Friday, June 16, 2017

"And Mary said..."

The heavy return of my brain cancer this month has put me into two straight weeks of full brain radiation, which has worn me out. My eyes, still blurred from their dry weeks under the chemo trial, have made it harder to read and write, though I'm giving it my best shot.

One thing I have decided to do in my Scripture reading is simply to "flee to the life of Jesus." Accordingly, I chose the gospel of Luke and began with its long first chapter -- one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture -- this morning.

I love the way Luke introduces us to the important people in his story and moves that story along. I love the symmetry of the encounters that Zechariah and Mary have with Gabriel, their similarities and their differences (especially in responses to the amazing bits of news they are receiving!). I love that Elizabeth, who does not receive a personal visitation, nonetheless is the first (or seems to be the first, see below!) to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to sing out. I love that Zechariah, bumbling in his "I believe, oh Lord, help my unbelief" sort of faith (and he, a priest!) eventually sings out a song so deep and true that it resonates with my heart today in tremendous power, especially the part about God, in his tender mercy, visiting his people who sit in the shadow of death with an incredible sunrise of light.

And of course, I have always loved Mary's song, the one in between, her amazing Magnificat.

But you know what I noticed today? Unlike Elizabeth and Zechariah, Luke does not tell us, before Mary sings her life-giving and prophetic words, that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. He simply says "And Mary said..."

That puzzled me this morning. For a moment, it seemed like a glaring omission (not something I would ever associate with the Scriptures, and certainly not with Luke, that careful and artful inspired historian). So why, I thought to myself, why would Luke not bring our attention to the fact that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit too?

And then it dawned on me...duh...I am slow...that he didn't have to. Because he already had. Gabriel had told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High overshadow her when Jesus was conceived. And once Jesus was conceived, she carried him inside her. How could it be any plainer? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, clearly lived inside Mary! Truly and amazingly, in a way that he would never quite live inside anyone else! And in case we somehow missed this news, or had a hard time believing what has just happened to this young girl in her face to face encounter with Gabriel and her humble and loving acquiescence to God's plan and her part in it, he gives Mary (and us, as readers) confirmation of what has happened in Elizabeth's prophecy!

The role of these women in God's unfolding plan of salvation should stun us and compel us, both men and women, to stand in awe of the Lord and his plans for the world. His mercy and lovingkindness goes on and on, his creativity in bringing people into the dance of his mercy is breath-taking. He brings them in, young an old, believing and not fully believing, and once they bow to him and say "yes, Lord" in the face of what he is doing, he takes their readiness and rejoices in it and works through it, and they are set on fire with his Spirit and they sing forth his word. Perhaps we as women should take special encouragement that in the beginning of this gospel. two of the key witnesses and participants are women, because we live in a world (and sometimes a church) that has sometimes tried to sideline our involvement in the Lord's work in the name of cultural traditions.Here we see the kind of women God calls -- they are bold and they are prophetic and they are holding close to God and his promises as they live them and speak them out.

Let it be so in our lives, Lord. Let it be so.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How Computers Have Changed the Way We Find Books

In recent years, a lot of people have written about the way our reading habits have changed thanks to technology. I am so behind the times...I didn't get a e-reader until last year, following my cancer diagnosis...that I'm not sure I've done enough e-book reading to really weigh in on that conversation. I do appreciate e-books, though I still say it's no contest between digital and physical reading for me...I just love the feel and smell of actual pages!

One thing I have noticed, however, is how different my approach to discovering and finding books has changed in recent years.

I guess I am thinking about that because it's the season for "summer reading lists..." you know, the lists where well-known people, or people you've never heard of who nevertheless have great blogs, post their list of recommended reading for the upcoming season. Summer reading generally means more fun, fluffy reading, the kind of reading people want to take to the beach, or books they imagine would be good at the beach even if they can't get there. Or in the event of kids' summer reading lists (which lots of homeschool bloggers like to post) books your kids will enjoy getting lost in during vacation time following the academic rigors of the school year.

I was just looking at a summer list that a friend posted on Faceboook, and I realized that, without really being conscious of it, I have developed a way of gathering new books when I read lists like that. I look for authors I know or genres that interest me, I skim what the recommendations have to say, and then there are a couple of directions I might go.

If I'm still not sure the book sounds like something I want to read, I pursue reviews...often on sites like Amazon or Good Reads. Having written reviews for a lot of years, I'm pretty good at skimming those quickly to get to the heart of the what the review writer is saying. If the book author mentioned is the author of a series (I'm often interested in mystery series) then I look up the author's website or  find them on Wikipedia and go to their full bibliography so I can find a list of their books in order and discover the first one.

That's always an eye-opening moment, when you discover the author is either the writer of three books that started appearing five years ago or a veteran with twenty-five books that started showing up twenty-five or thirty years ago. In any event, if it's a series, I usually start at the very beginning ("a very good place to start...") note the title (and keep the window open in case I forget it) then log into my account on my library's home page. I am hugely blessed to be connected to an excellent library system which has dozens of libraries with great collections.

I can usually find the book I want and put it on hold so it will get sent to my local library for pick-up. If I can't find it in the system, as will occasionally happen with older, out of print titles, or very new titles that none of the local libraries has happened to purchase, then I put a request through the library's inter library loan. The book usually takes longer to arrive on the hold shelf, but it can definitely be worth the wait. I've been able to read some very good books thanks to ILL.

I've worked this way so long now that it's almost hard for me to believe there was ever a time...before book bloggers, before library hold systems you could access easily with a few clicks of the keyboard or your phone (even in the middle of the night)! I don't get too nostalgic for the old days when you just wandered into a bookstore or a library and browsed the shelves and hoped you'd hit something wonderful...because I still do that kind of book gathering too. Though I'm still more likely to put a book on hold at the library after finding it at the bookstore, unless it's something I know for sure I want or need to own for a certain project or learning season.

However we find them, books are beautiful. They add so much richness to our lives, something I've always felt and known, but am feeling more conscious of than ever as I go through my long season of illness and healing.

With all this said...will I make a list of recommended reading for this summer? Hmm....I'm not sure, but I have a feeling I might. Stay tuned!