A to Z Challenge: My Favorite Novels

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In no particular order here are some of my favorite novels. Some are new finds and others are old friends I visit again and again.

The Little House on the Prairie set by Laura Ingalls Wilder: one of my first loves.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Thomas De Quincey trilogy and Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell
J. F. Penn’s ARKANE thrillers
Sunshine and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
A Wrinkle in Time set by Madeline L’Engel
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

What are some of your favorite novels?

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A to Z Challenge: M is for Mary Magdalene & the Women of Holy Week

footofthecross2Today is Good Friday in the Christian tradition. Today we remember Christ’s death on the cross. So today I want to remember Mary Magdalene and the other women of Holy Week (there were at least two other Marys) who faithfully and tenaciously followed Jesus through his trial, crucifixion and entombment.

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid (Mark 15:40-47, NRSV).

Mark’s Passion Narrative began in chapter 14 with the female prophet who anointed Jesus as king and prepared him for his burial. Mark’s Passion ends with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, and “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” bearing witness at the cross, and the two Marys holding vigil in front of the tomb. Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, denial, trial, and crucifixion are held in the embrace of the women who “had followed him and ministered to him when he was in Galilee” and continued to follow him to Jerusalem.

In Mark those who follow Jesus are disciples. Minister comes from the Greek word group from diakonos, which means to serve (and the word we get our word deacon from). Originally meaning “table service,” in the New Testament it becomes a specialized term which means ministers of the Word and Eucharist. In Mark the only other times minister is used are when the angels minister to Jesus after his temptation, when Peter’s mother-in-law ministers to Jesus and the disciples after Jesus heals her, and when Jesus says “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” in Mark 10:45 (which means the only man serve or minister is used for in The Gospel of Mark is Jesus. The other times the words are used refer to angels or women). Elizabeth Struthers Malbon notes “Not only does Jesus take up women’s work, but women take up Jesus’ work. Women, from near the bottom of the hierarchy of power, have served and remained faithful followers to the end–although even they are ‘looking on from afar’….It is striking that Mark chooses to emphasize the presence of women followers in the absence of the male disciples at the crucial moment of Jesus’ death. Those with power can learn from those with less power” (“Gospel of Mark,” Women’s Bible Commentary, 491).

Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and the other women continued to faithfully minister to Jesus until the end. The did not run away; they did not hide. Even if it was at a distance, they stayed with Jesus. They bore witness to his death, and they made sure he did not die alone. Mary Magdalene and Mary watched Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus then remained at the tomb holding vigil. On Sunday morning they would be the first ones back at the tomb to finish anointing Jesus’ body for burial. We come full circle: at the beginning of the Passion Narrative the female prophet anointed Jesus to prepare him for the days ahead, and now Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus from Nazareth (and the prophet could have been one of their number) now come to finish anointing Jesus’ body.

Their tenacity, perseverance, and faithfulness is rewarded: they are the first to hear of the resurrection and see the risen Jesus. As they bore witness to the death and burial of Jesus, they now bear witness to the resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to tell the rest of the disciples that God has raised Jesus from the dead.

A to Z Challenge: L is for Ada Lovelace

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August Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852)

I will always be thankful to the computer software engineer I married for introducing me to Ada Lovelace. Due to the male-obsessed viewpoint of history in all my education–high school, college and graduate work–I never learned that the person who invented computer programming and developed an outline for what would become an algorithm was a woman. I guess when you want girls to believe that boys are better at math and science, it would be counterproductive to teach them about Ada.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, who was a mathematician in her own right. During her life Ada managed to combine both of her parents’ first loves in what she called, poetical science. She believed that because she loved both mathematics and poetry this enabled her to make connections, she otherwise wouldn’t have made, which may be the reason why, when she heard Charles Babbage talk of his Difference Engine, Ada was able to leap beyond him to write a programming language for what would become the groundwork for the first computer.

Ada believed that the imagination worked by combining and discovery:

What is Imagination? We talk much of Imagination. We talk of Imagination of Poets, the Imagination of Artists &c; I am inclined to think that in general we don’t know very exactly what we are talking about. Imagination I think especially two fold.

First: it is the Combining Faculty. It brings together things, facts, ideas, conceptions, in new, original, endless, ever varying, Combinations. It seizes points in common, between subjects having no very apparent connexion, & hence seldom or never brought into juxtaposition.

Secondly: It conceives & brings into mental presences that which is far away, or invisible, or which in short does not exist within our physical & conscious cognizance. Hence is it especially the religious faculty; the ground-work of Faith. It is a God-like, a noble faculty. It renders earth tolerable (at least should do so); it teaches us to live, in the tone of the eternal.

Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently. It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science. It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not for our senses. Those who have learned to walk on the threshold of the unknown worlds, by means of what are commonly termed par excellence the exact sciences, may then with the fair white wings of Imagination hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.

This imagination allowed Ada to see that Babbage’s machine could handle far more than numbers and mathematical calculations. She believed the numbers could stand in for anything and be used musically, symbolically and in other artistic notations. According to Walter Isaacson in his book The Innovators:

The reality is that Ada’s contribution was both profound and inspirational. More than Babbage or any other person of her era, she was able to glimpse a future in which machines would become partners of the human imagination, together weaving tapestries as beautiful as those from Jacquard’s loom. Her appreciation for poetical science led her to celebrate a proposed calculating machine that was dismissed by the scientific establishment of her day, and she perceived how the processing power of such a device could be used on any form of information. Thus did Ada, Countess of Lovelace, help sow the seeds for a digital age that would blossom a hundred years later.

Unfortunately Ada would die young, as her celebrated father did, at the age of 36 from uterine cancer. And although she had never met him in her life (he died when she was eight years old), she was buried next to him.

But her legacy lives on every time we turn on our desktop computers and open our laptops. I think Watson would make her very happy, and Watson is here because of the work she started.

To learn more about Ada Lovelace go to Maria Popova’s labor of love: Brain Pickings. The following posts about Ada were the inspiration for this post:

The Art of Discovering and Combining: Ada Lovelace on the Nature of the Imagination and Its Two Core Faculties

How Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s Daughter, Became the World’s First Computer Programmer

Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, on Science and Religion

A to Z Challenge: K is for Klimt’s The Kiss

Klimt The KissI’ve always loved this painting. I love the simple lines, the colors, and above all the intimacy depicted here. I love how the woman takes center stage without being a madonna, whore or femme fatale. She is simply embraced and kissed for who she is. I also love the way he holds her face as he kisses her. I’ve always been in awe of the intimacy of this picture. I feel like I’m interrupting an extremely private moment. I think that’s the true power of this painting: the fact that you feel like your intruding on a private moment between a couple that no one else should be privy to.

A to Z Challenge: J is for The Plight of the Junior Detectives

junior_detective_day_logoThe junior detectives debated
Exactly how they’d get the evidence
Without them (and their jorts)
Winding up in jail.
“We’ll need Jesus and a few miracles
Plus a whole lotta Hail Marys.”
The jelly bellies did not bring
Additional inspiration,
On how to maneuver through their
Jungle of questionable legalities.
They were following the jack rabbit
Down its proverbial hole.
With loud jeremiads and weeping they
Finally decided they weren’t brave
Enough to make their home in a jail cell.
The case forgotten,
They decided the only thing to do
Was drown their sorrows in junk food
And lose themselves in an iCarly marathon
Lounging in their jammies.

I couldn’t come up with anything for this post, so I went to Facebook and asked for help. All the J words in this poem were suggested on that post.

A to Z Challenge: My Favorite Irish Saint, Brigid of Kildare

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St. Brigid icon by Katherin Burleson

There are three things this Irish-American girl loves: Irish Soda Bread, Carolans Irish Cream and St. Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is one of my favorite saints because we can’t separate history from legend when it comes to her story. She’s part woman, part saint and part goddess. Throw in a few miracles and Brigid time traveling to be Mary’s midwife and the foster-mother of Christ, himself, and you just have one good story (and I love a good story).

 

Here is what we do know about Brigid: she created the first monastic community that grew into the most renowned monastic city in Ireland, Kildare. Brigid was the abbess of the convent and church and the leader of the town that grew up around Kildare. She was known for her piety, her hard work, and her hospitality. She worked side by side with her nuns tending sheep and milking cows, along with weaving and cooking. Gifts given to the monastery by the rich were given to the poor or sold for food. No one was turned away from her convent, and she provided for all. One of the legends say that Brigid could speak to a cow and get her to give milk three times a day when she needed it for visitors. Here is a table grace attributed to Brigid:

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith,
And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God embrace.

Kildare grew so big that Brigid could no longer run it alone. A local bishop, Cloneth came to the monastery to help her and he brought monks with him. The monks were master silver and bronze smiths who created beautiful silver and metal ornaments to go with the nuns’ woven and embroidered tapestries throughout the monastery and church. One of her biographers, a monk who lived at Kildare during Brigid’s life, said this about the monastery and town:

But who could convey in words the supreme beauty of her church and the countless wonders of her city, of which we speak? “City” is the right word for it: that so many people are living there justifies the title. It is a great metropolis, within whose outskirts–which Saint Brigid marked out with a clearly defined boundary–no earthly adversary feared, nor any incursion of enemies. For the city is the safest place of refuge among all towns of the whole land of the Irish, with all their fugitives. It is a place where the treasures of kings are looked after, and it is reckoned to be supreme in good order.

Cogitosus also hinted in his biography that Brigid functioned as a bishop preaching, hearing confession and ordaining priests. The lines between laity and clergy, and the roles between men and women, were not as fixed in Ireland as they were in other places in Europe. It is possible that abbesses as powerful and influential as Brigid did function as bishops (this would quickly change once the Roman Catholic church gained a foothold in Ireland).

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. As I mentioned before, the Celtic tradition honors Brigid as Mary’s midwife, Jesus’ wet nurse and his foster-mother. “Time” was not a fixed, linear progression for the Celtic people. The material world and spiritual world intertwined in and out of each other. There were thin places where one could cross from one world to another with time running differently. This is why the legend of Brigid at the birth of Jesus was entirely believable for the Celts. The material and spiritual were not separate worlds in their thought.

Back before the stories of helping Mary and hanging her cloak on a sunbeam to dry out, Brigid was a goddess in the Celtic pantheon. She was the goddess of poets, blacksmiths and healers. She was a triple goddess revealing herself as maiden, mother and crone: she was the fair maiden to poets, the mother creating new life to blacksmiths, and the old wise woman who knows how to heal. She has long been the symbol of spring coming to the land and the arrival of more light during this time of the year. February 1 is her day, and she was called on to protect the ewes who at this time would be carrying lambs.

As the light comes back this spring, let us remember Brigid: a woman committed to her God, to helping the poor, and to taking care of all who came to her. She established a community that became a light to all who wanted to come pray, learn, work, or needed shelter and food. She believed that everyone was part of the realm of God, and for that reason alone should be treated with respect and cared for. Everyone should have a home they can come to. There is room at the table for all. There is enough food to go around. And if not, Brigid will be seen whispering in the ears of her milk cows.

A to Z Challenge: H is for the History of My Home

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My home!

One of the reasons I love living where I do, is that my building has quite the history in Chicago. It was built in 1915 and opened in 1916 the main YMCA Hotel in Chicago. Chicagoan William Messer conducted a study with University of Chicago students a few years earlier to show that the South Loop did not have many reputable places for young men to stay when they came to Chicago at Dearborn Station in the South Loop. He started by getting donations from some of Chicago’s plutocrats including John Shedd, Cyrus McCormick and William Wrigley. The Y opened with 1,821 rooms and was soon running at full capacity.

In the 1920s so many people were turned away that the board decided to expand the hotel. When the expansion was done, the hotel had 2,700 rooms, making it the second largest hotel in Chicago. After a lull during the Great Depression the Y Hotel bounded back at the end of the 1930s when millions of people poured into Chicago for the Century of Progress Exposition. Servicemen kept the hotel full during World War 2, along with travelers and tourists who wanted to stay close to downtown, but couldn’t afford the swankier hotels.

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Painted ceiling in the what used to be the dining room (now the garage).

After its expansion in the 1920 the hotel had a huge lobby and restaurant on the first floor. The second floor boasted a lounge and huge library and the next three floors were full of meeting rooms that were kept busy with clubs in photography, philosophy, literature and religion. There were dances, speakers and other events every night. Residents, both overnight and long-term, were encouraged to get to know each other. There was also a rooftop deck where residents had great views of both Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. (The current residents still enjoy those great views from the roof.)

In the 1930s the YWCA a block east of the Y was closed due to how easy it was for the building to be robbed. The top four floors became the YWCA, and the building was opened to both men and women. A lady I attend church with stayed in the Y when she first moved to Chicago after college until she married that fall. This is how small the rooms were. My friend who stands at 5 feet, could stretch out her arms and almost touch both walls. The size of the typical room was 4 feet by 6 feet.

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The YMCA Hotel when it first opened. Our management office has several historical pictures of our building.

In the 1960s and 70s the hotel fell on hard times. Not as many people stayed, and people who wanted to stay close to downtown wanted nicer hotels with more amenities. The hotel was shut down in 1979. Until then it was the third largest hotel in Chicago, and the largest YMCA hotel in the world.

In the mid-1980s the building was gutted and developed into apartments then in the late 1990s it was then into a condominium as people started moving into the South Loop.

As you can see from the pictures ghosts of its lively past still live in our building. My favorite is the painted ceilings from the dining room that still decorate our garage. (I also find it a little weird that our garage used to be the dining room.) I enjoy living in a building that has so much history. I also don’t have to worry about the building going anywhere. When the hotel first opened in 1916 its advertisements assured potential roomers that, not only was the building fireproof, but each room was fireproof. I thought that was odd until I remembered the Chicago Fire, which happened in 1871. This part of the city was burned down. My building was built to withstand another Chicago fire. It’s not going anywhere. And neither am I.

Sources:

The Reader, “Checkout Time for the Hotel,” by Steve Bogira, September 28, 1979.

YMCA Hotel, 826 S. Wabash Ave,. Chicago, IL at Society: The South Loop Historical Society at East-West University.