Reading The Season: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

Striving to maintain some inner quiet, I casually took from the shelf a book by Madeleine L’Engle. Pure serendipity.  It’s one of The Crosswicks Journals, which I’ve shoved to the back of my mind for years, albeit they’ve been my all time favorite reads.  But how apt it is to flip through The Irrational Season, the third installment of The Crosswicks Journals, at this Christmas time.  Oh what joy to discover Madeleine L’Engle all over again.

Famous for her Newbery Award winning young adult novel A Wrinkle In Time, L’Engle was a prolific writer who had 63 publications to her credits.  Her works span from young adults to adults, fiction, science fiction, memoir, journals and poetry, with non-fiction books on faith, art, family, and humanity.  Yes, I say humanity, because L’Engle’s essays depict her strive to be human, and how her faith has defined the essence in her quest.

The Irrational Season comprises L’Engle’s ruminations on the significant events in the liturgical calendar.  And of course, it is Advent and Christmas that I dwell upon for my seasonal read.  This time, my reading has stirred in me a deeper appreciation of her insight and eloquence.

Art is for me the great integrater, and I understand Christianity as I understand art.  I understand Christmas as I understand Bach’s Sleepers Awake or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; as I understand Braque’s clowns, Blake’s poetry.  And I understand it when I am able to pray with the mind in the heart… I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

…  Christmas evoked in me that response with makes me continue to struggle to understand, with the mind in the heart, the love of God for his creation, a love which expressed itself in the Incarnation.  That tiny, helpless baby whose birth we honor contained the Power behind the universe, helpless, at the mercy of its own creation.

Cribb’d, cabined, and confined within the contours of a human infant.  The infinite defined by the finite?  The Creator of all life thirsty and abandoned?  Why would he do such a thing?  Aren’t there easier and better ways for God to redeem his fallen creatures?

And yet, in His most inscrutable, incomprehensible move, the One who called forth the universe from nothing, the Light and the Word, became flesh and drew near to us, to partake life as mortals knew it, and at the end, willingly go through an excruciating experience no mortals had ever known.  Impossible!  Utterly irrational!  And yet L’Engle embraces such an unimaginable scenario:

I live by the impossible… How dull the world would be if we limited ourselves to the possible.

And how grateful we ought to be, that such an accepting spirit pervaded in Mary’s heart and mind as well…

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d had been no room for the child.



But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.


‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis


Photos: Except the book cover, all photos taken in Israel by Arti of Ripple Effects, November, 07. All Rights Reserved.

Susan Boyle’s Dream

So Susan Boyle’s dream has come true.  I’m glad I’ve participated in the process.  I’ve contributed to this whole massive dream fulfillment, albeit just a drop in the bucket… bought her CD today.  (No, I did not get this product free… there you go FTC)

The fact that Susan Boyle did not win British Got Talent didn’t affect the sales of her debut Album.  Even before its release in late November, she has broken the pre-sales record on Amazon.  Immediately after its release, her Album has broken the first week sales record for a debut album in the UK (410,000), beating U2 and Michael Jackson. In Australia (85,000), highest first week sales record, gone platinum right away.  In the US, sales reached 701,000 for just the week of Thanksgiving, surpassing the record set by Eminem in May this year for one week sales, by a gap of almost 100,000.  Needless to say, it tops the sales list in Canada as well.

So why did I bother to add another drop in the bucket?  Simple, I just wanted to show my support.  I know, the cynics would say it’s Simon Cowell, her producer, who is the one grinning from ear to ear.  Okay, if it takes Simon to realize her dream, so be it.

I’d like to see the 48 year-old unemployed single woman, church volunteer and obscure Scottish village dweller, who has been living and caring for her mother until her passing at 91, fulfill her singing dream.  In a previous post, I have written about the possible fallout of Susan Boyle’s 15-minute fame, the sensational YouTube appearance, and her later makeover.  But I’m glad it has turned out amazingly well for her.

Now to those who want her not to change but remain an uncouth, rural woman, I’d say, let her be. Although there’s nothing wrong being just that, uncouth and rural.  However, Susan Boyle can be whoever she wants to be,  get whatever hairdo she likes, buy new clothes if she wants, and smile or not smile for the paparazzi ….

I trust her dream is a genuine one, and she deserves to be noticed because of her humble root and high aspiration with its matching talent.  With more professional instructions and training, her skills could be augmented still some more.  Greater versatility means a wider repertoire, maximizing her potential.  From the few selections here on her CD, I feel that her voice can perform convincingly from Broadway show tunes to soft, quiet folk… blues and even jazz.

Just because of that, I’m a bit disappointed in the selections and some of the arrangements on this CD.  Except for her ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, ‘Cry Me a River’, ‘Who I was born to be’ and ‘Proud’, the other titles are somewhat limiting and have not given her enough range to showcase her wonderful voice.  The arrangements are all slow, with piano and/or guitar accompaniment.  At times her voice is solitary, at times blended with nice background chorus and beautiful strings.  Easy, gratifying listening overall… but I think the producers can take greater risks with her strong higher range, and the soulful, slightly raspy voice.

Here’s the track listing:

1.  Wild Horses (A nice rendition of The Rolling Stones classic.  Hear her sing this song on YouTube.

2.  I Dreamed A Dream (As if she’s the first one singing it!)

3.  Cry Me A River (A song she’d recorded in  1999 for a charity.  Shows she can do blues and maybe even jazz)

4.  How Great Thou Art (Somewhat weak arrangement, with just the four-line chorus)

5.  You’ll See (‘About determination, independence, and the ability to show them what your are made of’)

6.  Daydream Believer (A slow, even meditative rendition of The Monkees hit, my fave as a teenager.)

7.  Up To The Mountain (‘Sometimes I just lay me down Lord, no more can I do. But then I go on again, because you ask me to’… reminiscence of a spiritual. )

8.  Amazing Grace (So many have recorded this and it still feels fresh.)

9.  Who I Was Born To Be (The song says: ‘And though I may not know the answers, I can finally say I’m free. And if the questions lead me here, then I am who I was born to be.’… and then she writes: ‘Mom must have picked this for me.’)

10.  Proud (‘My dilemma was finding my own identity – a conflict… with myself.’)

11.  The End Of The World (A touch of nostalgia.)

12.  Silent Night (For Christmas … and anytime.)

What I’ve appreciated is that in the booklet, she writes a short personal note at the end of each song.  And on the last page, after thanking all who need to be thanked, she wrote these words:

I would like to dedicate this Album to my beloved Mother, to whom I made a promise to ‘be someone’.

X  God Bless

I’ve made a right choice with that drop in the bucket.


Season’s Musings

At this time of the year I always have a struggle, a fight against numbness.  The hustle and bustle of the Season leaves me striving to grasp something authentic and meaningful.  I have a hard time staying afloat the flood of packaged cheeriness, muzak in jingles or bells, ephemeral Santa’s and reindeer.   With the word “Hallelujah” almost becoming a laughable cliché, an ordinary expression for scenarios from finally finding the right gift for the family pet to paying up the Visa bill,  soon it would take a history lesson to clarify the origin of this festival called Christmas.

Intentionally or not, the Reason of the Season has been masked so not to offend, the birth of Christ replaced by themes acceptable to most cultures, like gift-giving, family reunion, ornaments, decorations, and good will towards all.  ‘Season’s Greetings’ has become the politically correct sign of the time.

On that winter night in Bethlehem, the shepherds bore no gifts. Indeed, their very presence and worship could well be the gift they offered.  Yes, the several wise men brought along gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Christ child only, not to share among all.  For these gifts symbolized the very reason for His Advent, the infinite King debased, the lowly birth was just the beginning of a short and misconstrued life that ultimately ended in a horrific death.

The Advent, the few weeks before Christmas, is the best time for me to ponder again such a paradox.  If there is any joy or cheeriness, it comes from the initial degradation and ultimate agony of One.  It is from that vicarious suffering with humanity and the offering of substitutional death that Christmas derives its meaning for me.

A few weeks ago during a Sunday message, the name Joni Eareckson re-emerged in my mind.  I was a young teenager when I first read her tragic story.  At 17, she dove into shallow water and broke her neck, and remained a quadriplegic ever since.  I cannot imagine myself paralyzed from the neck down, having had to be lifted from bed to wheelchair for 37 years.

But what she has done sitting in that wheelchair has surpassed many able bodies. Her international ministry to people with disabilities is still thriving after 30 years.  The paintings which she has labored over inch by inch with a paintbrush between her teeth have become a testimony of perseverance, every stroke an ode to life.  Through her writing and broadcasting, Joni has become a voice and inspiration for the disabled and their families, all because she knows her suffering had been vicariously borne by the One who came just to share that pain, and redefine the meaning of life.

The hymn (Phillip Bliss, 1875) that had uplifted Joni in her most despondent hours painted not a cheery figure but a suffering Christ who came with no jingles or bells, and utterly devoid of packaging:  “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came…”

If you have a few minutes in this busy Christmas season, pause and take a look at this short clip.  Of all interviewers, I found Joni talking to Larry King, dated June, 2009.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

J. S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring has never ceased to stir my heart.  Of all the renditions, none can grab me so movingly as Josh Groban in his captivating performance with the mesmerizing Lili Hayden on the violin.

Bach wrote the Cantata that contains this excerpt in 1723.  Its lyrics articulate for us what is unspoken in the depth of our souls, releasing our yearnings for a transcendent Creator, magnificent yet compassionate, afar yet ever so near.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

Through the way where hope is guiding
Hark, what peaceful music rings
Where the flock, in Thee confiding
Drink of joy from deathless springs
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown


Reading the Season: Fleming Rutledge

Two things I always do whenever I go to Vancouver:  Check out the indie movies and visit the Regent College Bookstore on the UBC campus.  I admit before that gloomy December day when I entered the Regent Bookstore,  I had not heard of the name Fleming Rutledge.  Thanks to Regent’s gigantic book sale, I came out with, among others, two of Rutledge’s titles:  The Bible and The New York Times and The Battle for Middle-earth, a commentary on Tolkein’s writing.  For the purpose of basking in the Christmas Season in a more meaningful way, I delved right into The Bible and The New York Times.

The theologian Karl Barth has a famous axiom that says sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  This book is evidence that Fleming Rutledge has taken this motto to heart in her over twenty years of preaching and teaching ministry.  The book is a compilation of her sermons delivered in the 80’s and 90’s from the pulpit of Manhattan’s Grace (Episcopal) Church where she has served for 14 years, as well as from her visits to other churches in Eastern U.S.  As for her writing, Annie Dillard has commented that, “this is beautiful, powerful, literary writing.”

The 34 sermons are arranged according to the liturgical calendar, all eloquent reflections on the meaning of the occasion, from Thanksgiving to Advent, Christmas to Lent.  I’ve heard numerous sermons in my life, countless I dare say, but I admit this is the first time that I read through a compilation of sermons and thoroughly enjoy them all like a page-turner.  They throw light on events of our world, from politics to popular culture, addressing them as springboard to a spiritual perspective albeit not without practical wisdom; her commentaries on the human condition are incisive and spot-on.  I’ve come out heartily admiring Rutledge’s intellectual prowess and literary repertoire, but above all, her boldness in proclaiming what may not be politically correct in this day.


The four Advent Sundays are preparatory for the main event of Christmas.  Rutledge reminds us that without recognizing the darkness we are in, there is no need for the Light.  Oblivious to unresolvable conflicts and the depravity of our human condition, we would not be desperate enough to search for truth and redemption.  Without being shattered by tragedies and wounded by sorrow and grief, we would not be genuinely seeking solace and healing.  And, not until we see the absurdity of our human world, we would not humbly seek meaning in the transcendent.

In one of her Advent sermons, actually exactly today, the last Sunday of Advent, Rutledge relates the spiritual experience of John Updike one time when he was alone in a hotel room in Finland.   He was besieged by a sense of awareness that pulled him to confront what he called a “deeper, less comfortable self.”   She quotes Updike’s own words:

“The precariousness of being alive and human was no longer hidden from me by familiar surroundings and the rhythm of habit.  I was fifty-five, ignorant, dying, and filling this bit of Finland with the smell of my stale sweat and insomniac fury.”

Rutledge notes that at the time:

Updike is in the prime of his life, at the peak of his powers and the pinnacle of his fame.  Yet even a celebrity has to be alone with himself at three o’clock in the morning, even as you and I.

If we approach Christmas in such a state of  “deeper, less comfortable selves”, then we might come closer to appreciate the magnitude of its significance and meaning.

Annie Dillard has commented that Rutledge “writes as a person who knows she is dying, speaking to other dying people, determined not to enrage by triviality.”  The world situation today is grave, our hope lies not within but beyond ourselves.  For this reason the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Emmanuel, God with us …

This is the meaning of the Virgin Birth:  God has moved.  God has moved, not we to him in our impotence, but he to us.

This is not the Season to be merely festive and jolly.  Christmas is the celebration of the Grand Entrance into humanity, thus reason for deep rejoicing.

“All hopes and fears of all the years,

Are met in Thee tonight.”



Art images:  Rembrandt’s Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and Adoration of the Shepherds

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Reading the Season: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

c-s-lewis2To embrace the Christmas season in a more meaningful way, I’ve been trying to stay close to the heart of the matter by reading.

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis is one of my selections. Now, of all the wonderful books by the Oxford scholar, why would I choose this title for the Season?

From my reading of Joan Didion’s The year of Magical Thinking, I learned that during her mourning for the loss of her husband, she had read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. That sparked my curiosity. After finishing Didion, I turned right away to explore Lewis’s book about his own experience of loss.

After 58 years of bachelorhood, Lewis found the love of his life in Helen Joy Gresham, an American author who had come all the way to England in search of a genuine and credible faith. Their love story is poignantly portrayed in the movie Shadowlands (1993). In Helen Joy Gresham (‘H’ in the book),  Lewis found his equal in wit, intellect, and a faith that had endured testing and evolved from atheism to agnosticism and ultimately reaching irrevocable belief. Lewis entered into marriage with Joy at her hospital bed as she was fighting bone cancer. She did have a period of remission afterwards, during which the two enjoyed some traveling together. Regretfully, only four years into their marriage, Joy succumbed to her illness.


A Grief Observed is a courageous and honest disclosure of a very private pain. But what’s so different about this personal loss is that this prominent Christian apologist, acclaimed academic and writer, was willing to lay bare his questioning mind and disquiet heart to his readers. As his step-son Douglas Gresham wrote in the Introduction, the book is “a man emotionally naked in his own Gethsemane”. By crying out in anguish and exposing his torments, he shared his personal journey of painfully seeking the meaning of death, marriage, faith, and the nature of God. Lewis was brave enough to question “Where is God?” during his most desperate moments, when his heart was torn apart by searing pain and his intellect failed him with any rational answers.

Gradually he came out of despair realizing that the loudness of his screams might have drowned out the still, small voice speaking to him.

The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it:  you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs…

After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give.

After the fog of doubt has dispersed and the dust of despair has settled, Lewis saw the dawning of a gentle glimmer. He realized that he had been mourning a faint image or memory of his beloved, but not beholding the reality of her. The fickleness of his senses offered only fading fragments of her image. However, it is in praise that he could enjoy her the best.

I have discovered, passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them. This become clearer and clearer.  It is just at those moments when I feel least sorrow–getting into my morning bath is usually one of them–that H. rushes upon my mind in her full reality, her otherness.

Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it. Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift.

Further, as with God, he knew he should grasp the reality, not just the image.  He should treasure God Himself, not just the idea of Him:

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.  I want H., not something that is like her.

Upon this revelation, Lewis powerfully points out that the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is how God reveals Himself to us in His full reality.  Our ideas of God are shattered by Christ Himself.

The Incarnation… leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.  And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.

As Christmas draws near, I ponder once again the humbling of the Creator God, born a babe to grow up to experience the full spectrum of being human, showing us by His life and death the reality of God, an iconoclastic act only He can perform.

Lewis has drawn me to the heart of the matter, the crux of the Season:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

— John 1:14


‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The Message of Christmas

Hopefully by now, the dust has settled, and frantic frenzies can now be turned into some placid ponderings…

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965 TV) remains my all time favorite Christmas special.  Charles Schulz has wittingly shrunk all humanity into his pint-sized Peanuts gang.  Aren’t we all but tiny specks in the vast universe, and yet our strives and questions are ever so close and immediate.

And for Charlie Brown, little did he know that by throwing up his arms and ranting his disappointment and frustration, had asked the existential question for us all:  “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

And for Linus, little did he know that by answering this question, had delivered not only the Message of Christmas, but the crux of Christianity, pointed us all, the peanuts of the universe, to the way of reconciliation and redemption.

…Out of the mouth of babes (Psalm 8:2)…

A blessed Christmas to all!

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Music CD’s, easy to pick up, easy to wrap, and light-weight enough to carry when you’re in the midst of Christmas shopping frenzy.  But what I’m recommending here are not your current top releases of the season, like Josh Groban’s Noel, selling 2.1 million copies so far this Christmas.  (UPDATE: Josh Groban’s Noel has just climbed to the no. 1 spot as the best selling CD of 2007 in the US, close to 2.8 million copies sold.)  Nonetheless, the following selections are equally enjoyable, and will likely make a pleasant surprise for your recipient.  

I’d give them all  ~ ~ ~ Ripples out of 4.   Actually, any CD from these artists is worthy of giving, although the following titles are my favorites.

CARLY SIMON — Into White

A collection of some familiar tunes, in Carly Simon style, making the new arrangements sound soulful and at times…even better.  Simon’s signature deep alto voice makes titles as simple as Oh! Susanna sound like a folksy classic.  Other numbers include the Beatles’ Blackbird, and familiar tunes like You Are My Sunshine, Scarborough Fair, Over The Rainbow, all offering a much more serene and moving rendition.  I particularly enjoy Devoted To You medly with All I Have To Do Is Dream…oh the wonderful Everly Brothers, re-interpreted by Carly Simon. You Can Close Your Eyes is particularly poignant, with Ben and Sally Taylor, Simon’s children with ex-husband James Taylor. The album also includes two new tunes, Simon’s own Love Of My Life and Ben Taylor and David Saw’s I’ll Just Remember You, which, in Simon’s own words, “…the most beautiful and simple song I’ve ever heard.”  All in all, this CD is one true gem, serenity in audio mode.



EVA CASSIDY — Songbird

Like so many artists before her, such as Van Gogh and Jane Austen, to name a few, Eva Cassidy received her honor and recognition posthumously.  1996 marked her untimely death from melanoma.  Since then, Cassidy’s Songbird album received Gold in 2000 and Platinum in 2001.  Her soulful soprano voice transcends the genres of folk, jazz, and country into a sublimation of a unique vocal style.  Fields of Gold starts off this album.  Just for this song, it’s worthwhile to get the CD.  I find Cassidy’s rendition much more soulful and poignant than the original Sting version.  Other songs include Autumn Leaves, Songbird (in Love Actually, 2003), Time Is A Healer, I Know You By Heart.  Yes, there’s also her own interpretation of the classic Over The Rainbow, bringing into it her signature fine vocal and acousitic guitar playing.  A valuable collection.


JOHN COLTRANE — Coltrane for Lovers

If you’re a jazz lover, this is a must-have (you probably own it already).  If you’re not a jazz lover, this is a must-have.  It’ll introduce you to what jazz can do to your whole psyche.  A compilation of Coltrane’s tenor sax playing some soulful and quiet romantic tunes.  You don’t need to be a jazz lover to be attracted to these soothing and sensitive renditions.  I find it particularly relaxing listening to this CD while driving alone at night…quite a listening, and driving experience.  Selections include numbers with Duke Ellington on the paino, and Jimmy Garrison on bass.  A most enjoyable title for any lover, music or romance.

Amazing Grace for Christmas

 Amazing Grace

This is one amazing film about an extraordinary man’s fight against slavery in 18th Century England.  The story chronicles Christian Parliamentarian and social reformer William Wilberforce’s mammoth battles in the British political arena to abolish the slave trade.

At that time, slaves were shipped from Africa to the West Indies in appalling conditions, many arriving dead.  They were chained to work on sugar plantations of British owners. Abolishing the slave trade meant a threat to the very economy of Great Britain.  William Wilberforce had given up twenty youthful years and his health to champion the anti-slavery cause.  Three days before his death, he saw his life-long advocacy triumphant as the abolition bill passed in the House of Commons, demolishing the institution of slavery in all of the British Empire.

The film is a display of superb artistry.  First of all, it benefits from a well-written screenplay by Steven Knight.  The award-winning Knight’s other film Eastern Promises (2007) has just garnered 3 Golden Globes nominations including Best Picture.

The exceptional cast is most satisfying to watch. Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd is William Wilberforce, whose performance is intelligent and engaging.  He is effectively supported by a mass of extraordinary British actors, among them the veterans Albert Finney and Michael Gambon.

Albert Finney plays John Newton, the Pastor and mentor of Wilberforce.  It is from Newton that Wilberforce draws his inspiration and strength for his cause.  Newton himself used to be a slave trader.  His ephiphany came during a deadly storm while he was on a slave ship. The tempest he encountered reflected the torrents of guilt billowing in his own conscience.  Ultimately yielding to a merciful God, Newton was totally changed.  He abandoned the slave trade, his own livelihood, and became a Christian Pastor, spreading the message of God’s love and the freedom God had intended for all people. His writing of the tune and lyrics of Amazing Grace summed up the poignant conversion in his life.

The meticulously researched and designed period costumes and set, together with the fine cinematography bring out a beautiful and engaging film.  In many scenes, I feel like I’m looking through a portal of Rambrandt and Vemeer’s paintings in motion. 

The DVD is packed full of commentary and background information.  The music video of Chris Tomlin playing the piano and singing his contemporary version of Amazing Grace is both a visual and audio delight. 

One note of caution though, the film follows closely the British Parliamentary proceedings and political debates of the time.  Those anticipating a more romantic rendition may not have their expectation met.  However, I find the film very educational, informative, as well as inspiring.  What better gift to give this Christmas than the message inspired by the song Amazing Grace:

Chris Tomlin – Amazing Grace

(My Chains Are Gone)

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

~ ~ ~ 3 Ripples

Miss Potter for Christmas

It’s not too early to make up a Christmas gift list, or actually start some Christmas shopping. I’ve a recommendation here for a DVD that you can safely watch with your children. But you’d also want to watch it by yourself too, because then you can savour in solitude the touching moments an adult can appreciate, and yes, shed a private tear, and let the movie work its magic freely in your heart.

Miss Potter (2006) is the story of Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, one of the best loved children icons of all times. The film is a gem glittering with acting talents. As Beatrix, Renée Zellweger (Oscar for Cold Mountain 2003) brings to the screen a most delightful character, her genuine and innocent demeanor captures the audience’s heart the very moment she appears. She receives nominations this year for a Golden Globe and a Saturn Award for her role in Miss Potter, and well deserved.

Ewan McGregor (of Star Wars and Moulin Rouge fame, no relation to farmer McGregor) plays the slightly comical first-time publisher who has made history with his appreciation and confidence in the talents of Beatrix. The two naturally fall in love. Like a Jane Austen novel, such a relationship is frowned upon by Beatrix’s upper-middle class family and openly forbidden. But this time, a hundred years after Jane, Beatrix boldly confronts the inequitable and restrictive Victorian values and norms.

Emily Watson, herself an Oscar nominee for her role in Gosford Park, (and she is excellent in Angela’s Ashes), plays a lively supporting role as McGregor’s unmarried sister. The social issue of the unmarried female in a male-dominated society is freely explored through her outspoken character, but not without poignancy.

I must mention the song written for the movie, which has won the 2007 World Soundtrack Award for Best Original Song Written for Film. “When You Taught Me How To Dance” is sung by Ewan McGregor in the film during a mesmerizing and moving scene. As the credit rolls in the end, this touching tune is heard again, this time in its entirety performed by Katie Melua. Now, she’s another story to write about.

The captivating soundtrack matches the beautifiul scenery and period costume, together with the excellent script and the whimsical animation of Beatrix’s animal friends, make the movie utterly enjoyable and gratifying, but still delivering effectively the depth of sentiments and the dramatic twists and turns.

The DVD includes background on Beatrix Potter, commentary by director Chris Noonan and a making-of documentary with extensive interview with Renee Zellweger, plus a music video performed by Katie Melua singing “When You Taught Me How To Dance”. A valuable collection and I’m sure, a welcomed gift.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Beatrix Potter: A Journal (2006)

Beatrix Potter A Journal Book Cover

As a companion to the movie, and another great gift idea, is the book Beatrix Potter: A Journal which came out last year. A visual journal in the vein of Nick Bantock, the book is an imaginary scrapbook Beatrix would have made to chronicle her own life, with handwritten entries and notes, amusing drawings, little attached booklets, photo albums, and letters that can be taken out from envelopes. The book corresponds amazingly well with the movie, like a visual commentary.

Here are a couple sample pages from the journal:



~~~3 Ripples for both Movie and Book