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.
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 — storge, philia, eros, 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
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
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, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; Operating Instructions, Hallelujah 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
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
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.
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
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 byKirk 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 LeebyCasey 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 MemoirbyJacqueline 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 byTerry 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
BirdsongbyJulie 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 SignbyAnn 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 Thompsonmakes 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 Campus: edited 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
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.
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