Unearthing spiritual nuggets in classic literature–a sampling of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message

slide 3 - joan howardNOTE: My book is on sale at 50% off through next Wednesday, April 20th. Great time to give it a try–click here.

I came very late to reading. And I was led there by someone with whom I have been fascinated all my life: Louisa May Alcott.

I discovered Louisa through a children’s biography given to me by my aunt after we had visited Orchard House, a museum home dedicated to the Alcott family, and the home where Louisa wrote her classic, Little Women.

Sometimes we meet authors
who penetrate
our hearts to the core.

Continue reading “Unearthing spiritual nuggets in classic literature–a sampling of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message”

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Owning our grief and why this is helpful to others–Virginia Woolf and Louisa May Alcott as guides

I wrote a book about loss and grief. In a second book, I included passages from an author who guided me through my loss and grief.

And yet, I am afraid to share that story with others.

Sounds absurd–after all, both books have been published and are available for the public to see. But I am glad I don’t have to be there when the book is read. Well aware that grief is uniquely tailored to the individual, I feel utterly unqualified to say anything about it, face to face.

Mysterious … unpredictable …

Grief is mysterious, unpredictable, you might even say, capricious. I can’t tell you how many times grief has decided to drop in when I am in front of other people. It has often visited in the form of tears and I have to hide away until it passes. It has also visited on too many occasions when I’ve sung in public, crippling my voice or simply rising up in the form of irrational fear.

Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons
Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons

Important to share

When I read this story by Claire Fallon, Virginia Woolf’s Guide To Grieving, and how she connected her grieving over the loss of her mother to that of Woolf (both lost their mothers near puberty), I realized it is, in fact, important to share our grief stories.

woolf books

Comfort through companionship

Fallon derived a lot of comfort from Woolf, not because Woolf offered consolation or answers, but because she was a companion on the journey. Fallon found a like mind in Woolf which helped her work through grief that had been bottled up inside for many years.

My companion

Reading Louisa May Alcott did that for me. Alcott offered no quick answers, no “5-step plan,” and certainly no skirting of the truth of suffering and death. Instead, Alcott shared her beliefs about death through her stories and they just happened to match mine. I was numb with grief at the time I took up reading and found that turning the pages of my mother’s antique volumes of Little Women, Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and An Old-Fashioned Girl (all marked with her personal nameplate) and reading Alcott’s words helped me remember my mother when she was healthy and vital.

alcott books

The best way to help

My process did not take as long as Fallon’s but it reminds me yet again that the best thing I can do to help someone who is grieving is to just be there to listen. And when it’s appropriate, share a few stories.

The value of writing

Alcott and Woolf had the courage to write it down and share it with the public. Writing has a way of uncovering what is really going on inside of you. Writing doesn’t have to be public to be helpful–keeping a a journal and writing letters to others (handwritten, as opposed to email) can help a great deal. But if you choose to share stories through the written word or through conversation, you have to own it.

That’s what I have to learn how to do.

Here is the link to Claire Fallon’s article. I think I will try a little Virginia Woolf; she is showing me the benefits of ownership.

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Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
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Book #2 is here! Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message book signing this Sunday in Concord, MA

barrow bookstore with books

Louisa May Alcott:Illuminated by The Message is here!

Book Signing/Launch this Sunday, Dec. 6, 4 pm (I will also be signing copies of River of Grace – bring yours!)
Short presentation followed by conversation and signing.
The Barrow Bookstore, 79 Main Street, Concord, MA (rear of the building, behind Fritz & Giggi)

introduction graphic

Part of the Literary Portals to Prayer series by ACTA Publications.
Other classic authors in the series include Elizabeth McGaskell, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

You can purchase your copy of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message online: Regular edition and Large Print available. Makes a great gift!

See you on Sunday!

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river first-640Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

A room of one’s own: what if your “room” could be portable?

What happens when you get the urge to create?

  • Do you retreat to a music studio to write a song?
  • Do you go to your specially designated study to write?
  • Do you paint your latest masterpiece in a light-filled studio?
  • Do you shut the door when you enter your room?

Why do secret hideaway places draw us like magnets?

I wanted a room of my own when I first discovered Louisa May Alcott as a kid. There was an illustration of Louisa in her special room where it was quiet and she could think. When she had finished writing her latest poem or story, she could indulge in her other favorite passion, running, by racing out the door to her room that led outside.

drawing by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard
drawing by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

Getting away from the noise

Louisa’s family was noisy; quiet and privacy were hard to come by. Journals were a community affair with the parents writing notes in the margins. Louisa’s father Bronson often encouraged the children to read from their journals during the evening meal. Louisa was criticized by her father for writing too much about herself.

No wonder then that Louisa spent much of her life seeking out rooms of her own.

Finding a separate space

I used to think that a separate space away from everyone was necessary in order to create. A busy household with younger children makes finding quiet time difficult. It’s even more difficult when your home is too small to afford a separate space.

This was when I began to learn that any space could be a room of my own.
The physical space was not the key; it was the rituals you established that created that space.

512 louisa writing in the appletree
illustration by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

With that kind of mindset, a room of one’s own can be portable.

You might think it’s a waste of time to explore tools and work routines.

It is time well-invested. In the end, it saves time.

Why?

It took me hours, days, weeks, even months to figure out what worked for me. I searched diligently for those t00ls, those routines that would catapult me away from the world into my creative “zone” in an instant.

Now I snap into my “zone” with no effort at all, wherever I happen to be, so long as I have my tools (which for me are the Nook and my iPhone – see previous post) and routines.

My room is portable.

I can set up anywhere, anytime, in quiet spaces and noisy ones too. The rituals and tools I use act as a trip wire, sending me into my head for a delicious time of writing.

ADDENDUM: I just found this post about other writers and their own “rooms” – check it out at www.penheaven.co.uk/blog/getting-down-to-writing/

What tools do you use to create? What are your rituals that help you to create?
Where is your room?

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A quintessential New England autumn in Concord, Massachusetts

Autumn in New England this year has been positively spectacular. In central Massachusetts where I live, the color is peaking this week. I haven’t seen such brilliant reds, yellows and oranges in years. Driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike every morning greeted by the rolling hills of fiery colors tucked among still-green trees starts starts off my day just right.

This is autumn to me.

A Massachusetts autumn to me is not complete without a visit to my beloved Concord. Transcendentalism flowered here for a time in the mid 19th century represented by such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller. Nathaniel Hawthorne also called Concord his home although he did not subscribe to  Transcendentalism.

Little Women was written in Louisa’s bedroom – the physical setting for the book was Orchard House.

One of the most beloved books in children’s literature, Little Women, was written by the daughter of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May. I have been studying Louisa on and off all my life and since 2010, consider myself a full-time student. I blog regularly about her on Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.

Last Saturday I spent some time at the Concord Free Public Library in their Special Collections room pouring over the diary of Louisa’s oldest sister Anna (aka, Meg in Little Women). The bright sun and cool, crisp air beckoned and I took the walk that Louisa and so many other famous authors walked, down historic Lexington Road, to her home (the setting for Little Women), Orchard House.

Between the gorgeous day and beautiful trees, the lovely antique homes and the history I pondered while walking … you can perhaps appreciate why being in Concord in autumn is a mystical experience for me.

Enjoy this virtual tour and I hope someday you can visit this special place too. If you have visited, share a comment about your experience. We’d love to hear!

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Creating sacred spaces

I am a big fan of sacred spaces.

My car is a sacred space.

The dashboard contains various pictures and icons that I can gaze upon. God has gifted me with a long commute – two hours each day of time alone. Here I can pray, reflect and sing. And often I end up brainstorming as well. It’s not only a prayer space but a creative space.

My writing corner is a sacred space.

On my small desk is a picture of my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, plus 2 paintings by her younger sister May. Sitting at the desk and working from my laptop, I can see my bookcase dedicated to all things Alcott plus the birds at the feeder outside the large window. Lots of writing has been done in that space.

The entrance to our home is a sacred space.

Here my husband, a deacon in the Melkite church, has set up his icon corner. Each morning he faithfully prays the First Hour of the Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. I marvel at how he prays the same prayers every morning and frequently experiences new insight. He’s been praying those same prayers for close to ten years.

Physical sacred spaces prompt the mind and heart to enter the spiritual sacred space in the soul.

I am pleased to offer a guest post by Lori Erickson of the Spiritual Travels blog on sacred spaces. Here’s a tease:

There seems to be something instinctual about the human desire to create sacred space. We set St. Francis amid our garden flowers and tuck the Virgin Mary under the shelter of an overturned bathtub. Many of us do even more inside our homes, creating private altars that seem to grow of their own accord on a shelf in our bedroom or on top of a dresser, spots that gradually accrue photographs, stones, sea shells, candles, holy water, and prayer cards. Each seemingly inconsequential item carries a deep weight of memory, prayer, or hope.

You can read the rest here.

And finally, here’s a beautiful and simple song to get you in the mood. The words are:

Silent, surrendered, calm and still,
open to the word of God.
Heart humbled to his will,
offered is the servant of God.

Words by Pamela Hayes; music by Margaret Rizza

Share with us your sacred space. Where is it and what do you do there?

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