August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 8

Aside from the riots and burnings, the assault on private and public property, the rise in unemployment, bankruptcies, and closures, the students denied education, the poor becoming poorer, sports with no live fans, performing arts with no live audience, the churches with empty pews, the fear engendered by a strange virus, aside from these minor disruptions to daily life (“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the theater?”), Americans seem to have downshifted into a simpler mode of existence, which may not be a bad thing altogether.

There are silver linings to the storm clouds as they say and blessings to be counted. And Sundays are good days to count blessings and reflect on thanksgivings.

I find myself, elderly and sheltering with my husband, also elderly, having more time each day which I now can restructure. For I hate time lost, time gone, precious minutes of my life not lived fully to the glory of God.

Having obliged a number of obligations, particularly in regards to my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, I now have a little time. When this occurs—usually on vacation or other “rest” periods—I assign a bit to memorize, either from the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer or Scripture (usually KJV, more poetic). One can never have too many prayers or verses tucked away in one’s little memory bank. And my memory bank is often depleted and bereft… for I don’t pay attention often enough to this simple challenge. So, it being an election year, and a year of clear attacks on our freedoms, recalling the Marxist playbook, I revisited a prayer in the Service of Morning Prayer, “A Collect for Peace.” I have tried this one before and always struggled for some reason, confusing the phrases in a most frustrating manner. So I am giving it another go and taped the words to the back of my phone (naturally, attached to my palm).

Here is where I am:

“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in whose knowledge standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom…”

That’s taken a week of glancing at the back of my phone. I’m working now on the next phrase:

“Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies”

Curious, I just noted, we are asking for defense in all assaults not from all assaults. So the assaults will still come, but we will be girded with enough righteousness, with helmets of salvation, swords of truth… to be safe, saved.

The famous phrase in this prayer is “whose service is perfect freedom,” and I have returned to it often because of those words, that, at first, seem to contradict one another. Service, perfection, freedom. How can there be freedom in service? Something to consider in these moments given me, these extra hours.

The sheltering shuttering locking down of our lives has also afforded me an opportunity to attend church virtually. I immediately checked out the larger churches, to see what they were doing and in the process recalled that one can go to any of the world’s great cathedrals and see rituals in glorious settings—in Rome, Paris, London, with the time change of course. But there are such services in the U.S. too. They stream the service and we watch as spectators.

But most of our little Anglican parishes had never stepped into this world of virtual reality in order to claim souls out there in the Cloud, except perhaps for an odd few minutes of video showing a procession for an ordination or other memorable event. This was new territory, and our clergy would have to respond as best they could. Many have been proud they didn’t “do Internet things, or email even, and Facebook… too dangerous.” And I often wondered about that, considering it a missed opportunity. But now it was sink or swim, especially here in California, where the governor has imposed strict restrictions on congregations congregating, although protests and riots appear to be anointed with his approval, no masks required.

But I’m not going down that road, as they say. Instead, I have been watching our parishes to see what they would do, and it brought up some interesting observations.

Many did nothing. But among those who did, the Zoom approach seemed the most popular, where a link was sent to members and others who asked for the invitation to the service. This kept the group private, good for the club atmosphere (coffee hour) but not so good as a public witness, opening the front doors as it were to all passersby, with what would entail “streaming” (can now can be done through Facebook).

Some clergy opted for both, which on reflection, seems the best approach.

Once I was used to seeing my face in one of those squares and devoured advice on camera angles and ways to look better than I really do (this has not been successful, alas), I felt more at home with Zoom.

But the question of open/closed doors continues to fascinate me. The church is supposed to be making disciples of all nations. Here we were, suddenly in a place in time where folks in all nations were looking for our open digital doors. I know from the Facebook page we have for our UC Berkeley chapel, St. Joseph’s, we have visitors from all over the world. They especially like the short videos of singing and processions, but the altar and the vertical space and the sense of holiness in our chapel seems to draw many to us, folks we have never met, but longed for something we could offer.

The Internet, with all of its downsides (and I won’t go down that road either, not today at least), has brought people together. Especially those we used to call “shut-ins.” Especially those who are lonely, suffering, dying. Anyone can enter this world wide web of singing, dancing, storytelling, funny videos, classes of every description, and on and on. The world has become democratized, the gatekeepers to such knowledge and entertainment no longer relevant. The world has direct access through a simple phone. Who would have guessed?

Another detour I won’t pursue is the policing of this world wide web.

So getting back to the churches and their services and their open or closed doors. It is a characteristic of human beings that we have an inner and an outer life. Inside, outside. Spiritual, physical. Something we are told is united in Christian faith and practice. And parish life can be like that—caring for one another within the parish, caring for those outside the parish. It is always tempting for any group to grow increasingly inward, becoming a club of close friends, a closed society. It becomes difficult for them to open those doors and allow anyone in, to change the happy parish family.  And yet, how vital this is, for with closed doors, closed hearts, the mission we have been given is soon forgotten. Soon the closed doors are locked—for safety of course. Soon the Sunday School is silent—quieter that way and less troublesome.

So I am thankful for this remarkable opportunity given to churches to preach the Gospel to all nations from simple screens and keyboards and video cameras, preferably in a physical chancel before a physical altar. I hope more churches do this, and if they have an invitation-only service, that they consider doing a live-streaming as well.

After all, we want the doors to Heaven open to us one day, when we reach the top of Angel Mountain. We want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Here is your perfect freedom. Welcome home.” And we will all stream in, smiling and singing and glorifying God.

July Journal in a Pandemic Year

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In only a few months Americans have become strangers to one another, divided, masked, fearful, silent, vigilant.

In this election year, this year of a worldwide pandemic, sides have been taken, as though who we are as Americans is no longer our identity. Rather, we are those who scorn and those who fear those who scorn. America’s tears water the earth in grief, the grief of friends now strangers, mourners’ tears mingling with the grief of loneliness.

We have all become strangers, strangled, for we have not been allowed to peaceably assemble. Others—the haters of our country and its history of freedom—have been allowed to assemble, rarely peaceably, but anointed to march and burn and loot, their cause forgotten and buried in slogans and nonspeech growled and grunted, wildebeests slithering to Gomorrah.

We have become strangers, afraid of human touch, human voice, human face. In the face of the faceless a hatred wells within, unquelled, burning, molten. The strangeness of being strangers denies our humanity and erases all that it means to be free, threatening our beloved country, America, land of the free and home of the brave.

We are being erased: mouths and noses erased, voices erased, ears hearing only mindless twitter, hashtagged into group think, mob assent, chattering crows seeking whom to devour, whom to silence, whom to cancel.

There is an evil here, a putrid stream of bile flooding our land with fear, for we may be the next cancellation, the next erasure.

We have been divided by this putrid stream. I wave to you from the riverbank, and you wave back on the opposite shore, silent.

We are masked, and the coverings cover our love. The coverings cover our identities, turning us into copies printed from machines, duplicates. The masks mask our smiles and our frowns, and our words are muffled behind cotton batting and synthetic tissue with elastics binding our ears, ears no longer hearing words cancelled. The masks mask the truth of who we are. In time, we wonder—somewhere deep inside—if we exist at all.

Masked, divided, estranged, strangled. We are in solitary confinement, confined to our shelters, our places, our locked down prisons of space. Our children no longer play in playgrounds, no longer circle, holding hands, less they fall down. Ring around the rosy… atchoo… all fall down.

We fear one another. We fear connecting, embracing. We are vigilant, guarding our six-foot territory,  ready to scowl with our eyes, judge the unmasked, fearful of infection bridging our airspace. We are like lepers sent to Molokai, only we self-isolate, governed by the twitters and the violence and the cancellations.

Views_of_a_Foetus_in_the_Womb_detailSome of us search and find, deep within, the light of our own creation, hidden in the Creator. We turn to prayer, joining others on checkerboard screens, inhabiting squares and rectangles, imprisoned by unloving lines, impenetrable borders. Yet we pray together, to our Creator, the one who breathed the breath of life into us as we gulped our first air, as we slipped into the light of His love, leaving behind the dim sheltering womb. We pray to that same Creator of life and love. We pray that we will love one another, still, always, once again.

In these prayers, from these screen squares, we are still, but no longer silent. We pray, hoarsely whispering, voices unused to use, opening our Bibles, Prayer Books, and Hymnals, in the semi-quiet. We pray the prayer the Creator taught us so long ago, Our Father…. We hallow Our Father’s Holy Name, and we pray that His Kingdom comes, that His will be done on Earth as in Heaven, that we not be tempted to hate and cancel and kill one another with words or deeds, or desires of the heart, but that He deliver us from this evil that has no name and no face and no voice. We speak to our Heavenly Father for he loves us, each one of us, and he loves to hear us, to hold our thoughts in his hands, to touch our deepest desires and fiercest fears with his sacred heart. He is our Father and the Church is our Mother and we are cradled by them in this terrible time of tyranny, this masked and faceless time.

Michelangelo CreationWe, the faceless ones, no longer cancelled, enter our screens and speak. We touch one another with our words and prayers, our brothers and sisters, our Family of God. We are no longer alone. We remember, from somewhere distant, almost another country, how to love. We cry our creeds into and onto the screens and our words fly through the Cloud to the altar where the priest holds up the bread and the wine and the bell rings to remind us to adore. From our isolation, our sheltered space, we reach to the stone slab of sacrifice to touch the hem of His garment, for if we touch Him, we will become whole, with true faces. We will be healed.

SAINTS2Our family, the Church, lives still, holding our nation, this ragtag assembly of rugged Americans, tenderly together in her palms, her manger creche, unmasked. She—America—will not be cancelled, erased, pulled into the vortex of the abyss of silence. She—the Church—America’s founding Mother of all—will sing, and she will speak. She will pray, worship, and adore the Father of all. The Church, and all her children, will rebirth our nation in the wellspring of freedom and dignity, fed by love.

And this too will pass, we are told, and we secretly know this to be true. The terrible tyranny spawned by the virus eating our lungs, the molecules devouring our air, storming our masked faces, spawned by unmasked coughs—or sneezes—this too will pass away when the dragon has eaten his fill, gorging on our bodies and souls. We the unmasked are not really care-less but want to be care-full; we do not want our faces erased with a smothering rectangle papered over our mouths and noses and tied to our ears. We cannot breathe. Our tears have nowhere to go. But this will pass and we will love one another again.

We are left with eyes and ears, like creatures from an another fearful time, blanketed in black, swaddled and wrapped as if owned by another, one who cancels freedoms.

We will not remain masked forever, and we will find that new fears and failures of heart will arise and replace the masks. But in the meantime, in this mean time, this time of meanness, we wave from the other side of the putrid stream bubbling from the volcanic deep. We smile with our eyes and listen with our ears to the muffled cry on the other side of the roiling river. We wave.

Our family, the Church, lives, unmasked and singing. She will not be cancelled or erased or silenced. In the darkest night, in the deepest depth, her children embrace in their prayers together and alone, prayers flying to God the Father, soaring into His Son’s Sacred Heart, meeting one another in all righteousness. We sing as one and as many, glorious sounds of praise, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, all thy works shall praise thy Name in earth, in sky and sea.

lady-justiceAnd our nation, America, lives as well, unmasked and singing. She will not be muted. She will not be cancelled. She knows her birthright is born of freedom, is born in truth, borne by the song and dance of time, of past, present, future. She seeks to tell the world again, the old story, the glorious story, that her exceptional, miraculous light still burns on the mountaintop, her light still beckons and protects the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. She embraces her founding, her creation by those created in the Creator’s image, by those who reflect His light and His love for all mankind.

Angel Mountain: Goodreads Giveaway Now Live

Our Goodreads Giveaway is now live—enter for a chance to win a print copy of Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020): https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/309405-angel-mountain

 

Angel Mountain: Goodreads Giveaway Coming Soon

Announcing my Goodreads Giveaway, beginning July 19 and ending August 18. Add it to your Want to Read category at Goodreads and they will notify you when it begins. Also, I will announce it on Facebook at Christine Sunderland, Author:
          In celebration of the release of ANGEL MOUNTAIN (Resource/Wipf and Stock), by award-winning Christine Sunderland, enter for a chance to win a copy of this eerily timely novel set on Mount Diablo, east of U.C. Berkeley, featuring a holy hermit, a Holocaust survivor, a literary librarian, and a Christian geneticist who search for peace and happiness in a culture of chaos. 
          Hermit Abram, 80, and his sister Elizabeth, 84, escaped the Holocaust in Greece and made it to America as children. Elizabeth retired from teaching high school Western Civilization, and Abram, retired from teaching classics at U.C. Berkeley, converted to Christianity and retreated to Angel Mountain to pray with his icons for the world and preach from the mountainside. 
          Elizabeth hires Catherine, 33, to sort her home library. When Gregory, 37, a geneticist supporting intelligent design, falls from the mountainside and is rescued by Abram, these four lives are changed forever. The earth quakes, fires rage, and lightening strikes, as antifa protestors threaten the hermit and his friends. Angels bridge Heaven and Earth, and eternity intersects time. Is this the end of the world? Is the kingdom coming?
          “In ANGEL MOUNTAIN, Christine Sunderland has created a gripping and theologically rich novel, in which four remarkable people make their way through a shifting cultural landscape ringed with apocalyptic fire, revolutionary politics, and end-times expectancy.”
Dr. Wilfred M. McClay, University of Oklahoma

On Presidents, Promises, and Penitence

This was first published in February of this year. Seems appropriate for Independence Day, Mount Rushmore, and the toppling of statues and our nation’s history. I give thanks for our country, unique in all the world, a beacon of light on a hill, indeed exceptional, a country that makes sense. May her flag fly high for all to see. God bless America.

Christine Sunderland

Klavan.The Art of Making SenseI am reading Andrew Klavan’s The Art of Making Sense, Writings and Speeches 2019. This is not a book about writing to make sense (which I thought at first and probably need), but a book about personal coherency found in a consistency of character, speech, and action. He is speaking of lives that make sense and heroes that make sense, ways of living that make sense. When they don’t make sense, when one part acts in contradiction to another, there is a brokenness, a fissure or fracture of personality. We might call this hypocrisy, for we sense deeply that there is a grand logic to living, to life.

We are driven to create, mirroring our Creator, and this drive is part of the coherency we struggle to achieve. It is this drive, this love of life—human life and all creation—that has been implanted in each of us, that is…

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Our Family of God

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has published Christine’s post today, “Our Family of God,”  how Christian storytellers are called to banish racism and welcome all into our family of God. Thank you, ACFW!

Angel Mountain: Feathered Quill Author Interview

Diane Lunsford of Feathered Quill interviewed Christine about her new release, Angel Mountain, today’s challenges, the writing life, and more. Click here to read the full interview.

Author Interview: Christine Sunderland

 

Angel Mountain: New Review by Feathered Quill

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Feathered Quill Image

Christine Sunderland delivers a quest for peace and happiness in her latest novel, Angel Mountain.

Destiny plays a vital role in the crossing of paths for each of the characters in this story. Eighty-year-old Abram is a hermit. He lives in the caves of ‘Angel Mountain’ (Mount Diablo), located in the hills of Berkeley, California. He’s had a difficult life beginning with his survival of the Holocaust. His sister Elizabeth is also a Holocaust survivor. Together they managed to survive the horrors of the Hitler regime while hiding in Greece. When their opportunity to flee to America presented itself, they wasted no time in making the journey. Once in America, they have fulfilling teaching careers, convert to Christianity and if it all seemed to be too good to be true, this is more than a cliché sentiment toward the end of their respective lives.

Catherine is a library specialist. She and her colleagues have different points of view and were consistently able to agree to disagree until one day they didn’t. Catherine is the sole person on one side of the latest debate while all her co-workers have taken a stance against her. When she is called into Human Resources, she is advised to change her approach and views. In the heat of the moment, Catherine opts to stay true to her beliefs and resigns.

Dr. Gregory Worthington is a brilliant geneticist and he too is at the headwaters of significant change in his career. In a recent lecture at UC Berkeley (his employer) he elects to broaden his scientific views by including religion into the curriculum. When the University Administration learns of his election to do so, without absolute cause to terminate his employment, they recommend an open-ended leave of absence for the good Doctor. To support their suggestion, the spin is it will provide ample opportunity for him to complete the writing of his book.

Each character is awakened by an Act of Nature in the form of an earthquake. Preceding the earthquake, the Bay Area has been under a thick blanket of smoke and haze from the aftermath of multiple fires. However, the haze seems to sit at the base of Angel Mountain. Elizabeth is worried about her brother Abram. He lives in the caves in the heart of Angel Mountain. It’s his calling and he is bound by his Christian faith to remain there. He believes he is Christ’s conduit to share God’s message of hope and once done, he will be called home to his Heaven. Elizabeth has a strong faith but is more concerned about her brother’s survival from the elements. The first coming together of Abram, Elizabeth and Gregory occurs when Gregory is hiking in the foothills and takes a fall. It is the same day Elizabeth takes a drive to the mountain to check on Abram. Meanwhile, out of work Catherine’s luck is changing when she notices an ad for a librarian to organize an extensive personal library. The library happens to be in Elizabeth’s home. There is one other character who lurks behind the scenes causing mayhem. His name is Malcolm Underhill III. His life’s mission is to create havoc and cause harm to as many good Christians as he can. The day of judgment is rapidly approaching all.

It was a pleasure to read Angel Mountain. There is a common theme that resonates throughout this read: a strong message of faith. Perhaps it’s a bit too cheeky to say how appropriate it is to have a body of work like Angel Mountain in today’s climate, but it is. The depth of character development and the consistent overlay of supporting fact with fictitious characters is uncanny.

By no means is this a novel that is the equivalent of a multitude of pulpit pounding moments. Rather, it is a well thought out balance between the clashes of good and evil which, in my opinion, is something every human encounters often throughout his or her life. Ms. Sunderland has documented her use of fact with solid endnotes. She also includes an “Author’s Notes” section to not only render her view on what ‘Heaven’ and its many metaphors represent; again, documenting the research she did to formulate such notes with the sources she referenced in doing so. Angel Mountain is a complex read in many respects as there are bountiful moments for pause and reflection. I commend Ms. Sunderland for staying true to her pen and delivering such a compelling read.

Diane Lunsford, for Feathered Quill

Quill says: Angel Mountain is a body of work that delivers a well-seated message of hope and peace in some uncharted waters in today’s tumultuous world.

A Tale Worth Telling

Christine Sunderland reviews DUTCHESS COUNTY: A SCREENPLAY by Michael De Sapio

DUTCHESS COUNTY: A SCREENPLAY is a moving, cinematic, meaningful biopic of Washington Irving (1783-1859), credited with being the first American “Man of Letters” and the Father of the American Short Story. We glimpse a pivotal time in American history—pre-Revolution to post-Revolution, the “Age of Reason” to the “Age of Romanticism.” Irving bridges the Old World of Europe and the New World of America. He influenced many of the nineteenth century English great writers—Scott, Dickens, Thackeray—and in America, Longfellow. American literature gained respect (finally, and perhaps grudgingly).

Irving narrates through voice-overs, depicting dream and fantasy sequences in which he plays a role in the story he is writing. The device allows us to enter Irving’s imagination, while placing him in the historical context of his times. We see the miracle of the story—when the reader lives in the telling.

We see Irving’s use of folk tales and local legends that surround Tarrytown in New York State. These become his stories, and as he listens to local tales, the power of the oral telling is evident. We see the Catskill Mountains, the Hudson River valley, Sleepy Hollow, as well as New York City. We see him write the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” Rip Van Winkle, we recall, falls asleep before the American Revolution and awakes twenty years later, after the Revolution. He has suffered a “little death” and resurrection. He returns to his village an old man, a new world surrounding him. He falls asleep in Sleepy Hollow, where ghosts of the original Dutch settlers gather. He awakes having missed the turning point in the history of the Western world, the birth of the New World. Are we asleep today, detached from our history?

Heroes and history are central. Washington Irving, named after George Washington, meets the president as a boy, and George Washington blesses him. Irving’s last work is a five volume biography of George Washington. After time spent with the Iroquois, he states, “It strikes me that our country, young as it is, has a real history behind it. It shall be my task to tell it, and to give voice to its divers people.” His friend Allston states, “You have showed us the value of our history, traditions and legends.” His friend Rebecca tells him it lies with him to save—give birth to—American literature.

The scenes depict a world of ideals, virtue versus vice born of the Judeo-Christian tradition: work versus idleness, business versus pleasure, truth versus lies, bravery versus cowardice, fortitude versus weakness, with the implicit judgments. Christianity forms a background, in conversation about belief and unbelief, in moments of prayer before a white cross, in the claim that without belief one cannot be an artist. For artists must depict suffering redeemed by beauty and truth, darkness turned into light, hope silencing despair. As Irving reads from his beloved’s Bible, left to him after her early death, he moves from darkness into light. He states later, “I am sure that Matilda lives.”

There are many lovely moments in DUTCHESS COUNTY. Upon return from England, Irving writes of the festivities of an English Christmas, not seen in Puritan America. He introduces St. Nicholas flying through the night sky, made famous by Clement Clark Moore in “The Night Before Christmas.”

Thank you, Michael De Sapio, for Washington Irving has been brought back to life, framed in an immensely important conversation about faith, history, virtue, and the miracle of storytelling touchingly and sensitively portrayed. I look forward to the film!

Christine Sunderland

 

Angel Mountain, New Review by Michael De Sapio

A Contemporary Novel of Timely Relevance

Christine Sunderland’s ANGEL MOUNTAIN is a contemporary novel of timely relevance and timeless spiritual themes. We meet four main characters: an elderly religious hermit and his sister, both of whom survived the Holocaust in Greece; a young librarian out of a job because of ideological intolerance; and a Christian geneticist with a passion for proving the harmony of science and faith. Sunderland skillfully weaves together the lives of these four people against a backdrop of cultural tumult and the volatility of the northern California landscape. As college protests and Antifa-inspired terrorism rage at UC Berkeley, the hermit Abram leads a religious revival from atop the numinous Angel Mountain. Earthquakes and storms threaten, portending an apocalypse. Our characters search for answers and peace in this confusing world, relying on the grace of God and the accumulated wisdom of Western civilization.

ANGEL MOUNTAIN is a uniquely modern and uniquely personal novel, interwoven with places and things familiar to the author. Sunderland’s writing is rich in sensory imagery and also takes ample time for intellectual discussion; the topics touched upon include Intelligent Design, the natural moral law, the American founding, and the Pythagorean harmony of the spheres. While underpinned by a strong conservative philosophical worldview, the novel presents its case in a thought-provoking way that will be compelling to a wide range of readers. Most remarkable is the way ANGEL MOUNTAIN combines contemporary issues with a respect for history and a love of beauty. Sunderland sustains our interest right through the gripping, mystically charged denouement in which we see heaven and earth meeting and eternity intersecting with time. This fascinating novel comes strongly recommended.

Michael De Sapio

Michael is an essayist and the author of two screenplays, The Incredible Life of Joey Coletta and Dutchess County.

 https://www.amazon.com/Incredible-Life-Joey-Coletta/dp/1983126632

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1079116516