Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Simple Beauties on my Birthday

I thought about writing something profound in honor of my 40th birthday today...something like "40 reasons I'm grateful." I actually began mentally composing such a post this morning, which was a wonderful exercise in gratitude and blessings-counting.

But I'm having such a lovely, simple, quiet day...a day to rest and just be with my little girl, a day where I've been struck quite forcefully by just how contented I feel to be living in this moment. Thank you, Lord.

So I thought I'd just post this photo, which I took several mornings ago when the sweet girl was playing with her colorful rocks. Sometimes the joys we feel are hard to capture in words. Sometimes a photo feels like a poem. For some reason, this one seems to capture the state of my heart today. If I figure out why, I'll let you know.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

As We Move Toward Easter: Poetry

The Agony

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things
The which to measure it doth more behoove:
Yet few there are that sound them: Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, that forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

--George Herbert (1593-1633)

What an amazing, beautiful, powerful poem. I'm thankful to have found it posted yesterday on TitusOneNine, which has been posting poetry, prayers and meditations since Maundy Thursday.

Jon Hassler (March 30, 1933-March 20, 2008)

I just heard the news that Jon Hassler died on Thursday. I knew he'd been ill for a long time, so this wasn't entirely surprising. But I confess I felt unspeakably sad when I read the news. Hassler's novels -- and especially his memorable characters -- have given me much delight over the years, and much to ponder.

Hassler was a Catholic writer, a Minnesotan. His stories often tapped deep emotions, with grief and humor ever standing close beside each other. It was through his books that I met one of my favorite literary heroines (though I think she would frown at me for using such a term) Agatha McGeee. As a character, Agatha has always felt so real to me that I almost found myself wondering how she was taking the news of Hassler's death.

The Minnesota Post has a moving obituary online here.

Rest in peace, Jon. Thank you so much for all the wonderful stories.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Jesus, name above all names,
Beautiful Saviour, glorious Lord;
Emmanuel, God is with us,
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CT Book Awards 2008

The Christianity Today book awards were announced yesterday. I always love it when this list comes out, knowing I will find several books (at least!) that I want to read. This year was no exception. I knew fewer of the titles (very few) on sight, though I did know a number of the authors. And yes, as I read through this list this morning, I must have thought "oh! that's one I really want to read!" at least half a dozen times.

The CT Awards are given "to the books that best shed light on people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission." You can read the full list here. Here are the ones that jumped out at me and have already made it onto my mental "I want to read that" list.

In the Biblical Studies category: The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Academic).

With so much "stuff" floating out there these days about so-called gnostic gospels, I think it's more important than ever that those of us who trust the reliability of the four canonical gospels know how to cogently share why. So this looks like an excellent read.

In the Christian Living category: Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye by Virginia Stem Owens (Westminster John Knox).

Owens' prose is always beautiful, and I'm sure is especially poignant given the topic. I have always had a tender place in my heart for care-givers' journeys and stories of the elderly, especially since my family cared for my paternal grandmother during the last five years of her life.

In the fiction cagtegory: Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson (Thomas Nelson).

I don't know either the author or the book, but it sounds intriguing...and if I'm reading the synopsis correctly, may actually be a story collection rather than a novel. I'm always on the lookout for good short stories.

In the History/Biography category: A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (Belknap).

This book sounds incredibly important: "a historical analysis of secularization, secularity, and secularism in the modern West," as the CT judges described it. They also called it "The best book ever written on the West's transition 'from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and, indeed, unproblematic to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.'" Given my own studies in theological modernism (in seminary and beyond) this is a topic that really fascinates/troubles me. I'm still building my understanding of the history of Western thought, even after all these years. This sounds like a must-read if I want to continue that journey!

In Missions/Global Affairs: Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity by Lamin O. Sanneh (Oxford)

Sanneh is a very important missions scholar. And I continue to need and want to understand more about missions and global Christianity.

In the Spirituality category: The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way by Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans)

Any new book from Peterson is cause for joyous celebration and serious contemplation. This is probably the top of my longing to read list.

From the Christianity and Culture category: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by David B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaverzercher (Jossey-Bass)

The Amish response to the Nickel Mines shootings astounded the world...and was a powerful testimony to the gospel and its ability to shape us into people of radical forgiveness. Always worth reflecting on in our world.

And an award of merit given in the History and Biography category: The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America Thomas S. Kidd (Yale)

I have several historical theological eras that interest me deeply, and the Great Awakening is one of them. Every time I read more about it, I'm struck by how many features that we "take for granted" in American evangelicalism seem to be rooted in that time period and shaped by it.

Lots of other interesting books on the list. Those are just the ones that jumped up and grabbed my notice!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Telling Authors How Much We Love Their Work

With the internet and different forms of electronic communication, it's become so much easier in recent years to contact authors whose books you love and enjoy. I appreciate that many authors want to hear from readers, and I take them at their word. I know how much I enjoy it when anything I write "connects" with someone's mind and heart, and how delightful it is to hear someone say that! I can't imagine that enjoyment lessens even if you happen to have been a published author for years.

With that in mind, in recent months I've begun dropping "notes" to some of the sweet girl's favorite writers. It started a few months back with Marisabina Russo, whose gracious reply to our email made our day.

Then last week I decided to leave a note on the website guestbook of Mary Ann Hoberman, whom the sweet girl had recently told me was her favorite writer. How we have loved Hoberman's poetry this year! Since it's a public guest book, you can see what I wrote and Ms. Hoberman's wonderful reply here. Among other things, I learned that she and I share a love for Jane Austen. Given her rich enjoyment in language, that didn't really surprise me!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

An Abundance of Teakettles

Sometimes you can do something one way for so long, you can almost forget how it started. Take my teakettle situation, for instance.

I enjoy drinking tea, and so does the rest of the family. But for ages, I've not owned a teakettle. Instead, I've heated water in a regular pot on the stove, or (shudder) when I'm in a hurry, in the microwave (though the water never tastes right somehow). If anyone asked me why I didn't have a teakettle, I would tell them it was because I'd burned out so many.

And it's true. I'm notoriously bad at leaving water boiling too long and burning out all sorts of pans and kettles. I just get distracted, usually by reading, writing or cleaning (or hanging out with my daughter) and I leave things on the stove too long. I have some very funny stories I could tell on myself, including the one from the morning I tried to sterilize the sweet girl's pacifiers when she was just a few months old.

I know, you're thinking: but don't teakettles have whistles? Yeeesss, but I usually got the kind where the whistler was optional, and I'd get tired of it and take it out. Dumb move!

Whenever I burned out a cooking pan or sauce pan, I would replace it soon -- because I NEEDED cooking pans. For some reason, I relegated teakettle to luxury item. I'd burned out too many, so somehow in my mind I didn't deserve a teakettle anymore. Weird, I know. While bemoaning the absence of a kettle to my husband not long ago, he laughed and said "I think you've deprived yourself long enough." I laughed and agreed, but still didn't get a teakettle. Does this have anything to do with Scots stubbornness?

Well, in the past few weeks, on separate occasions I've had friends over and we've had tea. Both times I've cheerfully explained why I don't have a teakettle, adding that I'd have to do something about that one day. One friend told me she thought she had an extra one she could give me, which I thought was very sweet, but promptly forgot about it.

Until yesterday, when a silver teakettle (used but nice and quite serviceable, thank you) showed up on the mat outside my door. My friend had remembered and decided to play teakettle fairy. I love it. It's even got one of those "built-in whistlers" so I can't dismantle it and get back into my bad habits!

But it gets better. Also on the mat, when D. brought the teakettle in, was the morning's mail. Included in that was a beautiful note from the other friend I'd been drinking tea with a week or so ago (she lives in another state). The note was just lovely, bringing tears of gratitude to my eyes -- I'm so thankful for friends. And tucked inside the card was a gift of money with another note that said "for a teakettle -- or wherever else you see a need."

When it rains, it pours! Or in this case, steams and whistles! I laughed and laughed over the abundance of kindness. Yes, thank you, Lord, I got it. I really should have a teakettle again.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"When I am 53..."

I'm in the midst of watching the film Becoming Jane, a rather fanciful, speculative take on Jane Austen's life (shaping her biography to emphasize the connections to her novels). Seeing it has made me go blog-hopping amongst Austen blogs, something I haven't done in a while.

One the blog Austenprose, I found a clever post with a quote from Stella Gibbon's novel Cold Comfort Farm. I haven't read that book in years, though I remember it was quite funny. I hadn't discovered Austen at the time I read it, so I'm sure this bit (which I'm excerpting from the slightly longer passage they posted) passed right over my head. But oh, it made me laugh now, especially since I'm just 2 plus weeks out from my 40th birthday...and find myself thinking the usual thoughts about what shape my writing life might take in the next decade.

I think it’s degrading of you, Flora,’ cried her friend at breakfast. ‘Do you truly mean that you don’t ever want to work at anything? ‘

Her friend replied after some thought: ‘Well, when I am 53 or so I would like to write a novel as good as Persuasion, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next 30 years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say, ‘Collecting material’. No one can object to that. Besides, so I shall be.’
(Cold Comfort Farm, p. 20)

I have to change Flora's words, of course. I don't have 30 years or so to "collect material" -- only about 13 if I plan to manage my Persuasion-like masterpiece by the time I'm 53.

I'd better get cracking!

Belated Literary Birthday: Theodor "Seuss" Geisel

Think of birthdays with red punch
and birthdays with cake;
Think of books you can read
and fun things you can make!

Think of libraries, children,
the cat in the hat.
Think of dear Seuss' birthday...
just think about that!

I penned the above this morning in honor of the lovely time the sweet girl and I had yesterday at the little local library, celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday. The real Dr. Seuss, Theodor "Ted" Geisel, was born on March 2, 1904. He passed away in 1991.

The sweet girl had a wonderful time yesterday, especially making her own red and white striped paper hat, just like the one belonging to Seuss' famous cat. The cat himself (in this case, herself) put in an appearance, walking around the room and hugging all the kids before helping to serve the party cake and punch. And of course, there was a rousing rendition of The Cat in the Hat read by our town's children's librarian, and our old family friend, Amy (who originally got both me and D. into library work at the seminary almost a decade ago).

After years of smiling nonchalance about Seuss books, the sweet girl has become a huge fan of the Dr. in recent months. It started with There's a Wocket in My Pocket and has progressed from there. Her current favorite is Oh, The Thinks you Can Think -- hence this morning's poem!