Start Where I Am. Use What I Have.

When my thrifty mother-in-law made mincemeat, she would start with the venison roast from a deer who may have had the audacity to nibble on her tulip leaves.  From there, she would improvise, adding whatever needed using up on that particular day:  a batch of jam that didn’t “set up” just right or an over-abundance of applesauce.  Somehow, the mincemeat always simmered fragrant and delicious.

When I make mincemeat, I follow a recipe – to the letter. But it is likely that if any of my daughters-in-law find a need for that particular pie filling, they will just buy a jar off the shelf.
(Or I will give them one of mine!)

I’m well aware that generational change is a given, but having BOTH a graduation AND a wedding on my spring calendar this year brings it to center stage.  Good and exciting things happen quickly once our kids hit the double digits, so I’m braced and on board.  Change is on the menu whether I like it or not.

I’m choosing to like it.

However, here just below the 45th parallel, where the sun rises in its own good time, spring is still weeks away.

The majestic evergreens and the kindness of low  bushes that turn a deep red after they drop their leaves are all that rescue my mid-winter landscape from a panorama of sepia and gray.  Last night, Venus and the waxing crescent moon were veiled in mist, and the damp cold that is seeping into my bones today tells me that change is on the way.  And I welcome it.

If it’s got to be winter anyway, then let it be cold.  Let the ground stay hard, and let the sky send a fresh, clean blanket of white every few days to relieve the monotony of all that has expired.  Better to walk on frozen ground or across the crunch of snow than to sink into the mud of mid-winter acedia.  Better to bring my mittens, my shovel, and my small resiliency to a beautiful world than to mourn the slow and uncertain advent of spring.

In this season of slow sunrise and early dark when the daffodils snooze and the robins make angry phone calls to their travel agents, I will make fish chowder and fill up the empty spaces around my table with people who need the full feeling that comes from a hearty welcome.  After all, no matter how earnest my intentions, I cannot make less than six quarts of anything.  (And I can’t shake the idea that if Jesus had walked the frozen fields of New England instead of the dusty roads of Galilee, He would have worked His way with a metaphor around an abundant kettle of steaming chowder.)

With sons coming and going, who knows how many bowls I will need to put on the table?  This ever-changing count provides a concrete measure, a confirmation of the vague sensation I carry that someone, somewhere has thrown a lever, releasing a huge gush of life from this busy and crowded home.

This season of change includes Driver’s Ed — Round 4. This time, I’m certain that the boy behind the wheel was napping in his crib just yesterday, while I weeded green beans and scribbled in a journal.  Today, I handed him my cell phone (which he immediately silenced) and told him to call me when he needed to be picked up.

My first cellphone had a tiny antenna on it.  It rang infrequently, but when it did, I usually missed the call anyway, because, buried in my purse, it sounded like a distant chainsaw in the woods.

I still keep my phone in my purse, despite the “fervent counsel” (i.e. nagging) of my children.
Them:  “Where were you?”
Me:  “In the garden.”
Them:  “Why didn’t you take your phone with you?”
Me:  (momentary silence while I try to adjust my wording and tone to be kinder than I am feeling)  “Because I carried a baby monitor around in the garden for ten years.”

Is it a sign of progress that, now, when I hear a distant chain saw in the woods, I run for my cell phone?

A more urgent question:  Am I willing to “outgrow” my crankiness and claustrophobia about technology in order to connect with the important people in my life?

Facebook updates me on the steady advance of the cancer that is tunneling its way through one more friend.  Closer to home, dementia is stealing the self-hood and the memories of yet another precious personality whose creativity and warm laughter are forever lost to this world – while she wanders a locked-down ward and curls up on the wrong bed for her afternoon nap.

Thanks be to God that the offset of all this lament comes in celebration of the full-body smile of my adorable grandson who has absolutely no idea how much joy he adds to the world just by inhabiting his own tiny skin,.  And while it is true that it is the voice of the Lord that “strips the forest bare,” it is also true that when “winter is past [and] the rain over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth . . . and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  The fig tree ripens is figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance,” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).  I will bring what I am learning about patience from this cycling of the seasons to my navigation of a life of perpetual change.

I will start where I am with my full days and my inconsistencies and my pitiful mixed motives.

I will use what I have, putting it all in the pot to simmer, and somehow, by the grace of God, I believe that it will be enough.

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One Weekend in History – For Ruby Magazine

For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  Therefore, this Lenten season, I will be re-reading A Glorious Dark, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

What we believe about one weekend in history, the three days’ journey from Golgotha to the garden tomb, impacts our whole experience of the Christian life.  That’s why I’m sharing this book review in the March issue of Ruby Magazine.  I would love for you to continue reading with me there.  Be sure to check out the other articles and be encouraged.  Click here for more information about subscribing.

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This book was provided by Baker Books 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.

Writing Her Way into Truth: Till We Have Faces (9)

Before children and homeschooling, I worked as a compensation analyst in a large hospital, so whenever a manager wanted to change a position or to reorganize a department, it was my job to look at the changes in relation to their impact on the incumbents’ compensation.  Are the additional duties essentially the same kind of work they’ve been doing all along, or do the proposed changes require additional skill or give the employee increased responsibility?  Often, I would come to the end of all my meetings and market research with a pile of information and no clear sense of what my recommendation would be.

And then I would start writing.

I laid out the facts:  changes in reporting relationships, job duties, skills required, percent of time spent in various roles.  As I wrote, it all became clear to me so that by the time I came to the end of my writing, I was ready to make recommendations and to confidently explain my reasoning.

I see something similar going on in this blogging life of mine, and, so I wonder if, perhaps, Orual might have become a blogger if the kingdom of Glome had acquired the technology in her day.  In Book Two of Till We Have Faces, she shares her discovery that her case  against the gods set forth in Book One was not what she had thought.  Coming to the end of her writing, she found that “the past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering.”  Whether she knew it or not, Orual had begun the process of writing her way into truth.

Plot Summary

Orual’s nephew and heir to her throne has been notified that she is near death. Even so, at the end of her long life and reign, the elderly queen is finding the strength to set down a revised perspective on her life.  Two events seem to have triggered the avalanche of memory:

  1.  An encounter with Tarin (her sister Redival’s old beau who was made a eunuch by their father the King) gave Orual insight to Redival’s lonely childhood during the days in which Orual was occupied first with The Fox and then with Psyche.
  2. Upon the death of Bardia, captain of the guard, Orual visited his widow, Ansit whose bitterness eventually overflowed into this (courageous) accusation:

” . . . I know that your queenship drank up his [Bardia’s] blood year by year and ate out his life.”

The rite of the Year’s birth in Ungit’s house and a series of dreams sent from the gods lead Orual into still deeper insight into what the god of Grey Mountain meant when he spoke out of thunder and chaos with the words, “You, woman, shall know yourself and your work.  You also shall be Psyche.”

Reflection

Ansit (Bardia’s widow) and Orual have a conversation that evolves from tense civility to electric warfare.  In giving up Bardia to his work, Ansit had refused to “make him so mine that he was no longer his,” while Orual realized, in hindsight, that she had been using up Bardia through his work, “heap[ing] up needless work to keep him late at the palace, ply[ing] him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice.  Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness.”  Orual is coming to the realization that she has spent her life filling up that emptiness with the lives of others, that like the Shadowbrute, her loving and her devouring are all one thing.

As Orual dreams of sorting seeds by night, she sorts through her memories by day, “separating motive from motive and both from pretext,” (Kilby, p. 177).  But that’s not the end of revelation, for, as she becomes more willing to see truth, she finds that she is “drenched with seeings.”  Visiting Ungit’s temple for the rite of the Year’s birth, Orual laments the waste of the temple girls’ lives and the endless silver that is offered to a god who offers no return on investment, and then later sees that she, like Ungit is “an all-devouring, womb-like yet barren thing.”

Lewis scholars note parallels between the gods’ pursuit of Orual and C.S. Lewis’s own encounter with The Hound of Heaven.  This is reasonable since Lewis has described himself as “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”  It is interesting that Till We Have Faces was published in 1956, the year after the memoir of Lewis’s conversion, Surprised by Joy.

Some Issues to Ponder

Orual’s growth in self-perception has been an unveiling process.  When she tore off her veil in the presence of Ansit to reveal the ugliness it hid, Ansit was also able to read the Queen’s heart and call out the love for Bardia that had been hiding behind that veil for decades, a love that, sadly, had deteriorated into something that Orual described as “nine-tenths hatred.”

In her dream of descending into Pillar Room after Pillar Room, each one deeper and smaller, she is confronted with her own image in a mirror and sees, to her horror, that, in the dream, her face is the face of Ungit.  Realizing that she is known by her veil rather than by her face, Orual begins to go bare-faced into her kingdom when she wants to go undetected.  Is it a coincidence then, that when she is unveiled, contemplating suicide, and realizing that she is even too weak for this that she hears the unmistakable voice of a god once again?  This time, there is “no rebel in [her]” and so she hobbled home to await the meaning of the god’s words:

“Die before you die.  There is no chance after.”

Orual’s journey encourages me to embrace Truth as it comes to me, for like her, I am also a “cold, small, helpless thing.”  And yet the voice of the true God invites me into a holiness that is neither dark nor ugly, but is full of light and beauty and that calls me to deeper Truth — about God and about myself.  May we all be open to His Truth, and may we find that we, too, are consequently “drenched with seeings.”

Your Turn

Chapter 1 and 2 of Book Two comprise some truly elegant thinking and glorious insights into both human and divine nature, and since nothing I can say will improve upon them, I will remind you of one of these sections now, and invite your thoughts, insights, and interpretations on it, or upon anything else that swept you away as you read.

“Of the things that followed, I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream.  But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.”

I will remind you, too,  that links to your blog posts are welcome in the comments below, and I look forward to your insights.

Next Time

I will be here once again next Thursday, March 9, for the last installment of our book discussion.  Since those last two chapters really put a ribbon on all of Orual’s journey of self-understanding, feel free to refer back to content from earlier chapters, especially if you are blogging about the book.

Blessings to you!

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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.

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The Radical Simplicity of Looking Up

It’s nearly time.
Even two weeks ago, standing thigh-deep in snow beside the bush, I could see that the buds had begun to swell large, and so it won’t be long until I lop off some of the bush’s waywardness and then arrange the bare branches in a vase of water.  I will begin watching every day for the delicate, vivid yellow flowers to announce that spring is happening in my house — no matter what’s happening in the great outdoors on this country hill in Maine

It was for this:

  • the intimate observation of seasonal changes;
  • the beauty and joy of a handwritten letter in which grace comes in the letting go;
  • the thoughtful glance skyward;
  • the face-to-face rebuilding of a broken marriage — it was for this very thing that Esther Emery unplugged her life from the Internet in November 2009.  For one year, she lived a life without email, without a cell phone, and without a debit card.  No Google, no on-line shopping, no text messages.  She walked away from her blog, an encouraging Facebook community, and any trace of an on-line presence in a leap of Stop-doing-everything-you-know-and-start-doing-everything-you-don’t-know Faith.

What Falls from the Sky shares this journey in four parts that correlate with four glorious gifts from the sky:  snow, rain, sunshine, and fog.

  1.  In the season of snow, Esther quit her job and made a cross-country move to Boston with two small children in support of her husband’s career. This obvious high-intensity-tumult actually pales in comparison with the angst of her Internet withdrawal. Against the backdrop of a snowy New England winter, she began to stop looking for her significance in terms of her electronic self.  This unplugging left Esther with plenty of space for wrestling with her ambivalence toward her non-traditional up-bringing and for discovering that “the alternative to screen time is table time.”  She cut her ties with the bulimic teenager she used to be and turned her eyes away from the theater she loved; and then tied on a striped apron and began trying to decipher her husband’s recipes for cranberry muffins and lentil soup.  Like a snow globe turned upside down, her values swirled, but then re-settled into new patterns in which compassion trumps achievement and humility suddenly has equal footing with leadership.
  2. It was from this humility that Esther traced her spiritual re-awakening.  Words from the Bible fell like rain on parched ground as she gulped down the Revelation first and then watched spring come through the lenses of Genesis and Thoreau.  A celebration of Easter in community introduced her to the  beauty of “borrowed” power from the crucified and risen Christ and the truth that this is “not theoretical at all.”  The vulnerability of Good Friday left Esther defenseless against the claims of Christ upon her life, and she was captured by the forgiveness that conquers fear, the “Jesus of the brokenhearted, the Jesus of the suffering.”  Ironically, as her spiritual life came into focus, the material world also became sharper, and she and her husband, Nick, took on the joint task of digging themselves out of debt and handling their finances as a team.
  3.  Under the bright light of summer days, Esther began to examine her motives for stepping away from the Internet.  Is this really about spiritual formation?  Or is it about self validation?  As her life changed and she and her husband grew closer, they began to feel as it they were on a boat, moving further and further from the shore — and further and further from the other people in their lives.  Esther’s perspective on the church is refreshing:  I read and re-read with a smile her assessment of church meetings as “jovially disorganized.”  Too, her tenacity in sticking with her commitment to fellowship is a grace sadly lacking even in more seasoned believers.  To her surprise, “the God she believed in” directed her path to Nicaragua with its enculturated gospel and its unmitigated poverty, where she slept in a room in which the ceiling was carpeted in bats and concluded that “this is what you get, I guess, if you say ‘anything’ somewhere where God can hear you.”
  4. The fog of reverse culture shock was waiting at the airport for Esther when she returned to her ecstatic family, deepening her realization that it would not be possible to drag others, still in the center, out to her “edge” because they had not traveled her road.  Ironically, when her family’s apartment is burglarized, one of the items stolen is the laptop containing all the notes and files she was in the process of recording during her disconnected months.  A tentative foray into gardening, and a commitment to inter-dependency and to the growing health of her marriage all began singing into Esther’s life the same song in different keys: “things grown again.”

With the structure of a memoir and the tone of an Old Testament prophet, What Falls from the Sky kept me reading and curious simply from the sheer impossibility of the experiment.  How does a woman who has “walked away from her faith” and become an “outspoken critic of Christianity” with a significant online presence (and a husband who is an atheist) make a journey away from the internet and toward a following life?   How can the experience of “looking up” for an entire year — noticing the sky and the seasonal changes, delighting in the company of her children and the deepening of her own inner life — how can this bring about a transformation that heals the ragged edges of a heart that needs to forgive and to be forgiven?  Esther Emery has crafted a travelogue for any heart that longs to recognize itself from the inside out, without the aid of the electronic mirror, and to embark upon a life that has been transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ.

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This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers 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.

February Musings — 2017

What February lacks in length, it has more than offset with depth — of SNOW and MUD! No sooner do we shovel our way through two feet of fluffy beauty, than the sun comes out and melts it all, turning the world into chocolate pudding!  It’s almost as if God is telling us to slow down — to stay home and enjoy these days of crazy boys and middle-aged marriage.  And so we have — with joy!

On My Desk

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It’s been great to get the women’s Sunday School class started up again at my wonderful church home.  We have been using Jen Wilkin’s study in I Peter, and it’s really keeping us on our toes with homework and a persistent (and important) reminder that we need to stay close to the text, reading repetitively and in context.  What that boils down to is at least one trip through all five chapters of I Peter each week, lots of marking up the text in our search for repetitive words and big picture concepts, and regular use of the dictionary (or Siri) for deeper understanding of the words Peter chose for his letter to all of us “elect exiles.”  I reviewed Jen’s book last spring and couldn’t wait to use it in real life with my friends who join me around the table each week.  The study is every bit as challenging and helpful as I thought it would be.

Vacation Bible School veterans will not be surprised to hear that I’m sorting through curricula and staffing for this summer’s ministry to kids, and so I’m wondering . . . what’s everyone else doing for summer ministry in 2017?

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Somehow I missed taking Economics in high school and college, so, in this third round of teaching a high school senior here at home, I’m switching gears, leaving our curriculum behind, and reading a book in tandem with my big, brown-eyed boy.  Emily Whitten has been sharing one classic book per month on World Radio, and her suggestion of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics has been just what I needed to bring the theory and the charts and graphs and specialized vocabulary into real world application for my future welder (and for this present day domestic diva!).  You can listen along here.

 

On the Blog

One of the lovely benefits of blogging has been all the new friendships I’ve made with other bloggers — and every once in a while, one of those friends writes a book, and I get to review it here at Living Our Days.  When my friend Mary Geisen wrote Brave Faith, she dipped her brush into the lives of inspiring biblical characters and shared their stories alongside her own journey of moving outside her comfort zone and into the soul-enriching pilgrimage toward living brave.

Another blogging friend, Holly Barrett, invited me to join her on her weekly podcast, and the program aired on February 3.  Click here to listen in to the fun conversation as we chatted about family, books, and living this following life in pursuit of wisdom.  You can subscribe to her podcast here.

The dialogue at SheLoves Magazine is always lively and uplifting, and I was thankful to share a reflection on my mid-winter canning jars and the truth that the container is secondary to the contents.  It’s good new that my emptiness is an invitation for God to pour His fullness into me—whatever my assignment for 2017.  You can read more here, and be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s testimony that God met him faithfully in the midst of his own deep need.

The most-read post at Living Our Days for the month of February was my review of Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson.  Using metaphors as earthy as our clay-based bodies, Hannah cooperates with the Word of God to reveal that the quality of life we most desire will not come to us through power or reason or productivity or any number of quick fixes, but, rather, through roots that are sunk deeply into a theology of need and answering grace — and a humble acceptance of a life that is lived close to the ground.

And, unbelievably, for those of us who are reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, we have only two more weeks left in our discussion group!  The book was already my favorite of Lewis’s fiction, and now I’m blessed by the great insights that have come from other readers through this group experience.  As we begin Part II, Orual realizes, “I must unroll my book again.”  We’ll be joining her in the process of sorting out the threads of her tangled memory.

Just for Joy

We did it!
The women’s fellowship at my church planned and executed a Family Valentine’s Celebration including a lovely dinner and a fun and wacky program.  We started brainstorming waaaaay back in November, and it’s encouraging to see what a small group of women can accomplish together as we celebrate our ministry to women and work toward greater opportunities and initiative for ministry by women.

captureThanks for meeting with me once again here at month’s end.  I am blessed by your generosity of spirit as you read, share your comments, and invite others from your circles into our conversation.

The beautiful and poetic words about snow in the image above come from Luci Shaw’s “Light Gathering, January” taken from her collection of poems What the Light Was Like.

Be sure to join me over at Leigh Kramer’s place where many of us gather at month’s end to share What We’re Into.

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 box 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.

Long Live the Queen! Till We Have Faces Discussion Group Week 8

Today we come to the end of Part I!
With only four chapters remaining in Part II, I’m amazed at how quickly the time for this discussion group has flown!

Plot Summary

Queen Orual has plowed into her new role with gusto, handily defeating Prince Argan with her sword, celebrating her victory as a lone woman in a place of power among men, and then settling into the routines of running a kingdom.  Her identity as the ugly princess is continually being swallowed up into that of the mysterious, veiled warrior Queen who leads her soldiers into battle and implements far-reaching economic and social reforms.  Even so, Orual is there behind the veil, haunted by grief and weighted down with the futility of a life devoted only to a dutiful completion of the day’s round of tasks.

A long recreational journey alleviates Queen Orual’s restlessness and brings something close to joy — until she stumbles into a secluded temple and learns that the story of the goddess who “resides” there is based on the story of Psyche with some important changes in the narrative details that settle once and for all Orual’s conviction that the gods hate her.  She resolves to set the record straight by writing the story from her own perspective and by bringing before the gods her charges against them for their injustice.

Reflection

Orual is a brilliant leader, and part of her brilliance lies in recognizing the importance of tapping into the wisdom of her counselors, Bardia and the Fox.  In her own right, however, she is enthusiastic, progressive, and a lover of justice, so even though there is no joy  or satisfaction in it for herself, Orual rules well. Lewis’s friend Screwtape would grudgingly admit that his Enemy (God) would be pleased with this human who does what is required, day after day, purely from a sense of duty.

Her veil, the “treaty made with her ugliness,” serves her well as a tool of intimidation and also advances Orual’s disappearance into the identity of The Queen.  All the grief, unhappiness, and bitterness can go on behind the veil while The Queen soldiers on, keeping up appearances.  She speaks with strong verbs that unmask her self-hatred, saying that she will kill Orual (225), that she has “locked Orual up” and “laid her asleep as best [she] could” (226).  As Orual’s face is lost to the world, queenship becomes her new face.

As with any addiction meant to deaden and smother pain, Orual’s ceaseless work and her string of accomplishments don’t satisfy her for long.   Her longing for the slaking of thirst and the old memory of satisfaction comes through clearly (and poignantly) with these words:

“Oh, for that bowl of milk, drunk alone in the cool dairy, the first day I ever used a sword.”

Some Issues to Ponder

Desperate to gain some relief from the sound of wind-blown chains that sound like Psyche’s weeping, The Queen builds a formidable stone wall around the well. Later, she refers to this building project in the same breath as triumph in the Battle of Essur (235).

“I heard Psyche weeping no more.  The year after that I defeated Essur.”

The Queen may have succeeded in walling up grieving Orual, and she may have felt powerful in the face of what she perceived to be  a “weakened” version of Ungit who smelled “cleaner and less holy” (234).  She may even have been rich enough and broad-minded enough to contribute silver to the temple for the fashioning of a new replacement for the “old, hungry, faceless” Ungit.  However, it was not long before she discovered that the gods were clearly at work behind the scenes, striving to have the last word.

Remember:  Orual had told NO ONE that she had seen Psyche’s palace.  Imagine her horror when she heard in the sing-songy repetition of the “gods’ version” of her story that it included the detail that the sisters had seen the palace and, yet, still enticed their sister away from her husband.

Orual had learned on the banks of the river near The Tree, when she saw the god’s face and experienced his power:   The god of the Grey Mountain is “no tame lion.”  Moving into Part II in which the Queen plans to argue her case against the gods,  it seems certain that we’re in for some sorting of the truth and revealing of motives:

“Let no one lightly set about such a work.  Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant . . . The past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering. (253)

These are cautionary words for us as well, for it is God who writes our story and it is His prerogative alone to “set the record straight.”

 Some Issues to Ponder

If readers in the U.S. are busily completing tax forms, Orual’s attitude about her sacrifices to Ungit may have struck a chord with you.  She considers the task burdensome and the temple requirements to be an odious chasing after the prosperity of others.  Whatever we might think about the demands of the IRS, we know that whatever we give to God is simply a return of what is already His in a glorious affirmation of our free will and of our design for worship.  Sadly, this is not the case in Glome.

Orual’s heaviness and gloom reminded me of the writings of Paul the Apostle who did not lose heart — whatever hardships he endured — for he considered every difficulty to be light and momentary when weighed against the “exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  In Chapters 19-21, The Queen has her own tragic system of measurement.  On one side of the balance scale rest the adulation of the people of Glome, her huge impact for good, and all the daily doings that go into the management of  a kingdom.  They land, in her estimation, like feathers on the scale when weighed against the howling wasteland of a life without Psyche, of a relationship of cool professionalism with Bardia, and the piercing loneliness of an existence in which, in her own words, “one little stairway led me from feast or council, all the bustle and skill and glory of queenship, to my own chamber to be alone with myself — that is with a nothingness.”

We live an a world full of Oruals who keep themselves busy and fill their lives with stuff and accomplishments in order to quiet the questions and mask the ache of longing.  This ending to Part I leaves me feeling sad for our main character and her present-day sisters — and wistful about finding a way to share the hope Paul wrote about, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” which gave him the ability to view this world with its trials as light and momentary, which indeed it is.

Your Turn

I would love to read your thoughts on this section — or on Part I as a whole.  Join the conversation by linking up a blog post or by commenting below.

Next Time

On Thursday, March 2, I’ll be here having read Chapter 1 and 2 from Part II.

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A Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company 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 box 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.