Friday, May 17, 2019

Review of "Spyridon's Shoes"...

Several weeks back, I received a review copy of Spyridon’s Shoes by Khouria Christine Rodgers and I have been meaning to get that review actually written and not just outlined. Every time I sit down to work on it, another of my kids picks up this book and starts it so I wait for them to finish. Today, I had a teen get the book for me and one of the middle schoolers called out, “I put it there to wait for me! I was going to start it today!”

“Haven’t you read it once already?”

“No! I read it to the little girls, this time it is for me!

This is the kind of book it is. It's a quick read, taking only about an hour, and is well suited to kids in the middle school years but was easily read by my ten-year-old. It is engaging enough that my sixteen-year-old read it as soon as the mail was delivered, in a single sitting.

It opens on the main character, a boy, which is well noticed by my children who feel like most main characters these days are girls. I think this an important point because even though I have six daughters, I also have five sons and I know that often boys like to read about other boys. The cover shows a scene in the second chapter in which Spyros is helped by an elderly monk who washes and bandages his foot and gives him his own shoe to keep those wraps in place. The story grows from this very tender and compassionate beginning.

This story is about St. Spyridon but rather than an account of his life, it is rather a story about this boy’s encounter with him. I like this perspective. While it might be in my daily life that I come across people who are living saints, I won’t be able to appreciate them. It’s a sad truth. I think that this is something that kids can agree with because their lives are often full of not truly appreciating what they have. This is okay, it's a learned skill, one I am still not very good at yet. I can be patient with them on this.

There is another reason I really like this approach. As a child, I liked reading about saints but I always wondered about the people they interceded for and what happened in their lives. Growing up, I was surrounded by images of saints. My Mexican grandmother had a print of the Christ Child, the Santo NiƱo, surrounded by smaller little images of people being saved by Christ. Around the frame of the print, she tucked in photos of people she had prayed for or was currently prayed for so that they could be another widening circle of grateful recipients. Sometimes I would ask about this person or that one and she would happily tell me. Only one little image on the print was unknown to her. It featured two women with their hands held up in the air as a bandit wielding a gun approached them. They had been saved and I always wanted to know more but she didn’t have more to offer.

As an adult, I carry this wonder with me. I think about St Spyridon and his worn-out shoes and wonder about all those people he has walked out to help. I can wonder how it would feel to approach him and offer a small measure of gratitude. In this book, the boy has this very opportunity. Khouria Christine gives us an opportunity to think about this saint and his very real work in the world and what it would be like to approach him. I think this is why my children keep returning to this book again and again. They want to know what it would be like to step into his shoe and walk with Spyros, touching holiness and being healed by it.

I won’t spoil this book for you but I will tell you that I, with my tender little heart, cried at the ending. I think I will also have to pick this book up again and again. You will, too.

I was not compensated for my review and was not required to provide a positive review. I did receive a free copy which is super cool because we really, really liked it. The book is available from major online retailers but also through the publisher HERE. Ask your church bookstore to carry it.

The hard things...

Every day, I pull out my big three-ring notebook and help my children memorize poetry. Eli is memorizing a new translation of Psalm 50 and it is killing him. I don’t know this translation myself and I have to stare at the words otherwise they morph into one or another version or maybe just one that I am making up as I go. This is really hard. This translation is so similar but also so different and he keeps sliding into his old one, that one that he hears every day when his father reads the morning prayers which just happens to be the same as the one that lives in my head. So we work on it, just a few words at a time, every single day.

He really has to focus and so do I because I don’t know it and I just keep sliding into the one I actually can say. I kick everyone out of the room and I stare at these words as he sips his coffee and I can see the wheels turning in his head while the ones in my own head struggle to stay on track. He does not have to do this, he is not obligated, but he is doing it anyway. He whispers under his breath, “This is the hardest thing that I will ever do.” He is on to something here.

Just doing hard things is hard. This is something that is a such a mental workout that it feels like an exercise in futility, like watching Sysophis rolling his rock back up the hill every morning. Just like that but, only not, it is just a mental workout. It is not like Eli is climbing Mt Everest or anything, I am not his sherpa dragging myself up a mountain with him; it is just memory work. That is what makes it harder. We have a hard time doing the little hard things, the ones that are actually possible, the ones that show up in our daily lives, the ones that feel both so insurmountable that we cannot muster the strength to even consider doing it but also ones that feel so small that they aren’t worth doing. So, we don’t learn to do hard things. We learn to stop before we even start. I think that we should learn to the little hard things, and do lots of them, and to celebrate them. I am never going to climb Mt Everest but I just might memorize this prayer.

Why is he even doing this? Well, our religion has very scripted services and over thousands of years has developed a number of books that help us to say the right things and do the right things as we stand in the right places. Sometimes, it is easier to memorize pieces of these services to make it easier to do the other things, like hold lots of lit candles and gold plated pots of burning incense that we swing around. One of the publishers of these books is making some changes because of some weird modern day, first world problems, like copyright law. It’s easier for them to publish books if they own all the pieces inside so some of the translations are changing. My husband is adamantly opposed to this. He gets so upset and anxious and downright irritable at the thought of memorizing these little pieces over again using this new translation. He thinks it’s impossible. To him, he might as well be climbing Mt Everest and he is not alone. There is a large contingent of clergy like himself who also think they will never memorize these prayers. They don’t even try because it is just impossible.

Eli has his eyes on the future and he knows that if he does become clergy, like his father, then he will have a leg up if he already knows these translations. That is why, every day, he chips away at Mt Everest. He is starting with one prayer, just one, and only a few words at a time. One of these days, he will look down from the top with this prayer safely tucked into his pocket, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, and then steel himself for the next mountain.

“This is the hardest thing I will ever do,” Eli tells me.

He might be right. I think the next one will be easier because he did this one first. That is why I sit at the table with him and sip my own coffee. Mt Everest, here we come.