Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Great Catholic Kids Book: Seven Lonely Places, Seven Warm Places

This isn't a regular feature here, but really should be: great Catholic books for kids.  I am especially interested in books that are great to read aloud.

Here's a must-have.  I'm recommending this not just as a one-time read, but a book to add to your library and read often.  It's Seven Lonely Places, Seven Warm Places: The Vices and Virtues for Children by April Bolton, illustrated by Brent Beck.  It was first published in 2003 by St. Anthony Messenger Press (now known as Franciscan Media).

My own children are generally great judges of what makes a good read-aloud, as we have done so much of it over the years, and they have always loved this book.  But I knew Seven Lonely Places, Seven Warm Places was a real winner when I read it to six different grades at our children's Catholic grade school.  Many of those kids fidget, or will tell me or show me flat out, when a book does not interest them.  All of the grades--from K through 5th grade--sat in rapt attention during the reading of this book.  And the comments! Oh the comments! The discussions we had about this book, the illustrations, the message.  Especially from kindergarteners.

I strongly urge you to have this book on hand, read it to your kids, and sit back and wait for some amazing discussions about virtues.  Here's a link to the publisher's website for the book, and I'm sure it's available at various Catholic retailers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April Catholic Post Column: Word on Fire

Following is my April Catholic Post column that appeared in this weekend's print Post.  I loved the idea of a Bible that makes lectio divina practically effortless, and I also point readers to a great book for an introduction and "why you should" consider lectio.  I invite your feedback here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Here’s the problem for a book reviewer:  how do you review the Bible?

Potential review: I laughed, I cried, I was moved.

Pros: I love the author.

Cons: it’s really, really long.

Cue The Catholic Prayer Bible: Lectio Divina Edition, published by Paulist Press and edited by Lawrence Boadt, CSP.  This well-designed Bible makes lectio divina—“divine reading”--doable for the average Catholic.

So I confess that this isn’t really a review of the Bible as text, but rather showing how this edition of the Bible is built on the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina, a prayerful way to read (lectio) the Divine Word of God.

I’ve seen lectio divina broken into various numbers of steps, from four to seven, but Fr. Boadt provides four:  Read, Reflect, Pray and Act.

Fr. Boadt recommends sticking with an entire book of Scripture and not just jumping around, but I’m grateful to see that he’s not recommending that one read the Bible start to finish.  I tried that way back in my 20s when a Protestant friend gave me a schedule for reading the Bible in one year.  I got somewhere into Numbers before I gave up, an utter failure.

I hope that increased maturity, and the accountability of having to write about it here and on the blog, will help me to be better about making Scripture reading & prayer part of my day. But it’s The Catholic Prayer Bible itself that makes it much more achievable.

The Catholic Prayer Bible is simply laid out.  The Scripture itself takes up two-thirds of the page, with a small box of lectio divina reflections for each of the four steps (Read, Reflect, Pray, Act) in a small dark red box on the remaining third.  There are short prompts for each of the steps.  For instance, in John 13:1-30, where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, the “Act” step is: Perform some humble service for another, especially someone who is dear to you.”

I love how The Catholic Prayer Bible makes it painless and even easy to jump in, right now, to incorporate lectio divina into a busy life.

The Scripture readings are short, bite-sized portions, no more than several dozen verses.   It’s not an overwhelming amount of text to “get through” through before praying and reflecting.

The Catholic Prayer Bible helps slow fast readers down.   I’m a fast reader in general; that’s helpful as a book reviewer.  But when reading Scripture, I find it difficult to just slooow down and savor.  Having just a few verses to read, reflect, pray and act on makes that “slowing down” much easier.

The “Act” prompts, in particular, helps the reader come away with a specific resolution to bring into everyday-ness.  Even when I found the “Act” suggestion unhelpful or not relevant, it prompted me to make a resolution of my own to bring Scripture into my life.

If you want more of the “how-to” and why of lectio divina, as well as a beautiful, easy-to-read history and reflection, consider the recent Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina. The book is by Dr. Tim Gray, best known for partnering with Jeff Cavins in developing The Great Adventure Bible Study series. 

Gray says, “If you have trouble praying, then welcome to the human race.”  Praying Scripture for a Change offers reasons and practical tips of how lectio divina can work to help us get over our natural inclinations not to jump into prayer.  This book inspired me to consider deeply why it’s important to let God speak to me through Scripture. 

Reading Praying for a Change will give you the desire to incorporate lectio divina into your prayer life.  Using The Catholic Prayer Bible will make it easy for you to start.  Then, prepare to reap the real spiritual and temporal benefits of this ancient practice. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Meet a Reader: Deacon George Geagea

I'm delighted to feature as a "reader" this month Deacon George Geagea.  Thank you so much, Deacon, for agreeing to be featured this month. 

How you know me:

I’m Deacon George Geagea, a deacon at St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church in Peoria.  I have been married for 30 years to my wife Najeebe, and we have 5 children—Jeanette, Nadia, Amanda, Gabriel and Rachel.  I work as the chief administration officer at Illinois Neurological Institute.  I was born and raised in Lebanon, and moved to central Illinois at the age of 18. 

Why I love reading:

Reading makes me use my imagination and helps me get into the mind of the author, helps me gain different perspectives of issues and expands my thinking.  Genres I enjoy reading include spiritual and inspirational books and self-improvement books.

What I’m currently reading:

I am currently reading a book by Fr. Larry Richards titled Be A Man! Becoming The Man God Created You To Be.  He has a simple, yet profound, message to Catholic men about how to experience the real presence of God in our daily lives.

My favorite books: 

I have two favorite recent reads.  The one that really captured my imagination and made me think at a deeper level was Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI.  This book differentiates between the historic Jesus and the person Jesus who lives forever.

Another recent favorite is Contemplating the Trinity: The Path to the Abundant Christian Life by Father Raniero Cantalamessa.  Fr. Cantalamessa is preacher to the papal household, and it is an excellent read.  In Contemplating the Trinity, Father Cantalamessa looks at the Trinity from multiple dimensions, such as the Trinity and beauty, or the Trinity and love, and goes deep into the mystery of the Trinity and its relationship to humanity.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 20, April 2012

Last year, I did an April Fool's version of First, What Are You Reading?, but this year I don't want to waste an opportunity to share some really good books with you.  Enjoy, and I can't wait to hear what you are reading.

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists with an introduction by Leonard S. Marcus

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman

What do you like best about them?

The graphic book I was going to talk about in this space was so bad I don’t even want to name it .  It was about media bias and media coverage, and it was terrible.  Far better for kids and adults to have a healthy sense of

So I decided to substitute another graphic novel read that is well-done, and Nursery Rhyme Comics fits the bill.  I really enjoyed the interesting takes on classic Mother Goose-type rhymes.  Some are better than others, but it’s a neat idea.  Leonard Marcus’ introduction talks about how each artist was able to craft a “back story” for the rhymes.  I especially loved “Pat-a-Cake” by Gene Luen Yang and “Hickory Dickory Dock” by Stephanie Yue.

Love, love, LOVE Nerd Camp.  Gabe is 10 years old, and heading off to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment, better known as Smart Camp for Geeks and Eggheads, or Nerd Camp.  He realizes he is a nerd because of his soon-to-be stepbrother Zach, who scoffs at things “nerds” would like, like reading actual books, being in math club, and going to camp to learn.  Gabe decides to make a logic proof of the whole summer, deciding whether or not he is, in fact, a nerd. 

I read Nerd Camp one weekend afternoon after a morning of cleaning and when I was too tired to do any “real” writing or tougher reading.  It was just the right pick-me-up.  I laughed out loud, delighted in the story and in how terrific it is to be a nerd. 

Great things about the actual camp, and why I want to go there:

*a Funny Quotes poster, where Gabe and his buddies write down funny things they say

*learning the digits of pi.

*the  karaoke sing-off between Gabe and his girl nemesis (or friend?) Amanda.  The song?  An alphabetical listing the countries of the world.    I’m “this” close to writing the author of the book to see if such a song really exists.

*Jeopardy with Alex Trebeck as the actual host.

*a 13-year-old who is the “cool” nerd for making a clandestine lab at camp.

What do you like least about them?

Because there are so many artists in Nursery Rhyme Comics, there are plenty that fall flat, or just really aren’t as good as others.  But so many do work, I think the book is a worthwhile read overall.

It’s just a little sad that part of Nerd Camp revolves around a divorce, with parents sharing custody of Gabe, and his father getting married again.  But it’s not handled negatively or positively.  It primarily serves as a plot device to put Gabe in the path of a non-nerd in the form of his soon-to-be new step-brother.  In our family, this just served as a discussion topic, brought up seamlessly.

What’s next on your list to read?

Working through a list of potential fiction for my June column.  This is no problem, as I love fiction.  Finding the time amid spring cleaning and “life” has been more of a challenge lately.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?