Day 5, Seven days, seven black-and-white photos of your life. NO PEOPLE. NO EXPLANATION
Day 5, Seven days, seven black-and-white photos of your life. NO PEOPLE. NO EXPLANATION
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. Deuteronomy 32:2
Cool drops felt
I cross myself.
But your tender,
at the small rain.
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper Jr.
I found your Rosary
in the children’s room
Lying there between
A.A. Milne and Madeline.
Yesterday it got mixed in the laundry
It scraped the washer’s insides
As I slid it up to kiss and slip it
In my apron’s pocket.
At night you ask
Where’s . . .
And I reach out my hand to you,
Extending her mantel,
knit brows smooth a bit
and we begin again,
rose after rose forming a crown
studded with chants:
(You know it better than me. )
and then our litany
We finish at the cross.
Tired from contemplation,
you set down the beads.
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.
You’ve often heard books praised as life-changing. And every book we read must inevitably change our lives, for good or ill. We can’t measure the impact of a book and books that outwardly have no effect may be the ones that cause internal seismic shifts, unfelt.
However there is a handful of books I’ve read in the past few years that had a very definite effect on my daily life.
The Lost Traveller by Antonia White. Reading Antonia White’s Clara quartet was a vindicating experience: just to see emotional and situational territory I’d felt alone in expressed so precisely in printed words. But one passage from The Lost Traveller gave me insight into my daughter, rather than consolation for myself. Clara never tells her mother how much she longed for siblings, especially brothers. I’d never been able to quite kill the hope that I might have another child or more children, a sibling for my daughter. Reading this passage, I was able to fully recognize my own maternal desire, for another child, yes, but also for the blessing a sibling could still be for my firstborn. This passage silenced the inner voice that was always droning “too late.”
The Far Cry by Emma Smith. It was a quote from dialogue on the very last pages of this book that dried up my discouragement toward the beginning of this year. I won’t quote it because it gets its full impact from everything that comes before. But I was able to accept a failure that threatened to cripple me with remorse and instead use that dead body as a stepping stone into a new pattern of life. What was this new pattern? I will say that another book that helped me into it was The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd.
A truly life-changing read from several years ago was Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This book was one of the catalysts of a new founding at a point of profound personal crisis. It helped me make, with painstaking care, a new synthesis of life directed by the Virgin Mary. The Seven Sorrows rosary was key in that reconstruction. And this book made me *want* to pray it.
I love finding notes in books. Here’s one I found in “The Great Mantle” while listing it:
This evening I found myself looking at an old journal and reading the details of my own past life like a novel. I would never have remembered all this if I hadn’t written it down but, unlike with a novel, I didn’t just imagine the events I was reading about, I really did remember them.
On one of the pages, I’d copied out this poem.
I must tell you how it happened,
Believe it or do not –
An episode to end housewarmings
In granaries of song.
I say, the drowsy blossom closing,
A bee was trapped within;
Moonlight passed through clouds and darkness
Till lawns lay diamonded.
Then spirits stalked to beg for baptism
In the open halls of night,
Their silent footfalls never troubled
The clovers’ sleep nor mine.
Astonishing – that one night’s hostel,
The thousand shimmered dreams –
Who knows sleep’s charm inside a blossom,
Except the captive bee?
Leonardas Andriekus was a Lithuanian poet and a Franciscan priest. He died in 2003, not so long ago. I loved this poem all over again when I rediscovered it tonight. The spirits begging for baptism bespeak a uniquely priestly nightmare.
Let’s pray this month for the souls of the dead still longing for heaven, for the souls of the living in desperate need of baptism.
From time to time in your rosary-praying life, you may experience the need or desire for bead-by-bead Scriptural accompaniment, to focus your meditations. Or if you’ve used a single book to provide such accompaniment for awhile, you may be ready for a new way of looking at the mysteries. Having used several such booklets over the years, I’m happy to share my experience with some of my favorites.
Scriptural Rosary, published by Christianica.
This anonymously authored prayer booklet deserves to be called a classic. It is a beautiful object, a small hardcover volume, with a blue and white paper wrapper, wood-cut illustrations. There is an introduction with some of the history of the rosary and then pages devoted to each set of mysteries. For the most part, the verses cling closely to the relevant passages in the Gospels, which makes it an ideal book for beginners. I have a preference for older versions of the book, before the addition of the luminous mysteries. I find that the three older sets of mysteries “pray better” in this presentation; I love especially the 1st, 4th, and 5th sorrowful mysteries and the 4th and 5th glorious. Among the luminous mysteries, I remember liking the verses selected for the third, which included some shorter parables of the kingdom.
Rosary of Praise, Larry and Connie London
If you are ready to add verses from elsewhere in the Scriptures into your Gospel meditations, you might consider this small volume. Gospel verses alternate with verses from psalms, prophets, wisdom literature, and New Testament epistles, all in the Douay-Rheims translation. Each day of the week is given its own selection of verses, so there are two options for each of the original three sets of mysteries. However, since, for example, the gospel story of the Nativity is “broken up” over the meditations provided for Monday and Saturday, only the meditation for Monday contains the central moment of the birth of Jesus. I found myself mixing and matching across the days to include those “central moments” for each mystery. Apart from the awkwardness of that, I loved the verses, the musicality of the translation, and the authors’ governing vision of Mary as our prayer partner in praising God.
A Scriptural Rosary, Marianne Lorraine Trouve
This book is put out by the Daughters of St. Paul. In large part, the verses selected follow the Gospel accounts. However, a quote from a Church document or from the writings of Pope John Paul the Second introduces each mystery. You get verses from the Gospels that other Scriptural rosary books tend to pass over (for example, the prophetess Anna is included in the meditation on the Presentation). The verses chosen from other parts of the Bible subtly emphasize the nuptial dimension of the Christian mystery. The booklet is illustrated with stained-glass style pictures. Sometimes the chronological order of the events gets scrambled in the arrangement of the verses (in the 1st luminous or in the 2nd and 3rd sorrowful mysteries).
Pearls of Peace: A Rosary Journey Through the Holy Land, Christine Haapala
This is a larger size book than the others, paperback, somewhat smaller than a magazine and about as thick. It includes photos of Jerusalem and Holy Land pilgrimage sites to go with each mystery. Apart from the introductory “Our Father” meditation for each mystery, which usually includes a verse from the relevant Gospel story, the verses for each Hail Mary are taken from the epistles. Sometimes it takes a little thinking to see the connection between the verses and the mystery being prayed. (With some of them, I still don’t see the connection!) You can hear some very beautiful harmonies across Scripture this way. Drawbacks are the use of the the NAB translation and some verses suffering from being removed from their context or not being quoted in full.
The Psalter of Jesus and Mary, Christine Haapala
The original concept of this book was to match each Hail Mary in the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries with a verse from one of the 150 Psalms. The first Hail Mary in the first joyful mystery is assigned a verse from Psalm 1 and so on. Some of these verse choices are stunningly appropriate, others seemed forced or have a very obscure link to the mystery. The book was expanded to include verses from Proverbs for the luminous mysteries. The luminous mysteries may be my favorite set in the book! Fine antique engravings by von Carolsfeld fittingly illustrate the book and further emphasize Old Testament types fulfilled in Jesus.
Despite being baptized Catholic and receiving first communion, my first memory of a rosary was when my little sister was born. I was eight. A friend of the family gave my sister a large colorful wooden rosary as a baptismal gift. I was fascinated by it. What is it? I asked. I believe I shocked my mother, It’s a rosary! I didn’t know what that meant. A what? A rosary, For praying. I had no idea how praying the rosary was done or why you needed beads for it but I stopped inquiring, I had embarrassed my mother. The rosary hung on my sister’s crib.
I didn’t learn how to pray the rosary until much later, confirmation age. I don’t remember being taught how to pray it, I learned from little booklets. The beads became a great comfort to me. I would finger them as I prayed, their smoothness soothed and their rhythmic clank seemed to croon with forgotten prayers. Yet it was these little rosary booklets that brought the beads- mysteries, to life for me. They informed and anchored my prayer. With a rosary book in hand I was able to overcome distractions and return to the sanctuary of meditating. And the good ones deepened my understanding of the sacred mysteries and my prayer life.
I have always loved the paintings which depict our Blessed Mother reading. I find these images so striking because they successfully portray Mary as a woman of prayer and study, of Meditation and action. They also render her humanity in a way bare feet can’t, Mary read. How beautiful it is to have the written word aid and center our prayer, for what are we meditating on but the Word made flesh.
And isn’t Mary’s heart not a book itself? “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” Luke 2:19. I’ve always pictured her heart containing tender moments with the infant Jesus, the Christ Child, The God-Man, both the joys and sorrows so close to one another! Rev. E. K. Lynch in his book The Scapular of Carmel describes Mary’s heart as a “living library of every word that came to her from God.” This passage immediately brought to mind the poet’s, Jorge Luis Borge, words, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” And when I pray the rosary and rest a little, unassuming rosary booklet on my lap, I am looking into Mary’s heart- a book laid bare, I contemplate it all, her Psalter.