Psalm 42b

 

 

My women’s Bible Study group started Renovare’s Prayer & Worship: A spiritual formation guide last week. One of the things you’re asked to do at the end of the first chapter (on worship), is to pen your own psalm. Using Psalm 42 as an example, the book examined worship as a thirst for God. It’s this theme that inspired my own “psalm”.

Psalm 42b

A psalm by Lee

I do not thirst for You as a deer thirsts for water, Lord; that would be too easy.

I am not always sure that I thirst for You at all.

And yet… And yet there’s something, Lord.

I look for it on the Internet and in books, on blogs and at the bottoms of cookie jars, in saying the rights things and trying to act in the right ways, in having a clever answer and a chip on the shoulder, at the tops of fluffy white clouds and at the bottom of the soles of my feet squishing into soft grass, in good humour and PMS and quiet moments and deep, long sighs.

I perpetually pat my spiritual back pockets, checking to see if that something is still there, but I do not know what it is.

I therefore must conclude that it’s You, Lord. Can it really be that easy?

I’d rather it be harder, I think; that way I can get more credit for trying, and thus, more leeway for my standard ill-appreciation of Your grace.

What, after all, does the deer do, other than thirsting, for You to answer it?

What a scandalous notion, that my thirst is answered on no account of my own!

And yet… And yet it makes sense that You. omniscient, loving, kind, patient, forgiving and forbearing, make no sense at all.

You are not human logic but Logos. “Love” is the Word.

In the meantime, I will check mashed potatoes for that something, and being irrationally irritated by minor inconveniences. and judging people by their velocity in supermarket aisles.

Just in case, You understand.

Man! It looks like I’m a deer thirsty for water after all!

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Book review: The Ironic Christian’s Companion by Patrick Henry

 

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In the unlikely event of a gun being put to my head in order to discover my true and final opinion on Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, I still wouldn’t be able to offer an answer without some sort of qualifier. Did I like the book? I did; Henry is clever and I appreciated many of his insights; one or two of them made me sit back and go, “Huh” in an impressed way. Is it a good book? Sure, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s tastes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe, depending on who was asking for the recommendation. Do I like Patrick Henry? Eh, I’m not sure; there’s more than a little self-importance there, tempered with (what I’m hoping is) genuine reform. You see? It’s complicated.

I picked up the book on sale; that and the title was the deciding factor for the purchase. I’m vain enough to think of myself as an “ironic” Christian (someone who is Christian but not as Christian as the obviously stupid people who are also Christian, in essence). The book is a series of ten essays, all loosely connected to the theme of being a Christian who has doubts and reservations about their religion, if not always their faith.

Henry’s writing is an interesting mix of memoir, theology and academia, with keen insights and the patience to let you discover them for yourself.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the marks of God’s grace in the world
Author: Patrick Henry
Publisher: Riverhead Books (1999)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.41/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s eminently quotable.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on navel gazing at times.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of suicide (Henry’s father killed himself).
You’ll like this if… You, like me, are stupid enough to think your faith is “ironic”.

Book review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I’m happy to report that after years of living as a “late returns” fugitive, I’ve been granted amnesty (literally: South African libraries have a national, annual “book amnesty” week at the end of every March) and I’m now able to partake of the hushed, thoughtful aisles of my local library again. Gilbert’s Big Magic is one of the first books I picked up post-exile.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have picked a book I feel more ambivalent about if I’d tried, however.

Big Magic is one author’s attempt to quantify the creative process. Gilbert writes about the lessons she’s learned during her many years of writing and publishing. The book feels like chatting with a particularly warm, slightly ditzy and self-centred pal, coffee in hand and an afternoon to while away. It has that same strange paradox of painful self-awareness and painful self-ignorance that characterised the only other book I’ve ever read of hers, Eat Pray Love.

On one hand, Gilbert’s insight into the creative mind feels very genuine. She’s someone who has worked at her craft and has clearly spent a lot of time trying to understand why she (and creative people in general) do things the way they do. It’s from this place that she tries to give guidance. And she’s roguishly charming about it, of course.

On the other hand, I spent the majority of my time reading Big Magic thinking that she isn’t nearly as aware of her privilege as she believes she is. Her advice often veers from innocent into the downright naive. It’s condescending to hear someone who has achieved so much commercial success warn others against its improbability, for instance. She’s someone who’s encountered one or two locked doors and equates her experience with someone who faces a hallway of them.

Overall, one of those “take what resonates and leave the rest” books.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2015)
Rating: 2.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.9/5)
The best feature of the book: It recounts some amusing anecdotes and has a few charming turns of phrase.
The worst feature of the book: Not everyone is going to be taken with Gilbert’s spiritualisation (even deification?) of creativity and inspiration.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of other than white middle-classness.
You’ll like this if… If you’re a fan of her work I’m sure you’ll love this book; many ardent fans gush to that effect on Goodreads. If you dislike her you’ll inevitably dislike the book, as the acidic reviews on Goodreads can testify. There doesn’t really appear to be much of a middle ground.

Book review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly (Charlie Parker #16)

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I’m afraid that this is going to a rather dull book review. There are only so many variations on “It’s a really good book” before it all becomes trite and pedantic. So, suffice it to say that John Connolly’s sixteenth Charlie Parker mystery, The Woman in the Woods, is a great read, full of his customary good writing, interesting characters and nefarious goings-on.

The Woman in the Woods sees PI and avenging angel (metaphorically if not literally, but let’s see) Charlie Parker try to solve the mystery behind the body of a woman found in the Maine woods as a favour to his lawyer. In the process of discovering her identity, Parker discovers someone else – a man named Quayle, eager to put together a map that may or may not end the world…

For the first couple of novels, Connolly’s Parker series was more or less straightforward thriller fair with some mystery elements slithering around in the woodwork. But as the novels have progressed, the mystery has become more pronounced, and nowadays Parker’s sleuthing typically uncovers things that go bump in the night. I always thought The Black Angel was the first hinge – it was a decisive step away from genre fiction playing coy, to something spookier. The Woman in the Woods (and perhaps its predecessor, A Game of Ghosts) is another such hinge, and I’m really interested to see where Connolly will take (and end) the series.

Prior to its release, Connolly released a few paragraphs of the novel in response to the growing white nationalism in the United States (a white nationalist forms part of the subplot and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of his character at some point), so the novel feels pretty contemporary. I also noticed that parts of the novel feel like Connolly apologising for his previous lackluster treatment of female characters, by way of Parker acknowledging just how shitty men can be towards women. Which is great, but I hope it will be followed up by some sort of female character who isn’t a romantic interest or a bit player.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Woman in the Woods
Author: John Connolly
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2018)
Rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.59/5)
The best feature of the book: The main cast of characters, as usual. The Fulcis as comic relief.
The worst feature of the book: I’d like more spooky details, but that’s just me. Also, the whole “when a woman is a mother” thing. The problem with treating motherhood as such a virtue is that it easily becomes women’s only saving grace. No.
Trigger warnings: Murder, torture, belated Catholicism.
You’ll like this if… You’re a fan of mysteries, thrillers, detective novels, banter, or tall black assassins who set racists’ cars on fire.

Missing

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Douglas Adams wrote that the knack to flying is aiming for the ground and missing. The knack to finding a good book is aiming for the bad ones and missing.