Book Review

New Biography of Michael O’Brien and Some Novelties of Summer

If you’ve ever read any of Michael O’Brien’s books, chances are you’ve wondered, just who in the blazes is this man who writes so well?  As soon as I discovered that his biography, On the Edge of Infinity, was for sale, I bought it and was not disappointed.

I couldn’t put it down.

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You need this book written by Clemens Cavallin.

Not only do I consider Michael O’Brien the greatest Catholic novelist since J.R.R. Tolkien, but I also wonder about this man’s sainthood.  He’s got an amazing conversion story, going from such things as Ouija boards and seances to being attacked by malevolent spirits and spontaneously reciting Psalm 23.

This book is not boring.  And the neat thing is, as one suspects from reading O’Brien’s fiction, many of his stories come straight from his own life.  For example, has anyone ever read O’Brien’s A Cry of Stone?  This book features the story of Tchibi, a boy who experiences abuse from his headmaster at his private school.  O’Brien modeled this boy on his own experience of abuse at Grollier Hall in Canada.  It’s excruciating to read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to On the Edge of Infinity.  Clemens Cavallin begins this biography of Michael O’Brien (born in 1948) with stories from Michael’s parents and grandparents.  Then Cavallin moves into detailing O’Brien’s childhood in the Canadian arctic and then chronicles the turbulent years following the Second Vatican Council wherein suddenly altars were stripped and destroyed, statues of saints disappeared, and families were discouraged from praying the rosary.  O’Brien’s family was deeply affected by these radical changes.

Naturally the book goes on to relate Michael’s conversion, his meeting of Sheila, their marriage, and his momentous decision in 1976 to devote himself wholly to God and to art – specifically icon painting.  (Writing fiction would come later.)

Probably what fascinated me the most in reading Cavallin’s biography, however, was Michael and his wife Sheila’s utter trust in God, to the point of downright poverty.  Seriously, at one point, Michael and his eldest son had to push the wheelbarrow to the local convent, because they didn’t have a working vehicle, to get the leftover vegetables from the sisters, just to eat for the week.

The other thing that I greatly appreciated about this book was its focus on art and beauty.  I’ll never get tired of this subject, because in our culture it is of extreme importance that we get it.  Art ought to be beautiful because it’s a reflection of the Divine.  Beauty matters!

Finally, if any of you have children and homeschool them, you will probably enjoy hearing about the trials and experiences of the O’Brien family.  Michael and Sheila homeschooled their 6 children.  And it wasn’t easy.

The Novelties of Summer

  1. I hope you’re all enjoying summer.  We are.  Normally the children start a little Summer School by now, but we haven’t yet.  For we’ve had this to contend with:
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This is our backyard.  We’re in the process of planting grass, trees, bushes, and a garden.  Oh, the work!

2.  We have had time for ice cream, however.

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3.  And we did just recently make a little pilgrimage to a beautiful rural church in Strasburg, North Dakota, named Sts. Peter and Paul.

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Here are the children on the front steps.

Even though this church is in the middle of nowhere, people still go to see it.  Why?  Because beauty is attractive.  The following is what one sees when walking in.  I apologize for the lack of lighting.  We didn’t know how to turn all the lights on.

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Check out those sweet confessionals flanking the sanctuary.

Of course you can see the high altar behind that newly inserted wooden table altar from the 1970s.  Here’s a closer look of both altars:

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And an even closer look of the high altar:

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Just look at that detail.

Question of the day:  Which altar speaks to the greatness of God?

 

Homeschooling

A New Year of Poetry: Bearing My Fardels with a Bodkin

Now that we’re traveling into week 3 of school, I’m just starting to get a rhythm down.  I think in a week or so, I’ll post my new schedule for those of you who are curious.

But onto a specific question, what are we memorizing?

We began the year with Psalm 23, The Good Shepherd.  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  That should give you a good look into the state of my life right now.  (Oh the agonies of buying and selling a house.  I wish it upon no one.)

I chose this Psalm to begin the year with because a.) the children already know it, b.) the children really like it, and c.) I think it’s important to start the year off with something easy and familiar.

After two weeks of that, we have moved on, however.  My eldest is now memorizing Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be soliloquy.  It’s probably a little morbid for an 11-year-old, but the language is beautiful.  We had to look up a few words like quietus and bodkin and fardels*, but in all, we’ve really been enjoying it, even if we don’t understand everything Shakespeare is trying to say.  That’ll just have to come later.

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Here’s the first part.  On the next page, it goes on for another 29 lines.  I’m glad Hamlet’s conscience wins out in this speech…

The little children have returned to my favorite piece of poetry for the fall: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Autumn Fires.  It is the cutest little poem.  If you have small children, I recommend this one every single fall.  Rake yourself a big pile of leaves, play in it, then have a big bonfire and belt out Stevenson.  Here’s the ending of that little poem:

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

 

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Here are two books you might consider owning.  A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
*Quietus, bodkin, fardels – death, dagger, burden