I needed another shelf for my books, those titles that would be my research for my next novel. I eyed three shelves that I had not cleaned out in many years, crammed, not with books so much as Sunday School materials. Still, there were children’s books as well, slim shiny covers with happy faces that invited a look inside.
There were Bible stories and stories about the Church, about the sacraments, about the existence of God, all written to inform a child, from age three to fifteen. I thought of the many classes I had taught in the past, the young upturned faces ready to absorb my words like a sponge. I thought of how we sang together in chapel time, and how we formed circles and prayed together. We learned the Our Father and we learned hymns – All Things Bright and Beautiful in the spring/summer, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God in the fall, and Advent Tells Us Christ is Near in the winter season along with Christmas carols. Good times.
And so I kept these slim volumes handy, to reach for on a Sunday morning for story hour. I wouldn’t give them away, not yet, but keep them in another bookcase in another room for the time.
I needed space for my current project, Return to Angel Mountain.
I sorted and stacked and made piles of craft books and coloring books separately. I couldn’t yet part with Maria Montessori’s titles on how to teach the Faith to young children. They were too precious, too old, and would always be a part of me. They remain. She was a devout Catholic, something not everyone recalls, and she worked miracles with young, disadvantaged children. Her method caught on, but the religion lessons were left behind.
As I recalled those years in the Sunday School, I was thankful. At the time I took on the challenge as a parish duty and, like so many actions done in love and out of responsibility, I didn’t fully appreciate the experience until many years later, when I could see the past more clearly.
It is always difficult to see the present, for we are often blind to what is in front of us, all around us. And so we act from selfless interest rather than self-interest, allowing God to mold us without our knowing it. We try to obey His commandments, and in doing so, immerse ourselves in his love. The growth is not seen at the time. Only later. Only later when we order our libraries of words and paper, volumes living in wooden bookcases, each one a treasure.
So on the shelves, I plan to have a section for each main character. Each character will incarnate a theme that calls me to write: Critical Race Theory, Free Speech, Immigration, American History, the Pacific Theater in WWII. They will overlap and merge, to be sure, but once I have the books domiciled on the shelf, I shall begin the character backstories. These stories are told from a first-person point of view. When I have gotten to know the characters I will consider how they might interact, how a crisis could arise between them, how they might all gather on Angel Mountain.
For novels are all about character, creation of individuals who breathe the turmoil of the present day, who search for meaning, who desire to be free, who want to love as we are commanded to love.
I am allowed to “play God” in a way, allowed to create incarnations of souls, of thoughts, of yearnings, of desires. And so I listen to His voice, always hoping to be in tune with the music we are both singing.
Music was a theme in Angel Mountain, the music of the spheres, the music of prayer and hymns. They are saying now that singing is good for the lungs, that it helps to strengthen them. How sad we were not allowed to sing in church during a pandemic that attacked the lungs. Heaven, I believe, is full of music, full of beautiful melody, ongoing. Will we choose which heavenly choir to join? Do we have glimpses of those eternal choirs as we sing on a Sunday with other faithful voices? Are the choirs looking in on us, over us, or perhaps angels hover close to hear us?
The shelves wait for their volumes to take up residence, a powerful presence near my desk. They wait for the incarnations of characters, as I breathe life into them with letters and words, incarnations themselves. And I, an incarnation of God’s spirit, breathe His name, Jesus, with every word typed. I am in-spired, breathed upon, as I do this, with the breath of life itself.
And so the love of God whispers among us, like a soft breeze wrapping us in arms of joy. And now comes the music to inspire the muse, to pull us into the great dance of eternity, and as we dance, held in his arms, we follow his lead, step by step, note by note, letter by letter, and word by word.