I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Church's Language of Flowers

A lilium longiflorum, commonly known as an Eas...Image via Wikipedia

Well, it's Holy Week, and somewhere between the palm fronds of Palm Sunday and the lilies of Easter morning, we're tending the gardens of our hearts, examining our spiritual lives and pausing to reflect on the Passion of our Lord Jesus as he suffered for our sakes, died to pay our debt, and rose again in victory over sin and death.

As a writer, I'm a huge fan of using floral symbols in my writing (with three manuscripts named after flowers, I'm sort of hooked). Today on Inkwell Inspirations, I've posted on the Church's use of floral symbols, many of which are age-old. Back in the days before the written word was accessible, the Church used other means to teach Scripture, theology and the lives of saints. Visual aids, such as stained glass, iconography, and stitching on altar linens, vestments and kneeling cushions, served as teaching tools for Christians through the ages to symbolically convey moral, spiritual or emotional truths.

What do I mean? Well, sometime you may notice a lily in a centuries-old representation of Mary, Mother of Jesus. Or you've wondered why we decorate with shamrocks or clovers on St. Patrick's Day. Or perhaps your church has kneeling cushions at the altar rail, decorated with symbols like strawberries or pomegranates.

What do those symbols mean?

You'll have to read my other post (click here) to learn more, but here are some of the symbols I couldn't include:

  • Almond blossoms: divine approval, or chosen of God. It's the blossoming rod God instructs His people ot use in Numbers 17:1-8, and it's also used in depictions of Mary.
  • Apple: sin, of course, based on the story of Genesis 3, though apples aren't specifically named as the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. In the hands of Jesus, however, the apple has come to mean salvation.
  • Red Carnations: Jesus' love for us.
  • Cherry: good works of the saints.
  • Clover: the Trinity.
  • Columbine 03Image by TexasEagle via Flickr

    Columbine (pictured): the Holy Spirit, because some think the blossom looks like a dove.

  • Holly: a "Christmas" greenery to us, the early church used it to symbolize the Passion.

  • Ivy: eternal life because of the green color, and fidelity because it clings to something for support.
  • Lily: purity, which is why it was used in depictions of Mary, particularly in regards to the Annunciation. In America, it also represents new birth and is regarded as an Easter bloom
  • Oak: faith, endurance.
  • Pomegranate: represents the Church, as it unifies many seeds in one fruit.
  • Strawberry: the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Thistle: sin.

We may not rely on these symbols today, but it's fun and interesting to see how the Church has communicated theological, historical, and Scriptural elements. As you prepare for Easter, I pray that you blossom and bear fruit as you dwell and serve in His will.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saints Brendan and Patrick: Abandoning and Binding in Celtic Christianity

Saint Brendan and His MonksImage by gydnew via Flickr

I seek out biographies of Christian saints (both modern and ancient) on a regular basis. Their stories of surrender, endurance, and hope give me much-needed encouragement on my journey of faith.

Two Celtic saints have had a profound impact on me. Today I'm sharing a bit about St. Brendan the Navigator on Inkwell Inspirations, but I can't squeeze everything I want to share in that space. Or this one, for that matter, but here's a bit:

Brendan was born in 5th century Ireland, became a monk, and in response to God's call, he bravely climbed into an open boat and sailed into the unknown to spread the Gospel. It's said that he arrived in North America a thousand years before Christopher Columbus and witnessed to the people there. Astonishing, isn't it?

The thing that humbles me most when I consider Brendan's example is how terrified he must have been when he chose to obey God, as he had no clue what or where God's call would take him. Obedience to God meant that Brendan had to abandon all he knew, all he held dear. He uttered a prayer before leaving everything for God's sake, and here's just a snippet:

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy,
without silver, without a horse,
without fame, without honor?
Shall I throw myself wholly upon You...?

Brendan had to release his hold on his world, choosing to literally "throw himself wholly upon" God in order for God to take control. It couldn't have been easy, but God proved faithful, as always. How many times in my life have I failed in my response to Him, clutching to the fragments of things which make up my life, not allowing myself to be at God's mercy?

Where Brendan teaches me where I need to let go, another Celtic saint reminds me where (or really, to Whom) I need to cling. St. Patrick (whose feast was celebrated March 17, as every green-wearing schoolkid knows) was a teenage resident of Roman Britain when Irish slavers kidnapped him in approximately 400 AD. He escaped six years later, fled home, and later returned to Ireland as an evangelist. His work was fraught with danger, but he held confident to God's call to serve among the Irish. (Niki Turner wrote an excellent post on St. Patrick yesterday on Inkwell Inspirations, and I invite you to check it out.)

Celtic Christians were converted from a spiritual background that lived in fear of nature, believing the natural world to be infused with spirits or divine beings. In becoming Christians, they were freed from this fear, taught that the One God who created all had power over everything that caused them fear. God had sent Jesus to save them and the Holy Spirit to protect them. After becoming Christians, they continued to live as though the veil between heaven and earth were very thin. "Encircling" or "breastplate" prayers invoked the name of the Almighty Triune God to bless, guide, and protect.

"St. Patrick's Breastplate" is one such prayer. In it, Patrick speaks of "binding" truths about God onto himself like armor. (The prayer is also used as a hymn, often sung at ordinations.) Among the words:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.

What a thing to pray first thing in the morning!

One of my favorite CDs this past year is the debut release by Tenth Avenue North. Their song "Times" is one I cherish, and I often pray while listening to it. To me, parts of it are -- in many ways -- an encircling prayer in that it blends the themes of God's omnipresence, protection, and penetrating love, regardless of our circumstances, location, or feeling. The song says, in the words of the Lord, "My love is over, it's underneath. It's inside, it's in between...The times you're broken, the times you mend, the times that you hate Me, the times that you bend, well my love is over, it's underneath, it's inside, it's in between..."

In my sin, in my brokenness, in my fear of letting go and my fear of binding, God's love is over me, under me, in me and without me. My prayer for myself, and for you, is that like Brendan and Patrick, we recognize where we need to let go so God can have His way, and where we need to hold on to Him for dear life.

To hear "Times" by Tenth Avenue North, click here.

(Click here to read the rest of St. Brendan's prayer, as his influence on my life is the topic of today's Inkwell Inspirations post.)

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Captain's Lady

Set in 1776, The Captain’s Lady by Louise M. Gouge is a delightful, well-crafted historical romance, rich in faith, intrigue, and yearnings of the heart. Captain Jamie Templeton – a resident of the East Florida Colony – is perceived by his British business associates to be loyal to the Crown, which makes him the perfect candidate (in General George Washington’s opinion) to spy on Lord Bennington, a member of George III’s Privy Council, out of service to the Revolution. Jamie is a welcome guest in Bennington’s London home, but he’s keenly aware how precarious his situation is as he risks his life for the future of America, as well as his heart, for he’s hopelessly in love with Lord Bennington’s daughter, Lady Marianne.

The Captain’s Lady contains some intriguing twists: it’s a Revolutionary War-themed story, but it’s set mostly in England, rather than on US soil. The hero is an upstanding Christian, but he’s also well-versed in deceit as he serves as a spy for the Cause. Even though he’s spying on the Marianne’s family, the burden of spiritual responsibility lies heavily on his heart, and he works to share Christ with her lost and faltering brother. Marianne is also a righteous young lady, yet rebels against her father’s restrictions. The book, like much of life, offers situations with no easy answers, and it made me think about how I might handle a situation which is potentially irreconcilable to my faith.

I appreciated how the story kept me intrigued throughout. The conflict was well-planned and multi-dimensional. Of course, Jamie spying on Marianne’s father is enough of a problem to keep the couple apart forever. There’s also the vast difference in their social standings; as a lord’s daughter, Marianne can never be free to marry an American sea captain, no matter how much her heart yearns for him. Both Jamie and Marianne are believers, but their loyalties are so divided that they can never be together without great sacrifice. Nevertheless, they find opportunities to reach out to those around them, a bright example of blessing others in service to God.

This book is the second of Ms. Gouge’s Revolutionary War series. I hadn’t read the first, but I had no problem assimilating characters. The book leaves a few tendrils of plot untied, however, so there’s plenty of potential for subsequent novels in the series. Never fear, however: the book ends with a satisfying happily-ever-after, just as every romance must.

Any fan of historical romance would be pleased to enjoy this well-crafted story, and I look forward to the subsequent stories in the series.

The Captain’s Lady is a March Love Inspired Historical release, available wherever Christian romances are sold.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Frenzy: Panning for Gold in El Dorado

Alaskan Gold in panImage via Wikipedia

"Spring" conjures up a lot of images for us, doesn't it? Warmer weather signals us that it's time to plant vegetables in the garden, clean house, and gear up for the end of the school year (sob!). Some of us are busy with Lenten devotions, soup suppers at church, and spiritual preparations for Easter.
For the unpublished writer of inspirational romances, like me, spring also means Contest Season is calling, like an antique advertisement offering gold, gold I say! to the authors of unpublished fiction. Yes, you too can strike it rich in the gold fields of El Dorado, Inspirational Romance-style, and you'd be a fool to miss this chance.

Like a miner with a pick axe and a pan, I've jumped on the (band)wagon train and hoped something good would come out of my attempt. And it has, even if I haven't (yet) hit the motherlode.

I don't often talk about my writing here, but writing historical romances is more than my hobby. It's my job, unpaid and part-time though it may be. I believe that God has given me an overactive imagination for a reason, and it's part of who I am to mesh together the characters and stories and scenes in my head as if they're like puzzle pieces, hoping the end result will entertain and encourage readers someday. I spend a lot of time doing research, writing, and rewriting-and-editing-and-groaning over my work, but I chose to commit to this job, so I keep at it, writing love stories that I hope will be published in the inspirational market.

A great way for unpublished (or pre-published, as wonderagent Kelly Mortimer calls us) writers to gain experience, encouragement, and criticism is to enter writing contests. And if you final, you also glean a bit of publicity and perhaps even a prize.

I've learned the hard way to consider the contest before entering. Contests cost money to enter, so most of us have to be choosy. I tend to look for contests which are for inspirational pieces only, or which offer an inspirational category, as the category's judges should be inspy readers and writers themselves. I also consider who the final-round judges are in each category (it could be an agent or editor I'd like to approach) or what the prize is. I entered the Gotcha! contest this year because the prize was so wonderful: a read-over by an editor whose line I'd love to target. I'll also note that I received fabulous feedback from the Gotcha! contest, absolutely priceless critiques which were helpful, thoughtful, and politely-phrased. Now that, my friends, was pure gold, whether or not this contest results in a sale.

Two contests which are, in my opinion, worth their weight in gold for budding inspy writers, are open for submissions.

The Touched by Love is close to my heart, as I've been blessed to final in it twice. Through those experiences, I've made friends and received help to grow as a writer. This contest is the only one of its kind, celebrating inspirational romance. It's sponsored by Romance Writers of America's Faith, Hope and Love Chapter. For details, click here. You do not need to be a member of FHL to enter.

The Genesis Contest is American Christian Fiction Writers' annual contest for unpublished writers. It offers multiple categories for all types of Christian fiction, from Historical Romance (that'd be me!) to Mystery, Young Adult, and General Fiction. For more information, click here. You must be a member of ACFW to enter.

I've had many changes in my personal life over the last year, so I'm currently trying to determine whether I should enter the Spring Contest Frenzy. I know, there's not much time! But the Lord is by my side, and I'm looking to Him for direction. In the meantime, I'm working on polishing up my newest story... So I'll be busy for a few days.

Next week, however, I'll be sharing about Louise M. Gouge's lovely new book, The Captain's Lady, and I'll be posting on Celtic Christians who've inspired me. Hope to see you then!
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spiritual Maintenance, Dentist-style

I'm blogging over on Inkwell Insprations today! It seems like God uses these opportunities I've been given to share devotionals as a vehicle to pluck, prune, challenge and shake me....I don't know about anyone else, but most of these times I end up "preaching" to myself.

Putting toothpaste on a toothbrush. The toothp...Image via Wikipedia

Just like we spend extra time in the bathroom prepping for a semi-annual dental exam, many of us cram in "God time" before something big happens in our lives. But just as I want good teeth, not just a good dental exam, God wants a maintained relationship with me in which I put in work and preparation, not just a last-minute scrubbing.

How often do we put off something we know to be God’s will until a more convenient, less painful or far-distant time? Like the dentist’s X-ray, God sees the concealed contents of our hearts, and there’s no hiding what we’ve put off dealing with.

To read the rest of the post, click here. Thanks, and I pray that today we all keep up with our spiritual maintenance.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring Cleaning, Spring Reading

Spring Cleaning…is it something about the daffodils popping up in my yard that gives me more energy? Do Less clouds and more sun spark my need to get active? Or is it that I’m sick and tired of the dirt in my house? Either way, I’ve had a bit more enthusiasm (if not joy – no, never that) for cleaning a bit around my house, getting to the things I’ve put off for too long, like dusting the high book shelves, buffing the dining room table with orange oil, and recycling magazines.

Spring Reading perhaps is a bit like Spring Cleaning for me: I’ve had too many books on my TBR (to-be-read) pile than I can possibly read, and it’s high time to give them their due. Since I’m dusting off shelves and baseboards, I’d better dust off these worthy titles from 2009, too, and enjoy them with a cup of tea while a bit of springtime rain greens things up outside.

Lynette Bonner’s Rocky Mountain Oasis is the story of Brooke, a woman with a dark and violent past. She feels she has no recourse but to become a mail-order bride, but when she is met at the ferry by Sky – a Christian rancher who is not the man who sent for her – she struggles with trusting any man, even one as kind as Sky, as well as trusting his God.

Another book languishing undeservedly on my pile for too long is Fields of Grace by Kim Vogel Sawyer. In my attempt to better acquaint myself with Amish-set stories, I grasped onto this one after reading positive reviews of this book. Unlike a lot of books on the shelves now, it’s a historical and the characters are Mennonite, not Amish. The Vogts emigrate from Russia to America, but tragedy strikes on the ocean voyage. Fellow Mennonite Eli helps the Vogts settle on their Kansas homestead, but he also falls for Lillian.

I can’t talk about Spring Reading without mentioning Lent. Every year I go through a book to challenge my thinking or attitudes. This year, it’s Sacred Companions by David G. Benner (IVP). It’s a look at how some of us view our spiritual journeys as private and personal, nobody’s business. The result, according to Benner, is isolation and spiritual barrenness. As one who longs for fellowship, I want to read more of what he has to say about spiritual direction, soul-friendships and mentoring.

What are you reading? Do you read a particular Lenten devotion? I’m always interested in suggestions for my TBR pile