Monday, August 01, 2005
July Reading

Gap Creek

Gap Creek
by Robert Morgan

It was the brightest day you ever seen outside, bright as only early fall can be. The grass and leaves on the trees and even the bare dirt appeared to sparkle. I don't know if it was the light, or the fact that I was falling in love, that made everything shine. The world was lit in a new way, and I was lit up in every finger and toe and part of me.

This is the story of Julie Harmon's first year of marriage in the last year of the nineteenth century. Julie is a woman who can work as hard as a man, and she is just 17 years old.

The prose is wonderfully simple and descriptive. Julie's life in the Appalachians is hard and she deals with death, hardship, and natural catastrophes. This book was an incredibly fast read, and one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are fullof passionate intensity
W. B. Yeats from The Second Coming

This is the story of Okonkwo, an Ibo man in Nigeria before and after the arrival of Christian missionaries and British colonialism. The writing is very direct and the insight into this tribal culture is fascinating. Achebe does not idealize this time, but lays out the good and the bad.

Okonkwo's father is a gentle but lazy man. Okonkwo is determined to be the opposite. He treats his wives and children with a firm hand and is sometimes cruel. The reader is able to see his humanity, but his family must only see glimpses.

The religious customs and rituals of the tribes and the reliance on oracles is described in detail. There is an aspect to it that is wonderfully communal and spiritual and there is also a blind obedience and sense of superstition that is disturbing. If the oracle orders a child to be killed, it is killed. Dead babies are sometimes mutilated and drug out to the "Evil Forest". Twins are seen as evil, and they are left in the Evil Forest to die.

When Christian missionaries come, you can understand why some people are eager to join. Women who have had to abandon twins to die, who have been beaten by their husbands, and the outcasts of the tribe find refuge in the church.

Just as Achebe does not gloss over the flaws of the Ibo tribes and shows sympathy for the Christian converts as well as those fighting to keep their traditions he shows the good intentions, flaws and blind spots of the missionaries.

This book made me want to learn more about Nigeria's history.

Peace Like A River

Peace Like A River
by Leif Enger

Fair is whatever God wants to do.

Reuben Land is an 11 year old boy growing up in a small Minnesota town. Two bullies break into his family's home and his older brother Davy kills them. Davy is arrested, he escapes from jail, and the family goes in search of him.

The writing is lyrical and Reuben's voice is direct and pulls you in. The family experiences both quiet miracles and incredible miracles and it all comes off in a very real, beautiful way.

The almost-end of the book absolutely blew my mind. I was not expecting the turn, but it was just right.


Celebration of Discipline
by Richard J. Foster

Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.
Leo Tolstoy

I first read this book in 1996 and loved it. The book is inspiring and is a good reminder of the way I can have a more Christ-centered life through discipline.

Foster deals first with the inward disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study. Then, he moves on to the outward disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. The corporate disciplines: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration (these last two didn't resonate with me as much, but were still worthwhile).

What I love the most about the book is his reminder that the pursuit of a Christ-centered life is all about change and bringing ourselves closer to God. To pray is to change. To confess is to change. To worship is to change.

The idea is that daily scripture study and prayer is not to check off a to-do list, but actually change my life and who I am. The disciplines themselves are worthless without change.

I like the idea of incorporating meditation into my prayer time and allowing for more silence. I like the idea of emptying myself through meditation and then allowing myself to be filled with God's love. To let myself be open to God's will.

This is a meditation exercise that he calls "palms up, palms down":

[Place] your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray "Lord, I give to You my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight." Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, "palms down." Release it... After several moments of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: "Lord, I would like to receive your divine Love for John, Your peace about the dentist appointment, Your patience, Your joy." Whatever you need, you say, "palms up." Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with your spirit, to love you. If impressions or directions, come, fine; if not, fine.

The chapter on simplicity was very interesting and just what I needed to hear. (Foster has an entire book dedicated to the subject of simplicity that I recommend, Freedom of Simplicity. I plan on re-reading it this month). Foster does a good job of inspiring change and encouraging you to start where you are at.

posted by lochan | link
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Name: Laura

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