A Board Book Story of Saint Ia of Cornwall

On Tuesday, December 15, my second board book launched – and it’s the first board book to be published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press!

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a toddler-friendly retelling of a story from the life of Saint Ia of Cornwall. Children will sympathize with Ia, who was left behind by her friends because they thought she was too young to be a missionary. But something amazing happened, just when she was on the point of giving up.

Who was Saint Ia?

Saint Ia was an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. She is believed by some to have been a princess, but the dream closest to her heart was to preach the word of God in England. Ia arrived in Cornwall (spoiler alert!) through divine intervention, and the modern-day town and parish of St. Ives are named for her. In fact, the older Cornish name of the town is Porth Ia, meaning “Ia’s cove.” You can learn more about St. Ives Church here.

St. Ives Parish Church (Photo credit: Palickap)

Making the book

One of my favorite parts of this project has been working with illustrator Kristina Tartara. Her enthusiasm matched mine, and she brought so much loving attention and creativity to the project. For example, it was Kristi’s idea to include the three little friends who keep Saint Ia company in the story, reflecting all her emotions on their expressive faces. Through many conversations, shared research, sketches, and revisions, Kristi brought the story to life.

Kristi also brought her training in early childhood education, not only providing good insight (“That’s too many words, Melinda!”) but also a wealth of lessons, crafts, and activities to go with the book. Check out these free printables, photos, lesson plans, sensory bins, leaf crafts, and more!

SAINT IA’S SONG

A special part of the project that was completely new to me was the SONG! Composer Natalie Wilson wrote the music, I wrote the words, and Natalie recorded it. You can find the sheet music HERE. The recording will be available shortly – I’ll update this post as soon as it releases.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I look forward to seeing Saint Ia Rides a Leaf in the hands of many children, whether they are old enough to pick out words or cuddled up (and probably wiggling) in the arms of those who love to read to them. Like our own lives, the lives of the saints are full of stories – high points and sad days and the train of teachable moments God arranges for us on the path of salvation. I am thankful for Saint Ia’s persistence, and for all the good gifts that come from making children’s books.

Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends

Seven Holy Women is a one-of-a-kind journey into the lives of one modern reader and seven women saints. Created as both a deeply personal and enriching communal experience, this unique tool speaks directly to its reader, drawing her into the lives of these holy women as it prepares her to relate her own story in the book’s final chapter.

Each of the first seven sections of the book includes a story from a saint’s life; contextual information about the saint’s life; a reflection on ways the reader and the saint intersect on their journeys; personal surveys for the reader and a friend to complete; and a journal prompt that encourages the reader to explore and document her encounter with themes from the saint’s life.

In the final section, the reader will weave together the varied strands she’s identified by stepping into the stories of seven other women, meditating on the holiness she seeks for herself and the obstacles and inspirations of the life in which her quest unfolds.

This book grew out of a short-story binge that occupied cold winter evenings about a year ago. As it grew, I invited a group of writer friends into the book, offering each of them the saint of her choosing. These friends are (clockwise from top left) Anna Neill, (me!), Georgia Briggs, Molly Sabourin, Katherine Hyde, Laura Jansson, Summer Kinard, and Melissa Naasko. The union and distinction of their strong and beautiful voices make this book special.

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

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

Saint Porphyrios on Blackmailing God

Bargaining with God in prayer is such a common human behavior that it’s part of our culture. How many times have you seen a character in a movie, hands clasped, drenched in tears, promising, “God, if you will just [fill in the blank], I promise you I’ll never [fill in the blank] again!” Scenes like this appear in novels too, and many of us have caught ourselves doing something like this in real life. “I know I haven’t been to church recently, but if you help me with this, God, I promise I’ll go to church every week.”

Sometimes bargaining happens because we’re trying to get out of the consequences of a bad choice. We are, in essence, asking God to overlook our mistake just this once, get us out of it, and accept as His “reward” our promise that we won’t make this mistake again. This attempt at escape makes several interesting assumptions – not the least of which is that God, staring at us in the midst of our self-made disaster, believes us when we say we won’t do it again.

But perhaps more often, bargaining happens when we are struggling on the brink of despair. We are grasping at what we perceive as our only hope – Divine intervention and protection. This is a good impulse in many ways. God is always our hope and our protector. But desperation can be short-sighted.

As Orthodox Christians, we turn to the saints and fathers of our faith to help us when we can’t solve what confronts us. Their long, long sight into the life of the human spirit can help us resist despair and relax in hope.

For example, read what then-Elder Porphyrios said about bargain prayers and God’s “secrets.”

We shouldn’t blackmail God with our prayers. We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness, for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door of our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him? Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare’ before God. As Saint Paul says, ‘Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes.’ We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave all things to the will of God. Because the more we pursue something, the more it runs away from us. So what is required is patience, faith and composure. And if we forget it, the Lord never forgets; and if it is for our good, He will give us what we require when we require it.

God has His secrets, His reasons, the tender wisdom of love that sees all, knows all, and gives all, according to the season, for all our needs.

-Photo from a recording of St. Porphyrios praying the Jesus Prayer