be messy. It is not—and should not be, I believe—a tidy package. We must wade through the mud first. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “no mud, no lotus.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5–6 to go into our closet to pray. Closets are of course our first choice as children when playing Hide and Seek, and that often describes prayer: Hide and Seek. And we are still children. However, I retreat at the image of the Holy Spirit in my closet—ancient dust balls roiling among the cluttered clogs and worn-out sandals, pants legs slapping about, a sweater or two slumped off hangers—and the two of us hunkering knee to knee amid the musty odor of tee shirts and jeans whining, “Put me in the laundry!” This closet with its housekeeping embarrassments of course is the untidy closet of my heart. And, as messy as it might be, this is exactly where we all must begin. One of the main points of prayer, it seems to me, is in fact to air our dirty laundry.

We can spend a lot of time and effort hiding from what we know to face in prayer—“That of which we are not aware, owns us,” James Hollis reminds us in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life—but sometimes roles switch; the Spirit sometimes seems to hide, sometimes for months, even for years.

In 1989 Mother Teresa came to Memphis to speak. Two of my children were quite young and could have no idea at the time of the enormity of devotion and accomplishment of this tiny woman, but I wanted them to have a memory of her presence. For some lucky reason we were given aisle seats. We waited a long, very fidgety time. Suddenly there was a stir. Mother Teresa did not come out on a stage two hundred feet away but was actually walking up the aisle toward us. The packed coliseum was quiet with respect and awe as she approached. Then she was beside us, and my son Walker, in the carrying voice of an excited child, stood up and exclaimed to the hushed auditorium, “Look, Mom, she has on sandals! And they’re just like mine!”

We now know that Mother Teresa, as many of us do, experienced her own very dark night of the soul. According to her letters—which she never believed would be made public—the desolation and abandonment by God she felt lasted for fifty years, beginning almost from the moment she arrived in Calcutta to begin the work she believed Jesus had commanded her to do. Continuing her work, and always smiling (“a mask,” she called it), she wrote of the “torture,” “emptiness,” and “darkness” she lived with for the majority of her life. For a period she even stopped praying. We balk and flounder, searching for an adequate explanation for this gut-wrenching information—or dismiss it with a shrug of psychological shoulders. As unutterably painful as those years must have been for her, though, they tell each of us in our own dark nights of searing doubt and unbearable loneliness that we’re in good company. We all wear the same sandals.

Paraclete Fiction | “This Heavy Silence” | Preview

August 2018 — Paraclete Fiction expands its acclaimed collection by bringing Nicole Mazzarella’s This Heavy Silence back to print.
Mazzarella’s novel captured the literary world’s attention when it was first published back in 2005, by breaking the norms of Christian fiction with a heroine’s controversial choices, edgy themes and language. In 2006 the top fiction award from Christianity Today, and a subsequent Christy Award, confirmed Library Journal’s “highly recommended” accolades.
Now Paraclete is pleased to reintroduce readers to Mazzarella’s mesmerizing portrait of betrayal, forgiveness, and the mysteries of grace. In This Heavy Silence, discover the world of Dottie Connell — strong, resilient, and deeply loyal, she farms three hundred acres in rural Ohio alone, having sacrificed love and family for land she does not own. A sudden, inexplicable event leaves the daughter of her childhood friend in her care. Pressured by her community to allow her former fiancé to raise the child, Dottie must face the past she has worked fifteen years to forget. 
“Nuanced characterization, finely wrought scene-setting, subtlety in addressing questions of faith, repentance, and forgiveness.” —Christianity Today Book Awards 2006, Winner in Debut Fiction
Part One: 1962
Chapter 1

Thousands of seasons of deciduous rot in the sandstone ridges of this Ohio valley yielded wheat fields that brought farmers begging to buy Brubaker land. My great-grandfather convinced a Brubaker to sell him three hundred acres, not revealing to anyone he had discovered a spring-fed patch of land. Land that would never go dry. So while our land never rivaled the Brubaker’s in size, my great-grandfather made a name for the Connells. And names could last for generations.

In winter, this valley belonged to no one. Snow covered the fields and then drifted over our fences. I wrapped my scarf around my head and stepped into my boots on the black rubber mat by the door. The snow from last night’s milking puddled between a row of boots that promised seasons to come: my mid-calf green rubber boots for spring, the tan suede hiking boots with yellow laces for summer.

Quickly lacing my boots, I worried Zela’s daughter would wake before I returned from milking, or, worse, that Zela would arrive and find her alone. Zela had never left her only child in my care. Most women assumed I had no instinct at all if I didn’t have the sense to marry and give birth to my own children.

Reaching for my thermos on the kitchen counter, I noticed a neatly stacked pile of cloth next to the telephone. I flicked on the light. Zela’s aprons. Starched and pressed. This was the second time Zela had left her aprons at my house. Yet she knew I would never use them. Cooking could not stain my work clothes any more than transmission oil, so I never bothered.

In November when she first left these aprons, I folded them over a hanger and kept them near the door, hoping to prompt her to explain why she hadn’t simply tucked them in a drawer or donated them to her church’s rummage sale. Only a month later, she slipped in the side door quietly. By the time I came into the hallway, her coat bulged slightly from the aprons tucked inside. Her silence encouraged my silence. If I noticed her taking them, she didn’t want me to mention it.

“What does he say to make you stop wearing aprons, and then make you start wearing them again?” I asked. Zela rubbed her hands on her legs as if she already wore an apron that could absorb the nervousness in her palms. I knew she wouldn’t answer. Our friendship was based on old secrets, not new ones.

A look inside “Give Love and Receive the Kingdom”

From the greatest living expert on the history of English spirituality comes the most expansive collection of her work ever published. Benedicta Ward’s Give Love and Receive the Kingdom is designed to both inspire and educate. Read the Introduction, and prepare to be inspired.

These papers were all written for different times and occasions, and I am grateful to the editors at Paraclete Press and SLG Press for the suggestion of reprinting them under one cover. Reading them together is for me like looking through windows of different coloured glass at many people, times, and places; my task is that of a window-cleaner, making it possible for others both to see through clearly and pass over to find pasture, as I do among such friends. The message of these writers is certainly not one of ease and comfortableness, but of faith, hope, and love. Only after wrestling with God, like Jacob in the dark, and being like him permanently wounded, can anyone go towards the brother one has hated and say, “I see your face as the face of God” (Gen. 33:10). They all used their own life experience, starting where they were, to express the impact on them of the Gospel through self-knowledge and God-knowledge, by submission and repentance, coming closer always to the reality of God in Christ. They spoke out of lives lived within and on behalf of a world as torn and agonizing and filled with doubt as our own.

There are many written sources to draw upon in understanding the inner life of our predecessors in these islands. They were human beings like ourselves, and in exploring their journeys we can be refreshed and encouraged in our own. A search for their backgrounds could begin with the records of the evangelisation of the sixth-century Germanic settlers in Britain who came from different places: there were the existing British Christians, the missionaries sent by Gregory I from Rome, and contacts with Christian Gaul, as well as missionaries and preachers from Ireland and Iona. In effect, the message they brought came originally from Rome, coloured by the different ethos of each group, and they intermingled freely, creating eventually a homogeneous Christian nation out of disparate tribes and peoples.

The chief sources for knowing about them at this early stage are the works of the Venerable Bede (635–736), the greatest scholar of his age and the only Englishman to have been accorded the title of Doctor of the Church. He made it his life’s work to offer the new Christians the traditions of Mediterranean Christianity, linking them with the world of the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, not just as a part of the past, but as life here and now for a new and living people of God.

The basis of Anglo-Saxon spirituality was thus formed by love and not by force. Augustine began by praying and fasting in a small church with the queen and her court, establishing a lasting link between church and state which was dependent on unity of prayer and reality of conduct. This link is seen clearly in the conclusion of the Synod of Whitby where a major division was healed not by reasoned argument or political force but by trust in the resurrection: “King Oswiu said, ‘Since Peter is the doorkeeper I will not contradict him, lest when I come to the gates of heaven there may be no-one to open them.’”1

In a rough world, existing ways of life were not so much destroyed as transformed: a love of the glory of gold became a love for the beauty of holiness. Awareness of the terrors of both nature and super nature around them, as well as of sin within, led to a strong emphasis on penance, personal as well as corporate, which coloured devotion and affirmed the centrality of the Cross and the Last Judgement. Love of a lord was transferred to love of the high King of Heaven, and love of kin could be the basis of care for members of the Church. This instinctive need for companionship was transferred also to the saints, who were known as always present and always available in prayers, miracles, and visions.

Bede preserved for us details of this lived Christianity in stories which show the ideals which inspired the new Christians. This was done orally by preaching but also by using the new technology of writing. Augustine had brought with him to a non-literate society a silver cross and an icon of Christ, but also a book which would change the ways of communication forever. He offered these to King Ethelbert and his thanes as tokens of “a new and better kingdom.”2 His approach was in line with the policies of Pope Gregory the Great who sent him, in that he was prepared to build on the existing ideals and customs of the English and transfigure rather than destroy. A serious, practical, and lasting spirituality was the result, based on the Scriptures and the liturgy of the Church, which is illustrated by the cover of this book, which shows the picture of Christ in majesty. It is taken from the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest copy of the Latin Vulgate, which was made at Wearmouth Jarrow in Bede’s time, thus presenting the Bible as the main window into the light which shone through the lives of our friends.

The sense of living in the ante-chamber of heaven, with the shadow of judgement as well as the promise of mercy always present, coloured all aspects of later medieval devotion, but the eleventh century saw a turning point towards a more personal interior approach. The key figure in this was the theologian-monk Anselm of Bec, who ended his life as archbishop of Canterbury (1033–1109). He made a break with the long tradition of prayer which flowed mainly through the channels of the psalms by creating out of them a new kind of poetic material for the use of anyone who wanted to pray. His Prayers and Meditations arose out of his own private prayer, and he sent copies of them to those of his friends who asked for them, together with simple and practical advice about how they could be used. Naturally his prayers were shaped by his monastic background and interests, but from the first they were popular with men and women living a busy Christian life in society for whom the monastic life of prayer was an ideal with which they longed to be associated. Anselm’s secretary and biographer, Eadmer, wrote of these prayers:

With what fear, with what hope and love he addressed himself to God and his saints and taught others to do the same. If the reader will only study them reverently, I hope that his heart will be touched and that he will feel the benefit of them and rejoice in them and for them.

Anselm saw no rift between Christian thought and Christian devotion. As well as being a good pastor, a man of prayer, and an affectionate friend, Anselm was an outstanding scholar, with one of the keenest minds of all time, and he applied his intellect to the lifelong task of thinking about and living for God. Every part of his fine mental equipment was stretched to its limit, seeking and desiring God in practise as well as in thought. At the end of the Proslogion he wrote:

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you
and if I may not do so fully in this life,
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness.

It is clear from this quotation, which comes from the last part of his most brilliant philosophical work in which he first proposed what was later called “the ontological argument” for the existence of God, that Anselm knew very well that God is not known by the intellect on its own but by the heart and mind together. His own discovery about prayer was what he passed on to others as “faith seeking understanding.” In his advice about praying, he insisted that the first necessity was to want to pray and be ready to give up some part at least of concern with oneself in order to be “free a while for God.” In a quiet place, alone, Anselm offered the person praying words that he himself had prayed, arising out of, but not confined to, the Scriptures used in personal and intimate dialogue with Jesus.

It is possible to find the same approach in Julian of Norwich (1342– 1413.) Julian composed two books, one a long version of the other, called Revelations of Divine Love, expressing the flowering of English prose as well as containing the first sustained theology to be written in English. She lived as an anchoress in a cell built onto the wall of the church of St. Julian in Norwich. In the twentieth century, she became well known and indeed popular, but she was very little known in her own times and all but lost sight of at the Reformation. Her works were recovered and edited only at the end of the nineteenth century, as if they had been preserved especially for our times. Her theology was based on a background of immense global suffering and despair. The time and opportunity for a peaceful life was challenged in the most basic manner possible by universal attacks of a fatal plague, called the Black Death, which struck at everyone and recurred; it was almost impossible to assuage.

There are so many deeds which in our eyes are evilly done and
lead to such great harms that it seems impossible to us that any
good result should ever come from them.5

She was well aware of the sinful state of all: “I saw and understood that we may not in this life keep us from sin as completely as we shall in heaven.” But she was sure that here and now we should not despair: “Neither on the one hand should we fall low in despair, nor on the other be over reckless as if we did not care but we should simply acknowledge that we may not stand for the twinkling of an eye except by the grace of God and we should reverently cleave to God in him only trusting.”

With this dark background of fatal illness and continuous warfare the poet Langland (1332–1400) presented a vision of realistic but loving hope similar to that encountered in Julian:

I dreamt a marvellous dream;
I was in a wilderness I could not tell where . . .
and between the tower and the gulf
I saw a smooth field full of folk,
high and low together. (Piers Plowman)

The tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow: and between them a field full of folk. This vision is concerned with the folk between these two extremes, and in some ways, it is a true vision of Christian life in any time or place. There is always a dynamic unity between the content of a faith (the “tower of truth”) and the way it is lived out (“the gulf of sorrow”) not by a special elite but by the “folk” themselves. Spirituality cannot be seen as a pure intellectual stream of consciousness flowing from age to age among articulate people only; it is always the lens of the gospel placed over each age, each place, each person.

This unity of understanding within the changing settings of the disasters and challenges of life can be seen in Bede, Cuthbert, and Anselm. Alongside them are the hermits of the twelfth century, and the fourteenth-century writers Julian of Norwich and Langland. Andrewes, Taylor, and Frank in the seventeenth century show how the same approach to inner pilgrimage continued in changing social contexts, a stream of ever-moving pilgrims going towards the life of heaven.

We are all engaged in this pilgrimage with them, and there is refreshment in such companionship. We are all Bunyan’s Christian, and as well as being his Mr. Despair, we are also his Faithful-unto-Death. We with him will cross over in the loving company of friends, where for us as for him “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.” Between the tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow our predecessors stood, as we do, within a field full of folk with only one rule: “Give love and receive the kingdom!”

Benedicta Ward, Oxford, 2018

International Cat Day with Margaret, “The Pope’s Cat”

Today is International Cat Day 🐈, when people around the world are expressing love for felines and concerns about caring for them wherever they are found. Our cat-loving publisher and author Jon M. Sweeney is in the house. In honor of this day, two readers will win signed copies of Jon’s best-selling book, The Pope’s Cat — all you have to do is enter by 5 pm today!

How do you enter? Easy! Post a comment on this blog or on the Paraclete Press Facebook page about how much you love Margaret, the Pope’s cat, or any other cat in your life, and you will be entered to win. Photos also welcomed!
This contest will be closely monitored by our #1 feline judge at Paraclete Press, Margaret. The winner will be announced tonight!
Paws up — who wants to win? Good luck! And have a purrrr-fectly lovely National Cat Day!

Fade to Gray: 5 Days ‘Til Samuel


Take a minute with this article by John Gray about the backstory to his book “God Needed A Puppy” coming out next Tuesday! You’ll be gad you did.

In six days (now five) a beautiful puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country. How he got there is really something.

You see, two years ago today I was with my wife at a pet store shopping for bowls, beds and toys suitable for a new dog. A tiny German shepherd puppy was exactly five weeks old and almost ready to come home with us. We met him a day after he was born and visited him once a week so he’d know our scent and faces when he came home with us. We named him Samuel. There was something regal and almost biblical about that name I thought.

For those who read this column frequently or visit my Facebook page you know what happened next. He did come home, melted our hearts and then six months later broke our hearts when he went down for his morning nap and never woke up. The doctors said it was just one of those horrible, fluke things; one in a million. He died in early January of 2017 and I felt like a gunshot victim who refused to go and get treatment, carrying the bullet and pain around with me.

Then one Sunday evening I sat at the very computer I’m typing this column on now and started writing a story. I learned when I was a kid that if something was really bothering me it helped to write about it; kind of like getting the poison out. So I wrote a story about a man who loses his dog and is asking God for some explanation.

The next day I went back to the story and decided it shouldn’t be a man asking God for answers but a child who loses his dog.

The third day I took all the humans out of the story and replaced them with a fox and an owl and suddenly this was no longer about me or my pain at all. I looked at the computer screen and realized I’d almost written a children’s story by accident. I say “almost” because I didn’t have an ending so I asked God to give me one and went to sleep.

I woke up on the fourth day and had my ending. Whether it came from the cinnamon bagel with butter I ate that morning or the almighty is open for debate but I had my ending.

Oh, and my title, “God Needed A Puppy.” So what to do with my little story?

I tried sending it to publishers and agents and nobody wanted it. A few were nice and said they liked it but they didn’t want it. One person told me to consider taking God out of the story (or at least the title) and I told her without God there wasn’t a story but thanks for the advice.

When a nice woman I didn’t know painted beautiful pictures to match my words I decided to just publish it myself. The plan was to sell a couple thousand copies and donate any money I made to pet shelters. Then something amazing happened, people loved the book and purchased 14,000 of them.

By November of 2017 I’d done all I could do with it. The publishing world said no, we sold what we could sell and lots of animal shelters got nice big checks. Mission accomplished. Yet something nagged at me. What if there could be more? Something told me to try one last time.

So late one night I emailed my story to five more literary agents only this time I focused only on those who represent Christian authors. If God was the problem maybe he was also the solution. Less than two days later I had my agent and three months after that I had a book deal with Paraclete Press. And now six days from today a puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country in a gorgeous hardcover version.

After signing a deal with my publisher I “googled” Paraclete Press and learned they are based in Cape Cod not two miles from a hotel I’ve stayed at with my family many times. I could only laugh because from top to bottom this improbable story has had so many coincidences or what my illustrator Shanna would call “God’s hand guiding it.”

For example — the portrait of Samuel on the book cover was painted by her the day he died. She didn’t know me, she just heard he died and started painting him; a stranger from five states away. Random acts of love, like Shanna’s, have made this book a reality.

I don’t know what happens next with “God Needed A Puppy.” I do know it has helped lots of kids and pets already and that’s enough. Still I’d love to sell more and help even more. I hope Samuel is proud of me. And I hope when I die and meet my maker God says to me, “Thanks for keeping me in the title John. Thanks for putting me first.” Then I’ll say, “You’re welcome Lord, now do you mind getting me my puppy?”

John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Wednesday. Email him at johngray@fox23news.com.

Naked and Unashamed— Undressing one another’s history

Jerry and Claudia Root and Jeremy Rios give so many wise and practical suggestions on how to prepare for marriage — here’s a great one for how couples can really get to know each other better in the months leading up to marriage, or even if the years afterward!


What we suggest next is a project and exercise for couples to perform together—and this is meant to be fun! Procure for each of you a notebook or journal in which you can write down significant things about your beloved. Set aside some time and get away to a nice, quiet, cozy place and there take turns sharing and listening to one another, writing down what you hear. This activity—of investing time to discover your partner’s life history—is a project that not only can be sustained throughout your engagement, but sets a foundation for conversation that will carry you throughout your marriage. Make it so that the sharing of your life story with your partner is a priority, especially in the months preceding your marriage. Each of you, after all, has a life that was lived before you met, and learning about that life can be an interesting and ongoing part of your relationship.

There are any number of ways to go about this project together. One possibility would be to organize it according to the periods of your life, going through each era and sharing the most significant events and how they affected you. As you cover this historical ground, makes sure that you are getting to know the person’s hurts and sorrows, dreams, disappointments, and defining moments. You can begin small with things like where you were born, why you were born there, how your parents happened to live there at that time, and what extended family was there at the time. If you don’t know the answers, call up your beloved’s mother or father—they will likely be more than happy to fill in the details. Continue to ask further questions: What were your family dynamics? Who were your best family friends growing up? How did your family change when other people were around? What was your school experience like? Who were teachers that impacted your life? Where did your family go on vacations? What were these vacations like? How were the family interactions? Where were you in the birth order and how did that define you as a person? The questions can be endless, and together you can chase them with the delight of children opening packages on Christmas morning.

In an exercise such as this one, follow-up questions are just as important as the initial information—not only because they reveal the interest of your partner, but because they invite further and deeper reflection into our own histories. Each partner should practice listening attentively, asking questions that get to the deeper matters. “What did that feel like?” “Do you remember that often?” “Was that move hard for you?” “How did your parent’s divorce affect you?” Asking questions about our emotions surrounding these memories is a powerful way to re-access the memories themselves, and learning to ask such questions that encourage a person to go deeper will help the relationship grow.

In addition to talking about these experiences, you may even want to visit the historical places relevant to your partner’s life if you grew up in different locations. It is always interesting to see where they lived, played as children, went to school, and even meet old friends and relatives. If you can’t do all this while engaged, you can plan it in the future years and include it in your notebooks, snapping photos along the way and collecting other memorabilia. Such a project could in time become something special to pass down to your children.

All of these recommendations, of course, are simply guidelines—as a couple you are free to be as creative as you want to be. We have seen couples who have expanded this project much further. The key is to establish an attitude of abiding interest in the wholeness and complexity of the person you plan to marry. As Wordsworth wrote in the poem quoted at the beginning of this chapter, “The child is the father of the man.” When we spread the table of our memories before one another we are bearing witness to the child, the adolescent, and young adult who gives shape to your personalities today.

Developing historical intimacy in this way lays a foundation for all the other forms of intimacy, not only because it invites a fully orbed knowledge of your spouse, but because the way that we engage this kind of conversation also shapes how we communicate. There are some very important factors that shape this historical conversation and can with intentionality extend to all your conversations.

The dominant factor is vulnerability. The willingness to open up and speak to your partner about the significant events that have shaped your life requires a kind of risk. These are memories that you may never have spoken to another soul in your life. The choice to be vulnerable in that moment is a choice, profoundly, to trust. For many people, it would be much easier to take off their actual clothes than the emotional clothes that cover their life stories! But the work must not be avoided, and the man or woman who refuses to be vulnerable also refuses to trust. In such an environment intimacy can never truly grow.

Vulnerability is also powerful as a door to your own self-knowledge. As your partner asks questions about your life, following the trail of the conversation wherever it goes, insights and revelations about your own story can emerge. Vulnerability means not only sharing what has been private, but also permitting someone else to offer perspective on your story. The person who refuses to be vulnerable not only fails to be intimate with someone else, but he also fails to truly know himself.

When these conversations range into vulnerable matters, it is very important that the listening partner honor the vulnerability of the sharer. Imagine what it would feel like to stand naked in front of your partner, and then to have that person point at some part of your body, and laugh, or to ignore you while looking at a phone or television screen. Would you feel valued in that tender moment? If the answer is no, then consider how you can strive to give value to the memories shared with you. This, fundamentally, is an activity of listening and accepting; you are not listening in order to pass judgment. For the sharing partner, it is an opportunity to be accepted for things that you alone know about your life. Ensure that you honor one another in the sharing of these often-precious memories.

These moments of undressing offer an unprecedented opportunity to share our deepest secrets, and secrets we cannot talk about control us. If there are places in your life you cannot reveal to the person you are going to marry, not only are you implicitly saying that it’s okay to have secrets in this relationship, but to that same degree you are implying that you do not trust your partner. This might indicate either that your partner is untrustworthy, or in fact that you yourself are untrusting. But if you are willing to take the risk you might discover levels of trust that you never before anticipated.

There are times when individuals have experienced past events that they would rather forget, and they might because of this have a difficult time sharing. A block to sharing like this informs you that there are some deep issues that may need to be addressed. Nevertheless, we must recognize that becoming intimate involves sharing your whole self—the good, the bad, and the ugly. If your partner cannot handle hearing about the past things in your life that were difficult for you, that person may not be the one for you. Jerry once knew a woman who confided in her fiancé that when she was a teenager she had an abortion. Unable to cope with this information, her fiancé broke off the engagement, breaking her heart in the process. Several years later she met another man and again confided in him. This time, when she had shared her story, he took her in his arms and said, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I love you even more for sharing such a deep hurt with me.” They went on to have four children of their own, and she even became involved in a prolife organization. Sharing these hurts before marriage establishes a clear foundation for your relationship and can also provide unprecedented and unexpected opportunities for healing.

If you find that you cannot share your past with the person you love, you should probably find out why that is the case. Secrets kept early in the relationship typically erupt later, and quite possibly in a destructive manner. We have found that often when couples share these deep parts of themselves, the other person sincerely makes an effort to show acceptance and tell the person they love how much closer they feel. Love multiplies where vulnerability is sincere. And the truth of the matter is that we each have things in our past we are ashamed of, from acts we did or were done to us, to thoughts we had or have. True intimacy develops where couples embrace the risk and take the courage to share their lives with one another.

There is one more thing to be kept in mind. Historical undressing demands that we guard the secrets that are shared with us. Inasmuch as we hear these stories without judgment—accepting that the story is simply part of the person sitting beside us—we must also be good stewards of that which is shared with us. In marriage, your secrets are mine, and my secrets are yours, and together we hold them in trust for one another. And by building such a foundation on the basis of openness, honesty, and acceptance, you establish a great trajectory for your future family.

Greetings from Pink Floyd

In this excerpt from Aging Starts in Your Mind: You’re Only As Old As You Feel Chapter 3, author Notker Wolf, shares how rock and baroque music do go together after all. http://bit.ly/2LLxkYi

Chapter 3: Greetings from Pink Floyd

This summer I had a two-week holiday in a monastery on Lake Wolfgang. (My annual leave is usually shorter and sometimes canceled altogether.) While I was there, I received an invitation to the Tollwood Festival in Munich, and I must admit I didn’t know exactly what it would be like: a kind of Woodstock but lasting for weeks and without the mud? It didn’t matter, the offer to perform with my band in the Andechser tent was appealing.

Well, I said to myself, if Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and others from the glorious age of rock music, with their lined faces, still dare to perform, you can do it too—in any case they won’t have to get you off any drugs first. I accepted the invitation.

Someone drove me from Austria to Munich. “Oh yes, you’re the father from the mountain,” said the security guard at the entrance to the Tollwood grounds with a glance into our car. Apparently, he’d seen the television interview I did on the summit of the Dürrnbachhorn with Werner Schmidbauer. “Tell you what, I’ll let you through here, then you won’t have so far to walk to the tent.”

I already felt at home, even though I’d never been here before. The guard signaled his colleagues, so the way was open all the way to the Andechser tent, and after a short sound check (the other band members had arrived earlier) we were ready for our concert, two hours of rock music in the tent from 7:30 to 9:30. Although I have to admit I sometimes left the stage. A concert that long is too much for me these days, plus I don’t have the time to rehearse enough songs to fill an evening program. I’m lucky if I find two or three hours at Sant’Anselmo a few days before our performance to put on our CD and rehearse my parts on guitar flute. So I played in two of the four sets, and my band did the rest on their own.

Apart from the singer, our band always has the same members it did in the good old days when I was Archabbot of St. Ottilien and the others were students at our school. That’s a long time ago now; my fellow musicians have also grown older, but unlike me, they aren’t aware of it yet.

And it’s still tremendous fun for everyone. For example, we did a performance under the southern sky in front of a large audience at an arena in Pescara, Italy, dubbed “Pink Floyd Sends Greetings from Pompeii,” that was unforgettable. As was as our show soon afterward in Seeon, a magnificent monastery on a lake island in Bavaria. Seeon has made a name for itself as an event location, and I was invited to give a lecture there to the managers of the Ingolstadt hospital. “Bring your band along,” they said. After the talk at dinner in the magnificent, colorful refectory, I still had my doubts about playing in this setting, wondering if rock and Baroque really went together. But a little later the set got going and I enjoyed playing as usual, and the experience was a real miracle.

That’s what the head of trauma called it anyway—it was absolutely unbelievable how all differences disappeared immediately, all formalities forgotten, all inhibitions gone. Everyone danced until they were ready to drop: consultants, lawyers, administrative staff, the whole management team, men and women, all mixed up together. Rock and baroque do go together after all.

This was followed the next evening with a performance in Carinthia, Austria, inside the venerable walls of St. Paul, where on the following morning I would be saying the celebratory Mass and preaching, before flying back to Rome in the evening.


Let’s catch our breath. I know the whispers that are going around. From one direction I hear the heavy sigh, “He’ll never fit in with the rest of us.” From another the warning, “Be careful, you’re the abbot primate, please behave accordingly.” And then there are my primary school classmates, who to this very day visit me in Rome from time to time and exclaim with amazement, “Werner, [my birth name] you haven’t changed a bit!” What can I say?

Yes, it’s probably true—no one who’s known me for a long time will notice any big difference today. I’ve never been antisocial; my constant activity isn’t a gift of old age. And, while it’s true I’m the abbot primate, the expression “befitting one’s social status” has never meant anything to me.

How I go about my work, how I define my role and how I shape it, is my decision, and anything that could possibly qualify as “unseemly” I clarify with the Lord Jesus Christ: he’s my model.

Of course I’m going to make mistakes, but I don’t lose sleep over it because I know nobody’s perfect, and I don’t need to be either. Christ himself appointed the far-from-perfect Peter as the leader of his followers, a person who even disowned him when it came to the crunch. So we can go wrong, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be influenced by the worriers. I’m reminded of a grave inscription in the Campo Verano, a cemetery in northern Rome, which says, Non flectar, “I will not bend.”

“Slow down a bit,” some say; “Please tone it down,” say others. And I say, “Come with me.” Come, for example, to Altenburg Abbey close to Vienna for the interreligious song event. The first benefit concert was held there in 2012 to restore the nearby Jewish cemetery that was devastated in 1938. The abbot of Altenburg had urgently asked me to participate. “We need you, and don’t forget your flute!” Oh no, another appointment. But miraculously I found a gap in my schedule, and I traveled there without knowing what awaited me.

With four hundred visitors, every seat in the monastery’s library was filled. I was in good company. The singer was the chief rabbi of Vienna, a man with a sense of humor and a powerful voice; another rabbi played the keyboard, the Protestant bishop of Vienna was drummer, and a gentleman from the local finance ministry was saxophonist—completing the spectrum, as he had left the church.

Behind us was the boys choir of Altenburg, and we gave it all we’d got, playing Yiddish songs and gospel songs, and receiving enthusiastic applause at the end of every number. Afterward, when everyone was standing around in the richly decorated, brightly lit library, still suffused with the music, a high-ranking politician from Lower Austria came up to me and said, “You know, Abbot Primate, our church in Austria is at such a low ebb. If it wasn’t for you Benedictines. . . . You’re the enlivening element.”

The enlivening element? I am grateful to hear that. It’s exactly what I want to be. It’s exactly what I wish for my order as a whole—to have a stimulating effect on society, in all the places in the world where we’re represented: this is one of the three great visions that guides me.

To achieve this goal we must of course be alive ourselves, and this requires abandoning well-worn tracks. I can’t determine the pace of the world, I have no influence on the great upheavals of the time, but we mustn’t isolate ourselves from these changes, and lose contact with the world, with life, with other people. After all, what are we here for? For the world, life, and other people.

I think my continuous connection with the world of rock music has had very positive consequences. First of course, for myself, because I love rock music, and after all these years it still epitomizes vitality and zest for life. Second, however, because I reach many people through this music.

For example, in Barcelona, where I was to give a lecture to the executives of an international corporation. In the introductory session the moderator told them about our band’s performance supporting the legendary Deep Purple, and when they didn’t quite believe him he referred to the YouTube entry “Deep Purple mit Abtprimas Notker Wolf—Smoke on the Water.” (Yes, we played the song together.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjJI8zBG0yQ

As if on cue all the participants took out their smartphones and were too busy tapping and swiping away to listen to my words of welcome, but with this I had won them over. Abbot Primate Notker Wolf supporting Deep Purple? On stage with Ian Gillan and Steve Morse? An introduction like this greatly increases receptiveness. It breaks with convention, makes it easier to talk to people, and spares me the usual small talk.

Sometimes the rock music even merges informally with the Christian message. During our Tollwood performance in the Andechser tent a banner with the words “Highway to Heaven” hung above the stage, a combination of the AC/DC title “Highway to Hell” and the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven”; I would never have worked it out myself, but of course it fit superbly. And many of the songs we play are original compositions and reflect our origins at the St. Ottilien mission monastery.

My favorite song is “My Best Friend,” and if you listen carefully, you’ll realize that we’re singing about Jesus Christ, the only one who doesn’t abandon you if all your other friends let you down. To play it safe, I introduce such songs myself, also so no one in the audience thinks my black Benedictine habit is just a particularly crass stage outfit.


Travels abroad, stage performances, meetings, conferences, lectures, interviews, TV appearances, magazine columns, books, and building projects: admittedly some things in the repertoire traditionally belong neither to the responsibilities of an abbot primate nor to the role of an almost-seventy-five-year-old.

One side effect is the challenge of managing my schedule. This involves never-ending tinkering: appointments constantly have to be changed, inserted, or added. Because of special requests and spontaneous inquiries, half of it ends up being improvisation, so no one else could possibly be expected to get their head around it? That’s why I take my schedule into my own hands.

Another side effect is amateur psychologists having reasons to whisper about me. “He needs it,” they say. “He can’t do without it. He’s determined to make a difference and leave his mark on the history of the order. He can’t stop for fear of losing his importance.” Or, “He’s running away from himself.”

It’s true that I have a duty as abbot primate. It’s also true that I see it as my greatest and finest duty to open as many doors to the future as possible for my order. That would scarcely be possible if I didn’t keep on the move, respond to contemporary trends, try out new and perhaps even unheard of things, while at the same time giving an example of the vitality I wish for my order. We’ve both reached a certain age, my order and myself—in the case of the former it’s 1,500 years. Wear and tear are not alien to us.

But that shouldn’t be a reason for either the order or me to slacken. Of course no one is irreplaceable. But as long as we live we’re needed. That is a possible answer to the questions confronting anyone in the third phase of life. We may be unimportant as individuals, but the ideas we promote, the efforts we make out of love or conscientiousness, are not.

We’re needed. And it’s wonderful to be needed. It may be quite strenuous, as in my case. But when people ask me, “How do you manage it? How can you stand it?” the answer is simple: Joy is my lifeblood—joy in my work, joy of meeting people, joy in music. Also joy in nature, the different shades of green of the oaks, pines, cypresses, and olive trees in the southern sunlight. Joy in the sea I like to sit by and swim in; joy in the warm golden tone of the evening light flooding into my study.

It’s Tomato Season!

It’s Tomato season!

In this excerpt from Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New Chapter 6, author Suzanne Henley, shares how the first tomato of the season is like a prayer. http://bit.ly/2ux2n3m

Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon

Unsolicited prayers often sneak up and startle me in mid-activity.

The summer we spent in North Carolina, Jim and I stopped at one of the ubiquitous fresh-produce buildings that line the stretch of two-lane Highway 64 we traveled daily between Hendersonville and Brevard. We asked the two proprietors, North Carolina versions of PBS’s Two Fat Ladies, for their best tomatoes. One of the women laughed as she pointed to a basketful of unappealingly warped and bruise- colored tomatoes. We looked back at her, querulous. “Yep,” she said, as she chose two of those scary-looking, over-heavy growths and plopped them into our hands. “They’re Cherokee Purples, Honey. Take ’em home and try ’em. You’ll be back.”

Fixing dinner that night, I washed the tomatoes and, feeling like Abraham approaching Isaac, raised the knife rather high. They looked tough. But as the richly deep-red slices slowly fell apart from the knife, I was swept in a sensual rush to more than sixty years earlier in my grandmother’s kitchen. I remembered the sun splashing through her kitchen window on the still life of tomatoes lined up fresh from the garden, the smell of the vine still clinging, the fierceness of the reds, the beads of salt releasing the musty scent of fecund earth. Eve, still naked, bit into that forbidden fruit, its burst of juice sliding down her chin and neck. I was nine years old again.

I was even aware of the phenomenon I think we’ve all experienced, of thinking in childhood that a grandparent’s home seemed large and grand and then, years later, realizing it was only a normal-sized house. In that moment, though, my grandmother’s kitchen was a palace of linoleum, and that parted tomato contained all the assumed magic of my childhood. I think I gasped a little, trying to stop time, understanding after several years David Craig’s poem “Pentecost”:

What is this Holy Spirit?
And what is it doing in the eggplant?

Jim and I made daily visits to the Fat Ladies. Each night for the next two weeks after dinner, I cleaned up while he hunkered in the cabin’s basement methodically scraping each tomato seed from our plates onto laid-out, yellowing newspaper. We were familiar, too, having heard her in concert the year before, with Kate Campbell’s ironically joyous song “Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon,” based on a sign she’d seen one day near Asheville. We sang its refrain every day on the way to or from the Fat Ladies.

I didn’t know that Jim had funneled all those dried seeds into a ziplock and carefully driven them home to his freezer, where they waited, silent and patient, or, two years later when we married, that he’d brought the ziplock of seeds from his old refrigerator to our new home. Because our own yard was torn up by construction and we had no garden, Jim presented my daughter with a handful of those seeds to plant without much expectation. She nurtured them for months like a firstborn. Her cut into that first tomato, which she presented to us with ceremony, was once again a moment of childhood magic. The Holy Spirit had been patient for three years.

And now I, and Abraham, and Eve, and my nine-year-old self wait each summer for that first Cherokee Purple from our garden, and I say, slicing into that first bite, Oh, thank you, Holy Spirit. Each year that first tomato is a prayer.

Poverty: Responding Like Jesus

Take a moment to take this quiz on poverty found in Chapter 9 of Poverty: Responding Like Jesus. http://bit.ly/2KdDS5f

Paraclete Press announces the launch of San Damiano Books




Paraclete Press announces the launch of San Damiano Books: a new series/imprint focused exclusively on Franciscan spirituality. It will publish books for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

Two books will be published in Fall 2018:

St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story by Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl MacKenzie

Format: 8.5 x 11, 32 pp., Hardcover with jacket
ISBN: 978-1-61261-973-6
Retail: $16.99
Ship Date: 8/14/2018
On-sale Date: 9/4/2018



Francis of Assisi In His Own Words: The Essential Writings, 2nd edition by Jon M. Sweeney

Format: 5 x 7.5, 160 pp., French flaps paperback
ISBN: 978-1-64060-019-5
Retail: $16.99
Ship Date: 10/2/18
On-sale Date: 10/23/18


Authors under contract for 2019 include two more books for children; Wendy Murray with a new biography of St. Clare; and multi-platinum recording artist John Michael Talbot reflecting on Francis of Assisi’s “Sermon on the Mount” by looking at one of the saint’s lesser-known writings called “The Admonitions.”

For more information contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree at lauram@paracletepress.com.


Kentucky author Laurie Brock reveals how her love of horses led her to a deeper love of God

April 30, 2018 —Just in time for Derby Day, Episcopal priest Laurie Brock of Lexington, Kentucky releases Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed (Paraclete Press • ISBN 978-1-61261-929-3 • 146 pp • Trade paper • $16.99).

Horses Speak of God speaks to the struggles many people have today with the institutional church. An unusual message coming from a clergy-author, this book will likely appeal most to those who feel they have connected with God on a deep level outside of church, through everyday pastimes, or in emotional moments. For Brock, this happened through her experiences with horses.

With edgy honesty and humor, Brock invites all who have longed for a deeper encounter with God to join her in the saddle (and occasionally on the ground) to discover how horses’ ways of knowing can help humans discover God speaking to us.

“This is a beautifully written meditation on belief, the holy, and the healing power of horses. This profound book not only helped me to see the magic of animals in our everyday lives but also allowed me a better understanding of my own faith journey.”
Silas House, author of Southernmost

Laurie M. Brock, a former attorney, is an Episcopal priest serving St. Michael the Archangel in Lexington, Kentucky. She volunteers as a crisis chaplain with the Lexington Police Department, blogs at revlauriebrock.com, and frequently leads retreats for ecumenical and interfaith gatherings.


Billy Graham, “America’s Pastor,” to Be Honored in New Book by Lon Allison

For Immediate Release
February 21, 2018 

On April 4, 2018 Paraclete Press will release Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God (ISBN 978-1640600874 / Hardcover / $21.99) by Lon Allison, with a foreword by Dr. Leighton Ford and Jean Graham Ford (Billy’s youngest sister).

“You have no idea how sick I get of the name Billy Graham, and how wonderful and thrilling the name Christ sounds to my ears,” Billy once said. So, why another book about him? Lon Allison, evangelist, pastor, and former director of The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has learned much from Billy. Allison retells the highlights of a fascinating life, and in a way that resonates with Graham’s desire to always be sharing the Good News. Every stage of Graham’s life is included, even the rough spots, with appreciation and a desire to answer the question: What can we learn from the life and ministry of Billy Graham? What is his legacy? What was his message and how might it still be relevant for today?

Lon Allison has a gift for explaining how everyday people can connect personally with the God who loves them—Lon worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for years, and served as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College before becoming pastor at Wheaton Bible Church in Illinois in 2013. Lon has taught masters and doctoral evangelism courses at North Park Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Northern Seminary, and is a visiting professor at Wheaton College Graduate School. He maintains an active speaking schedule at churches and conferences around the world, and is the author of Going Public with the Gospel and That the World May Believe. He and his wife, Marie, have three grown children and live in West Chicago, Illinois.

Originally planned for release in September, in anticipation of Graham’s 100th birthday, Paraclete is responding to Graham’s recent passing and the urgent need for Graham’s message of salvation for the nation and the world by moving publication up six months—to the first week of Easter. We believe Billy would be pleased with the timing!

To interview Lon Allison or to receive an Advance Review Copy, please contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree at 800-451-5006 ext 316 or lauram@paracletepress.com

Pastor Lon Allison at Wheaton Bible Church. | Jon Langham~for Wheaton Bible Church


“The Pope’s Cat” New Release Date Announced!

Paraclete Press announced Tuesday, January 23, that we are accelerating the publication date of The Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney, illustrated by Roy DeLeon. Originally announced to publish on March 13, the on-sale date is now March 1.

“We are seeing great demand for this book,” said Laura McKendree, Paraclete’s marketing director. “We have retailers, parishes, and schools anxious to receive copies, so we’re moving it up to make everyone happy.”

The Pope’s Cat,
ISBN 978-1612619354,
Fiction, for ages 6-12, $9.99.

Running Alongside a “Woman Catching Fire:” Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s Still Pilgrim: Poems

This review for Still Pilgrim was published in  Adanna, Issue 7, 2017.
Maryanne Hannan

To a world where stillness is elusive, the notion of pilgrimage quaint, and paradox an intellectual stretch, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell serves up her latest collection, Still Pilgrim: Poems (Paraclete Press, 2017). In truth, I have been a fan of O’Donnell’s work for many years, her seven poetry collections, three non-fiction books, her numerous insightful reviews and essays. But I’d hazard a guess that Still Pilgrim will become a classic, one that readers will turn to for many years to come.

An author Afterword describes the genesis of the project, a visit to Herman Melville’s grave near her home. In the poem she wrote about that experience, she addressed him as “still pilgrim,” and was thereafter struck by the many ways it is conceivable and necessary to be both still and “simultaneously on pilgrimage toward one’s destiny” (Afterword, 70) in life and, in Melville’s case as a writer, after death. In this collection, O’Donnell takes up the challenge of probing the tensions and insights in the oxymoronic persona of a “still pilgrim,” using the stuff of her own life.

Despite the many particulars of time, space, event and personal proclivities, the book never seems autobiographical. Carefully constructed, yes; as described in the Afterword, it contains a prologue and an epilogue, four sections of poems, fourteen poems per section all of them (fourteen line) sonnets. The gloss on the book and its further suggestion that the sections correspond to seasons of the year and the seasons of life, as well as the liturgical calendar can be read as an added bonus, or as a belated surprise. The poems themselves, sonnets of great skill and diversity, speak for themselves, or in the words of the Still Pilgrim, “Every pilgrim is a truthteller. / Every pilgrim is a liar.” (“Prologue: To Be a Pilgrim, xiii) In this spirit, all is made new again.

Unlike the traditional Pilgrim’s Progress, O’Donnell’s contemporary pilgrim need not advance under the rubric of steady improvement, yet develops in her own way from one section to the next. Rather than negotiating a larger universality as the allegorical hero Christian does, this pilgrim, clothed in particulars, manages the same. Many of O’Donnell’s poems play off Catholic-Christian references, as well as familiarity with literary figures, Keats, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Frost and, of course, Flannery. To enjoy the subtleties, the poignancy and even the humor of this book, readers need to share the pillars of O’Donnell’s spiritual-cultural-intellectual world, but not her dogma.

Each section offers a, shall we call it?, cosmologically chronological development: “The Still Pilgrim Invents Dawn,” “The Still Pilgrim Recreates Creation,” “The Still Pilgrim Considers a Hard Teaching,” and “The Still Pilgrim Recalls the Beatitudes.” Each section ends with an assessment of where the poet might be in her personal chronology: “The Still Pilgrim Runs,” “The Still Pilgrim Gives Herself Driving Directions,” “The Still Pilgrim Addresses Father Solstice,” and “The Still Pilgrim’s Refrain.” The poem titles themselves further the tensions and paradoxes of the central “still pilgrim” metaphor.

If, as O’Donnell suggests, the sections correspond to the seasons of life, then no surprise to discover poems of youth and childhood in the first section: “The Still Pilgrim Recollects Her Childhood,” “The Still Pilgrim Honors Her Mother,” “The Still Pilgrim Learns to Write,” to name a few. But, as a group, they are not typecast or expected. My favorite “The Still Pilgrim Tells a Fish Story” evoking Melville goes against the grain. From “Find the fish you need to kill and kill it,” the first line challenge, the poem concludes: “Did you really believe there’d come a day / when you would be the one that got away?” (13). A nice set-up for the last poem, mentioned above: “She ran like rage. She ran like desire. / She ran like a woman catching fire” (“The Still Pilgrim Runs,” 16).

The second section sees more gain than loss, the prime of life: “The Still Pilgrim Becomes a Mother,” “The Still Pilgrim Sings to Her Child,” “The Still Pilgrim Hears a Diagnosis,” “The Still Pilgrim Discovers Botero’s Adam & Eve.” Hovering over all is the realization: “Summer comes once and never stays” (“The Still Pilgrim’s Love Song to Lost Summer,” 31).

In the third section, (can it be autumn already?) are “The Still Pilgrim’s Displacement,” “The Still Pilgrim’s Insomnia,” “The Still Pilgrim Talks to Her Body,” “The Still Pilgrim Faces the Wall,” the final couplet of “The Still Pilgrim Considers the Eye:” “The truth the wise eye grieves and knows, / that one day it must close” (43). But a radical acceptance of mortality undergirds it all: “You sing with me even when / I sing the same old song again” (“The Still Pilgrim Talks to Her Body,” 42)

The fourth section opens with another dawn, slightly reminiscent of Eliot: “of how we bear the miracle / and find ourselves where we belong” (“The Still Pilgrim’s Thoughts Upon Rising,” 51). Other poems attest to a joyful resiliency, even a recognition that each season contains them every other one: “The Still Pilgrim Recounts Another Annunciation,” “The Still Pilgrim’s Easter Morning Song,” “The Still Pilgrim Imagines the Eucharist,” “The Still Pilgrim Welcomes Pentecost” and “The Still Pilgrim’s Penance.” Perhaps a time paradox underlies the space through which the still pilgrim traverses. Or to share the final couplet of “The Still Pilgrim Celebrates Spring:” “All that leaves returns. It’s fact. / The light we thought we lost comes back” (60).

Angela O’Donnell’s Still Pilgrim: Poems can be enjoyed as a whole and in parts, not once, but many times over. I highly recommend this book to all readers interested in a woman’s journey, expressed in the context of her faith, and also to those no longer excited by the sonnet form. They will be surprised.

Between Faith & Doubt

Jennifer Wallace’s Almost Entirely was featured in ImageUpdate. Click here for the full roundup.

Referring to her new poetry collection, Jennifer Wallace remarks, “I like the sense of ‘entirely’ modified by ‘almost’…That’s my sense of life in this world.” These short poems limn the course of a mature artistic life and its struggle between faith and doubt, the incarnate and the unseen, love and loss. Almost EntirelyWallace’s seventh bookexamines the search for wholeness, including re-exploration of Wallace’s Christian roots. In the opening section, “The Wind of God” is evoked as it “…moved over the face of the waters.” Yet often, the writer notes, “God has turned my head in the right direction/ yet I haven’t seen the gesture for what it is.” Vision necessitates discernment. Recalling Kierkegaard’s observation that “Christianity is not a consolation/ but a demand,” Wallace observes, “Call me crazy, hardship appeals/…. now the problem of attending it begins.” But attention can be difficult. Of a friend’s murder, the poet writes: “How to feel his death? On the street. / The shots. My friend’s scream.” Even the faith that allows one to bear a “wing giving way” brings “meanings that will shatter me more than this.” Nothing is sentimentalized here. As “I Don’t Like People; Animals, Too, Are an Imposition” relates, our lives daily encompass ordinary trials, like “a mean as a chainsaw bad neighbor.” It is ours to get on with things; the poet “has chores to do: chop wood, fix the wall in my yard.” But luckily, there is also grace’s blinding flash, that occasional release to something else, almost entirely: “resting on its surface with sail or paddle/I am brought beyond my landedness/not until diving under can I know/ its pillowed, dull moss-light…a body is seen at last for what it is:/awash in the eye of God.”

—Ann Conway, Image Update

Love through Locked Doors

An Excerpt From Bruised and Wounded by Ronald Rolheiser

Some years ago, some other friends of mine lost a daughter to suicide. She was in her early twenties and had a history of clinical depression. An initial attempt at suicide failed. The family then rushed round her, brought her to the best doctors and psychiatrists, and generally tried in every way to love and coax her out of her depression. Nothing worked. Eventually she died by suicide. Looking at their efforts and the incapacity of their love to break through and save her life, we see how helpless human love can be at a point. Sometimes all our best efforts, patience, and affection can’t break through to a frightened, depressed person. In spite of everything, that person remains locked inside of herself, huddled in fear, inaccessible, bent upon self-destruction. All love, it seems, is powerless to penetrate.

Fortunately, we are not without hope. The redeeming love of God can do what we can’t. God’s love is not stymied in the same way as is ours. Unlike our own, it can go through locked doors and enter closed, frightened, bruised, lonely places and breathe out peace, freedom, and new life there. Our belief in this is expressed in one of the articles of the creed: He descended into hell.

What is meant by that? God descended into hell? Generally, we take this to mean that, between his death and resurrection, Jesus descended into some kind of hell or limbo wherein lived the souls of all the good persons who had died since the time of Adam. Once there, Jesus took them all with him to heaven. More recently, some theologians have taken this article of faith to mean that, in his death, Jesus experienced alienation from his Father and thus experienced in some real sense the pain of hell. There is merit to these interpretations, but this doctrine also means something more. To say that Christ descended into hell is to, first and foremost, say something about God’s love for us and how that love will go to any length, descend to any depth, and go through any barrier in order to embrace a wounded, huddled, frightened, and bruised soul. By dying as he did, Jesus showed that he loves us in such a way that his love can penetrate even our private hells, going right through the barriers of hurt, anger, fear, and hopelessness.

READ: Into Safe Hands: A Meditation On Dying for Advent and Christmas by Ronald Rolheiser

We see this expressed in an image in John’s Gospel where, twice, Jesus goes right through locked doors, stands in the middle of a huddled circle of fear, and breathes out peace. That image of Jesus going through locked doors is surely the most consoling thought within the entire Christian faith (and is unrivalled in any other world religion). Simply put, it means that God can help us even when we can’t help ourselves. God can empower us even when we are too hurt, frightened, sick, and weak to even, minimally, help ourselves.

I remember a haunting, holy picture that I was given as a child. It showed a man, huddled in depression, in a dark room, behind a closed door. Outside stood Jesus, with a lantern, knocking softly on the door. The door only had a knob on its inside. Everything about the picture said: “Only you can open that door.” Ultimately what is said in that picture is untrue. Christ doesn’t need a doorknob. He can, and does, enter through locked doors. He can enter a heart that is locked up in fear and wound. What the picture says is true about human love. It can only knock and remain outside when it meets a heart that is huddled in fear and loneliness.
But that is not the case with God’s love, as John 20 and our doctrine about the descent into hell make clear. God’s love can, and does, descend into hell. It does not require that a wounded, emotionally-paralyzed person first finds the strength to open herself to love. There is no private hell, no depression, no sickness, no fear, and even no bitterness so deep or so enclosed that God’s love cannot descend into it. There are no locked doors through which Christ cannot go.

I am sure that when that young woman, whose suicide I mentioned earlier, awoke on the other side, Jesus stood inside of her huddled fear and spoke to her, softly and gently, those same words he spoke to his disciples on that first Easter day when he went through the locked doors behind which they were huddled and said: “Peace be with you! Again, I say it, Peace be with you!”


A message of hope — Paraclete releases “This Child of Faith” by mother and son writing team on 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook

Today as the world remembers the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, Paraclete Press is privileged to release The Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World by mother and son writing team, Sophfronia Scott and Tain Gregory.

“This book we feel is a message of hope,” says author Sophfronia Scott. “By sharing our story we hope other families will see it is possible to help their children have spiritual lives in this very secular day and age. And that spirituality really can help in dark times.”

Taking the events of that tragic day, but also the years preceding it, and the days of recovery and healing that followed, Sophfronia and Tain share stories, experiences and ideas to help parents get to the heart of the question: How do you help a child have faith—real faith that they own—in the challenging world we live in today?

Read more from Sophfronia about This Child of Faith and her family’s journey of faith today in TimeFox News online, and Religion News Service.

This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World
Releases today, December 14, 2017
Trade paper, $16.99, ISBN 987-1-61261-925-5
Read more

Sophfronia Scott is a novel and essay writer who spent a large part of her early career as a writer and editor for Time and People magazines. She holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Tain Gregory is in the eighth grade at Newtown Middle School. He enjoys riding his bike, playing video games with his friends, acting in musicals, and playing piano. He’s also a Boy Scout in Newtown’s Troop 770 and appeared in the documentary Midsummer in Newtown.





Photo credit: George Duncan

In this beautiful and timely memoir, mother and son share insights from a family’s spiritual awakening, a journey that led to a deep experience of God and a new way of life in the world. Not only do they offer practical advice on faith formation, but they tackle a difficult question: How does faith prepare us not only life’s joys but for its most shocking tragedies? The answer is deceptively simple: by paying attention to the Spirit and trusting one another. Read this one and weep. And discover the hope of a child. Diana Butler Bass, Author, Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution

For more information contact Laura McKendree
lauram@paracletepress.com, (800) 451-5006 x 316

Rilke, Advent and “the Slowing”

My life is not this steep hour
in which You see me hurrying so.”

Many of us know could claim these lines, taken from one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems, as a true confession, particularly in Advent.  For while we always seem to be leading hurried lives, rarely is this as true as it is in these often frantic weeks of December leading to Christmas.

But for this very reason Advent is a needed countercultural force, calling us to risk turning aside from this hurried pace in anticipation of the mystery that waits to find us. Of course, we know that this is rarely easy, even when we know it is the truth we most need to follow. Perhaps we’ve even heard someone quote the line from one of Rilke’s poems, “You must change your life,” but we sense how hard this is to do and how unlikely, given the stress in our lives.  

Rilke has become, for me, one of the trustworthy guides into what the late Gerald May simply called “the Slowing,” a theme that is at the heart of Advent. For we need to slow down to savor what this season is about, opening ourselves to the lure of its mystery. In one of Rilke’s letters, he suggests what this might entail in our lives: “To let every impression and every seed of a feeling realize itself on its own, in the dark, in the unconveyable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of your understanding, and to await with deep humility and patience the hour when a new clarity is born:  this alone is to live artistically, in understanding as in creation.” This is what we are made for, as the themes of Advent remind us.

May this call of “the slowing” guide us in this Advent, helping us create space in our lives to live more patiently, more generously, more attentively. To wait in the dark we face until a “new clarity” is born in our lives.

Poems of this sort remind us to seek to center ourselves, refusing to be “consumed” by the hurry of these weeks. They remind us, as Rilke went on to write in this letter to “a young poet,” to ‘let [our] judgments follow their quiet, undisturbed evolution, for this, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressured or hurried in any way.” Advent is a time for just this kind of slowing; of attending to what matters most; and, yes, of turning from our hurry and relinquishing our worry, at least a little, as we live into the mystery of mercy.

Mark S. Burrows

  1. Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark S. Burrows (Paraclete Press, 2016), 28.

In Celebration Rilke’s Birthday

Each year it strikes me that the birthdate of the Prague-born poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, December 4 (1875), falls near the beginning of Advent. It is an auspicious coincidence. To mark this day, here are two lines from an unpublished stanza he wrote in 1913, intended as part of what would become The Duino Elegies:

Unknowing, I am caught in wonder at
the heaven of my life.

Unknowing. The birth of wonder depends on it, and in a sense it is what matters most in our lives. We might sense “the treasure [we carry] in earthen vessels,” as the apostle Paul once put it, but a knowledge of this lies beyond us.

Wonder, though, is the path into the mystery that is the heart of our lives—the “heaven” within us, as Rilke put it. What the poet meant by this penetrates our mind little by little as we attend to it. It is a wisdom that penetrates slowly, beyond explanation. It longs to be discovered within the veil of the ordinary, which is where Advent hope always waits to find us.

The key to Rilke’s wisdom lies in the opening word, unknowing. It is an Advent word, to be sure, a deep note of truth against what seems capable of overwhelming us in this season: the frenzy of social obligations, stores and malls glittering with lights and crowded with weary shoppers, and a legion of Santa Clauses listening to children tell them of the things they want. In all this, the Advent tidings go unnoticed, but for that very reason we do well to begin, again, with a glad unknowing, one that reminds us to open ourselves in this season to what we cannot understand: that the Word became flesh and lived among us, heaven “touching earth,” as it were, in the form of a newborn, grace manifest in the vulnerability of this world. And, yes, heaven waiting to be disclosed in our own lives, in the midst of all that is ordinary and human, broken and depleted, within us.

Advent is a time of pausing, of learning to hope for what we cannot know. It is a season to practice the kind of unknowing that enables us to unburden ourselves from our too hasty certainties. Advent calls us to open our hearts, in wonder, at what is coming to pass in our midst—and, yes, within us: God among us, Immanuel. In this holy season, as the flickering candlelight of the first Advent candle begins to dance in our eyes, let us learn to be carried beyond the boundaries of what we know, and in unknowing stand in wonder at the “heaven of our lives.”


Mark S. Burrows, translator of Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet (Paraclete Poetry, 2016).

Your Light Gives Us Hope, part 2

Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent
Anselm Grün, OSB

Drawing on his experience as a spiritual director, he offers practices for personal devotion or for family prayer for each day of Advent, approaching the festive season consciously, making it a blessed time for ourselves and our families.

From the Introduction

Advent, the Season of Arrival Advent is the quiet season when we wait for Jesus’s coming. For the word Advent simply means “arrival.” We wait for Jesus’s arrival in our heart. But we also wait for his coming at the end of the ages. Over the ages Christians have celebrated this season as a special time of preparation leading to the celebration of Christmas, one marked by many family observances. It is a season when we draw on traditions and rituals that usher us into the mystery of Christmas, not simply in the church but in our daily lives. In such ways, we come to discover the theological truth of this season in intimate ways that stir our hearts.

In this book, I hope to introduce the most important message of Advent through brief, daily meditations that explore some particular aspect of this message, together with a practice inviting you to deepen your experience of its meaning in your daily life.

You will also find here short chapters introducing the message central to each of the four Advent Sundays. The first of these Sundays focuses on apocalyptic passages from the Scriptures that tell of the end times and warn us to be watchful. The second and third Sundays place John the Baptist at the center of the story, the voice “crying in the wilderness,” calling us to repent and await the coming Messiah. The fourth and final Sunday focuses on Mary, who is to give birth to the promised Savior. She embodies the true meaning of Advent, directing us toward Christ, who is coming to us and also desires to be born in us. For this reason, I have included a meditation for each of these Sundays, alongside one for each of the days in December leading up to Christmas. My intention throughout is to offer these reflections in order that the mystery of Advent might illumine our daily lives as well as those of our families and church communities.

It has long been customary in Germany, as in the United States, to hang up an Advent calendar at home during this season, with windows for each of the twenty-four days preceding Christmas. In earlier times, each concealed an Advent symbol, image, or Bible verse; today, though, these calendars seem intended mostly for children, with each window holding a piece of candy, chocolate, or a small toy. In this book, each day will offer a short reflection together with a simple practice designed to be used either singly or with one’s family or friends. For example, on the Saturday evening before the start of each new week during Advent, one might read the short biblical text that precedes each of these meditations, using this theme to shape one’s path through the coming week. Alongside these four entries is one for each of the days leading up to Christmas, offering a meditation on a particular theme and related practice to shape the day ahead. When we choose to give shape to Advent in such deliberate ways, we will find this season to be a time of blessing for us and for our families. In so doing, we learn to welcome this season as a time when we await Christ’s coming in our lives, thereby coming to experience Advent in a new way.

Today, the season of Advent has become a premature celebration of Christmas. As with the Christmas markets found in cities and towns all across Germany, department stores begin broadcasting Christmas carols in early November, weeks before Advent has even begun. This pushing forward of Christmas prevents us from experiencing the mystery of Advent as it should be celebrated. One of my intentions here is to recover the original meaning of this season as a time of stillness, waiting, and watching in order to experience more intentionally its saving power in our lives.

Yours, Fr. Anselm Grün, OSB

As “The Man Who Invented Christmas” opens, Paraclete Press prepares digital and social media tie-ins for “A Christmas Carol” with original engravings

Paraclete Press
Orleans, Massachusetts
November 21, 2017

For Immediate Release

As the latest Hollywood hit, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” opens this weekend, Paraclete Press is preparing digital and social media tie-ins for a new illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol that includes engravings from the original 1843 book.

“Dickens is one of the most enduring classic authors, and this is Dickens’s most memorable work. We wanted to create a memorable edition of what is already a Christmas treasure,” says Jon M. Sweeney, Paraclete’s

Who can resist the story of the bad-tempered Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation into a kinder and more loving version of himself? Then there are the visiting ghosts of past, present, and future, the deeply good Bob Cratchit, and his iconic son Tiny Tim. With period illustrations in a beautiful book package, this new edition of A Christmas Carol will help create or revive family traditions with Christmas.

“We even imagine—and hope—that families will once again begin to read books like this aloud,” concludes Sweeney.


My Soul Waits: Praying with the Psalms through Advent, Christmas & Epiphany

My Soul Waits is a devotional for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Combining the words of the Psalms and meditations from the Church Fathers, it guides the reader through the various twists and turns on the journey to our Lord’s Nativity. 

Aaron and the Levitical priesthood were instructed to bless the people of Israel with these words: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26). Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing that comes out of the same tradition. It sees the blessing of God as the very source of life and health, without which there is no hope for prosperity or peace.

A rich tone of thanksgiving is prevalent throughout the psalm, and this probably explains why it was used at the great autumn Feast of Sukkot, or Tabernacles. The feast is significant for two reasons. First, according to Exodus 34:22, it celebrates the “ingathering” of the harvest, the annual sign of God’s blessing in the fruitfulness of the fields. “The earth has yielded its increase,” declares the psalmist (Ps. 67:6), and in that plenty is seen the face of God. Second, the feast is a reminder of the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness (Lev. 23:39–43), during which God “made the 7 people of Israel dwell in booths,” or Sukkot, temporary huts built of branches and leafy boughs, as they made their way from one camp to another on their trek from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Together with a spirit of celebration, therefore, the brief verses of Psalm 67 confess a sense of utter dependence of the people of Israel—of all the nations, indeed of all the earth—on the favorable presence of God. As the psalmist says elsewhere about all created life, “When you give it to them they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust” (Ps. 104:28–29, NIV).

In his rule for the monastic community, Saint Benedict prescribed Psalm 67 to be sung every morning at daybreak, the rising sun being an apt image for the radiant and life-giving face of God. Morning after morning, the day is prayerfully greeted by monks with this simple acknowledgment and petition: “Like the rising sun, O Lord, may your face shine upon us this new day, and bring us life. Bless us with the warmth of your presence and we, in turn, will reflect that blessing to others and we will praise your name forever.” A prayer for God’s blessing is never contingent upon dire circumstances, illness, or misfortune. It is appropriate to every day of our lives, for every day of life given to us is an act of God’s mercy and favor.

This Child of Faith: “Read this one and weep.”

How do you help a child have faith—real faith that they own—in the challenging world we live in today?

“In this beautiful and timely memoir, mother and son share insights from a family’s spiritual awakening, a journey that led to a deep experience of God and a new way of life in the world. Not only do they offer practical advice on faith formation, but they tackle a difficult question: How does faith prepare us not only life’s joys but for its most shocking tragedies? The answer is deceptively simple: by paying attention to the Spirit and trusting one another. Read this one and weep. And discover the hope of a child.”
Diana Butler Bass, Author, Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution

Tain Gregory was present in his third-grade classroom on the morning of the Sandy Hook shootings. As part of the healing process for the community after the tragedy Tain was asked, “What’s the most important thing in the world to you?” His mother expected an answer about a video game or Pokémon trading card. Tain thinks for a moment then answers with one word. “God.” Until that moment, his mother had no idea how close to the surface his faith existed.

Taking the events of that tragic day, but also the years preceding it, and the days of recovery and healing that followed, Sophfronia and Tain share stories, experiences and ideas to help parents get to the heart of the question:

How do you help a child have faith—real faith that they own—in the challenging world we live in today?

“In this unblinkingly honest and tender work, Sophfronia Scott and her son, Tain, share their journey of faith…. Sophfronia gently models how to nurture the innate spirituality and faith of a child. In doing so, her own faith grows and deepens as well…. This Child of Faith doesn’t claim to know all the answers, but it serves as a moving testimony to the power of faith when a family embarks upon the journey together.”

Rev. Andrea Raynor, author of Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School


A Gentle Guide Through Grief and Loss

For those of any age who have suffered loss, here is a journey of brilliant color to bring you peace.

Beloved author and artist Roger Hutchison has created a picture book to guide readers through different emotions and reactions related to grieving. The gentle text and illustrations of this lushly colored picture book explore feelings of shock, tears, anger, and hope, using the powerful language and experience of color. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. is a welcome companion to people of all ages as they journey through loss and grief.

Following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Roger had the privilege of painting with children and adults who were touched by this tragic event. The experience affected him at a cellular level and convinced him of a vocation to serve those who grieve using his writing and art.

Preview the book

Read a recent guest blog post by Roger Hutchison about grief: 

It has been said that we are currently in a place of perpetual trauma.

I feel it.

I feel it from my head to my heart to my toes.

I feel it in the interactions I have with those around me.

There is a weariness in my human brothers and sisters.

A palpable grief in the way their bodies move.

Shoulders and hearts burdened by so much pain and sadness.

A daily reader of simple and direct Advent reflections

Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent
Anselm Grun, OSB

Drawing on his experience as a spiritual director, he offers practices for personal devotion or for family prayer for each day of Advent, approaching the festive season consciously, making it a blessed time for ourselves and our families. 

From the translator’s Foreword:

Fr. Anselm Grün needs little introduction in Germany. He is well-known as a best-selling author of books on Christian faith and spirituality, which together have sold more than 14 million copies, and regularly gives talks and workshops across the country as well as appearing frequently on television. He does all this while living out his vow of “stability of place” at the Benedictine abbey of Münsterschwarzach, not far from the city of Würzburg in Lower Franconia. There, he joins his brothers in what St. Benedict described in his Rule as “a school for the Lord’s service,” which in this case is a large community of monks with a strong local ministry and a global vision of mission.

Within this community, which he joined as a nineteen-year-old in the early 1960s, Fr. Grün joins his brothers in the commitment to “work and pray,” as the motto of the Benedictine order puts it. For more than thirty years, he held the important position St. Benedict called the “cellarer,” the monk charged with managing the provisions of the monastery and thus responsible, as the Rule puts it, “for everything”—a kind of CFO for the abbey’s business operations. In this role, he had oversight of a workforce employing more than three hundred people in some twenty departments, hardly what we think of when we imagine a monk observing the rule of silence.

Yet while his work as cellarer surely grounded him in the often stressful realities of modern business, the wisdom he brings in his writings has more to do with St. Benedict’s daring conviction that “the divine presence is everywhere”—in our work and in our prayer, in the monastery as in “the world.” Readers will come to recognize the impact of this belief throughout the pages that follow.

All this suggests why, in reading Fr. Grün, one does not encounter the voice of a reclusive monk. His God is not hiding somewhere in the monastery, out of reach of ordinary folks. On the contrary, and in keeping with the Advent tidings, he discovers God in the scriptural promises that point to the One who comes among us, the incarnate Lord in Jesus of Nazareth. At the heart of this season, we come face-to-face—quite literally—with the God who takes up human life and lives as one with us. This is the Messiah announced in Advent as Emmanuel, the God-with-us who was born in a simple manger in Bethlehem. And it is this God who seeks to be present “everywhere” among us in our lives today.

This day-by-day devotional guide to Advent appeared in the original German edition in 2015 and quickly became a well-loved companion for thousands of readers: Roman Catholic and Protestant, doubters and seekers. They found here what they have come to expect from Fr. Grün’s wide-ranging writings: namely, nourishment for their spiritual hunger and illumination for their path in life. It is a privilege to bring this devotional gem to English readers.

What you will find in these pages, meant to be read and pondered day by day during the weeks leading up to Christmas, is a message shaped by a dialogue between theology and psychology, faith and spirituality, divine revelation and human experience. Throughout the short chapters here, Fr. Grün meets us in our longing for wholeness, the desire that marks Advent as the “overture” to the larger symphony of the church’s year. These daily readings offer a centering path through these often hectic weeks, reminding us, as the opening words of the Rule put it, to learn to “listen . . . with the ears of [our] heart.”

 Mark S. Burrows Bochum, Germany

The Angry Christian

 At a time when anger runs at a high pitch in our society, Bert Ghezzi offers biblically based advice on how to use it wisely. Invite him to speak to your church or group.

Phrases such as “culture of anger” have come to describe much of our world today. Bert Ghezzi corrects the mistaken view that anger is always bad and sinful. Bert says it is a normalpart of our human nature. Anger is good if we engage it to help us do the right thing and if we don’t let it escalate out of hand. But it spawns evil if it gets out of control or if we use it for selfish, wrong-headed purposes. Bert explains that under the power of the Holy Spirit, we can transform our anger into occasions of grace. We can replace it with behaviors like patience, endurance, and determination to do the right thing. So anger used well can help us overcome obstacles that block our twofold mission of becoming saints and advancing and applying the Gospel.

Bert’s unique approach to this issue is much needed today. Endorsers of the book include Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Philadelphia; Dr. Ray Guarendi,and Fr. Dwight Longenecker who writes, “In this practical and pastoral little book, Bert Ghezzi walks us through a guidebook on anger, showing how anger is God’s blessing not his curse. When the energy of anger is directed properly, God’s power to heal and transform ourselves and our world is unleashed.” — Bert is available to speak to groups or churches. If you are interested, please contact the author directly at bertghezzi@gmail.com

Sr. Antonia Cleverly
Director of Marketing