Monday, June 29, 2015

Walking this Messy Earth by Catherine Valentine

It was the 7th grade when I met Nellie.  We were both new to our junior high school and probably both feeling like little fish in a big pond.  She stood out in the crowd right away because of her beautiful copper penny hair.  We became friends -- not best friends but friends.  She was a very genuinely nice little girl.  Now, I was an only child and very sheltered.  Two of my greatest fears in life were losing my mother and fire.  In 1963, in that 7th grade year, the thing happened that was the culmination of all my fears -- but it didn't happen to me -- it happened to Nellie.  There was a fire and she lost her mother.  I couldn't bear the horror of it but one thing stood out to me -- Nellie's grace with which she bore the burden.  Over the years, through high school, I observed Nellie and how she grew and how confident she became and my mantra was "what would Nellie do" and if I was dealing with something that I deemed particularly difficult I would remind myself that "if Nellie could cope with THAT I can certainly cope with THIS because Nellie went through the worst thing possible".  I have looked at life through Nellie's eyes most of my life.

Nellie and I lost touch over the years until MySpace came into being and I was looking for childhood friends and I found her.  We reconnected there and again on Facebook.  One day I decided it was time to write Nellie a letter and tell her what a profound impact she had on my life. I am glad I did because I would have been forever regretful if I hadn't.  We lost Nellie a little over a year ago and I am still asking myself, during rough days, "what would Nellie do".

Nellie left a beautiful legacy in that of her children, one of which is Catherine Valentine, a young, aspiring writer.  Catherine has written three books -- a children's book "The Waterlady: An Ozark Tale", and two books of poetry "Mothers and Daughters" and the one I am reviewing today, "Walking this Messy Earth".

"Walking this Messy Earth" is a small volume of twenty poems, each one exploring, explaining and/or relishing in the ups and downs of her journey toward God and Christ.  There are moments of despair and joy, self-effacing exploration of doubts and fears, questions of faith and "am I doing it right".  Some of the writings are more child--like and some are more raw and questioning.  All of them are thought provoking and, in my opinion, cover the whole range of emotions of those of faith who are on the same journey -- Catherine just isn't afraid to voice her thoughts which is probably a God-given way for her to learn and make her way.  Questioning and learning is never a bad thing.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is "Christmas".  The first stanza is so indicative of Christmas as we see it --

"A picturesque scene--
the manger and lowly lamb
Christmas and good cheer,
soft lights and presents.
Forgetting the sadness
and the wounds--
a little baby raised to die"

Most time Christmas is just as she describes it -- no thought that with Christmas comes Easter -- no thought to the circle of His life.  This poem certainly brings it all into perspective.

Another offering in the collection -- "Prayers" -- which deals with how to pray -- the right way to pray.  How many people don't pray because they don't feel that they know the "proper" way to pray?

"He hears all -- just speak"

Another that I particularly liked is "Old Faith".  Maybe it is because I am older but as I read this poem I could just hear the tune to "Little Brown Church in the Vale" one of my favorite hymns growing up in my neighborhood Methodist church.   As I read it memories of my time in that church came flooding back and it was good.  Old faith -- so simple.

The poem that stands out to me the most, that touches me the most is "Heart's Want".  It is about her mother.  It is about her acceptance of her mother's passing and realizing that her mother has made the journey and is now in the hands of the Lord.  It is quiet and sad but hopeful and joyous at the same time.

Poetry is very subjective and I believe that everybody gleans from it what they are supposed to -- what is right for them at the time -- and not necessarily what was in the author's head at the time of writing.  To me, poetry invokes mental pictures even more than prose and Catherine's work created some powerful images in my mind.

Clearly this is a collection of faith driven words and thoughts drawn from personal experience.  It is Catherine's journey to this point in her life.  It is uniquely hers yet so undeniably universal -- I feel that anybody who is on a spiritual journey can identify with almost everything in this book.  Because of that I find it to be comforting in that the reader is not alone in his/her thoughts -- a camaraderie of sorts -- journeying hand in hand, so to speak, walking this messy earth.

I did not ask permission to use excerpts from the book but since Catherine asked me to review I assumed it was ok.  Hopefully I won't be in trouble for that.

If you are interested in learning more about Catherine or obtaining a copy of any of her books please visit her at!blog/cm7y.

In closing I have to add that it is a privilege to know Catherine, to be included in her circle of friends and to have the opportunity to read and review her work.  I am certain that Nellie is so proud of her daughter as am I. I look forward to watching Catherine grow in her life as an author and having the opportunity to enjoy more of her work.

I recommend this book to anyone.