by Nancy Admiraal, guest author
I resolved to read the entire Bible. Now I'm not the first person to make this commitment, and I won't be the last, but I think most people start the book of Genesis with much enthusiasm. Not I. I've read through the Bible before (it took about four years) and I knew right from the start that some of the reading would be a real slog for me. Leviticus loomed large on the horizon, just two books after Genesis, and my skewed perception of the Prophets, a big tangled mess of weeping, wailing, and judgment, loomed even larger.
Like pushing yourself to do an extra mile on the treadmill, I knew it would be good for me and achieve some great results, but would I have the endurance to make it all the way at a decent pace?
My chosen method was The Daily Bible In Chronological Order, 365 Daily Readings, New International Version. Of course you can simply read the Bible from cover to cover or follow any number of online reading plans, but this Bible has a date written next to each day's Scripture portion. For better or worse, I'm a person who rebels against routine, so I knew from the start that I probably wouldn't stay precisely on schedule. The dates helped me gauge my relationship to the goal. I permitted myself to be up to fifteen (15) days behind schedule, and at times achieved the distinction of being eight (8) days ahead of schedule. That didn't last long, but it sure felt good.
A few precious, random highlights from Scripture during that year: First of all, Genesis is an awesome story. Besides all four gospels, Genesis has become my favorite book. Who does not cringe every time they read about Satan tricking Eve who tricks Adam into taking that forbidden fruit, thereby moving our default position from “innocent” to “guilty”? Several of us can relate to Sarah's impatience with infertility and her grasp for a solution by means of Hagar her servant. Who is not thrilled by Joseph's revelation of his own identity to his long-lost brothers in Egypt? The origins of Scripture and our own lives reside in Genesis.
Second, Solomon's story really struck me this year. In 1 Kings 3, God demonstrated his pleasure with Solomon by offering him anything he wanted. Instead of asking for wealth, military success, or a long life, Solomon asked for wisdom. “I will give you a wise and discerning heart … I will give you what you have NOT asked for – both riches and honor.” (1 Kings 3:12-13) Basically, God lavished blessings on Solomon and Solomon pleased the Lord in many ways, especially by building the temple.
But this was the catch … Solomon had a bit of a thing for women. Seven hundred wives and 300 concubines to be exact. His wives led him astray. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kings 11:3,4) What an incredible fool! The man with everything lost it all, including the kingdom. Because of his love for David, God did not take it away during Solomon's lifetime, though. The Bible doesn't tell us about Solomon's ultimate destiny, but his story is a timely warning. Love the Lord with all your heart and stay away from people and things that lead you astray.
The last thing I notice from my reading is that there are a lot of prophesies in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is REALLY long compared to the New Testament. Now I know this sounds elementary, but the result of reading the OT from January through mid-October was that I was thirsty for Jesus in much the same way as Israel should have been after all those many thousands of years!
The parallel experience struck me as God's intention. We are supposed to drink up the gospels after reading through the desert of Israel's disobedience. Mary's words at the angel's announcement that she will bear Jesus, the Savior of the world: “I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Matthew 1:38) might be the slogan of my life if I could just get over myself. I still cry every time I read of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Oh, and my all-time favorite: Peter walking on the water with Jesus. This story is all of life. Like Peter, we oscillate between magnificent trust and dismal failure to trust. Jesus often calls us to walk on water, and he's always asking why we have such little faith.
I am ten days behind my Bible reading schedule. And I do not have a special place that I read every day. In reality, every place you or I read the Bible can be special … the waiting room at the dentist's office, the carpool line, the Mr. Clean Car Wash, your kitchen chair.
Don't wait another year for God to call you out on the water.
by Patty Morwood
I heard a new phrase lately: 'graceful desert living.' Never mind that I've suffered heat-stroke; I have really learned what 'graceful' coupled with 'desert' does and does not mean.
This winter we've lived in a city that seems to have plopped itself down in a giant sand pit. None of the lush green shades of Ohio, except occasionally, when turning another of the endless beige-sandy pebble-strewn corners, did I run all-of-a-sudden into a greensward! Ahhh, a reminder of home, though in reality, grass in this place means a sucking away of precious water, the gold-standard of the desert.
Every purse, every back pack, automobile compartment, and workplace drawer holds extra bottles of water; I know some who stash away salt tablets just in case. Certain times of the year, even while walking quickly from your house to the car, the heat can knock you down.
And the critters. There are all kinds who wander in from the desert, as if making sure humans know they themselves are the real intruders and should thus be made miserable with stings and bites (for some of us, a mere sighting is shock enough!).
The most frightening of the desert commoners include mountain lions, sidewinding rattlers (to minimize contact with the hot sand, they move sideways in an S-shaped motion), scorpions and the venomous gila monster.
God was gracious to me this winter. I didn't see any of these animals. Only a small three-inch lizard on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night one time; but since, I've dreamed of little lizards scampering across my pillow as I sleep.
I'm used to tall green trees with boughs and leaves swaying in the wind. Desert succulents don't sway, they've those fat little leaves and profuse colorful buds that keep them rooted and stationary; others sport needles and sharp protrusions. I know God made these strange plants for desert environments, and indeed, to an acclimatized person, it is all very very beautiful – critters, cacti, brown-beige, and intense sun-heat.
Early in the morning, before it is really hot, I like to take my golden doodle out for a walk on "The Loop", a walking-biking path that wraps one-hundred miles around the city. One day I saw something humorous: a dog walking with little booties on all four feet because of hot sidewalks! As the calendar moves toward summer, it becomes a very common sight.
One Sunday in March, the bulletin at the church we attend here warned, “Beware, the snakes are out!” My hiking took on a new dimension; I focused downward, eyes sweeping back and forth under bushes and across trails looking for that familiar diamond pattern, instead of gazing straight ahead on the mysterious and awesome desert and its pristine blue, blue sky.
Truthfully, the great Sonoran Desert is an awesome geographical place. It spans many miles, as it covers the California Baja, and parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. We spent years vacationing in Mexico's Sonoran Desert because my husband's parents lived there, where the desert ran right up to the beach. But I didn't pay much attention to the desert then; I was occupied with slathering sunscreen over my young children's fair little bodies and hovering with out-stretched arms as they encountered the powerful, dangerous sea without being carried away.
But today, in southern Arizona's Sonoran, I have actually spent several months instead of just a few weeks. Father Kino is renown in Mexico, but now I notice he's famous here too. Many streets, missions, schools, monuments (even two in the United States Capital's National Statuary Hall), geographic features, and royal forts bear his name. One of our sons married in our ancestral home on the beach in Kino Bay, Mexico and later named his golden doodle “Kino.”
Father Kino, 1645-1711, was an awesome man: a Jesuit-educated missional priest, as well as a geographer, explorer, cartographer, astronomer, and writer. How did he do all this? He wandered the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and what would later become southwest America for decades.
He loved the indigenous Native Americans, in ministering to them he established 24 missions/country chapels, 19 rancherias (villages), and countless other stations and royal forts (presidios) and towns (pueblos). He walked; he rode horseback. He followed ancient trade-routes, all along the way introducing European seeds, fruits, herbs, and grains; he taught people how to raise cattle, sheep and goats, becoming Arizona's “first rancher.”
And the early maps of Mexico's northwest, America's southwest and the Baja were drawn by his hand, probably as he leaned against a big boulder under that intense bright desert sun, to survey his glorious but dangerous surroundings.
I wonder how many times he was incapacitated, as I have been, with heat-stroke.
Since that unfortunate experience, I've learned that prickly pear, the most common succulent in the desert, gives a high yield of electrolytes. No doubt Father Kino chewed on their invigorating “pads” (leaves) as he tread under giant saguaros, relaxed under bright stars luminous in the black night of the desert, and woke to circling hawks and vultures overhead.
But soon we're off to the health food store before returning to lush green Ohio – for even after a rather tame Ohio hike or a ½ marathon super-walk, a few spoonfuls of prickly pear nectar mixed with water would be a boon!
A boon that will remind me of my winter of awe: graceful living in the great Sonoran Desert.
by Patty Morwood
In earlier blog entries, I wrote on the joy of reading good books and then chatting with girlfriends about them; in a second blog essay I gave suggestions for establishing and maintaining a Literary Club, and what a literary club, as opposed to a book club, really is. This essay, the third in a series, is a glimpse into being part of a literary club that is committed long-term to reading the best of the world's stories.
In my world, literary women are readers who want to read and discuss the best literature of the nations. You know, those stories countries like to export as the most outstanding of their literary works, works that show their beloved country's unique character, culture, and history. Most of us term these stories “classic” literature; they are seldom what we know today as the best-sellers. Novels labeled “classic” are known for their excellent language, characters who are either wholeheartedly loved or violently detested, and compelling themes. The nations' great books showcase their people's unique characteristics and experiences and yet they are universal in so many ways.
I asked two of my literary club members to talk with me about the advantages of being in a literary club focused on the world's literary classics.
What first attracted you to a literary club where great classics are read and discussed?
Anne: “I wanted to engage in intelligent discussion that would challenge my thinking. My other book club reads current 'best sellers' which definitely hasn't made them worthwhile to read, much less discuss. Those discussions weren't meaningful or even in-depth. I was ready for real engagement and other kinds of readers, especially women who willingly would read and discuss with a Christian lens.
Betsy: “I was looking for a group that would discuss the universals, not just current perspectives laced with divisive ideology. And anyway, I've always loved the classics.”
Describe how discussions among the ladies with broad literary insights and differing abilities enlarge your perspectives on analyzing literature.
Betsy: “Being with women who are committed to reading the book every month and attending Literary prepared to discuss keeps us all coming in the same manner. Insights come from being well-read lovers of books, stories, people and real life. Our faith is at the heart of each of our perspectives, but it is not a narrowing of viewpoint; I think it expands our compassion and interest in the human experience. Most if not all the women studied literature, history, or some other of the arts in college, so there is a somewhat scholarly insight that enriches our discussions. But don't let your level of formal education keep you from a literary club; in such a group as this your education will be continued and enriched, no matter who you are.”
Anne: “I appreciate the ladies who research the history surrounding the book's story, the author, or the work itself. There are those who help identify literary devices or have read the book more than once; they see authors' works in different ways. Their insights are usually multi-layered.
“I love fellowship among women. I first found it as a collegian and alumna with my sorority leadership responsibilities, then again with Christian women during my Emmaus experiences, and again with this wonderful group of literary women. We are an active, energizing and collaborative group. I love how everyone shares, does not judge, and encourages each other. There is total freedom to dislike an author, a book, or a particular genre or style of writing.”
What are the benefits to doing classics with Christians who like to view a work through a Scriptural lens and then compare their ideas and insights with other Christians?
Anne: “It helps the club realize how large God is, how His truth has influenced writers and cultures throughout time, more so than just reading the book alone without discussion with others. I am also encouraged to 'see' God in literary works and in history, when oftentimes other groups with whom I might discuss literature will never be able to identify or accept a Christian influence in something they are reading. Often in secular discussion groups I feel a work is more easily dismissed BECAUSE it has a clear Christian theme of redemption … and it's even used to criticize the piece.”
Has literary club changed the way you read both classics and non-classic books?
Anne: “I have become much more aware of the differences between excellent and just good writing. Modern novels rarely reach the excellence-bar anymore, but it is very satisfying to read literary classics. I have learned how to delve into the deeper elements of a literary work and appreciate the different ways authors construct their stories.”
Do you take notes on our literary discussions?
Anne: “I absolutely take notes on discussions! For one, I'd never remember what all we said! Plus, I want to go back to the book and reread it through others' eyes. And I like to use the notes when I recommend the book to others, or when I discuss it with family.”
Can you explain something from our reads that has deeply intrigued you in some way.
Betsy: “There are two books, very different in themselves, that I think showcase a proud woman's surrender at the end of a long life; each woman loses everything but each woman gains her own soul.One is Psyche in C.S. Lewis' Till we Have Faces, a retelling of an ancient myth. And the other is Kristen in Sigrid Undset's Kristen Lavrensdatter. Both women are so richly drawn that it seems they could be you or I. Psyche lives in a pre-Christian world permeated with superstitious paganism; Kristen is a young wife in Medieval Norway. Both are vividly portrayed in all their beauty, brokenness and humanity. The reader begins to love them, empathize and understand them, and even hate them at times. Finally, the reader gives each of them over to the mercy of God, just as their creator did in the first place.
Anne: “When reading Watership Down by Richard Adams, I was so intrigued with the 'roles' each rabbit played. There were the leader, the sage, the brawn, the storyteller, the jester. I was fascinated at how well developed the characters were and how true to their character they stayed. I had not had that appreciation before reading that book.”
Is there a character that stands out to you, whether negatively or positively?
Anne: “I looked forward to discussing Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was a complex novel with well-developed characters and a commentary on the human condition that is timeless. The psychological descent into madness of the main character Rodion Raskolnikoy was superbly done. His internal struggle with his place in 1860s St. Petersburg – his delusion of being 'elite' was due primarily to being educated while yet impoverished – was fascinating. The condescension he holds for others is so common in our own society today.
“If only we all could see this character flaw in ourselves! On face value it is a product of socialist Russia, but this is a character one continues to find throughout history and in many great literary classics. When he crosses the line from reality to fantasy and acts out his previously only-theoretical murder, Dostoevsky is able to keep this man a sympathetic victim in readers' eyes.
“I admired the skillful writing that pulled me into each character and each internal struggle. Raskolnikoy's elitism reaches its extreme when he sees himself as above the law. Do we not see this in many of our leaders, bosses, politicians today? Raskolnikov is a character not just reflective of 1860s Russia, but one who exists in our own current world.
“While some of our group thinks Dostoevsky depressing, I find him refreshing. He reveals the filth that exists in society, and in the hearts of mankind. He directs us to a redemption that cannot be provided by society or government or law.
“These observations are just a tip of the iceberg as to what we discuss in our literary group; the value in hearing other perspectives, interpretations and emotional responses to what we read augments the excellence of the books we read. It really is incredible!
“I am looking forward to our next discussion of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."
What last word would you like to convey?
Betsy: “Literary Club is a gift in my life. It's a blessing. I always felt that my education was spotty. However, I have been learning and growing all these years as a reader and thinker … while I lived my regular life cleaning, cooking, and caring for three growing boys. We literary girls are of different ages and backgrounds and Christian denominations and it all adds depth. What a privilege to meet with these kindred spirits who love truth and beauty!”
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