The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall “Study does not engender wisdom…Analysis does not inspire insight.”

Study doesn’t not engender wisdom,” he continued, his voice stern and challenging. “Analysis does not inspire insight.” He raised his eyebrows, exhorting Charles and his classmates to pay attention. “Only empathy allows us to see clearly. Only compassion brings lasting change.” (p. 14)

This is not my book. It was given to me by my mother, who had received it from a friend. Hence the break in my Japanese reading; I wanted to read it and return it in a timely manner.

My mother and I are constantly discussing why it is that novels written by Christians seem to resemble Harlequin Romances. Not in the way of romance, but in the way of trite. Well-meaning, to be sure, but essentially sitting on your tongue like a meringue which is alternately melting into nothing and making you shiver with its sweetness.

That is why The Dearly Beloved is so special. The two couples within its pages wrestle with doubt, both with themselves and with God. Never mind that the two men are ministers, that one of the wives is a pastor’s daughter. The other one lost her parents in a car accident when she was a child, and she will not believe in God. One of her twin sons is born with autism, and she will not believe in God. But, her doubts, her questions, her reluctance are a remarkable platform on which to build the novel. For what Christian doesn’t question God?

Lily is in stark contrast to Nan, who believes in God with her whole heart and always has. I find myself in her words:

Of all the things she thought she could give up for him (James, her beloved) she could not give up her faith in God. She had pondered this as deeply as her father would have wanted her to, and she had come to the conclusion that her faith was an essential part of the person she wanted to be. Who would she be without God? What purpose would her childhood have served? Whom would she thank for her blessings? How would she understand the workings of the world? How would she accept its mysteries? (p. 61)

It’s not something that you can be taught; faith is something you grab hold of, or don’t. And I love how Cara Wall has shown us in this novel that it is not easy. It is not simple. It is not always clear or straightforward.

God doesn’t always come in visions or dreams, and God rarely comes in certainty,” he (Nan’s father) went on. “God has come to you in restlessness and yearning. God has come to you in questioning. God has come to you as a challenge. It won’t be easy, but it’s a perfectly acceptable calling.

This is said to her fiancé, James, who has decided to become a minister. His uncle sponsors his education through a university in England, and so it seems quite unlikely that he would be sitting for an interview next to Charles.

Faithful, sturdy, unswerving Charles. He was my favorite in all the book, even though I most closely resemble Lily’s nose-in-a-book, headstrong ways. His faith carries him through the most trying challenges, the unbelief that surrounds him especially in his wife, Lily. Charles is given this advice when he is considering marrying her:

Love is the enjoyment of something. The feeling of wanting something deeply, of wanting nothing more. Our love of God is not as important as our faith in God. Love wanes, faith cannot. One can have faith and anger, faith and hate. One can believe deeply and still rail against God, still blame God. In fact, if one can hate God it is a sign of deep faith, because you cannot hate and at the same time doubt God’s existence. (p. 127)

But, no one is prepared for the issues of barrenness or of a child with special needs. No one is the perfect wife or husband, mother or father, friend or minister. They work through their wounds and longing, their sacrifice and fulfillment, growing ever more closely bound together. They become the dearly beloved to one another.

I found this a deeply moving book, able to express far more than one narrow perspective on faith from either the faithful, or the unbeliever.

Madeleine L’Engle: The Kairos Novels, Review and Give-away

This beautiful set comes in a slipcover …

containing the Wrinkle in Time Quartets and The Polly O’Keefe Quartets.

I have long collected Madeleine L’Engle’s books, and so I have a rather haphazard set, all in different editions. Above are two from the Wrinkle in Time Quartet…

and here are two of the Polly O’Keefe Quartet. But, how lovely it is to have a two-volume set, with each volume containing all four of each series.

Volume 1 contains A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.

Volume 2 contains the Polly O’Keefe Quartet, which consists of The Arm of the Starfish, Dragons in the Waters, A House Like a Lotus, and An Acceptable Time.

The Kairos Novels are edited by Leonard S. Marcus and published by the Library of America.

Few works loom as large in the history of young adult literature as Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 Newbery Award-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time. A truly revolutionary book blending realism and fantasy, science and religion, it was the first great crossover classic, appealing to children, teens, and adults, and setting the template for books such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now, in time for L’Engle’s centenary on November 29, 2018, Library of America brings readers MADELEINE L’ENGLE: The Kairos Novels, a deluxe two-volume set gathering Wrinkle and all seven of its sequels for the first time; an eight book sequence L’Engle collectively called the “Kairos Novels,” named for the Greek word for cosmically critical moments of time.

Edited by Leonard S. Marcus, one of the world’s leading writers on children’s books and the people who create them, this authoritative edition presents A Wrinkle in Time in a newly corrected text based on research in L’Engle’s archives and includes an appendix with four never-before-seen deleted passages.

Two of Madeleine L’Engle’s books changed my life. One was A Wrinkle in Time, the other was The Love Letters. They both taught me things about love I had never really understood before. I treasure rereading these classic books, most beloved by me.

And, I have the opportunity to give a set away (U. S. only, please). If you are interested in being considered for the give-away, please leave a comment below. I will select a name a week from today (on October 9).

My favorite Illustrated Faith page so far, with a favorite verse

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down but not destroyed…”

2 Corinthians 4:7-8

(As for the page itself, I find myself preferring a simple entry rather than a complicated one, a watercolor entry vs. slathered on acrylic; one word rather than many.)

“Flip Through” of my Midori for July

I may have told you, through my blogging years, how much meaning an analogue life holds for me. Which is an interesting thing to note on a digital format. There is so much pleasure in looking back over one’s day, or week, or month, or years(s). Better than a scrapbook is the Midori Traveler’s Notebook, for it holds a calendar, a journal and photographs; a paper trail of that which is my life.

So why tell you that here? Because as summer draws to a close, and fall is showing up ever increasingly in the darker morning, the bits of red edging the leaves, the ads for Back To School, I suggest this system for you.

My Midori holds my “calendar” as pictured above, but also an insert for the Bible studies I do each day, as well as a commonplace book for the reading I do.

I can’t imagine how I managed life without it.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (A Book for The 1951 Club This Week)

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I first remember hearing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from my grandmother, and my mother before her. They both spoke of him, and Henri Nouwen, with great admiration. So it was that when I stumbled upon the The 1951 Club hosted by Kaggsy and Simon, and further discovered that Letters and Papers from Prison was published during that year, I knew that I would have to lay down the Man Booker International Prize long list books for just a moment. For long enough to gain new insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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The letters begin in April, 1943, although the book was first published in 1951. Dietrich was imprisoned by the Nazis in Tegel Prison, Berlin. He had just become recently engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, and his arrest was bewildering to him and his family. From the early letters, one gets the sense that they think this is all a mistake which can be sorted out. But his parents are denied visitation, and they get no reasonable response to their inquiries as to why their son has been arrested or when he will be released. In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is executed on April 3, 1945 along with other key figures of the resistance.

It is timely to read this book now, not only because the letters begin (and end) in April. But, because this is Holy Week, I am reminded of the struggles, if not persecutions, encountered in life. I am only reading about fifty pages a day, more as a sort of devotional than novel, because Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are so profound to me. They remind me of the teachings I’ve had all my life; it is from him that I grew up with the mentality that if something wasn’t hard, it wasn’t good for you.

We smile to ourselves, the women in our family, as we say my grandmother’s oft repeated phrase, “Just keep marching on.” For she, too, knew how to be brave in the face of adversity and would not let evil gain any power even when it may have appeared otherwise.

A few meaningful quotes from my reading so far:

“…I’m sure that it is good for me personally to undergo all this, and I believe that no more is laid upon any man than he can receive the strength to bear.”

“For you must know that there is not even an atom of reproach or bitterness in me about what has befallen the two of us. Such things come from God and from him alone, and I know that I am one with you and Christel in believing that before him there can only be subjection, perseverance, patience and gratitude. So every question ‘Why?” falls silent, because it has found its answer.”

“The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do – there is still plenty left – and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and by feelings of resentment and discontent. I’m sure I never realized as clearly as I do here what the Bible and Luther mean by ‘temptation.’ Quite suddenly and for no apparent physical or psychological reason, the peace and composure that were supporting one are jarred, and the heart becomes, in Jeremiah’s expressive phrase, “deceitful above all things…” It feels like an invasion from outside as if by evil powers trying to rob one of what is most vital. But no doubt these experiences are good and necessary, as they teach one to understand human life better.”

“Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”

Read in a steady stream, such as I have laid these quotes out here, they may seem as if he is only sermonizing. But, I believe that he is simply expressing what he feels in his heart, and in reading his thoughts I am encouraged. It is fascinating to read his thoughts, hopes, and disappointments underneath the trials he experiences in prison.

If only my faith was quite as unwavering.

Complete Guide to Bible Journaling by Joanne Fink and Regina Yoder

I have been interested in Bible Journaling as long as I have been interested in the Bullet Journal. Both ideas came to my awareness last summer, and while I was intrigued, I became a little bogged down in the implementation. (See my first Bible journal page above with Psalm 61:2 which says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” It lacks polish, in my opinion.)

The good part about journaling in one’s Bible is the quiet reflection time spent doing it, as well as the way it is easy to commit a verse to memory once you have illustrated it. Or, even spent time to hand-letter it.

The hard part is getting the design to look as well executed as you would like. That is why The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling is so helpful. Within its pages are chapters including:

Getting Started

  • What is Bible Journaling?
  • How to Begin
  • Choosing a Bible

Tools and Techniques

  • Tracing, Drawing and Patterning
  • Painting Backgrounds with Stamp Pads
  • Stencils
  • Colored Pencils
  • Watercolors
  • Page Prep
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Washi Tape
  • Stickers and Die Cuts
  • Rubber Stamps
  • Lettering
  • Layout Techniques

Artist Profiles

  • Shanna Noel
  • Karla Dornacher
  • Valerie Sjodin
  • Sephra Travers
  • Valerie Wieners-Massie
  • Rebecca Rios
  • Tai Bender
  • Krista Hamrick
  • Jennifer Rydin
  • Rebekah R Jones
  • Christina Lowery

Gallery

  • Outside the Bible
  • Trust in the Lord
  • Graphic
  • Patterning
  • Watercolor Effects
  • Colored Pencils
  • Floral
  • Linework
  • Brights

Bonus Section

  • Journaling designs
  • Stickers and Tabs
  • Vellum Designs

This guide is so very helpful with its text and illustrations. The topics it covers gives beginners a way to begin, and can take those already familiar with the skill to new levels. I am renewed in my hope that what I produce will be more aesthetically pleasing, while certainly worth my time in quietness and in rest. I highly recommend this book.

A New Devotional From Tyndale

Over the course of my life I have used countless devotionals along with my Bible reading every morning. I have read from Dietrich Bonhoffer’s writing, Streams in The Desert, and the Book of Common Prayer. I have even read from the Jesus Calling book (which I find awfully presumptive for speaking with Christ’s voice).

But, since the 365 Pocket Morning Prayers arrived for review from Tyndale, my husband and I have been reading one each morning. We are finding it the perfect way to start our day, as each page contains a brief, but meaningful, prayer followed by an applicable Bible verse. One need read only a page, and yet there is enough spiritual sustenance for the entire day.

The cover is a lovely, light blue, leather-like texture; the size is small enough to slip into a purse or a backpack. Yet the font is easily read, and I like how the accompanying scripture verse is in italics at the bottom of each prayer.

This would be a wonderful addition to your devotional time, or if you don’t carry out such a practice, this would be a good place to start. After reading each page, I find myself sustained and encouraged to begin the new day, a blessing I would hope for you, too.

Good Tidings

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I received this card yesterday from an old blogging friend, one who never forgets me no matter how careless I am in sending forth good will. It is one of my favorite cards received this year.

A challenging year it has been, from a serious car accident involving my son, to two small surgeries for myself, and one for my mother. And these are only the outward manifestations of some inner emotional turmoil. But we are all here, experiencing grace, and I am so grateful.

When things are difficult I am convinced it is for our good. Our bodies aren’t  nourished on only sweets; our lives are not strengthened by only smooth days. My mother has said to me, “Courage grows strong in a wound.” My father has said to me, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” These are the words I live by.

But at Christmas, I also live by these words:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (Like me, so many times.)

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11 (KJV)

And I wish for you good tidings of great joy, of great comfort, and of great hope for 2016. God bless you, each one.

 

The Final Word

Two days ago, I had my hand slapped by a blogger on Facebook.

Her post mentioned something about the Constitution being the law of the land, not the Bible. And if the Bible was law, we might as well move to Iran.

While I wholeheartedly agree that the Constitution is our law, and should always be so,  I responded that the foundation of our country lies in the words that we are “one nation under God”, and even our money says “in God we trust”.

Her reply was that those two axioms came in the forties and fifties, in response to the red scare; they are not the foundation of our country at all.

I’ve been, as my son would say, a little salty ever since. They are the words I grew up with. They are the words my class and I have said every single morning for thirty years. They are the words on our currency which I touch every day of my life. And it doesn’t seem that they hold meaning for much of America any more.

“Let it go,” said my beloved husband, who knows how much I yearn for the final word.

“But I have to stand up for Him!” I cried.

“God is perfectly capable of standing up for Himself,” he replied. Which is, of course, true. But if I say nothing, I am not representing what I believe. I am allowing the voices of people who aren’t Christian to silence those who are.

These are troubling times, times when it may be easier to scorn Christianity than to adhere to it.

But as I sat in church on Maundy Thursday afternoon, I was reminded of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He came to serve, not be served. If my faith means anything at all, and to me it means a great deal, I want to care like He cared. I want to obey the words He spoke at the Last Supper:

“So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.” ~John 13: 34-35 (The Voice translation)

That’s all that really matters.

That’s the final word.

The Boy Who Loved Rain

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I didn’t realize I had accepted the review of a book written by a pastor, poet and missionary who lives in Normandy, France. But opening  the book to find an epigraph written by Paul Tournier, and finding passages of text pertaining to faith, made me glad I had.

Fiona and David’s fourteen year old son is at the heart of this story about family. He vacillates between temper and apathy; he stays up late into the night and sleeps until noon the next day. He has trouble at school getting along with others, and his parents are often called in to speak to the administration. He wakes in the night with horrific nightmares about trying to save a sister he doesn’t have, a scenario in which he can find no sense. He has hidden a suicide pledge, sealed with a bloody thumbprint, behind a painting in his room. Something is terribly wrong.

His mother, in utter desperation, flees London to a little coastal town in Brittany named Portivy, on the peninsula of Quiberon. Her friend Miriam lives there, and with her wisdom Colom’s story is slowly revealed. It is the first time he is fully aware of his past, for his childhood was a darkly shadowed one; a childhood his parents thought best to leave undisclosed.

But when have secrets ever been helpful? When truth lies hidden, pain has the time it needs to grow until a near Herculean effort is required to vanquish it. This effort is what is required from both of Colom’s parents as they face their past and what they have left untold to their beloved son.

I was moved to discover that author Gerard Kelly uses the story of Jairus in the New Testament to address Colom’s situation in his novel. When he sees Jairus’ utter despair at the apparent death of his daughter, Jesus comes to bring her to life again. Miriam reminds Fiona that Jesus sends all of the adults out of the room and focuses on the daughter alone.

“An adolescent in crisis is always a family in crisis,” Miriam continued, “but adolescence is about identity; about becoming an individual. My thesis suggested that healing can’t begin until we acknowledge the child as the subject of their own story: the actor in their own journey. The adults who have held the child as the object in their story must let go. It’s the whisper of identity they’re waiting for. Life, spoken into them again.” (p. 223)

Can anything be harder than being a parent? In the best of situations, it requires endless patience, forgiveness, and hope. It requires taking the focus off of one’s self and letting the “child” stand on his own. My son is 24, and I’m still practicing this every day.

Other important things that Kelly includes in his novel are:

  • John Tavener’s  Ikon of Light, a beautiful piece of sacred music
  • a reference to a 300 year old text written by Jean-Pierre de Caussade (quite possibly from The Sacrament of The Present Moment: “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which only the heart fathoms insofar as it overflows with faith, trust and love.”)
  • a painting by Kandinsky named Farbstudie Quadrate
  • a quote pertaining to rain which precedes each chapter, from sources that include Garth Stein’s Racing in The Rain, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and Elie Wiesel’s Dawn.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book, to reflect on parenting, and childhood, and the necessity of truth under any circumstance. Thank you to Gerard Kelly for reminding us that uncovered secrets and forgiveness are the tools we need for healing. He blogs at godseesdiamonds.tumblr.com and is the founder of the twitter prayer stream @twitturgies.