Archive for November, 2010

The illustrated children’s version of Magical Poems is now available from Lulu Press. To preview the poems written by Jane Beal and colorful drawings created by Paula MinGucci, check out:


May you and the children in your life richly enjoy this book!

“… like the wings
of the Golden Phoenix who rises now
from the ashes to the skies, from my heart
to the memory of generations!”

Jane Beal, PhD
from “Symbols of Queen Elizabeth’s Renaissance”
in Magical Poems (2010)

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Last year, I went on a pilgrimage to Spain, visiting five cities: Madrid, Toledo, Avila, León, and Santiago de Compostela. It was the last of three amazing journeys I took; on the others, I visited Rome and Jerusalem. But Spain was special to me.

Recently, I sat reading Nick Bantock’s book, The Forgetting Room. It is about a man named Armon Hurt(ago) who returns to Rhonda, Spain after the death of his grandfather, a painter. Through the grieving process, Armon reconnects with his own creativity and desire to paint. He paints a triptych that begins as a watercolor of a high bridge spanning a gorge. He meets a beautiful woman whose face is scarred, and somewhere deep inside his heart, he understands that as he heals from his previous marriage and divorce, this woman will be important to him.

Nick Bantock does a beautiful job in the book of evoking Spain’s history in the twentieth century, realistically referencing what life was like under the dictator, Franco (without ever naming him), alluding to the painter Picasso and quoting the poet Lorca. At the center of the magical realism of the story is a mystery invoked by my favorite words in the book, Nick Bantock’s own, contained in a letter Armon finds: “Please follow these instructions with great care in order to rebuild a lost memory.”

Many things about this story interest me: the names of Armon’s grandparents, Rafael (which means “God is my healer”) and Marianne (which means “bitter grace”) … the names of Rafael’s best friends, Paolo and Francesca (surely an allusion to the lovers in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno) … and perhaps most importantly, the name of the main character. His last name was shortened and Anglicized by his father from Hurtago to Hurt, but at the end of the story, Armon owns his Spanish heritage and reclaims his grandfather’s name.

Equally significant is his first name, Armon, which in Hebrew means “high place.” For The Forgetting Room is a story about what happened on the bridge over the gorge — the high place that spans, in some sense, eternity — where Armon’s grandfather nearly died and where, through the possibilities of time twisted back on itself, Armon goes to save his life. That Armon is able to rebuild this memory in his soul helps reconcile him to his grandfather’s loss in old age.

Reading the book is like going on a pilgrimage of the heart, silently following in the footsteps of Armon Hurtago. If you go on it, you could be changed like he is. You might feel for yourself the extraordinary feelings that he feels when he is released from the prison of being one way when he was meant to become a greater man.

“I felt the wind.

I wanted to eat the sky, dance a jig, marry the world.

I could feel the earth prickling through the soles of my feet.”

Nick Bantock

The Forgetting Room

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The Snow Queen

I feel like I have been living with the Snow Queen for most of my life. I first met her in Narnia when she kidnapped Edmund, and I didn’t like her much. Her name was Jadis, and she was known as the White Witch. Later, I met her in a science-fiction novel by Joan D. Vinge, and I pitied her: tortured by a desire for love and power and eternal life, compelled to do cruel things. Her name was Aerinrhod. She stole a man and  made him her lover. But her daughter-clone, Moon, deposed her and won back  the man, Sparks — whom she freed from enslavement to Winter — and then Moon  became the Summer Queen. Extraordinary stories. (Sometimes I’ve even thought I’ve met the Snow Queen in real life, and maybe you have, too.) These stories are based on a Christian fairy-tale written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845 called “The Snow Queen.”

Yesterday, I went to the Wheaton Public Library — they were having a holiday book sale — and discovered a version of the fairy-tale illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. I came home and started reading it in my livingroom … could barely break away to go to the evening meeting of my church … and came home quickly to finish the story. It is that kind of story.

I suppose one of the things I love best about it is the heroine Gerda, whose breath, when she prays, takes the form of angels who give her the courage and the strength to break into the Snow Queen’s Palace and rescue her friend, Kai, who has been taken captive. Kai suffers from a splinter of glass in his heart, which turned it to ice, and a speck of glass in his eye, which makes him look at the whole world as if it were nothing more than “boiled spinach.” The splinter and the speck came from a mirror, made by the devil himself, which shattered and has been spoiling the ability of people to see what is true and good ever since. Even without understanding what happened to Kai, Gerda goes looking for him when he is lost, never giving up on him despite his unkindness to her. Gerda’s love has a special power — an innocence — that draws Kai back to the light and warmth of summer.

I also like the birds in this story, who are constantly looking out for Gerda, and I love the way that Gerda can understand them. The language of birds is Gerda’s heart-language. But every creature, whether man or beast, is her friend: a princess befriends her just as easily as a robber-girl, a reindeer transports her to the North. (In a way, it is so fitting that we sang the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” in the church service last night — the perfect musical interlude to Gerda’s story!) But there are many mysteries in “The Snow Queen.”

The Mary Engelbreit version of the story shortens and simplifies it a bit, but the original tale is vividly and expressively about sin and grace … love and redemption … the violence of demons and the power of God. You can read the original fairy-story if you visit: “The Snow Queen.” The whole thing is interwoven with complex symbols with meaning worth meditating on: the shattered mirror, the roses, the spelling of the word “ETERNITY” that sets Kai free after Gerda’s kisses him and dances with him in the Snow Queen’s empty palace.

Thinking about this made me wonder about the fairy-tale writer himself: Hans Christian Andersen. He suffered a great deal in his life, from childhood on, and he wrote memoirs about his experiences, including The Fairy-Tale of My Life. Others have summarized his life-story, too (as has Petri Liukkonen in his essay “Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)“. Yet despite his suffering, Hans Christian Andersen wrote prolifically (see the index of his writings in Danish and English), and the legacy of his writings has inspired generations of children and writers in over 150 languages — including me and you.

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On seeing truly

“True seeing is an act of love”

George Oppen


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Today, I woke feeling amazed that it is already the second week of November. Soon, the year will end, and 2011 will begin! Between now and then, we will celebrate Christmas.

So I wrote a poem with a special word in it.

The word “undying” is most often used as an adjective, to describe something or someone immortal, but what if undying were a verb — something we do, something we are?

My poem this morning is about that, and you can listen to it: “TheMiracleIsUndying

This is your destiny:

to be loved more deeply than being or non-being —

and after listening, to sing!

Jane Beal


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