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

Have yourself “An Old-fashioned Thanksgiving,” despite 2020 realities!

This Louisa May Alcott story was first published in 1882. It tells of an unusual Thanksgiving that was very nearly ruined by the threat of ill health and the inability to gather in normal ways. It is indeed thoroughly old-fashioned, but we hope you might enjoy reading it with a cup of tea over this unusual Thanksgiving so many years later. We are thankful for your interest in the Cathedral Bookstore, and we wish you good health and happy reading!

Sixty years ago, up among the New Hampshire hills, lived Farmer Basset, with a houseful of sturdy sons and daughters growing up about him. They were poor in money, but rich in land and love, for the wide acres of wood, corn, and pasture land fed, warmed and clothed the flock, while mutual patience, affection and courage made the old farmhouse a very happy home.

November had come; the crops were in , and barn, buttery and bin were overflowing with the harvest that rewarded the summer’s hard work. The big kitchen was a jolly place just now, for in the great fireplace roared a cheerful fire; on the walls hung garlands of dried apples, onions, and corn ; up aloft from the beams shone crook-necked squashes, juicy hams, and dried venison, for in those days deer still haunted the dee[ forests, and hunters flourished. Savory smells were in the air; on the crane hung steaming kettles, and down among the red embers copper saucepans simmered, all suggestive of some approaching feast.

A bald-headed baby lay in the old blue cradle that had rocked six other babies, now and then lifting his head to look out, like a round, full moon, then subsided to kick and crow contentedly, and such the rosy apple he had no teeth to bite. two small boys say on the wooden settle shelling corn for popping, and picking out the biggest nuts from the goodly store their own hands had gathered in October. Four young girls stood at the ing dresser, busily chopping meat. pounding spice, and slicing apples; and the tongues of Tilly, Prue, Roxy and Rhody went as fast as their hands. Farmer Basset and Eph, the oldest boy were “chorine’ found” outside, for Thanksgiving was at hand, and all must be in order for that time-honored day.

To and fro, from table to hearth, bustled buxom Mrs. BAsset, flushed and floury, but busy and blith as the queen bee of this busy little hive should be.

“I do like to begin seasonable and have things to my mind. Thanksgiving’ dinners can’t be drove, and it does take a sight of victuals to fill all these hungry stomicks,” said the good woman, as she gave a vigorous stir to the great kettle of cider applesauce, and cast a glance of housewifery pride at the fine array of pies set forth on the buttery shelves.

Only one more day and then it will be the time to eat. I didn’t take but one bowl of hasty pudding this morning, so I shall have plenty of room when the nice things come,” confided Seth to Sol, as he cracked a large hazelnut as easily as a squirrel.

“No need of my starving’ beforehand, I always have room enough, and I”d like to have Thanksgiving every day, ” answered Solomon, glaring the like a young ogre over the little pig that lay near by, ready for roasting.

“Sakes alive, I don’t, boys! It’s a marcy it don’t come but once a year. I should be worn to a thread paper with all this extra work atop of my winder weaving’ and spinning’,” laughed their mother, as she plunged her plump arms into the long bread though and began to knead the dough as if a famine were at hand.

Tilly, the oldest girl, a red-cheeked, black-eyed lass of fourteen, was grinding briskly at the mortar, for spices were costly, and not a grain must be wasted. Prue kept time with the chopper, and the twins sliced away at the apples till their little brown arms ached, for all knew how to work, and did so now with a will.

“I think it’s real fun to have Thanksgiving at home. I’m sorry Gran’ma is sick, so we can’t go there as usual, but I like to mess ’round here, don’t you, girls?” asked Tilly, pausing to take a sniff at the spicy pestle.

“It will be kind of lonesome with only out own folks.” “I like to see all the cousins and aunts, and have games and sing.” cried the twins, who were regular little romps, and could run, swim, coast, and shout as well as their brothers.

“I don’t care a mite for all that. It will be so nice to eat dinner together, warm and comfortable at home,” said quiet Prue, who loved her own cozy nooks like a cat.

“Come, girls, fly ’round and get your chores done, so we can clear away for dinner jest as soon as I clap my bread into the oven,” called Mrs. Bassett presently, as she rounded off the last loaf of brown bread which was to feed the hungry months that seldom tasted any other.

“Here’s a man coming’ up the hill lively!””Guess its Gad Hopkins. Pa told him to bring a deaden oranges, if they warn’t too high!” shouted Sol and Seth, running to the door, while the girls smacked their lips at the thought of this rate treat, and Baby threw his apple overboard, as if getting ready for a new cargo.

But all were doomed to disappointment, for it was not Gad, with the much-desired fruit. It was a stranger, who threw himself off his horse and hurried up to Mr. Basset in the year, with some brief message that made the farmer drip his ax and look so sober that his wife guessed at once some bad news had come; and crying “Mother’s wuss” I know she is!” Out ran the good woman, forgetful of the flour on her arms and the oven waiting for its most important batch.

The man said old Mr. Chadwick, down to Keene, stopped him as he passed and told him to tell Mrs. Bassett her mother was failin’ fast, and she’d better come to day. He knew mo more, and having delivered his errand he rode away, saying it looked like snow and he must be jogging, or he wouldn’t get home till night.

“We must go right off, Eldad. Hitch up, and I’ll be ready in less’n no time,” said Mrs. Bassett, wasting not a minute in tears and lamentations but bubbling off her apron as she went in, with her head in a sad jumble of bread, anxiety, turkey, sorrow, caste, and cider applesauce.

A few words told the story, and the children left their work to help her get ready, mingling their fried for “Gran’ma” with regrets for the lost dinner.

“I’m dreadful snotty, dears, but it can’t be helped. I couldn’t cook nor eat no way now, and if that blessed woman gets better sudden, and she has before, we’ll have cause for thanksgivin’, and I’ll give you a dinner you won’t forget in a hurry,” said Mrs. Basset, as she tied on her brown sold pumpkin-hood, with a sob for the good old mother who had made it for her.

Not a child complained after that, but ran about helpfully, bringing moccasins, heating the footstool, and getting ready for a long drive, because Gran’ma lived twenty miles away, and there were not railroads in those parts to whip people to and fro like magic. by the time the old yellow sleigh was at the door, the bread was in the oven, and Mrs. Bassett was waiting, with her camlet cloak on, and the baby done up like a small bale of blankets.

“Now, Eph, you must look after the cattle like a man and keep up the fires, for there’s a storm brewin’, and neither the children nor dumb critters must suffer,” said Mr. Bassett, as he turned up the collar of his rough coat and put on his blue mittens, while the old mare shook her bells as if she preferred a trip to Keene to hauling wood all day.

“Tilly, put extra comfortables on the beds to-night, the wind is so searchin’ up chamber. Have the baked beans and Injun-puddin’ for dinner, and whatever you do, don’t let the boys get at the nice-pies, or you’ll have them down sick. I shall come back the minute I can leave Mother. Pas will come to-morrer anyway, so keep snug and be good. I de[end on you, my darter; use your judgement, and don’t let nothin’ happen while Mother’s away.”

“Yes’m, yes’m—good-bye, good-bye!” called the children, as Mrs. Bassett was packed into the sleigh and driven away, leaving a stream of directions behind her.

Eph, the sixteen-year-old boy, immediately put on his biggest boots, assumed a sober, responsible manner, and surveyed his little responsibilities with a paternal air, drolly like his father’s. Tilly tied on her mother’s bunch of keys, rolled up the sleeves of her homespun gown, and began to order about the younger girls. They soon forgot poor Granny, and found it great fun to keep house all alone, for Mother seldom left home, but ruled her family in the good old-fashioned way. There were not servants, for the little daughters wether Mrs. Bassett’s only maids, and the stout boys helped their father, all working happily together with no wages but love; learning in the best manner the use of the heads and hands with which they were to make whiter own way in the world.

The few flakes that caused the farmer to predict bad weather soon increased to a regular snowstorm, with gusts of wind, for up among the hills winder came early and lingered long. But the children were busy, gay, and warm indoors, and never minded the rising gale not the whistling white storm outside.

Tilly got them a good dinner, and when it was over, the two elder girls went to their spinning,

for in the kitchen stood the big and little wheels, and baskets of wool-rolls, ready to be twisted into yarn for the winter’s knitting, and each day brought its stint of work to the daughters, who hoped to be as thrifty as their mother.

Eph kept up a glorious fire, and superintended the small boys, who popped corn and whittled boats on the hearth; while Roxy and Rhody dressed corn-cob dolls in the settle corner, and Bose, the brindled mastiff, lay on the braided mat, luxuriously warming his old legs. Thus employed, they made a pretty picture, these rosy boys and girls, in their homespun suits, with the rustic toys or tasks which most children nowadays would find very poor or tiresome.

Tilly and Prue sang, as they stepped to and fro, drawing out the smoothly twisted threads to the musical hum of the great spinning-wheels. The little girls chattered like magpies over their dolls and the new bed-spread they were planning to make, all white dimity stars on a blue calico ground, as a Christmas present to Ma. The boys roared at Eph’s jokes, and had rough and tumble games over Bose, who didn’t mind them in the least; and so the afternoon wore pleasantly away.

At sunset the boys went out to feed the cattle, bring in heaps of wood, and lock up for the night, as the lonely farm-house seldom had visitors after dark. The girls got the simple supper of brown bread and milk, baked apples, and a doughnut all ’round as a treat. Then they sat before the fire, the sisters knitting, the brothers with books or games, for Eph loved reading, and Sol and Seth never failed to play a few games of Morris with barley corns, on the little board they had made themselves at one corner of the dresser.

“Read out a piece,” said Tilly, from Mother’s chair, where she sat in state, finishing off the sixth woolen sock she had knit that month.

“It’s the old history book, but here’s a bit you may like, since it’s about our folks,” answered Eph, turning the yellow page to look at a picture of two quaintly dressed children in some ancient castle.

“Yes, read that. I always like to hear about the Lady Matildy I was named for, and Lord Bassett, Pa’s great-great-great grandpa. He’s only a farmer now, but it’s nice to know that we were somebody two or three hundred years ago,” said Tilly, bridling and tossing her curly head as she fancied the Lady Matilda might have done.

“Don’t read the queer words, ’cause we don’t understand ’em. Tell it,” commanded Roxy, from the cradle, where she was drowsily cuddled with Rhody.

“Well, a long time ago, when Charles the First was in prison, Lord Bassett was a true friend to him,” began Eph, plunging into his story without delay. “The lord had some papers that would have hung a lot of people if the king’s enemies got hold of ’em, so when he heard one day, all of a sudden, that soldiers were at the castle-gate to carry him off, he had just time to call his girl to him and say: ‘I may be going to my death, but I won’t betray my master. There is no time to burn the papers, and I can not take them with me; they are hidden in the old leathern chair where I sit. No one knows this but you, and you must guard them till I come or send you a safe messenger to take them away. Promise me to be brave and silent, and I can go without fear.’ You see, he wasn’t afraid to die, but he was to seem a traitor. Lady Matildy promised solemnly, and the words were hardly out of her mouth when the men came in, and her father was carried away a prisoner and sent off to the Tower.”

“But she didn’t cry; she just called her brother, and sat down in that chair, with her head leaning back on those papers, like a queen, and waited while the soldiers hunted the house over for ’em: wasn’t that a smart girl?” cried Tilly, beaming with pride, for she was named for this ancestress, and knew the story by heart.

“I reckon she was scared, though, when the men came swearin’ in and asked her if she knew anything about it. The boy did his part then, for he didn’t know, and fired up and stood before his sister; and he says, says he, as bold as a lion: ‘If my lord had told us where the papers be, we would die before we would betray him. But we are children and know nothing, and it is cowardly of you to try to fright us with oaths and drawn swords!'”

As Eph quoted from the book, Seth planted himself before Tilly, with the long poker in his hand, saying, as he flourished it valiantly:

“Why didn’t the boy take his father’s sword and lay about him? I would, if any one was ha’sh to Tilly.”

“You bantam! He was only a bit of a boy, and couldn’t do anything. Sit down and hear the rest of it,” commanded Tilly, with a pat on the yellow head, and a private resolve that Seth should have the largest piece of pie at dinner next day, as reward for his chivalry.

“Well, the men went off after turning the castle out of window, but they said they should come again; so faithful Matildy was full of trouble, and hardly dared to leave the room where the chair stood. All day she sat there, and at night her sleep was so full of fear about it, that she often got up and went to see that all was safe. The servants thought the fright had hurt her wits, and let her be, but Rupert, the boy, stood by her and never was afraid of her queer ways. She was ‘a pious maid,’ the book says, and often spent the long evenings reading the Bible, with her brother by her, all alone in the great room, with no one to help her bear her secret, and no good news of her father. At last, word came that the king was dead and his friends banished out of England. Then the poor children were in a sad plight, for they had no mother, and the servants all ran away, leaving only one faithful old man to help them.”

“But the father did come?” cried Roxy, eagerly.

“You’ll see,” continued Eph, half telling, half reading.

“Matilda was sure he would, so she sat on in the big chair, guarding the papers, and no one could get her away, till one day a man came with her father’s ring and told her to give up the secret. She knew the ring, but would not tell until she had asked many questions, so as to be very sure, and while the man answered all about her father and the king, she looked at him sharply. Then she stood up and said, in a tremble, for there was something strange about the man: ‘Sir, I doubt you in spite of the ring, and I will not answer till you pull off the false beard you wear, that I may see your face and know if you are my father’s friend or foe.’ Off came the disguise, and Matilda found it was my lord himself, come to take them with him out of England. He was very proud of that faithful girl, I guess, for the old chair still stands in the castle, and the name keeps in the family, Pa says, even over here, where some of the Bassetts came along with the Pilgrims.”

“Our Tilly would have been as brave, I know, and she looks like the old picter down to Grandma’s, don’t she, Eph?” cried Prue, who admired her bold, bright sister very much.

“Well, I think you’d do the settin’ part best, Prue, you are so patient. Till would fight like a wild cat, but she can’t hold her tongue worth a cent,” answered Eph; whereat Tilly pulled his hair, and the story ended with a general frolic.

When the moon-faced clock behind the door struck nine, Tilly tucked up the children under the “extry comfortables,” and having kissed them all around, as Mother did, crept into her own nest, never minding the little drifts of snow that sifted in upon her coverlet between the shingles of the roof, nor the storm that raged without.

As if he felt the need of unusual vigilance, old Bose lay down on the mat before the door, and pussy had the warm hearth all to herself. If any late wanderer had looked in at midnight, he would have seen the fire blazing up again, and in the cheerful glow the old cat blinking her yellow eyes, as she sat bolt upright beside the spinning-wheel, like some sort of household goblin, guarding the children while they slept.

When they woke, like early birds, it still snowed, but up the little Bassetts jumped, broke the ice in their pitchers, and went down with cheeks glowing like winter apples, after a brisk scrub and scramble into their clothes. Eph was off to the barn, and Tilly soon had a great kettle of mush ready, which, with milk warm from the cows made a wholesome breakfast for the seven hearty children.

“Now about dinner,” said the young housekeeper, as the pewter spoons stopped clattering, and the earthen bowls stood empty.

“Ma said, have what we liked, but she did n’t expect us to have a real Thanksgiving dinner, because she wont be here to cook it, and we don’t know how,” began Prue, doubtfully.

“I can roast a turkey and make a pudding as well as anybody, I guess. The pies are all ready, and if we can’t boil vegetables and so on, we don’t deserve any dinner,” cried Tilly, burning to distinguish herself, and bound to enjoy to the utmost her brief authority.

“Yes, yes!” cried all the boys, “let’s have a dinner anyway; Ma won’t care, and the good victuals will spoil if they aint eaten right up.”

“Pa is coming to-night, so we wont have dinner till late; that will be real genteel and give us plenty of time,” added Tilly, suddenly realizing the novelty of the task she had undertaken.

“Did you ever roast a turkey?” asked Roxy, with an air of deep interest.

“Should you darst to try?” said Rhody, in an awe-stricken tone.

“You will see what I can do. Ma said I was to use my jedgment about things, and I’m going to. All you children have got to do is to keep out of the way, and let Prue and me work. Eph, I wish you’d put a fire in the best room, so the little ones can play in there. We shall want the settin’-room for the table, and I wont have ’em pickin’ ’round when we get things fixed,” commanded Tilly, bound to make her short reign a brilliant one.

“I don’t know about that. Ma didn’t tell us to,” began cautious Eph, who felt that this invasion of the sacred best parlor was a daring step.

“Don’t we always do it Sundays and Thanksgivings? Wouldn’t Ma wish the children kept safe and warm anyhow? Can I get up a nice dinner with four rascals under my feet all the time? Come, now, if you want roast turkey and onions, plum-puddin’ and mince-pie, you’ll have to do as I tell you, and be lively about it.”

Tilly spoke with such spirit, and her suggestion was so irresistible, that Eph gave in, and, laughing good-naturedly, tramped away to heat up the best room, devoutly hoping that nothing serious would happen to punish such audacity.

The young folks delightedly trooped in to destroy the order of that prim apartment with housekeeping under the black horse-hair sofa, “horseback riders” on the arms of the best rocking-chair, and an Indian war-dance all over the well-waxed furniture. Eph, finding the society of peaceful sheep and cows more to his mind than that of two excited sisters, lingered over his chores in the barn as long as possible, and left the girls in peace.

Now Tilly and Prue were in their glory, and as soon as the breakfast things were out of the way, they prepared for a grand cooking-time. They were handy girls, though they had never heard of a cooking-school, never touched a piano, and knew nothing of embroidery beyond the samplers which hung framed in the parlor; one ornamented with a pink mourner under a blue weeping-willow, the other with this pleasing verse, each word being done in a different color, which gave the effect of a distracted rainbow:

“This sampler neat was worked by me,
In my twelfth year, Prudence B.” 

Both rolled up their sleeves, put on their largest aprons, and got out all the spoons, dishes, pots, and pans they could find, “so as to have everything handy,” as Prue said.

“Now, sister, we’ll have dinner at five; Pa will be here by that time, if he is coming to-night, and be so surprised to find us all ready, for he wont have had any very nice victuals if Gran’ma is so sick,” said Tilly, importantly. “I shall give the children a piece at noon” (Tilly meant luncheon); “doughnuts and cheese, with apple-pie and cider will please ’em. There’s beans for Eph; he likes cold pork, so we wont stop to warm it up, for there’s lots to do, and I don’t mind saying to you I’m dreadful dubersome about the turkey.”

“It’s all ready but the stuffing, and roasting is as easy as can be. I can baste first rate. Ma always likes to have me, I’m so patient and stiddy, she says,” answered Prue, for the responsibility of this great undertaking did not rest upon her, so she took a cheerful view of things.

“I know, but it’s the stuffin’ that troubles me,” said Tilly, rubbing her round elbows as she eyed the immense fowl laid out on a platter before her. “I don’t know how much I want, nor what sort of yarbs to put in, and he’s so awful big, I’m kind of afraid of him.”

“I aint! I fed him all summer, and he never gobbled at me. I feel real mean to be thinking of gobbling him, poor old chap,” laughed Prue, patting her departed pet with an air of mingled affection and appetite.

“Well, I’ll get the puddin’ off my mind fust, for it ought to bile all day. Put the big kettle on, and see that the spit is clean, while I get ready.”

Prue obediently tugged away at the crane, with its black hooks, from which hung the iron tea-kettle and three-legged pot; then she settled the long spit in the grooves made for it in the tall andirons, and put the dripping-pan underneath, for in those days meat was roasted as it should be, not baked in ovens.

Meantime Tilly attacked the plum-pudding. She felt pretty sure of coming out right, here, for she had seen her mother do it so many times, it looked very easy. So in went suet and fruit; all sorts of spice, to be sure she got the right ones, and brandy instead of wine. But she forgot both sugar and salt, and tied it in the cloth so tightly that it had no room to swell, so it would come out as heavy as lead and as hard as a cannon-ball, if the bag did not burst and spoil it all. Happily unconscious of these mistakes, Tilly popped it into the pot, and proudly watched it bobbing about before she put the cover on and left it to its fate.

“I can’t remember what flavorin’ Ma puts in,” she said, when she had got her bread well soaked for the stuffing. “Sage and onions and apple-sauce go with goose, but I can’t feel sure of anything but pepper and salt for a turkey.”

“Ma puts in some kind of mint, I know, but I forget whether it is spearmint, peppermint, or pennyroyal,” answered Prue, in a tone of doubt, but trying to show her knowledge of “yarbs,” or, at least, of their names.

“Seems to me it’s sweet majoram or summer savory. I guess we’ll put both in, and then we are sure to be right. The best is up garret; you run and get some, while I mash the bread,” commanded Tilly, diving into the mess.

Away trotted Prue, but in her haste she got catnip and wormwood, for the garret was darkish, and Prue’s little nose was so full of the smell of the onions she had been peeling, that everything smelt of them. Eager to be of use, she pounded up the herbs and scattered the mixture with a liberal hand into the bowl.

“It doesn’t smell just right, but I suppose it will when it is cooked,” said Tilly, as she filled the empty stomach, that seemed aching for food, and sewed it up with the blue yarn, which happened to be handy. She forgot to tie down his legs and wings, but she set him by till his hour came, well satisfied with her work.

“Shall we roast the little pig, too? I think he’d look nice with a necklace of sausages, as Ma fixed one last Christmas,” asked Prue, elated with their success.

“I couldn’t do it. I loved that little pig, and cried when he was killed. I should feel as if I was roasting the baby,” answered Tilly, glancing toward the buttery where piggy hung, looking so pink and pretty it certainly did seem cruel to eat him.

It took a long time to get all the vegetables ready, for, as the cellar was full, the girls thought they would have every sort. Eph helped, and by noon all was ready for cooking, and the cranberry-sauce, a good deal scorched, was cooking in the lean-to.

Luncheon was a lively meal, and doughnuts and cheese vanished in such quantities that Tilly feared no one would have an appetite for her sumptuous dinner. The boys assured her they would be starving by five o’clock, and Sol mourned bitterly over the little pig that was not to be served up.

“Now you all go and coast, while Prue and I set the table and get out the best chiny,” said Tilly, bent on having her dinner look well, no matter what its other failings might be.

Out came the rough sleds, on went the round hoods, old hats, red cloaks, and moccasins, and away trudged the four younger Bassetts, to disport themselves in the snow, and try the ice down by the old mill, where the great wheel turned and splashed so merrily in the summer-time.

Eph took his fiddle and scraped away to his heart’s content in the parlor, while the girls, after a short rest, set the table and made all ready to dish up the dinner when that exciting moment came. It was not at all the sort of table we see now, but would look very plain and countrified to us, with its green-handled knives, and two-pronged steel forks, its red-and-white china, and pewter platters, scoured till they shone, with mugs and spoons to match, and a brown jug for the cider. The cloth was coarse, but white as snow, and the little maids had seen the blue-eyed flax grow, out of which their mother wove the linen they had watched and wateredwhile it bleached in the green meadow. They had no napkins and little silver; but the best tankard and Ma’s few wedding spoons were set forth in state. Nuts and apples at the corners gave an air, and the place of honor was left in the middle for the oranges yet to come.

“Don’t it look beautiful?” said Prue, when they paused to admire the general effect.

“Pretty nice, I think. I wish Ma could see how well we can do it,” began Tilly, when a loud howling startled both girls, and sent them flying to the window. The short afternoon had passed so quickly that twilight had come before they knew it, and now, as they looked out through the gathering dusk, they saw four small black figures tearing up the road, to come bursting in, all screaming at once: “The bear, the bear! Eph, get the gun! He’s coming, he’s coming!”

Eph had dropped his fiddle, and got down his gun before the girls could calm the children enough to tell their story, which they did in a somewhat incoherent manner. “Down in the holler, coastin’, we heard a growl,” began Sol, with his eyes as big as saucers. “I see him fust lookin’ over the wall,” roared Seth, eager to get his share of honor.

“Awful big and shaggy,” quavered Roxy, clinging to Tilly, while Rhody hid in Prue’s skirts, and piped out: “His great paws kept clawing at us, and I was so scared my legs would hardly go.”

“We ran away as fast as we could go, and he came growling after us. He’s awful hungry, and he’ll eat every one of us if he gets in,” continued Sol, looking about him for a safe retreat.

“Oh, Eph, don’t let him eat us,” cried both little girls, flying up stairs to hide under their mother’s bed, as their surest shelter.

“No danger of that, you little geese. I’ll shoot him as soon as he comes. Get out of the way, boys,” and Eph raised the window to get good aim.

“There he is! Fire away, and don’t miss!” cried Seth, hastily following Sol, who had climbed to the top of the dresser as a good perch from which to view the approaching fray.

Prue retired to the hearth as if bent on dying at her post rather than desert the turkey, now “browning beautiful,” as she expressed it. But Tilly boldly stood at the open window, ready to lend a hand if the enemy proved too much for Eph.

All had seen bears, but none had ever come so near before, and even brave Eph felt that the big brown beast slowly trotting up the door-yard was an unusually formidable specimen. He was growling horribly, and stopped now and then as if to rest and shake himself.

“Get the ax, Tilly, and if I should miss, stand ready to keep him off while I load again,” said Eph, anxious to kill his first bear in style and alone; a girl’s help didn’t count.

Tilly flew for the ax, and was at her brother’s side by the time the bear was near enough to be dangerous. He stood on his hind legs, and seemed to sniff with relish the savory odors that poured out of the window.

“Fire, Eph!” cried Tilly, firmly.

“Wait till he rears again. I’ll get a better shot, then,” answered the boy, while Prue covered her ears to shut out the bang, and the small boys cheered from their dusty refuge among the pumpkins.

But a very singular thing happened next, and all who saw it stood amazed, for suddenly Tilly threw down the ax, flung open the door, and ran straight into the arms of the bear, who stood erect to receive her, while his growlings changed to a loud “Haw, haw!” that startled the children more than the report of a gun.

“It’s Gad Hopkins, tryin’ to fool us!” cried Eph, much disgusted at the loss of his prey, for these hardy boys loved to hunt and prided themselves on the number of wild animals and birds they could shoot in a year.

“Oh, Gad, how could you scare us so?” laughed Tilly, still held fast in one shaggy arm of the bear, while the other drew a dozen oranges from some deep pocket in the buffalo-skin coat, and fired them into the kitchen with such good aim that Eph ducked, Prue screamed, and Sol and Seth came down much quicker than they went up.

“Wal, you see I got upsot over yonder, and the old horse went home while I was floundering in a drift, so I tied on the buffalers to tote ’em easy, and come along till I see the children playin’ in the holler. I jest meant to give ’em a little scare, but they run like partridges, and I kep’ up the joke to see how Eph would like this sort of company,” and Gad haw-hawed again.

“You’d have had a warm welcome if we hadn’t found you out. I’d have put a bullet through you in a jiffy, old chap,” said Eph, coming out to shake hands with the young giant, who was only a year or two older than himself.

“Come in and set up to dinner with us. Prue and I have done it all ourselves, and Pa will be along soon, I reckon,” cried Tilly, trying to escape.

“Couldn’t, no ways. My folks will think I’m dead ef I don’t get along home, sence the horse and sleigh have gone ahead empty. I’ve done my arrant and had my joke; now I want my pay, Tilly,” and Gad took a hearty kiss from the rosy cheeks of his “little sweetheart,” as he called her. His own cheeks tingled with the smart slap she gave him as she ran away, calling out that she hated bears and would bring her ax next time.

“I aint afeared; your sharp eyes found me out; and ef you run into a bear’s arms you must expect a hug,” answered Gad, as he pushed back the robe and settled his fur cap more becomingly.

“I should have known you in a minute if I hadn’t been asleep when the girls squalled. You did it well, though, and I advise you not to try it again in a hurry, or you’ll get shot,” said Eph, as they parted, he rather crestfallen and Gad in high glee.

“My sakes alive–the turkey is burnt one side, and the kettles have biled over so the pies I put to warm are all ashes!” scolded Tilly, as the flurry subsided and she remembered her dinner.

“Well, I can’t help it. I couldn’t think of victuals when I expected to be eaten alive myself, could I?” pleaded poor Prue, who had tumbled into the cradle when the rain of oranges began.

Tilly laughed, and all the rest joined in, so good humor was restored, and the spirits of the younger ones were revived by sucks from the one orange which passed from hand to hand with great rapidity while the older girls dished up the dinner. They were just struggling to get the pudding out of the cloth when Roxy called out: “Here’s Pa!”

“There’s folks with him,” added Rhody.

“Lots of ’em! I see two big sleighs chock full,” shouted Seth, peering through the dusk.

“It looks like a semintary. Guess Gramma’s dead and come up to be buried here,” said Sol in a solemn tone. This startling suggestion made Tilly, Prue, and Eph hasten to look out, full of dismay at such an ending of their festival.

“If that is a funeral, the mourners are uncommon jolly,” said Eph, drily, as merry voices and loud laughter broke the white silence without.

“I see Aunt Cinthy, and Cousin Hetty–and there’s Mose and Amos. I do declare, Pa’s bringin’ ’em all home to have some fun here,” cried Prue, as she recognized one familiar face after another.

“Oh, my patience! Aint I glad I got dinner, and don’t I hope it will turn out good!” exclaimed Tilly, while the twins pranced with delight, and the small boys roared:

“Hooray for Pa! Hooray for Thanksgivin’!”

The cheer was answered heartily, and in came Father, Mother, Baby, aunts, and cousins, all in great spirits; and all much surprised to find such a festive welcome awaiting them.

“Aint Gran’ma dead at all?” asked Sol, in the midst of the kissing and hand-shaking.

“Bless your heart, no! It was all a mistake of old Mr. Chadwick’s. He’s as deaf as an adder, and when Mrs. Brooks told him Mother was mendin’ fast, and she wanted me to come down to-day, certain sure, he got the message all wrong, and give it to the fust person passin’ in such a way as to scare me ‘most to death, and send us down in a hurry. Mother was sittin’ up as chirk as you please, and dreadful sorry you didn’t all come.”

“So, to keep the house quiet for her, and give you a taste of the fun, your Pa fetched us all up to spend the evenin’, and we are goin’ to have a jolly time on’t, to jedge by the looks of things,” said Aunt Cinthy, briskly finishing the tale when Mrs. Bassett paused for want of breath.

“What in the world put it into your head we was comin’, and set you to gettin’ up such a supper?” asked Mr. Bassett, looking about him, well pleased and much surprised at the plentiful table.

Tilly modestly began to tell, but the others broke in and sang her praises in a sort of chorus, in which bears, pigs, pies, and oranges were oddly mixed. Great satisfaction was expressed by all, and Tilly and Prue were so elated by the commendation of Ma and the aunts, that they set forth their dinner, sure everything was perfect.

But when the eating began, which it did the moment wraps were off, then their pride got a fall; for the first person who tasted the stuffing (it was big Cousin Mose, and that made it harder to bear) nearly choked over the bitter morsel.

“Tilly Bassett, whatever made you put wormwood and catnip in your stuffin’?” demanded Ma, trying not to be severe, for all the rest were laughing, and Tilly looked ready to cry.

“I did it,” said Prue, nobly taking all the blame, which caused Pa to kiss her on the spot, and declare that it didn’t do a mite of harm, for the turkey was all right.

“I never see onions cooked better. All the vegetables is well done, and the dinner a credit to you, my dears,” declared Aunt Cinthy, with her mouth full of the fragrant vegetable she praised.

The pudding was an utter failure in spite of the blazing brandy in which it lay–as hard and heavy as one of the stone balls on Squire Dunkin’s great gate. It was speedily whisked out of sight, and all fell upon the pies, which were perfect. But Tilly and Prue were much depressed, and didn’t recover their spirits till the dinner was over and the evening fun well under way.

“Blind-man’s bluff,” “Hunt the slipper,” “Come, Philander,” and other lively games soon set every one bubbling over with jollity, and when Eph struck up “Money Musk” on his fiddle, old and young fell into their places for a dance. All down the long kitchen they stood, Mr. and Mrs. Bassett at the top, the twins at the bottom, and then away they went, heeling and toeing, cutting pigeon-wings, and taking their steps in a way that would convulse modern children with their new-fangled romps called dancing. Mose and Tilly covered themselves with glory by the vigor with which they kept it up, till fat Aunt Cinthy fell into a chair, breathlessly declaring that a very little of such exercise was enough for a woman of her “heft.”

Apples and cider, chat and singing, finished the evening, and after a grand kissing all round, the guests drove away in the clear moonlight which came out just in time to cheer their long drive.

When the jingle of the last bell had died away, Mr. Bassett said soberly, as they stood together on the hearth: “Children, we have special cause to be thankful that the sorrow we expected was changed into joy, so we’ll read a chapter ‘fore we go to bed, and give thanks where thanks is due.”

Then Tilly set out the light-stand with the big Bible on it, and a candle on each side, and all sat quietly in the fire-light, smiling as they listened with happy hearts to the sweet old words that fit all times and seasons so beautifully.

When the good-nights were over, and the children in bed, Prue put her arm around Tilly and whispered tenderly, for she felt her shake, and was sure she was crying:

“Don’t mind about the old stuffin’ and puddin’, deary–nobody cared, and Ma said we really did do surprisin’ well for such young girls.”

The laughter Tilly was trying to smother broke out then, and was so infectious, Prue could not help joining her, even before she knew the cause of the merriment.

“I was mad about the mistakes, but don’t care enough to cry. I’m laughing to think how Gad fooled Eph and I found him out. I thought Mose and Amos would have died over it when I told them, it was so funny,” explained Tilly, when she got her breath.

“I was so scared that when the first orange hit me, I thought it was a bullet, and scrabbled into the cradle as fast as I could. It was real mean to frighten the little ones so,” laughed Prue, as Tilly gave a growl.

Here a smart rap on the wall of the next room caused a sudden lull in the fun, and Mrs. Bassett’s voice was heard, saying warningly, “Girls, go to sleep immediate, or you’ll wake the baby.”

“Yes’m,” answered two meek voices, and after a few irrepressible giggles, silence reigned, broken only by an occasional snore from the boys, or the soft scurry of mice in the buttery, taking their part in this old-fashioned Thanksgiving.

All I have seen makes me trust the creator for all I have not seen.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Louisa May Alcott
1832-1888
In addition to being taught a deep love of learning by her parents, Louisa May Alcott studied under studied under Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne. This story, which is in the public domain, may be found in Paraclete Press’s wonderful collection of Thanksgiving readings and blessings found in Life Is a Gift, available for purchase here.

What is love?

As Bishop Michael Curry explains, love is not a feeling. It is a specific commitment to living for “we” rather than for “me.” And his new book, Love Is the Way, shows us how we can do it.

From the title, it would be easy to write off Bishop Michael Curry’s new book as vague, feel-good musings on love. Of course love is the way — love is the way of Valentine’s Day, and pop radio, and the soft-focus Jesus of Hallmark Easter cards. But that’s not the love that Bishop Curry is talking about. While this memoir-based book has plenty of musings, they are neither vague nor soft-focused.

Written before the pandemic and before the racial and political strife of 2020 came to a head, Love Is the Way provides a series of anecdotes from Bishop Curry’s life that speak so directly to these painful social challenges that it seems prophetic.  When one of his daughters asked him what he was writing about, he said he was sharing some of what he’d learned from “faith, family, community, and ancestors.” The life lessons he shares here get to the heart of his life, “those people and experiences that led to [his] conviction that the way of love can change each of us, and all of us, for the better.” And what better time to change us all for the better than now?

He presents these lessons as stories, beginning with losing his brilliant and loving mother to a devastating stroke, and the many ways his father, his extended family, and their community stepped up to not just show love but to be love. He tells about various churches where he served, and individuals who acted as the hands of Christ and others who were changed by the touch of those hands. He explains experiences in his own life that led him to understand his calling as a priest and that eventually put him on the path to become elected presiding bishop. He laces these stories with threads from the rich fabric of his life—the soul food, spirituals, jazz, theologians, poets, historic figures, and scripture that have influenced and inspired him. 

Each story could stand alone as an interesting anecdote, but he deftly uses them to either define or illustrate his basic premise about what love is. As Bishop Curry explains, love is not a feeling. It is a specific commitment to living in an unselfish way. In the Way of Love teachings that he has shared with the Episcopal Church, he has taught that love is a step-by-step process that replicates the desire of Jesus’s earliest followers to live in a new way, for “we” rather than for “me.” Love is a verb, and it is challenging to do it. Here, he fleshes out what it has looked like in his life.

To those who say that love is not strong enough to form a way of life, Bishop Curry says that the current focus on selfishness is not working. His experiences show that love can be a strong guiding principle, and that those who practice it can be strong, too. He ends with guidelines on how to put love into action—a daily planner, or a rule of life. 

Love Is the Way is engaging and moving, inspiring and prescriptive. In sharing the stories of his heart, Bishop Curry provides clear and specific ways to hold on to hope in these troubling times. Thanks be to God.

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times
Bishop Michael Curry
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
with Sara Grace
Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House
978-0-525-54303-9
$27.00

To purchase Love Is the Way from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

To join Bishop Curry and Bishop Doyle in conversation on Zoom on November 11, purchase a book from Brazos Bookstore here.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.
~Maya Angelou

Yes, Jesus Loves Me. Now What?

This little handbook shows us how to live in ways that seek the good of God and the well-being of others.

From the time most Episcopalians are little bitty, we’re taught songs like “God is Love,” and “Jesus Loves Me.” As we get older, the hope is that we’ll internalize these concepts and go out into the world and share the love of God with others. But for many of us, there’s a gap there: knowing how to live as spiritual grown-ups can be challenging. Just what does this love look like in practice? How do we move beyond singing kum-ba-ya and learn just how to walk in love?

Several years ago, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gathered a team to create a blueprint for a way of life that would help Episcopalians live God’s love. They patterned it after the lives of Jesus’ followers in the first century, a community committed to living “the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love.” Bishop Curry took these ideas and developed The Way of Love, seven steps to order and inform our lives:  Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest.

Scott Gunn, a priest and author who is the executive director of Forward Movement, was part of that team which helped develop The Way of Love. Now Gunn has published The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to following Jesus, a small handbook that provides an introduction to The Way of Love and helpful steps for creating a personal rule of life based on it. 

In the introduction, Gunn explains that the type of love we really want to practice is “not a mere sentiment but a real commitment to a way of life that is sacrificial and redemptive, a way that seeks the good of God and the well-being of others. This Way of Love is a game changer.” He proceeds to explain why each step matters, how it relates to the other steps, and how to do it.

In an easy, anecdotal voice, each of the initial chapters provides an explanation of the seven practices. Other Forward Movement team members and Episcopalians from around the country also share their experience with each practice, and these chapters end with reflection questions and journaling and prayer prompts.

Once we’ve spent time getting to know the practices and exploring what they might look like in our own lives, the last chapter is “Developing a Rule of Life.” Gunn explains the concept of a rule of life, an ancient practice that helps monks and nuns organize their daily prayer, work, and service. Not just for monasteries, however, a rule of life can also help us to create patterns in our own lives to help us grow in faith. Gunn suggests starting by reviewing the notes we have taken in the previous chapters and choosing three practices to commit to for a month.

The book includes an appendix of scripture quotes that are used in the main text and resources for further study, both organized by the seven Way of Love practices.

While there is a great deal of information readily available online and in other books about The Way of Love, this book is a good entry point. It provides a balance of explanation and how-to, and it prepares readers to go deeper into the Way of Love.

Like the song says: God is love. No matter how far we may have come in our understanding of the Church since our introduction to it, this little book and the resources it contains can help us to further develop our faith practice and know just how to live that love, every day. 

To purchase the book, click here.

The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to following Jesus 
Scott Gunn
Forward Movement
ISBN: 978-0-88028-486-8 
$15.00

A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to traverse a landscape. 
― Rebecca Solnit

Owen, We Hardly Knew Ye

I’m already missing Owen Meany and my Cathedral Reads group, but the Dean’s Book Club has a line up that promises to provide the next great read.

If Owen Meany is the reason that John Wheelright believes in God, I have to say that Owen is also the reason I got through the pandemic summer. My Cathedral Reads small group was a delightful collection of women, great readers all, who generously shared their insights and wisdom about A Prayer for Owen Meany, and life in general, each week. Some had read the book several times, and others were experiencing its richness chapter by chapter. We talked over an hour about each chapter, and I always came away thinking that many hours more would be necessary to really grasp all the details Irving packed into this dark, funny, moving and layered novel. 

No matter what was happening in the news or at my house, I could count on this group and their perspective. I discovered many more layers of the book and of myself because of their conversation. Religion, sex, politics—we covered the waterfront in our discussions as Owen led us there with his full-frontal capitals. It was refreshing, sustaining, and enlightening conversation, providing just what a book club should. 

Now it’s over, and I’m sad. I will miss my group and our routine. I will miss talking about Owen, and John, and Harriet and Hester. All summer I’ve been looking for armadillos, and I wonder if I’ll see them as frequently now. And there is the question of what to read next.

Yes, I have groaning stacks of books at home, and many more at the Bookstore should I ever run out. I’ve already started some of them, and they are commendable. But reading with others—others with different experiences and ideas and perspectives—seems so much more important now than just reading alone. Zooming for pleasure with the loose agenda of a great book is so different than a Zoom meeting. Anticipating a stimulating hour of good fellowship and conversation held back the dread of the sameness of the days all summer long.

Thank goodness the Dean’s Book Club is starting up again for Fall. If you, too, are looking for your next great read and a group to share it, look no further. September will provide a last deep dive into Owen Meany. October’s choice is S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War; November, the Cathedral’s own Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters; and December the venerable Catherine Meeks’ Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.  All this non-fiction will be particularly interesting after having been steeped in Irving’s perspective on America all summer. I’m looking forward not only to gleaning new insights from these books, but also to sharing them with good readers.

To encourage you to support the Cathedral with your book-buying habits, The Cathedral Bookstore is offering a 10% discount on all the Dean’s Book Club titles from now until the meeting when the book is featured. However you choose to procure these titles, I hope we’ll get the chance to discuss them at some point this fall. As Owen so wisely told John “READING IS A GIFT,” and reading with friends is an even sweeter pleasure.

Love of books is the best of all.
~Jacqueline Kennedy

In Praise of Summer Reading

The shared experience of reading books in the cool of the air-conditioning will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

On the first day of summer when I was a little girl, my next-door neighbor would gather all the kids from our block and take us to the library. She’d sign us up for the summer reading program—charts and suggestions and prizes, and mostly all the wonder of books. For the rest of the summer, she would take us back once a week to get new books and check in with the librarian about our progress. The dusty cool shelves provided respite from the hot Houston humidity, and the new friends we met between the book covers became permanent additions to the language of our neighborhood group—Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alexander with his terrible horrible no good very bad day, and so many other memorable characters.

Last summer, many decades later, when the Cathedral began Cathedral Reads, it brought back all that summer reading joy. Our dean, Barkley Thompson, chose Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as the book for kids and adults. We set dates at the end of the summer for a congregation-wide conversation, a movie night, and a deeper dive into the book with the dean.

On a hot August morning, well-over two-hundred people gathered between services to discuss the book. The dean gave an overview, and then at tables of ten with a facilitator and five questions, over coffee and cake, we brought our widely different perspectives on the book to the table. The following week, we ate popcorn and pizza as we watched Gregory Peck’s 1962 Academy Award-winning version of the movie. Afterward, the dean lead popcorn theology, and we compared the messages of the book and the film. The program wrapped up at a special version of the Dean’s Book Club.

The shared experience of the book created new friends, engaged old friends, and gave everyone an entry to conversation. Differing viewpoints were presented and heard respectfully, and we all came away understanding ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

Throughout this past year, people kept coming into the bookstore asking what the next Cathedral Reads book would be. The dean took suggestions, considered many titles, and finally chose two books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for adults, and Wonder, by R.J. Palacio for kids, youth and adults who may not have read it yet. The books are linked by the concept “What Does Brave Look Like” and the discussions will focus on identity, courage, and faith. Both books will have Zoom reading groups throughout the summer to discuss questions regarding the reading to date, and the Dean will facilitate two larger Zoom conversations on Owen Meany. Then, circumstances permitting, we’ll meet up for a larger discussion and to watch the movie Wonder together, before the program wraps up again with the Dean’s Book Club.

We’re none of us sure when we’ll be able to gather, but we are finding creative ways to connect. And having the shared experience of books to read in the cool of the air-conditioning will introduce us to people different than ourselves, and show us their hearts. It will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better. It will give us new friends and make us more thoughtful people.  Just like the library’s summer reading program used to do way back when.

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 
~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

The Cathedral Reads: To Kill A Mockingbird

Experience a world much different than our modern, urban home, but in many ways the same—roiled by racial tension, peppered with a few good people trying to make a difference, and inhabited by kids watching and trying to make sense of the grownups’ words and actions.

Our lives are fragmented. We all watch different TV shows, and discussing Johnny Carson or Saturday Night live around the water cooler or the church coffee table are no longer widely-shared experiences. Some of us play bridge together, or attend regular bible study with a group, but others are bowling alone. But this summer, whether we venture to distant lands, enjoy a relaxing stay-cation, or just continue our routine with the AC cranked down, we have the opportunity to take a journey together.

Join the entire Cathedral community on a trip back in time to the Deep South of the 1930s. We’ll experience a world much different than our modern, urban home, but in many ways the same—roiled by racial tension, peppered with a few good people trying to make a difference, and inhabited by kids watching and trying to make sense of the grownups’ words and actions.

We’ll get there by reading Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Many of you have read it, of course, but like the gospel, a good story can be revisited many times and never fail to provide new insights. Read it for the first time and discover why the name Atticus Finch became synonymous with morality and reason, re-read it to discover aspects of Boo Radley’s heart you never considered. Take it further and research Truman Capote’s relationship to the novel or the legal history of the South. We’ll all read it, but how deep you go with it is up to you. There will not be a quiz.

Rather, we’ll have a celebration of story. As summer winds down, we’ll gather to talk about what we discovered in this classic novel. Kids and grownups will have the opportunity to share their insights and learn more. Then, in one of the rare cases where the movie is as good as the book, we’ll enjoy the 1962 Oscar-winning Gregory Peck film together with a little Popcorn Theology. Readers who want to go further will delve into the story with Dean Thompson in book club.

If you can’t make one of the events, don’t worry: just relax knowing you’ll be able to walk up to anyone at the Cathedral this summer, grownup or kid, and say, “How’s that summer reading?” or “What do you think about Scout?” “Do you think Harper Lee wanted to release the earlier version, Go Set a Watchman, or was she pressured into it?” There is much for us to consider in both versions of this story.

Sharing our experiences will be better than retelling Johnny’s jokes or reenacting Roseanne Roseannadanna, and it will leave us with deeper perspective and a little more enlightenment.  For those still in school, it’s a good opportunity to get some actual summer reading done with lots of support.

Whatever your motivation, join the Cathedral community this summer on a journey into a Southern literary classic that has as much to offer us today as it did when it hit the scene in 1933. Harper Lee’s messages, now more than ever, are important for us to consider as a group. In to Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus says. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” While that depth of empathy is not physically possible, exploring an important novel and a writer’s evolving perspective on the world together is a good way to start understanding each other and our own world a little better.

Sunday, August 4, 10 a.m., Intergenerational small group book discussions of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird in Reynolds Hall

Friday, August 16, 6:30 p.m., Popcorn theology (dinner, movie, discussion) of the film To Kill a Mockingbird

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m., Dean’s Book Club deeper dive into the novel To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
—Harper Lee

A Wrinkle in Time: Was the Book Better?

Will the new light this movie sheds on L’Engle’s tale of good and evil amplify the message for you, or will your ink-on-paper experience–or your devotion to the specifics of the original story–prevail?

As director Ava DuVernay brings Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time to life, moviegoers have begun the eternal debate: Was the book better? L’Engle herself maintained great skepticism towards a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, but the story’s richness lends itself to further exploration of religion, creativity, and inclusivity.

A quick recap (sans spoiler) for those of you who have not read the book since middle school: Meg Murry, an awkward teenager, must travel through time and space to rescue her little brother from the clutches of evil. The method she uses is called “tessering,” a phenomenon her scientist father studied until he disappeared several years earlier. Meg learns of her mission from other-worldly beings; and the journey demanded of her takes her to the most dangerous landscape imaginable, that of her own heart.

Despite the difficulties of categorizing the quirky story published in 1962, it quickly became an international bestseller. Because of L’Engle’s treatment of religious themes, it soon became as controversial as it was beloved. The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom lists it in the top 100 frequently banned books.

L’Engle, who served as librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City for over thirty years, included many biblical references in the novel, and the ecumenical world view she put for went so far as to suggest a “happy religious pluralism” described by The New Yorker as one in which “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace.” Her intimation that love was more powerful than doctrine upset some conservative Christians, who claimed it offered an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurtured an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.

L’Engle suggests that the powerful messages of Christianity are not just for Christians. As Meg’s father tells her, “We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  The author appreciated the tension created by opposites and understood that tolerance and love could bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. In community, she explains, we draw closer to God not through sameness but through our shared life. Love, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time says, conquers all, and we do not have to be privileged, pretty or perfect to experience the power of this world-bending connection.

Several dozen Cathedral members recently ventured to the theater together to watch DuVernay’s new movie, discuss a little Popcorn Theology, and decide book or movie? A little background, ICYMI: Nominated for the Academy Award and winner of four EMMYs, DuVernay has received critical acclaim for her work across film genres. In 2017, she was named one of Fortune magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. She is the founder of ARRAY, a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women which was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. She gathered an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis, and A Wrinkle in Time is the first film directed by a woman of color to have a budget of over $100 million.

And our reaction? With its presentation of the full breadth and accessibility of God’s kingdom, Ava DuVernay’s film version matches L’Engle’s creative fire, although some viewers in our group criticized it for combining and deleting characters and for deleting Christian references. The question was also raised: Would children understand the meaning of the story, or would they just be mesmerized by the special effects? But whether or not an individual approved or disapproved of DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, watching the movie together led to thoughtful discussion.

And that division might please L’Engle, who believed that our seemingly insurmountable differences can, in fact, be bridged—through that amazing tesseract we know as love. It’s not surprising that our group would have differing opinions about a movie based on this story. Three generations of readers have loved, questioned, or banned A Wrinkle in Time, and its longevity proves its power to withstand disapproval. More than half a century after the book’s original publication, DuVernay’s newest film opens the story’s arms even more widely and brings its mid-century perspective into the future.

Will the new light this movie sheds on L’Engle’s tale of good and evil amplify the message for you, or will your ink-on-paper experience–or your devotion to the specifics of the original story–prevail?

Book or movie? Strict adherence to the original or a more liberal interpretation? You’ll have to decide for yourself. But whichever medium you prefer, you’ll be reminded that one of the great strengths of the underlying message of A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to carry us beyond the perceived boundaries of our understanding.

Read or reread the book. Watch the movie. Or come by the Bookstore and pick up one of the many books we have by and about Madeleine L’Engle. Whether your path to understanding takes you through fiction, non-fiction, books, movies, or all of the above, we’d love to examine her fascinating world with you.

 

 

A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe. 
― Madeleine L’EngleA Wrinkle in Time