Monthly Archives: November 2012

Miss Marple: An Enduring Flame


I woke up on Black Friday and checked my e-mail—only to find a request from my British publisher that I contact a Liverpool radio station interested in interviewing me next week about my forthcoming book (Jan. 20103), Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth!


I have done radio interviews before, live and taped, for several previous books. But never for an overseas audience.

This one, a fun experience (below), was with Sylvia Dickey Smith about my 2010 book Becoming Flame on her regular broadcast Writing Strong Women/blogtalkradio:

Radio City UK! If it all works out I’ll be on the air next Wednesday morning my time/afternoon theirs.

What was the initial thread of this literary adventure?

It started for us—my husband and me—as entertainment. After a busy day working at the computer, it was relaxing to watch (mostly) British mysteries at night, renting discs and eventually buying the whole BBC Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson—our favorite Marple actress. Even when we already knew the plots, watching the scenes unfold began to reveal more and more about Jane Marple’s character. “What,” I wondered, “impels her to consistently ‘stick out her neck’ for other people and relentlessly pursue the guilty?”

Then I remembered Dorothy Sayers’ famous saying: “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.” And as Psalm 92 assures us: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree. … In old age they still produce fruit.” That was Miss Marple in a nutshell (pardon the image)—and I was off and writing.

It is amazing how, as I reread the texts behind the videos—the twelve Miss Marple novels and twenty short stories about her—the ideas and themes kept popping up and organizing themselves, giving my book the structure it needed.

Discovering that the fictional Miss Marple always read “a few devotional lines” of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, in bed before turning out the light, underlies my premise. And it all adds up, as my friend and critic Art Livingston puts it: “The old lady detective emerges as a small village saint, made of stern stuff, replete with the holy armor of knitting needles and brains.”

What fun!

Let’s hear it for the unnoticed, the humble, the spiritually disciplined among us who help hold together the fabric of human civility and strengthen spiritual values—often quietly, behind the scenes.

Here’s to Miss Marple!




R Is for Radical


Radical: Adjective: (esp. of change or action) Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough. Relating to or proceeding from a root.

Arising from or going to the source … this is the definition of “radical”—though the term is popularly used to describe a person who advocates overthrow or total reform of a social or political system.

On the need for “radical” thinking—Jose Marti wrote that the one who “does not see things in their depth should not call himself a radical.” Who dares to do so, since identifying oneself as a radical (even in the root-sense) is a sure way to become ostracized and misunderstood, if not persecuted?

Yet there is a definite need for radical reevaluation in our lives from time to time—to do the hard work of examining our own purpose, along with many urgent practical issues, as a new delving into what is behind it all. What is needed is self-awareness and honesty about what our beliefs are truly based on (our understanding of what it means to be human), and how they affect other people, especially the legacy they leave to our children.

Raymond Williams proposes that: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” To be truly radical would mean to return to values that provide everyone with a reason for living. To cease dividing society into people who matter and those who don’t. To remember with Joanna Macy that “Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world.”

Could it be that we are not radical—root-oriented, source-influenced—enough?

How can we do it—become radical in ways that are life-giving and hope–perpetuating? Chris Cavanaugh points out that “Storytellers, by the very act of telling, communicate a radical learning that changes lives and the world: telling stories is a universally accessible means through which people make meaning.”

And according to master storyteller Paulo Coelho, “Our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.” He also reminds us that “When you want something with all your heart, that’s when you are closest to the Soul of the world.”

Jesus said that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (Matthew 6:21).

Do we even know our own hearts in a radical enough way? There is a journey latent here for each of us to engage in. Do we dare travel to the root and come back to tell our stories?

Q Is for Quest


Quest. It’s a “long and arduous” search for something—a true investigation and pursuit, perhaps involving sacrifice. A hunt … a plan … a journey seeking the most-dearly-sought-after, whatever it is.

As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring: “All that is gold does not glitter; Not all those who wander are lost.” Indeed, when we are on a Quest ourselves, it is not always apparent even to those closest to us.

When an individual’s choices and actions seem to make no sense to a society that values money, fame, and pleasure above all, it is possible that person is pursuing another, less visible track.

The Inner Quest for wholeness of spirit, for a sound conscience, for purity of intention does not necessarily send up fireworks to announce its route. Better that it does not.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote that “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”

That’s much to be preferred to pyrotechnics that might attract and dazzle—but short-circuit the Quest itself. For every soul encounters temptation to waver on its path. And flattery, even open admiration, can throw a searcher into disarray.

Of course, our questing is not always solitary or inner. Many friendships and loves have grown from a Quest for the same thing, and a realization that two may attain a goal more pleasantly and successfully than one.

But when our heart compels us to a Quest, inner or outer—we are never guaranteed company—nor success, or even survival; not fulfillment, or certain, measurable gain. Ultimately, the true Quest is for its own sake, as we can do no other.

And we will know with inner certainty the nature of the Quest to which we are called—as we discover, act, and persevere in its pursuit.

Jesus said (Matthew 6:22): “The eye is the lamp of the body, So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

It all begins with identifying our Quest and taking the first step.

What will the journey cost us? Do we have what it takes? Thomas Merton wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain: “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer. … The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

The Quest calls us to gather all that we are and to concentrate our will toward the pursuit of its end: To be self-aware but not self-conscious or obsessed—a distinction discovered, learned, and honed only while one is on the Quest itself.