In song, of course.
Minutes after I posted my review of Joe’s book, I saw this video pop up on Twitter. I love it. Too cute.
In song, of course.
Minutes after I posted my review of Joe’s book, I saw this video pop up on Twitter. I love it. Too cute.
I read a lot of books in 2011, but my favorite was Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic. Prior to reading the novel I read a review in my local newspaper and was interested in the book’s setting—the West Coast, San Francisco, towns and cities in a state I know and love. But, the novel is not about San Francisco and therein lies the beauty. The names of the cities and towns of California are a mere backdrop to a moving story of women who left home for better lives only to encounter more hardship. That Otsuka could pack so much depth into 144 pages is a testament to her ability to capture a story and transport the reader. Her writing is one of the best I’ve encountered in quite some time.
The Buddha in the Attic is a unique novel. There is no main character. Instead, there is a chorus of them. The chorus is made up of Japanese picture brides that made their way to the American coast in the early 1900s. They left a life they knew well for men that they knew only through pictures that, in some cases, didn’t even really belong to those men. They left their families in search of a better life and sailed on ships that tested their endurance and courage until they met their husbands. But, life only gets harder for most of these women as they live with husbands they do not love, become maids, work in fields, commit suicide, become prostitutes, and go through the motions of everyday—tested, joyless, dead inside.
There is a poetic beauty in Otsuka’s writing that lends the novel an indescribable emotive quality. Otsuka’s sentences are simple, yet powerful. As she writes about the long voyage by sea, her words have a way of making the reader feel the rocking waves and the hesitation of the women. We feel their fear as they meet their husbands and their loneliness when those same husbands ignore them years later. And, we feel the loss of identity the women feel as they must become less Japanese to fit in and as their children reject their heritage.
Perhaps, the most powerful section of this beautiful novel are the final twenty or so pages where the reader feels the anguish of the women as they face the reality of Executive Order 9066. Suddenly their lives are thrust upside down by the new homeland they had come to grow accustomed too. In a poignant and memorable move, Otsuka’s chorus changes in the final few pages—from the picture brides to the dwellers of the communities that once knew the Japanese as their friends and neighbors. Suddenly, all the Japanese on the West Coast disappear and their neighbors and customers are left asking “where have they all gone?” And then, they forget the names of the ones who left.
This is a remarkable little book that fictionally represents a true period in our nation’s history, in Japanese-American history. It is stunning, it is moving, it is memorable. I cannot recommend it enough.
Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin, S.J. (HarperOne, 272 pages, 2011)
How many times have you walked into a church and seen a smiling saint? How many times have you heard that Jesus used a little humor to get his point across? I bet the answer to those questions is “rarely” or maybe even “never.” I’ve long said that I think God has a sense of humor. The response from those around me is usually: “how could you say that?” or “Isn’t that a sin?” or, my favorite, “doesn’t that make you a bad Christian?” I think not. After all, doesn’t Philippians 4:4 remind us to “Rejoice in the Lord always?”
Between Heaven and Mirth, the fantastic new book by James Martin, S.J., reminds us that just as joy is a part of our everyday life it should also become a part of our spiritual life. Through page after page of jokes and anecdotes, Fr. Martin shows us how joy, humor, and laughter are some of God’s greatest gifts. Even after 13 years of hanging out with Jesuits, the included Jesuit jokes never do get old. But, Fr. Martin’s book is not just about jokes.
In Between Heaven and Mirth, offers stories of real saints who had a terrific sense of humor. I couldn’t help but laugh at the self-deprecating humor of Pope John XXIII or Saint Teresa of Avila’s brand of humor. Most importantly, Martin reminds us that Jesus was not the always serious boring fellow that some folks make him out to be. Jesus lived in joy and brought joy to the people he encountered. He was even a funny guy—using the humor of the day in his parables and responses. Much of Jesus’ subtle humor is lost on us in the 21st century, but 1st century followers of Jesus would have understood the humor and probably had a good laugh. Martin makes sure we understand the humor now and, I can assure you, knowing what it meant then sure makes it funny now (it puts the parable of the talents in a whole new light).
My favorite chapter of the book is Chapter 4: Happiness attracts. Martin quotes Isaiah 52:4, “The LORD delights in you”, to remind us that God not only loves us, but He delights in us too. God likes us. That means something. It means that God doesn’t only love us because He’s our creator and father; it also means that God wants to be with us and takes pleasure in us. Martin tells us that parents delight in their children and that the delight can turn into playfulness. So, too, can God be playful in order to show us how much he likes us and, more often than not, to help us not take ourselves so seriously. In those random funny moments in life, it is God who is right there.
Perhaps, the clearest personal example of this that I have is something that happened ten years ago while I was a freshman in college. It was the Spring semester after a very difficult Fall semester where my family experienced a tragic loss. I was working harder than ever academically and had started to live in a bubble that went from school to work to dorm to homework and back again. I wasn’t hanging out with my friends, watching television, or doing anything where I could truly say I was enjoying myself. On this particular Spring day, I was supposed to have my Biology final exam. It was a class that I was struggling in and that I studied the most for, but nothing seemed to help me regain the grade I had in the Fall. I remember that day clearly. I woke up at 11:30 am and realized that I was going to be late for my exam at 11:45 am. I quickly dressed up, chugged some orange juice and took a cookie on my way out. I was living clear across the campus and, only 3 months after a knee surgery, I found myself eating and running and panicking all the way to the building where the exam was going to take place. In my rush, I passed the Mission Church, uttered a super quick prayer, and ran up the stairs to the second floor. I opened the door of the classroom and not a single face looked familiar. I closed the door and looked at the exam schedule posted outside and saw that BIOLOGY 1 was scheduled for 1:45 pm not 11:45 am. I was upset with myself as I walked down the stairs and made my way out of the building. I started to make my way back to my dorm building and as I passed the Mission Church again, the bells rang for the Noontime mass. I laughed loud and I laughed hard. I’m pretty sure everyone that passed me thought I was crazy. An inexplicable joy rushed over me that day and I took pleasure in the bells of the Church. I know it was God’s sense of humor at work—the nudge I needed to start enjoying life and friendship a little more and, no doubt, the nudge I needed to remember that I wasn’t alone through anything.
Fr. Martin’s book is an excellent companion for our spiritual journey. Our lives can be filled with humor and still be spiritual and God can show us His love and friendship in life’s funny moments. This book can be laugh-out-loud funny at times, but can lead one to greater reflection too. It’s a keeper!
mental_floss: The Book – The Greatest Lists in the History of Listory Edited by Ethan Trix, Will Pearson, and Mangesh Hattikudur (HarperCollins Publishers, 320 pages, 2011)
Did you know that the term “tween” was coined by J.R.R. Tolkien or that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was originally called Catch-11? Why are Bellinis called Bellinis? What was the original purpose of Play-Doh?
True to the magazine’s quirky and engaging style, the folks at mental_floss have released a compilation of some of their best lists from the past ten years. You can find the answers to the questions above and to so many more in mental_floss: The Book – The Greatest Lists in the History of Listory. The best thing about this book is that you’ll feel a little bit smarter after each list. Not only do the writers make the lists interesting, but they also dig deep to find facts that will make you laugh and surprise you time and time again.
This book will not disappoint as there is a list for every major interest. Even the most casual readers will find some nuggets of wisdom in this fun compilation. Trust me, this book will give you a legs up the next time you’re playing trivia at a party. If you’re a nerd (a term coined by Dr. Seuss! Check out page 192), like me, you’ll also love the random tidbits of information at the bottom of each page. For example, do you know what a grawlix is? Sure you do…you just didn’t know what to call it! It’s the string of typographical symbols used in comic strips to indicate profanity (also on page 192). See? Now, isn’t that a nice random bit of information to bring up at your next intellectual gathering? I think so!
mental_floss: The Book – The Greatest Lists in the History of Listory is a great book to have in your home. It doesn’t require you to sit down and read it from front to back like a novel. Instead, you can flip through the pages and pick a random list or look one up and feed your brain. I recommend you do!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins in exchange for my honest opinion.
June 19, 1973
We feel so powerless. We do so little, giving out soup. But at least we are facing problems daily. Hunger, homelessness, greed, loneliness. Greatest concern of the Bible is injustice, bloodshed. So we share what we have, we work for peace. (571)
Dorothy Day’s words can easily be echoed today by the many working on the front lines helping the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the unemployed, among others. They, too, share what they have and work for peace—to give peace and to live peace. In the midst of the turmoil our world finds itself in, it is comforting to read the words of someone whose lifetime saw so much pain and change and, yet, encountered and shared the hope and love of God with and through others.
Robert Ellsberg, once a member of the Catholic Worker Movement and current editor-in-chief and publisher at Orbis Books, has collected the diaries of Dorothy Day and compiled them into a one-volume spiritual treasure. In the introduction to this wonderful work, Ellsberg describes the process of taking over a thousand pages of single-spaced handwritten entries and editing them to provide readers with a personal encounter with Dorothy Day’s. In so doing, Ellsberg made a discovery that would prove enriching to both editor and reader—within an untouched bedside table, Day’s final entries from the year of her passing were found. And so, The Duty of Delight provides us with a glimpse of a woman driven by her love of God and her passion for social justice from the 1930s to days before her death in 1980.
I admit I knew very little about the personal life of Dorothy Day until a few years ago when I read a few older articles about her that a friend was introducing to his students. Before then, all I really knew was that Dorothy Day was a devout convert to Catholicism, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement along with Peter Maurin, and a woman whose strong convictions often took her to prison or labeled her an anarchist. Despite what little I knew of Dorothy Day, I did know that she was, perhaps, one of the most recognizable Catholic heavyweights of the 20th century—a future saint (whether or not she believed it).
The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day can easily be compared to the writings of one of Day’s beloved saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. While both focused on doing little things for love of God, Day’s longer life witnessed historical changes that rocked both the Church and the world. In Day’s diaries we read about her reactions and meditations on World War II, the dropping of the Atomic bomb, the Vietnam War, the changes of Vatican II, the death of Pope John Paul I, the beginning of the papacy of Pope John Paul II, the tragedy at Jonestown, and the dangers faced by the Jesuits in El Salvador. Through her writings we see a glimpse of a woman who not just a fiery figure in the social justice movement, but also a woman well-versed in the Old and New Testaments and the Christian classics (C.S. Lewis, Therese of Lisieux, Henri Nouwen, etc.). She was extremely well-read and a prolific journalist who was unafraid to voice her thoughts on current events and to take a pacifist stance on occasions of war. Readers will also note that Day had a great love of music and often adds her observations or thoughts on musical works.
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of her diaries is that, at the end of the day, this woman who will one day become an official Saint of the church, was one of us. Her entries include self-examinations along with yearly and day-to-day resolutions to be less judgmental, to love more, to pray, to be more compassionate and to follow Jesus. Even those things that so many of us see as remarkable, Dorothy saw simply as her mission to carry on the love of God and to carry the message of love and peace to others.
Day’s life was not without suffering. She was labeled a socialist, an anarchist, a communist. She cooked and cleaned and fed others. She contracted lice and scabies because of the work she did. She endured tough trips across the country and around the world. She survived the death of friends and loved ones. She dealt with the reality of the harsh and changing world around her. She endured criticism and carried on. In everything she did and in everything she endured, she never compromised her beliefs. Her love for humanity and, above all, her love for God gave her the strength and the courage to go on.
At the end of her life, Day suffered from the pain of being unable to do as much as she once did. We read the signs of aging and loneliness within the pages of the last years of her life. So many of those she worked with in the early days of the Catholic Worker Movement are now gone and the world has changed dramatically, but the cause lives on. She writes of her memory not being the same as it once was and of her inability to get around as she once did. In an entry dated September ‘77 she writes, “If I did not believe in profoundly in the primacy of the spiritual, the importance of prayer, these would be hard days for me, inactive as I am” (647). It was faith that sustained her at the start of her journey; it was faith that sustained her at the end of her journey.
Ellsberg tells us that in her final journal entry, nine days before her death, Dorothy Day inserted a prayer card that reads:
O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give to thy servant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to ages, Amen. – St. Ephraim the Syrian’s Prayer of Penance
Reflective and striving for goodness until the end.
The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day is a wonderful collection of intimate writings that reveal the heart and mind of a devout Catholic, humanitarian, and peacemaker. Each page is an inspiration and the collection is a Christian classic for our time–at the right time.
Disclaimer: Image Books provided me with a free copy of The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day upon its release in exchange for a completely honest review of the book. This is my honest review.
The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. It’s the season where San Francisco’s skyline is lit up in millions of tiny bulbs, our church’s altar is decorated with poinsettias, and a time where I can bring out my Christmas music collection and sing along to familiar carols and the occasional new tune. I love the sounds of Christmas, but rarely find new songs that add anything more to such a blessed season. Cute songs of elves and Santa Claus can do much to put a smile on my face, but this music lover needs more. Christmas is about so much more than commercialism, nice displays, pictures with Santa, mistletoe and my occasional splurge on an eggnog latte (don’t judge!). Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus—the birth of our Savior and the beginning of our redemption. In these times when Christmas displays appear in August and the meaning of Christmas seems lost amid the seasonal sales and product launches, it is refreshing to hear words that bring us back to what should be at the top of our minds and in the center of our hearts.
Sarah Hart has once again given birth to songs that touch the heart and lift the spirit. In her first Christmas album, This Winter’s Eve, Hart has again gifted her listeners with a work that comes from the heart and explores the deep beauty and mystery of Christmas without compromise. To say that this is another fine work from a deeply reflective singer-songwriter is to be saying very little. Hart can do what few artists out there can do these days: write meaningful lyrics and sing them in such a way that the emotions of the listener are moved towards prayer, contemplation, authentic joy, and new or revisited understandings. It is no surprise, then, that Hart is a well-recognized songwriter in the Christian music industry.
This Winter’s Eve begins with “Prayer for this House,” a song based on a poem by Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977). For those of you not familiar with Untermeyer, he was a well-known American poet, critic, and anthologist. In fact, he’s responsible for creating many of the anthologies that have introduced students to poetry since the early 20th century. Hart beautifully sets the poem to music and sets the tone of the album. I think of “Prayer for this House” not only as a prayer offered for the listener, but as a preparation for our homes and hearts to receive anew the hope, peace, and love of the Christmas season: Strengthened by faith the rafters will/Withstand the battering of the storm/This hearth, though all the world/grow chill, Will keep you warm. Taken metaphorically, we are reminded that with Christ at the center, lighting our way, we can withstand even the cruelest of storms.
“On A Night Like This,” co-written with Chris Lockwood, is a beautiful song that reminds us that the son of God was born into the most humble of beginnings and into the chaos of a darkened world. In doing so, the world and our lives were changed forever. As Hart sings:
On a night like this,
under the same dark sky
Into a quiet world of slumber
From a mother’s womb
into the breath of life
Came the cry of heaven’s wonder
On a night like this
With no welcoming,
no one to notice you
Only the arms that held you closely
Oh King of Kings,
you took upon our flesh
Touched the earth to make it holy
More importantly, the song recalls that Christ did not come to us in the most perfect of times, but came to us in our most pressing hours of need—no different from today: “This is a troubled day,/ours is a desperate hour/Just as it was when/you walked among us/You knew our deepest need, took on our poverty/Beautiful mercy born to save us.” If that isn’t one of the clearest expressions of faith and deep theological understanding of what Christmas truly is, then I’m not sure what is. And, in one of the most beautiful lyrics (and images) of the entire album is the expression of what we should be longing for at Christmastime and always; “On a night like this,/under the same dark sky/Into a world that needs a savior/Jesus, come and be born/in the heart of me/And let me be your manger/Oh, let us be your manger.”
Co-written with Jonathan Lee, “This Winter’s Eve” made me long for snow during Christmas. For a minute or so, I pined for snow hitting my windows and the stillness and silence of snowy winters to envelope San Francisco. Then I realized that I was completely forgetting to listen to more than the first few lyrics (although, this writer still wants a white Christmas in San Francisco). One of Hart’s strengths is creating beautiful images in her songs—images that almost always pave the way to some deeper meditation. In “This Winter’s Eve,” much like in “On A Night Like This,” images of silence and stillness, of snow blankets and beauty lead to images of the true and intangible. In the first few lines the listener can picture snow softly falling and changing the earth below in only a matter of hours. A world once bare is now covered with snow and suddenly everything about the earth has changed; the ground and trees and even we are changed. There is silence, there is stillness, and a blanket of white covers the landscape and it is beautiful. These images are juxtaposed with images of what we can only see and experience through the eyes of faith. Much like snow changes the landscape forever, so did perfect love change us: “Love came quietly into the noise/Of us, the ruin and the dust/And in the wee small hours/covered everything/In a stable as he slept/The world was wakened into life again/And in a few small hours, everything has changed. […] Beautiful, so beautiful/The quiet of this falling love.” Indeed, God’s divinity chose to enter our humanity and our relationship with Him was forever changed. God entered into our humanity with all its noise, despair, and chaos and transformed it in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As another of the album’s tracks, “All Is Well,” so beautifully states, “All is well and ere shall be/Here in Love’s eternity/Son of God and son of man/Has come to dwell, and all is well.”
One of my favorite tracks on this album is “Let It Be So.” I have often reflected on Mary’s experience as a young girl being asked to welcome the son of God into her womb and to give Him to the world. How extraordinarily courageous and faith-filled was her “yes” and how different would we be if she had doubted. Hart, and collaborator Kate York, capture this moment perfectly. It is a gentle and reflective song with Hart’s beautifully soothing vocal and equally lovely accompanying background vocals. As I heard this song, I thought of how the words could be Mary’s, but they could (and should) be our words as well: ”But if you ask, let it be so,/let it be so/And if you will, let it be so.”
Last year, Hart was nominated for “Better Than A Hallelujah” which garnered the attention of the Christian music industry when Amy Grant recorded the song for her most recent album. This time around, Grant lends her voice to backing vocals on Hart’s “What Love Has Done”—a gorgeous song, co-written with Kate York, that speaks of the joy and wonder of the birth of our redemption: “Chains are breaking; burdens are/lifted/By this son the Father has gifted/Come, oh come/Sings the Song of Redemption/Come, oh come/And see what love has done.” Listeners will appreciate the nod to a popular Christmas tune and the overall feeling this song exudes.
I love a well-told story and Hart knows how to tell a story beautifully—not only in the lyrics and music, but also within the track placement of her albums. In this case, the album begins with songs of expectation, move into songs about the birth our Savior and its effects on humanity then and now, and then moves us to what it should all mean to the individual. In other words, how we should react. “Peace Be,” co-written with frequent Hart collaborators, Marc Byrd and Jeremy Bose, urges us to allow peace and love in to our hearts and to let peace flow back outward. Isn’t that the very message we need today? In the midst of chaos and hard times, the message of peace and love is one that we need to hear and heed today. And what better way to express love than to write songs for and about the ones you love? “Bethlehem,” co-written with Joe Pangello for Hart’s husband, is a song about people gathering together in the love of God and rejoicing in the joy of Christmas. “Snow Angels” recalls the joy of just being in the moment and enjoying life, love, and laughter. I’ll take a wild guess and say the song was written for her daughters. It definitely made me want to make snow angels (something I’ve never done)!
The album began with a prayer of preparation and ends with a song of realization, “Epiphany (I Will Not Forget),” that reminds and challenges us not to forget the gift of Christmas. On one night, so long ago, a child was born to light the world and so: “I will not forget you love/And how you saved my heart one night.” But, The album does not stray completely from traditional Christmas songs. “The Light of Christmas of Morn” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are two traditional Christmas songs that make a welcomed appearance on This Winter’s Eve. “The Light of Christmas Morn” is based on “Light of Darkness” by Irish-born Scotsman Norval Clyne (1817-1890), a 19th century poet and lawyer. With Sarah’s added lyrics and its early-bluegrass/Appalachian feel this song leaves the listener with the same calmness and peace that the lyrics convey. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is one of my favorite Christmas carols and the first that I recall singing in my grammar school choir. While I’m a big fan of leaving what is as is, I’m also a fan of adding a bit of oneself to every artistic endeavor no matter how many times its been done before. After all, isn’t that the experiential conversation we should be having with all we encounter? There’s a bit of Sarah Hart in her rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”—that bit of an artist taking an old tune and making it new and uniquely beautiful again.
There is an authenticity in Sarah Hart’s music that is a rare gift for listeners today and of which I have long been an admirer. Whether she is writing a worship song, songs for her husband and daughters, songs for a musical, or Christmas songs, it is clear that the music and the lyrics flow from the heart of an artist that prayerfully and reflectively lives out her gift. This Winter’s Eve is yet another beautiful collection of songs that touch the heart and feed the soul. From start to finish, this album is pure Christmas.
If there is one Christmas album that you pick up this Christmas season, make it This Winter’s Eve by Sarah Hart. The songs are great for worship, for reading by the fire, listening while watching the snow fall outside (if you’re lucky enough to have some snow), or while enjoying lovely gatherings with those you love. Most importantly, if you’re looking for a Christmas album that captures the essence of the Christmas season and does so in more than just a surface-level way then this album is for you. I highly recommend it.
The album is now available for pre-order from www.sarahhartmusic.com and will be available on iTunes on November 8th.
Check out Sarah’s album promo:
For booking information, please contact The Brown Book Agency.
To read my previous reviews of Sarah’s music, check out the links below:
Happy Halloween! I admit that I am not a fan of Halloween. Even as a little girl my parents practically had to drag me to do anything Halloween-related. But, truth be told, I love the video I’m posting up today and there is no better day than Halloween.
And, just for kicks…one more…
The 50th anniversary of the Family Rosary Crusade in San Francisco will be commemorated on October 15, 2011 at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. In October 1961, Fr. Patrick Peyton’s Rosary Rally drew over 550,000 people (Catholics and non-Catholics) to the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park (see video from event here). It marked one of the largest gatherings in this history of San Francisco. On October 15th the event will be commemorated with a rosary rally that will take place at the same location of the recent Giants World Series celebration. Thousands are expected to attend the event and join with each other in prayer. The event starts at 12:00PM PST and will include introductory remarks, hymns, the public recitation of the rosary, a keynote by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, and a final benediction and blessing. Fr. Andrew will also preside over a mass at 9:00AM, prior to the rosary, at the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, in San Francisco’s North Beach district. For more information, please visit the event’s website at www.familyrosarycrusade2011.com or it’s Facebook page. The event is sponsored by San Francisco’s Legion of Mary.
Also, please check out the most recent episode of EWTN’s Life on The Rock. Two of my former students (also twins) were featured guests talking about their upcoming participation at the Family Rosary Crusade. I only taught them for one month, but these young women impressed me then and I couldn’t be prouder to see them stepping out in faith:
If you’re in the Bay Area, try and stop on by. I hope to see you all at the event!
Event Flyer (color): Family Rosary Crusade Color Flyer
There’s less than a month to go until the release of Matt Maher’s new album, The Love In Between. In June, Matt gave an In Between The Songs look at his new single “Turn Around” (now available on iTunes). In this recent behind-the-music video, Matt shares the thoughts behind his new song, “The Spirit and the Bride.”
Revelation 22:17: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
The Love In Between hits stores on 9.20.11. It is now available for pre-order on iTunes.Looking forward to bringing you a review of this album in a few weeks.
Leeland is back with a new album, The Great Awakening, set for release on 9.20.2011. Next Tuesday, the band will release an EP album with three of the songs from the new album. “I Wonder” is one of the tracks from the new album that will also be available on the EP. It is a a beautiful song.
Leeland recently shared the first verse of this song on their Facebook page:
At the stars in the night I wonder
At Your lightning in the sky, I shudder
Your glory is a blanket that covers
Every living thing
I’m in awe at the majesty of who You are
Your love is a seal burnt inside my heart
All of the day I want to be where You are