When the Time Comes to Look Back — Jayber Crow Discussion Group (7)

I listened to hard words today from a dear woman I’ve loved and admired for nearly twenty years. We were seated in her small room in a nursing home, my grandson was exploring every nook, cranny, and light switch (and eating one of the cookies we had brought for her!), and I asked her how she liked her new home.

“It’s hard,” she said. “They’re good to me here, but I’m at the end of my life. It’s hard to realize — emotionally.”

The words hung in the air, and I wanted to deny them, to beautify them with a neat little bow of comfort and joy. But that would not be fair, because she is right. At ninety-plus, she is unsteady and unable to care for herself or live in her own home. This is hard. She is nearing the end of her life. So I was quiet and nodded, waiting for her to go on. She did, sharing some of her concerns, repeating herself and circling back around. But then, she stopped and smiled and touched my grandson’s small hand, declaring:

“I have wonderful memories.”

My sweet friend has come to the point in her life when looking back is so much more satisfying and encouraging than looking ahead. That’s a treasure when the time comes to look back,  and Jayber Crow does his own share of looking back in Chapters 18-20, particularly concerning his relationship with Mattie — or, more accurately, his observations of Mattie.

His pivotal memory of Mattie, what he calls “the most deciding event of my life,” took place at a Vacation Bible School. He was there in his role as church caretaker. She was there to care for and play with the young children. As a long-time VBS war horse, this scene warms my heart, because it was not Mattie’s skillful use of curriculum or her wow-factor pedagogical methods that won Jayber’s heart. It was this one thing about her dealings with the children:

“She was just perfectly there with them in her pleasure.” (191)

Jayber makes mention of Mattie’s ability unique ability to be present to her people as he pondered and lamented her troubled marriage with Troy:

“She never made reference even by silence to anything she suffered. But in herself she was present. She was present in her dealings with other people. She was right there.”

And with this arrow piercing his heart, Jayber moved into a secret room of devotion to a woman who was completely unaware of his feelings, unlikely to reciprocate even if she had been aware, and unavailable to him in every possible way.

Jayber devotes a fair amount of time to his obsessive scorning of Troy Chatham, (Mattie’s husband) making special note of Troy’s loneliness. (194)
I wonder . . .
Unrequited love is pretty lonely, too.

“The visions of the mind have a debt to reality that it is hard to get the mind to pay when it is under the influence of its visions.”

Once Jayber worked his way through these “visions of the mind” and became free from his “glandular logic,” he saw the folly in his obsession, but held fast to his love for Mattie. Good, however, did come from this in the form of a renewed seeing:

“If you love somebody enough, and long enough, finally you must see yourself. What I was was a barber and grave digger and church janitor making half a living, a bachelor, a man about town, a friendly fellow. And this was perhaps acceptable, perhaps even creditable in its way, but to my newly chastened sight I was nobody’s husband.”

The Community’s Remember-ers

A day spent with Mat Feltner became a day of looking back, and it would seem that Jayber, with his patient listening and his eager interest, might be in training for a future role as one of Port William’s remember-ers. In my own remembering, when the time comes to look back, I want to bring to my remembering — and to the people I have loved — the grace Jayber brought to the membership:

” . . . I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another’s love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace.”

Did You Ever Think About That?

Jayber had only to let his tongue play over the notch in one of his front teeth to remember that Cecelia Overhold held him in “joyous dislike,” even though a lot of years had passed since “the little worter dranking party” where the war began. Jayber can’t seem to free himself of this, but, then, there is something so contagious about unhappiness that Cecelia would be especially virulent:

“Cecelia thought that whatever she already had as no good, by virtue of the fact that she already had it.” 209

These are cautionary words in our present era of acquisitiveness — and throw-away relationships.

From the ashes of this sadness, Jayber salvages some deep and poignant observations about love and community:

  • “Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it. But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole — self-explanatory, you might say. You can hate people completely and kill them in an instant.”
  • “There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things.”

There’s no way Wendell Berry could have anticipated the electricity that would remain in the air seventeen years after he wrote Jayber Crow (and half a century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act), but Athey Heath defuses a barber shop bully with words of tweetable brevity and piercing strength:

“It might prove out to be,” Athey said, “that if we can’t live together we can’t live atall. Did you ever think about that?”

Other Questions to Ponder

Does Jayber’s infatuation with Mattie warm your heart — or creep you out?

Can you point to a “newly chastened sight” in your own experience of loving or having been loved that has made you see yourself in new ways?

I’m puzzled by Jayber’s presence with Mattie when he finds her crying in the cemetery. His words are true and kind: “You can’t stay here.”
But what of this:  “I knelt beside her, according to my calling in this world.” What’s he talking about here? Do you see a connection between this and his earlier statement: “[M]y future, as it turned out, proved to be elsewhere. I hadn’t even glimpsed it yet. I had imagined no future. Who she was who would have my heart to own I had not imagined” (62)?

Whether Jayber’s love for Mattie proves to be idolatrous or life-affirming will be borne out in future chapters, and our final judgment, I think, should be based on how his devotion to Mattie affects his response to others in the Port William Membership. I’m thinking of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle that bears on this:

“If you find that you love lots more people than you ever did before, then I think you can trust this love. If you find that you need to be exclusive, that you don’t like being around other people, then I think that something may be wrong.”  (Circle of Quiet p.8)

I look forward to reading your insights, either in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!

I’ll be here next Thursday (October 26) having read Chapters 21-23.

Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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Nurturing Faith and Strengthening Family Ties Around the Table

If my dining room table could talk, it might begin with a story about cinnamon rolls whose aroma can pull family out of bed like a giant magnet. Smiling and sleepy, they sniff their way toward the dining room and the warm welcome of a breakfast gathering. My scratched up table might share memories of voices singing – or arguing; of conversations with missionaries, old friends, and people who became new friends; of the sound of laughter that accompanies holiday homecomings and boisterous birthdays.

Our gatherings around the table for feasting and fun are symbolic, a pale adumbration of a larger feast, and Sally Clarkson points her readers toward this truth in The Lifegiving Table. Remembering her own family’s heritage of traditions, she shares her motivation behind it all: “The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressures and storms of life.” (5)

Her exhortation is well-timed, for North American culture is characterized by a speed and complexity that leans more toward fast-food in the mini-van than family meals around a table. Statistics gathered by The Six O’Clock Scramble website indicate that the frequency of family dinners has declined 33 percent over the past two decades with the average time spent at a dinner table shrinking to a mere twelve minutes. Studies also show that children and teens who enjoy more than three family dinners per week eat more healthfully, are less likely to be overweight, perform better academically, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. (13)

It’s clear that time spent around a life-giving table nourishes more than just our bodies.

“The food is only an exclamation point!”

The rhythm that pulses under The Lifegiving Table is a mother’s deep desire to build memories and traditions that nurture close relationships among her children and to point always and ever to the faith that is foundational to everything she does. Intentional time around a table may be elaborate or simple; a gathering of the troops or a face to face, one-on-one heart-to-heart talk.

I read Sally’s book straight through, underlining and nodding and gathering inspiration, but the book could also be treated as a reference, for each chapter stands alone with very practical principles for some aspect of table-love alongside scripture verses to ponder, a gentle push in the form of suggested activities, and then, recipes that come from Sally’s tried and true collection.

Practicing rhythms of life around a table is enriching for many reasons. These are some of our family’s favorites, and The Lifegiving Table offers a wealth of resources for each one:

1.  Shaping a family culture

I was sharing a youngest-son glory moment with his oldest brother, and was surprised at his response: “Well, of course. He’s a Morin.” It turns out that our boys have a very strong sense of “this is who we are” as a family. Our prayer is that as they mix and mingle with people of many faiths and persuasions, they will continue to hold fast to the bedrock of “this is why we believe” and “this is what we stand for.” Values and traditions that shape and define a family are picked up and carried forward through shared goals and strong relationships that form a legacy over a lifetime together.

2.  Practicing conversation

It was a relief to me to read that sometimes things got loud around the Clarksons’ table. Dinner time conversation is a great place for trying out convictions, arguing an opinion, or validating thought processes. It has been my goal to draw each child into the conversation so each would have the floor at some point (for at least a few seconds!), but I had no idea how obvious I was being in this quest until my youngest as a toddler turned toward his dad during a lull in the conversation and asked, “And how was your day?’ with the exact tone of voice I would have used.

3.  Celebrating everything!

In sharing this favorite G.K. Chesterton quote, Sally urges parents to tap into the natural exuberance of our children to put on display the celebratory nature of God:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (91)

4.  Pursuing discipleship in the midst of life

“A discipleship that cannot make room for the ordinary is unrealistic.”

Growth toward God can happen in an atmosphere of fun, and whatever we plan for our day-to-day, line upon line, precept upon precept building into our children must fit our family culture well enough to be sustainable over the long haul.  Realism dictates that we shelve perfectionism. If our family had waited for perfect conditions in which to practice hospitality or implement family devotions . . . we’d still be waiting.

5.  Making love your goal

We are made to love and to be loved. How sad when children go looking to have this need met outside their family, when the life-giving table is the perfect medium for seeds of friendship to flourish right in the home.

“What makes a table lifegiving is what happens at the table.”

If relationship is the goal, a life-giving table can be found anywhere people come together to find refreshment for body, soul, and spirit, and where the value of relationship is based on the value of individuals as God’s image bearers and much-loved children.

//

This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Table Mentoring

Sue Moore Donaldson shares inspiration and practical advice for ministry around your table at her website, and in her books. Hospitality 101 is a Bible study featuring lessons from The Ultimate Host, and Table Mentoring will help you get started on the joyous path of coming alongside another person around your welcoming table.

Also:

Be sure to give a listen to At Home with Sally Clarkson and Friends,  a podcast in which Sally shares more thoughts on the Lifegiving Table along with interviews with fascinating guests.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Problem of Belonging: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (6)

When it comes to friendship, to a confidence of our place and belonging to a group, all of us have at least one toe in Middle School. The sense of being outside looking in is ubiquitous enough that it has its own acronym (FOMO). In a speech delivered to a young adult audience in 1944, C.S. Lewis referred to it as the quest for “the inner ring,” and had this to say about it:

 ” I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

“Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

“Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”

Whether by fear or by conscious choice, Jayber, the bachelor barber of Port William, Kentucky, describes himself at several points as an outsider, even after he has cemented his place in the social structure as gravedigger and caretaker for the local church. He takes his position very seriously — in spite of his claim to be “by nature a lazy person” (159) — wearing the mantle of responsibility like a vocation.

Ever a contradiction, Jayber confesses to a feeling of being “outside even when inside,” while, at the same time, claiming to be possessed by a deep love for The Membership and describes poignantly how this love became clear to him through a dream he had while napping in a back pew:

“I saw all the people gathered there who had ever been there. I saw them as I had seen them from the back pew, where I sat with Uncle Othy (who would not come in any farther) . . . I saw them all. I saw the creases crisscrossed on the backs of the men’s necks, their work-thickened hands, the Sunday dresses faded with washing. They were just there . . . [and] I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me.

“When I came to myself again, my face was wet with tears.” (165)

The Professionally Devout

With his theological bent toward universalism (161), Jayber’s issue may have been doctrinal as well as social, but it is his position as an “outsider” in the church that make his observations so valuable — in my opinion. Like most small churches, the Port William assembly had endured a succession of young and inexperienced clergymen who are looking for the next step in their resume development. I feel sorry for any pastor who has to face a congregation who “prefer(s) to hear what it has heard before.” However, with a glass-half-full mentality, Jayber finds the good even in a bad sermon being preached from “the mantle of power, but not the mantle of knowledge.”

“In general, I weathered even the worst sermons pretty well. They had the great virtue of causing my mind to wander. Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons.”

The same thing happened to C.S. Lewis during a boring sermon one Sunday morning at Holy Trinity Church in Headington, and the idea for his book, The Screwtape Letters was born from the imaginative overflow.

Jayber notes, once again, the insistence of the faithful in splitting the world into “sacred” and “secular” categories, a “religion that scorned the beauty and goodness of this world.”  He seems to be most astonished by it here in this land of “good crops, good gardens, good livestock and work animals and dogs.” Living close to the land breeds a love for the particular which seems to be expunged by walking into the nave.

As much as Jayber manages to miss, theologically, his thoughts on death and resurrection are thought-provoking:

“. . . I am mystified as anybody by the transformation known as death, and the Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not seen.”

The Port William Zephyr

Taking possession of an old green Dodge sedan, Jayber enters into an uneasy relationship with progress. He enjoys the freedom of traveling to Hargrave for dancing, drinks, and carrying on with Clydie. However, examining his response to the freedom that comes with speed, he was abashed to find himself succumbing to the same impatience he despised in Troy Chatham:

“Ease of going was translated without pause into a principled unwillingness to stop.”

Jayber’s love for Mattie and his resentment of Troy’s role in her life gets interspersed with Jayber’s ponderings on farming, land management, and the effects of “progress” on farming, all learned from his ties to Athey, but clearly conveying William Berry’s thoughts and voice on the topics.

What Do You Think?

Was anyone else puzzled by the figure of speech describing Uncle Stanley Gibbs?

“[He] had no more sense of privacy than a fruit jar.”

Looking at my abundant canning jars, all clear glass, I’m concluding that he meant a fruit jar would not afford much privacy as a dwelling.

Back to Jayber’s on-the-job thoughts on the dead: 

“The people [in the graves] had lived their little passage of time in this world, had become what they became, and now could be changed only by forgiveness and mercy.”

Rendered changeless by death, the people who live in our memories still, in some odd way, require our mercy, our forgiveness, for while it cannot, ultimately, change who they were or who they allowed themselves to become, it most certainly will change me. This is particularly true if I can join Jayber in the wanting for a “heart as big as Heaven.”

May we find that we, too, are “moved by a compassion that seem[s] to come to [us] from outside.” Could this be one of the benefits of reading good fiction? 

//

I found these three chapters to be the most difficult to write about so far because they cover so much territory. If I left out the theme that stood out to you, or if you feel that I missed the point entirely, be sure to let me know in the comments.

And, as usual and customary, you are welcome to share blog posts (or comments) with your insights on all things Jayber or Port William.

It appears that we have already crossed the half-way point, so thanks for hanging in there!

Here’s the schedule for upcoming discussion posts:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Proverbs: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life

Four young men have grown up around our dining room table, and the book of Proverbs has shown up as a regular on the breakfast menu, along with the oatmeal and the eggs. Liz Curtis Higgs asked hundreds of her readers to choose their favorite verses from the Proverbs and then narrowed the list down to the top 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, a month’s worth of daily wisdom, comfort — and jarring insights.

Liz loves words and has dug deep into each text, phrase by phrase, holding the truth up to the light and turning it slowly so as to appreciate each facet. The proverbs are all about wisdom, but the goal Liz has in mind is to assist her readers in savoring God’s goodness. God’s words are an invitation to individual spiritual growth and a deep source of satisfaction for “the hunger no breakfast can satisfy.” (14)

Drawing from personal examples and her own humorous observations of life on this planet, Liz brings unique and refreshing insights to much-beloved sacred words:

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2)

Of the 31 Proverbs in the book, 13 have the word but right in the middle. Liz compares but to “a hinged door” that “leads to another possibility or an important comparison. But can also serve as a flashing light, a warning, a stop sign.” (18)

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” (Proverbs 11:13)

A chatty personality is delightful, and it can come in handy, I’m sure, when Liz is on the road with people coming and going in her life all the time, but she shares the dark side of loving to talk, and the proverbs offer a path of freedom away from the sins that bind us and the bad habits that slow our growth toward righteousness.

In fact, more than a hundred verses in Proverbs focus on the power of words to wound or heal. Having experienced the down side of this equation, Liz invites her readers to dream along with her about a life in which the only words we speak to one another are “pleasant” and “kind” and “fair.” (Proverbs 16:24)

“Anxiety weights down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Anxiety and depression are a reality that cannot be shrugged off with a scriptural band aid. Liz knows from her own experience of swallowing pride and swallowing the daily pill for depression that the “cheerful heart” and anxiety free living are not empty promises — but there are bio-chemical realities that must be faced head on.

And just in case anyone has become discouraged in their reading of Proverbs as a list of good deeds for the habitual do-gooder, Liz makes the important distinction between “doing a good thing” and “doing a God thing.” Generous living and joyous giving flow from a relationship with the God who owns all things.

When Proverbs 18:10 declares that “the name of the Lord is a “fortified tower” and encourages readers to “run to it” for safety, it’s helpful to have a concrete image to connect with the name of the Lord, and Liz has added something to my tool belt:  a list of twenty-six names of God in alphabetical order for memorization and meditation.  (Thanks, Liz!)

The hands-on, boots on the ground mentality of 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path makes it clear that the light on our path is godly wisdom that emanates from wise choices, righteous deeds, and an intentional following of God that happens over a life time.  Each of the 31 Proverbs comes with a One Minute, One Step practical application.  Suggestions range from the very simple — list everything you are grateful for — to the more intensely meddling assignment of initiating reconciliation with someone we have wronged, hurt, or offended.

With Bible study questions in the back of the book along with complementary passages that allow Scripture to comment on Scripture, Liz has crafted a resource for individual use or for small group study. The application of ancient truth to a thoroughly modern life begins with opening the pages of Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to speak Truth into our words, our relationships, and our motives as we are led along His straight paths.

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This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Stepping onto the Common Ground — Jayber Crow Discussion Group (5)

I’ve spent the past week reconnecting with my sister.
She lives in Alaska. I live in Maine.
She has one grown daughter, while I’ve spent the past 23 years living in a boys’ dormitory.
She has lovely nails and her wardrobe demonstrates an awareness of the comings and goings of  style. My hands and my clothing reveal that I have a big garden and are consistent with a life that is lived close to the ground.

For this week, my sister and I have stepped onto the common ground of a shared childhood, a common faith, and the glorious dance of genetic material that rendered her a soprano and me an alto. Geography, being deeply rooted in opposite extremes of the continent, has presented its challenges to our relationship, but isn’t it true that even those who share a zip code can struggle to find common ground?

Be a Conscientious Objector

The combined effects of war and grief formed the common ground of 1940’s-era Port William. When the indignity of a 4-F classification prevented Jayber from “sharing the fate” of his community through active military service, he “felt disgraced by [his] failure to be able to do what [he] did not want to do.”

In a world slowly being populated by special snowflakes who make much of their preferences and feel entitled somehow to special handling (I am not without guilt here), Jayber’s stance on the war effort is remarkable. He did not want to participate in the war, but . . .

“I had a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself.”

This is the kind of conscientious objector I long to be. By contrast, I have an uncanny ability to read the commandments of God and to apply them with skill to others — and then to find a loop hole that excuses my own disobedience.

Fear and Grief

Jayber joins C.S.Lewis in the observation that fear and grief are curiously linked.

From Chapter 1 of A Grief Observed:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.”

And this from Jayber:

“There were many new things to be known and talked about, but nobody spoke of fear. And when grief began to come in and replace fear, the grieved, out of consideration for the fearful, did not speak of grief.”

In tragedy, we are forced to come to terms with seeing “everything as eligible to be lost.” Or, as dear Mat Feltner put it after his son Virgil was reported missing in action, “Everything that will shake has got to be shook.” We feel this as well, when the people and things we thought of as “permanent” begin to disappear. Even tragedies that come to us from a distance (Las Vegas, Puerto Rico) usher in their own brand of fear and grief. Our right response for banishing fear is the “reverence and awe” the writer of Hebrews recommends as we thank God for the reality of His unshakable kingdom.

For Worse — and for Still Worse

Jayber can’t seem to shake the feeling of being despised by Cecelia Overhold, and Wendell Berry gave Jayber an entire chapter to explore the weight of failure that surrounds the Overhold marriage. Oddly, the bachelor barber serves as a handy target for all Cecelia’s disappointment in her husband Ray.

And isn’t it interesting that in all the varied Membership of Port William, there are only two individuals who are painted with an entirely negative brush: Cecelia Overhold and Troy Chatham? Jayber’s resentment of Troy does not do him much credit, but, without giving anything away, I will defend Jayber by saying that events which are yet to come in future chapters have colored Jayber-the-Narrator’s memories of Troy. Our minds are tricky that way, for our knowledge of a person over time can throw a long shadow over what we remember about them from the past.

So, in spite of Jayber’s ambivalence about The War (and all wars) and his determination to come back to Jesus’ instruction to “love our enemies” (142-143), he finds this harder to live out with individuals than with theoretical enemies — who don’t rub him the wrong way in real life.

And so I find myself stepping onto common ground with our friend Jayber. I want to be hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Love your enemies,” and then choose to have “a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself.”

Questions to Ponder

What do you think of Jayber’s thoughts on Miss Gladdie’s grief? He describes Miss Gladdie as “the keeper and protector of the grief by which she cherished what she had lost.” There seems to be wisdom in this, particularly for those who want to hurry their way through a loss, to “get to the other side of it” so that life can return to “normal again.” Maybe it’s just my practical nature, but I enjoy thinking about grief as a means of cherishing, a way of saying, “This loss is worth this much sadness.”

On page 152, Jayber’s thoughts on the church are all tangled up with his strong reaction to Roy and Cecelia’s marriage, but there’s something of value in what he says about mis-uses of the church: as a venue for snubbing the “unworthy,” as a place of discomfort and ill-fitting piety, and as a “lion tamer’s chair.” (153) How’s your relationship with the local church? Does it inspire you to more faithful obedience? Have you walked through hard seasons with the church gathered?

Did you notice Jayber’s story-telling style changes on page 134 when he begins to share his Mattie memories? He goes into a very structured voice: “I will call back now and lay in a row some passages of my early knowledge of Mattie Keith . . .”  Coming where it does, it landed on my ears as a non sequitur. What does all this have to do with the words that comprise one of my favorite Jayber quotes?

“I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.”

I think that in making this connection here, Jayber is tipping his hand about his understanding of his own calling, but remember, he’s writing from the perspective of the future as a 72 year old man.

When I remember that the cloud and the fire led Israel into the wilderness, it helps me to view my own wandering path with a little more grace. And the truth is that sometimes we see the beauty and necessity of our pilgrimage best from the rear view mirror.

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, your response to the discussion questions, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (October 12) having read Chapters 15-17.

Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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5 Books that Breathe Faith into the Cancer Journey

Those who shake their family tree may be pelted with details they’d rather not know. The blight I encountered in my particular grove was cancer—multiple varieties, hereditary strains. Suddenly I feel a deep kinship with the unending parade of friends and acquaintances who are hearing the word cancer breathed into the air of clinical spaces. I’m thankful that God has hand-picked a few writers who have suffered the effects of cancer to speak from their experience, for while it is true that no two cancer journeys are identical, it is also true that shared grief is lightened.

Cancer is this month’s theme for The Redbud Post. I’ve added my voice to the message that cancer does not have the final say by contributing a compilation of five book reviews from various perspectives on the topic. My hope is that this will be a resource to those who are learning the grace lessons of a day-to-day struggle with cancer.

Thanks for joining me over there to read the entire post, and if you know of someone who is walking that hard path, be sure to share this month’s Redbud Post with them so they can be encouraged by the stories of others who have walked the same road.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

New Testament Women and the Piercing Embrace of the Following Life

Flannery O’Connor is known for her short stories, but she packed images large and alarming into her economical word count. Murder, road side ambushes, and the cast of grotesque characters who populated her writing reinforced her oft-quoted credo:

“You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

In Pierced and Embraced, Kelli Worrall borrows one of O’Connor’s “large and startling figures” to write in bold script a parable of the gospel. The story of a defenseless old woman being violently gored by a bull portrays the shocking nature of grace as O’Connor’s protagonist is stabbed through the heart with one horn and encircled about the waist by the other.

It was the piercing that grabbed Kelli’s attention in the midst of her struggles with infertility and the heartbreak of three miscarriages. She raged against the unfairness and felt abandoned by God until He helped her to see the embrace of His love that came alongside the piercing. She began to study the lives of women in the New Testament and was startled to note that Jesus’  manner of dealing with women was a uniquely gentle pursuit of their hearts.

One by one, Pierced and Embraced recounts the stories of seven New Testament women, their encounters with the Savior, and His impact upon their lives. At the same time, Worrall weaves in her own story of a challenging childhood, her marriage and career, the adoption of two children, and a growing faith and obedience.

  • Prophetically warned that a sword would pierce her heart, Mary of Nazareth embraced and was embraced by the call of God to a one-of-a-kind journey that put the power of God on display in a humble, faithful life.
  • The woman at the well found, at the end of Jesus’ piercing questions, a grace-filled embrace of her need and her longing — and then a new identity as “an instrument of change in the lives of many others.” (80)
  • Pierced physically, emotionally, and spiritually by life, we all hurt. The woman with the hemorrhage had experienced life’s piercing, but received the embrace of acceptance and healing when she placed desperate and believing hands upon Jesus’ garment.
  • Used as bait in a moral and theological snare for Jesus, the woman caught in adultery was about to be executed by a cadre of the self-righteous.  Jesus turned the tables, and skewered her accusers with His piercing interrogation. Expecting death and shame, the guilty received forgiveness and hope for a new beginning — a hope that encourages this present-day believer to come quickly for the embrace of forgiveness and the all-important words:  “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
  • Worrall experienced the piercing anguish of God’s waiting room in the six year process of an international adoption. Mary and Martha waited on pins and needles for Jesus to heal their dying brother Lazarus. When Jesus shows up, He works in ways that no one could have predicted, but the lesson reveals that the jolting embrace of a wild and powerful Savior leaves His followers convinced of His presence and His love.
  • The woman with the alabaster jar pours out her worship with abandon and beauty and yet experiences piercing disapproval. Jesus’ rebuke of the scolds in the room is an embrace to all the beauty-lovers, the lavish prais-ers, and the devoted followers who put the glory of God ahead of practical concerns and even their own reputation.
  • Chosen to know Jesus and to make Him known, Mary Magdalene has been the subject of much speculation through the centuries since her eye-witness experience of the resurrected Christ. Pierced by sorrow and then embraced by a commission to be Jesus’ “apostle to the Apostles,” Mary received the privilege of being the first herald of the resurrected Christ.

Because He is timeless and immutable, Jesus continues to work in the lives of women, drawing us into conversation, commissioning us to share His message of Truth, and piercing our hearts with the conviction that His words are true and His path worth following.  May we find grace in this following life to lean into His gentle embrace as we are transformed and empowered for our own beautiful offerings of service and worship.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.