My week has been a mumbled, jumbled and messy–but very much alive–mixture of grief, joy, longings, loneliness, delight, sadness, awe, pain, gratefulness, uncertainty…and the list goes on.
I deal with that mess in a variety of equally messy ways, some more honorable than others. Sometimes I face the pain, sometimes I deny it, sometimes I cover it up, sometimes I dive into it and bask in the misery. Sometimes I stay in my pajamas all day Saturday and indulge in what I call therapeutic depression (which fits my theory that the quickest way to happy is through sad.) Sometimes I sit at the piano and play and worship God. Sometimes, I self medicate my pain with comfort foods like M&Ms and sweet ice tea. Sometimes I obsessively read other people’s blogs. And sometimes I indulge in my all-time favorite pain reliever–new books.
This week I’ve done all of these. And at the end of the day, I’m still left with longings and pain. I’m still left with choosing to trust God when things don’t make sense. I’m still left with the comfort and security of his love, even when I can see that, through the eyes of others, such comfort might seem like, at best, a crutch, and at worse, an illusion.
But, back to my pain relief of choice–new books. I was meeting with someone at a local seminary and stopped into the bookstore. The poster on the counter there always makes me smile. I couldn’t find the exact artwork, but here is a different print with the same quote by Erasmus:
Back to books. Here are my two most recent “pain pills” picked up at the seminary:
The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life by Joan D. Chittister. I have mixed feelings about this book (but, hey mixed feelings are the story of my life, so what else is new?!) I don’t agree with some of the author’s premises, such as, “In the final analysis, the biblical women Ruth and Naomi are simply metaphors…” I tend to be cautious about definitively labeling stories as “simply” metaphors and also about reading too many lessons into stories in the Scripture.
But, at the same time, I can’t help seeking connections between the stories I read in the Bible and my own life. I find my myself fascinated thinking about what it meant for the people in that story to live well within their circumstances and to trust God in that context. And from there, I cannot help but find encouragement, challenge and application for my own story and struggle to live well and trust hard in the circumstances that I am in. Somewhere, then, in this tension of reading, understanding and applying Scripture, I am drawn to this author’s thoughts and interpretations from the book of Ruth. I am also moved and challenged by the connections to my life, illustrated so beautifully with words and pictures.
The author brings to life 12 themes she sees in the book of Ruth and weaves around them her own insights in response to the biblical story as well as bringing in scenes from the lives of women today. Some of the themes are loss, aging, independence, respect, empowerment, invisibility and fulfillment.
The book is full of vibrant color, with borders on each page and a beautiful painting by John August Swanson at the beginning of each of the 12 sections. From the artist’s dedication:
“My interest in ‘painting stories’ or narrative art comes from my mother’s family accounts of their leaving Mexico during the revolutionary times….The inspiration for my art…is the refugees, immigrants and cultural groups who move throughout the earth in history, seeking a place to live in peace and dignity. Their stories continue and connect us to the journey of Ruth and Naomi. Another person who encouraged me to work on this theme is my pastor…who spent several years…working in U.N. refugee camps. His stories…helped me understand the courage, hope, and strength that are part of the journey and story of the refugees Ruth and Naomi.”
As I skim through the book, I feel like the author celebrates the beauty and value and impact and potential of women in a powerful way. I appreciate that she does not demean men, even while she laments, in places, what it means to have the gifts and values of women disregarded, devalued or simply ignored as irrelevant. Again, I’m not sure that all of her insights are present or implied in the book of Ruth. But, they are thought provoking and helpful insights in their own right, and I am looking forward to processing them in more depth.
The second book is: This is What I Pray Today: The Divine Hours Prayers for Children by Phyllis Tickle. It is a book of simple poem prayers, three for each day of the week. Each prayer is based on a Psalm and is softly illustrated by Elsa Warnick. I look forward to using this book with my younger children. They love rituals and find comfort in them. Creating those ritual moments brings rest and calm to days that can get kind of crazy. We do different things at different times and different stages (I’m not a very consistent ritual person, I suppose, if the rituals are always changing 🙂 ).
After I brought this book home, I read Lingamish’s resolutions for the new year. Although I don’t do resolutions, I appreciate reading other people’s and getting to know them better through what they want to work on. Lingamish’s resolutions were a feast for my eclectic heart. Number 7 especially touched me, and is also a longing I have for my family: I want to continue to welcome the Kingdom of Heaven in our family.
How that looks from day to day is quite varied. It is a mix of inward attitudes and outward expressions and ways of interacting with God, each other and those we come in contact with individually and as a whole family. For me, using this little prayer book is just one of the many shapes I see this longing taking in our home in the coming year.