20 December 2011

Like the best chocolate... bitterseet

Like the best chocolate, Christmas, well-kept, is bittersweet.
Each year we anticipate the sweetness of Christmas. We prepare for it; we celebrate it. The sweetness of Christmas comes easily: the fragrance of evergreens, the ringing of bells, the glow of candles, the singing of carols, the joy of giving, the surprised delight of children, the gatherings of family and dear friends, and all the precious memories, bittersweet, of Christmas Past. Oh, the sweetness of Christmas: a baby asleep in a manger, and all heaven and earth proclaiming, "Hope! Peace! Joy! Love!"

And yet, there are those who will meet this Christmas with loss and pain and despair. There are, as always, the poor and those in desperate need. There are, as always, nations at war. There are, as always, those who mourn. For such as these the darkness of winter is dark indeed and Christmas, more bitter than sweet. Jesus walked among sheep without a shepherd and, one by one, he touched and healed and comforted. In his presence they found, as we still hope to find, peace and joy and love.

So, we will keep Christmas and try to keep it well. We will celebrate the birth in Bethlehem by making room in our hearts that Christ may be born in us. We will look upon the babe in the manger and see the man on the cross. Bittersweet! Like the angels we sing praises and speak peace. Like the Magi we offer gifts of adoration. Like the shepherds we "spread the word concerning... this child."

Hope! Peace! Joy! Love! Christmas... bittersweet.

Listen to Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You know?"

17 December 2011

It's a date...

I love dates.  Sooner or later if a recipe calls for raisins or cranberries, I'll substitute chopped dates.  I clip or copy any recipe that calls for dates.  My Gran Oma Cummings did the same.  One of her special Christmas goodies was "date nut loaf."  Sounds like it's bread; but it's candy.  The nut is the pecan--favorite nut of all Texans and used in lieu of walnuts in most recipes.  It's cooked pretty much like any candy then dumped out onto a clean, cold, wet dishtowel and shaped and rolled into a log or "loaf" about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and, after it's cooled, sliced about a quarter of inch thick.

My mother has made date nut loaf for more decades than I've lived.  Her mother, my Grandma Mary Bridgett Wieland also made date nut loaf. It's a Texas tradition. 

Mother made several candies every year for Christmas.  Date Nut Loaf was the first and the favorite of my sister and me.  Daddy's favorite, too.  Other favorites are Boston Cream Candy, Peanut Brittle, Peanut Pattie, Fudge, and some awful peanut butter cocoa thing that Mother always tries to trick me into tasting.  I don't like peanut butter; I've never liked peanut butter; I may even be allergic to peanut butter.  If Reese's Cups were the only candy in the world, I'd never eat another bite.

This year Mother decided she wasn't up to making candy and delegated the Christmas chore.    My brother makes Boston Cream.  He also makes Grandma's teacakes.  Two years ago Mother supervised my making date nut loaf in her kitchen during an early December visit when she wasn't feeling very well.  (I've noticed that our visits are improved when I let her teach me things.)  Two batches of perfect candy!  I tried a couple of batches in my own kitchen last year which didn't come out well--one was sticky and the other was grainy and obviously overcooked--so I'm a bit nervous because this year I'm on my own.  I'm even more nervous because I've been unable to find the recipe with all my notes.  It was either lost in the computer disaster of last January or is buried in one of my file folders of recipes which never quite manage to be organized into a cookbook.

So here follow 2 recipes: first, the old-fashioned stove top version like Mother and Gran and Grandma made and second, the microwave version which I made this afternoon.

Classic Texas Date Nut Loaf (Candy)
2 cups sugar                    1 cup milk 
8oz dates (chopped)        1 cup chopped pecans 
1 Tablespoon butter        1 teaspoon vanilla.

In a heavy saucepan (Mother always uses a heavy aluminum pot which has been missing a handle for decades--I think that pot is part of her magic.  I'm always in danger of scorching the milk.) combine sugar and milk.  Stir over low heat, not letting it boil, until sugar is dissolved.  Turn up the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Add the chopped dates and continue to boil until it comes to the soft ball stage.  (Mother can tell by looking but uses the drop a bit into a cup of cold water test.)  Remove from heat.  Stir in the butter, vanilla, and pecans.  Cool a bit.  Divide into 2 batches and dump each out onto a cold, wet dishtowel.  Shape and roll into a loaf.  Cool completely. Unroll from the towel, transfer to a cutting board and slice.  Layer into a tin, separating layers with wax paper.  "Keeps a couple of weeks if you can keep from eating it."  May be frozen either before or after slicing.

I read dozens of recipes.  Some use evaporated milk which causes me to suspect that cream might have been used in the days of home dairies.  I suspect that the increased fat in the cream would make a smoother, richer candy.  And since I'm pretty frustrated by my attempts at stove-top candy making, I thought I'd try a microwave version.

K's Date Nut Loaf (Candy) Microwave

2 cups sugar                  1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. dates (chopped)   1 cup chopped pecans
1Tablespoon butter       1 teaspoon vanilla

In a 4-quart microwave-safe glass bowl, mix together sugar and cream.
Microwave, on high and uncovered, for 4 minutes.  Watch to be sure it doesn't boil over. Stir and scrape the sides of the bowl to dissolve sugar.  Check the temperature with a candy thermometer--they make them for use in a microwave but I don't have one.  I just stuck in my instant thermometer when I wanted to check.
Return to the microwave for another 4 - 6 minutes--stirring to prevent boil over--until the mixture reaches 235 degrees F. which is that soft ball stage.  (It took only an additional 5 minutes for my batch.) check out the candy temperature chart
Stir in the dates.  Return to the microwave for another 2 - 2 1/2 minutes, stirring at least once. (It took just under 2 minutes.  My candy thermometer read 240 degrees.)  The dates had softened and begun to dissolve into the candy mixture.
Remove from the microwave and add the butter, vanilla, and pecans.  Mix well.
Let stand to cool until lukewarm.  Then beat, beat, beat by hand for about 5 minutes.  (Hard work for us electric mixer cooks.) .  The candy will thicken (kind of fudgey) and change color a bit.
Pour half the mixture onto wax paper (I used that  clean, cold, wet tea towel for half and didn't think it worked as well) and shape and roll into a loaf.
Repeat with the other half of the mixture.  Yields 2 rolls, each about 9 inches long.
Allow candy to cool and harden for 4-6 hours.  May refrigerate to speed the process.
Unroll towel or wax paper and slice.

Perfect date nut loaf candy.  Yummy!  And since I've posted the recipe on-line, I can't lose it.

15 December 2011

Christmas greetings...

We greet you with words from the prophet Isaiah and the gospel of Luke.. .

and offer a prayer of blessing for family and friends from I Thessalonians 5:23.

As we have for many years, we ordered our cards from cards direct where we get to write our own greetings.  We ordered them in the middle of the scorching summer drought and, feeling a need for hope, we were perhaps in an apocalyptic mood when we selected the scripture texts.  We also selected a photo.  If friends have watched us age through the years, there is some hope they will recognize us when we meet again.  One of my pet peeves is the family greeting that includes only children or grandchildren of the friends we know and long to see again

20 March 2011, K's father's 90th birthday at their home in Clifton

This photo recreated a family portrait made when "the grandkids" were small.   

The original family portrait made when "the grandkids" were small.
 Kendall & Dorthy "Dot" Wieland Cummings surrounded by their 3 kids and their spouses:
  •  Zacha & Jack
  • K & David
  • Jolene & Kelvin
and their four grand children:

  • Brittany K (Zacha's daughter)
  • Kendall II (Kelvin's son)
  • Victoria (Kelvin's daughter)
  • Josh (Zacha's son)

The clan with Josh's wife Amy and their 2 children Tilson and Tatum and Victoria's Philip and Kendall's Crystal.

We ordered fewer cards this year because we think we lost a lot of addresses in the great computer disaster last January.  We're hoping this blog post, shared on facebook, will help take up the slack.  

 Today is the day I'll try to finish Christmas cards and gift wrapping so I can start making candy (date nut loaf) and baking pies (apple and mince) and maybe a few other goodies. I'll not succeed--a torn lattissimus dorsi is slowing me down--but I delight in the merry rush. 

 Last night DMP (still recovering from surgery) and I missed the Children's Christmas Cantata at Southwest Central Church of Christ because an evening of rest had to be a priority.  It's the second  small disappointment of the season for us:  for only the third time in our 40 years of marriage, we did not get to go get our Christmas tree together because I stayed in Clifton for the week following Thanksgiving to help Mother with her decorating and shopping.  Thanks to brother Bryan for helping David pick out "the prettiest tree ever" which is what I always think.  Even when things are a bit painful, we still "keep Christmas" with as much joy and as little stress as possible.

08 December 2011

A barbed wire Christmas...

I'm somewhat like a chameleon. My free thinking and somewhat liberal views are well camouflaged by my conventional lifestyle.  I do like tradition but I like it best when it stands in opposition to the current culture.  My Christmas decorating style reflects this aspect of my personality.

I decorate my home for Christmas very much like I live and a peek inside today looks very much like a mid-20th Century suburban ranch house would have looked on its first Christmas.  Except for the facts that it's a "store bought" Noble fir instead of a "cedar" cut from the Caprock Canyons and that LED  lights have replaced the incandescent bulbs of my childhood and that I use curly willow in lieu of the silver foil icicles--our house bunnies who were our pre-Mandy pets tended to eat things off the tree and foil is not a holiday goodie--my tree looks very much like the ones my mother decorated in my childhood.

When one of my younger cousins was invited to view our freshly decorated tree, Kim said, "Oh, I don't need to look at it.  Your tree looks just the same this year as it did last year."  His mother offered up a new theme and color every year.  While I admire the elegance of the decorator tree, I want a tree that once had roots and still needs water.  While the soft shimmer of white lights are oh-so-tasteful, I prefer red, green, gold, and blue twinkling within green boughs.  I don't want to see a lot of "cutesy" ornaments; I scatter a few realistic owls and a couple of bunnies among the green and gold balls and hang the treasured antiques at the top of the tree. 

 I love the little wooden church, a coin bank box used by Grandma Wieland for her Assembly of God Church in Lockney, TX.  I remember the culmination of childhood decorating was placing this tiny church (flanked by two wax candle angels which were never lit and one hot summer melted like the witch in The Wizard of Oz) under the tree.  Many years ago, Mother gave the little church to me.  It always occupies a place of honor on my piano.  I like to imagine it's the one Miss Toosey used for her African Mission in Evelyn Whitaker's book

All the sentimentality surrounding a baby in a manger can turn me cynical and I appreciate a reminder that the church is now the body of Christ on earth.  One Christmas brought a card from the decorating aunt mentioned above  with a photo of the altar of South Plains Baptist Church where I grew up.  I framed it and put it behind the little church.  I made one change to my decorating tradition this year; I added a barbed wire bracelet.

David and I have always supported missions, particularly Wycliffe Bible Translators and this year the persecuted church (in Islamic countries, in Korea, and in China) weighs heavily on our hearts.  As we celebrate, we choose to remember our unity with all Christians and proclaim that we are "one with them."

"Come quickly, Lord Jesus."

10 November 2011

"with a little help from my friends"

  • Blogging.  I started this blog because I felt like a stalker reading the blogs of some of the younger women at church.  I wanted to share my life with them as they shared theirs with me.  If I had known what I was doing when I first started,  I might have chosen WordPress rather than Blogger.  I knew I would be posting about my reading but I didn't know that my blog would prove interesting to a different audience than I originally thought.  WordPress is a more "academic" choice, I think, but I've found Blogger to be easy to use and I like its Google tie-in.   I don't post often enough; once a week would be about right for my blog. I think of things to post; I just don't sit down and do it; I'd rather read.  Even my husband of 40 years has discovered things he didn't know about me in my blog.  Because it's in some sense a shared journal, I say things that I never mention otherwise.  I follow several blogs of people I don't know. 
One of my favorite blogs is written by the man who fills Hugh Latimer's pulpit.  Malcolm Guite offers a mix of theology, literature, poetry, and music, especially classic rock.  I've become a great fan of his poetry and of his lovely voice reading it.  His November 4th blog is about The Inklings "exploring the thesis that far from being backward-looking, reactionary or escapist, the Inklings were fully and prophetically engaged with the main streams of modernity, that they foresaw the coming crisis of meaning in the materialist West, and in particular the attendant crises of violence and environmental degradation. I have tried to explain the way they forged a coherent alternative vision, which called for us to reintegrate Imagination and Reason as ways of knowing truth and relating to one another and the world." http://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/blog/ 

  • Facebook.  What a great way to stay in touch with friends and family and because of fb I didn't lose contacts that might have been lost after the huge computer disaster last January.  I  enjoy short visits with many of my cousins and now know who their kids and grandkids are and what they look like.  I enjoy updates on nieces and nephews.  Being back in touch with so many of my friends from South Plains and Floydada High School is so much fun--what wonderful, interesting people they are!  I treasure all "my kids" from Sunday School that have friended (what a word!) me--I usually wait for them to invite me because I really don't want to be too nosy.  As some age-related health limitations limit some of my abilities to minister, it's wonderful that I can be aware of their needs for prayer and encouragement.  Facebook kept me in touch with Peter Whitaker who has been a superb resource for biographical information about Evelyn Whitaker.  Publishing facebook links to my blog and to my website increased my traffic.  http://www.evelynwhitakerlibrary.org/id59.html

  •  I was disappointed that one of the facebook revisions removed what I thought was my link catalog.  I have just started using Pinterest's pin board and I think it might work for some purposes.  I like the boards that I can collect; I like the visual links which make scanning my boards easy.  I'll have to play around with it a bit to see if it really does answer my needs.   Is there some other alternative?   I find that I collect links the way I collect books.  Of course that's what the Favorites bar is designed to do, I think, but for some reason things just get buried and forgotten there.  Often I save groups of related links  by opening a Word file then I copy & paste the links and add comment into the .docx.  For me that functions somewhat the old index card files that used to write college papers but I keep thinking there has to be something better.  Even if that "something" isn't Pinterest, I'm enjoying yet another time sink. http://pinterest.com/KCummingsPipes/

  • I think I want my own personal version of  Arts & Letters Daily.  I first found this website by clicking a link on a friend's blog.  It's a good way to stay informed and to discover things I might miss.  http://www.aldaily.com/

  • Library Thing is an on-line catalog for my library and provides the side bars for my blog.  It is also now the sole beneficiary of any associates income from clicks of the Amazon links in my blog.  I also enjoy the ratings and reviews of my fellow readers. I've written a few of these myself.  I'm always behind here because I just cannot teach the books to catalog themselves.   The first 50 books are free so you can give this tool a thorough test drive and I considered their life-time membership a great bargain.  http://www.librarything.com/profile/KCummingsPipes

  • Pandora.  When KUHF bought KTRU I was most upset.  The Rice radio station had only offered  "alternative" programming while refusing to air anything that I might care about (like Rice athletics or programming from the Shepherd School of Music or faculty interviews) so I was not a listener, especially since the weak signal is not well received at my house.  KUHF, on the other hand, was my radio station for classical music and their plans to move the classical  programming to 91.7 FM  was not a happy one for me.  So once again my young friends led me by example to Pandora and suggested stations to me.  I really appreciate MGB's suggestion of Harold Budd radio and with the add variety button I've got a great shuffle.    I think getting some music back into my day has helped with my depression which has been a real trial this year.
  • http://www.pandora.com/#!/stations/play/601253876655993859
  • Several interesting books and a couple or three good movies have first been called to my attention by younger friends.  Among these are: 
Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans previously blogged here
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
The Help by Kathryn Stockett previously blogged here
The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as interpreter of Israel's scripture. Richard B. Hays
Many, many children's literature titles and some wonderful lit crit. and reading lists for the courses I didn't take.  For these gifts I am most grateful,  to my goddaughter, Sonya Sawyer Fritz, and to my fellow blogger Victoria Ford Smith running with carrots.
    Some of my friends:  Luci, Debra, Whitney, Martha, Me, Chelsie, Bobbie, Belinda, Brandy, Beverly
  • The most important thing I've learned from my younger friends is the sheer joy of friendship and ministry.  Wedding and baby showers had become for me social obligation and Christian duty.  I have relearned what I once knew:   life is joyful and celebrations bring us together and let us share joy.  The time spent in planning/preparing (which I once thought  wasted or "over dosing on Martha Stewart" as I have often thought and sometimes said) is part of the celebration and joy and that time has helped me connect and deepen relationships with some of my younger friends. 

17 October 2011


SEASONS (my women reading theology group at church) will meet on Saturday to discuss Evolving in Monkey Town:  How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions  by Rachel Held Evans.  (link to amazon to sample the book)  It's a book that would have been a huge help when I was a freshman in high school and first met Mr. Darwin and his theory.  Like the author, I found  science challenged my faith.  Unlike the author, I kept my own counsel--for decades I shared my doubts with only a very few trusted ones.

After a brief time of private atheism, I found that I just could not live if life--all life, my life--was random accident. The world is full of beauty and I can never quite shake the thought that beauty has a source and a purpose and that somehow beauty and truth are linked. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all  Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." So Keats and other nature poets formed my canon. For many years, I kept a journal that consisted of each day's one moment of supreme beauty and found myself feeling gratitude.  To whom?   Having been a doubting Christian, I became a doubtful atheist.  Beauty, gratitude and those second doubts led me step-by-step back to faith.  I came to think of God as "source and sustainer."

My mother, with whom I had shared some of my doubts, encouraged me to just read the Bible, and reach my own conclusions about what it said and what it meant.  She suggested I start with the  Psalms--more poetry.  The Writings of Hebrew Scripture--wisdom literature, the prophets, the song book of Israel--became my primary biblical text.  Most Psalms are not didactic but responsive--responsive to life situations, responsive to pain, responisve to injustice, responsive to a community, responsive to God.  The Psalms are not afraid to question God and I learned to be honest (with myself at least) about my doubts because a God who is "source and sustainer of all that has being" is certainly big enough to handle my questions.

Like Rachel Held Evans, I was troubled by all the great crowd of people, past and present, who could not believe because they had not heard.  "If salvation is available only to Christians, then the gospel isn't good news at all.  For most of the human race, it is terrible news."  p. 92  I was well-versed in the Girls Auxiliary of the Women's Missionary Union but it seemed "not right" that God would condemn those who had been born at the wrong place and the wrong time and it was unrealistic to expect that missionaries could reach across geography and cultures and centuries to preach to all people and offer them the Jesus choice.   If there is a God, God must be as merciful as  just, as gracious as  righteous.   "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end." [Lamentations 3:22-24; not all biblical poetry is found in Psalms.]

For people of compassion the idea of almost universal condemnation to eternal torment is quite troubling.  For many it is the sticking point; my father was concerned for all the Native Americans and for the hypocrisy he found in the church.  Even more troubling are the Christians who "are more offended by the idea of everyone going to heaven than by the idea of everyone going to hell." p. 113 My cousin is so troubled by what she learned as a child "from pretty Sunday school teachers who smelled like peppermint and let me call them by their first names"  p. 27, so offended by  unkind dogma, that she cannot even listen or seek the comfort that might be found in a more mature faith.

 I was very comforted by C.S. Lewis whom Rachel Held Evans quotes on p. 139:  "We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ.  We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him."  Even more comforting to me than Mere Christianity was the story from The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia when the young warrior who has faithfully served Tash discovers himself in Aslan's country where he immediately loves the great lion who has always loved him. 

By the time I graduated from college, I had a very thorough understanding of Darwin's theory, as it had been first written and as it had been revised.  I understood science far better and had a fuller appreciation of its beauty.  Oddly, the more science I learned and the more open my mind, the easier it was to say with Charlotte Yonge:  "some when, some how, God..."   For me there is no conflict between science and faith but there is an almost constant conversation between them.  I understand that science itself is not "the truth" but an understanding of truth in constant evolution.

"By little and by little" [Dorothy Day] I found faith to believe... most of the time... and a few years of reading Zen taught me to think of Christian life as a practice.  Even when I feel no belief, I practice Christianity:  I meditate, I pray, I read the Bible, I assemble with the saints, I sing songs of thanksgiving, I devote myself to good works.

Like Rachel Held Evans, I learned that "obedience--with or without answers--was the only thing that could save me from this storm."  p. 106  
When I spend time studying the Bible and time reading books by serious biblical scholars, when I see new ways of understanding biblical text and the world around me, when I get to talk with others who are also asking questions, I find it easier to believe.  Among the more recent books that have evolved my faith is  N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope (previously blogged) which is also mentioned in Evolving in Monkey Town p.173.

Most of my doubts are now a faint and fading echo but, for me, faith is never simple.   I walk a somewhat rocky Way through a dark valley.  I am a believer and  a Christian.  I take biblical text seriously.  I am neither a Fundamentalist nor an Evangelical.    I believe in God and in Christ Jesus, Messiah,  who brings life from death.  I believe in "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."    Everything else is subject to change. 

"Evolution means letting go of our false fundamentals so that God can get into those shadowy places we're not sure we want" God "to be.  It means being okay with being wrong, okay with not having all the answers, okay with never being finished." p. 23

26 September 2011

September is almost gone and it has been a busy month.  DMP and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.  Several years ago, we discussed a big party for our 40th,  thinking that with no children to host a 50th and we might be too old manage one 10 years down the road.  Somehow it managed to slip up on us and take us by surprise.  We did manage to give ourselves the gift of new patio furniture and have finally had a morning that was cool enough to enjoy it:

So no party but our usual trip to the San Juans in SW Colorado.  We both breathe a bit more deeply--at that altitude you have to--when we see Mt. Abrams as we drive from the airport at Montrose to Ouray.
We had a quiet, restful time enjoying the cool and the rain. 

Lots of reading and soaking in the hot tub. 

Good food at all our favorite restaurants.  

Easy highway drives to Silverton and Dallas Divide for a glimpse of the promise of golden aspens and the joy of first snow.

 We had great fun with our friends San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours--We drive you look.  If you go you want to make sure you ride in the yellow jeeps.   Here are a few pics:

We really enjoyed Corkscrew and the sweeping views of Red Mountain. 

There are three Red Mountains and the color comes from iron so they're really big piles of rust.

We were lucky that the afternoon we chose for our back country jeep ride was beautiful as indicated by the blue sky reflected in Lake Como.

We were in Silverton for the annual quilt show and this year I bought a quilt.  [We also found some lovely cedar boxes.]   I have long admired the piecing of Barbara Green although her hand quilting is not particularly outstanding.
I love quilts and I think this one will make a pretty winter slip cover for my living room sofa. 

Zacha & I used to thread a packet of needles onto spools of thread for Grandma Wieland every Sunday to see her through a week's work. She had her large quilting frame hung from the ceiling of "the front room" or parlor.  Every day  Grandma's dear friend, Miss Beulah Puckett, came by to visit [She was always "tolable, jus' tolable."] and she'd sit and quilt a spell.  Every day after she left, Grandma ripped out her "higgaly piggaly stitches" and redid them.  The next day Miss Beulah would admire what she thought was her work of the previous day.  "I was afraid I'd just messed it all up yesterday but those stitches look right well in today's light."

04 August 2011

"the mutable meaning of a supposedly immutable book"

Last Sunday in the Open Door class at Southwest Central, my dear friend ABCE read a portion of Isaiah from the King James Bible.  I found it hard to follow although it would probably have been much easier if I had just listened to her beautiful voice and phrasing.  I'm no mean Elizabethan scholar having devoted 5+ semesters to it at Rice.  I grew up on KJV;  it's the text that often comes first to my memory thanks to my dear great aunt, Helen Calahan Karr, and sword drills at South Plains Baptist Church. 
In many ways it is the best translation of the Psalms in English--still after 400 years. 
The New English Bible with the ApocryphaA few weeks ago I went with some church friends and my mother-in-law to the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University.  Touring the museum it's very easy to see that it is "God" who is "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow" because it is most certainly not biblical text which changes transmission mode (oral, written, digital) and media (stone, animal skin scroll, papyrus folio, paper & ink, printing press) and language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, English, and countless others) over centuries.  People's interaction with text changes, too.  It's fun to revisit discussions of what is and what is not part of the canon.  People change  as societies and as individuals, as I learned when when I was trying to track the text in my New English Bible (Oxford University Press, 1970) while Andrea read her KJV.  Even her Bible looks little like the edition that first came off Gutenberg's press.  Some of the more modern versions read by other class members are just so simple that I worry about lost meanings, missing sub-texts, and literary structures that have been rendered invisible.

The Secret GardenIn odd moments, I've been turning these things over in my mind probably because of a ChLA 2011 session which I chose only because I'd lingered too long over morning coffee and conversation and it was being presented in the classroom next door. 

"Evolving Cultural Images in Illustrated Books" was a hodge-podge panel with environment/nature books and a lovely presentation by Anne Phillips on illustration in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett entitled "Crocuses, Robins, and Rosebuds" and her presentation was a charming as her title.
However, the presentation that has lingered in my thoughts was Benjamin Lindquist's "The Evolving Images of Kenneth N. Taylor's Illustrated Children's Bibles"  which looked at examples from 1956, 1989, and 2002.  He began with a quote and I missed the cite: "books are more than the words they contain."  Starting with a rather gruesome picture of Absalom that his wife (and I) remembered from childhood Sunday School, Lindquist showed examples of how biblical illustrations, especially those for children, were softened and sentimentalized throughout the 20th Century.   Taylor's Children's Bibles used the same text over fifty years while changing illustrations in each new edition "reflect[ed] inarticulated social assumptions." 

The New Testament in Pictured for Little EyesThe Bible in Pictures for Little EyesThe books themselves changed from large books which format, paper, and font size indicate are intended to be read to a child by an adult to smaller books, thicker paper, larger font sizes--books that are "child friendly" and which the child might access for herself.  The illustrations change from "high art" to sentimental art to cartoonish drawings lacking perspective. 

The New Bible in Pictures for Little EyesThe change represents more than a change in artistic style; it reflects societal views of childhood, of parental authority, of the place of worship, of God.  The age of child characters frequently became younger, encouraging a little child to insert himself into the more adult text.  Such changes also make the Bible more like every other book on the child's shelf or in the toy box.  Is it possible that some of these changes undercut the Bible  as a "book like no other" and as "the word of God"?  Since such books and their pictures are "the child's first introduction to the divine, to the practice of religion," Lindquist proposes that it is well to consider the "mutable meaning of a supposedly immutable book." 

Using the story of Samuel's waking in the night to God's voice calling him, Lindquist showed how these changing illustrations change the reader's view and introduce a changing theology.  In the earliest illustration Samuel's experience is mediated by Eli and a transcendent God is visibly present in items of scroll and Temple lamps and in the moon & starlit sky of His creation.  By 2002, Eli is left out of the picture and a very young Samuel himself pulls back a curtain of the Temple  There is no scroll, implying that Samuel's experience is not subject to scripture.  There are no items of worship.  If God is represented, it is only by Samuel's own glowing face and the source of light is not clearly defined as external or internal to Samuel's self. 

I'll never again look at Bible illustrations in the way I once did.

 He also showed some Sunday School hand-out illustrations from 1925 and the print that hung in my bedroom as I was growing up. 

It's from an 1890  painting by Heinrich Hofmann; the colors in our print were somewhat faded from exposure to the light.  Even as a very young child, I loved this print.  I suppose it was an icon for me;  it encouraged me in my daily Bible readings and called me to prayer.  If I woke up frightened in the night, I'd shine my flash light on it and be comforted.  The print remained on the wall of the bedroom when I went to college, but still today when I turn off the lights and close my eyes, I think of it.  It's still calls me to prayer.  It's still a comfort to me.

And while I'm on the subject of biblical illustration, I want to share a couple of other favorites:

Frances Hook.       Soft and Sweet.

                Timothy Botts.  The text is the illustration.
Frances Hook Picture Book/R2868Doorposts
The Dore Bible IllustrationsAnd the 19th Century favorite, Gustav Dore.

22 July 2011

"Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic."

Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows Part 2DMP and I went today to see Harry Potter:  The Deadly Hallows, Part 2.  We read/loved/lived the books and were very pleased with the movies.  To quote DMP:  DHpt1 was  "confusing, meandering, dark and just really not a very good movie but I thought the same thing about the first part of the  book."  This final episode redeemed Part 1 and was a very satisfying conclusion to the story.  In some ways, Part 2 wins the rare accolade:  It was better than the book. 

It's always interesting to see the changes that are made in going from print to screen. Spoiler alert here:  perhaps my favorite moment in the movie is when Neville Longbottom pulls out the sword of Gryffindor and the movie gave that bit a much better heroic frame than the book.  But then, the actor who played Neville has developed quite satisfactorily; at least in my view.  I have an ingrained attraction to the nerd as romantic lead.   
I also thought the conversation at King's Cross was better in the movie than the book and I wonder if Rowling didn't write it with the movie visuals in mind. My favorite line from the movie--"Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic."--do not appear in the book; at least not that I remember and I didn't find them when I re-read that last couple of chapters of the book.
 A similar line from the book (page 209):  "And his knowledge is incomplete...  That which Valdemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend.  Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innoncence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing.  Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."

The Collected Works of Frances Hodgson Burnett: 35 Books and Short Stories in One Volume (Unexpurgated Edition) (Halcyon Classics)That reference to "children's tales" is a good point to turn this blog to the final installment of ChLA 2011.  Since it relates to the movie I'll begin with Friday's session on Reading, Education, and Girl's Development.  Caroline McAlister presented a paper on "Bookworm as Heroine from Frances Hodgson Burnett to J.K. Rowling."  McAlister cited Shakespeare's McBeth:  "a woman's story at a winter's fire, authorized by her granddam."  She discussed a Burnett heroine: "if reading is the source of her isolation, it is also her way back into the public world."  She traces an arc from the "passive habit of reading" which leads to empathy which leads to active citizenship, a sympathetic responsiveness to others.  She explains this as "the training of the imagination."  This arc is in fact the goal of all didactic writers whether Harriet Beecher Stower, C. S. Lewis, George McDonald, or my dearly beloved Evelyn Whitaker.

Hermione Granger is another example of one whose passive reading leads to active citizenship, in particular her concern for the house elves. Q&A was dyanmic:   Are Hermione's concerns due to her reading, her inherently sympathetic nature as female, or her humanity?  Hermione is a muggle and one presumes attended muggle schools and knows muggle history.  There are also some concerns that in the Rowling books "there is no literature--no one reads anything but text books" or books in search of information. This observation is quite disturbing, given that the Harry Potter books are credited with saving books and promoting literacy.   Literacy is not necessarily literature; literature is part of what makes us human.   We live a world that increasingly values "knowledge.. incomplete... takes no trouble to comprehend... children's tales... which have... power."