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.)

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Heidi by Johanna Spyri for German Literature Month (A Guest Post by my Mother)

front cover

Today I picked up a worn old book that I read 73 years ago. Yes, I was seven. My namesake aunt had gifted it to me for Christmas. Because it held a great fascination to me I have dragged it through many moves, college days and then our homes and more college days. I didn’t read it again, until today. Instantly I was put in touch with a lodestar that has truly affected my life. Once again I was meeting the invincible, courageous girl I meant to become. “She understands what she sees, her eyes are in the right place,” remarked the grandfather to himself.

dedication from Aunt Maddie

From the moment Heidi’s life with grandfather begins she bustles around happily. She makes her bed out of hay, drinks the goat milk, time passes, as she learns to appreciate and listen. “…then the wind began to roar louder than ever through the fir trees; Heidi listened with delight to the sound, and it filled her heart so full of gladness that she skipped and danced around the old trees, as if some unheard of joy had come to her.” Maybe this is why I hear the wind and love it so.

Table of Contents

After the first day on the mountain Heidi tells her grandfather, “It was so beautiful. The fire and the roses on the rocks, and the blue and yellow flowers, and look what I have brought you,” as she empties her apron of the wild flowers she had picked. “Oh, Grandfather, what has happened?” His reply was classic grandfather. “They like to stand out there in the sun, and not to be shut up in an apron.” The life lessons never end though my little self never knew I was reading life lessons. Be gentle and kind to animals, respect your elders, be obedient. Help those in need like the grandmother in the tumbling down house. Make real friends like Peter and give him half of your lunch if this pleases him. When her happiness on the mountain with Grandfather is cut short, she never gives up knowing she must get back to him. And, when after great hardship she returns to the mountain, its beauty fills her heart so that she impulsively puts her hands together when she reads to the grandmother,

“Joy shall be ours, In that garden blest, Where after storm, We find our rest – I wait in peace – God’s time is best.”

Very simple words that did not diminish the joyful emotion that filled Heidi as her life on the mountain was put back into order. Happiness for her was found in the small and simple ways that Grandfather had taught. The story continues with working out the details of Heidi, her grandmother and the Grandfather and Peter all finding new stability. Even the Frankfurt family that brought grief and separation to Heidi is smoothed out, renewed and rediscovering the simple life. Clara, Heidi’s playmate is taken from luxury to simplicity. She marvels that, “As long as I remember I have only eaten because I was obliged to…now I am longing for Grandfather to bring the milk.”

Chapter 1

Heidi rejoices clinging to her grandmother saying, “Hasn’t it all come about, grandmother, just like the hymn I read to you last time? Grandmother responds, “Yes, Heidi, and many other good things too which God has sent me.” And the book actually concludes with this theme. “Heidi, read me one of the hymns! I feel I can do nothing for the remainder of my life but thank the Father in Heaven for the mercies He has shown us.”

Flyleaf

I closed the book pondering its meaning for me. I turned back to the frontispiece and note the publisher was the GOLDSMITH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. A long way away from this little girl receiving this book in the small city that was called Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

This is the message of my life, taught to me by parents and grandparents. To live thanking God for small and great mercies. To realize I live in a glorious world my Heavenly Father meant me to enjoy. When suffering, darkness, despair and evil frighten me, I must lift my eyes up to the proverbial hills and find refuge. Find the wonder in the wind, marvel at a tiny seed’s germination, listen to the jenny wren sing, cherish my family, hold them as dear as life. Always remembering each wind call, every seed and birdsong, all of the family is a great mercy – given to me as a gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you, forever, my great and holy God.

 

(This book was read in conjunction with German Literature Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Thank you for sponsoring the event, and thank you, mother, for sharing this book with me since I was a little girl.)

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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I had to read this book when I saw that it was one of the contenders for the Man Booker Prize, by an American author no less.

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The first thing I did to this library book upon opening it, however, was to correct the epigraph in pencil.

Do not tell me, Mr. Joshua Ferris, that you expect readers to believe a verse in Job, of the Old Testament, says merely, “Ha, ha.” It smacks of atheism.

But, wait. That is exactly what you are addressing, with a plethora of other issues, in your fascinating book about a dentist named Paul O’Rourke in specific, and our American culture in general.

At first, I found Paul terribly funny:

Ignoring the poignancy of everyone’s limited allotment of good mornings, I would not say good morning. Or I would in all innocence forget about our numbered opportunities to say good morning, that horrifying circumscription, and simply fail to say it. Or, I would say good morning sparingly, begrudgingly, injudiciously, or tyrannically…What was so good about it anyway, the too-often predictable, so-called new morning? It was usually preceded by a long struggle for a short drowse that so many people call night. That was never sufficiently ceremonial to call for fresh greetings.

But, by page 200 or so of this sharp wit, one tires of such groaning. One realizes that there is very little that will appease Paul’s  humour. His days consist of attending to his patients, wishing that his ex-girlfriend, Connie, would still love him, and lamenting his life. Not to mention the lives of those around him.

I was not going to spend my Friday night being gawked at. My Thursday nights never caused me any troubles. It was always my Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights that caused me troubles. On those nights, I was reduced to eating and drinking. The city (Manhattan) had almost nothing else to offer, and if this great city had almost nothing else to offer, imagine what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks and farmers, and you will understand, finally, why this country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them.

Paul makes astute observations on those around him, specifically how people (including himself) are obsessed with their “me-machines”, constantly checking them for emails, texts, updates, or even to Google a certain topic. Here is a passage of the very clever dialogue he writes in a conversation with his hygienist:

…she’d say, “Oh, for goodness’ sake. Put the phone away once you enter the street and take a look around you. Why must you always be reading your phone?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “If you know it is merely a distraction from the many things you don’t want to think about, why let yourself be a slave to it?” I’d tell,  her, she’d say, “That is the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard. A little technology could never take the place of the Almighty. We are talking about the Almighty, for heaven’s sake. Mobile phones or no mobiles phones, we still have the primal need to pray, do you we not?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “Sending and receiving email and texts are not a new form of prayer. Do you not understand that that little machine, by taking your attention away from God and the world He created, is only increasing your despair?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “I don’t give a fig for the world it’s created. It will never rival God’s.

And now we come to the heart of the book, for ultimately this is a book about faith. Or, about being Jewish. Or, about not having any faith at all.

When Paul discovers an unknown source has put up a web site in his name, and is delivering emails to his box, he is most disconcerted. They are very personal, and they are very insightful about who he is as a person.

I know it must be uncomfortable for someone to pop up out of nowhere and diagnose your troubles with pinpoint accuracy. I don’t think you’re an animal in a cage-far from it. You’re the full measure of a man, thoroughly contemporary, at odds with the America dream of upward mobility and its empty material success, and in search of real meaning for your life. I should know, Paul, I was there once, too. In fact, you might even say that you and I are one and the same.

The rest of the novel takes us through Paul’s effort to discover the source of these emails, and in so doing examines the role of the believer. It is a powerful book, which has given me much to think about. If this is truly how the majority of Americans think, we have become a lost nation.

I don’t know how To Rise Again At A Decent Hour will fare in the Man Booker competition, but I think the original, creative writing of Joshua Ferris deserves to have brought it to the short list so far.