When the Popping Slows . . .

Today is the day after my editing deadline for Finding God in Ordinary Time.  I have read the book–in its entirety–four times in the last five days.  Here’s what I have learned:

I really like my book.

I must confess that I was a tiny bit afraid that, by the time I hit SEND, I would be sick of the thing.  I am not.  Each time I turn the page and start to re-read another reflection, I think “Oooh, this one!”  This bodes well for the future.

Editing a book is more like making popcorn than I would have thought.

You know the instructions: listen carefully, then pull it from the stove (or microwave) when the popping slows.  I thought I had thoroughly edited the book with Peggy Moran in preparation for Pitch Week, but then my Green Writers Press editor Cathryn Lykes had a lot to say about my commas (AKA bane of my existence), and also noticed a formerly overlooked bad habit of starting too many sentences with conjunctions.  But after she was through with the manuscript (see, I did it again), I thought I would just skim it one more time for typos and be done with it.  Yet I was amazed, on that first pass, how many things I still found to change.  It wasn’t picky grammar stuff anymore, but the nuances of word choices, cadences, and repetition.  (Such as, hey look, I’m about to use the word “fished” for the third time, which is two times too many in a book that has nothing to do with the catching of actual fish.)  I made all my changes, printed it out, and once again thought I would skim and be done.  No such luck.  Only on the fourth pass did the “popping” slow enough . . . one word every 15 pages or so . . . that I could take this thing off the stove and call it done.  (But only for now; apparently I get to do this again when I receive the galleys.)

I am ready for what’s next.

Now it’s time to shift from editing to marketing.  I’ve already started setting up book launch events; for example, I’ll be signing books at the Barnes & Noble at Saint Joseph’s University during HawkFest (September 22, 2-4 p.m.) and doing a couple other events on campus that weekend (stay tuned).  I need to start reaching out to independent bookstores, parishes, retreat centers, and colleges.  Self-promotion is not my best gift, but I am eager to get Finding God out into the world, so I’m willing to do what it takes.  If you would like to invite me to something–to give a talk or do a reading or lead an evening of recollection–please be in touch!  And as soon as the pre-order link is ready, you can bet it will appear here!

Of course, the other “What’s Next?” is a second book.  There’s still too much to do with this one to actually start writing the next, but I am musing, and longing for the day when I can start thinking about broad strokes rather than tiny corrections again.

You may be wondering when the book is coming out, since I just said I’m going to be signing copies on September 22.  I’m happy to announce that I have what we in the industry (ha ha ha) call a “Pub Date” (warning: may not actually involve a pub).  I got to choose, so I have selected September 17, 2018.  This publication date is special for two reasons:  it’s the eleventh anniversary of my mother’s death, and it is also the seventeenth birthday of my goddaughter Elizabeth.  Mom was my first teacher of reading, writing, and religion, proofreading my every paper from grade school to grad school.  And Bizzy was the subject of the first essay I wrote for this collection, way back when she was just five years old.

It has been, as they say, a long time coming.  Thanks for following me on this journey!

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

~ Christine

Who Can Help Me Name This Chapter?

Friends, I have a dilemma.  It has come to my attention that the working title for Chapter 16 of Finding God in Ordinary Time is problematic.  To those who get it, it makes perfect sense.  To those who do not, it’s baffling.  (This is not what I’m shooting for.)

Here’s the chapter, which I originally intended to share on this last Sunday of Winter Ordinary Time simply as a nice segue to Lent, with its invitation to almsgiving.  At the end I will tell you what I called it, and ask for your suggestion.  Obviously, a free signed copy is yours if you come up with the winning chapter title!


Chapter 16:  Finding God in . . . ?

How do we decide what to give?

In my years as a campus minister I’ve been fortunate to travel to Mexico City with students many times. One of the problems for the tourist there (as for urban pedestrians just about anywhere) is how to respond to people who are begging. So often in Mexico City I encountered tiny crones sitting on the sidewalk, wrapped in dirty blankets, heads down in sleep or shame, one calloused hand extended for passersby to see. They gave no accusing stare to those who passed them by; they didn’t confront us with a fast-talking pitch or a conscience-prodding sign. They simply sat immobile for hours, murmuring  heart-wrenching blessings to strangers who paused to press a coin into their palm.

On my first visit I often found myself unprepared to give: the airport currency exchange had doled out maddeningly large bills, difficult to break even at small local shops. And so, the next time, I secured a supply of ten-peso coins. Each was worth about a dollar; they were easy to carry in my pocket (unlike bills that had to be fished from my travel wallet) and satisfying to bestow. A nice solid coin. I roamed about the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe like a trippy fairy godmother, never passing one of those dear old souls without giving a coin and receiving a blessing in return.

But was that praiseworthy? If I compare giving to not giving, sure. But if I compare what I had, even on my person, to what those ladies needed . . . ugh. The logical part of me protests that even had I emptied my bank account to help those women (that is, sold everything I had and given to the poor), I might have had treasure in heaven, but there would still be an awful lot of poor widows in Mexico City. Yet that observation, however true, does nothing to uncomplicate my feelings about my peso-giving choices.

Nor should it.

Whenever students and I talk about this, I first make sure they understand that the systemic and sociological factors at work in poverty are vast and complicated, but can be addressed. (Perhaps one of them will graduate and do just that.) Then I explain the concept of tithing, and encourage them to commit to supporting charities that address underlying causes as well as immediate needs. I let them know that, whatever they decide, the important thing is that they respond thoughtfully.

And finally I take away any tidy bow they were hoping to tie on the lesson by telling them this: From a spiritual perspective, we should never grow comfortable with the discomfort of others—even when we feel like we’re down to our last two coins.


Well there you have it.  My original title?  Finding God in the Widow’s Mite.

It you can think of a title that captures the message of this chapter more clearly, please leave it in the comment section below.  The only “rule” is that it has to start with the words “Finding God” and then the preposition of your choice.

That’s the end of my sneak peeks for a while; liturgical Ordinary Time returns in fifteen weeks.  I am going to try to keep up with the Sunday blog posts, though; this has been fun!  I anticipate some significant book announcements in the next few weeks, so stay tuned, and do follow this site if you’re not already.

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

 – Christine

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was a child, one of my favorite tales was a short story by William Dean Howells called “Christmas Every Day,”  in which a little girl gets her wish to have it be (you guessed it) Christmas every day for one year.

It doesn’t go well.

Because, as it turns out, people can only handle so much merriment, so much turkey and cranberries, so many tummy aches, and so much present-getting and -giving before getting sick of it all.

Continue reading

Author Interview

What a treat to be interviewed by Fiona McVie!

authorsinterviews

Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

 

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

My name is Christine Marie Eberle, and I’m 52 years old.

 Fiona: Where are you from?

I’m from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, and have lived here almost my whole life, though as a young adult I did volunteer service in Richmond, Virginia and then went to graduate school in Boston.

 Fiona: A little about your self (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).

I have a Bachelor’s in Theology and English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and a Master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College.  As a young adult Iworked as an administrator at a street center for people experiencing homelessness, as a hospital chaplain, and even as anexecutive secretary, but those were all just warm-up acts for…

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Many Paths Up the Mountain

To all who have been waiting for the news (and with apologies for my 24-hour lack of internet access), here it is: Jen Epstein is the winner of Pitch Week X at When Words Count.  Jen’s edgy, insightful, hilarious essays about life as a young(ish) Brooklynite struggling with OCD are collected in her book Don’t Get Too Excited: It’s Just a Pair of Shoes and Other Laments from My Life.  This is an amazing opportunity for Jen, and I’m truly happy for her.

So what about Finding God in Ordinary Time?  

I am excited to announce that I have been offered a publishing contract from Green Writers Press with an anticipated launch next fall!  I’m going to take a beat to ponder and pray, and to consult with people who know the publishing world better than I do.  But I’m thinking that this thing may have God’s fingerprints all over it.  Curious?

Read on . . .

Three summers ago I went on retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA (or God’s country house, as I like to call it).  I spent many hours praying with a book of poetry: Mary Oliver’s Thirst. The poem I savored most is called “Praying;” I even tucked it in at the end of my manuscript as an homage, because it says in just a few precious words (the poet’s gift!) what I have tried to express throughout my book. When I met the judges in August I discovered that Thirst (as well as three of Mary Oliver’s other books) actually had been designed by . . . wait for it . . . Dede Cummings, founder of Green Writers Press and one of the judges for Pitch Week X.

(As I say in the book, I can’t make this stuff up!)

I went into Pitch Week not knowing how it would end but holding the outcome lightly, trusting that good would unfold.  And as I said at the beginning of this journey, there are many roads up the mountain, many paths to God.

Stay tuned!

 

Holding it Lightly . . .

Sunday, September 24 (Mercy Day), 2017

Four weeks from today I will be back on The Vermonter, headed home from Pitch Week X. I will know the outcome of a competition for which I’ve been preparing since February. Perhaps I will have won, and Finding God in Ordinary Time will have a publisher and a publicist and be hastening out into the world. Or perhaps one of my warm, wonderful, whimsical competitors will have been the one to enjoy her Cinderella moment, and I’ll be using the Amtrak wifi to research Catholic publishers and prepare my next pitch.

“Are you SO nervous?” a friend asked me recently.

Actually, I’m not. Continue reading

Finding God on the Horizon

Finding God jpegFriends, I am getting closer to having a completed manuscript of my first book, Finding God in Ordinary Time.  The process has been fascinating; I’ve been working with Peggy Moran, a gifted editor in New York, who has been helping me to make sure that every word counts, that my thoughts flow freely, and that no “insider” jargon jars the reader’s experience.  On the other side of the country, Asha Hossein has designed a beautiful cover that I will post here as soon as it’s not a violation of any copyright.  I head back to Vermont on August 22 to meet the judges for Pitch Week X.  But meanwhile, this word cloud reveals the heart of the book.  Enjoy!

Exciting News!

Friends, I am delighted to announce that I have been selected as a finalist in a writing competition held at the When Words Count Retreat in Rochester, VT.  (Click here to see all six finalists!)  No matter who wins “Pitch Week X,” I am certain that I will emerge a better writer–with a manuscript ready for publication!  Stay tuned for progress on Finding God in Ordinary Time.

Things I Believe about God

I have started working in earnest on a book whose working title is Finding God in Ordinary Time.  During a hash session at the When Words Count Retreat last week, someone I respect told me that if I was going to write a book about spirituality, I really needed to be clear within myself about what I believe about God.  I prayed about it by the fireplace that night, and the next morning got up and wrote this.

I believe that God is less interested in right answers than in right relationship . . . less committed to creeds than to how we treat one another.

I believe that God wants to be intimately involved in each person’s life. Don’t ask me how the math works. But if Eve can love her six children as fiercely as Eileen loves her two, then God, being God, can love the whole world that way.

I believe that St. Augustine knew what he was talking about when he said, “to understand all is to forgive all.” God knows us better than we know ourselves, understands the complicated threads that lead to our worst behavior, and would much rather help us untangle those threads and lead us back to wholeness than just throw the whole mess in the trash can and start over. There’s a little story about judgment day, how everyone has entered the pearly gates but Jesus is still standing at the top of the escalator (yes, in this story there’s an escalator to heaven). Jesus is peering down wistfully when Peter comes out and says, “Lord, come on in! We’ve got quite the party going on. What are you waiting for?” Jesus replies, never taking his eyes off the escalator, “I was hoping that Judas might have had a change of heart and would still be joining us.” The story is ridiculous, but dammit it makes me cry every time, even just typing it. I think it gets me because it says something true about the heart of God, overflowing with mercy.

I believe that God wants me to be my best self, and consequently doesn’t let me get away with anything. If I criticize someone harshly for a mistake or a weakness—even in my own head—I’m almost bound to make or manifest the exact same thing any day, and feel from across the room God’s eyebrows humorously raised in my direction.

I believe that God suffers with us. To me the most powerful thing about the Incarnation of Jesus was the idea that the almighty, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient God would choose to become limited, helpless, and earthbound. That he would eat and drink and sweat and shit and go to parties and have good friends and get betrayed by some of them. That he would struggle to pray, to figure out his mission, to communicate his vision to people predisposed to skepticism or religious fanaticism. That makes him a person I want to get to know better.

I believe that the suffering of God and the omnipotence of God are hard but not impossible to reconcile. On the one hand it’s the pesky free-will thing. Much of the pain that comes our way is from other people’s (or our own) misuse of God-given free will. But if we are not free to do terrible things to one another then we are not free to do amazing things either; we’re just puppets here for God’s amusement and what’s the point of that?  The catch for many people, I know, is the whole miracle business.  When one person narrowly escapes a harrowing accident or beats the odds of a cancer diagnosis, people of faith are quick to call it a miracle and thank God for the intervention. But why, then, does God not always intervene? At least in the case of deserving people—young children, mothers of young children, scientists on the brink of curing the cancer that afflicts young childrenwhy does God withhold the magic wand?  Well I have an answer for you, and it’s this: I don’t know.  But I do know that CS Lewis said when we get to heaven we will not learn all the answers; we will just discover that we were asking the wrong questions. So I’m okay dwelling in that particular mystery.

I believe that “everything happens for a reason” is one of the worst bits of pop theology ever to hit the charts—which is why I published a whole article about it.  Quick synopsis: the things we say we believe have to be true even in the hardest circumstances or they were never true to start with. So if you can’t stare at the Rwandan genocide or the tsunami that hit Fukushima and say, placidly, “Everything happens for a reason,” then don’t say it when you miss the plane that had engine trouble and get bumped to business class on the next flight.  And for God’s sake don’t say it when somebody’s baby dies.

I believe in the paschal cycle . . . the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  I believe that Jesus’ radical love and defiance of authority landed him where it lands most people, but that somehow—insert mystery here—death, for him, did not have the final word, and that he continued and continues to be a real and active presence in the lives and hearts of his followers.  And because of this, I am tuned in to the way that paschal cycle plays out in our own lives as well . . . that we suffer, “die,” and rise to new life many times in our lives, as tragedies take us to our knees and somehow we stand up again. (Which is the topic of my article “The Faithful Wait.”)

I believe in prayer. Sometimes that means sitting quietly in a church or a garden, very intentionally “descending from my head into my heart.” Sometimes it means taking a text—whether a piece of Scripture or a Mary Oliver poem—and ruminating on it, letting God lead me deeper, revealing something God wants me to know.  Sometimes it is so much less formal . . . the running dialogue in my head as I’m driving, or off for a long walk, or doing the dishes.  Although I do most of the talking, sometimes God does weigh in.  Or at least that’s what I call it when the thought that pops into my head is both clear and also nothing I would have scripted.  (I’m sure other people call it the subconscious mind at work.  I’m okay with that as long as I’m allowed to call it the voice of God.) And sometimes—often—prayer is a communal experience.  See next point.

I believe in liturgy.  Good liturgy.  Liturgy that becomes a trellis on which our meandering thoughts can raise themselves together towards higher things.  I am firmly committed to liturgies with beautiful music that is also theologically sound, to well-proclaimed readings and thoughtful preaching and intentional ritual.  And while I firmly believe that we should commit ourselves to common worship because of what we give, not what we get, I also think that the people in charge should make sure there’s something to be gotten.

I believe there are many paths to God, many roads up the mountain. I  believe that the faithful practitioners of any tradition have more in common with each other than they do with the lukewarm or fanatic practitioners of their own faith.  I believe religious people should spend less energy trying to convert others to their own denomination and more energy converting hearts—their own included—into a thriving, consequential relationship with the God of their understanding.

Can I get an Amen?