From my Christmas notebook

Christmas Stories
One of the best Christmas stories I’ve ever read is No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read. She wrote two series of novels about English village life, and three novels about life in a small English market town from the turn of the 20th century through the post-WWII period.

I love this book especially for a particular moment during Christmas dinner, when the young boy has a sudden realization about the nature of Father Christmas and in that realization passes from childhood into the world of grown-up secrets.

No Holly for Miss Quinn speaks especially for women who are happily single and enjoy their lives to the full. But it also speaks for the child on the verge of growing up; and for the person who has lonely Christmases; and the person who has too much family at Christmas.

Another Christmas book by Miss Read is The Christmas Mouse, about a young boy who runs away from home on Christmas Eve, and the canny and wise old woman who gets him home for Christmas. Miss Read, whose real name was Dora Saint, wrote beautifully, especially in her descriptions of nature –the changes of seasons, the activities of birds and animals– and the way children interact with the natural world. She also had great insight into the urge to simplify our lives, to leave some of the unnecessary impedimenta behind.
.An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories includes both traditional and modern tales, and the illustrations are evocative and lush. These are stories for grown ups to enjoy and to read with children. Some of the titles will give you an idea: “Burper and the Magic Lamp,” by Robert Leeson. “Ghost Alarm,” by Nicholas Fisk. “The Anarchist’s Pudding,” by Geraldine McCaughrean. Mr. Pickwick’s adventure sliding on the ice is included as well. Several of the stories have sinister or macabre twists, and the Christmas ghost story is a classic form, thanks to Charles Dickens.
How about an opening to whet the appetite: “Jeremy James first met Father Christmas one Saturday morning in a big shop. He was a little surprised to see him there, because it was soon going to be Christmas, and Jeremy James thought Santa Claus really ought to be somewhere in the North Pole filling sacks with presents and feeding his reindeer.” — from “Father Christmas and Father Christmas,” by David Henry Wilson.

Stories by Paul Auster, Ann Beattie, Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Annie Dillard, Patricia Highsmith, Jane Smiley and others are included in A Literary Christmas, Great Contemporary Christmas Stories, a collection from the Atlantic Monthly Press. These are stories for avid readers and for those who want to sample the work of some of the most interesting writers of our time. Some entries are excerpts from previous works, and some are topical short stories. A great read for the Christmas season.

For stories in song, The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols is very handy. It includes all the verses of fifty Christmas carols as well as the music, and it’s small enough to slip into a handbag on the way to Midnight Mass or Christmas service. The carols are from throughout Europe, some dating as early as the Middle Ages. The book includes a brief history of each carol and an introduction with a short history of Christmas caroling, as well as notes on the carols in performance. Like all Penguin Books, it’s a fantastic bargain.

And don’t forget, there are many editions of A Christmas Carol available, from economy paperbacks to lushly illustrated coffee table versions. The movies are fun, especially the musical, Scrooge, with Albert Finney in the title role; but reading the story with your family or friends is a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve.

Speaking of the movies, let me put in a vote for the oldie with Alistair Simm as Scrooge. Yes, it’s in black and white. But Simm is such a wonderful Scrooge, and he looks like such a jovial granddad, this is a perfect version for children. The Ghost of Christmas Future is really scary, too, which the kids really like!
©2007 RK Silipo. All rights reserved.

Quaker Concepts: Unity

Unity, in Quaker terms, is a staggering concept. It is reached not through voting or debating, but through silent discernment during a Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Doing Business– short form “Meeting for Business.” During the business meeting an action is proposed, or a draft minute is presented. There is some discussion. If the item is of major importance, it is set aside to “season” for a time; that is, the decision will be made after a month or two (or ten), after everyone has had a chance to think about it and to practice discernment on his/her own. If it is a simple, practical matter, the decision might be made at the same meeting during which it is presented.

Unity  is reached by the movement of the Spirit among the gathered Friends. Sometimes this movement is palpable; other times it is not. This is difficult to describe or explain to anyone who has not experienced it, but is instantly recognizable once it is experienced.

William Penn, the English nobleman who left his title and his family to found the city of Philadelphia (city of Brotherly Love) and the state of Pennsylvania, wrote of Unity:

The objective of the Quaker method is to discover Truth which will satisfy everyone more fully than did any position previously held. Each and all can then say, ‘That is what I really wanted, but I did not realise it.’

The attainment of unity within the meeting is not the same as the attainment of uniformity. Unity is spiritual, uniformity is mechanical.

For a more thorough discussion of Quaker Unity, read Beyond Majority Rule, by Micheal J. Sheeran.

Quaker Stories: Two Writers of Good Books with Quaker Themes


No Same, No Fear

Forged in the Fire

Seeking Eden

quakerbook2   Ann Turnbull’s trilogy, featuring Susanna and William, begins in Shropshire, England in 1662;  takes us through the plague and the Great Fire of London in the second book;  and ends with  Friends beginning new lives Pennsylvania, in 1684. These stories trace the lives of two Quakers, teenagers at the beginning of the first book, No Shame, No Fear.  William is not a Friend in the beginning; but becomes convinced early on. It is his attraction to Susanna that spurs his interest. He begins to attend Meeting for Worship and to learn Friends’ way of living and gradually comes to the decision to commit himself to a Quaker life. The first book is the story of his convincement, so strong that he defies his father, thus losing a considerable inheritance;  and of  the growing love between him and Susanna.

In the second book, Forged in the Fire, William has gone to London to work and save money so that he can marry Susanna. The life of Friends in London is richly detailed, including  imprisonment under stark, gruelling conditions. Much of the story is told in their letters to each other. But eventually Susanna cannot stand being away from William, and she sets off on her own  to find him– an extraordinary act for a young woman in 1664. She arrives in London shortly before the fire, and the account of their escape from the fire forms a fascinating and frightening section of the narrative.

Seeking Eden,  Susanna and William leave England with their family, their son, Josiah,  now an adult and ready to begin life in business and their daughter not much younger. Pennsylvania, founded by Friend William Penn, holds delicious promise of a life led by Friends’ principles, with opportunity for work and comfortable life, surrounded by and living with a community of Quakers. And the promise seems to be delivered from the moment of their ship’s arrival. But a serpent is waiting, and Josiah is shaken to the very foundation of his beliefs when he realizes that Quakers participate in the slave trade.-

Turnbull does not prettify the lives of Friends in the 17th century. She paints a vivid picture of the persecution, incarceration, beatings, unrestrained public bullying and intensity of the drive to destroy the Religious Society of Friends. The detail about early Friends’ convictions, customs and perseverance is humbling; their suffering is heart-rending, and their courage in the face of, literally, the entire force of the monarchy is inspiring. The books are marketed as “young adult” reading; but they are beautifully written and carefully plotted. I enjoyed them immensely. These books are an enjoyable way to learn a little bit about the early history of the Religious Society of Friends.


Quaker Silence

Quaker witness

Quaker Testimony

Quaker Indictment

quakerbook1   Irene Allen writes detective novels in the great tradition of Miss Marple, Miss Silver, Kate Fansler and other great amateur “lady detectives.” The twist is that Ms. Allen’s detective, Elizabeth Elliot, is also the Clerk of a Friends Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusettes.  Intricately and beautifully plotted, with enough red herrings to satisfy even the most experienced mystery reader, these novels are a good read for the detecting alone.

But the twist adds a wry and honest peek into the workings of a Quaker meeting; not shying away from the personality conflicts, vast differences of belief and principles within a meeting; and the Clerk’s delicate work in the subtle process that  leads to a Sense of the Meeting. All of this is woven into the plot seamlessly, with obvious first-hand knowledge of how meetings work and a good sense of humour about Quaker quirks. These books are fun to read if you’re already a Quaker: I found myself nodding and even laughing as our “types” showed up at Meeting for Business. And if you’re not already a Quaker, these books are a delightful way to get some insight into meeting processes.

My favourite quote from Elizabeth Elliot, clerk of the meeting: Orderly discussion of a problem is positively un-Quakerly.

Pagan Eden – Original Source of the Kabbalah

Available February 16, 2013

The Pagan Eden: Assyrian Origins of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life

by Ian Freer

The master key to ancient original Kabbalah revealed at last: The Tree of Life is a family tree from ancient Iraq.bookcover

From the Publisher, John Hunt Books:

This is the first complete book about the Babylonian Kabbalah, about which many people are talking on the Internet. Assyria in Northern Iraq is the home of Palace Art from the Courts of the Assyrian Empire, where the Tree of Life was routinely shown on walls, tended by winged genies. It represented the King and the Land. It is also arguably a spiritual map and the basis of the Jewish Kabbalah, which was developed later. Many authors have asserted that the Kabbalah came from Egypt but this book shows that its early roots lie in Assyrian Court Art. There are also fascinating parallels to Asiatic Shamanism. All points to Asia, not Africa, as the home of the archetypal Sacred Tree image.

For more information, and to buy a copy, go to


The Book of Christmas, by Jane Struthers

Every year, I try to find a new book about Christmas for my collection. This year, I found it at the National Theatre Shop– a surprise, because the shop, for obvious reasons, features theatre related items like scripts, actors’ memoirs and NT tee shirts.

The Book of Christmas is a delight.


Struthers covers everything from the selection of the date for Christmas to the first Nativity scene, Santa/Sinter Klass/Father Christmas in all his many guises, weird and wonderful customs (and some you wouldn’t want to try for anything!) decking the halls, Christmas feasting– and lots of other topics. The chapter on celebrating Christmas during hard times is particularly interesting to me.

I am enjoying it thoroughly.

Christmas in The Society

John L’Heuruex, now emeritus professor of Stanford University and well-known novelist and poet, then a Jesuit seminarian, wrote in his journal, Picnic in Babylon, on Christmas, 1963:

Tom O’Gorman, who says Mass for the workmen here, told me this story. While the priest says the Gospel in Latin, one of the workmen reads it aloud in English to the little congregation. Tom says he distinctly heard the chap say in his Negro velvet voice, “And the wise men brought gifts of gold and mirth and frankenstein.” And no one laughed. Terrific. 

The book is now out of print, and my copy is literally taped together because the binding has long since disintegrated. L’Heureux has a wicked sense of humour. His novels are always both sinister and funny.

Quakerism – A Thought from Pink Dandelion

Was clearing some things off my desk, putting books back on shelf, throwing old notes in the recycle bin, and stopped to flip through Living the Quaker Way, which I read last winter after taking a course from Ben Pink Dandelion. Although thoroughly scholarly in his academic career, Ben is also a deeply spiritual man who can write simply, clearly, freshly and wholly from the heart and soul:

Quakerism is our attempt at collective congruity with the workings of the Spirit and it can change as it needs to. The future of how we practise our faith lies in all of our hands and hearts, in our collective discernment. There is no ‘they’ in Quakerism, only ‘us’, and we are all learning all the time, open to new Light, continuing to seek along the spiritual path we call the Quaker Way.