Part of the Symphony

Joanna Siebert’s wonderful “Daily Somethings” always brighten my day. Today’s post reminded me that as a writer, I’m part of a symphony of writers who are making music on the page to fill the universe with beauty. Sometimes an author gets to have a solo, like the cellist in Joanna’s story, if her book becomes a best-seller or wins an award. But it’s important to remember, whether we are writers, artists, musicians, or whatever our work, we are all part of the symphony. Or, as Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” Enjoy Joanna’s words, and subscribe to her blog if you want to receive her Daily Somethings.


Read the post here:

Part of the Symphony.


Joanna Seibert



#Lent2018: Labor & Leisure (Laundry, John Lennon, and Cherry Blossoms)

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300This is the fifth in my weekly series of reflections on Nicole Roccas’s book TIME AND DESPONDENCY: REGAINING THE PRESENT IN FAITH AND LIFE, which I’m reading during this season of Great Lent. If you missed my first four posts and would like to catch up, here they are, in order from first week through fourth:

To Re-spond or De-spond?

Patience and Perserverance

Gratitude & Thankswriting

Confession & Community

This week Roccas’s study guide has us reading Chapter 5, “Prayer and Despondency,” which is the first chapter in Part II of the book. She starts by saying that prayer is “a journey toward a new way of being, a new mode of perceiving the world outside the default of despondency.” Sounds good, right? Especially to anyone who struggles with despondency, to any degree. But it seems like a catch 22 because it’s difficult to pray when we’re despondent, so Roccas starts with some inspiration from one of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen:

Prayers connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly…. Without prayer we begin to disintegrate—fall out of integration with ourselves, our neighbor, and God.

Our passions—and especially for me my belly—definitely need to be connected to our wills, and that can happen through prayer. Roccas talks about two kinds of prayer, which she calls doing and being. The doing part of prayer can be reciting learned prayers, lighting candles, making prostrations, the physical side of prayer. The being part is the interior mode:

Most often, this is experienced as ‘becoming’ rather than simply being; prayer is the expression of our relationship with God….

But then she says “Despondency attacks both the doing and being modes of prayer in different ways.” And she explains how. Including a section on prayer as “monologue or dialogue” and encourages us to open ourselves up to God in a conversation rather than just talking to Him. She returns to Nouwen for more about this:

…converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. To pray unceasingly is to lead all our thoughts out of their fearful isolation into a fearless conversation with God.

How do we do this? Roccas shares wisdom from Dr. Philip Mamalakis , in an article  about Orthodox pastoral approaches to marriage, that it is “a long proess of learning to ‘turn toward’ your partner.” She compares this to our relationship with God, in which we need to turn toward Him… not just in the big moments, but (here comes the part about TIME) moment by moment, in the small things. As she says:

If there’s any aspect of prayer that will make sense to us in despondency, it’s the short and steady rather than the excessive and unsustainable…. It is in prayer that we learn not only how to reoccupy the present, but more generally how to mark time. It is the way we come to see, gradually and dimly, the life-giving potential of each moment.

fold-clothes-stock-today-151214-tease_5359ed47ea22557deb26ae8cdd47f4e1On the practical side, Roccas gives us stepping stones to learn how to make use of our times of both labor and leisure to turn towards God. The church fathers have always seen light manual labor as a source of healing from despondency, and this can be done with activities as simple as folding laundry. I could relate to this because I actually like to do laundry. I see it as a nice break in the intense labor of writing. I don’t necessarily pray while I’m folding our clothes, but my mind tends to rest from its normal busy state as I remove my husband’s shirts from the dryer (I love the way they smell) and smooth them and place them on hangers. Also folding our casual clothes and our towels, creating neat little stacks on the bed—a visual show of something accomplished without a great deal of mental energy. As Roccas says:

There is humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes—jobs that must be redone day after monotonous day and that fail to amount to anything momentous in the end. Yet such tasks are intensely creational—they bring a new layer of order and beauty into the world we inhabit. When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.

She goes on to help us learn to “nurture a more meaningful practice of leisure,” saying that “Long-term spiritual growth is sustained by balancing activity with restful contemplation.” This part get tricky since despondency can feed on laziness, but she clarifies:

I would add that perhaps laziness itself doesn’t consist of excessive rest but is instead a symptom of a broken, fallen form of rest.

Indeed. She mentions the difference in restorative rest and the mindless “vegging out” we often do with binge-watching Netflix. This is definitely something I need to work on and will focus on more intensely for the remainder of Lent. This week I will choose, from her suggested “stepping stones for the journey,” this one:



Choose your rest.  I will develop a list of activities that are both restful and re-creational rather than mindless (like Netflix). Roccas’s suggestions include taking a walk to observe nature, or even a longer break like visiting an art museum. One thing that hit me as I read this section was that two years ago my husband gave me a really nice electronic keyboard for my birthday. For a while I sat down at the keyboard for a few minutes every day to play something (I took lessons in my youth) but I found it to be more difficult than I remembered, so I gradually quit playing. Maybe I can recover this as a re-creational activity and find in those moments of creating music some rest from the other areas of labor in my brain and body. Today I will begin again with a book of Adele’s songs. Oh, and one from John Lennon that I love, “Grow Old With Me.” And here’s a bonus… while sitting at my piano keyboard, I can see our Japanese cherry blossom tree blooming outside out living room windows. And somehow these moments of rest bring me joy and turn my heart towards God.

tree 1

Book Tour, the Beach and Praying With Icons

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

Good morning from Seagrove Beach, Florida… my favorite place on earth! My husband and I are here in the middle of my Alabama/Florida books tour for CHERRY BOMB, as well as a little fall vacation time. The high today is 77 and it’s sunny all week. Yesterday I signed copies of CHERRY BOMB on the front porch at Sundog Books in Seaside, and tomorrow I’ll be signing at The Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach. Thursday we’ll head over to Fairhope, Alabama, for my reading at 2 p.m. at Page and Palette, and an after-party thrown by my friend Ren Hinote. Meanwhile we’re enjoying walks on the beach and lots of good seafood. (We also had a great time at a “choose your own cover” event at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday afternoon, with music, great oysters and shrimp, and customers got to choose one of our books with the price of their cover charge for the event.)

My friend from Little Rock—Joanna Seibert—is “blogging a book,” and invited me to contribute two guest posts on her blog as part of her project. Joanna was inducted in to the Arkansas Hall of Fame in August. She asked me to start with a quote, add an image, and write a short reflection on the quote. She also asked if I would write about praying with icons, which I did. I hope you enjoy both of these posts:



I’ll close with a few pics. I have to go now… the beach is calling!

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama


Susan 30A yoga

Fill the World With Love

R-9024878-1473472613-3710.jpegTurner Classic Movie channel is playing old Oscar-winning movies leading up to this year’s Academy Awards. I’ve been recording some of them to watch, and this weekend I watched “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I had never seen it and really enjoyed it. And I haven’t been able to get the theme song out of my head… I keep humming it and singing it over and over. Here’s a video showing the boys at the school where “Mr. Chips” teaches singing it in assembly, when Mr. Chip’s wife bursts forth enthusiastically to join them. And here are the lyrics:

Fill the World With Love

Petula Clark

In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through


In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?


It’s not just the music that has captivated me; it’s the words. They reflect thoughts that have guided me for the past year or more as I put together the anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, which releases on March 1. The essays in this collection reflect on the various stages of life—not only the “first and second halves” but all the in-betweens. Kind of like this song:

In the morning of my life… when the world is new, I ask God to help me be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love.

In the noontime of my life… I ask God for the same blessings.

And finally, in the evening of my life… I ask God if I have been those things—have I been brave and strong and true? Have I filled the world with love my whole life through? I think I may be somewhere between the noontime and the evening of my life. Maybe I’m in the afternoon?

This song from 1969—the year I graduated from high school—is a wonderful anthem for people of all ages and in all stages of life. If only we would all have it as our goal to fill the world with love. Or at least our marriages, families, neighbors, and communities.

A Thrill of Hope… the Weary World Rejoices!

imagesA couple of weeks ago I did a post about a favorite Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This morning I woke up thinking about another favorite, “O Holy Night.”

O Holy Night wasn’t traditionally sung in the Presbyterian church of my childhood. It was saved for special solos and performances outside the regular church service. At least in my experience. But my favorite memory of this hymn is from Christmas gatherings (and also Thanksgiving gatherings) at my aunt and uncle’s house in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s through the 1980s. Aunt Barbara Jo was the “glue” in our extended family. Ten years younger than her older brother—my father—Barbara Jo was always more like an older sister to me. She loved family and she loved having us all in her home. Uncle Dan was a military man with a career in the Mississippi National Guard. But he had a softer side, and the most beautiful tenor voice I’ve ever heard. My father was also a tenor. When my Aunt Joy was visiting from Texas, she would play the piano (by ear) and we’d all gather around and sing Christmas carols. At some point everyone would get quiet and we’d know it was time for O Holy Night. As Joy played, my father and Uncle Dan sang the most beautiful duet, always moving me to tears.

So, this morning I did a little research, learning something of the song’s history. It was written in 1847. In light of our country’s (and the world’s) current political unrest, I found it interesting that the history of this beloved Christmas song is also filled with politics and war. Here’s more of the story, from a post by Tsh Oxenreider at (in)courage:

A parish priest in a small French town commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass. Cappeau read through the birth of Christ in the gospel of Luke en route to Paris, and finished the poem O Holy Night by the time he reached the city.

Cappeau turned to his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose the music to the poem, and three weeks later, the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. Initially, Cantique de Noel (the song’s French name) was widely loved by the Church in France, but when leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services. But the common French people loved it so much, they continued to sing it.

The song came to the U.S. via John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War. Moved by the line in the third verse, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” he published it in his magazine and quickly found favor in the north during the war.

Even though it was banned in France, the song was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve in 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, a unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked into the battlefield, and started singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the song’s first line in French.

After singing all three verses, a German solider emerged and started singing, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Soon after, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.

My wish these days leading up to Christmas is that we would embrace one another, and that the fighting would stop.

Click here to enjoy Jordan Smith’s wonderful tenor voice in this arrangement of O Holy Night.

Faith on Friday: Press On

keep_calm_and_press_on_business_card-refcae2b3653a4d978c07f617c9779c29_i579g_8byvr_324I woke up this morning thinking about death. But also about old age. A close friend and I have been talking about this recently—about being 64 and wondering if we’ve got ten or twenty years left, and what those years will be like.  Of course only God knows. Some of the church fathers talk about what they call “remembrance of death”—living with our death in front of us every day. It’s not a morbid thing, not intended to make us sad. It’s intended, I think, to make us live more attentively.

When I went to our icon corner to say my morning prayers, I read this quote in our Daily Lives of the Saints Calendar:

“Prayer is the descent of heaven into the soul.”—Saint John of Kronstadt

Robinella (photo by Art Wachter:

Robinella (photo by Art Wachter:

I stood there for a few minutes, first looking at the icons and then closing my eyes. I asked heaven to descend into my soul.

And then I listened to a song that came into my mind. It’s “Press On” by the Knoxville singer-songwriter, Robinella, whom I met about ten years ago. A few of the lyrics:

So I’ll fly up into Heaven
Meet my Jesus at the throne
He will welcome the weary
So press on

Life is filled with better music
A breeze that whistles like a song
Let Death sweep down like an eagle
It’s not just with our shoes still in
Press on

I imagine us floating
Further up into the sky
And I know there’s a reason
I am not afraid to die

Watch the You Tube video of the song here. It has beautiful photography and the music is haunting.

Most days I’m not afraid to die. It’s the difficult times in living that are tough. Watching people struggle with Alzheimer’s. Learning (yesterday) about a friend who has an inoperable brain tumor. Painful, debilitating illnesses, and just the “normal” ravages of old age. So today I plan to try to quit looking ahead and live in the moment. Knowing that “life is filled with better music,” I’ll press on.

Want to hear more of Robinella? I also love this one: “Solace For the Lonely.” I’ll close with a few of the lyrics:

Some glad morning when I rise
See the light and shed this disguise
I’ll become what I envisioned in a far away dream
And I will smile and I will sing

One day at a time is all I can do
If I look around the corner
I see nothing new
Living by faith the times will change
And I will smile, and I will sing

Cause there’s power in the Blood
And solace for the lonely
Power in the Blood
And solace for the lonely

Faith on Friday: Matching Our Heart Music

logoThere are not many things you can change within the Orthodox Church. And I appreciate that when it comes to matters of doctrine/faith/belief. The Orthodox Church upholds apostolic truths handed down through the centuries by church fathers, protected by creeds and canons, some of which were hotly debated at historic church councils. I get that.

But sometimes I get frustrated with the method of delivery. Especially when it comes to liturgical music. I’m not talking about the words—they are full of Holy Scriptures and patristic writings that teach and uplift us. But sometimes the melody isn’t so uplifting. Sometimes—whether it’s sung by an accomplished choir or chanted by one or two practiced chanters—the melody is so foreign that it hinders my participation. It’s hard for me to pray if the music or chanting are difficult to relate to—sometimes even delivered with a foreign accent by an English-speaking American. I am not Arab. Or Russian. Or Greek. I’m just a gal from Mississippi who landed in a church with a rich and varied history.

There are eight “tones” in liturgical Orthodox music, which must be followed, along with other guidelines. I’ve been Orthodox long enough (27 years) to recognize most of those tones, especially when they’re done in the Slavonic tradition. I think they are more difficult in the Byzantine style. Both can be beautiful if done well. But they just don’t reflect the culture in which I live, here in the Southern part of the U.S.

Appalachian-Christ-is-RisenEnter the good people at the All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, which met in Atlanta in July of 2015. During the Council, a choir workshop was held in which the participants learned a new setting for the traditional Paschal (Easter) troparion (hymn). It’s Appalachian. As Father Ernesto Obregon said in this article in “The Sounding” (a blog within the Orthodox Christian Network):

While I know that there are various melodic traditions that have entered what became the USA, I think that the Appalachian religious harmonies lend themselves quite well to adjusting themselves to the tonal traditions that we have received from the various jurisdictions.

There’s a video within the blog post, which shows the Appalachian version of the Paschal hymn. I can’t figure out how to link to it, but it’s easy if you click on the blog post and then on the video.

Appalachia is not my region, but this gives me hope that something similar could happen in the Mid-South. As Father Ernesto says:

When we compose musical settings of the Divine Liturgy that both respect and honor what we have received, yet express it in melodies and harmonies with which we grew up, we contextualize the Church in the same way that we do when we adjust the language of the Divine Liturgy to the language that is spoken by the people of a particular country. When the music we hear matches our heart music, it is easier to hear and understand the words that are being chanted.

That’s what I’m after. Joining heaven to earth. Or in Father Ernesto’s words, “contextualizing the church”—especially the liturgical music—so that it matches our heart music! Maybe we’ve made a baby step.

Mental Health Monday: Ebony and Ivory… Brain Food

MikeSusanPianoMarch1960I took piano lessons for seven years when I was a kid. My teacher was old school—we were only allowed to play classical music. But of course I saved my pennies and bought contemporary songs to play just for fun. I especially loved the songs from Broadway musicals like South Pacific and The Sound of Music. But I also had fun learning to play the latest popular music of the ‘60s. It’s too bad I don’t have any of that sheet music any more. Or the piano I learned on—the one my brother, Mike, and I played duets on when we were in elementary and junior high school. When we sold a large house in 2001 to scale down, we gave the piano to the young couple who bought the house. They had two little boys who wanted to take piano lessons, and the piano fit just perfectly in the front “parlor.” So we left it. And I haven’t had time to miss it until recently.

I’ve been busy these past fourteen years since giving that piano away. First I got cancer. Recovery was swift and a few months later we sent our youngest child off to college. Empty nest. What to do? I spent the next seven years learning to write (paint) icons and teaching icon workshops and doing commissioned pieces. Finally I began to “play” around with some simple abstract pieces. But in 2006 (I know the dates overlap with the painting) I embraced writing seriously and poured myself into writing and publishing essays, and drafting novels and memoirs. This is where I am today, and it’s my one true passion.

kayboardBut like most folks with (self-diagnosed) ADD, I’m restless. And I need a “fun” creative outlet as a break from the writing. Listening to some piano music on Pandora recently, I began to miss playing and started considering how to get the music back into my life. I mentioned this to my husband and since my birthday is coming up, he agreed that I need an electronic keyboard. (We’re back in a large house, so it’s tempting to get a real piano, but we’re not looking for that type of investment right now.) So I started researching and asked some musician-friends for advice. Then I headed out to Guitar Center and I’m already back home with my new Williams Allegro keyboard, stand, bench, and two books of piano music! Can’t wait to get it set up!

benefits-of-playing-piano-5-638Meanwhile (you’ve been waiting for a “Mental Health Monday” segue, right?) I found this article, “7 Ways Piano Playing Benefits Your Brain.” All 7 benefits are interesting (some are predictable) but I found this one the most intriguing:

The analysis of musical passages and learning the theory involved is another mental exercise when you play piano. It’s brain food at its finest. Chords, melodies and changes are all rooted in complex musical theory. It pays dividends to learn and understand how music is put together.

Who knew playing the piano was brain food? I just thought it was fun!

sheet music

keyboard etc

(Not) Writing on Wednesday: Angels Are Singing

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m in Denver visiting children and grandchildren. And not writing. Not even blogging about writing. Celebrating the season with our Grand Christmas Angels. (The ones on the front of our Christmas card.)

2014 Xmas Card Cover 

But as long as you’re here, how about some beautiful Christmas music?

I know I’ve posted links to these Serbian Christmas videos before, but they are favorites of mine so here goes. Enjoy!

Angels Are Singing

Angels Are Singing (Studio Version)

And for my fellow country music fans:

Keith Urban sings “The Christmas Song”

Rascal Flatts singing “Mary Did You Know?

I wish for all my readers a joyful and peaceful Christmas Eve and a glorious Christmas Day.

Mental Health Monday: He Spoke It

findyourvoiceI was in a large house with people in every room. I think I was supposed to be watching a group of children. I recognized one quiet little boy among them—he was about 6 years old. I didn’t know the other children, who ranged in age from 2-ish on up to 9 or 10, or so it seemed. There was chaos. People were coming in and out of each room of the house doing a variety of things. The kitchen was full of dirty dishes and glasses and there were snacks sitting out but I couldn’t tell what was what.

When I found the room the little boy was in, he looked at me across the mass of children and said, quietly, “I need a glass of water, please.” And then, “Can you read me a book?” His voice was calm.

“Sure,” I said. “Just wait here and I’ll got get the water and a book.” He smiled and sat in the corner of the room watching the other children running around doing various activities.

I had a hard time finding the kitchen and trying to decide if there were any clean glasses for water. Along the way I was distracted by all sorts of people, including a group of adults who were putting on a play with musical instruments and dialogue. I stopped to watch them because I recognized two of them—two guys who live in Nashville. It was fun watching the play, but finally I remembered the little boy and I left the room to look for his water and a book to read.

I found a clean glass and got the little boy some water, but I couldn’t find any books anywhere in the house. (More distractions happened in each room as I searched for a book, but I can’t remember them.) Finally I found a newspaper and got the comics, thinking he would enjoy that. When I got back to the room where he was, some of the children were asleep (thankfully) and the little boy was still waiting patiently for me. I gave him his water—which he thanked me for and drank politely. Just as I settled down on the floor beside him to read, I woke up.

The little boy represents the part of me who is learning to speak my voice. But also the part of me that is sensitive, thirsty, and maybe a bit needy. I’m trying to learn to take care of that little boy inside me (swimming, coloring mandalas, reading, writing) but I get easily distracted by special events and exciting activities. (Nothing wrong with those special events and exciting activities, so long as I also take care of that little boy.)

In Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (August, 2014, Triton Press, Oxford, Mississippi) edited by my friend, Ellen Morris Prewitt, one contributor says this:

I like when people listen because you can express your feeling and tell them how you feel about the situation or things they need to know and show and tell them how you care about a situation. The Bible tells you when God made the world he spoke it and whenever you ask in his name he will hear you. So it’s very important to speak your voice. Long time ago somebody told me you didn’t have no voice, it just made me determined to go forward in life no matter what people say about you. Just keep pushing in life.—Robbin K

When God made the world, he spoke it. I’m so glad that little boy keeps speaking his voice inside me. Maybe today I’ll sit down with a glass of water and read to him.

Robbin K


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