Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Summer of My 10th Birthday

Stacy Barton

It was the summer of my tenth birthday that I came to believe in God. It was also the summer that Sister Ignatius caught me pretending to have a twin. When she took me to Father Francis, she told him it was wrong for me to tell stories, but stories were the only thing I had. For my punishment, I was to copy letters out of the Twenty-third Psalm. Twenty-three times.

Sister Ignatius thought it was going to be a harsh punishment, but it turned out to be the most wonderful summer of my life. For two hours each day I copied beautiful words in the sweet-smelling room above the chapel. It was an oasis.

Afterwards I had to walk home, nearly wilting in the heat before I arrived at the little house I shared with my aunt on the edge of town. Aunt Tilley wasn’t so bad; she had loved my mother—who was her younger sister—but hated my father for taking her away. My father was a writer and poor and bound for the big city. Aunt Tilley took me in after Mother died. She never said what happened to Father. I don’t remember either of them very well. Mostly, I recall Father reading us his stories. It was Aunt Tilley who insisted that I go to school with the sisters at St. Mary’s in town. She thought it would cure me of my genetic tendency to exaggerate. She would have been mortified to know that it was on her account that I became a religious fanatic at the age of ten.

I loved the cool dampness of the cathedral. The winding stone stairs that took me to my room above the chapel were enchanted. I used to pretend that I was a princess from Italy or Paraguay and that, if anyone knew my true identity, they would mourn over not having given me more important rooms.

But truthfully, I loved Father Francis’s reading room more than anyplace I had ever been in my whole life. The walls were lined with ancient books that had wooden bindings, gilded pages, and romantic titles like The Love Poetry of Solomon and Laments from the Catacombs. Of course, I had no idea what any of them were talking about, but I knew they were about things that could be felt and not always seen. I felt sure they were stories along the lines of those that sent me to my new paradise. Stories that somehow made sense of all the ugliness and pain I had already experienced in my short life.

I loved just being near all those beautiful holy words. I relished my new job of copying out the Twenty-third Psalm. I was careful to keep several copies done with a no. 2 pencil on school-gray paper for showing Sister Ignatius, but I spent most of my hours copying golden curlicues and elaborate script like the old books I had found. Somehow I knew instinctively that Sister Ignatius would not particularly approve of curlicues.

Father Francis turned out to be quite different. He surprised me one afternoon in July when I was so intent on my work that I didn’t hear him come in. I was bent over a particularly difficult rendition of “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me,” when he gently placed his hand on my shoulder. I nearly shrieked. Then I sat frozen in my chair, certain he was going to reprimand me for overindulgence. Instead, he smiled at me with a twinkle and nodded his approval.

After that, Father Francis and I were friends. By August he was reading me testament stories out of one of his golden holy books, and, before school began again, I had found my shepherd. I, a tenyear-old no one wanted, had found the Christ. By the time school started, I no longer needed to pretend I had a twin. I had Jesus and told everyone so. I heard that Sister Ignatius complained to Father Francis about my odd devotion to the Good Shepherd, but rumor had it that Father Francis told her to mind her own business
and let me be.

The year Father Francis died, I was away at college studying to be a writer. I had nearly forgotten those early years in the cathedral tower and my burgeoning faith in God, when a package was delivered to my garage apartment. Inside, wrapped in a brown paper bag, was Father Francis’s prayer book. A simple card read, “Father Francis wanted you to have this.” I held the precious book to my face and smelled. The holy air of Father Francis’s reading room still clung to the pages of his ancient book. I ran my fingers across the gold letters on the cover and looked inside. Several brittle pages full of childish curlicues slipped out onto my lap, and I began to weep as I read aloud the poetry of the Twenty-third Psalm written in my own ten-year-old hand.


Reprinted with permission from Surviving Nashville (WordFarm, 2007) copyright by stacy Barton 2007.