Liminal Lent

Lent is an interesting season in a believer’s life. Nothing really separates these forty days from any other old forty days, save the church calendar and some reliance on moon cycles that Protestants don’t like to talk about. Lent can be any forty days or it can be no forty days, but it is these forty days, and so we set them aside and go, “Now what?”

Traditions vary on what should be done during Lent. The consensus seems to be “withhold”. Some of us withhold certain foods or habits as a way to symbolise that we are also “withholding” from seeing our lives as ordinary. We fast from the blind incomprehension of being people who don’t realise how grace-drenched their lives are. Physical hunger becomes an echo of spiritual hunger. Physical, mental or emotional discomfort becomes discomfort at the status quo nature of sin and injustice and darkness.

You can heap symbolism upon symbolism. Lent’s forty days is the long walk between palace and hill of skulls; it’s a long, weary sabbath when the night feels particularly dark; it’s the breath gasped at an empty tomb; it’s the breathless, “He is risen.” Lent is the time, however short or long, between realising we need the Lord and realising we’ve already had the Lord all this time. It’s a liminal time: liminal because we need a threshold to realise there is no threshold. In the Spirit we are immersed in God – and he in us.

Lent is a holy reminder, a dream suddenly remembered, seeing a beloved friend after a long separation. It’s both the pure joy of laughter and the most wrenching, aching sorrow, and it’s both at once, much in the same way that the Son of Man can be both human and divine; a burden and a joy we come to share as we remember our indwelling.

Lent is memory: remembering our salvation, which is itself a memory of whose we have always been.

For me, this Lenten season is about trying to remember why I like God. Not love, not obey, not honour, but like. What was it all those years ago that whispered to my soul and set it on fire? Can I find that voice again? Can I hear it over the racket of institutional religion’s voice? Or the dozens of other voices – pain, anger, fear, loss, grief, doubt – that clamour for my attention?

Whether it’s this Lent or the next or the one after that – how ever many Lenten seasons I am privileged and trammeled to witness – I’m sure I’ll find what I’m looking for. I’m sure because I’ve found it before. I’m sure because I haven’t actually lost it.

This is the agony and blessing of Lent: it’s a circuitous route to the place where we started from.


Book review: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)

What Should I Read Next put me on to the first novel in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, Soulless. If you add steampunk, quirky detective novels, Jane Austen, Mills & Boon, hunky paranormal creatures and adverbs together, Soulless is the entertaining result. It’s definitely something to read if you need to be cheered up, if you’re menstruating, or if you bloody well feel like it and don’t have to justify your literary choices to anyone.

Soulless follows the life of Alexia Tarabotti. Alexia suffers from a great many things: a shitty family, a large nose, a hot temper, a worthy adversary, and not having a soul (in that order). Her placid spinster existence is upturned when she kills a vampire at a party. Forces are conspiring, and Alexia and the vexing and super attractive Lord Conall Maccon seem to be at heart of it…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit Books (2009)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.91/5)
The best feature of the book: It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a fun, spicy read.
The worst feature of the book: It swaps common sense for sexy scene setting.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans of paranormal romance, romance, hot paranormal creatures, or some combination of the above.

Book review: Fever by Deon Meyer

I remember reading Meyer’s first book when I was in high school and being entirely unimpressed with it. Say what you want, sex scenes are always going to be awkward when they’re written in Afrikaans, and now, ten plus years later, I can still remember the line, “Dit gly binne.” This put me off Meyer and I hadn’t touched a book of his until Fever.

Enter my New Year’s resolution to read more, a random recommendation on a Facebook book group, and my love for the post-Apocalyptic genre, and here we are.

I’m glad I gave the author a shot because damn. People, and apparently, bizarrely, King himself, compare Fever to The Stand, but it knocks The Stand’s socks off and keeps going. Of course it has its flaws, but the narrative is so engaging, the premise so well fleshed out, I was more than ready to forgive Meyer his being an old white guy writing about a middle-aged white guy. Fever is one of those books that make you excited to read. It reminds you what good writing can do and what a cool experience good storytelling is.

Fever, the English translation of the original Koors, follows the lives of a father and son as they try to pick up the pieces of civilisation in their own unique ways after a virus wipes out ninety percent of the world’s population. Trials and tribulations – and a deeper conspiracy – abound as they set up a new town. Can Amanzi, the Place of Light, keep human darkness at bay?

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Fever
Author: Deon Meyer
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2017)
Rating: 4.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.26/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s just plain good. And it’s South African, which was refreshing.
The worst feature of the book: a) You’re either going to love or hate the plot twist at the end of the book. The novel has been billed as a standalone, but there are a lot of questions left unanswered in favour of that plot twist, so I’d be curious to see if Meyer returns to Amanzi at some point. b) Some of the pseudo-academic jargon is irritating. I don’t know if this is true of the original Afrikaans, but the language is not gender-inclusive, which is noticeable because the ones using it are supposed to be academics, and there’s this whole thing about gender-inclusive/gender-neutral language in academia.
Trigger warnings: Men being assholes to women, but nothing graphic.
You’ll like this if… Is post-Apocalyptic fiction your jam? Boy do I have good news for you!

Book review: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London #7)

Depression etc kept me from reading Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch as soon as I got it back in November of last year, but when I finally started it, I finished it in one afternoon, so I do feel I’ve redeemed my RoL fandom. Aaronovitch has delivered another fun installment of his Rivers of London series, full of the wit, irreverence, and adventure that has become his trademark. No dull, weary or wary slog, these books; they’re quite fresh-faced in tone for all that he’s on the seventh novel of the series, and that’s not including the comics, short stories, and novellas.

But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t signs of strain showing in the narrative, so while I really enjoyed the book – it’s a lot like catching up with old friends, these longer series – there are some issues that niggle. Overall the book’s climax and denouement felt unsatisfactory, rushed and a bit half-arsed, which is a pity because Lies Sleeping resolved some other loose ends (that came up in the previous books) in a tidy way.

Lies Sleeping picks up Peter’s story as he, the Folly and the Met pursue Faceless Man Martin Chorley and turncoat Lesley May. It’s a cat and mouse game, with Chorley seemingly two steps ahead of them the whole time. He has a plan to put London’s most restless spirit to rest for his own cause, and Peter et al try their best to intervene…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Lies Sleeping
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz (2018)
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.32/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s a quick, easy read; funny, non-depressing even when depressing, full of interesting stuff about London. The characters all feel like family at this point.
The worst feature of the book: At one point Peter remarks that if you had no idea what he was talking about, you’d best go back and do some reading. Annoying. Old characters and settings are rarely described in Lies Sleeping. I think the practice in multi-book series is to briefly describe things like this for the benefit of new readers who don’t start the series with the first book, but it’s also useful for long-time readers who haven’t committed every single detail to longterm memory. The plot could have done with more finesse. The climax could have been more climactic.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of slavery and implied sexual assault.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans and stans of urban fantasy,

Contemplative prayer for delinquent believers

Contemplative prayer has been a miracle for me during a difficult season. It does not ask anything of me. It doesn’t ask that I believe when I can’t or don’t want to. It doesn’t demand faith or works or even prayer. It doesn’t require x amount of Bible study, x amount of volunteering, x amount of ministry. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness or sacrifice. It offers no advice. It doesn’t ask questions of me. It doesn’t demand answers or supplication. It enforces no doctrine and pursues no agenda. It doesn’t need me to be anyone else than who I am.

Instead, contemplative prayer gives. It gives me silence when I need silence, and comfort when I need comfort. It gives me grace, mercy, and compassion. It gives me presence. Rather than demand, it offers. Rather than scold, it encourages. It is kind. I sit down to it or turn my face to it, me,  the chiefest of sinners, and I am rewarded with the face of God, the smile of God, the heart of God.

I cannot lay claim to contemplative prayer. It isn’t a skill or a talent. It isn’t works. I can’t do anything to encourage it other than receiving it; I can’t do anything to discourage it, other than rejecting it. I can never deserve it, and I can never lose my right or my claim to it. It is the very essence of a gift, the very essence of a God who cannot but Be.

And, in fits and starts, imperfectly, I’m learning to Be with God. No pretense. No holy rolling. No flowery language. No blaming…or lots of blaming. No anger, or only anger. Love, or no love. Faith, or uncertainty, or skepticism. Hope, despair. Anguish, joy. Depression, contentment. At war, or at peace; at rest, or in revolt. Half-asleep, or fully awake. It doesn’t seem to matter to God.

I beat my breast…and God beats His. I offer confident proclamations, but God merely sings me a song. I offer dire advice, and He runs circles around me and my human ways. I expect deserts, and yet She flows like living water.

I’m always expecting to reach the bottom of the gift basket, but there just isn’t any end to God. There is no scarcity of God, despite the best attempts of religion (mine and other people’s) to make it seem so.

I’m happy to be proven wrong…but I’m also sad that for the longest time, I believed such outrageous lies about God. I’m sad that I thought I had to. I’m sad that a part of me – the most human, most frightened part of me – believed that there was anything other to God than More Than Enough.

Contemplative prayer is a reminder. It reminds me that I am in an eternal moment with God. This moment doesn’t run out, or go away, or expire. It isn’t defeated or lost. I am in God’s very heart, and in Her very breath. Whatever else happens, I know that this is true. It’s here that I find my peace, and I think it’s here that God finds His, as well.