a peek inside: a new book and the story behind it
in which i tell you a bit of the backstory of my next book, book No. 4, The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season, coming soon to a bookstore near you…
The call came just about a year ago. An editor I adored had dialed me up seemingly out of the blue. She had an idea: Our good friends at Abingdon Press had an itch to launch a small line of really beautiful gift books, the sorts of books you might tuck into the drawer of your bedside table, the sort you might leave in a nook where you often curl up for a long minute’s ponder. The sort of book you might stash in your glove compartment, or the cupholder next to your steering wheel, to steal a few minutes’ solace while idling in the after-school car line.
The wise and wonderful editor thought that maybe Slowing Time was the book with which to begin. Specifically, she wanted to draw from the winter sections of that long-ago very first book with my name on the cover — from Winter, Season of Deepening (basically Advent, the counting-toward-Christmas month of December), and Winter, Season of Stillness (the dawn of the newborn year, the quiet and cold months of January and February) —the sections that began and ended Slowing Time’s spiral through the wonder and astonishments of the year.
Would I be keen to nip and tuck, to add and subtract, to make something wholly new out of something already well-worn, its pages rubbed soft at the edges, its corners turned in, in that way that we mark a place to return to? Would I be willing to dive into winter all over again?
The answer was an unqualified and emphatic, Why, certainly!
So, as the nights grew longer last December and started to brighten minute by minute through January and February, long before anyone ever imagined the pandemic about to strike, about to change just about everything, I daydreamed and plotted all over again. Just what would I tuck into a field guide to winter’s often unwhispered wonders?
I settled on Stillness. I charted my way through the months by the sun and the moon and the stars in the heavens — by the solstice on the longest darkest night, and by Epiphany when the star shines brightly. I traced the stirrings in meadow and forest, and paid heed to the invisible but certain stirrings underground, deep within earth and within our very own quieting selves.
As is my capricious way, I jampacked wonderments of sacred contemplation and delighted in the kitchens of December, January and February. I paused to inhale snippets of poetry. And I counted out blessings for week after week, a calendar of meditative post-its, for each winter’s month.
The point is perhaps countercultural. It is, in my book, imperative: Dare to be still, dare so even in, especially in, December, when the world typically kicks into overdrive. And keep at it clear through to the first rumblings of vernal awakening. Relish January’s blessing of starting all over again, wiping clean our soulful slate, resetting our sights on the determined ascent. Consider the ways February calls us to reach beyond our solitude, beyond the walls of our very own hearts, to attend to the urgencies of those we love, and those we don’t even know — yet.
Last winter, deep in the making of Stillness, I didn’t know, in those long and glorious weeks of tapping away on my keyboard, that its October birthing — and this coming winter — would come on the heels of months of locked-down fear and worry and heartbreak. I didn’t know that we — the people of this holy Earth — would have been sequestered into a stillness that was not to our liking, one dictated by an invisible virus, one that’s barely understood even all these months later. I didn’t know how hungry we’d be for face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart connection.
And so the invitation now is more urgent than ever: Seek a stillness that draws you quietly, gently into your deepest self. Look more than ever for the small wonders that punctuate your every day. Make your own joy. Savor an Advent — or a Festival of Lights — that’s stripped of the crazy-making cacophonies. Kindle a flame, night after night. Awake in the first light of dawn. Cloak yourself in layers and layers of illumination, ones you stir on the stove, ones you pull from the bookshelves, ones you gather on a snow-laden walk through the woods.
The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season will tiptoe into the world in just a month, on Tuesday, October 6, to be precise. But I’m telling you first, because everything I write begins here, where some of the holiest stirrings of my life have been birthed.
I’m going to leave you a few little excerpts, and the peeks at the pages and cover above.
But first, one penultimate thing: my editor promised Stillness would be beautiful, and I am humbled to say that I do think it is. I was delighted to discover that Abingdon hired a brilliant book designer — Jeff Jansen is his name and, among other brilliant strokes, he’s the genius who designed a few wonders for best-selling author Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.
I gasped the first time I saw the red bird perched on the red-berried bough on the all-white cover Jeff designed for Stillness, and once I turned the pages, spotted the hand-drawings of the fat-cheeked raccoon, the wily squirrels, the pine cones, the gingerbread babies and the bright shiny kettle, I swooned again and again. When the first finished copy landed with a plop on my doorstep a few weeks ago, my knees nearly buckled when I discovered they’d graced Stillness with that rarest of book-publishing graces: the sewn-in satin ribbon that might mark your travels through the season soon upon us, the season of stillness, and so many wonders awaiting.
Though the peddling part of book publishing is the part that breaks me out in hives, my publisher would be not too pleased if I failed to mention that you can pre-order Stillness now from your favorite indie bookstore, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Cokesbury, the sales arm of Abingdon. The marketing team already sent me custom-made bookplates, so in this age of virtual book signing and book tours, I can — and happily will — scribble a love note, sign it, date it, and send it off for you to affix to the title page, whether it’s a gift for yourself or someone you love. Just leave me a note, with instruction, and via email I can get your mailing address, and ship off your bookplate soon as your books arrive….
so now you know the story behind the pages of Stillness…
and now, a few little excerpts, one from each month…
*excerpt from “December: Sacred Invitation”:
December, I like to think, is when God cloaks the world—or at least the northern half of the globe—in what amounts to a prayer shawl. December’s darkness invites us inward, the deepening spiral—paradoxical spiral—we deepen to ascend, we vault from new depths.
At nightfall in December, at that blessed in-between hour, when the last seeds of illumination are scattered, and the stars turn on—all at once as if the caretakers of wonder have flown through the heavens sparking the wicks—we too, huddled in our kitchens or circled round our dining room tables, we strike the match. We kindle the flame. We shatter darkness with all the light we can muster.
Here’s a radical thought, for December or otherwise: Live sacramentally—yes, always. But most emphatically in the month of December. To be sacramental is to lift even the most ordinary moments into Holiness. Weave the liturgical into the everyday.
December is invitation. December is God whispering, Please. Come. Closer. Discover abundance within. Marvel at the gifts I’ve bestowed. Listen for the pulsing questions within, the ones that beg—finally—to be asked, to be answered. Am I doing what I love? Am I living the life I was so meant to live? Am I savoring, or simply slogging along?
December invites us be our most radiant selves. And we find that radiance deep down in the heart of the darkness. The darkness, our chambered nautilus of prayer. The coiled depths to which we turn in silence, to await the still small voice that whispers the original love song. Chorus and refrain, inscribed by the One who Breathed the First Breath: Make room in your heart this blessed December, make room where the birthing begins.
*excerpt from The January Kitchen (the section headnote plus the table of contents, which includes essays + recipes):
The January Kitchen:
As the curtain rises on the newborn year, we find ourselves tucking away tins, now emptied of all but the last sweet crumbs, vestige of merriment, of splurge upon splurge.
Hibernation—an old-fashioned word for hygge (that au courant Danish term for “cozy comforts”)—beckons. Which might be why depth of winter is the season that draws me closest to the cookstove. I practically purr puttering around the kitchen. All-day pots bubble away, lulling me into dreamy meditative fugues. Slow cooking, I’d wager, was made for snowy days, stay-inside days. Doughs rise. Wine-steeped stews simmer. Chowders thicken. Fruity compotes collapse into jewel-toned ooze. It’s all a plethora of stove- top seduction, as what you pitch into the pot gives way, a few hours in, to heat and spice and saintly patience. It’s kitchen adagio, the slow dance of surrender. And at the cookstove, trophies come dolloped on fork or soupspoon. Either way, you won’t want to dash too soon.
(The January Kitchen table of contents…only recipes listed here)
Elixir (Bread) Pudding
Cure-All Mac and Cheese
Beef Stew with Pomegranate Seeds, Nestled Beside Aromatic Rice
Winter Salad: Roasted Fennel, Red Onion, and Orange
*and, finally, a wee little bit from the Count-Your-Blessings Calendar for February…(just three of the fourteen included here…)
A Count-Your-Blessings Calendar
Fourteen Blessings for February
Here, fourteen blessings to wrap yourself in the end-of-winter’s hardest won gifts—peace, quiet, and the contentment that feels most like purring. Especially when you’re bursting to break out of February’s days upon days of dreary.
Blessing 1: The earth’s turning dollops one more minute of sunlight onto each February day. Ancient Celtic spirituality considered dawn and dusk especially permeable thresholds, “a time that is not a time,” when the sacred is more apt to seep through. Consecrate the sacred hour. Tiptoe outdoors once twilight deepens into darkness. Read the night sky. When you spy a twinkling star, whisper a prayer of infinite thanks for heaven’s lamplights.
Candlemas (Feb. 2): Amid the winter’s darkness, pause to consider the blessing of the candles, ordained to illuminate the hours. Fill your kitchen table, gathering a flock of orphan candlesticks. Adorn with winter branches and berries clinging to the bough.
Blessing 3: Behold the hush of snowfall. The flakes free-falling past the porch light, their hard-angled intricacies and puffy contours tumbling, tumbling, lulling all the world and its weary citizens into that fugue state that comes with heavy snow—when at last we take in breath, and hold it. Fill our empty lungs.
hmm, not sure what stirred me to write this whole meander with grown-up capital letters; perhaps the whisper to act like a real-live someone with her name on the cover of a book. anyway, i’m sure this is more than you ever wanted to know. but my dear mother has been asking for weeks and i’ve been sketchy with details, so this is — mostly — for her.
questions, comments, big giant thoughts? more aptly, do you shudder at the notion of winter, or do you — like me — relish the hygge months?
Already preordered two…one for Pastor Jan, who continually sings your praises, as Slowing Time has been continually in her devotions, and one to add to my growing shelf of Mahany publishings. Book plates, please! ❤️ Am sure will be ordering more! Can’t wait!!
PS, love the quiet slowdown of winter!!
PPS, can we send you stamps for sending the bookplates? That could get expensive for you!
oh, bless your heart, sweetheart! plates on their way. and no you cannot send postage money. i wish i could send books as freely as i can send plates. Pastor Jan wrote me a note i will never forget. my heart glows picturing her moving the little ribbon from page to page. and you too, but of course….xoxox
Sent Jan your blog and note that a book would be winging its way to her. Her response: “I am thrilled! Just the tonic we need!” She’s spot on!
YOU ARE THE SWEETEST!!!!!!
This is exactly what is needed now. Many thanks!!
Andrea Lavin Solow 20 VOTE 20
❤ ❤ ❤
love you, andrea vote 2020!!!
Congratulations! You had me at December. And the book cover is so beautiful. Hygge? Yes please, said the knitter who can’t wait to bring out all the knitwear.
Reading the excerpts alone provides some much needed peace and calm. Thank you for all that you offer here at the table.
oh, dear gracious, it is sooooo great to find you here at the table! swoops me all the way back to O’Donnell Hall — don’t let’s count the years……
i love knowing you’re knitting and purling the winter away. and i love knowing those little bitty excerpts brought you sweet peace. xoxox
Knowing you as I do, I know how much the beautiful images in your upcoming book mean to you. I also know I’m going to enjoy settling in to turn pages of beauty layered upon beauty in our pre-ordered copy! Many congratulations to you on your lovely new book, my very dear stillness kindred soul… xoxo
xoxoxox yes, the little drawings and the pages that feel like vintage wallpaper, they do melt my little heart. it was rather uncanny to turn the pages and realize that without ever talking to each other, the designer, yet another brilliant Jeff, pretty much read my heart…..
sending a big hug on this GLORIOUS september day — the amber light, the cool back breeze, knowing the night skies are jam-packed with flocks of flying-south songbirds. i’m dizzy with wonder today…..
Didn’t even finish the second paragraph before pre-ordering. Anything you write is an immediate purchase for me. Starting years ago with Slowing Time, which now I feel I must grab off my bookshelf and settle into it for the upcoming Autumnal months. Very excited! Thanks for sharing the excerpts. 🙂
Oh, gracious!!! Bless your heart! Your words make my knees buckle. Please let me send you a bookplate — for any and every book on your shelf!!!! And thank you thank you…❤️❤️❤️
BAM, I could have used the sewn-in satin ribbon for your chair time today! Such a beautiful entry (thank you Barbara’s mother for prompting it) and can’t wait for October 6th! xox
perhaps i will tuck in an extra ribbon with your bookplate! xoxox thank you. bless YOU.
I do normally love winter and the whole hygge thing, but I must say that I’m not looking forward to the days of being housebound during the winter of covid. The outdoors has been my haven since March. We’re planning on gifting ourselves with a gas powered fire pit for our patio when our October anniversary comes around. Trying to extend the time we can enjoy our patio as long as possible.
Your new book will brighten my winter though. And the winters of several friends who will be getting it as a gift soon!
i totally get the instinct to draw close around the dancing flames. i say extend the autumn. imagine if you could build a bonfire as the first snows fell. wouldn’t that be bliss?
i’ve been sitting in a window seat for long long hours this summer, with windows open and breeze blowing, and i will trust that huddled there under blankets, with the snow falling and the red bird bright against the naked boughs, will feed a whole new depth of me. for this we pray……
isn’t this day one to be savored? to be bottled and brought out some other day when dreariness looms…..
Ohhhh hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Finally something full of joy to look forward to!!! Congratulations Barb, what a blessing & breathe of fresh air this will be! I’m so very happy for you & will begin my preordering binge now ❤️
you sweetheart. makes me happy to know it makes YOU happy! i think a box might land on my front stoop soon, which means bookstores might have a wee bit before oct. 6. it was pure joy to make, and i hope and pray that joy oozes out of each page. it will always be for me a reminder of the days just before pandemic. another time, indeed.
sending love to my fave bread baker genius!
I should’ve said that I’ll certainly be hitting you up for bookplates!! I bought five, but only 4 are gifts! I’m so very happy for you, this is just what my world (& really just the whole world) needs. Xo
Consider them special delivered! And thank you! Xox
End of bar exam = release of Stillness…..There’s a link here I am sure! The book is lovely and a satin ribbon is so elegant. Can’t wait to read it and thx to Monkheart for suggesting it for the pastor too. My fave book as a teenager was Mark Link’s “In The Stillness is the Dancing”. Now at this ripe age, I have another Stillness book. Perfect!
oh my! i will rejoice more on oct. 6 for the end of bar exam, i do believe. as that will mark the turning of a rather big page for the legal scholars in our lives. i am now curious about the teenage Stillness in your life, and going to see if i can find…..i love those teenage books whose covers we can still picture without even closing our eyes…..mine were Bread for the World, and God Calling…..we must have plucked from nearby shelves…..
Your work . . . so inspirational to this challenged writer!
oh, honey, if you knew the dark nights of the soul….your writing is beautiful; i’ve read it.
I pre-ordered my book months ago when first mentioned. I hope they don’t forget! Love, love, love your writing. Can’t wait for my copy. Anxiously awaiting more balm for the soul. Thank you!
oh, bless your beautiful heart. missing our annual autumnal lunch — with YOUR apple cake!!!!!! hope all is well under your canopy of trees. blessings to you and dear C. xoxox
Made the cake last week. Yummo! Sooooo wish we were connecting in your lovely backyard sanctuary.
I picked up my copy of your new book today from my local bookstore here in Milwaukee, Boswell Books! it IS beautiful. I’ve put it away as I’m way too tempted to read it now. I would love a bookplate. Thank you!
I too relish the darkness and stillness of winter. I wear if like a mantel or prayer shawl. It is my time away from the intensity of the garden’s demands, the heat and promise of the canning kettle, and the planning and preparation of those garden beds for next years life giving gifts of sustenance. These are all activities I love and they give me great pleasure but I am always willing to surrender the soil and tucked in seeds for spring greens and native perennials and bulbs of garlic to the magic of winter and her darkness.
I trust my own personal seeds for new growth to that same spirit of darkness – the Spirit of Life – and relish the quiet and calm of winter to do the work necessary to surface again in the spring ready for another chance to reach towards the sun, embrace the warming breezes of promise and to have the energy to produce those gifts nurtured in the darkness before coming to the light. I’m so excited to journey into your book this winter. It will be a trusted friend whether in front of a fire in the fireplace, a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, in the dark hours of the early morning or late evening.
Peace and blessings to you and all those you love.
what a beautiful and poetic note to find here. i just re-read it twice because it washed such beauty and peace upon me. i love the rhythms of which you write, the indulging into the gifts of EACH season and surrendering into the ones of the next……
i will email you to get your mailing address, and your bookplate will be on its way in the next post.
bless you SOOO much. pure delight to imagine you wandering into one of my all-time favorite bookstores for your copy of Stillness….