Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who's the Fool?

We’ve all had the experience of losing someone close to us— an inner earthquake  that upends the world so there’s no going back to the way things were before.

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, the sky had come crashing down for the family and friends of Jesus. Surely nothing could ever be right again. They groped, forsaken and numb, through that Sabbath, with memories that were vivid and nightmarish.

Just when things were looking up for the world, when it seemed that God had finally come to dwell among men, when a wise and loving Master was healing the sick and speaking words of comfort and hope — just then, everything had gone horribly wrong.

Angry men with torches, shouting and swearing — Jesus arrested — the disciples scattering — Judas hanging himself — Peter denying his Lord, Pilate washing his hands of the whole mess.

Demons danced. Satan must have been rubbing his hands together in glee. "What a fool! He let himself be captured. This is too easy!" After a battle spanning thousands of years, Satan had won!

For the disciples, it seemed things couldn’t get any worse. But then came Sunday, when the really crazy stuff started happening.

Really. Crazy.

The stone rolled back from the tomb? How did that happen?

A missing body — stolen? But who? How?

One of the women, obviously delusional, babbling about seeing Jesus?

A couple of guys walking a country road and breaking bread with a disappearing rabbi? 

And then, everybody loses it. An apparition comes right through the wall — apparitions can do that — and greets the disciples.

But this is no apparition, no ghost. It’s Jesus. Alive! Impossible — but true.

Satan reaches for his key ring, the keys to death, hell, and the grave. "GONE!"  He searches frantically. "NO!!! This wasn't supposed to happen! He tricked me. No, no, no!"

* * * * *

One Easter weekend long ago, when my children were small, my oldest son presented me with a crayon drawing. It was a Crucifixion scene  appropriate because it was Good Friday.  At the bottom, he had written something like “Mom, your chair has disappeared. . . .April Fool!" Which was appropriate because it was also April Fool’s Day. 

Somehow, the juxtaposition of the Crucifixion and “April Fool’s” struck my crazy brain as totally awesome. I love it that this year Easter falls on April Fool’s.

April Fool’s, Satan! Your calculations were just a little off. You honestly thought you won? Think again. The Life of the Son of God was stronger than Death. 

And it still is today.

Image credits:
  Jesus carrying the cross: Public Domain
  Crucifixion, Gustave Dore: Public Domain
  Easter Morning, Friedrich Overbeck, Public Domain
  Resurrection of Christ, Giovanni Bellini, Public Domain
  The Risen Christ, Public Domain

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kate DiCamillo — Happy Birthday!

The Tale of Despereaux,
Candlewick Press 
Despereaux is a very small mouse with very big ears. He is a major disappointment to his family, because he doesn’t enjoy the normal mouse activities of scurrying and scavenging and cowering in fear.

Instead, he thinks that music sounds like honey and that light coming through stained-glass windows looks like heaven. His sister Merlot tries to teach him how to eat books — the tasty glue of the binding and the crispy edges of the pages. But Despereaux is more interested in reading the words on the pages. A story about a heroic knight. Despereaux wants to be a hero, but how can a small, sickly mouse aspire to greatness? Ridiculous!

Yet Despereaux aspires to many wonderful, beautiful, ridiculous things. Like love. And hope. And forgiveness. For even a small creature may have a great heart.

In this charming book — The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo  many stories are intertwined. Despereaux’s story intersects the story of Gregory, a jailer who is himself imprisoned in the castle dungeons. And of Miggory Sow, a servant girl traded by her father for a tablecloth. And of Chiaruscuro, a rat who loves light but has been banished to the darkness. And of Princess Pea, a girl who is doted on by her father but who grieves for her dead mother. When the Princess is kidnapped, all of these stories converge.

Kate DiCamillo belongs to an exclusive “club” of writers who have won the Newberry medal twice. Once for Despereaux (2003) and again for Flora & Ulysses (2013). Only five other people have won two Newbery's. Kate's book Because of Winn-Dixie was Newbery Honor Book and also won the Josette Frank Award. For The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, she won the 2006 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for children’s fiction. 

And she’s won a host of other awards which would take too many electrons to list. On her website, Kate says she feels lucky because she gets to tell stories for a living. "Stories are light," says Gregory the jailor to Despereaux. "Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light." 

Some books shine with an inner light, because of the beauty of the language or the compelling characters or the carefully-crafted story. The Tale of Despereaux has all three.

Happy birthday to Kate DiCamillo on March 25th. Thanks for bringing so much lovely light into the world. Keep telling your stories. Keep making the light.

Want to learn more about Kate diCamillo and her books? Click here.  

Image Credits:
    Mouse - Drawing by Rama
    Kate diCamillo photo - Candlewick Press
    Kate diCamillo reading at Kalamazoo Public Library - Public Domain

    Sun - Public Domain 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Weather. . .Or Not

NARRATOR: Do you remember the story that Mr. Aesop told long ago about a contest between the Sun and the Wind?  They tried to see which one could get a man to take his coat off.  The Sun won, and most people think that was the end of it.  But alas, Dear Readers, that was only the beginning. . .

WIND:  [Wind whooshes in]  So, Hot Stuff. . .

SUN:    Are YOU. . .talking to. . .ME?

WIND:  Yeah.  How about a rematch?

SUN:     Rematch?  I beat you fair and square.  You huffed and you puffed, but you couldn't get the man to take his coat off.  He only pulled it tighter!

WIND: Yeah, yeah -- and then you cranked up the heat 
            and he took it off.  Big deal.

SUN:     I won.

WIND:  Yes, but you cheated.

SUN:    Did not!

WIND: Did too.  I ought to just poof out your pilot light.

SUN:   I ought to blister your backside.

WIND: Pl‑lease.  Let's settle this like civilized beings.

SUN:   So whadya have in mind?

WIND: A contest.  Winner takes all. 

SUN:   What contest?

WIND: This time let's see who can make. . .

SUN:    A cake?

WIND:  No fair.  You can bake it.

SUN:    Then I'll win.  

WIND:   I've got it.  Let's see who can make a kite fly.

SUN:     No fair.  You're a big blow-hard.  

WIND:   Then I'LL win.

SUN:     Your ideas are dumb!

WIND:   NOW I've GOT it.  Oh, I AM a genius!

SUN:     What?            

WIND:   For the next month, let's see who can control the weather.  You try to bring Summer in and I'll try to keep it Winter.

SUN:      That's it?  That's your great idea?  Too easy. 

WIND:    Oh, you think so?

SUN:      Piece of cake.

WIND:    Your over‑confidence will make my victory all the sweeter.  So, do we have a deal?

SUN:      Deal.

[They shake on it.]

NARRATOR: So for the first few days of the new month, the wind did a lot of whooshing and swooshing.

WIND:   Whooooooooooooosh!  Swooooooooooooosh!  
              Cough, cough.

SUN:     Hey, Genius! Aren't you afraid you'll blow your brains out?

WIND:    Rooooooooar!  March just came in like a Lion.  Pretty impressive, don't you think?  I'm not one to rub it in. . .

SUN:     [Sarcastically] Of course not. . .

WIND:   But. . .I'M WINNING!

SUN:     Not exactly.  The children are all outdoors riding bikes.

WIND:    In their jackets.

SUN:      But no hats.

WIND:    [Mumbles]  Guess I should work on the hat thing.

SUN:      Oh, and do you hear something?

WIND:    What?  Who's singing?  What's a robin doing here? 
               In WINTER?

SUN:     Summer.

WIND:   We'll see.

SUN:     What's that supposed to mean?

NARRATOR:    Later that month. . .

SUN:      Seriously? Snow?  Awwwww, come on! Yesterday it looked like Spring.  Today, there's snow and ice.

WIND:    I, um, made a little trip north and brought back a blast of Arctic air.  Ahhhhhhhhhh.  [Pounds chest]  Refreshing, isn't it? 

SUN:      A‑a‑a‑choo!  Oh, my sinuses!

WIND:   So. . .you wanna build a snow‑man?

SUN:     [blows nose]  I most emphatically do NOT. 

WIND:   [scoops up a snowball and hurls it at the Sun]  I'm winning.  I LIKE winning.  Winning is fun.

SUN:     How would you know?

WIND:   What's that supposed to mean?

SUN:     Have you noticed the oak tree?

WIND:   Looks okay to me.  Snow on every branch. 

SUN:     Look around the trunk.

WIND:   Wha-a-a-at?  Flowers?  A‑choo!  Oh, my allergies!  What are flowers doing in the snow?

SUN:      Off‑hand, I'd say they're blooming.

WIND:    This is an outrage! 

SUN:      Thanks. From you, that's a compliment.

NARRATOR: This quarrel went on day after day until the end of the month.

WIND:    Okay -- where'd you go?  Where are you hiding?  What are you up to?

SUN:      . . .Surprise!  [Spreads out her arms]  How do you like my. . .RAINBOW? Ta da!

WIND:    Oh sure, take all the credit.  If I hadn't blown the mist into just the right position. . .

SUN:      It was such a NICE day, I thought all it needed was a pop of color.  Looks like I'm winning, not to rub it in.

WIND:    Don't count your chickens. . .

SUN:      Meaning what?

WIND:    You tell me.  What do the words killer frost mean 
               to you?

SUN:      You wouldn't dare!

WIND:    Watch me.

SUN:     You'll murder my magnolias!  My crocuses are croaking!

WIND:   Casualties of war.

SUN:     War crimes, you mean.  You leave me no choice.  March may have come in like a lion, but it's going out like a lamb‑to‑the‑slaughter.

WIND:  Oh, yeah?  How about some icicles?

SUN:    How about POP‑sicles?

WIND:   Drizzle!

SUN:     Sizzle!

WIND:   Monsoons!

SUN:     Balloons!

WIND:  I'll bring back the glaciers.

SUN:   I'll melt the ice-caps.

WIND: Oh yeah?  How about some sleet?  Sleet, slush, 
            and slop -- take that!

SUN:    Yuk!  How about a nice sunburn?

WIND:  Won't work.

SUN:    Why not?

WIND:  It's night now -- you've already set.  And I'm gonna 
             howl and growl all night.  Ow-owwwwwwwwww!!!

             gong. . . .]

NARRATOR:    A clock strikes midnight on March 31st.

WIND:  [Jumping up and down]  It's over, and I won. I won!

SUN:    In your dreams, Wind-bag! 

WIND:  Oh yeah?  Well at least half of March has been 
             cold and nasty. 

SUN:    Well, half has been sunny and bright.

WIND:    I can't stand here arguing with you.  It's time for tornadoes in the Midwest.  We'll have to settle this next year.

SUN:      You bet we will.  And I know who'll win.

WIND:    Yeah. ME!

SUN:      Ha!  We'll see.

SUN & WIND: Same time, next year!

NARRATOR: To this very day, the Sun and the Wind battle it out each year, which probably explains why weather in the month of March is a crazy‑quilt.  If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb -- or vice versa.  Sudden spring.  Sudden snow.  Kites and crocus.  Birdcalls and snowballs.    The last snow day of the school year.  It's kind of fun.  March has a lot of personality -- even if it's a split personality.

So if you find March just a tad confusing. . . .

WIND: I won!

SUN:   No, I won!

NARRATOR:  . . .you aren't the only one. 

Image credits:
    The Wind and the Sun poem - Contributing Library: New York Public Library, 
        Public Domain
    Sun emblem - © Can Stock Photo / nalakatst
    Wind blowing - © Can Stock Photo / cteconsulting
    Robin - Author: HlnBC
    Crocus - Author: Jean-Marc Rosier
    Crocus in snow - Photographer: AnRo0002
    Rainbow -  © Can Stock Photo / Krisdog
    Angry sun - © Can Stock Photo / yayayoyo
    Tornado - © Can Stock Photo / pangeran
    Children flying a kite - Victorian Trade Cards Collection, Public Domain

Monday, March 12, 2018

St. Patrick

Patrick’s story is pieced together like a quilt from many historical documents, letters, and books. 

Patrick was raised in Britain in probably the late 4th Century AD, son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. The exact dates are unknown. After all, it wasn't like anybody thought, "Hey, this baby will be a great saint. We should record his birth date."

At about age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by pirates, who took him to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. During the six years of his confinement, he worked as a shepherd. His master Milchu was a high priest of the Druids

St.Patrick -- When you think about it,
stained glass is sort of like a quilt. . .

During his captivity, Patrick devoted himself to prayer and became a very devout Christian. He had a vision, in which he saw the children of Ireland reaching out their hands to him. And so was born in him the desire to become a missionary to Ireland. 

In a dream, a voice promised him that he would find the way home to Britain. After escaping from slavery, he made his way to a port and persuaded some sailors to let him sail with them. But after three days they all had to abandon ship off the coast of France. They wandered for four weeks, covering 200 miles, before Patrick was reunited with his family. 

Free at last, Patrick returned to France to study for the priesthood, under the missionary St. Germain. In about 418, he was ordained a deacon. In 432, he was ordained as a bishop. Pope Celestine I then sent him to Ireland to support the faithful and to convert the non-believers. 

Ireland didn’t exactly welcome Patrick with a parade — he and his message were met with resistance. But in time the Gospel spread through Patrick’s preaching and writings and the work of missionaries in the area.

Patrick incorporated some of the local customs and rituals into their worship. It may be Patrick who introduced the Celtic Cross, which combines a symbol of sun-worship with the Christian cross.

In his missionary career, Patrick made many converts to faith. He founded monasteries and created councils. He died in about 461 in Saul, Ireland, and was buried in Downpatrick, County Down. The impact of his ministry continues to this day. We celebrate this amazing missionary  and all of Irish culture  on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th.

St. Patrick's grave, St. Patrick's Chapel

Many legends grew up about this great man. The most popular is that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Another says that he taught people about the nature of the Trinity by using a shamrock. 

As you can see, some pieces are missing from the patchwork of Patrick's life. There are many things we don't know.

But to me, the most extraordinary thing about Patrick is that he returned to the scene of his captivity to bring freedom in Christ to all who would receive the message. I am reminded of Elizabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, who worked as missionaries among the jungle tribe that had murdered their husbands. 

It takes a special kind of person to do good to those who have done terrible things to us. And that is the true embodiment of the Christian Gospel.

Image credits:
  Postcard: Public Domain
  Stained glass, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Junction City, 
      Ohio -- Author: Nheyob
  Green Celtic Knot:  Author: Petr Vodicka,  Public Domain
  Celtic Cross:  Author: Petr Vodicka,  Public Domain
  St. Patrick's grave -- Author: Alexander P. Kapp    
  St. Patrick with a shamrock, stained glass --  Author: Andreas F. Borchert    
  Shamrocks -- Public Domain

Monday, March 5, 2018

Stopping by Woods

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

March 7th of 2018 marks the 95th anniversary of the first publication of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," a popular poem written by Robert Frost in 1922.

Practically everybody in the USA studies this poem in high school. I remember that in sixth grade, some girls in my class performed the poem as music, to the tune of a pop song.

I think this poem is popular because it's beautiful. And simple. And it speaks to that wistful part of each one of us that would like to sit and contemplate the beauty of nature.

So why is a poem being featured in a blog about myth and story?

Because I believe this poem is also a story -- a kind of flash fiction in verse. Flash fiction is very short fiction (sometimes as short as six words!) that hints at a larger story. 

The narrator is out riding alone. We don't know where he has been, but on his way home, he stops to soak in the beauty of snow falling in the woods.

The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

The horse is more practical than his master. He shakes his harness bells, as if to say, "We really ought to be getting on home, don't you think?"

But the man, the narrator, is lost in contemplation. This perfect moment will never come again. 

None of us, however, is free of responsibilities, people to care for, animals to feed, appointments, meetings, messages to answer, duties to perform.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The poem gives us such a brief glance at our main character's life -- and isn't that what flash fiction does? I'm old enough to remember when people took pictures with cameras (not phones) that had flash attachments. When you took a picture in a dark setting, the bulb would flash, illuminating the subject for just the blink of an eye. What we see in this poem is just a momentary flash into this man's life.

The story problem seems small, not epic, compared to say War and Peace or Les Miserables. A man, enthralled by the beauty of nature, is longing to stay and watch the snow. 

And, of course, the story ends as it should -- with the man answering the call of duty. He must leave this captivating scene and get home to do what must be done. I'm guessing that horse is hungry, for one thing. Maybe his wife is sick. Maybe he has promised to help a neighbor. And promises are important.

But where is the character arc? Does the main character change or grow? 

I sense that somehow this man is forever changed -- as are we, the audience -- by the simple act of stopping by woods on a snowy evening. He is now strengthened and prepared to travel those "miles to go before I sleep." A simple but moving story in only 108 words.

Robert Frost

Image credits:
   Winter pine wood: Author: Aleks G 
  Moravian Beskids in winter:
   Horse in the Snow:  Source: Katursnow.jpg
   Sketch of Horse  and Buggy:  Randolph Caldecott 
        (yes, THE Caldecott), Public Domain
   Camera with flash: Author: Richard F. Lyon (User  Dicklyon)
   Robert Frost: Photo by Walter Albertin, Public Domain