Lord Is Not a Word

Lord is not a word.
Song is not a salve.
Suffer the child, who lived
on sunlight and solitude.
Savor the man, craving
earth like an aftertaste.
To discover in one’s hand
two local stones the size
of a dead man’s eyes
saves no one, but to fling them
with a grace you did not know
you knew, to bring them
skimming homing
over blue, is to discover
the river from which they came.
Mild merciful amnesia
through which I’ve moved
as through a blue atmosphere
of almost and was,
how is it now,
like ruins unearthed by ruin,
my childhood should rise?
Lord, suffer me to sing
these wounds by which I am made
and marred, savor this creature
whose aloneness you ease and are.

“Lord Is Not a Word” by Christian Wiman

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.'”

Matthew 18:1-6 

Day 12 of The Advent Project of Biola University

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graveyard dance

meet me by the cemetery
where we learned to ignore the dead
meet me where we laughed in the day
and buried any tears we shed

meet me in between the tombstones
where life and death as one have slept
meet me near your own inscription
the words you did not know you kept

meet me through these graying ashes
where we set alight what we feared
meet me within the drifting smoke
that now clouds over all our years

meet me here amidst the graveyard
here where we danced with ghostly crowds
meet me here where we thought we lived
here where we wore our handmade shrouds

2018 Books: November

I’m diminutively pleased by this month’s list. It’s a tonally weird collection of books that still managed to be excellent reads alongside one another. Here ya go (with blurbs this time!). 

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

A rousing carnival read with delicious descriptions of place. I’m not sold on the characters, but I’m reserving the sequel. It’s called Legendary, and the ripples of time and place that Garber sequenced in Caraval are promising enough to receive that title.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A classic and weighty YA book that was published nearly twenty years ago. I’m glad I didn’t read this when I was younger, but I’m glad I read it all the same. I discussed this in a book club with A Monster Calls, and, whoa. 

The Dire King by William Ritter

The conclusion of a series with a fascinating premise, some glittering moments, and some confusing/boring lapses in story. If this series was a coat, it would be some sort of brilliantly asymmetrical, blue-velvet trench trimmed with gold thread and missing giant patches because mice, probably. 

The Prose Edda by Snorre Sturluson

The OG of Norse mythology, and not your traditional epic, but maybe that’s because it was written circa 1200. Tolkien, Gaiman, and the best fantasy legends of today owe their flavor (and names!) to these tales that often occur “while Thor was away fighting trolls…”

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

A clumsy, promising, and drowning-in-irony beginning to a series. The footnotes are brilliant, but the cycles of violence-and-reprieve turn over too often to hold you – all the while coated in blood and guts and a vague evil that literally crumbles to dust. Be sure to read to the end, though, where the series seems to land on its feet enough to continue.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

I FINALLY FINISHED THE FIFTH BOOK. Harry whines a lot and the obtuseness of the adult figures is frustrating, but both threads are vocally redeemed in the careful hands of Dumbledore. Also, I feel fully justified in my abhorrence of all things pink.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

I had terrible book hangover after The Book Thief, and Zusak manages another gut-punch with this one, over ten years later. His writing style is jarring, then surprising, then rich, then wondrous. The slow dive into the layers of Dunbar unfold a family history that is terrible, wonderful, violent, and terribly- wonderfully- violently-sad. By the end my heart was somewhere in ribbons and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. 

2018 Books: September & October

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Martian by Andy Weir

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw*

September and October were months without much reading completed, but much reading done. I’m in the midst of five different books, which are for three different book clubs and my own personal sanity.

I’m also still holding on to two books that I genuinely enjoy but haven’t finished…for several months now. Do you have those? The bookmark is sitting somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 completed, and there it stays. Gah.

Onward and upward!

Coming to This

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

Coming to This” by Mark Strand

Fatherly

Tonight we talk about fathers. We sit at tables with Bibles and books and a tiny bud of conversation blooms between reciting verses and memorizing verses and staring futilely at verses.

It begins because one boy’s dad helps him with his Bible study. I stop and tell him how special that is, and he says his dad works at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Across the table another fourth grader pipes up: “My dad is home every day.” He works from home, she explains, in a separate office in the house. He is always there.

Next to me, the kid staring at his verse just raises his eyebrows, nearly rolling his eyes. “I see my dad two days a week.”

“Saturday and Sunday?”

“No, wait. One.” His dad travels, so it’s not just the sort of daytime work we associate with fathers. He only sees his dad on Sundays.

And I think of my dad and the shape of him beginning at the age of them.

I have good memories of Proverbs at breakfast, a station wagon on Sundays, bits of Thomas the Tank Engine if we ask just right. I have vague memories of waiting for him to arrive on a Sunday morning, of counting up the days since I’d seen him last, of realizing that he never saw me compete, of understanding that I didn’t mind that at all. I don’t recall being either confused or resentful or aware of any sort of gap in my life. It just was. He was gone, and that was normal. I didn’t adore him any less; I just didn’t need him any more.

I look at my fourth graders. These three have fathers, as I do. How can there be both absence and presence, sometimes absence of heart and sometimes of hand, and what is the relationship between the two? I sit and realize, without unraveling the good things of my childhood, this: I grew up not consciously needing the presence of my father, for I trusted that he loved me and that I loved him and we required very little participation or gestures of love in one another’s lives for that to remain true.

As a fourth grader, I did not ask: does love require presence? But as an adult, knowing that our own fathers build into how we see and know God, then I realize this: I grew up not needing the presence of my Father, for I trusted that He loved me and that I loved Him and we required very little participation or gestures of love in one another’s lives for that to remain true.

I know our earthly fathers walk in the pattern of the heavenly one, and sometimes they stumble. Sometimes they actively and aggressively erase the soul and shape of what a father is meant to be. Sometimes they leave. Sometimes they stay and train up a child. Sometimes a stranger steps into the shoes that a biological father left behind. Sometimes a community comes to hold up the hands of a father who trembles and sometimes the community comes to hold up the child who has no father. Sometimes our fathers become our friends and sometimes we can see through their misshapen pieces to an image larger than them.

So I sit with my fourth graders in a church basement as we wrestle with Scripture and our own realities and I ponder the ways I know my Father both through and in spite of my own father. I sit stunned that His love took shape in presence that both overcomes and completes the imperfect love of my own. My father is not made less by the ways he did not or could not father me, but my Father is made so much more by the ways He does and is to me. My Father gave, that my father might give, and the ways in which he loved and was absent have given vividness to the ways in which the Father loves and is present.

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

2018 Books: July & August

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness*

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

 

If you haven’t read A Monster Calls, you should probably stop and do that. Right now. I have yet to read a better portrayal of childhood grief than that one, which is the only book to win Britain’s highest awards in children’s writing and illustration.** It was an unexpectedly rich coupling with The Girl Who Drank The Moon, which incorporates the consequences of stifled grief into the fabric of a middle-grade fantasy world. Barnhill’s book is light and cunningly descriptive, while Ness’s writing is haunting and a bit harsh–but both are beautiful in equally gripping ways.

**You may know the illustrator, Jim Kay, from his incredible work illustrating the Harry Potter series. And in case you needed another reason to read, Ness first won the Carnegie medal (the year prior to AMC) for the final book in his sci-fi YA trilogy. When has the last book in that genre ever not been mostly disappointing and/or a slogging exercise in unsatisfactorily tying up loose ends? Yep.