Benedict Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

Six long-gone years of piano lessons hardly qualify me to write about music of this caliber. You can learn far more about its technical excellence and its place in the traditions of great music from the notes provided here.

I am able to write about it as a human being.

I converted to Orthodox Christianity as an adult. My decision rested, among other thing, on the numerous moments in which some expression of the faith, whether in liturgy or theology or age-old tradition, aligned perfectly with what my own life has taught me about being human. There is something intrinsically, almost primordially real about this Christianity. It is worship for the intellect certainly, but for the heart also, and all five senses. I treasured these moments, and still do. To me, they constitute glimpses into the essence of things. The veil is thin, praise God, and permeable.

Listening to Sheehan’s liturgy, even in snatches, is an encounter with this wholeness, this PERSONHOOD. Almost unbearably beautiful. Nothing left empty, no fragment of attention or feeling withdrawn. Dear God, let us never forget how to make such music. Layers of meaning, of spirit, grief, revelation, transcendence, and peace enfold me. Even if my lips are still, I am singing.

It fascinates me to experience this liturgy as a physical phenomenon. My brain loves this music. My body is wired to respond with euphoria. Why is that? There is science for this, I know, but I also know that the natural posture of a human being is eucharistic. Everything that has breath is created to praise the Lord. This music, made solely with human voices trained by years of patient effort, is a breath offering. Air, lungs, sinew, intelligence, all the facets of the human instrument produce the sound, and the human instrument and its soul respond because this is a manifestation of our nature. It is our selves rendering up our truest identity to the God who gifted us with this magnificence.

You should buy a copy, of course, either directly from Cappella Romana or on Amazon, both because it’s beautiful and because it’s important. Inches from your face at this moment, via the same device you’re using to read this post, you can find horrifying evidence of disaster in the world. Corruption, oppression, greed, unreasoning rage, and perversion of every kind. It’s not even worth arguing that people are sometimes the worst problem this world has to offer. That’s why you need this music, and that’s why it’s important to support this music. We need to hold on to the better things, to the glory for which we were intended. We need to remember that this music exists, and we need to remember how to make it, and we need to keep on making it. We must grasp it with both hands, and never let go.

More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Writing board books

Writing board books is a little like math or music for me. I love it! I love gazing at the entire story in my head, and then pouring it into just a few hundred chosen words. And saying the words out loud, nodding along, hitting a pencil to the desk, listening for beat and tripping tongue moments, pressing all the meaning and metaphor and allusion into those few, chosen words. Saint stories are fertile ground for this musical math. Sometimes only a few words of story are known, sometimes there are many and it is a greater labor to fit them into the tiny book. I love doing it.

#NineWhiteDeerandMe

Photographs, for better and for worse

I’ve been thinking about time, and markers that show me time passing. For example, when my child gets to a certain stage in school and is doing the same things I remember doing, but doing them differently, I see technology as a marker of time. I made posters. This generation makes PowerPoint presentations.

Another marker just struck me. I have no engagement photos. Not one. Smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. Our engagement was a purely private event. I have many “photos” of it in my heart, but there was no one there to document it for us. Thinking about it, this makes me glad.

There’s something about photographs. I love them in many ways, but sometimes I find they step in and replace memories. The memory is intangible. It floats around inside you, bumping into other memories, feelings, passing time. It’s powerful and fragile. It’s so easy to look at a photo again and again, until you remember the photo, the way the event looked from the outside, instead of what you saw from the inside, living through it.

Memories can fade. A photograph can be more permanent. But it will also, always, be incomplete. A photograph could never document that I remember walking inches above the ground in the golden rain falling outside the cathedral where he asked for my heart and hand.

Painting Angels – A book in context

I just experienced a special moment in my writing journey. It’s just me and my office, my computer, books, papers, assorted pencils. But on my screen is an incredible review of my new book, Painting Angels.

The review is from a woman who blogs at Relished Living. Her name is Erica, and she felt Painting Angels raises and answers questions that are all around us in this moment, the historical moment in which the book is being published. Her words blew me away. I have nothing else to say except that I hope you will read what she wrote.

You can find the review on Relished Living. Here’s it is.

Painting Angels: The Terrible Inconvenience of Love

Painting Angels has arrived in the warehouse and in the publisher’s store. It’s official, announced release date is this coming Tuesday, July 21. But friends, you are more than welcome to get your copy any minute now! THE BOOK IS HERE!

Seven Holy Women: Who are the 7?

This week, I shared the first letter and the number of letters in each of the names of the seven women saints who are part of my next book, a storytelling journal I wrote with seven friends. Here’s what the clues looked like.

The guesses were interesting, and I learned the names of saints I haven’t heard of yet! It was fascinating to see which of our seven saints are known and unknown. Today, I announced the correct answers. How many of these saints do you know?

This book grew out of a series of short stories, which I wrote because of a long-held sense that the lives of saints have a lot of story potential! I browsed long lists of saints and their stories, looking for incidents in their lives that leaped out at me as unusual, thought-provoking, picturesque – all the things you look for in a good short story. As I wrote, I realized that my short stories were trying to be a book. But the idea of writing the whole thing myself made me so tired!

At this point, I embarked on what I like to call the Holy Spirit Theory of Writing – in which you let the book be what it wants to be and follow along in a spirit of joyful curiosity. I realized that I could ask friends to help me write the book, and after staring at my list of saint names and daydreaming for a bit, I asked the friends who seemed to go with the saints.

I’m so glad I did! This is seven times the book it would have been if I had written it all myself. And it was exciting and mysterious to see the ways that the seven saints matched the women writing about them. In every case, there was some aspect of that particular woman that was drawn out and filled with light by the saint she was writing about. I can’t wait till you read this book!! In one case, we even decided that the woman writing looked a lot like the portraits we found of the saint she was writing about.

Beauty leads to beauty, and love to love. Writing the book together is drawing us closer to each other, and I think also closer to the saints we chose to meet in our writing. It’s the beginning of many conversations, not the least of which is an exploration of creativity, or what might be called an educated imagination, in our life of faith.

#SevenHolyWomen #book #journal #storytelling #shortstory #Orthodox #saints #faith #imagination #writing

Painting Angels: Cover and Co-Author!

Painting Angels, Book 3 in the #SamandSaucer trilogy, just went to press! It’s due to release on July 21, and I want to share the cover, catalog copy, and adorable new co-author for this book as we wait to see the book “in person.”

The Cover

The Catalog Copy

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

The Co-Author

I am thrilled to announce that I have a co-author for Painting Angels! Thirteen-year-old Veronica Naasko kindly contributed an account of life as a “farm kid” that is going into the print, ebook, and audiobook editions of Painting Angels! The animal farm at the book’s imaginary monastery is central to the story in Book 3, and when we found there was space available at the end of the book, we asked Veronica to write for us. I recorded my part of the Audible edition this weekend, and Veronica is submitting hers this afternoon. Her part of this book is awesome. It has turkeys. It has wolves. It even has an unusual bishop. Just wait till you read it!! Here is a picture of Veronica recording for Audible.

Quick Fixes: Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing

Two days into running a private Facebook group for Orthodox Christian Children’s Writers and Illustrators, I’m thinking about writing technique, publishing tips, illustrators I like, group activities, and other delights in every available moment. This evening, while washing the dishes, I decided to jot down my list of hard-earned “simple fix” wisdom for writers. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself as you read over your work. Ask yourself before an editor asks you! And no, number 1 is not a question. It is a command.

  1. Spelling. Seriously.
  2. Are you relying on “to be” verbs too much? What stronger, more specific verb could you use instead of “is/was/are”?
  3. Are you over-explaining? Are you saying “As she stepped out of the car, she opened her umbrella because it was raining and she was getting wet” instead of saying, “She opened her umbrella as she stepped out of the car”?
  4. Are you writing in the active voice or the passive voice? There is only one right answer to this question. ACTIVE.
  5. Are you speaking for your characters, or are you letting your characters speak for themselves? When you write a piece of dialog, are they saying what YOU would say or what THEY would say?
  6. Are you using the same word twice in one sentence, or in adjoining sentences? Do not do this. Find another word or another way to make the statement.
  7. Words are music. Listen to the beat or rhythm of your sentence. Is it musical or awkward?
  8. Are your details consistent? Is that sofa the same color in every chapter?
  9. Is your point of view consistent? Do you keep switching from one perspective to another mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, mid-chapter? Did you forget what your characters would and wouldn’t know because you’re the author and you know everything?
  10. Is your agenda bleeding through your narrative? Are you noticeably judging your characters? Is your plot buckling under the weight of the point you are hammering home?

Those are my 10 simple fixes for writers. What are yours?

Painting Angels: Coming this summer!

Today, I enjoyed being a writer for a few minutes during a day of otherwise un-writerly work. The publisher sent back the copyedited version of Painting Angels (Book 3 in the Sam and Saucer series). The book is going to press in just a few weeks. I’ve seen some illustrations and sent back feedback, and I’ve worked on all the text edits sent to me. Now I just need to read this copy-edited manuscript, and it will be off to the proofreader – almost finished!

Today I also received the “promo copy” for the book. This is the description that shows up in the publisher’s catalog, on their website, on Amazon, and everywhere the book is sold (in English). When the original manuscript was submitted, I completed an author questionnaire as I do each time one of my books is published. The questionnaire asked me to provide text that could be used to create this promo copy. The editor worked with it, and I’m happy with the final result. Here it is!

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

Reading this, I realized how well this book fits the time in which it will be released. God willing, we’ll be out and about before the summer, but who knows? Even if we are, our memories of being cooped up, struggling together, will be fresh! COVID-19 never entered my head during the writing process (in fact, the last major revision was completed before quarantine), but today I see major parallels!

Writing and imagination, minds and thoughts, and the whole spiritual atmosphere swirling around us fascinate me. There is no knowing the complex of our connections with each other, or with the unseen influences around us and within us. Perhaps the only key to the mystery is this:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

God help us all, according to His purpose.

Writing in Faith, not about Faith

I think I just found THE words for an idea I’ve been striving to express for decades. The idea sprouted before I was Orthodox, but here it is in my present context.

Good Orthodox fiction is written IN Orthodoxy, not ABOUT Orthodoxy.

Fiction written ABOUT Orthodoxy (or Christianity in general) will crumple under the weight. Fiction does not do the work of nonfiction; it does a wholly different work, though it can bear similar fruit.

Fiction written IN Orthodoxy is fiction. Fiction may be full of light or full of darkness. The light’s the thing.

Narrative can only act for apologetics, in my view, the way a tune can remind you of a lyric. Faith-informed fiction is the melody only. If it’s rendered accurately, you will know the words.

It’s the difference between an oil painting of a flower and the shredded description of the flower pasted to the canvas in a floral shape. Let the explanation be the explanation. Let the portrait be the portrait.

Vase of Flowers. Creator: Jan Davidsz de Heem. Date: 1670. Institution: Mauritshuis. Provider: Digitale Collectie. Providing Country: Netherlands. PD for Public Domain Mark