The Manger is Empty

It’s the Eve of the birth of Our Lord.  The manger is waiting, somewhere in time, to welcome Him, the Word Made Flesh.  He comes to the world in the form of humanity, to take on humanity; to take on all that is human, yet still remain divine. He gives us, as a gift, all of Him.

But what does He ask in return?

He wants all of us.  He wants us to fill the manger before He comes, so He can dwell with us and our humanity.

Take some time today and give Him all of you; all of your fears. loves, desires, sufferings and concerns.  Place them in the manger.  And when He comes, at midnight, at that timeless, glorious moment, He will take onto Himself all that you are, all that you have.

He will carry your burdens as He grows, and they will be with Him on that excruciating walk to Calvary.  It is why He comes to us, to bear our burdens, because we cannot possibly bear them alone.

Close your eyes and go to the cave in Bethlehem, where a young virgin is waiting and making preparations.  Do you see the manger?  It’s empty, save for a bit of straw.  Go and kneel before it and unburden yourself.  Fill the cradle with everything that is in your heart:

“I’m afraid my husband will leave me.”

“My children are keeping company with the wrong people.”Empty_Manger

“My mother is dying and I don’t know how to live without her.”

“I’m next in the round of layoffs.”

“I have deep wounds from verbal/physical/sexual abuse.”

“Why, why am I unable to have a baby?”

“My wife doesn’t love me anymore.”

“I’m worried we can’t pay the bills.”

“I give you my motherhood/fatherhood, my vocation as a wife/husband, my work, my talents, my faults, my sadness, my joy, my worries and my temporal needs…I GIVE YOU ALL OF ME.”

Why do you think He came to Bethlehem–the City of Bread–and was gently laid in a manger; the place where animals feed?  In the humble circumstances surrounding His birth, He shows us that He loves us SO much, that He literally wants to share all of Himself with us, in the form of food. (See John 6: 35-58)

He asks no less of us.  He gives us all of Himself and He wants all from us.

So, this night, take a break from the busyness of the holidays and quiet yourself.  Then visit the manger and fill it to overflowing.

 

 

 

Don’t Think of a Purple Elephant! Why Catholics need TOB Romance Novels

emccolecupp_1366832845_84Today, author Erin Cupp guest posts here at Roman(tic) Catholic, with her thoughts on purple elephants, bodice rippers and unresolved sexual tension.  Read on…

When I became a Christian (not even Catholic yet, mind you—I had my heart set on finding some nice, respectable, non-denominational church near my college at the time), I already knew I had to let go of a few things in order to follow Jesus.  I have often spoken of the night when I stood over my dorm hall’s trash can, my tarot cards in hand, saying, “I guess this is it.”  I remember watching those cards–my connection to a future that I could pretend was mine, could pretend was certain–as they cascaded into a place where I could no longer reach them.

I have often spoken of that experience, of letting go of that one source of immediate gratification.  I’ve never really spoken about throwing out another: my trashy romance novels.

The more of my Bible I read, the less I could reconcile my bodice-rippers with Matthew 5: 27-29.  Also, the more I read my Bible, the less I could deny the fullness of the truth to be found in the Catholic Church, but that’s another story for another blog post.  Anyway, I knew what Jesus said about keeping our minds as pure as our actions, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to know why.  Why would an ostensibly good and loving God want us to keep our eyes, even our thoughts, for our spouses alone?  If our thoughts are just between ourselves and God, then why should He care what we think?

He cares because He wants our actions to be rooted in thought.  Pure water only comes from pure well, right?

Anyway, there are enough people smarter than I who have written plenty about why God’s plan for us as whole, sexual persons is a good one.  What there aren’t, however, are enough people who’ve given us imaginative examples of how to treat each other as whole persons outside the bedroom.  Oh, don’t get me wrong:  check any of those links and a dozen more, and you’ll get lots of theological discourse (all good, but some of it dry and complicated) about the goodness of the sexual relationship lived in balance with creation and developed both inside and out of the bedroom.  But how do we bring all that to life on a daily basis?  Besides that, there’s a ton of advice out there on “what not to do,” and more specifically for the single folks, “How far is too far?”   It’s good to know our boundaries, but our human brains need to be told more than “Don’t think of a purple elephant.”  If we only hear about what we need to avoid, we have nothing positive to fill our minds and have a more difficult time leaving the bad behind us.

Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, but we need more examples of what to do.  We need less negative and more positive.  After all, isn’t the positivity of the gift what Theology of the Body is all about?

My friends, what our reading brains need is a little bit more UST.

UST?  What’s that?  All my fanfic peeps will know that UST stands for Unresolved Sexual Tension.  That’s the stuff that made The X Files so good for so long.  It’s what happens daily, hourly, by the minute outside of “celebrating the sacrament.”  It’s the charged conversations, gestures, glances and more that build the foundation of the chemistry that makes a devout Catholic marriage the steamiest marriage around.

But where are we going to learn these things, how to brew that UST?  We might get a bit of it on TV (see X Files reference above), but it never lasts, does it?  Not long enough for us to gain many helpful examples of how to keep that tension going in our relationships.

But what about those bodice-rippers I threw out?  What about those erotica fanfics I didn’t let myself read back in the day?  There are more than fifty shades of books out there that fill our imaginations with thoughts about people other than our spouses.  You can go ahead and tell yourself that that’s not pornography, but you’re gonna have a hard time proving that to me.  What can we have instead of literary porn if we want to read romance?

Why do we want to read romance anyway?  Because we learn by reading.  We learn so much about our humanity specifically when reading fiction.  Where non-fiction can give us the how-to, fiction can breathe life and relationship into the “to do list” in a way that a self-help book just can’t.  So if we need to learn more UST in order to keep SPICE in our marriages, the last thing we need is more “what not to read.”  Why don’t we have more examples of UST available to us?

Oh, sure, Jane Austen was the queen of UST.  Charlotte Bronte gave us Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and they brought us boatload of UST.  Elisabeth Gaskell in North and South, Wives and Daughters… shall I go on?  Those books are still with us, but they’ve been around for quite a while and, while timeless, don’t give us any examples of contemporary UST.  Mr. Thornton never sent Margaret Hale an emotionally-charged text message.

So where are the present-day stories of UST?  Well, check with the Catholic Writers Guild.  We’re working on it.  As for me, when I wrote Don’t You Forget About Me, I set about to incorporate as much UST into the novel as I could.  I wanted to give readers an example of how a relationship can blossom dyfam-animoto-finalslide-poppiesand grow between two people who have to work out both chemistry and conflict before they take their relationship in any other directions.  AnnMarie Creedon gave us a whole book-worth of UST in Angela’s Song.  Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable is a by-turns angsty, by-turns sweet series of vignettes showing how UST was left to blossom or turn sour, depending on the wills of the persons wielding it.

Fair warning:  there is a danger in overtantalizing yourself with UST-laden fiction.  You can only benefit from UST fiction if you use it to inspire communication, not to get stuck in watching how imaginary people are panting after each other like deer with no running stream in sight.  As in all things, moderation!  But if you want to learn by reading some ways to put the UST into your life, Catholic romance can be an excellent investment.  Check out the novels in the previous paragraph.  If you’re looking for more titles that will give you a Catholic take on UST, take a look at the winners of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

Are you still not finding what you want to read?  Then join the CWG and write some yourself!  There’s certainly a need for it.

Angela’s Song FREE on Kindle

Angela's Song front cover

My Catholic Romance novel, Angela’s Song, is FREE today and tomorrow (11/13/13 and 11/14/13) on Kindle!  This novel has averaged 4.3 stars on Amazon.  Here is a sample review:

One of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read. I wish I had written this, except that then it would have been a Mormon novel instead of a Catholic one. It fully explains what God’s intentions for human love are, and how to meet those intentions. It makes it clear that God’s laws are for our happiness, not to make us miserable. I literally read it in one sitting, and couldn’t put it down for anything until I finished it.

Anne Wingate author of Scene of the Crime and other books of fiction and nonfiction

Click here to download your free copy.

7 Quick Takes Friday, vol. 3

7_quick_takes_sm1

1. What are you reading? I try to strike a balance between fiction and non-fiction. If I read too much non-fiction, my head starts to feel like it’s too heavy for my neck and then I get sleepy. Not a good way to live, especially for a busy mom of five. Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women, by Teresa Tomeo and Cheryl Dickow. So far, so very good! I plan on posting a review when I’m done.  By way of fiction, I’m currently re-reading Sons of Cain by Val Bianco.  This is a book I never get tired of.  It’s got everything…action, spiritual warfare, politics and even a bit of romance.  If you haven’t picked this one up, I recommend you do.

2. Have you seen the Youtube clip of JPII autotuned to Dynomite?  It’s amazing!  I teared up a bit watching it, because I remember the emotion he stirred up in me and every other youth in the 80’s…and that was even before I experienced my personal conversion.  That man was a walking, talking bundle of charisms.

3. Some of the readers of my book have questioned the practice of praying before marital intimacy.  They say it’s ridiculous, no one ever does it, etc.  Do you pray before you’re intimate with your spouse?  If not, I challenge you to try it for a month.  Just one month.  Every time you have relations, pray together and offer your union to God.  I bet you’ll see a difference.  And I mean that in a good way.

4. I’ve shamefully come to the conclusion that my children are much more well-read than I am.  My teen daughter got an Amazon gift card for Christmas and she enthusiastically used it to buy several of Shakespeare’s works.  And the other day I had to reprimand my teen son for reading Chesterton instead of doing his Latin assignment.  I never read Shakespeare or Chesterton at their ages.  Heck, I still haven’t read any Chesterton (an appalling admission by a Catholic writer, isn’t it?).  So, I promised myself when the Amazon shipment arrives, I’m grabbing Twelfth Night and hunkering down with a cuppa tea.

5. Lent is coming.  Come on…you know it is.  And it’s early this year.  Ash Wednesday is on Febraury 13th…as in 12 days from now.  I’m trying to come up with something good to give up.  A big sacrifice.  I usually don’t do food items because I can barely eat anything to begin with and I’d like to stay healthy, thank-you-very-much.  So, what do I give up?  I need to pray about this one.  How about you?  Have you started to pray yet, about your Lenten sacrifice?

6. We have been sponsoring a young boy from Colombia for about 5 years now.  It’s been encouraging to see him grow and mature and to exchange letters.  Last week, a priest from the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging came to our parish and asked for more sponsors.  We volunteered to help out after Mass at the tables with the pictures of the people–both young and old– who were in need of monthly help.  I have to tell you, I wanted to gather up all the pictures and sponsor all of them.  My kids begged us to sponsor one more; this time, a girl.  So we chose an 8-year-old girl from Honduras who happens to be deaf.  Yesterday I got a call from the foundation telling me that 34 more people were sponsored this weekend at our small parish.  Thirty-four more lives improved!  In the scheme of things, it’s not all that expensive to sponsor someone, especially if you adhere to the biblical practice of tithing 10% of your income.  Think about it!

7. My two younger girls have turned into super duper baking machines.  They have been baking cookies, muffins and cupcakes like there’s no tomorrow.  Of course, I can’t eat any of these, having a medical condition that prevents me from eating grains; but it’s fun to know that they’re using their time to be creative.  Today they’ve made some chewy chocolate cookies that smell heavenly.  I don’t see this hobby waning, so I’ve just ordered another 25 lb. bag of spelt flour.  Come to think of it, I need to add butter to my shopping list…

 

7 Quick Takes Friday Vol. 1

TARDIS cake  NYE 2012

Happy New Year!  I’ve finally gotten on the ball and thrown in with the 7 Quick Takes crowd.  Here we go:

1. Christmas Eve was…interesting this (oops, last!) year.  The tree fell down, the shrimp fell into the garbage pail and I forgot to make the clams.  Oh, well.  We’ll laugh about it next Christmas when we’re reminiscing.  We washed the shrimp and cooked it anyway.  Don’t judge me…

2. The kids always plan our New Years Eve menu and this year, in Whovian tradition, they asked for fish fingers and custard, with a TARDIS cake for dessert.  I want to go down in history as a cool Mom (or maybe even a Time Lord), so I complied.   I’m no Cake Boss, but they were happy with the results.

3. For those of you who watch the Reality TV show, Minor Revisions, you may have heard that it’s star, Jennifer Fulwiler, who is pregnant, had been hospitalized with pulmonary embolisms.  Please say a prayer for her and her child for a quick and complete recovery.

4. I’ve been making playlists on Spotify that my whole family can listen to.  While compiling a list of favorite songs from the 1980s, I realized that most of the music I fed my brain for a whole decade was completely inappropriate.  Luckily, I was able to find about two hours worth of music that we can listen to together.  And, I got my kids to learn the Safety Dance.  Cool!

5. I received an e-mail from a gentleman, who wrote that Angela’s Song answered all his questions as to how he could improve his marriage.  Applause for the Holy Spirit!  It is my prayer that my novel will bring healing to its readers and their marriages.

6. My parish has a huge wreath hanging from the ceiling with large lengths of fabric hanging down from it.  All during Advent, I contemplated how this beautiful fragrant green wreath foreshadows the Crown of Thorns Christ wears during His Passion and the fabric predicts the shroud that wrapped His broken body.  The liturgical seasons flow, one into another, and we are always learning, meditating, contemplating and growing in our faith.

7. I’m about 11,000 words away from being done with my next novel.  It takes place at the same parish–Our Lady of the Angels– but with a different female protagonist.  Fr. Sean and a couple of the regulars do make an appearance.  I’m eager to get the manuscript to my edito.  Now…to find the time.  Too bad I don’t know the Doctor.  I’d ask him to take me away in the TARDIS to a quiet place where I could write; then when I returned, no time will have passed.  I wonder if he could make it so the laundry would be done, too?