Eclectic Life


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Beginning in 2018 (oh yeah, that’s the day after tomorrow!), I will no longer be using The Wilderness Road as a blog. Instead, I intend to publish a quarterly newsletter via Mailchimp and that will feature what I’m currently working on, upcoming books, what I’m reading, and that type of thing. In addition, I may send out the occasional email to let you know about books about to go on sale and other things of a timely nature.

If you’re interested in signing up for my newsletter, Eclectic Life, you can do so here:



Coming Soon . . .



Desert sunrise

Beginning on January 1, 2018, I will begin a daily blog featuring wisdom from the desert fathers and mothers. Below you will find a sample–advice from Desert Mother, Amma Theodora.

Stay tuned for a special announcement about this blog, The Wilderness Road, coming next week . . .

Amma Theodora said, “It is good to live in peace, for the wise man practices perpetual prayer. It is truly a great thing for a virgin or a monk to live in peace, especially for the younger ones. However, you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts.

“It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray.

“But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away. There was, in fact a monk who was seized by cold and fever every time he began to pray, and he suffered from headaches, too. In this condition, he said to himself, ‘I am ill, and near to death; so now I will get up before I die and pray.’

“By reasoning in this way, he did violence to himself and prayed. When he had finished, the fever abated also. So, by reasoning in this way, the brother resisted, and prayed and was able to conquer his thoughts.”

If you want to savor a piece of daily desert wisdom in 2018, you can follow my blog here: Franciscans Day by Day

Morning light on the Superstitions.

O Come, O Come Emanuel




It is Advent, and the time when we sing one of my favorite hymns as Christmas approaches. But O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is not just one of my favorite Christmas hymns (O Holy Night and What Child Is This? are high on the list as well), but it is also the song from which I picked the titles of the three books in the Hallowed Treasures Saga.

Here is a video my husband, Frank, made of O Come, O Come Emanuel:

The song came first. The first two books had several working titles before I decided on The Path to Misery for the first book in the trilogy. But the song appeared early in the first book when the Princess Eluned, Jabberwock, and Bonpo finally make it through the snowstorm in the Mountains of Misericord, and Eluned sings: O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Once I decided on The Path to Misery for the first book, it made it easy to incorporate lyrics from other verses into the next two books and to choose In Lonely Exile and Death’s Dark Shadows at their titles.

The hymn is a translation of a Latin hymn, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The 1861 translation, which I used to choose the titles, is from Hymns Ancient and Modern, and is the most used, by far, in the English-speaking world. Because the original song is in Latin, though, you will find many versions with different lyrics by artists who wished to copyright their version.

Each antiphon is a name of Christ, relating one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:

  • December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
  • December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
  • December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

According to Fr. William P. Saunders, “The exact origin of the O Antiphons is not known. Boethius (480–524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time [the sixth century]. At the [Benedictine Abbey of Fleury] these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the O Antiphons was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, Keep your O and The Great O Antiphons were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.”

While the hymn is often linked with the 12th century, the earliest surviving evidence of the hymn’s text is in the seventh edition of Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, which was published in Cologne in 1710. The familiar tune called Veni Emmanuel was first linked to this hymn in 1851, when it appeared in the Hymnal Noted, paired with an early revision of the English translation of the text. In 1966, British musicologist Mary Berry (also an Augustinian canoness and noted choral conductor) discovered a 15th-century French manuscript containing the melody. Most versions are sung to this tune today.

Here is the version from:

Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861)

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And here is Punk version Frank created:

The Stone Door Trail


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Frank enjoying the views

This is a very short hike–only 1.8 miles roundtrip–but the views are worth it. It’s the perfect length to pack in a better-than-ordinary picnic lunch. The Stone Door Trail is located in South Cumberland State Park in Middle Tennessee.

This large park is comprised of nine different areas located within four counties—Grundy, Franklin, Marion and Sequatchie—and 100 square miles of south central Tennessee. The Stone Door and Savage Gulf areas contain beautiful panoramas, numerous waterfalls and rock formations. Other areas include Grundy Forest and Grundy Lakes, Foster Falls and Greeter Falls, Sewanee Natural Bridge, Buggy Top and Collin’s Gulf. Hiking, rock climbing, rappelling and caving (once they are re-opened) are among the activities available within the park. Also included within the park’s domain is Carter Cave State Natural Area, an enclosed-valley sinkhole called Lost Cove; Sewanee Natural Bridge State Natural Area, a sandstone arch overlooking Lost Cove; and Hawkins Cove State Natural Area, which was created to protect Cumberland Rosinweed, a type of sunflower that grows only the Cumberland Plateau.

Directions: From Interstate 24, take Exit 134 or 135, and turn right on U.S. 41 South. Drive 4.5 miles to the Visitor Center on the left, where you can get more information. Or continue on to TN 50, turn right and follow the highway until it ends at TN 56. Turn left and follow the road to the Ranger Station on the right.

Hours Open: The park is open for day use from 7 a.m. until sunset, unless you intend to camp in the backcountry (a permit is required). The Visitors Center is open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The park is located in the Central Time Zone.

The Stone Door

The Stone Door Trail

The spectacular views from the cliffs adjacent to the Stone Door are alone worth this short-ish hike, but the Stone Door, itself, is an amazing 100-feet deep and 10-feet wide crack in the rocks atop the plateau that is one of those “can’t be missed” sights.

Caution: The trail, itself, is only moderately strenuous and the usual caution about watching your step on the rocks and roots is called for. Once you reach the Stone Door, though, be particularly careful as the cliffs fall more than 700 feet to the gorges below.

Trail Directions: From the parking area at the Stone Door Ranger Station in the Savage Gulf Trails area, follow the pathway to the trailhead to the right of the information sign and sign-in area at N 35º 15’ 8”, W 85º 44’ 51” (1).

Begin hiking along the paved trail and cross a wooden bridge at .05 mile. This area is in a sensitive plant habitat, so it is important to keep the paved trail.

At .21 mile, you will reach the overlook of Laurel Gulf at N 35º 26’ 42”, W 85º 39’ 10” (2). Laurel Creek gorge is below and the Stone Door cliffs are to your far right. Shortly after the overlook, the pavement ends and you will begin hiking on a natural path.

At .43, .61, and .69 miles, you will cross wooden bridges over intermittent creeks.

Continue hiking and at .86 mile, you will reach the junction with the Big Creek Rim Trail to your right, overlooks to your left and right, and the Stone Door to your right.

Turn right and at .88 mile cross a wooden bridge to the overlook to your left. At .92 mile, you will reach The Stone Door, which is straight ahead and down the steps at N 35º 26’ 25”, W 85º 38’ 59” (3).

1. Trailhead
2. Laurel Gulf Overlook
3. The Stone Door


Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Saint Elizabeth is one of the patron saints of the Third Order, Society of Saint Francis. Today is her feast day. What follows is a biography I wrote about her:

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Born 1207, died 1231

Affianced at four, a wife at 14, at 16 a mother, a widow at 20 and a saint at 24, Elizabeth lived several lifetimes from king’s daughter to Third Order saint.

Her fiancé, Louis, son of Duke Hermann of Thuringia, was 11 when he was betrothed to the daughter of King Andrew and Queen Gertrude of Hungary. The four-year-old Elizabeth was then sent to Wartburg to be brought up with her future husband.

When she was 6, her mother was assassinated and her piety grew along with a devotion to Saint John the Evangelist and the Blessed Virgin. No one who asked a favor of her in the name of Saint John was refused.

Growing up with her future husband, Elizabeth and Louis found themselves becoming the best of friends and called each other “my sweet sister” and “dear brother” until their deaths.

When her foster father and protector, Duke Hermann, died when she was nine she found herself abused by Louis’ mother, Sophia, who felt Elizabeth wasn’t good enough for her son. Most of the court took up Duchess Sophia’s cause, and constantly found ways to insult the young girl.

By the time she was 13 and the day of her marriage was drawing closer, Louis’ siblings and mother were at the point of continually pushing him to return Elizabeth’s dowry and send her back to her father in Hungary.

But Louis remained true. When asked if he would break his troth-plight, he pointed to Mount Inselberg, the highest mountain in Thuringia, and said that even if the mountain were made entirely of gold and would be given to him if only he’d return Elizabeth to her father, he would not do so.

“Let them think or say of her what they please,” he said. “I say this, that I love her, and only her, and nothing better than her in this world. I will have my Elizabeth in spite of them all. She is dearer to me for her virtue and goodness than all the kingdoms and riches of the earth.”

Once she was married to Louis and was Duchess of Thuringia, people were quick to sing her praises. Their love and devotion for each other was legendary and they made a striking couple—Louis, tall and fair and Elizabeth, small and dark.

Louis, in fact, was as pious and chaste as his wife, even going so far as to avoid salted and spiced meats and beer and he would only take wine when ill.

During the next six years, Elizabeth gave birth to four children—one son and three daughters—whom she loved most ardently. So much so, in fact, that her confessor reproached her for not being sufficiently detached.

When not tending to her family or spending time in prayer, Elizabeth could be found using her own allowance ministering to the sick, the poor and the needy. Only when necessary did she dress to fit her station otherwise she would be found clothed in the simplest of clothes. Like Saint Francis, she was inspired by the joys of Holy Poverty and later she became known as the Patroness of the Poor.

In 1221, the Franciscans established their first monastery in Eisenach, the capital city of Thuringia.  It was through these friars that Elizabeth first heard of the Third Order established by Francis. To be connected to Saint Francis and Saint Clare through both a rule and being remembered daily in their masses struck such a chord that she asked permission of her husband to join the order. He agreed and she became the first tertiary in Germany. And, while her husband was still alive, she was given permission to build an almshouse halfway up the ascent to Wartburg. She visited it daily, often bringing food from her table and even her own plate to help feed the hungry.

In her 17th year, Elizabeth lost her beloved confessor Father Rodinger. He was replaced by Master Conrad, a mendicant priest who treated his new penitent with the utmost severity, using her vow of obedience to him as an excuse to exercise his power over her all in the name of perfecting her character, of course.

Following a famine that occurred while her husband was absent in 1226 (fighting with Emperor Frederick in Italy), Elizabeth opened his granaries and ordered that grain be given without reservation to the poor in accordance with their need. She also baked bread and fed about 900 people daily. She also established more almshouses and hospitals as well as an orphanage.

The following year, Louis left for the Crusades but never made it to Jerusalem. He contracted a fever in Italy and died at the age of 27. If it had not been for her habit of prayer, Elizabeth would have been crushed beneath her grief.

Louis’ brother, Henry, was appointed as regent for her husband’s successor, their 5-year-old son, Hermann. His advisers convinced Henry that Elizabeth was a danger to the financial stability of Thuringia and shortly thereafter, on a cold mid-winter night, she and her children were forced to leave the castle.

The people of Eisenach, many of whom she had personally benefitted, were forbidden to take her in. Elizabeth finally found refuge at the church of the Friars Minor that evening but they were on the road again early the next morning once again seeking alms and lodging. She was chased from place to place and finally ended up in a barn outside a tavern.

A friend agreed to take her children and assured of their safety, Elizabeth began to earn her living by spinning and begging continuing to share what little she had with the even poorer.

Eventually, her Aunt Matilda, Abbess of the Monastery of Kitzingen,  heard news of Elizabeth’s plight and dispatched carriages to bring her niece and her niece’s children to the monastery. She lived there briefly until her uncle, the Bishop of Bamberg sent for her. Leaving behind her second daughter, Sophia, at the monastery to be educated, Elizabeth and the remainder of her children left for Bamberg and the Castle of Botenstein.

Much to her dismay, her uncle soon tried to marry her off to Frederick II. She refused and shortly thereafter his fellow crusaders brought her husband’s remains home. Discovering the abuses Elizabeth had suffered during their absence, the men stood for her against Henry and his advisers and Elizabeth was restored to her rightful position in the castle Wartburg. She was now free to return to her practice of ministering to the sick and poor.

Elizabeth lived at Wartburg for about a year before Henry sent her off to administer the city of Marburg. She appointed officials to tend to the temporal affairs of the town, and overwhelmed by the adoration of its citizens, she fled to a deserted cabin where she could tend to her needs in relative peace. Meanwhile, she had a small home built of clay and timber built next to the church of the Friars Minor in Marburg and was soon living there with her four children and faithful servants Guta and Isentrude.

While in Marburg, on Good Friday, Elizabeth had her hair cut off by the Father Guardian of the Friary and was clothed in the holy habit of Francis and Clare—a gray tunic with white cord. From this day onward until her death, Elizabeth dressed in this habit and walked about barefoot. In the same ceremony, Guta, who had been by her side through all her travails, also took the habit and sheared her hair.

When they were old enough, Elizabeth, who had consecrated them to God upon birth, sent her second daughter, Sophia and her third daughter, Gertrude to monasteries to be educated. They both later became abbesses. Her son, Hermann, was poisoned by his uncle Henry when he turned 18 in order that he wouldn’t become the next Duke of Thuringia and her other daughter, also a Sophia, was married to the Duke of Brabant and spent the rest of her life struggling to maintain the rights of her son Henry I.

Master Conrad continued to abuse her. He did not allow her to take on the full vows of poverty beloved by her such as giving away all her property and begging for food. So, she took to spinning wool to make money and always prepared her own meals. Conrad also sent away her companions Guta and Isentrude and sent her the most unpleasant companions he could find.

She did have a hospital built at Marburg and spent many hours there caring for the sick. She also cared for the poor in their homes or brought the sick and needy to her own home to be cared for. Many of these were lepers.

Before her death, Elizabeth counted as her spiritual treasures a worn gray mantle and letter of encouragement sent to her by Saint Francis as well as a letter of commendation and encouragement from Pope Gregory IX.

Shortly after being given a vision of her impending death, Elizabeth contracted an illness and within two weeks she had died, crying eagerly, “the moment has arrived when God summons His friend to the wedding feast. The Bridegroom seeks his spouse. Silence! Silence!”

When she was buried, the birds sang. Saint Bonaventure commented, “These little birds rendered testimony to her purity by speaking of her in their own language at her burial and in singing with such wonderful sweetness over her tomb. He who spake by the mouth of an ass to rebuke the folly of a prophet, could as well proclaim the innocence of a saint by the voice of birds.”

In 1235, Elizabeth was canonized in Perugia, Italy, in the same city and seven years after her beloved Saint Francis.