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!Tweet
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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.
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