Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Edit and Rewrite Your Manuscript

One of my big projects for the first month or two of 2012 is going to be rewriting my Regency romance.

As I was writing it, I knew that the real battle for me was going to be rewriting it. I love editing . . . other people's work. Editing my own is intimidating.

And yet, I love editing. I just needed something to get me past the psychological wall of it being my work that I had to edit. Me being me, that something I needed was a plan. Plans don't make the future safe, of course, but they surely make it feel safe.

So here's the plan. I can't vouch for its entire virtue, as I'm still in the middle of it myself, but it seems sturdy as far as I've ventured. And hopefully it can help other type J's out there to dive into the process of revision: don't worry folks; the water is warmer than it looks.

Jess Snell's Editing and Rewriting Plan:

 1) Print out the whole book, double-spaced.

2) Print out all my “go back, and change” notes that I’ve made while writing.

3) Copy and paste into a document  all beta reader notes (in the story’s chronological order), and print that document out.

 4) Make a list of all “tics” (like passive verbs and comma abuse) that I have, and make a list of those – one sheet if possible, because these will have to be checked for on every page. (Use notes from read-through of The First Five Pages to help come up with this list.)

5) Go through the hard copy of the book with lists/docs from points 2, 3 & 4 in hand, and mark up whatever changes need to be made. (This means going through the whole story at least three times.)
6) After all these changes, read through the whole thing and make note of:
            - any BIG plot or character changes that need to be made
            -scenes that need to be entirely rewritten
            -scenes that need to be added
            -scenes that need to be erased.

7) Rewrite all things noted in Step 6 – printing out and inserting new material into marked-up hard copy, and crossing out old scenes where necessary.

8) THEN, take that marked-up, patched-together copy, and retype the whole book from the marked-up hard copy. In other words, I’m going to literally rewrite the whole book, so that every word passes under my fingers one more time, forcing me to pay attention, and make any final tweaks that would be beneficial.

 9) And THEN (this is the really hard part), print out the whole thing again, and then mark it up again, make sure all the changes work, etc.  Then make these changes in the final document.

10) Query.

There you go. That's the plan. Have at it, and happy New Year!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. If this ends up being useful to you, fill free to use it, print it out, share it, whatever, just attribute it to me and include a link back to this blog. Thanks!

Monday, December 26, 2011

crocheted finished object: the Pineapple Shrug

A quick palate-cleanser after all the Christmas crafting: 
And a view of the shrug from the front:
This was made with incredibly soft merino/alpaca yarn given to me by my mom, so even though it's a bulky lace design, it's really warm.   

I love the classic pineapple motifs radiating out from the center. In the magazine version of the pattern, the design was obscured by the variegated yarn they used, but when I went on Ravelry, there was a version done in solid-color yarn and I really liked it.

One of the other fun things about this project is that I got to have a little email conversation with the designer over Ravelry, and she was really friendly. I love that I can chat with the people who make the patterns I'm using!

Now that I've made a quick and satisfying design, I'm starting up a long and complicated one: the gorgeous pattern on the cover of this book. I'm using Knit Picks Shadow Lace Yarn in the Nocturne Heather colorway. I've been planning on making this sweater for well over a year, so I'm excited to see it starting to form under my fingertips:

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Notes: "West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith", by Lars Walker

West Oversea: A Norse SagaWest Oversea: A Norse Saga by Lars Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"West Oversea" follows Father Aillil, the Irish hero of Lars Walker's previous book, "The Year of the Warrior", as he travels with his Norwegian lord, Erling, across the sea to Greenland.

Adventures ensure, including a long and feud-filled stay in Iceland and a storm-tossed journey to the New World, but they do eventually make it to Greenland - sailing northeast rather than northwest.

This is a Christian novel, and of the best sort. You don't pick up a Lars Walker novel to find an idealized world - in this book not only is there violence, war, and death, there's also real sin, real sorrow, and - perhaps most surprisingly of all - real demons, real magic, and real gods.

But only one God. This novel is set at the time of the Christianization of Scandinavia, and while Walker's telling of that story is fantastic in the most literal sense of the word, the struggle between the old spiritual loyalties and the new felt very realistic to me.

And all of that is just the theme! Even if you took that all out, you'd have a fascinating adventure tale, full of swash-buckling, and sea-faring, politics, romance, and quest. Add in the powerful spiritual element, and you simply have an excellent story, well-told, and edifying. Which is an odd thing to say about an adventure tale. But you can say it about this one, because it points the eye toward Christ.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keeping Advent: an Extremely Practical Post

There are two weeks before Christmas. If you finish your shopping this week (and the wrapping and mailing too!), you can really enjoy the last week of Advent.

If you've got an idea of what to get someone, get him that. If you don't have a great idea, go with a good idea.

Here are some good ideas:
-a bottle of good wine
-a jar of local honey
-candy from this lady (she'll include a note for free!)
-notecards from this artist (she'll include a note for free too!)
-yummy soap from this shop (I think she does notes too)
-a book you've read and enjoyed this year (maybe this one or this one)
-a music album you've read and enjoyed this year (maybe this one, or this one, or this one)

Get it done this week. You'll be glad you did.

More Advent posts here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Life Hacks: Making Your Future Self Happy

When I was in high school, I knew that I was a teenager and that teenagers were stupid. I knew that their brains were basically a construction zone complete with hazard signs and pitfalls and electrical connections that weren't hooked up properly yet.

So I decided that the best way to make decisions was to not let my teenage self make decisions. Instead, I invented a hack. I decided to live not in the way that would make my teenage self happy; I decided to live in a way that would make my thirty-year-old self happy.

I imagined that thirty-year-old self and what she'd be like and thought, "what will she wish she'd done when she was my age?" Or, honestly, adolescence being what it is, I thought, "what will she wish she hadn't done when she was my age?"

How did it work? Honestly, now that I'm in my thirties, I can look back and say: it worked pretty well. It kept me from very basic disasters like getting pregnant or getting arrested, and it also put me in a good position to handle college academics and not go into debt (because I worked hard at school and at my job. Because I had a job.) It kept me close to the Lord.

So, though I can look back and say, a bit fondly, Idiot, of some of my teenage thoughts and feelings and actions, honestly, I'm very grateful to that young girl who took her adult self seriously enough to safeguard way before she was in possession of her.

And now that I've reached the once-far-away-land of my thirties, I find myself more and more thinking of my forty-five-year-old self. And my sixty-year-old self. And even a little, if God grants me years, of the happy woman I hope to be in my nineties.

What will those women want? What will those women hope that their thirty-year-old self did? And didn't do?

I know for sure that that forty-five-year-old Jess will want most to have done a good job mothering her kids and wiving her husband and following her Lord. Mostly she'll want to have had a solid fifteen years in relationship with those few most important people. And then a few important others. After that, she will want a lot of novels under her belt. Just, you know, a decade and a half of solid work.  I don't think she'll care if she's in the best shape of her life, but she'll want a body in shape enough that it's a help and not a hindrance in her daily life. She'll want to have been kind. She'll want me to not have wasted my time.

That's what I've got after just a few minutes of thinking about it. I want to think about it more in these waning weeks of the year, because it could use some refinement.

But I recommend it to you as a useful technique for even the smallest decisions of life. In the morning, when you're having trouble deciding what to do first, ask yourself what your evening self will want done, in those few precious hours after the kids are in bed and before you are. On Monday, ask yourself what your Saturday self will hope your week looked like. At the beginning of Lent, what your Easter self will be glad to have read and thought and prayed.

And ask it a few decades out too. I promise you'll find it illuminating.

In the End, it is all about our Easter selves.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Reading through the Classics in 2012

Why is it that I keep thinking next year is 2013?

Anyway, December has me thinking about the new year, and one of the things I'd like to do is to reread some of the Christian classics that I last read in college.

In a few weeks I'll post my annual "Books Read this Year" post, and this year the number is hovering somewhere around sixty, which is considerably less than last year's close to one hundred.

But I was pickier this year. Last year I finished a bunch of books just to be able to list them; this year I put a lot of books down after ten, twenty, even a hundred pages. My number completed is smaller, but I think it was a better year's reading.

And I'd like next year's to be better yet. My enthusiastic self wants to say, "I'm going to reread every book I read in my college classics program!" But . . . my more mature self says, "Eh . . . Let's go for ten."

So, there's my goal: I want to reread ten classic works of literature. Probably most of them will be Christian; I'm feeling particularly drawn to Augustine and Calvin, and to a few of the great English poets.

There is this problem with the poets: how much do you have to read to have "read" them? I might try to read the complete collected works of a few of my favorites. We'll see. Among those clanging to be read are Donne, Herbert, and Hopkins. Well, those three always. And then also Rossetti.

I tried and failed at Dante this year, and I'm still trying to figure out why. So that'd be worth another go too. Maybe.

Oh! And DeTocqueville! Great reading for an election year.

Yes. "Year of the Classics". I like it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, December 12, 2011

Links! art, books, writing, sex, and generosity

To start off, here's your dose of pure beauty for the day. It's a Baltimore Album style quilt and it's just stunning.

Once you realize books are the most wonderful thing in the world (they are, aren't they? aside from a nice MLT . . .), the question is, what to read? And, over and above that, what to have our children read? Simcha Fischer's answer is lots and lots. She says that if your kids read lots of good books, it'll be a great protection against harm when they read the odd bad apple. And that, more than that, you should pray for them. I think she's right on there (though - standard disclaimer - Protestant me is not going to be following her suggestion to pray to Mary).

I also haven't read any Nora Roberts, but I found this interview with her fascinating. That woman works. Worth reading also, I think, for her insights into the publishing industry and the disdain much of the public has for romance novels.  Quoth Roberts:
"They don't see that as legitimate. But it's just so insulting towards millions of people. Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn't that something to be respected?"
I'd add that I do think there are things that shouldn't be read for pleasure (or possibly for any other reason), but I think she's right about people disparaging happiness, as if something can't be important unless it's tragic. Happiness is too important; she's right there.

Finally, in the "Ya Don't Say?" column, a new study found that people with generous spouses are more likely to be happy in their marriage. But not as happy as married people who who have good sex.  

This is one of those posts that crack me up because, firstly: Duh. And, secondly, I love how they present it as an either/or. You can't have both? And, moreover, does any married person out there think it's even possible to have a marriage where the two aren't related? Heh, science.

Or rather: Heh, science reporting.

That's it for today, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

the Monster Afghan is almost done!

One of my favorite groups on Ravelry is the "Stash Knit Down" group, and this past month they've been holding a "End of 2011, UFO/Scrap Down and Get Organized" challenge that I've been participating in.

The idea is to start the new year with a clean slate, craft-wise, to finish up any works-in-progress that have been laying around, to finish up scrap balls of yarn, and to organize your stash so you know what you have to work with.

Because of this project, I actually dragged my monster afghan - the one I was sure I was only halfway through - upstairs and spread it out on our bed to see how close I actually was to finishing. And look!

That there is an almost-complete afghan! I have less than forty rows to go, which on this monster translates into "almost done". I'm sure I can finish it by the end of this month, which is so exciting!

And it's so pretty. It's made up of leftover bits of acrylic yarn from old projects and thrift store finds and gifts and, oh, everywhere. It's got bouclĂ© and fun fur (fun fur!) and tweedy yarn and sparkley and yarn of every color you can imagine. But the white stripes in between the colors pull it altogether, and make the bright colors harmonious and cheerful, rather than garish. 

I really like it. I'm surprised by how much I like it. And I'm very grateful to the Stash Knit Down forum for providing a challenge that's pushing me to finish a project that I'd been neglecting. 

See? Sometimes Internet forums are good for something! :D

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 10 Romantic Heroines of Literature

The twin of this post (Top 10 Romantic Heroes) can be found here. You'll notice that not every half of each couple is on both lists, and that's because some heroes are better than their heroines, and some heroines than their heroes, at least when it comes to loving their mate. Or perhaps it's just that they face sterner competition on their side of the dividing line.

Be that as it may - in no particular order - here are my votes for the Top 10 Romantic Heroines of Literature:

-Britomart, from "The Faerie Queene" by Edmund Spenser.
-Ekaterin Vorvayne, from "A Civil Campaign" by Lois McMaster Bujold.
-Harriet Vane, from "Gaudy Night", by Dorothy Sayers.
-Jane Eyre, from "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
-Beatrice, of "Much Ado About Nothing", by William Shakespeare.
-Viola, of "Twelfth Night, or, What You Will", by William Shakespeare.
-Prudence Tremaine, from "The Masqueraders", by Georgette Heyer.
-Phoebe Marlow, from "Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle", by Georgette Heyer.
-Eowyn, from "The Lord of the Rings", by J. R. R. Tolkien.
-Elizabeth Bennett, from "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen.

In case you're curious, the couples which contain individuals who BOTH made their respective Top 10s are:

-Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorvayne
-Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey
-Prudence Tremaine and Anthony Fanshawe
-Pheobe Marlow and Sylvester, Duke of Salford.
-Eowyn and Faramir

And, of course, I have a few runners-up:

-Ginny Weasley
-the Essie Summers heroine
-the Carla Kelly heroine

What do you think? Do you agree? Did I make a villainous omission anywhere? Or just a thoughtless oversight? Is there anyone there you think doesn't belong?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Dear Rachel, you may not read this post.

At least not till after Christmas. The rest of you are welcome, because I think the rest of the recipients don't actually read this blog.

Here are some Christmas presents I've finished up in the past week or so:

This first one is a lace scarf made of yarn that I dyed with Kool-Aid and food coloring (sadly, the colors didn't show up well in this picture, but you can see the simple lace pattern):

The second is a simple pair of fingerless gloves in a sock yarn with subtle color changes:
The third is probably my favorite: it's a lace scarf made out of cashmere yarn that I harvested from a thrift store sweater. I just love the broad swath of delicate lace at the ends: 
 Finally, on the Christmas theme, I made a quick Christmas tree skirt for our own tree:

And with that, my Christmas crafting is done. I didn't make things for many people this year; I didn't want to be rushing through my crafting at the end of the year. Instead, I picked a few people to craft for this year, with the idea that each year I'd pick a few different people. That way I can enjoy making the gifts, and really take the time to make something that suits each person. Much less stress that way, and better finished objects, I think.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on women and vocation, and Mary and Martha

Just after I posted my last blog entry, my mom came over, and so I talked to her about what I'd been writing. And now I have more vocation-and-women stuff to put out there in the Pool of Ponder.

(That last blog entry was - and this might not have been obvious, but it's true - just an I'm-pondering-these-things entry. Not an I-have-this-all-figured-out entry.)

One important thing my mom pointed out is that we shouldn't look at the first Mary-and-Martha story in the gospels without also looking at the second: the death of Lazarus. In that case, Mary was overwhelmed with her emotions and missed Jesus. But Martha was there, and present, and confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. So . . . Martha got the better part in the end too, and it's worth thinking about how much her sensible, practical nature helped her to be present and aware in the midst of tragedy - present and aware enough to recognize Life Himself when he stood before her.

I guess what really struck me about the Mary-and-Martha story as Sayers presents it is that being a contemplative is a legitimate calling, even for a woman. (And yes, I know who the other Mary is, and so this should have been obvious to me.) I feel like so much of what I want to do is just to read and think and read and think and read some more. And Mary's story shows me that sometimes sitting and listening isn't lazy; sometimes sitting and listening is exactly the right thing to do. It's not sloth; it's something we are made for.

The other thing my mom helped me with was with a clearer explanation of the traditional Christian view of "vocation". (My mom's a theology prof, so she knows this stuff - that said, anything I get wrong in this recounting is my mistake, not hers - and some of it isn't her information, it's just my ruminations.) She talked about how vocation means "calling" and that it includes everything that God calls us to, which means that my division of calling into "vocation" and "duty" isn't correct.

There are the things we are all called to, like wisdom. Or like obedience to Christ. Then there are the very common callings that are ours because of where we are when we become Christians. Are you a mother, a brother, a husband? You are called to be that in service to God. Are you a soldier, a teacher, a welder? You are called to be that in service to God.

Then there are the more specific gifts and callings, and some people have lots and some have a few, but whatever they are, you are to use them in God's service, as He leads you to do so.

And then there is the question of time. You aren't called to do everything all the time. For instance, when my twins were newborn, and I had four children under the age of four, my whole duty was pretty much comprised in loving God and my immediate family. It was all I could do to just do that! and I don't think I was called to anything else at that specific time.

I think there are times like that in most people's lives. When you have a newborn, when you are gravely ill, when someone who it's your duty to care for is gravely ill . . . your duty narrows to one very specific point and you just serve Christ there, wherever there is. You're still following the first and second greatest commandments, and so even though the scope of duty is narrow, the obedience and love found there can be as great as any in the whole wide world.

There's also the fact, my mom pointed out, that sometimes the hard and narrow parts of our lives are the times when God is equipping us for some future work, but we can only see it in hindsight. We look back at those times and see, "oh, that's when I learned to pray" or "that's when my heart was truly converted" or whatever other thing it was that God needed to do in us in order to fit us for our true calling, to get us ready for whatever tasks were lying ahead.

And in the end, our calling is a calling to Him, it's a calling to our home. He Himself is our peace, as Dante said, and He wants to make us into people who can be at home with Him. In Advent, that's good to remember too. In the words of the children's carol, we pray, Lord Jesus, fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Keeping Advent: Watching, Working, and Waiting: the duties and vocations of women

My Advent thoughts this week have been prompted by my Bible reading, which is probably a good thing. The St. James Devotional that I use has been taking us through some of the more dire parables in Matthew, and so I've been pondering things like the Parable of the Talents.

Is it a coincidence that in English "talents" means gifts or abilities, and that when I read the Parable of the Talents I can't help but think of "gifts or abilities" rather than "denomination of coin"?

When I think about this parable, what comes to mind first is Milton's sonnet on his blindness, where he complains, "When I consider how my light is spent/Ere half my days in this dark world and wide/And that one talent which is death to hide/Lodged in me useless . . ." He was a writer who couldn't see; what had he to offer God then?

The poem famously leads him to a consideration of the majesty of God, who has thousands upon thousands of other servants to perform whatever acts of service He desires. Milton concludes that God doesn't need him, and yet it is God's good pleasure to have him ready and willing for whatever order may come. Milton concludes, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

And Advent is a season of waiting. So Milton's sonnet seems a fit conclusion for me to reach. I stand and wait.

And yet . . . and yet I know what the blind Milton went on to do: he wrote Paradise Lost in his blindness, dictating each stanza to his daughters. He was willing to only stand and wait, but that wasn't what ended up being required of him.


I said above that my Advent thoughts this week have been prompted by my Bible reading, but that's only part of the truth. They've also been prompted by my Sayers reading; I just reread her powerful collection of essays entitled Are Women Human?

(The answer, in case you're wondering, is "yes.")

These essays, perhaps surprisingly, are largely about work. One of Sayers' primary concerns, in promoting the humanity of women (women, she points out, are human ("homo") first and female ("femina") second) is that they be allowed to do their proper work.

She doesn't insist that every woman everywhere has a special vocation, instead she says:

I have admitted that there are very few women who would put their job before every earthly consideration. I will go further and assert that there are very few men who would do it either. In fact, there is perhaps only one human being in a thousand who is passionately interested in his job for the job's sake. The difference is that if that one person in a thousand is a man, we say, simply, that he is passionately keen on his job; if she is a woman, we say she is a freak.
I can't help but be reminded of Sayers' character Harriet Vane, who, when challenged about the "unwomanliness" of her job of writing murder mysteries retorts that her challenger would no doubt rather she did something more feminine, like washing floors. The only problem, says Harriet, is that:

". . . I should scrub floors very badly, and I write detective stories rather well. I don't see why proper feelings should prevent me from doing my proper job."
The idea of a "proper job" captivates me, probably because I know what mine is. It's to write fiction. (Is there any wonder I go back to Harriet Vane's story again and again?)

And yet I also have my duty - the duty that does come on me not as a human, but as a woman, and as a married woman: the care of house and children. "Duty" sounds cold to our modern ears, but I don't mean it that way. My children are the delight of my heart and my home is the happy center of my earthly universe.  But "duty" in the sense of "the normal tasks appointed in the normal course of things, without which I could not be healthy, well, or sane".

I'm not quite sure what the solution to the problem of vocation and duty is, mostly because I'm not quite convinced that it is a problem. (Clarification: I'm not sure it's a philosophical problem. I do see (oh so clearly!) that it's a practical problem.) I just can't see an earthly reason why it should be "duty versus vocation" rather than the simple "duty and vocation". It feels like the former, sometimes, but I firmly believe that God always gives what He demands, and that it's all a question of how and when and not what.

But there is one section, in the final pages of Are Women Human? that seems to at least frame well the  at-least-apparent-if-not-actual conflict between duty and vocation:

God, of course, may have His own opinion, but the Church is reluctant to endorse it. I think I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Martha and Mary that did not attempt, somehow, somewhere, to explain away its text. Mary's, of course, was the better part - the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt, He approved of her too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God's opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her. For Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female; and that is a hard pill to swallow . . . Women are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human, let them say what they like, we will not believe it, though One rose from the dead.
Mary was a contemplative. She is, I think, a fitting model for this Advent season, wherein we watch, we work, and we wait.

More Advent thoughts found here, at A Ten O'Clock Scholar.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

ETA: An update on this entry can be found here.

"Keeping House" Read-Along, Chapter 3, "Sheltering a Household"

My notes on chapter 3 of Margaret Kim Peterson's book are, well, just notes. Notes that highlight the few things that stood out to me this time through.  First off, her assertion that:

". . . many of us, I suspect, are demoralized by the task of keeping house in part because we know that our houses, no matter how well-kept, will  never look like the palaces in the dream house publications." - page 44.

Yes. We should careful about where the ideas we come from. What our ideals about homemaking and how did those come to be our ideals? Did we deliberately take them from a trustworthy source - scripture, a good mother, etc. - or did we just absorb the zeitgeist?

And then Peterson comes to what is, to my mind, the most important concept in this chapter:

"Christian tradition . . . has been inclined to see limits as a necessary component of human flourishing." - page 47.

In other words, the fun of life is in the deciding. And then in living within the confines of your decision. No one can love people in general, we must love specific people. You can't follow a general vocation, you must write or pastor or fix computers or what have you. You have to limit yourself, and then flourish within those limits.

And some of these limits are self-imposed limits - there are parts of our life we choose - but as the quotation above implies, a lot of these limits are imposed upon us. And when it comes to the things imposed upon us - most specifically, I think, the law of God - our choice comes in choosing to obey.

But like a young tomato plant encircled by a chicken wire trellis, we thrive within that limiting, strength-lending structure.

Further, on the same point:

"The fact is, there are a lot of lovely and useful things in this world, and our houses and our lives simply do not have room for most of them. We have to learn to say no, and to say no not just to things we don't need or want but also to things we might very well enjoy." - page 56.

One thing I would add is that, when you really internalize this message, you end up having a new kind of fun: the fun of replacing an item that you have really and truly worn out. If you really do use the things you have and use them to the end of their useful life, well, you get to replace them. And that's fun. You get all the fun of choosing and none of the guilt that comes with choosing something you just want and don't really need.

I'm always shocked when I wear out a piece of clothing - I think it's because my children so seldom do (they tend to out-grow, not out-wear) and I deal with their clothes far more than I deal with my own (there being four of them and only one of me), and so my expectations for the life-span of a piece of clothing is set by their clothes and not my own. But I'm not growing anymore, and so I do wear out my clothes eventually, and sometimes I have to buy new ones, not because I want the fun of shopping, but because I need new clothes.

And that, it turns out, is when the shopping is really, truly, fun.

". . . if there are places to put things and it is simple and convenient to put them there, then picking up the house becomes a kind of active meditation, like putting a favorite puzzle together and seeing the familiar picture - the tidy house - appear anew." - page 56.

I totally get this. It's my favorite part of housework.

Read other people's thoughts on this chapter over at The Quotidian Reader.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Knitted Finished Object: Forest Feet Socks

The yarn is Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the Canopy colorway. And the super-awesome, couldn't've-learned-without-it tutorial I used was Silver's Sock Class.

They're so comfy and warm, and I'm so happy with them. I'm off to make another pair!

Learning to knit was totally worth it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Keeping House" Read-along, Chapter 2

In this chapter, entitled "A Place to Live", Peterson begins by talking about the tenant in Christian spirituality that we are to struggle against feeling at home in the world. She talks about how we are to remember that "God's people are always to be 'resident aliens', people who yearn for the fulfillment of all things in God and cannot feel themselves at home until that day has come."

It reminds me of Screwtape saying that he wants his "patient" to feel that he is "finding his place in the world" when really the world is finding its place in him. (Shiver.)

And yet we only understand things by metaphor and simile. Whenever one human tries to explain something to another human, he ends up saying, "It's like when" or "you know when you do X? It's like that." We always explain using comparisons. And I think the experience of a good earthly home sets up the metaphor that allows us to conceptualize and understand the idea of a heavenly home.

And, as Peterson points out, our earthly homes are places where we can practice the very virtues that will be required of any citizen of heaven. Our daily routine is the daily stage for the process of sanctification.

A few other quotations from the chapter, points that I really appreciated:

". . . parents may spend the preschool years waiting for things to 'get back to normal.' But young childhood is just as normal a state of life as adulthood; we just tend to forget that, in our age-segregated society." - page 32.

"Precisely because housework is necessary, it is not contemptible." - page 35.

"Housework is all about bringing order out of chaos." - page 38.

"Housework and gardening and God's providence itself are exercises not in futility but in faithfulness . . ." - page 39.

"If in Jesus God himself could take up a towel and wash other people's feet, surely we, as Jesus' adopted brothers and sisters, can find it in us to wash one another's dirty clothes and dirty dishes and dirty floors." - page 39.

More on this book to be found here, at the Quotidian Reader.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Advent thoughts: Donne's Holy Sonnet #4

"You must die before you die. There is no chance after." -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Advent is a season with apocalyptic overtones. We say that we are readying ourselves for Christ's birth, but he has already been born. We are really readying ourselves for the celebration of his birth.

But underlying even that reality is a deeper reality: we are readying ourselves for his coming, a real coming - not the first one, but the second. In preparing ourselves for his first coming, which has already happened, we prepare ourselves for his next coming, which is yet to be.

And what does that preparation look like? In a word: repentance.

In many and better words, like this:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
 All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

I'm going to explicate the poem (which is one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets) a little, because it repays examination.

The start of the sonnet is impressive, drawing in all of creation - commanding the angels to begin the trumpet-sound of the apocalypse, commanding even the dead to rise again - all the dead, every person slain by mischance, by sickness, by malice, even by old age - to return to the scattered dust of their bodies and -  note how Donne implies but does not actually state - to stand in front of their one Judge.

The whole first eight lines of the poem are one long sentence, gathering all the created universe together in a breath and commanding it to commence the End of All Things. It's a grand, masterful, majestic summoning.

But then, there, at the ninth line, the whole motion of the sonnet abruptly halts, turns, does an about-face, and Donne's tone becomes low, humble, and penitent, begging God to stop the great event that Donne's own words just urged, and Donne says, "But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space".

His eyes turn, suddenly, from the vastness of the universe to the microcosm of his own soul, and what he finds there utterly dismays them. "For, if above all these" - that is, all those other persons he just summoned - "my sins abound" (this is an echo, of course, of St. Paul's admonition that we think of ourselves as the "chief among sinners") "tis late to ask abundance of thy grace, when we are there" - that is, when we do, indeed, stand naked before the judgment seat of Christ.

And what is Donne's remedy for the horrific place he finds himself, riddled with sin and in danger of imminent Judgment? It is this: "Teach me to repent".

Well, as far as it goes, but then there is the shocking turn of the last couple of the poem (remember, "good" did use to rhyme with "blood"): "Teach me to repent; for that's as good/As if thou hadst sealed my pardon, with thy blood."

Donne seems to say that repentance is as good as grace - as good a remedy against condemnation as the spilled blood of Jesus himself!  As I said: it's a shocking assertion.

Except, of course, this is John Donne, a man quite possibly as devout as he was clever, and that is saying a good deal.

If you look again, you can see what he is saying - what he is trying to convey with that apparently heretical last couplet: he is saying that grace enables repentance. It all turns on the "as if" in that last sentence. "As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood." The sentence is falsely hypothetical. Donne knew very well that Christ had sealed his pardon with his blood, and so that "as if" becomes a "because", and the meaning of the last couplet becomes clear: Donne is saying that his repentance will be good because Christ has sealed his pardon with his blood; it is that sacrifice which makes true repentance possible, it makes it possible for repentance to become not just fruitless despair at his sin, but a godly sorrow that leads to a real change of heart, that will help him become a new man, a change that makes him not just safe, but also sound.

Now with all that said, here's the poem again. Read it aloud, because spoken rhythm always aids meaning in good poetry:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
 All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

More Advent thoughts can be found here, over at A Ten'O'Clock Scholar.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell