Monday, January 21, 2019

Lily of the Valley by Suzanne Strempek Shea

I haven't had the opportunity to post here very much lately. I've been busy with writing and editing projects (which is a good thing). I've still been reading quite a bit, but much of what I read is for reviews for other publications (which means that I'm not allowed to share them here.)

But, I still try to do some leisure reading on Sundays. The past couple weekends, I reread Lily of the Valley by Suzanne Strempek Shea. I enjoy Shea's early work. She is from the same general area (The Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts) that I live in and it is fun to read about places that I recognize. Her early novels were from the 1990s and feature Polish Catholics. They capture a particular time and place so well, freezing those moments, that they now read like historical fiction, albeit of a not-too-distant past.

Lily of the Valley tells of Lily Wilk, an artist who makes her living painting whatever anyone commissions her to do: fire hydrants, store signs, bathroom doors, etc. But when local supermarket mogul Mary Ziemba hires her to paint a family portrait, she thinks her ship has finally come in. While things don't turn out quite as she hoped, she learns a great deal in the process about what truly makes a family.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven

Mitch Albom wrote the hugely popular The Five People You Meet in Heaven 15 years ago. That story told of Eddie, the maintenance worker who died saving a little girl and the five people he met  in heaven who told him of how his life had impacted theirs.

The sequel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, focuses on Annie, the little girl that Eddie saved. Annie's now a nurse and is marrying Paulo, but tragedy will strike and both Annie and Paulo will be  injured in a hot balloon accident shortly after their wedding.

Annie, in turn, meets her own five people on the other side of the dividing line between life in this world and life in the next. Dog-lovers will appreciate that one of the "people" she meets is her dog, who at first appears to her as a person. I do believe dogs go to heaven (why wouldn't there be animals in the heavenly city?). I'm not sure they can take human form, but as Scripture says, with God all things are possible. 

Like the first book, this story shows the interconnectedness of life. Our lives touch so many others in ways we can't even begin to imagine and things we believe to be true from our perspective may not be true at all. It seems like a lesson our world desperately needs. This book brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. If you enjoyed The Five People You Meet in Heaven, you will definitely want to read The Next Person You Meet in Heaven.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

An Opportunity to Revisit Green Gables - Marilla of Green Gables

I have been a fan of Anne of Green Gables since I was 10 years old. I watched the original airing of the classic 1985 miniseries when it was shown on PBS one hour at a time and eagerly awaited the 1987 sequel (I’ve watched some of the more recent versions, but they just haven’t compared!). I’ve seen them many times since and recently introduced my eight year old daughter to the magic that is Anne (thankfully she loved the shows). I’ve read every book in the series. I’ve even visited Prince Edward Island and soaked up all things Anne and Lucy Maud Montgomery. As a result, when I saw the new book, Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, I knew this was one I had to read.

I so wanted to love this book, and in many ways it was like visiting old friends. It focuses on brother and sister Marilla and Matthew (who would adopt Anne as adults) when they were young. It focuses on Marilla’s friendship with Rachel White (later to be Rachel Lynde) as well as her failed relationship with John Blythe. 

It is always a challenge to take on a classic and McCoy gives a valiant effort. She admits she is not Lucy Maud Montgomery and that she writes “from a place of grateful reverence to a fictional landscape that has given me much scope for imagination.” 

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but read Marilla’s words in Colleen Dewhurst’s voice, Matthew’s in Richard Farnsworth’s, and Rachel’s in Patricia Hamilton’s (the actor and actresses from the 1985 and 1987 versions). Rachel’s character was particularly well done! You can really see the roots of the opinionated busy-body older lady she would become. 

And yet, Marilla and John Blythe’s teenage relationship left me disappointed. While I realize teenagers and their longings haven’t changed much over the years, it seems a stretch to imagine prim and proper Marilla sneaking off to share passionate kisses with John. In addition, shy Matthew is shown having loved and lost despite his telling Anne later on that he never went courting. 

Despite these criticisms, it is clear McCoy loves these characters and there was much to enjoy about Marilla of Green Gables. I was thankful for the opportunity to revisit a fictional world that has meant so much to me in my life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Live a Year full of Holy Moments!

Each Christmas, my parish generously gives each member the gift of spiritual reading. This year’s offering was The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly.

I’ve read a number of Kelly’s books. Even though many of them touch on the same themes, I find them encouraging and practical, offering a jolt of much-needed spiritual motivation. Kelly wants every Catholic to live their faith fully, to be all that God wants them to be.

As far as Kelly is concerned, the biggest lie in the history of Christianity is that holiness isn’t possible. Somehow we have accepted the idea that holiness is only for a select few, when in reality God calls all of us to be holy. “This is the will of God, that you be holy.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) In fact, living a life of holiness is the only sure path to happiness.

The thought of living a holy life can seem overwhelming, just as the thought of doing anything for a lifetime can seem too much to manage. Holiness, like life itself, is best lived one moment at a time. Kelly encourages us to create “holy moments.” We may not be able to comprehend living a holy life, but we can all manage to create a holy moment.

What is a holy moment? “A Holy Moment is a moment when you open yourself to God. You make yourself available to him . . . you simply do what you prayerfully believe God is calling you to do in that moment.”

Of course, then the question remains, “How do I know what God wants me to do in that moment?” Kelly offers some guidelines. We can ask ourselves if this action will help us to grow in character and virtue. Does what we are going to do contradict Jesus’ teachings in any way? Will this action bring harm to another person? In addition, prayer plays a major role in this discernment process. We should ask God, “What is it that you want from me in this moment?”

Each holy moment has the power to change the world for the better. Kelly challenges each of us to live a life full of holy moments and to encourage three other people to do the same. Consider this your invitation. Will you be one of my three people?

This is how the early Christians transformed the world. They lived differently because of their faith in Jesus Christ and encouraged others to do the same. As Kelly reminds us in The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, we have the power to have the same impact in our modern world.

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