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Monday, December 30, 2013

Pocket "Change": How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I wrote a book. Go figure.

In the second week of May, Mary Carol Kendzia contacted me and told me she had a project in mind. I was having an ongoing conversation with her about writing a book, perhaps based on ideas in this blog, and we had some off-and-on discussion about it. In her email, she said that the publisher she worked for, Franciscan Media, needed a Lent book for 2014. She described it as a page-a-day book, with reflections on the Lenten readings. Apparently, another writer was supposed to have done it, but had to back out at the last minute. By "last-minute," I mean that they needed the finished manuscript for the book by the July 1.

But I didn't find that too daunting, since all my work with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate over the years had largely been about the dynamics of Lent, both from the aspects of baptism and reconciliation. And the fact that the book was short was really more of a challenge than having it be long. As you've noticed by this blog, I can be fairly long-winded. As a matter fact, if you only know me as a songwriter, you probably know that it's hard for me to stop after three verses. So after two or three weeks of contract discussions, negotiations, questions and answers, and planning, we had a contract and I started writing.

In order to accomplish the writing of the book in such a short period of time, I used the rest of my vacation time, and spent four days a week at home writing, and three days at the church doing my usual work, during the month of June. Each day of Lent and the Triduum gets about 400- 500 words, which comes out to about 2 to 3 double spaced paragraphs, a single typewritten page. They counted the scriptural citations in the word count, which I thought was parsimonious for someone of my verbal amplitude. My first draft was well on its way to 20,000 words, so I had a little editing to do. I had started many of the days out with a brief song quotation or quotation from an artist or public figure, most of which had to go into the dustbin of history a little sooner than the rest of the book.

The whole process went much more smoothly than I had even imagined it would. I enjoyed the writing process, and Terry, an English teacher and a very fine editor herself, helped me clean up the manuscript. Unlike my music publishers, we argued about virtually nothing before the manuscript was accepted for publication. I asked some colleagues of mine around the country to read the manuscript and give some comments to the publisher for blurbs. Thanks to Diana Macalintal, Fr. Paul Turner, and Paul Ford for their work in that regard.

So what can I tell you about the content? Well, it's based on the premise that the Lenten lectionary is sort of a "crash course" in Christianity for the elect, that is, the catechumens who are preparing for baptism at Easter time. But the RCIA teaches us that the season of Lent is prepared for all of us, the baptized and the unbaptized, as we prepare to either make or renew our baptismal promises at the vigil of Easter. So what I did in the book was look at each day of Lent from Ash Wednesday through the Triduum to Easter itself and look through the lens of the baptismal promises, to see what the readings of the day might have to say to us about them. The proclamation of Jesus was "turn away from sin, and believe in the good news." The baptismal promises are to reject sin and believe in God, not just a generic god, but the God whom Jesus proclaimed. To turn to the God of Jesus, we need to turn away from what we're already following. Identifying those false gods in the twenty-first century, and coming to know the God of Jesus today as well, is the task we take up during Lent. Then we need the courage and grace to change our hearts.

Obviously, I hope a lot of people read this little book. And it is little book—fits in your hand, pocket, purse, just over a hundred pages to read over the forty (or so) days of the Lenten season. Holding it in my hand and looking through it, I couldn't help but think that it seemed like I was writing so much, and it's such a little book! But that's good for the you, the reader, because in order to do the task I was given, I had to be disciplined to fold as much meaning as I could into a few words a day. Most of all, I hope it helps the ones who do to get in touch with our baptismal promises again, with how important they are, how they are a political statement as well as a statement of faith. I feel so privileged to have been asked even to write this book. And I'm looking forward to the reaction it will get from my friends and colleagues and strangers around the country. 

At least, I think I'm looking forward to it. I suppose that remains to be seen. It's my first book. And I suppose the reaction to it will pretty much determine whether there's a second one! 

What I think would be awesome is a podcast, possibly down the road, that would include the readings, the commentary, and maybe some music. I guess we'll have to see whether the text itself is something people are interested in reading. There's a link below to the book's page at Amazon.com. Of course, it can be ordered directly through Franciscan media.com. Order a few hundred copies for your church: only 360 shopping days till Christmas! There is a price break for buying in quantity, too, so ask about that. 

Better buy just one, and see if you think it's worth sharing. Maybe some "light" is better kept under a basket?