Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

In the spring of 2008 our world spun out of control. In retrospect I see how the Lord held us together, but at the time, NOTHING was going as planned and the future was scarily blank. Health issues caused us to leave Brazil rather suddenly and subsequently my husband and I found ourselves adrift in the U.S. without a home, a job, or even the prospect of returning to the mission field. It's been quite a journey and one of my most faithful companions along the way has been Sarah Young's book, Jesus Calling. Young is a missionary and licensed counselor, but most of all she's someone who has learned to look to God in difficult times and to "take advantage of her crosses." The book was written as she sat quietly in God's presence and took down notes as to what she thought He was saying to her. Reading a book written in first person from God's perspective was off-putting at first, but I quickly got over it because of the rich truths.

I have never underlined any book as profusely as I did this one so it is almost impossible to narrow down the quotes I want to share with you, but I'll give it a try.

You need Me every moment. Your awareness of your constant need for Me is your greatest strength.... Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice: deep dependence on Me, or despair. (Feb 22)

Difficulties are gifts from Me, reminding you to rely on Me alone. (Mar 7)

Some fears surface over and over again, especially fear of the future. You tend to project yourself mentally into the next day, week, month, year, decade; and you visualize yourself coping badly in those times. What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn't include Me. (Nov 9)

When you are plagued by a persistent problem - one that goes on and on - view it as a rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable. (Dec 18)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Beowulf for Dummies (like me!)

I normally eschew abridged versions of famous books. Shortened versions of Heidi, Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson tend to leave out the strong faith of the protagonists. On the other hand, some classics are so heavily-laden with difficult language that an abridged version is helpful in making them accessible to the average reader. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know I’m not averse to reading difficult books, but there are a few books that I haven’t read because the language is daunting; Beowulf is one of them. So I was delighted when I read that British novelist, Ian Serraillier had rewritten it for children.

Although told in simple language, Beowulf the Warrior captures the poetry and power of the original. I thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, the language and imagery were so rich that I knew this was a book I could read and re-read with delight, which is the reason it made it to my "If I could only own a hundred books" list.

In case you are wondering about the difference between versions, I’ve cut and pasted a passage from Episode 6 below so that you can compare for yourself.

From the original: [My warriors have] seen me from slaughter come blood-flecked from foes, where five I bound, and that wild brood worsted. I' the waves I slew nicors by night, in need and peril avenging the Weders, whose woe they sought, -- crushing the grim ones. Grendel now, monster cruel, be mine to quell in single battle!

From Serraillier’s version: Because we grieve deep for your desolation, over the long paths of the oceans we have labored, I and my warriors to rid you of the brute that nightly robs you of rest. I am no weakling. With my trusty blade I have slain a monster brood and blindly at night many a foul sea-beast that writhed and twisted in the bounding wave. I beg you to grant my wish. I shall not fail.
(Well, what do you think? Maybe now I understand the story well enough to read the real thing... By the way, Serraillier has also written The Road to Canterbury, a re-telling of another book I have avoided.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reading Year in Review 2010

 I did not meet all of my goals for the year, but I’m happy with the variety and quality of the books I read – sixty-five in all.

Over half of my favorite books this year were written for young audiences. The Wednesday Wars, The Mouse and His Child, Magic by the Lake and the Narnia Chronicles were all lovely. Beowulf, retold for children by Serraillier, was an unexpected delight.

Biggest surprise: Canticle for Leibowitz. I certainly didn’t expect to find so much theology in a sci-fi novel.

Loveliest writing: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Most influential: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young – Next to the Bible, this was the most comforting and convicting book of the year. It’s a daily devotional book for people who are going through especially hard times.

Best non-fiction: London, 1945 by Maureen Waller

Most interesting new author: D. E. Stevenson

I want to say “Thank you!” and “Merry Christmas” to my blog friends. I love it when you share your thoughts on books I’m reading. It adds a whole new dimension to an already wonderful experience!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

This week I read the disappointing Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel. As a fan of both literature and theology, I grieve when I read Christian books that are flat and boring. Dorothy Sayers wrote that the truths of Christianity describe the greatest drama ever staged. That’s why I’m frustrated with writers who manage to wring all the life out of them. And that is why it was balm for my soul to pick up a book by C.S. Lewis.

The Last Battle is the story of King Tirian, the last king of Narnia and his battle against the Calormenes. I hesitate to describe it in anymore detail because I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers. The final chapters express complicated theological ideas in a gentle, simple, beautiful way. Have you ever wondered if people who don’t hear about Jesus get to heaven? Have you ever wondered what Heaven will be like? These passages will open your understanding (and blow your mind!).

Lewis tied up the series in a satisfying way with references to many of the main characters from the other books. Another pleasurable aspect of the book was that it met my need for meatier fare to prepare my heart for the season. A stable is a major backdrop to the story and Lucy makes a passing comment that “In our world, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was a perfect Christmas comment and clinched the book as my favorite in the series. (Even as I write that I’m not sure that’s true. There was something to love in every single one of the books.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’ve been in awe of Ray Bradbury ever since I read Fahrenheit 451, but I was a little afraid to read another of his books. After all, could lightening possibly strike twice? I took a chance and discovered that although Dandelion Wine wasn’t as powerful as Fahrenheit, it was a tremendous pleasure to read. For one thing, the writing is gorgeous. It was often so thick with adjectives and invented verbs that I could feel the heaviness of that long ago summer which was weighted down by heat as well as by life’s challenges.

The book is a loose collection of stories from the summer of 1928. The protagonist is twelve year old Douglas Spaulding whose fictionalized adventures are based on memories from Bradbury’s own youth. Bradbury masterfully juxtaposes the joy of living with the pain of aging and of time passing. (He reminded me of Wendell Berry in that respect.)

In one of the stories, a young boy is coming to grips with his mortality: Douglas watched [the fireflies] go. They departed like the pale fragments of a final twilight in the history of a dying world. They went like the few remaining shreds of warm hope from his hand. They left his face and his body and the space inside his body to darkness. They left him empty as the Mason jar… (p. 187)

I was taken aback by how dark a couple of the stories were. If you look at some older covers of the book you can see that they played up the few macabre aspects of the book (probably due to Bradbury’s fame as a science fiction writer.) Anyway, the stories are good, but they are not this book’s main attraction. I would gladly re-read it to wallow once again in its beautiful language.