"From the best bliss that earth imparts, we turn unfilled to thee again."

The March Book Talk Where Smart People Read While We Wait for Spring

I am working my way through a hymnal at the rate of one per day, reading the lyrics, trying to hear them over the roar of familiarity that dulls all meaning. I’m making note of the most vivid words in my journal, and am continually astonished at the treasures I am uncovering:

  • “From the best bliss that earth imparts
    We turn unfilled to thee again.”

  • “Savior, take the power and glory,
    Claim the kingdom for thine own.”

    And one more:
  • “Since from his bounty I receive
    Such proofs of love divine,
    Had I a thousand hearts to give,
    Lord, they should all be Thine.”

We live in a fidget spinner world, a place where we dull emotion and muffle the ticking clock with activity or entertainment. Right now, I am finding a feeling connection with hymn lyrics written during a remote century from a completely unjaded, non-cynical devotion to God, and I think it helps that I am reading the lyrics as poetry, apart from the melody.

I’d love to know what’s anchoring you these days, whether it’s some spiritual practice or a book you’ve been reading.

This has been a month of delightful reading that included a couple of biographies, two VERY different collections of essays, and a book about aging with grace.

Let’s talk books!

Turning of Days

This collection of essays by Hannah Anderson fulfills the old theater adage: Leave them wanting more! With exquisite prose, she chronicles her own Turning of Days, one season at a time, taking note of creation and meandering between description and application. My plan is to keep the book on my night stand this year for a leisurely re-read in season.

Delicate hand drawings and well-chosen scripture verses support each essay, and so does Anderson’s world view, which has been shaped by eternal truth and by her close association with the land, family, and community. Because I am also a gardener and a woman subject to the variances and vicissitudes of nature, I found myself nodding in agreement, page after page, celebrating the ways and means of God and lamenting the fact that once the harvest begins, the weeding comes to a screeching halt.

One thing is certain: reading “Summer” in February proved to be so tantalizing, I scurried to gather my seed catalogs and start making plans, knowing full well that my days of planting, weeding, and tending were still an excruciating three months away! Fortunately, Hannah has also given me something to ponder while I wait:

This is what you do in winter: you plan for spring.
This is what you do when the earth lies dark: you plan for dawn.
This is what you do when death seems to reign: you plan for resurrection.”

Aging with Grace

Occasionally, I get a glimpse of myself through the eyes of a grandchild or a student, a second-grader who sees my gray hair and the lines around my eyes above my mask and behind my glasses. I wonder about their perception of me and the conclusions they might be drawing about women “of a certain age” based on the data I am furnishing. Are those smile lines or frown lines? Can I still sympathize with their child sized view of the world? Am I still learning, too?

Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt have invited me into a deep pondering of what it means to age and how to flourish in a culture that worships youthfulness. Gleaning from the stories of biblical women, women in ministry, and the authors’ experiences of beauty and brokenness, Aging with Grace has introduced me to two new book mentors who overflow with wisdom. Their message is both personal and strategic: biblical thinking about aging will defeat fear, dread, and denial, and it also equips the church with a counter-cultural message of hope and the power of the gospel to enable flourishing in old age.

A leader’s guide with lesson plans is available, and with deep roots in scripture, the book is an on ramp to worship as well as a handbook for growing in grace. Aging with grace begins with a decision to know the Lord and to live in congruence with one’s identity as his child. The radiance of a Spirit-filled life can transform the aging process into one more stop in a life devoted to the primary calling of glorifying God. Are you ready to join me on this journey?

A Burning in My Bones

Eugene Peterson was formed by the Montana landscape, by a boyhood spent exploring the mountains around his home. He was no less formed by scripture, investing his career drinking deeply from its truth and then sharing its nourishment with his congregation and his readers. In his authorized biography, A Burning in My Bones, Winn Collier has traced the backstory that introduced Peterson to a way of seeing and a “magnetic pull toward truth and beauty” that burned in his bones.

Over the years, Peterson has become one of my favorite communicators, mainly because of his belief that “everything, absolutely everything in the scriptures is liveable.” Annotated with scrawled quotes marked “EP,” my Bible bears witness to his influence on my thinking about the sacred text.

While he was best known for his translation of The Message Bible, his work was anchored in his years of pastoral ministry. Collier masterfully portrayed Peterson’s struggle to live as a “saint”–not so that he could be separate from the world, but so that he could be immersed in it as a committed follower of an incarnate God. With insights into his long marriage to and ministry partnership with Jan (“Eugene was the force, but Jan was the glue.”), their parenting journey, and the challenges of life in the parsonage, I highly recommend the book for ministry families.

I dreaded the ending of the book, because I knew it would sadden me to read about Peterson’s decline and death. While grateful for his ongoing legacy, I mourn the loss of his voice in the world.

Materiality as Resistance

The church has had an uneasy relationship with the material world ever since Paul blasted Greek gnostics in the first century for their perversion of the Gospel. Like it or not, the Christian faith is rooted in materiality, and Walter Brueggemann cites five areas in which believers can reengage with the material world for the good of everyone.

He describes our disengagement as a preoccupation with spiritual matters and a preference for a “convenient, private, otherworldly gospel about ‘souls’ rather than the solid food of informed critical thought about the materiality of our faith.” (170) Materiality puts our hearts in a right relationship to our”things,” while materialism puts us in service to our “things.”

The invitation of Materiality as Resistance is for us to examine our use of food, money, our bodies, our time, and the place we inhabit and to ask ourselves probing questions around stewardship, Sabbath observance, and our concern for others.

Jesus calls us to moral action in the real world. How else can we make a difference and gain an audience with people who are completely disengaged from matters of spirituality? Brueggemann employs his prophetic imagination to invite readers into a discussion of what partnership with God’s purposes would look like as part of our “mere Christianity.” It turns out that our relationship with the physicial world might be the most revealing indicator of our spiritual health.

R.C. Sproul: A Life

Many of us are acquainted with R.C. Sproul primarily through his radio ministry, but he wore many hats: pastor, professor, author, and founder/president of Ligonier Ministries. In this first biography following the death of Sproul in 2017, Stephen J. Nichols has chronicled Sproul’s impact on Biblical studies, theology, world view and culture, and because his career spanned decades, the cast of characters in R. C. Sproul: A Life reads like a who’s who of evangelical personalities.

R.C. Sproul’s career-spanning focus on the holiness of God provided a defining thread to his life’s work, and, therefore, to his biography which rewards the reader with bracing theological content and a detailed historical review of many of the doctrinal controversies that shaped the church in the twentieth century. If you have ever heard any of R.C.’s well-worn quotations such as, “It’s best not to shout where God only whispers,” or “If there is one maverick molecule in all the universe, then God is not sovereign. And if God is not sovereign, He is not God,” then take a minute and remember the life and ministry of R.C. Sproul.

No Substitute for Truth

Reading opens the door to other lives, other worlds, other ways of being. Nonetheless, I’m finding that even the best books are no substitute for regular doses of Truth, straight from the Sacred Text. It’s where we find him! And as those hymn lyrics have said:

“From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to thee again.”

Remember this spring where we go to be filled!

Holding you in the light,

There is no substitute for regular doses of Truth, straight from the Sacred Text. It’s where we find him!

On the Third Thursday of every month, I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. You can sign up using the handy (and only slightly annoying) pop-up form or simply click here to subscribe.

And as always, you can also subscribe to Living Our Days blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox twice a week. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. If you’re encouraged by what you read here, be sure to spread the word!

Many thanks to Crossway, Moody Publishers, Waterbrook-Multnomah, Westminster John Knox, and NetGalley for providing access to these books to facilitate my reviews which are, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by TOMOKO UJI on Unsplash

52 thoughts on “The March Book Talk Where Smart People Read While We Wait for Spring”

  1. What a great idea to read through a hymnal!! Why haven’t I ever thought of doing that?? I own multiple hymnals, some antique, some are just the words – apparently common tunes were known. One thing I have noticed before is that with some hymns only certain verses/stanzas are usually sung – yet the unsung stanzas can be quite deep and rich. I wonder why not usually sung?

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    1. I think churches tend to go with first and last, and you’re right! We often miss out on the juiciest truth in those middle verses. I am writing down my most impactful phrase from the hymns I read, and so often they are the least known.

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  2. I have not perused hymns regularly, as I probably should, but I have at times looked through the hymnbook and read the words as poetry, without the music. I’m sorry to say that, while singing the the most familiar ones, I can sometimes go on automatic pilot and not even think about what I am singing. Just reading them wakes me up to what they are saying and helps me remember when I sing them again.

    I’ve been considering Aging with Grace. I had not heard of Turning of Days, but it sounds good. So does Materiality. Though our faith and hope are in things unseen, our everyday lives deal with the material. It’s good to know how to think about “stuff” biblically.

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    1. This is exactly why I am reading and not singing. Familarity has a deadening influence, right?
      I was so challenged by this month’s reads. And this practice of hymn reading each day is definitely changing me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I so enjoyed “Turning of Days” and like you, now am going to read it in season 🙂 I have been eyeing “A Burning In My Bones” and now think I should just go ahead and order it!

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  4. “From the best bliss that earth imparts
    We turn unfilled to thee again.”…perfect thought for my word of the year – empty. Thank you!

    Hannah Anderson’s book sounds like a must-read for me.

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  5. From the title, “Where Smart People Read While We Wait for Spring,” had me. Afterall, I am a smart person waiting for spring. : ) Two books spoke to me. Aging with Grace (I have already texted my friend about it — we were looking for a new book to read and discuss) and Turning of Days. Everything you said about it speaks to me.

    Bliss is a phrase used in older hymns. It is also the name of my sister. When ever we sing an old hymn together now, and we come upon the world Bliss, we always look at each other and smile. But in my younger days she would poke me with her elbow (as if she was saying, “See I’m mentioned again.”) and I would roll my eyes. So that quote caught my eyes, because we do turn to God for more than the best earth can provide. Although, she really is the best Bliss this earth imparts. LOL

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  6. I have to admit that I have never thought about reading through a hymnal, but it is a great idea. So many uplifting words and phrases in those songs! Thanks for linking up and have a great weekend!

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  7. Michelle,
    What an interesting post…the books sound intriguing….I keep hoping that I will be able to find time to read but I seem to still be working through my post retirement to do list….
    Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and by letting me know that you did by leaving such a sweet comment!!
    Stay safe, healthy and happy!!
    Hugs,
    Deb

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  8. So many intriguing books you recommend, Michele! I wish I had an unlimited budget and unlimited time for reading. Might have to put the titles on slips of paper and into a hat for choosing! Looking forward to journaling through some hymns this summer when our Women’s Bible Study wraps up at the end of April.

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  9. Michele, these books all sound wonderful. And that pull-out quote from Hannah Anderson took my breath away. Daily writing and digging deeper into my dad’s papers are a couple of things that are grounding me right now. 🙂

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  10. Such an interesting selection of books and I like the sound of the Eugene Peterson biography. Reading hymn words as poetry really does help to bring out the meaning behind the words – it is so easy to lose ourselves in the familiarity of them sometimes. My own favourite lines come from ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ – ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’ – words that I held on to throughout my eldest daughter’s life and continue to try to hold on to now. #PoCoLo

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  11. The Aging with Grace book sounds really interesting to me. I’ve never been able to fully understand what that means. I’m especially concerned about aging and the church because I feel like today’s churches don’t even want old people represented and some don’t even want older people to attend. None of it is represented in scripture of course, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

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  12. Great books, was just looking at books for aging gracefully. Had decided to go for one by Joan Chittister, but in the meantime got another one of hers from the library. Will make a note of Aging with Grace.

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  13. Michele, these all look like such wonderfully inspirational books! I have been trying so hard to schedule reading time into my days and I just keep failing! There is so much out there to learn and know and better ourselves!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  14. Funny that you should mention old hymns…being in church most of my life I have many of them in my memory, but lately the words have really spoken to me more fully than when I sang them in church.

    Thank you for being a part of ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

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  15. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. We appreciate your shares. They have been Tweeted Pinned. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn
    ********************************************************

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  16. What a fantastic selection of books. I’ve been reading The Queens Fool by Ally Sheerick to my daughter in the evenings – well, we’ve been sharing the reading. It’s such a lovely time to just sit and let the words wash over us. Thank you for joining us for #mischiefandmemories

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  17. I absolutely love that first quote. I think this last year has felt difficult because we haven’t been able to plan anything. I’m now feeling more positive as the signs of spring and the relaxation of lockdown restrictions are here! Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories

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  18. Thanks for linking to An Open Book! “We live in a fidget spinner world” – what an apt description! I love the idea of pondering those beautiful lyrics that are so rich with meaning. They so often get glossed over as we sing.

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