TMW: 2016 in Review

As 2016 draws to a close, I have decided to review the year that is almost ended and look forward to the year that is almost here.

Looking Back

2016 has been a year of progress for Thousand Mile Walk.  We’ve seen a steady rise in viewers, visitors, and followers since we began writing in 2013.  Now, 418 intrepid people follow TMW via email, WordPress, or Facebook.

2016-stats

This year, TMW has also been setting new records.  Our post count has reached 217.  We have welcomed our first guest author, Caroline Bennett.  On November 29th, we set a new “Best Views Ever” at 125 views, and the total views since TMW’s inception has hit 24,989.

A “Most” List for 2016

Most popular day: Tuesday

Most popular topic: Essay

Most popular tag: “Poe”

Most popular month: November (1,366 views)

Most popular post from 2016: Physical Therapy

Most popular post of all: “Ulysses” and “The Lotos Eaters”: Contrasting Perspectives on Life from Lord Alfred Tennyson

Looking Forward

This is where most people would list their resolutions for the New Year, but I am not that type of person because I think it’s unwise to publish super ambitious goals.  In lieu of grand goals, we TMWers plan to carry on as we have been:  writing, learning, and sharing our work.  And who knows?  We may have some surprises for you this year. 🙂

As we continue taking small steps in our writing journey, we hope that you will accompany us, and we look forward to hearing from you.

The following is a poem that I love and find particularly fitting at this time of year.  I hope you enjoy it.  Happy New Year!

“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be

The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

On the Incarnation

In keeping with previous years, I am writing a book review for Christmas.  This time, however, the book is not a children’s story, picture book, or short story.  Nor does the book’s connection to Christmas come from festive illustrations or folk tales.  Instead, this book’s examination of the basics of Christology and the incarnation is what makes it fitting for Christmas.

When I think of the works of early theologians from Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin, I imagine dry old tomes that will put me to sleep.  To my surprise, though, when I sat down to read On the Incarnation by the 4th century theologian Athanasius of Alexandria, I found a book that is both short and straightforward.

on-the-incarnation-coverOn the Incarnation explores the fundamentals of creation, the fall, Christ’s incarnation, and the redemption he accomplished.  Athanasius reminds his readers of the simple truths that have become muddled in the centuries since he wrote.  This book contains many lessons for the modern world.  In addition to overviewing important doctrines, the book also inadvertently shows how easily people forget lessons and repeat mistakes.  For example, some disputes which Athanasius discusses and which the church resolved in its early ecumenical councils have reappeared in recent decades under new names.

Reading On the Incarnation gives one perspective on Athanasius’ times and on the present day.  As C. S. Lewis writes in his introduction to On the Incarnation, “Every age has its outlook.  It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.  We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.  And that means the old books” (2-3).

On the Incarnation is an excellent book for any season, but it is especially appropriate as we ponder Immanuel’s birth during Christmas.  In addition to recommending the book itself, I recommend reading an edition that includes the introduction by C. S. Lewis, for Lewis provides helpful comments about On the Incarnation and thoughtful insights about the importance of reading old books.

Works Cited

C. S. Lewis.  Introduction.  On the Incarnation, by Athanasius of Alexandria.  Fig, 2012, pp. 1-7.

For the Bleak Midwinter

The following article is a Christmas installment of Caroline Bennett’s music series.  Some earlier articles include “The Poet of Music” and “Fantasia on Ralph Vaughn Williams.”

Nativity Ornament

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”—Luke 2: 13-14 (ESV)

One of the best parts of the Christmas season is the music. Because so many carols, hymns, and songs have been written about Christ’s birth, it’s almost impossible to enjoy them all before Christmas is over. My family has a vast collection of Christmas albums, and every year directly after Thanksgiving we get them out and start listening to them. All of the CDs are different, and all have their special places in our hearts, for the amazing thing about Christmas songs is that they can be of all styles and moods, and yet all tell the same wonderful story.

christmas-starIf you are in the mood for choral music, John Rutter and Robert Shaw have recorded many Christmas albums. One of Rutter’s best recordings is Christmas Star, which features the Cambridge Singers and Orchestra performing much loved hymns like “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” “All My Heart This Night Rejoices,” and “Joy To the World,” as well as lesser known songs like “’Twas in the Moon of Winter Time,” and  “O Little One Sweet.” Robert Shaw’s A Festival of Carols has many of the same songs as Christmas Star, but the arrangements and overall sound are completely different, oftentimes more dramatic. A Festival of Carols features a number of medleys, allowing the Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra to squeeze as many carols onto the album as possible.

angels-gloryFor a simpler but equally beautiful compilation of Christmas songs, listen to Angels’ Glory, a collaboration between soprano Kathleen Battle and guitarist Christopher Parkening. The album features many different pieces, ranging from spirituals to Spanish and French carols to lullabies to traditional hymns. Kathleen Battle also performs on A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert, a live performance given in 1991 by soprano Frederica von Stade, trumpet player Wynton Marsalis, conductor Andre Previn, two choirs, a jazz septet, and an orchestra. The album features numbers like “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Joy to the World,” “Evening Prayer,” “Maria Weigenleid,” “Winter Wonderland,” and medleys of Christmas spirituals and traditional carols.

Josh Groban’s Noël features much of the typical Christmas fare— “Ave Maria,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “The Christmas Song,” “The First Noel,” “O Come All Ye Faithful”—but the soaring, luscious arrangements featuring the piano, orchestra, guitar, and choirs, along with Groban’s voice, make these well-known pieces fresh and new. Even “Silent Night,” a piece every recording artist performs at some point, stands apart on this album due to its exquisite arrangement.

behold-the-lamb-of-godBut even fresh arrangements of standard Christmas songs can’t get you all the way through the month of December. Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson is an album of twelve songs, and only three of them are traditional carols; all the rest are original compositions by Peterson. That’s not what sets this album apart, however. From the opening song to the closing, Peterson tells the wonderful story of how God redeemed his people by sending his Son to be born of a woman. Through songs like “Passover Us,” and “Deliver Us,” Peterson shows how Israel’s exodus from Egypt was a picture of how God frees his people from sin; in “So Long, Moses,” Peterson reminds listeners that God raised up many leaders for his people, but none could compare with the Christ; “Matthew’s Begats” is a fun way to learn Jesus’ genealogy; “Labor of Love” is a tender song showing how the night of Jesus’ birth was not as idyllic as we would like to think; “Behold the Lamb of God” declares the glorious hope sinners have in the Messiah.

a-harp-noelThe lyrics for the songs on Behold the Lamb of God make the album very powerful, but sometimes we need more relaxing, contemplative music. That’s where Carol McClure’s A Harp Noel and Susan Beisner’s Silent Word come into the picture. McClure’s arrangements of classic Christmas hymns are beautifully soothing, and she uses the harp’s wide range of sounds and techniques to full advantage. Susan Beisner performs eleven complex piano arrangements of hymns on Silent Word, beautifully interpreting pieces like “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and creating medleys of well-known carols such as “Away in a Manger” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

There are many Christmas albums out there, but I find that every time December rolls around these are the ones I listen to the most often. Some of them are rather nostalgic, for I have listened to them all my life; others are new favorites due to their originality and beauty. But these eight albums are so much more than just pretty music. They tell a wonderful, deep story that makes the bleakest winter day a day to rejoice.

 

RECOMMENDED LISTENING:

♪Battle, Kathleen and Christopher Parkening. Angels’ Glory. Sony Classics, 1996.

♪Beisner, Susan. Silent Word. Parnassum Music, 2006.

♪Groban, Josh. Noël. Reprise Records, 2007.

♪McClure, Carol. A Harp Noel. Coventry Music, 2001.

♪Peterson, Andrew. Behold the Lamb of God. Word Entertainment, 2004.

♪Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra. A Festival of Carols. RCA Gold Label, 1987.

♪Rutter, John and the Cambridge Singers. Christmas Star. Collegium Records, 1997.

♪Von Stade, Frederica, Kathleen Battle, and Wynton Marsalis. A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert. Sony Classical, 1992.

History in Bitesize Pieces

The Thanksgiving to Christmas season means an increase in time spent travelling for most people, and while music or books on tape fill that well, podcasts are another great way to spend the time on the road. One such podcast that is excellent for longer drives is Hardcore History.

dc-about-headshot-350x350

History, along with literature, has always fascinated me. However, pulling out an actual history book after a long day at work is pretty much a futile effort -like the church history book I started months ago and have yet to make major headway in. That being said, much of the time I spend in the car each month driving to see friends or family affords an opportunity to listen, and Dan Carlin’s history series has proved to be infinitely informative….and entertaining. Each podcast or ‘series’ is about 2.5+ hours long covering topics from Genghis Khan, to the Persian Empire, to medieval Europe, to 20th Century history. Also, on his website he lists all of his sources, and provides links to the various books from which his information comes. Much of what he discusses are the less savory or well known aspects of history, hence the title ‘Hardcore’ History. However, as such he provides insight into topics that are rarely covered in-depth elsewhere -like the Persian Empire (and not the Greek interpretation of it).

If you have a long commute, or maybe a weekend trip coming up with the holidays, consider giving Hardcore History a try instead of the book on tape or cd. It will be informative AND entertaining, and is a great way to learn something new about our past without having to pickup a college history book.

How to Get the Guinea Pig

“I suppose it would be too much to ask you to cook normally?” Beth pleaded, fiddling with the zipper on her jacket, with a hopeful face despite her despairing tone.

Linnie barely paused as she continued working grated yellow cheese into a pale dough, and she didn’t look up from the kitchen counter.  “I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean.”

Beth, a normally congenial soul, had no patience with that kind of attitude.  “You do too.”

Linnie did eye Beth this time, but it was a glance with mischief behind it, and her answer, in Beth’s opinion, was not helpful at all.  “I am simply following the recipe I found for garlic and cheese biscuits, which is what you requested for the party tonight.  At this point I am to ‘gradually add cheese to the dough and toss with flour until no longer sticky.’  I grant you I am making a mess, but I am following the instructions, unless you can think of a better way to ‘toss’ dough.”

Beth frowned at her roommate.  “That’s a new recipe, isn’t it?  I know what you do to new recipes, I’ve lived with you for two years.”

“You don’t want to be my guinea pig?” Linnie inquired, in a falsely hurt manner.   

“I just want to eat garlic and cheese biscuits!” exclaimed Beth.

“Well, you don’t have to be the first one to try them,” replied Linnie, in that ridiculously reasonable tone that so infuriated Beth.  “Just wait until someone else does, then feast to your little heart’s content.  Or feed it to Rachel’s dog.”

“Rachel said she’s not letting us feed any more of your new stuff to her dog, as she’s not letting us torment her poor little ‘honey’ anymore,” complained Beth. “And everyone else who’s coming tonight also knows not to be the first one to try your new recipes, and the ones who don’t will probably be warned by Mary.”

“What was that?” came a voice from down the hall.  The third roommate, Mary, quickly bustled into the kitchen.  “I heard my name mentioned and something about a warning, and that scares me and I felt the need to be here to defend myself.”

Beth pointed accusingly at Linnie.  “She’s making garlic and cheese biscuits, out of a new recipe!”

Unfortunately for Beth, Mary had had a long day.  She’d had two midterm exams and the deadline for a grad school application, and thus, she had very little sympathy left and had become of Linnie’s ilk of reasoning.  “Didn’t you ask her to make garlic and cheese biscuits, because you just really wanted them?” demanded Mary.

“Yes,” admitted Beth.

“And didn’t you hear her say that she’d never made them before and would have to find a recipe?”

“Yessss,” Beth said again, exasperated.

“And you know what she does to new recipes,” continued Mary.  “You are the one who wanted garlic and cheese biscuits, and so you deal with this.  I’m going to my room to take a nap.  Call me when people get here.”

“But…” began Beth.

“No buts!” called Mary, disappearing with a slightly manic giggle.

After a short silence, Linnie spoke.  “Actually, I invited a new person tonight, one who won’t know any better.”

“Who?” Beth asked, surprised.

“Just a guy from Spanish class.  He and I really hit it off.”

Linn-ie,” demanded Beth, “Is this your weird way of vetting a potential boyfriend?”

Linnie began shaping the biscuits.  “Mayyybeee.”

“That’s terrible,” Beth said.

“Yes,” agreed Linnie, placidly.  “But if all goes according to plan, it will tell me a great deal about his character, in particular his ability to take a joke.”  

There was a pause, during which Beth wondered for the 999th time why she was roommates with Linnie.  

“Look,” continued Linnie, “it’s too late at this point.  The dough is already set and I used the last of the milk.  So unless you want me to throw out the dough and we can have no garlic and cheese biscuits…”  

Beth’s desire for said biscuits was stronger than her empathy.  “No,” she said, in a forlorn tone.  

Linnie gave a satisfied smirk, and continued her work.  Beth watched her for a bit, before interjecting: “Add more garlic.  There’s no such thing as too much garlic.”

“I already added plenty,” replied Linnie, absentmindedly checking the oven temperature, “and too much might counteract the sp…” She managed to grab the garlic container as Beth lunged for it.  “NO!” Linnie barked.  “This is my cooking.  Out of my kitchen, it’s small enough as it is.”

Your kitchen?” exclaimed Beth, as she retreated into the living room.  “My parents pay rent here too, you know!”

“Oh, suck it up, Buttercup,” growled Linnie, as she placed the biscuits in the oven.

Seven o’clock arrived, the hour when Beth and Linnie had told everyone to come over for “dinner and a movie.”  True to form, Ross arrived precisely on time, while everyone else showed up at intervals of five, ten and even thirty minutes later.  Linnie’s proposed conquest, who was introduced as “Trent,” knocked on the door at the ten minute mark.

“A ten minute buffer zone…could be better, but not bad,” murmured Linnie, as she answered the door.  Beth rolled her eyes.

But she made no protestations as Linnie – with a dirty look towards Ross, who was the most liable to spoil the trick – told Trent to help himself to some food.  She especially recommended the garlic and cheese biscuits, saying, “I’ve never made them before, so whoever tries them first will be the guinea pig!”  Eagerly, Trent thanked her, reached for a biscuit, and stuffed it in his mouth.

No one who knew Linnie was at all surprised when, with a soft pop, Trent transformed into a guinea pig.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it now.  With a sympathetic sigh, Beth stepped over the poor creature, who was squeaking in confusion on the carpet, and put two garlic cheese biscuits onto her plate.  Oh, he’d transform back into a human in a minute or two, and they’d see whether he was the sort of fellow who could stomach her roommate’s weird little brand of magic.