cura librorum

Elisabeth Elliot: The Shadow of the Almighty
October 10, 2010, 08:31
Filed under: Book Reviews, Christian, Thoughts

Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot
Many different publishers and versions available.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot (nee Howard) were my age only, oh, about 50 years ago? And yet the kind of passion that they display in their service for the Lord, the yearning to be constantly learning and nearer to Him, is something that feels almost ancient and intangible for us, so hopelessly mired in and tied to the swiftly passing world.

For example, even when Jim was not fully aware of God’s will for His life, two things kept him passionate and alive: he used that time to align his heart with God’s and reflect about how these even these dull, slow-seeming times could be used for God’s purpose in Him, and although Jim feels this dull weight of uncertainty and monotony inside of himself, he never forgets God’s greater narrative, and God’s heart for the lost. In the chapter, “The Test of Free Time,” Jim longs to join the missionary teams in South American to reach the thousands upon thousands who have not yet heard the gospel, yet because of family obligations must wait until the time is right for him to go. At this time, he’s also struggling with his commitment to Elisabeth (Bets) and the limits of how much of his heart he can (or should) offer her in light of his plans to become a missionary. He was 22 at the time that he wrote these particular entries.

July 19th, 1949 (Providentially, the day that I started work in 2010): How easy it is to lag spiritually at such times! … there is a very decided tendency to let the days slip through your fingers. I have had to reconcile myself to staying in the U.S. until I’ve proved myself in the work here. The brethren would have it no other way, so unless I go out with Dad to British Guaiana, I will have to wait until the way is clear for the Regions Beyond. Still, it is not wasted time, as I’m sure you, if anyone, will understand, Bets… Confident of the Lord’s glad promise, ‘He will give grace and glory, no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’

July 23: Painted part of the hall today. Restless to do other things more directly related to the Glod’s work. Longing for a companion who will be a David to me, and me his Jonathan. Lack spiritual stamina to keep fresh in all this eating and doing. Oh there is time to read, and seek God, but my desire slackens. Lord, uphold thy lily-saint, Stay me Jehovah, for Thine is a strong right arm, and mine so weak! Saturday night again, and weary from work but seeking something from the Lord now. How shall I build with these weak and slack hands, Lord?

July 26:  Confession of pride must become an hourly thing for me. How vile and base my thoughts have been lately. Not just unkind or unsympathetic, but rotten. lewd thinking that cannot be overcome simply by willing to be rid of them. How dare I minister to God’s saints in such a condition? Lord, rebuke my flesh and deliver my heart from evil.

August 4: I must confess much leanness of soul today, Oh Patient Shepherd. How often I have been angered at delay, short-spirited, anxious to criticize. I noticed tonight, too, that one does not live to himself in this regard, but that a little leavening of dissatisfied temper will spread through a group and change outlooks. Then too, Meek Savior, I must bring a boisterous tongue, roguish lips to Thee for cleansing. Oh to be holy! Just to sense for a moment that I have somehow, however feebly, stimulated some measure of Thy character, Lord Jesus.

August 21: I sense tonight that my desires to be great are likely to frustrate God’s intents for good to be done through me. O Lord, let me pray again with earnest, honest heart: I will not to be great — only, God, grant to me Thy goodness.

Reading passages like these, prayers and supplications poured out to God on a daily basis for cleansing and holiness by a man who by today’s standards was already doing “more than enough,” often prompts me to suddenly put the book down and blink back tears of regret and fight that sudden thrill that comes when you feel too much all at once – the practical side of you that turns you back to your desk, to your thoughts about what you have to do during the day, little worries and fears. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big dreams like this anymore, because too often, our view of God is too narrow, based on the institution of church-going, or guilt-based, as we ask for forgiveness in not keeping up with His word or loving people properly. After all, does this kind of passion, intensity, longing for God exist in our world today? A constant desire to be with Him, honor Him, know more about Him? I do not think so, and if it does, I have yet to see it.

And I lament the lack of such a passion within myself as well. This was especially clear to me as I was reading this book when I first started working in mid-July, and Jim & Elisabeth’s lives kept me sane in the midst of so much temptation to throw God’s standards to the winds and give into social pressures, a sense of entitlement about working in a place with so many benefits, and to see my work and advancement as most important. Though this couple I’ve never personally met, I feel such fellowship and encouragement from them by virtue of the example of their lives and the intensity with which they pursued God’s will in their lives.

My prayer for myself, through this book, was that I would keep my mind and heart open to God’s vision for my life, and not let the mundane and the quotidian cloud and narrow His purpose for me, even though it’s uncertain right now. He has a plan for me, for each of us, and if only we’d long for Him and seek His will, it would be made manifest in us! Let us be dissatisfied with this world, disgusted at our own desire to cling to rags rather than the proper garments of beloved sons and daughters of God.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:11-14 ESV)


Elisabeth Elliot: Discipline – The Glad Surrender
June 19, 2010, 03:15
Filed under: Book Reviews, Christian, Thoughts | Tags: , ,

Discipline: The Glad Surrender
(Grand Rapids, Revell, 1982, 160pp, paperback, $9.99)

I know I gush about Elisabeth Elliot enough on this blog, but I need to post a quote from her book Discipline, a short 13-chapter volume that never fails to return to the basic gospel message of our sinfulness and the need to discipline our minds, bodies, and hearts in order to actually be able to call ourselves disciples and followers of Christ.

She espouses an honest look at reality so that we can learn to be mature people who deal with truth appropriately:

It is the man who is most realistic about his own need who is most likely to turn from it ot the shining reality of a savior. Evil is never a reality in itself. That is, it has no existence apart from the good, of which it is a corruption. Hell has no light. It is murky. Therefore, the more clearly we apprehend the nature of evil, the greater our revulsion and the more wholeheartedly we turn from it and welcome the true. This is what makes real men and real women, not the poor self-indulgence that passes for honesty today when people “share” their worst attitudes in order to get, not forgiveness, but merely common sympathy and consent.

And she also urges us to make our minds Christlike, in an encouraging exhortation towards an imitation of his love as best we can even in the worst of circumstances:

A renewed mind has an utterly changed conception, not only of reality, but of possibility. A turn away from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God provides a whole set of values based not on the human word, but on Christ’s. Impossibilities become possibilities.

The mind made over from within begins to think Christ’s thoughts after Him. I have found it necessary sometimes deliberately to refuse thoughts of what someone has done to me and to ask for help to dwell on what Christ has done for that person and wants to do for him and for me, for I am sure hat my treatment of people depends on how I think about them.

She even has a lovely, literary-theory-like passage that speaks to exactly how we have this human faculty of sympathy: imagination is a gift that enables us to be like Christ in that we can call “things as if they were not,” we can love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, endure hurts and pain:

Imagination is a power given us surely in order to enable us to enter into another’s experience.

Overall the emphasis is that Jesus himself was a man of utmost discipline, but driven by love to it. He was able to love us noncircumstancially, and drove himself to the Cross in order to enact his forgiveness. Elisabeth Elliot does a wonderful job as always of intertwining hymns, poetry, literature, scripture, and anecdotes to present a book that needs to be taken slowly, and repeatedly.

seriously. this is getting ridiculous
March 21, 2010, 09:48
Filed under: Book Reviews, Thoughts

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

As If abolishing slavery weren't enough

So… I thought that Quirk Books had had its fun with literature. But no, Seth Grahame-Smith desecrates another poor helpless dead person again. This time, much more shamelessly, since this is actually Abraham Lincoln’s BIOGRAPHY. Come on. This guy wrote “The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies,” and “How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills.”

Don’t you think that the satirization of canonical historical figures and books has gone on long enough? I mean… sure, we have the Colbert Report. The Daily Show. The Onion. But ever since P& P& Zombies, there have been authors upon authors trying to scratch a bit of fame and nudge-nudge wink-wink humor and fame out of this trend. I mean, there’s humor, and then there’s just pure slapstick.

But there’s more. Mansfield Park and Mummies. Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter. The Undead World of Oz. Emma and the Werewolves. The War of the Worlds plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies. (very subtle) Android Karenina. Robin Hood & Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers – A Canterbury Tale (So many things wrong with this last one. First of all: Robin Hood & Friar Tuck were not killers. Lovers, not fighters, I say. And second, there is NO Robin Hood or Friar Tuck in the Canterbury Tales. Robin Hood is an invention of the Northern English imagination whereas Chaucer was a Londonite… AND he lived before the popularity of the Robin Hood legend)

I expose this as just a thinly veiled attempt for people to 1) convince other people that they’re cultured enough to have read the original 2) cultured enough to enjoy the original 3) cultured enough to take everything they read with irony.

So buy it. Put it on your bookshelf and laugh about it with your friends. Abraham Lincoln is watching.

NPR article here

An Old Fashioned Girl (Louisa May Alcott)
October 2, 2009, 17:21
Filed under: Book Reviews, Children's & YA | Tags:

(I couldn’t find a cover) This slim volume is about Polly, a girl from the country who goes to visit her cousins in the city. Having grown up with a poor but happy family, she is shocked by the ennui that characterizes her cousins’ lives, and in her own honest way, she is able to bring some happy changes to their family, even if it’s for a brief time. The book then stops and resumes six years later, with an older and more mature Polly, who comes to the city this time to make her own living as a piano teacher. At times she looks longingly on the easy and glamorous life, but comes to take heart in satisfaction of a simple life.

As a young college girl who doesn’t know her vocation yet (in the most Milton-y sense of the word, of course), I often read Louisa May Alcott and sigh a sigh of relief along with Polly. Alcott’s books are little bits of encouragement to those trying, day by day, to struggle with their character in the midst of growing up. Though we’re a century removed from them, their struggles to make their own honest way in the world really resonates. Who hasn’t sighed wistfully when things got hard or when we had to take the shoes off of our wear feet at the end of the day, wondering when it will get easier or when we can be more carefree?

Polly is really about this, then: surrendering a heart that desires an easy and comfortable life for the duress of hard work and discipline required to make a strong woman. It’s interesting to see how the standards of womanhood have changed. If somebody wrote this book now it probably wouldn’t be published. It would be criticized as antiquated, antifeminist, moralizing, restrictive, overly didactic… yet there’s something in it that speaks. In the title, there’s a nostalgia not just for childhood, but for a simpler time and a clearer purpose.

A Hole is to Dig… ?
September 13, 2009, 22:09
Filed under: Book Reviews, Children's & YA
Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

A Hole is to Dig.

A Hole is to Dig
(New York, HarperCollins, 1989, 48 pp., paperback, $6.95)

‘A Hole is to Dig,’ you say? Ruth Krauss – author of ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ and ‘The Carrot Seed.’ Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of children’s classics such as ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ ‘Chicken Soup With Rice,’ and ‘In the Night Kitchen.’ Such a pairing surely cannot fail to delight!

This 48 pager is pure genius – 48 pages of wordplay, giggles, chuckles, adorable sketches of children, animals, and whimsical imaginings. This is early reader’s literature at its absolute best. Although, I’m not sure how much I would have understood it when I was young – it’s the kind of wordplay that I love and chuckle at now, purely because I am older and I can dissociate words’ usual from their unexpected meanings. It’s the force of playful irony that makes it all work; the delight at the wit of a few words. How can you resist this:

Rugs are so you don’t get splinters in you
A floor is so you don’t fall in the hole your house is in
Hunh! Rugs are so dogs have napkins
A hole is for a mouse to live in

Or this:

Yes, indeed. I am so glad that I was charmed enough to buy this, now it sits on the shelf of my apartment, ready and willing to delight any visitor who might stop by and wish to be entertained.

Children’s Literature (Seth Lerer)
September 7, 2009, 09:00
Filed under: Book Reviews, Children's & YA

Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter
(Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2008, 385 pp., hardback, $30.00)

Let me just say that certain passages of this book brought tears to my eyes, because reading it affirmed what I may have known all along: the fact that being a medievalist makes you particularly prone to the symbolism and meaning to be found in the beautiful simplicity of good children’s literature. Did you know, Lerer is an authoritative Chaucer scholar! He edited one of the books I’m using in my graduate course! But I get ahead of myself.

Seth Lerer has undertaken an ambitious and sprawling project, literally from Aesop to Harry Potter. His goal in the end is not so much to focus on ‘a history of children’s literature’ as history through the lens of children’s literature, in terms of intent, purpose, and innovation of thought. Very big difference, because his book doesn’t read like a history as much as a musing on first the relationship between adults and children as shown through the literature created by adults for children.

Each chapter reads like a compactly self-contained essay, the effective caliber of which I could never dream of. Though I’m not sure I agree with the choices he made about certain groupings of literature sharing and their relative importance, he lays out his argument winsomely and well. Here’s  a sample of some of the topics that he touched on: ‘From Alphabet to Elegy: The Puritan Impact on Children’s Literature,’ ‘Canoes and Cannibals: Robinson Crusoe and Its Legacies'(here he relates Robinson Crusoe, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh!) ‘Straw into Gold: Fairy Tale Philology’ ‘Theaters of Girlhood: Domesticity, Desire, and Performance in Female Fiction’…

Here’s a quote from ‘From Alphabet to Elegy’:

The story of the girls’ book is the story of a writer and the friend. Such books teach many things (social decorum, personal care, moral virtue); but what they teach most of all is cultivation of the imagination. Gardens, like books, may stand as places of absorption, places where the girl may lose herself in reading, in writing, or in reminiscence. Or they may be places of the theater, stage sets to be prepared for the entrance of the winning actress or actor. Hermione straddles both places, learning from the library but also directing the theater of the boys. Whether inspiring Harry to seek a new plan to win a contest or cheering him on at Quidditch, she is a mistress of the house. At times, Harry seems as much Hermione’s creation as Harry’s, and we know that she is the cleverest witch of her age.’

Now isn’t that perfectly thrilling?  Seth Lerer, who has just begun a five-year professorship/deanship at UCSD seems to me the luckiest man in the world – a man who is able to read children’s books and write about them as his profession? Apparently, he also won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism for this book, putting him in the ranks of E.B. White and co. I think it deserves it, because though he did edit the Yale Companion to Chaucer, he maintains a level of readability in this book that almost elevates the reader by inviting them into this friendly exploration. He manages to analyse without sucking the reverence for age-old honorable traditions of measured didacticism with aesthetic beauty and wonder, even nonsense and glee.

I’ll be returning back to this book whenever I need inspiration for my thesis! After all, if child is but man in small letter, than what better aim than to nurture the small letter to grow well and prosper?

The King’s Equal (Katherine Paterson)
August 20, 2009, 21:20
Filed under: Book Reviews, Children's & YA

The King’s Equal
(New York, Harper Collins, 1992, 64 pp., hardback, $24.50)

At first, ‘The King’s Equal’ seems like just another fairy tale adaptation from some classic about a prince who must fulfill his good father’s dying wish before he can ascend to the throne. We’ve heard it before. Some quest, beautiful maiden, father’s blessing, lovely and prosperous kingdom.

But instead of a fantastic quest, Paterson’s King asks this of his son:

‘…You will not wear my crown until the day you marry a woman who is your equal in beauty and intelligence and wealth.’

If Prince Raphael had been a humbler man, he might have found this request relieving. But he is angry, and calls it a

‘…curse! Where shall I find a princess who is equal to me in every way?’

He puts the request out of his mind and proceeds to ruin the kingdom and its subjects for his own personal gain. However, he may not have the crown until he finds the ‘King’s Equal.’ Yet to his frustration, he cannot find a wife who satisfies him in every way, and bodies of officials and women alike pile up in jail because of it. One day, a beautiful stranger named Rosamond appears. She strikes the prince with her beauty, intelligence, and wealth. She quoth:

‘Perhaps you are poorer than I, for there is nothing I desire that I do not already possess.’

Rosamond is actually the daughter of a poor mountain woodsman, who has been aided and encouraged through the kindness of a safe and magical Wolf. Even though Raphael accepts her as his ‘equal,’ she declares that he may not marry her unless he spends a year in that same cottage where she resided, in the company of three goats and the Wolf. He spends the year working and is slowly humbled, to the point where he begins to think himself quite unworthy of Rosamond, but returns within the year as promised. But now he walks away, dejected, but she calls him back, smiling. She takes his hand, and needless to say, they wed, and the kingdom is restored.

KP’s points of departure in this story are so important! They are what make the story special! First, the King does not ask for a show of glory, but a show of humility. In order to be raised up to the heights, he must descend. He does this socially, as a goatherder, and very much in terms of his view of himself, from pride to disgust at his shameful character. But the process of hard work, and seeing himself truly, puts him through finally makes him fit to be a King. So the story is titled the King’s Equal in a double sense – Rosamund as a ‘king’s’ literal equal, and Raphael, finally worthy to call himself the equal of an ideal King. Rosamund is far from vapid and Raphael far, far from glorious.

Katherine Paterson is one of those storytellers who makes me marvel and how she can create a character in so few words and sentences, and still make them intensely personal. She takes a story and makes it unavoidable, she has a special touch of resolving a story so that there’s that feeling in your chest that everything is satisfying and deep and right… do you know what I mean?