Do you know how to pray?

On Thursday, September 9, at 6:00 p.m. Central, The Rev. James Martin, SJ, discusses his latest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Author Series.

When I was a little girl, I thought that praying meant asking God that I not die in my sleep, then commending everyone in my inner circle to him: Now I lay me down to sleep…if I die before I wake…and, of course, God bless Mommy and Daddy and Nanny and all the relatives, named at extensive length until I fell asleep. I also had a poster on my wall that asked the Good Lord to deliver me from ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggitie beasties, and other fairly horrific creatures that could have been drawn by Hieronymus Bosch. Needless to say, praying was a little fraught.

Sunday School didn’t focus much on prayer, but it did assure me that because I was a little child Jesus loved me. There wasn’t a lot of how-to involved. He just did. Later on, I was informed by numerous camp counselors that prayer had the quality of a miraculous incantation. You ask, and you receive. Sort of like a genie lamp, with far more wishes. When my very specific and mundane requests didn’t get answered, I had the option of believing that I was asking for the wrong things, or that prayer just didn’t work. I took the latter approach, to the point that if I really wanted a certain outcome, I would pray for the opposite, because I had such a bad record of answered prayers.

It would be many years before I came to understand how much I didn’t understand about prayer: that the Lord’s Prayer isn’t something to be recited without error to prove that one is not a witch; that the “telephone to Jesus” really does create a connection, but not in a Ma Bell sort of way; that the Book of Common Prayer contains some of the most beautiful sentences ever written.

Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow provided the perspective that since God knows everything already, one word prayers will often suffice. But even with that insight, there’s much more to prayer than my early life as a Christmas and Easter Only Episcopalian ever prepared me to understand. More ways to do it. More history behind it. More moving language in it. And, perhaps most importantly, more connection created by it—not just to God, but to the world, to each other. Now that I know a little more than I used to, it makes me want to understand even more.

Do you, too, want to know more about how to pray? On Thursday, September 9, at 6:00 p.m. Central, The Rev. James Martin, SJ, will discuss his latest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Author Series. Father Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America magazine, and bestselling author of Jesus: A PilgrimageThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth. He has written for many publications, including the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and he is a regular commentator in the national and international media. He has appeared on all the major radio and television networks, as well as in venues ranging from NPR’s Fresh Air, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, and PBS’s NewsHour to Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Before entering the Jesuits in 1988, He graduated from the Wharton School of Business and worked for General Electric for six years. In 2017, Pope Francis appointed him to be a Consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication. He knows how to communicate, with God, and with others here on Earth.

It seems to me that learning how to pray better from an expert like Father Martin would be a very timely practice. For everyone.

If you want to know more about Learning to Pray, you’ll find a review from St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, FL, below.

If you would like to register for the EBA Authors Series conversation with Father Martin, click here.

If you would like to purchase the book from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.
~St. Teresa of Avila

Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone
by James Martin, SJ
(386 pages, HarperOne, 2021)

            A good resource to consider as we are encouraged to devote ourselves to prayer during Lent 2021 is a new book by James Martin, SJ.  Martin, a well-known author of over 20 books, has written Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone to encourage everyone to engage in prayer.  He starts by noting that for many, prayer is “foreign, daunting, even frightening…” (3), and then lists why so many find prayer difficult — they weren’t taught; they think it’s only for holy people; they think or have been told they’re praying “wrong”; they don’t realize that they already pray; they think they have “failed” at prayer; they see no point in praying; they’re too busy or lazy; or they fear change. (3-9)  He tells his readers that prayer is all about a relationship with God, and that God plants in us the desire for a relationship with God—God doesn’t pick some of us for a relationship, but makes the opportunity available to all.  After a thorough discussion of why everyone should pray, how to pray without even knowing you’re praying, what is prayer, various types and methods of prayer, descriptions of what happens when we pray and how do we discern God’s presence in our prayers, he concludes Learning to Pray by affirming that, when we pray, we can expect that:

–God will show up.
–You will encounter God.
–You will experience God’s love.
–God will invite you into further conversation and deeper relationship, (354), and
–You will be moved to act. (355-364)

            So, what is prayer?  Martin reviews a number of traditional definitions, including “a raising of one’s mind and heart to God” (from St. John Damascene, an 8th Century Syrian monk), and “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven” (by St. Therese of Lisieux, a 19th Century nun), among others.  But Martin is most taken with that “prayer is a conscious conversation with God” because he believes that God desires a personal relationship with each one of us.  He analogizes that what works well for the development and nurture of human friendships would also apply to a relationship with God.  That, for Martin, means that the prayer should spend time with God, learn about God, be honest with God, listen and be silent at least some time, and be willing to change.  All of the prayer practices he discusses are how one develops and deepens a relationship with God.

            Martin notes that both petitionary prayers (asking God for something for oneself or others) and rote prayers (prayers that have been written down, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, among many) are sometimes pooh-poohed by writers about prayer.  He notes that other spiritual writers suggest that petitionary and rote prayers can too often be recited without meaningful thought or intention by the one who prays.  Martin, however, entertains the idea that a substantial part of one’s prayer life can and will consist of these types prayer.  After all, such prayers are natural and appear often in the Bible or throughout history.  They are often written on our hearts.  Such prayers unite us with those who have prayed the same prayers over time.  He does suggest some useful ways to use such prayers, and also suggests that other forms of prayer should supplement petitionary and rote prayers.  

As a good Jesuit, he recommends using the daily Examen as a way to become more aware of God’s presence in everyday life.  He also promotes using lectio divina, or sacred reading, as a form for praying with scripture.  Centering prayer and praying with nature are other methods to deepen one’s relationship with God.  When he discusses each different form or method of prayer, he suggests how the method has been used by others, and shares personal and other stories to illustrate how the prayer is used and experienced. 

Many books on prayer discuss types and methods of prayer, but don’t help the reader understand what happens when they pray, nor do they address how we know that it is God that is present with us in prayer rather than an evil spirit or just our own selves – Martin includes a chapter to address each of these concerns.

Wherever you are in your relationship with God, this book will likely have something beneficial for you to consider.

Reviewed by Joe O’Shields, St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida

C.S. Lewis n+ 1 Book Sale

Increase your peace, joy, and love with more books for less money! One amazing day only. This is truly your lucky day.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” and we agree.

We would add that finding peace, joy, love and all the good things in life always requires more books.

And the number of books that one needs is n+1:  “n” being the number of books currently owned.

In light of these truths, the Cathedral Bookstore announces the first ever

C.S. Lewis n+ 1 Book Sale

One day only, August 22, 2021

20% off everything in stock in the store

May your peace, joy, and love increase. 

And your bedside book stack. 

Because book love.

Badge Heart with solid fill

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. 
~Anne Lamott

photo:Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

No Toxic Fish

Giving shouldn’t just feel good; it should do good. Dr. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It explains the difference in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on Thursday, August 12 at 6:00 p.m. Central.

We’ve all heard the adage “Buy a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” It’s good common sense: give skills rather than gifts. But until Bob Lupton published his book Toxic Charity in 2011, the good works and generosity of churches, schools, and charities often didn’t connect with this concept. How many of us have been involved in Christmas Drives that gathered bicycles and new dolls for underprivileged children, or bought presents off a list for everyone in a family? How many parties have we been to where the price of admission was a toy for a needy child? And what makes us feel better than a day spent working with colleagues at a food bank, processing meals for hungry families? It feels good to care for others; it feels good to be generous. How could that be toxic?

When I first heard the title of this book, I found myself getting irritated: What’s the problem with being generous? People can make an issue out of anything these days. But after that initial knee-jerk, I read further. And I realized the connection between the old fish-saying and Lupton’s message. Toxic Charity isn’t about suppressing the urge to help those in need in our communities, it is about how to actually help them.

He begins by describing what he calls “The Scandal,” which is the situation where charitable giving is being wasted or is harming the people it is intended to help. At the time of writing this book, Lupton had worked over forty years in inner-city Atlanta and around the world trying to create models of urban renewal that actually served the poor. He worked with every type of helping organization that exists—churches, corporate volunteers, entrepreneurs, government agencies and individuals. There is no shortage of people desiring to help: according to Lupton, almost 90% of American adults are involved either personally or financially in the charity industry.  The upside of helping is well-established.

But the outcomes are unexamined. “The food we ship to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit—all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground—on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity—quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping.” While that seems surprising, Lupton goes on to explain that the heart of the scandal is that this type of giving creates dependency. It destroys personal initiative. And he gives many examples of charity that has caused communities to stagnate or even regress. The aid received becomes “the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.”

On the surface, it’s a very sad thought. But the strength of Lupton’s message is that it takes us beneath the surface. He details the difference between the type of aid a community needs when it is in crisis—after a storm, an earthquake, or another tragedy—versus the type of support it needs to face chronic problems. He explains how human nature affects both ends of the charitable spectrum. It is easier to collect old clothes and drop them off than it is to work with people to create a thrift store that they can run and that allows them to regain their dignity. It is easier to give people food than it is to work with them to create a food co-op where they have responsibility and ownership for the care of their own community. Aid agencies often aren’t able to shift their actions from “crisis relief to the more complex work of long-term development.” And when that transition is not made in a timely way, “compassion becomes toxic.”

In his experience, Lupton has seen example after example of charitable relationships that soured because the basic formula of giving and taking creates imbalance. His book provides a mission statement for healthy compassionate service, in the form of an oath, and he explores the principles outlined to create redemptive rather than toxic interactions between those with resources and those who need them. His examples are sometimes shocking—mission churches that have been painted ten times in one summer; demanding “vacationaries” who pay exorbitant sums to “help” by doing work that has to be undone once they leave; churches that spend tens of thousands of dollars on mission trips for their members to lay tile that will need to be ripped out when the community they mean to serve has real needs the money could address; and many, many more examples of both groups and individuals who suffer from the outcomes of toxic charity. But as he explains the power dynamics of the giver and the receiver, and reiterates the difference between crisis and development, it is clear how situations like these would evolve time and again if we don’t change the model.

Once we recognize what healthy helping can look like, we need to recognize that it can be challenging to move beyond what he calls “us-based giving.” People on both ends of the formula will push back. It’s harder to get someone to come and work than it is to get them to come in and get a handout. It is harder to form relationships with people whose situations are different than ours than it is to write a check. We need to focus our efforts and move from betterment to development. It is obvious that it is harder to teach someone to fish than it is to go to the store and buy a box of fish sticks, but the book goes into the nuances of very specific types of charitable giving and service, outlining both pitfalls and solutions.  

Lupton paints a clear picture of what will happen if we don’t realign our charitable impulses with actual outcomes.  When I finished, I realized that my initial irritation was defensive: It’s scary to enter into relationships with people who are needy, but it is what we are called to do. If our intention is to truly help people, we need to do it in a way that helps them, rather than provides a quick fix for them and a helping-high for us. To modify another old expression, the road to hell is badly paved by well-intended, unskilled volunteers who didn’t take the time to understand or work with the people they were trying to help. Lupton reminds us that our intentions can be used for good. There will always be need, and we are always called to help. But we need to be honest about the situation and about ourselves before we decide how to proceed. Although it’s not a new book, it has new relevance now as we reconsider many of the relationships and attitudes in our communities. Reading Toxic Charity would be time well-spent before beginning or continuing any outreach program. Everyone deserves the opportunity to catch their own fish.

Dr. Lupton will be in conversation with the Rev. Dr. David Barr, Associate Rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on Thursday, August 12 at 6:00 p.m. Central time on Zoom.

For the link to the conversation, click here.

To purchase the book from The Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

The Logic of Love

Transcending traditional literary alchemy, the plot lines of the 2021 Cathedral Reads choice combine to create the perfect formula for a summer read: sizzling and serious.

What’s your formula for a perfect summer read? If it combines endless love with deep scholarship, dueling medieval and modern churchmen, and truths that survive Nazi persecution, you’re in luck. Join Cathedral friends this summer to explore the logic of love, as we discuss James Carroll’s novel The Cloister

Carroll — former priest, National Book Award winner, and author of over a dozen acclaimed fiction and non-fiction titles — brings the romance and rhetoric of the twelfth-century monk Peter Abelard and his brilliant pupil Héloïse to life in this well-researched historical fiction. Opening in post-war New York City, The Cloister weaves the narratives of the legendary lovers with those of a fictional French-Jewish medievalist, his scarred and private daughter, and an Irish-American priest. Through the lens of the Church, it illuminates concepts of love and tolerance—tolerance for knowledge, for difference, and for love that doesn’t fit prescribed categories. Scholar, monk, daughter, lover, friend: each must struggle to determine if redemption lies within the boundaries of the cloister. While academia and the church may celebrate intellectual inquiry, Carroll suggests that those who press the circumscribed boundaries — for love or logic — do so at perilous personal risk.

What were the dichotomous views of the church held by Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard? Did the Church play a role in creating anti-Semitism? What role did women have in medieval scholarship? Can we overcome life-changing loss? the Cloister delves deeply into questions like these. It’s a love story on all four levels — storgephiliaeros, and agape — as well as a mystery and an intellectual journey. Transcending traditional literary alchemy, its elements combine to create the perfect formula for a summer read: sizzling and serious. 

Sign up to join a small group to discuss The Cloister as you read. Or read at your own pace and join the whole community for discussion during the Dean’s Hour on September 5. Look for more information to come about Cathedral Reads 2021, James Carroll, and his fascinating historical characters. No matter how hot the summer gets, Cathedral Reads 2021 will provide you with some very cool ideas!

To purchase The Cloister from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

To sign up for a discussion group, or to watch a marvelous discussion of monastic and intellectual life in 12th century France, click here. Groups begin the week of June 13, 2021.

The image above is of the Cloisters museum in New York, one of the settings for The Cloister. In conversation with Mary Gordon at the New York Public Library, James Carroll said that the structure of this novel was inspired by the construction of the museum from five medieval monasteries, including one where Peter Abelard once walked. To listen to that conversation, click here.

The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.
~Peter Abelard

Putting the Pieces Back Together

Lots of people wring their hands and say the church is broken. The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers explains why and suggests how we can fix it.

If you’ve been spending Sundays watching church on Zoom and hoping that things will just get back to normal, the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers’ new book The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community will shake you up. Rev. Spellers, who serves as Presiding Bishop Curry’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation, realized that the painful social upheavals that boiled over during the summer of 2020 offered the opportunity for the church, and specifically the Episcopal Church, to get away from the empire-oriented, exclusive practices that were alienating people and causing the church to decline and to move towards something more sustaining, more like what Jesus’ first followers experienced. In just two months she wrote this short, direct book that focuses her education and experience on hard truths of the church, past and present, and what they might mean for the future.

Nadia Bolz-Weber explains The Church Cracked Open well: “If you are looking at the landscape of the church and wondering ‘How’d we get here’ and ‘what’s next,’ I invite you to board Rev. Spellers’ plane and take in the big picture with her. Take in the history, the theology, the pain, the beauty and the hope that her view from thirty-thousand feet offers. When she lands the plane, you’ll realize—there’s simply no better guide out there.”

Spellers introduces her powerful treatise with the story in Mark’s gospel about the woman at Bethany who came into the house of Simon the leper with an alabaster jar of nard, costly perfumed ointment, which she broke and poured onto Jesus’ head. Everyone was angry at her for wasting the precious substance and breaking the beautiful jar, but Jesus understood that she recognized something the others didn’t: “she was literally giving up the best of what she had—the alabaster jar and the nard—because he mattered that much to her. He was the holy one, the center of her world, and she had reoriented her life around him as her focus.”

There is no denying that the world as we know it cracked open this past year. And Spellers provides powerful evidence that the church as we know it was in quick and serious decline, cracked and broken even before the pandemic. In eight chapters, she explains why and provides a plan for using the broken pieces of our tradition to orient our lives more truly around Jesus and come closer to creating beloved community. 

She begins by explaining why “Euro-tribal” churches have fallen to the margins. Rather than seeing the crises of the pandemic as the final blows to an ailing church, she says, we should use them as motivation to move away from White empire towards God and God’s dream. Spellers is very direct about how the Episcopal Church historically embraced and often epitomized racism, but her abiding love for the broken church comes through clearly. 

After she names the problems and explains how they evolved, she moves towards imagining a better future, sharing the stories of men and women throughout history who lived better lives and provide hope that we can too. She explores the idea of kenosis, the non-attachment and self-giving that Jesus exemplified, and explains how we need to be brave enough to break our attachment to the alabaster jar of our church. She proposes a life of solidarity, where Christian communities who once identified with empire and establishment walk humbly with the oppressed to find salvation and holiness for all. And she brings these stories and concepts together by explaining the Way of Love —the rule of life for Episcopalians that the presiding bishop has developed —through their lens.

Spellers hopes this book will inspire more than just deeper reflection. “My fervent prayer is that you will examine your life and the life of your church, and the systems and assumptions that shape both. I hope you will become less anxious about how you and your community are cracking open and more curious about how God might remake you as a true community of love.”

The Church Cracked Open packs a wallop. Though it’s short, it’s not an easy read— her deep understanding of the church and its history can get dense for a lay reader, and many of the anecdotes she shares are ugly and uncomfortable to face. But through these hard truths, she weaves poetry, specific hopes, and examples of people who have overcome the ugliness to provide images of what the future might look like. She leaves us not with the broken pieces of the church, but with a clear plan for how they might be put back together to create something truly beautiful and precious, something worthy of honoring God. Whether or not you agree with her diagnosis or her recovery plan for the church, you’ll discover profound new ways of considering what the return to church might look like. And you’ll understand why it can’t just go back to normal.

For a link to join the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series conversation with the Rev. Canon Spellers on Thursday, May 13, at 6:00 p.m. Central, click here.

To purchase The Church Cracked Open from the Cathedral bookstore, click here.

The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community
Stephanie Spellers
Church Publishing 
Paperback: 160 pages
ISBN: 978-1640654242
$16.95

One voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets and armies.
~Ursula K. Le Guin 

Anne Lamott Always Shows Up for Us

The prolific author’s latest book provides a booster shot of spiritual courage. She’ll be discussing it with us on April 8, 2021.

The flaps of Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn: on revival and courage, ask, “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? How can we cope as bad news pile up around us? Where, Anne Lamott asks, ‘do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back…with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?’” These are big, good questions.

I have more questions: How do you review an Anne Lamott book? How do you explain this verbal life-force to someone who may not already be familiar with her? How do you catch a cloud and hold it down?

The New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, WowSmall VictoriesStitchesSome Assembly RequiredGrace (Eventually)Plan BTraveling MerciesBird by BirdOperating InstructionsHallelujah Anyway and many other fiction and non-fiction books, Anne Lamott is a successful writer by anyone’s definition. Words pour out of her. While a large proportion of these words are about herself, her stories of single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity have resonated with readers for over three decades. 

When asked why she writes, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”

Anne Lamott is nothing if not self-aware. With dead-eye accuracy, she writes the books she wants to read. They are good medicine, but they are difficult to describe individually. They even dress alike. Her latest book, Dusk Night Dawn, is packaged like all her books since Help Thanks Wow: It’s a slim volume with two color printing, gift-book binding, pretty endpapers and a single excerpt on the back cover. She does not need to be endorsed by other writers; rather, what she writes just needs to be packaged beautifully and presented to her adoring audience.

Despite the sameness and the foregone conclusion of success that this formula suggests, I’m part of that audience. I love Anne Lamott’s writing. I have all her books, and I’ve gone to hear her speak every time she’s come to town. But it’s tricky trying to individuate this latest book. In many ways, Dusk Night Dawn is just like Help Thanks Wow, or Hallelujah Anyway, or any of her other books in this vein. They’re each a stream-of-consciousness recounting of episodes from throughout her life, with a few images and individuals anchoring her thoughts. This one, written after her recent marriage to Neal Allen and during the last presidential term adds these topics, polar opposites that both lead her to deep rumination, and still covers single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity.

If you haven’t read any of her previous books, I have no idea how you might respond if you jumped into this massive oeuvre with Dusk Night Dawn. If you have read Anne Lamott before, of course you need to read this latest. While you’ll be interested to hear about how her online dating worked out, you’ll have the same reaction to her writing that you’ve had before: you might think she needs more editing; you might think she’s prophetic; you might wonder where she’s going with some of her anecdotes, only to find yourself pondering them like a good parable several days later. Or you might skip the literary judgement and declare this new book just perfect. Because, more than anything, her constant message to readers is how deeply we are loved by our Creator, even in the darkest night of our unedited, rambling imperfection. Even, and especially, when the world seems like it’s falling apart. Nobody’s looking for perfection; we just need to show up for each other.

The Anne Lamott quote on the back of the book says, “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet the center may just hold.” Dusk Night Dawn is sub-titled on revival and courage. But isn’t all her writing about revival and courage? While she struggles every day to show up for her life, her center has clearly held. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s held well enough for her to create a multitude of books about her journey, books that help us better understand where the center of our own lives should be and help us show up, for ourselves and our dear ones.

So, yes, we are older. Yes, our joints are stiff, and we’ve been stumbling through a heartbreaking year, even if we were lucky enough to find or hold love in it. And yes, this book looks and reads a lot like her books that have come before it. But don’t let that keep you from reading it. It’s the same, but it’s different. The parables stay the same, but we change. There’s still more to understand.

As always, she’s tangential, irreverent, charming, opinionated, and brutally honest. Reading her, book after book, is like sitting down with a thoroughly modern Maria (When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus, and bemused, and I never know exactly where I am. Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather. She’s a darling; she’s a demon; she’s a lamb. She’d out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest. She can throw a twirling dervish out of whirl. She is gentle; she is wild; she’s a riddle; she’s a child; she’s a headache; she’s an angel…she’s Anne Lamott.) How do you explain her remarkable verbal magic?

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Read Dusk Night Dawn. Or, if you’re not already familiar with her work, go back to Operating Instructions or Bird by Bird and get to know her and her people from the beginning. Each book layers richness on the last. You can’t read about Anne Lamott: you have to experience her books for yourself. You might not be able to explain just why, but chances are you’ll feel revived and more courageous afterward. And isn’t that what the sub-title promised?

Anne Lamott will be featured in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on April 8 at 6 p.m. Central. Join us to experience her irrepressible wisdom by registering at the link here.

To purchase Dusk Night Dawn from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.
~ Henri Nouwen

Blessed, Indeed, Are the Cheesemakers

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine explains Jesus’s teaching so clearly, it’s as if centuries of varnish have been cleaned from the surface of a gorgeous painting. Join the Episcopal Booksellers Association in conversation with her on February 11, 2021.

When Amy-Jill Levine was in first grade at Job S. Gidley Elementary School in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, her teacher led the children in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Our Father prayer. Recalling that ritual in her latest book, Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Levine says, “So after pledging loyalty to ‘liver tea’ and singing about the ‘donzerly’ light, I’m sure I was not the only one in the class who bowed my head and prayed, ‘Our father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name…Lead us not into Penn Station…’…Little children have much to learn.’”

When it comes to the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Lord’s Prayer, as we Episcopalians call it, Dr. Levine has much to teach us. Sermon on the Mount approaches chapters 5-7 in the Book of Matthew that most of us consider familiar ground and shows us in the most enthusiastic and loving way that our understanding (at least as a lay reader) is not much more accurate than her interpretation of the “dawn’s early light” was back in first grade.

University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies and Mary Jan Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts, and Sciences, Dr. Levine is the first Jew to teach at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute, and her list of degrees and accomplishments is long and impressive. She brings all her education and experience to her deconstruction of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which she begins by saying “is not a sermon. It’s a series of discrete teachings, each of which could be the basis of a sermon, a lecture, a community study, or a personal meditation.” She suggests that Matthew needs marketing help, and that what we call the Sermon on the Mount (and he never did) should be called something like “A Sampling of Jesus’s Greatest Teachings.” And then she uses her knowledge of Jewish practices at the time of Jesus, her understanding of the Torah and the New Testament, and the range of translations of the bible to deepen our understanding of every significant phrase in these chapters.

Her book is not long—six chapters cover The Beatitudes, The Extensions, Practicing Piety, Our Father, Finding Your Treasure, and Living into the Kingdom. Each of these chapters is packed with thought-provoking, knowledge-based, exciting ideas. Though her erudition is apparent, her work has a strong sense of joy. She is able to laugh at herself, the religious establishment, and outdated interpretations of what Jesus was teaching, while remaining respectful and non-judgmental. She connects the holy with history, head, and heart: reading her book feels like engaging with a remarkable professor—one so sure of her material that she can explore new ideas even as she teaches, one who is delighted to share her knowledge because she has experienced it as life-changing.

Each chapter is an exploration. Sometimes she detours into her own experience or delves into playing with language, and as she does, she remarks on the richness of the Matthew’s writing. She leaves the reader with the hope that future books will further explore these paths that she glimpses down as she moves through the elements of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Jesus that she presents and his messages that she explains come though so clearly, it’s as if centuries of discolored varnish have been cleaned from the surface of a gorgeous painting. We still recognize the beloved subject, but now we can see it as it was intended to be seen. It seems so logical—if we are to accurately understand Jesus’s lessons, of course we need to understand who he was as a Jew, who he was teaching, and what language they were speaking. 

In Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” the crowd hears Jesus say, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers.” Some past translations and interpretations of the Book of Matthew have left us with some ideas that are just as inaccurate. After reading Sermon on the Mount, we not only know specifically what Jesus means when he uses terms like “Peacemakers,” we also come away with a practical understanding of how to apply these powerful teachings in our own lives. Blessed are both cheesemakers and peacemakers and blessed is Amy-Jill Levine for so generously and articulately sharing her learning and experience to shed new light on this important section of the New Testament. 

To register for the EBA Authors Series discussion with Dr. Levine on February 11, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. Central, click here.

To purchase Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, click here.

To see David Hockney’s vision of the Sermon on the Mount, click here.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
~Marcel Proust

Choose Your Own Adventure: Dystopian, Apocalyptic, or Re-Enchanted

Ilia Delio’s latest book offers a new vision for the future. Join us on January 14 as she explains why AI needs religion and what the reunion of science and religion can mean for humanity.

I’ve heard the word Orwellian used more in the last few weeks than I have at any time in my life, even in the literary throes of obtaining an English degree. The world, I keep hearing, has become Orwellian, or dystopian, headed towards apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic. We’re living in a brave, new world where we have become pawns, they say. We’re doomed: we’ve already been sucked up by [choose your enemy] big pharma, big tech, big government, big deep state—futuristic big bad wolves of every ilk lurk behind every tree.

God is dead, said Nietzsche; God never existed, say scholars like Jerry Coyne; and many of us without theology degrees are struggling to understand concepts like dynamic metaphor to reconcile our faith with the Darwinian drumbeat of a purely scientific world view. If you stray too far from the stained-glass world of your pew, the future seems very dismal. Cyber-dismal.

In Christ in Evolution, one of her earlier books, Ilia Delio says, “Religion must evolve along with human consciousness if it is to have any relevance and influence. For Christianity, this evolution would consist of a reformulated Christology that is better suited to engage twenty-first century thought.”

What if the next steps of science and technology aren’t leading us to an Orwellian future? What if we aren’t doomed to live in a spiritual wasteland? What if we cease seeing science and religion as non-overlapping magisteria and instead use their intersection as our lens, seeing the future not as a deterioration of the faith that has sustained us, but as a more complex, more whole, and more interconnected reality? What if artificial intelligence doesn’t destroy us in some sort of Julie Christie/Demon Seed nightmare, but directed by Christological principles, brings about an ecological re-enchantment of the Earth?

In her latest book, Re-Enchanting the Earth: why AI needs religion, Ilia Delio shows us that the future doesn’t have to look like the darker visions of twentieth century writers. If humans are made in God’s image and what we create is therefore divinely created, then technology, rather than being anti-God, can be seen as an extension of God. A clamshell, the technology of a clam, is an integral part of a clam. Perhaps we are evolving to a point where a computer is an integral part of our God-inspired humanity. Ilia Delio’s understanding of personhood and her vision of a healed world is mind-blowing.

This latest book of hers has been described in profound terms: “A bold new take on evolution, humanity, intelligence, and spirituality, Ilia Delio draws with refreshing originality on post-humanism, the work of AI visionaries, and the deep theological insight of Teilhard de Chardin. The result is a summons from the future, a winsome, readable, and urgent call for a new humanity and a new spirituality. A brilliant critique of the modern, autonomous, isolated self,” says Ron Cole-Turner of Pittsburgh Theological Center.

A provocative call to arms for a generation the already embraces science and technology but wants to go beyond conventional religion in search of spiritual inspiration and direction,” says Steve Fuller of University of Warwick, the author of Humanity 2.0. And David Grummett of University of Edinburgh calls it “a wide-ranging interdisciplinary study that provocatively interprets classic Christian themes for today’s connected, dynamic, and reflective world.”

Who could imagine such a departure from the popular dirge of the slow erosion of spiritual life and the wasteland left in its place? Ilia Delio, OSF, is a Franciscan Sister of Washington DC. She holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University and is founder of the Omega Center. In addition to having doctorates in both science and theology, she has written many books, including Christ in Evolution, The Emergent Christ, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, and Birth of a Dancing Star: My Journey from Cradle Catholic to Cyborg Christian.

Whether or not you agree with her vision, Ilia Delio is profoundly intelligent and profusely educated. Her arguments, though they may fundamentally change our understanding of the cosmos, are so logical they don’t seem radical. And though her ideas may be challenging for the average reader like me to articulate, they make beautiful, reassuring, and exciting sense. What she says.

On Thursday, January 14, at 6 p.m. Central, the Episcopal Booksellers Association and Orbis Books present a conversation with Sr. Ilia Delio and Greg Hansell, executive director of the Center for Christogenesis. Join the Cathedral Bookstore and readers from Episcopal bookstores across the country to hear what she says from her own mouth. Whether you are an AI expert with Nietzschean leanings or a devout soul wanting hope for a future more compelling than the landscapes created by writers like Orwell, Huxley, or Atwood, Ilia Delio, with her profound learning and deep desire to understand Augustine’s question, “What is it I love when I love you my God?” will blow your mind. She makes the future seem no less complicated, but far less dismal.

To receive a link to the conversation on January 14, email bookstore@christchurchcathedral.org before noon on January 14.

To purchase Re-Enchanting the Earth: why AI needs religion, click here.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” 
― Corrie ten Boom

Pomander Balls, Gumdrop Trees, and Magi

A couple of “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago” for you, with warmest wishes for a merry Christmas season from your friends in the Bookstore!

Since the advent of the VCR, many family Christmas traditions have morphed into multiple viewings of movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Christmas Vacation,” or “Home Alone”. Something’s got to keep the kids busy while the parents scurry around mailing presents to the out-of-town cousins, making elaborate cookies, and doing all the mysterious things that make the celebratory side of the holiday happen.

When I was growing up, Christmas viewing was limited to one evening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” shown by the network, an occasion for dinner in the den on a TV tray—a rare and special departure from the dining room table. Otherwise, my parents were on their own to keep us busy so that they could do all the behind-the-scenes work that had to happen before we were tucked all snug in our beds on Christmas Eve.

Before infinity loops of movies were an option, my mother and grandmother convinced us that Christmas could not happen properly without pomander balls, gumdrop trees, and miles and miles of popcorn and cranberry garland. They had us working away, a veritable North Pole workshop, poking cloves into oranges (to cover the entire orange, not just make a few rows!), poking toothpicks into gumdrops and styrofoam cones, and poking needles carefully threaded with green thread into popcorn kernels (the plain kind, not the cheese or the caramel).

If we tired or complained, we were reminded of how hard the elves were working in their own workshop, and occasionally warned that some children with bad attitudes were known to have gotten coal in their stockings. When the positive messaging of the elves, and the negative of the coal stopped working, the matriarchs turned to stories. Both my mother and my paternal grandmother, who rarely agreed on anything besides the fact that idle young hands were the devil’s work, loved the stories of O. Henry.

If we misbehaved, we were reminded of “The Ransom of Red Chief” and asked if we thought people would actually pay money to get us back. My grandmother, always didactic, earnestly explained irony, while my mother wryly insinuated that we’d better get poking on our projects or something really terrible might happen. And while we worked, they would often read to us. The obvious Christmastime favorite was “The Gift of the Magi.”

Christmas, from its shiny surface to the Holy Baby who’s the reason for the season, is about gifts. And Jim and Della, despite the irony of their situation, really get the concept of gifts right. Just like the Magi.

Merry Christmas to you all! Here’s “The Gift of the Magi” for you to enjoy in a quiet moment with a candy cane or a Christmas cookie—or two—along with our wish that all the days of Christmas ahead bring you surprises and traditions filled with love. And if you find yourself getting restless as you sit through your fifth or sixth viewing of “Home Alone” while you wait for the world to open up, remember that there are tried and true, if recently forgotten, ways to stay productively entertained at home: grab a few oranges and cloves, and get poking!

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again—you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. 

___

Merry Christmas from your friends at the Bookstore! We’re keeping you in our hearts until we can be together in person again!

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
~Clarence Odbody

The Advent Newsletter goes all mod

Though we’re publishing it electronically this year, the Bookstore’s traditional Advent Newsletter still provides our suggestions for books with heart—for gifts or for your own shelf!

Every year, since practically the beginning of time, the Cathedral Bookstore has published an Advent Newsletter. The newsletter has traditionally been an elegant, cream-colored affair, inserted into the service leaflet during the four Sundays in Advent. It consisted of a selection of books that the bookstore deemed interesting to the congregation for giving to loved ones, or for reading over the twelve days of Christmas.*

The books were not meant to be the latest hot titles (you can read the New York Times or tune into NPR for that), but rather a list of books that might really appeal to the sensibilities of our readers, books that they could give to a friend or grandchild without worrying that they might somehow be inappropriate or uninspiring, or books that would perfectly suit a cozy cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon. We have tried to find books with heart, on a variety of topics, that literate, spiritual, open-hearted people would gladly welcome to their shelves.

The hope was that over the course of Advent, a large number of congregants would receive the newsletter and stop by after the service to do a little elf work, have a cookie with us, and visit for a bit.

The cookies and the visiting weren’t an option this year, but elf work and reading seemed more necessary than ever. We decided to forgo the traditional printed newsletter and publish our suggestions on-line. The Advent Newsletter made its electronic debut in the Cathedral Bulletin’s December edition.

Though we are quite hi-tech now, we remain committed to the traditional pairings of real books and tea, cookies and friends, correspondence and paper, and all the other lovely things that make life a bit nicer. Perhaps next year, we’ll be able to print a traditional cream Advent Newsletter and insert it into the service leaflets. In the meantime, despite the very modern delivery of our list, we hope that at some point in the future you’ll have the chance to read some—or all!—of the titles we’ve suggested. They spoke to us, and we’d like to share them.

Here they are. All are available on our site, for pick up or shipping.

Books for Adults

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson: This engrossing true adventure takes readers into the underground world of fly-tiers and feather thieves. A heist from the British Museum of Natural History’s ornithological collection catapults the author into a world-wide, years-long quest to understand how far the deeply obsessive pursuit of rare feathers can take fly-tiers.

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think 
by Jennifer Ackerman
: Not only do birds have more in common with us than previously thought, there is also no one way of being a bird. Drawing from recent scientific research that dramatically shifts our understanding of how birds live and think, itreveals that a remarkable intelligence gives them abilities, both positive and negative, that we once considered uniquely human.  

The Lost Book of the Grail   
Charlie Lovett
: A technophobic bibliophile goes on a quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail.  Combining literary and historical research with elements of cozy mysteries, classic love stories, and adventure tales, this genre-blending tale will delight both book lovers and church history buffs.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:Though Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, she tried to write the story of Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher accused of murder in the 1970s. Cep’s masterful research and insight bring every aspect of this remarkable story to life: Maxwell’s crimes, courtroom drama, racial politics of the Deep South, and a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers. 

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear: The author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs mysteries shares her post-War English childhood in a memoir rich in history and humanity. Revealing her artistic inspirations and capturing nuances of working-class strengths and family secrets, she includes her grandfather’s shellshock; her mother’s evacuation from London during the Blitz; her father’s work on a WWII explosives team; her parents’ years living with Romany Gypsies; and her own experiences picking hops and fruit in rural Kent. 

Every Moment Holy: Pocket Edition, volume 1 by Douglas McKelvey and Dan Bustard: This beautiful illustrated book of liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life — such as “A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends” or “A Liturgy for Laundering” or “A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season,” remind us that our lives are filled with sacred purpose even when we are too busy to notice.

Books for Children

Love Can Come in Many Ways by Terry Pierce: Lift a swan’s felt wing to discover a baby cuddled underneath, then lift a felt speech bubble to discover the words “You are loved!” Beneath each flap, little ones will find a wealth of loving engagement, from the songs a mama frog sings to a warm hug from a papa elephant’s trunk. Grade: Birth-Pre-K.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas Collection: Stories, songs, and reflections for the Advent season by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This interactive story, sound, and song experience prepares families for Christmas. In addition to the timeless story, the book features recordings of classic Christmas music, a map that traces Jesus through the Old Testament, and devotional readings. Rather than ending on Christmas morning with Jesus’s birth, it provides a complete celebration of the holiday season. Grades: PreK-2

Birdsong by Julie Flett: A young girl moves from the country to a small town, and she feels lonely until she meets an elderly woman who shares her love of arts and crafts. Can the girl navigate the changing seasons and failing health of her new friend? Textured images of birds, flowers, art, and landscapes bring vibrancy and warmth to this story that features Cree traditions and highlights the fulfillment of intergenerational relationships and shared passions. Grades: PK-3rd

Dinosaur Feathers by Dennis Nolan: Poetic nonfiction with glorious illustrations explains how dinosaurs evolved into birds. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the shores of Mesozoic seas. Large and fearsome, they ruled the earth, until gradually, there were no dinosaurs left. But they didn’t disappear completely. Some dinosaurs had feathers, which grew and grew…until all through the skies were hundreds of species of birds, which flew and flew. Grades: 1-4

The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share by Emma Bland Smith and Alison Jay: This true story tells how America and England almost went to war in 1859 over a pig. On the small island of San Juan in the Pacific Northwest, the British and the Americans are on fairly good terms until one fateful morning when an innocent British hog eats some American potatoes. Tensions flare, armies gather, cannons are rolled out . . . all because of a pig! With humorous text and folksy illustrations the story models peaceful conflict resolution. Grades: 2-4

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr: Astrid spends her days racing down the hillside on her sled, singing loudly, and visiting Gunnvald, her grumpy, septuagenarian best friend and godfather. Two startling arrivals to the village of Glimmerdal reveal that Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret that will test their friendship. Astrid — Pippi Longstocking meets Heidi meets Anne Shirley — navigates the unexpected changes with warmth and humor. Grades: 2-5

Letters from Father Christmas  by J.R.R. Tolkien: Every December from 1920 to 1943, an envelope would arrive at the Tolkien household bearing a stamp from the North Pole. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting, along with a beautiful colored drawing or painting. These fanciful, heartwarming stories of Father Christmas are now reissued in a centenary edition. Grades: 3-6

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte: This well-researched historical fiction by a Deaf librarian is set in a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century. Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected, but now she faces family turmoil and rising tensions between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. A cunning young scientist arrives hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness, and she must struggle to save herself from his experiment. Her story asks readers to reconsider what normal means. Grades: 3-7

Philosophy by DK: For thousands of years, philosophers have asked questions like “What is right and what is wrong?”, “Am I real?”, or “What is the point of existence?” These questions have sparked passionate debates about how we understand the world around us. This engaging book introduces philosophy through the teachings of Plato, Confucius, Simone de Beauvoir, and many more. Including biographies of influential philosophers, it explores questions that have been fundamental to the development of scientific study, logical thinking, religious beliefs, laws and governance. Grades: 5 and up

From the Cathedral

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry: Bishop Curry expands his message of hope in this inspirational road map for living the way of love, illuminated with moving lessons from his own life. Through the prism of his faith, ancestry, and personal journey, he shows how America came this far and, more important, how we can discover the gifts we need to live the way of love: deep reservoirs of hope and resilience, simple wisdom, the discipline of nonviolence, and unshakable regard for human dignity.

In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Politics by Barkley S. Thompson
Foreword 
by the Honorable Linnet Deily: Dean Thompson makes an elegant, profound connection between religion and politics. He argues that Christian faith and politics are inseparable, and though the Gospel is inherently political, it is not partisan. To embody God’s politics, we must first steep ourselves in God’s vision for the world embodied in the Gospels, and only then can we act politically. This collection of essays and sermons addresses hot-button social issues by putting this principle into practice, challenging the reader to live God’s politics and to be the vanguard of God’s kingdom in the world.

Belovedness: Finding God (and Self) on Campusedited by Becky Zartman and James Franklin: Thought-provoking essays by Canon Zartman and college chaplains from several denominations address issues of faith, identity, making choices, success and failure, relationships, sexuality, partying, and mental health, through the concept of belovedness. Belovedness gives students a framework for living their lives set free by the love of God and teaches them how to find the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.

And, of course, we should mention two very special gifts:

The Resurrection Angel Stained Glass: This replica of the angel in the Resurrection window over the altar was created by artisans in a traditional enamel glazing process. The piece comes packaged with a copy of Dean Thompson’s sermon “Clipped Wings,” a contemplation of this angel.  The package includes a chain for display.

Wooden Christmas Trees by Dieter Ufer: Each year, Dieter Ufer creates exquisite wooden Christmas Trees for sale in the Bookstore. A Cathedral parishioner since1960, he has provided such extraordinary service to the Cathedral that he received the Dean’s Cross in 2016. His father, a talented metalsmith, crafted the cover of the baptismal font and many other pieces integral to the worship experience at the Cathedral, but Dieter has always been drawn to working with wood. His heirloom-quality trees, available in three sizes — tiny, small, and tall — consist of two interlocking pieces designed to be easily packed away for many Christmases to come. A beautiful Cathedral tradition, the trees can be displayed singly or in groves on your table, mantel, or shelf.

Wishing you a peaceful Advent, a joyous Christmas, good health, and happy reading!

*NB: No Advent Newsletters were ever read during the sermon, no matter the length or subject. Any reading that happened to take place during the service occurred solely during the prelude or the announcements.

It seems like everything sleeps in winter, but it’s really a time of renewal and reflection.
~Elizabeth Camden