This month I have been making a practice of noticing all the regular, ordinary parts of my life that inspire gratitude. If we’re friends on Instagram, maybe you’ve seen that I’ve been posting a gratitude journal (almost) daily in my stories, but I haven’t been calling it a gratitude journal. I’ve been calling it a Gratitude Bouquet.
Maybe that seems over-the-top dramatic or abstract in the extreme, but my gratitude is something I want to present to God as a gift. Too, the randomness of each item—my family, our dog, morning tea for two, my crazy subbing job—all together seems like a collection of individual beautiful things that may or may not belong together, but once assembled, they are gorgeous. Kind of like the zinnia and sunflower bouquets of last summer!
Offer up all the random parts of your life as a gratitude bouquet to God!Tweet
If we’re not already Instagram friends, I hope you’ll look me up over there, but most of all, I hope you are encouraged to offer up your own bouquet of gratitude to God in some way that feels right to you in this weird and wonderful season called November 2021.
Now let’s talk books…
That Distant Land
Wendell Berry’s collection of essays feels like a little visit to Port William for a reunion with the characters from his novels. I read Hannah Coulter nearly every year, so encountering her in the pages of That Distant Land: The Collected Stories felt like a chance meeting with a cherished friend. I always find myself savoring Berry’s writing like comfort food, so even apart from my visceral connection with the characters, his exquisite prose is a nourishing meal in itself.
Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver
Santa has always been part of our family’s Christmas tradition, not as Gift Giver necessarily, but as a historical figure whose influence lives on and has become larger than life like John Henry or Paul Bunyan. Author and illustrator Ned Bustard has created a picture book, commemorating for families the details around St. Nick’s life including the geography, his spiritual roots, and the political and theological context of his day.
Bustard’s illustrations add to the magic while, ironically, the lively rhymed text (free of any spoilers!) somehow helps to humanize the ancient mythical figure. For instance, who knew that the man who would be immortalized as Santa Claus was involved in the Arian debates of the early church?
Forever remembered for his generosity, Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver lives on. For parents who want to swing the season’s emphasis away from the glitz and the greedy gimmes, this story will deepen the legend around Santa and explain how the tradition of gift-giving has come to be associated with Christmas. Christian families will be grateful for the motivation St. Nicholas provides to act on their faith and to share the love of God in practical acts of service.
To Shatter Glass
Words have untangling power, bringing perspective to our long journeys and making sense of the seemingly separate and unrelated episodes of success and struggle that comprise a life. Sister Sharon Hunter’s writing has roots in old wounds, and in To Shatter Glass, her lyrical poetic collection, she deals with “life’s fragments” in a sorting process that manages to be both stark and hopeful.
Her poems are interspersed with original art for a different kind of pondering and a beautiful option for gift giving and slow savoring. In the process of reading, I was challenged to remember that brokenness is one connection all humanity shares in common. It’s also a point of connection with Jesus who “came to us fragile, helpless, and surrounded by dangerous circumstances.” (23)
Hunter’s meditations give voice to the feelings surrounding depression, grief, evil, and broken dreams with the utter assurance that suffering serves our healing as it expands and brightens our interior light.
God in the Dock
I knew God in the Dock would be a challenging read since it was C.S. Lewis who tutored me in the practice and the necessity of slow and thoughtful reading. I didn’t want to come to the end of this essay collection with nothing but a blur of random ideas, so I stopped after each one to record a quote or a summary sentence. It’s a discipline I highly recommend because the reward is an abundance of Lewis quotes in my journal for future reference.
The essays are divided into sections. Some are straight theology (many address miracles), some deal with ethics and some (as the title suggests) are more apologetic, as Lewis attempts to “put man back in the dock.” The book closes with a chronological collection of Lewis’s letters revealing his sense of humor and incisive gift for clarity. The topics help to give historical context to Lewis’s life since he is responding to issues of his day, which are startlingly relevant to 2021.
Farmhouse Retreat is a warm invitation from Terri Kraus and Renee Baker to visit the rustic countryside, to sink into farm-style hospitality, and to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of rural living. The collection of daily readings looks long into the soulful eyes of a donkey, steps into morning dew, and savors the musical syllables of bird song, all with scriptural truth woven into the day’s ponderings. Stirring questions inspire soul-building journal work as part of a deep and vibrant spiritual practice.
Kraus’s suggestions for foraged décor offer a way of bringing the beautiful outdoors into your own living space, and I also received the overarching suggestion that God is always at work behind the scenes and within the scenes of any given day. Whether we are pulling weeds or raising chickens, everything matters, and there is great peace in receiving every day as a gift from the God who is both sovereign and good.
Fix Your Eyes
Amy Gannett begins with the startling but absolutely true assertion that YOU are a theologian. Given that “theology is what we know and believe about God,” the concept of God you carry around, the beliefs that impact the way you live and work—this is your theology. Fix Your Eyes: How Our Study of God Shapes Our Worship of Him may just transform you from a mediocre theologian into a very good one.
If you want to begin working from a skillful and accurate belief system, start with an open Bible and a copy of Fix Your Eyes. If you are concerned that your thoughts on God have strayed from the tethering truth of scripture, Gannett’s work is a reset button for your soul. It is a great gift to receive ultimate truth that forms and informs the ten thousand choices that shape every single day.
Pursuit of knowledge about God is a love-enhancing pastime, so chapters on the Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Bibliology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology feel more like worship than work. There’s nothing dry or dusty about leaning into truth about a God who has spoken and invited us into the present-day proclamation of his name and the advancement of his kingdom.
And One Last Thing…
Draw near to the True Light this Advent season through the practice of reading scripture, meditating on a carol, and paying attention to each day’s arrival of the light. If you are already a newsletter subscriber, your free guided journal arrived in your inbox last Thursday.
If not, to receive your own copy of Welcoming the Light: A Guided Journal, simply enter your email address in the field provided. I am committed to the truth that women can become confident Christ-followers and students of God’s Word. If that’s your goal, I’m offering resources to help you along the way.
That’s it for November!
What are you reading? Be sure to share your own favorites in the comments below!
Holding you in the Light,
The November Book Talk includes the work of C.S. Lewis and Wendell Berry along with a new intro to theology, a children’s book for Christmas read-aloud fun, a collection of poetry, and a beautiful gift book. What are you reading?Tweet
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press, Paraclete Press, Tyndale, NetGalley, and B&H Publishing 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 and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.