As promised, I am about to post a passage from the book of Isaiah that does not get as much play at Christmastime, but which I love.
Some context: I have long felt the call that these verses awaken in me, especially the first 3 verses of chapter 55 (“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” etc.). But I really hid this passage in my heart when my oldest was a baby. (That’s a while ago now.) I was a young mom, recently moved to a different country. Basically my entire life was about keeping me and the baby fed, rested, and reasonably clean. Oh, and safe from huge tropical insects. That was it.
I was hungry all the time, because I was breastfeeding and also fasting once in a while (yes, I know, I am crazy). I was also, like most young moms, super emotional. I read these two chapters again and again as I sat holding my baby. There are so many beautiful images in them (cities built of gemstones!), so much comfort (the names of God!), so many promises. There is also the promise of infinite free food, which I realize is metaphorical, but it sounded pretty good to me in my constantly hungry condition. Maybe it’s literal and metaphorical. That would be terrific.
Anyway, this passage, most of Isaiah 54 and all of Isaiah 55, had all the depth and range to deal with my deep, wide-ranging emotions and hungry body. The reading of it has become a very good memory, and I realize that even now, I have not plumbed its depths.
Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name —
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit —
a wife who married young, only to be rejected, says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
“O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
I will build you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your sons will be taught by the Lord,
and great will be your children’s peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and snow come down from heaven
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
So, the Sunshine Blogger award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who believe that the recipients spread sunshine. Imagine how surprised and thrilled I was to be given this award by Rachael Corbin at The Crooked Pen. Thanks, Rachael!
The Sunshine Blogger award is also a tag. If you get tagged, you must …
Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
Answer the questions.
Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.
So, Numbers 1 and 5 down, 2 through 4 to go.
Here were Rachael’s questions:
What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
I am going to leave out those times when I’m reading some
passage in the Bible and all of a sudden something jumps out and punches me in
the gut. Or when it crawls into my head and
becomes lembas that I feed on
throughout the day. Some of you readers will know what I mean.
Other than that, my most transformative reading experience has been ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I read it in college. The tortured friendship between Orual and Psyche in the book closely mirrored a relationship that had been toturing me through the previous several years … though of course with a much more tragic yet satisfying ending. Anway, it helped me see that some of the problems we were having were not purely my fault nor purely hers, but built into the nature of reality. Also, Faces is just packed with insights and it’s set in an ancient pagan culture, which I love. C.S. Lewis is under-appreciated for his ability to write horror, and there is plenty of that in this book.
2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
be honest, it’s probably already been written.
a sucker for well-researched fiction set in ancient cultures. So I would love to read a book set in the
heyday of the Anasazi … or Carthage during the
Punic Wars … or a Noble Savage book where the noble savage is one of the Gauls
during Caesar’s Gallic Wars … or What Was Really Going with Stonehenge.
have seen people take a stab at some of these, but never as thoroughly as I’d
like. But, again, they are probably out
there. I just haven’t discovered them
For example, Bjorn Andreas-Bull Hansen has written some novels about Vikings. I think these are exactly the Viking novels I’ve always wanted to read … but they don’t exist in a language that I know! Aargh! (By the way, go to his site. Sign the petition to get his books translated into English.)
But I have, in my possession, waiting to be read, Pompeii by Robert Harris and People of the Silence (about the Anasazi) by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael W. Gear. I have high hopes for both these books.
3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
would be shorter to list places that don’t
match that description.
I guess my current #1 place would be Mongolia. I had to research it for my first book, and it looks so beautiful. It also resembles my home state a bit in the sense of being vast, treeless, high-altitude, and far inland. And I love the herding culture. The food is gross though. (Follow that link and scroll down to the heading “Exotic Nomad Foods.”) Also, my kids are extremely interested in the Mongolian Death Worm.
4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
1984. I know, I know, the ending is integral to the book itself, but … still. I would like to see Winston hold firm at the end. Or find out that Julia had.
5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
1984 and The Great Gatsby. (Or, I guess people love these?)
6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
Mongolian Death Worm.
Just kidding. I don’t know. Maybe Grendel so I could find out whether he was really a T-Rex.
7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
When I am reading, any spot becomes ideal. (Car, bus seat, middle of a party …) But I prefer to be comfy (plushy chair or sofa) with a view of the outdoors and some place to set my coffee.
8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
I am going to pick on one particular book here, but it’s representative of a
whole category of disappointing books.
The Sign by Raymond Khoury, 2009. This book was disappointing for many different reasons (see my full review of it here). But the main reason was this: it promised mystical adventures but delivered only international intrigue.
It is not the only book that has this problem. It’s just the only one that I happen to be able to remember the title of.
9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
Ancient mysteries/historical fiction set in ancient cultures. But I don’t read a lot of this genre for two reasons. Firstly, it’s kind of hard to find. Too often, purported “ancient mysteries” books end up being modern thrillers. (See above.) And when I do find a book that scratches this itch, I have to be careful. If I’m writing my own version of this genre at the time, I don’t necessarily want to be pulled into another world until my own has gelled.
So what I end up reading a lot is mysteries, especially mysteries with an anthropological bent like those by the wonderful Tony Hillerman.
As for why the “ancient mysteries” genre is my favorite (also why I like my mysteries to be anthropological), I can do no better than to quote the following poem from C.S. Lewis, titled, “To Certain Writers of Science Fiction”:
Why did you lead us on like this
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
Building, as if we cared for size,
Empires that covered galaxies,
If at the journey’s end we find
The same old stuff we left behind …
Well-worth Tellurian stories of
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
Whose setting might as well have been
The Bronx, Montmarte, or Bethnal Green?
Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
Unless, beyond its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the unearthly waits:
Strangeness that moves us more than fear,
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,
Or wonder, laying on the heart
That fingertip at which we start
As if some thought too swift and shy
For reason’s grasp had just gone by?
10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I almost listed this one as my transformative book because it set me free to love paganism while still remaining a Christian. I think everyone should read it because there is a ton of misunderstanding out there about the pagan roots of all cultures, and this book clears that up in such a beautiful, lyrically written way even though it’s nonfiction.
major qualifier. Chesterton frequently
lapses into anti-Semitism and it’s really jarring, not to mention inconsistent
with his usual generous way of viewing the world. (TEM
was published in 1925, before the Holocaust.) Also, as this book was written almost 100
years ago, Chesterton can come off as overly focused on the West and a bit
insensitive and ignorant about non-Western cultures. Nevertheless, his insights about paganism can
be fruitfully applied to any traditional culture, and I think they ought to be.
Other than that, I heartily recommend this book. I am thinking about doing a Hallowe’en post that relies heavily upon it.
11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)
so at first I was going to name the Dawn Treader from Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I don’t read a lot of sea
those who aren’t up on fan fiction terminology (as I barely am), a ship is when
you imagine two characters from a book or books getting together as
couple. (Short for “relationship.”) Non-canonical ships are pairings that didn’t
happen in the original book or series. “Crack”
ships are pairings that you would have to be on crack to even think of.
I am not a big noncanonical shipper. I just enjoy the ships as they show up in the books. But, I did always think that rather than going off to live with the dwarfs and eventually get kissed by the Prince, Snow White ought to have run off with the huntsman.
Now, here are my questions for you …
What kinds of non-fiction are you most likely to read?
What is your culture crush? If you are a book blogger, you must have at least one. But please feel free to list more than one.
What one currently living writer would you most like to have lunch, a beer, or coffee with? (Pastors count if they have written a good book or two. Bonus points if it’s a pastor you could have a beer with.)
What genre do you think is not your favorite, but find yourself picking up again and again?
Sex scenes: poetic, explicit, or none at all?
Favorite animal protagonist from a book or series?
Have you ever stopped identifying with the point-of-view character in a novel, and what caused it?
Did you then finish the book, or put it down?
Dream vehicle from real life or fiction.
If you currently have a Work in Progress (or are pitching a recently finished one out), give us your one-sentence hook for it.
Post a favorite poem or fragment of poetry. If you don’t read poetry, then song lyrics count.
By the way. Commenters, if one of these questions really pulls your chain, feel free to answer it in the comments.
What kind of thing goes on your kitchen bulletin board?
Well, recipes, obviously. Maybe a calendar. I have another, larger bulletin board that houses library and trash collection schedules, photos of friends and family, Christmas letters, things like that. But something else that I need around me is poetry.
A poem is the sort of thing you feed on. You take a moment to stand still and read it to yourself, slowly, like a deep breath for your mind in the middle of the day.
As you can see, on this bulletin board, I have:
Two recipes (pancakes, pie crust. The essentials)
A hand-drawn portrait of buttered toast, done by a toast-loving kid,
“Dill with it,” which was a gift from a loved one who knows my love for dill and script,
And four poems. One is Tableau by Countee Cullen, which I think of whenever my blond son plays with his friend …
One is one of my own, Theophany, which I wrote for a friend who was going through a hard time and then never sent to her …
One is a scrap of poetry posted by a fellow blogger from his collection Bone Antler Stone, which I had to print out because it grabbed me by the throat with its beauty …
And one is actually the lyrics to a hymn, Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, in case I need to refocus during the day.
It’s actually kind of rare that I have four poems up at once, but these four give you a good sense of the range of things that might, at any time, appear upon my bulletin board.
What poems, (say, within the last month), would you have liked to post in your kitchen?
The first time I read this poem, I didn’t get most of what it said.
I knew the last line rang on intriguingly, as last lines sometimes do, and that it felt like the culmination of the whole poem, but I had missed the meaning of most of what had gone before. I liked it enough that I went back and read it many more times, out loud, until my mind was processing the sentences. (They are grammatical sentences, despite the first impression.)
Many poems function as I just described, this one has a really bad case of it. That’s because of the cacophony. The thing reads like a tongue twister. It really makes you work for it. And that’s what I ultimately love about it.
The other thing I love is how it addresses our universal fear that the world has been permanently ruined and that we can never get the glory back.
I hope you’ll read it through several times, as I did, and that the reading rewards you as much as it did me.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; it gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil crushed. Why do men then now not reck His rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; and all is seared with trade; smeared, bleared with toil, and wears Man's smudge and shares Man's smell; the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Yet for all this, Nature is never spent: there lives the dearest freshness deep down things. And though the last lights off the black West went oh, morning, o'er the brown brink Eastward, springs, because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.