Reed of God

Written by Caryll Houselander
(Ave Maria Press, 2006)
Reviewed by Sarah Gould


Fanny Price, the heroine in Jane Austen’s book, Mansfield Park, makes a striking comment while waiting for a carriage one evening.  She comments on how the time between dinner and the carriage arrival passed in a “quick succession of busy nothings”.  Even though Fanny was only remarking on the passing of a few short hours, I think the line illustrates perfectly how life can, and does, easily become dreadfully dull and boring for each of us if we’re not attentive.  We wake up, go to work, eat, watch television, plunk around online and go back to sleep, only to do the exact same thing, with little variation, the next day.  We become complacent and bored, getting stuck in ruts and having mid-life crises.  We go out and buy bigger houses or sports cars just to feel alive because we’re terrified that life really is nothing more than an endless succession of busy nothings.

And then you pick up the small, unassuming book called The Reed of God and you stop for a moment.  This outstanding spiritual-yet-sensible writer and mystic sets the record straight for those of us in the doldrums.  In her 120-page work, she establishes quickly the fact that Divinity is present in inanity and that there is nothing that can bring you to God faster than changing a dirty diaper or mowing the lawn.  Whatever your stage in life, doing the best you possibly can in the moment you’re in is the surest way to holiness and sanctity.  Continue reading

Vicious Vikings

Written by Terry Dearly

(Scholastic, 2007)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

horrible histoires

Finding books for boys who would rather play video games is no easy matter, but it is a task that befalls many parents today.

There is a margin, I believe, between rude and crude and worldly, on the one hand, and messy and fun, on the other. It’s okay to laugh at evil; it’s not okay when it’s made to look other than it is.

Would I that the world were one for little boys to play in fields of peonies, and sing a gay song, fa-la-la-la…No, I would not. Boys are boys, and should not be something other than that. But that doesn’t mean they should exalt in bathroom humor, either.

So what about the Horrible Histories series by Scholastic? There are about 21 books in the series, targeting all the major cultures, especially the more primitive ones whose excesses we know about. They are written in a larger print with lots of black and white illustrations, targeted to kids, because, as we all know,  “history is far too horrible for adults to learn about.” (p. 5)

Vicious Vikings deals with Viking history and myth – anything outrageous and delightful to the ears of a boy. It tells of gruesome deaths, but in a ‘fun’ way, if you can believe that. For instance, the mood is lightened by describing a defeat in battle as a ‘drubbing,’ and the victorious young prince as ‘Alf’ – that is to say, the future King Alfred the Great. (pp. 40-1) It presents some of the stories as if from newspapers and some as comics. There are lots of quizzes, a few recipes, and such like.

It tells you how to build a longboat (pp. 32-3), gives samples of Viking proverbs (pp. 48-9), tells what some of the Viking names mean (p. 57), and talks about nicknames (pp. 58-9), Viking letters (p. 62), how to make Viking soap (p. 63), and so on.

It is meant to entertain and to teach, and I would say that it does a superb job of that. It falls far short of what parents might worry about – stories of raping and pillaging; in this case, we have the pillaging without the raping. There is no sexual content in the book whatsoever.

I know how kids learn – plain anecdotes will stick, theory and endless detail will not. So much the more so for ADHD, video-game boys. This book, this series, will reach them. Any argument that can be made for the positive effects of teaching kids history will justify reading this book. I will definitely read some of the other books in the series – perhaps the Cult-Throat Celts next! These are perfect for a boy around 10 years of age. But not my five-year-old.

Psalms, New Collegeville Bible Commentary, vv. 22 & 23

Written by Dianne Bergant

(Liturgical Press, 2013)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr


I was pleasantly surprised by the ability of these two skinny volumes to unpack so much of the ‘literal sense’ of the Psalms. I learned a great deal very quickly. Bergant does not waste time summarizing the Psalms, or in moralizing; rather, she dives right in and gets directly to the historical meaning and context of the great songs of faith.

Here is a sample, where the author is commenting on Ps 29:3-9:

The description of God found here reflects Canaanite mythological imagery. Chaos was often characterized as stormy waters and the deity who was able to control these waters was hailed as a major god. This phenomenal feat is here accomplished by the mere voice of the Lord, not by victory in a cosmic battle. God’s thunderous voice is mighty and splendid. It exercises power over the cosmic forces of chaos as well as over the political nations that surround Israel. God’s power is depicted in striking imagery. The northern country of Lebanon was known for its spectacular cedar trees. Sirion was another name for the northern mountain Hermon. These two imposing natural phenomena are characterized as young bulls, the metaphor used to symbolize the strength and prowess of the Canaanite storm god. Here these two wonders cease to inspire awe and are under the control of Israel’s god (sic.). (v. 1, p. 58)

Note how little redundancy (the Psalms are included on the page, after all), and the economy of words.

It is not a scholarly commentary, in that it takes on disputed questions and rehearses the history of research on the Psalms, as you would find in the more elaborate commentaries, like Anchor and Word. It would be more suited for a Bible-study group or, simply, an interested reader, such as myself. Many Catholics today pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but I cannot imagine how one can do so without wanting to know something about the historical context of the Psalms. This book would be suited to such a person.

In fact, this work was so exceptional that I shall definitely keep my eyes open for the other volumes in the series, that is, on those books of the Bible that I don’t feel I know all that well, and would like a crash-course in – Revelations would be a good choice for many, I am sure. We would just have to hope that the authors of the other volumes are as good communicators as Bergant.