Finding God in the Ordinary – Book Review

Blue-centered Daisy

I first heard about Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs while listening to the podcast Mortification of Spin. As the author spoke about his book, I knew that this was something I would love to read since looking for God in the small things is an activity I have long practiced.

My copy is a beautiful hard-bound book with a lovely cover and easily readable fonts. However, the treasure is in the words. Pierce Taylor Hibbs takes ordinary events like drinking coffee, shadows, dust, birds on a telephone wire, snow falling, wind, and light and shows the reader how to find God in these every day, ordinary events.

It’s not just that his prose is delightful, but his choice of words approaches poetry in many places within these essays. And his references to the Trinity, creation, language, God’s majesty and providence, and other theological subjects within his musings about “ordinary” events so enrich those events that I will never look at dust floating in the air or shadows on the grass the same again.

Let me share just a few quotes:

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight. p. 6

The beating heart of the Trinity is thumping underneath every human word, no matter how trivial or commonplace. p. 16

While darkness is an arena for the light of faith, it is the Lord of light himself that brings our feeble faith to fruition. pp. 26-27

Mistakes are not just markers of our depravity. They are more than that. They are the triune God’s spadework in the soil of the soul. They are opportunities for the great gardener to tend our lives and help us grow. p. 32

I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read these essays over and over again.

His Love is All Around Us

ocean-918999_1920

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Almighty Father, Thy love is like a great sea that girdles the earth.
Out of the deep, we come to float for awhile upon its surface.
We cannot sound its depth nor tell its greatness, only we know that it never faileth.
The winds that blow over us are the breathing of Thy spirit;
the sun that lights and warms us is Thy truth.
Now Thou does suffer us to sail calm seas;
now Thou dost buffet us with storms of trouble;
on the crest of waves of sorrow Thou dost raise us,
but it is Thy love that bears us up;
in the trough of desolation Thou dost sink us,
that we may see nought but Thy love on every side.
And when we pass into the deep again, the waters of Thy love encompass and enfold us.
– Anonymous

From The Book of Comfort by Elizabeth Goudge, p. 265

Book Review: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy

img_0378

I finished reading Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons this afternoon and want to run out and shove this book into the hands of all of my friends. Instead, I will tell you all about this wonderful book and know that if you love it even half as much as I did, you will have a new favorite.

As I’ve been reading the book, I’ve been looking at her book suggestions on her blog, listening to some of her podcasts, and thinking, “Here is a kindred spirit.” She writes about many of the books I’ve loved and the thoughts I’ve thought and the truths I believe.  Plus, she celebrates and loves Advent and Christmas even more than I do.

Let me tell you a bit about the book. Christie Purifoy, her husband, and three children (plus one on the way) move into an old farmhouse called Maplehurst in late summer. The narrative follows their first year in the house as they are dreaming dreams, planting gardens, mending broken things, inviting neighbors, and welcoming a new baby.

The memoir is full of truth, beauty, and goodness wrapped up in every day living. Christie meditates on faith and God’s promises, eternity and tomorrow, dirt and tomatoes. Other books I’ve read about homes and gardens were enjoyable, but I think that Roots and Sky hit something deep inside of me because of Christie’s constant reminder of the Lord and His work in her life and in ours. Her metaphors are lovely and get at truths that are often hard to encapsulate.

Here are just a few of the dozens of quotes I underlined:

Our lives are stories built of small moments. Ordinary experiences. It is too easy to forget that our days are adding up to something astonishing. We do not often stop to notice the signs and wonders. The writing on the wall. But some days we do.

Homecoming is a single word, and we use it to describe a single event. But true homecoming requires more time. It seems to be a process rather than a moment. Perhaps we come home the way the earth comes home to the sun. It could be that homecoming is always a return and our understanding of home deepens with each encounter.

I see how each season lies tucked up inside another. How fall’s warm yellow is hidden within summer’s cool green. How even the scented explosion of spring lies sleeping within winter branches that seem brittle with death.

What if gratitude is more about seeing the face of God? Of locking our eyes on his and remembering where our help comes from? Perhaps gratitude is not only a discipline but also a gift, one we are given in special measure just before we pass through the door to suffering.

It reminded me of three books I love all wrapped up in one: The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill, The Crosswick Journals by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Country Diary of an English Lady. Christie Purifoy has a new book coming out next month. I can hardly wait to read it.

What books have you read that touch your soul and fill your heart with singing?

O Come, Emmanuel

christmas-1010749_1920

A devotional I have been reading this year for Advent includes the O antiphons, the prayers of the Christian church, which they prayed during the Advent season for centuries. Traditionally, they were sung each night from December 17 through December 23 in preparation for Christmas: O Sapientia [O Wisdom], O Adonai [O Lord], O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse], O Clavis David [O Key of David], O Oriens [O Dayspring], O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations], and O Emmanuel. A fuller explanation and translations can be found here.

One of my favorite hymns during this season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. With it’s haunting melody and beautiful words, it rings with the longing and expectation of the world for the coming of the Savior. Each year I sing it, thrilling that Jesus has come, that He did not leave us in our sin and misery but came to save us from ourselves and our rebellion against Himself. I rejoice that He will come a second time in glory and majesty. The hymn comes from those antiphons. Each one tells us something about Christ and then says “come”.
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. – Isaiah 60:1-3

His prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

O Light of the World, You whose glory shines brighter than the sun, come. Lord Jesus, come to us in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of the long December nights, in the darkness of our selfishness and loneliness and bitterness. Come and heal us. Come and make us like You. Come and make us shine as lights in the darkness around us. Come…

May your Christmas be full of the One who came to save us and may your New Year be full of His mercy, grace, and peace. .

Penny Plain by O. Douglas

img_1189

I had another blog post planned for today, but I just finished Penny Plain by O. Douglas and had to share about this new to me author.

I had heard of O. Douglas, a pseudonym for Anna Buchan, because my boys and I have long loved John Buchan’s books. I still enjoy reading about Richard Hannay and his adventures, especially Mr. Standfast. Did you know that John Buchan is the father of spy novels? His first, The 39 Steps, was written in 1915 but set just before World War I. The first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s so full of hair-raising adventures and last minutes escapes that you find that you must read one more chapter to see if Hannay escapes the current tight corner.

Anyhow, because of my enjoyment of Richard Hannay, I had read about Buchan’s sister, Anna Buchan/O. Douglas, and had seen her books reviewed by other middlebrow novel enthusiasts. However, until this weekend, I had never read one for myself.

I downloaded Penny Plain for free onto my kindle. (As an aside, while I still adore real books, being able to read out of print, unaccessible books is one of the definite upsides of the digital book revolution). I’ve spent the last two days in Scotland with Jean Jardine and her three brothers, whom she is bringing up by herself after the death of her parents and her aunt.

It’s a charming little story with wonderful characters and a happy ending, the best kind of book. Jean is making do with little money but lots of books and love when Pamela Reston comes to the village of Priorsford to escape the social whirl for a while. The book is set just after World War I and the sorrows of the loss of so many young men come across from time to time. In a way, it is more poignant than a modern novel about the losses because the author knew those aching gaps in a way we modern readers never will.

However, the book itself is upbeat and tells about the kind heart of Jean, her genius for helping others, and the way her life takes an unexpected turn as a result of her kindnesses. Also, there are numerous quotes from Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, and poetry, which I will have to track down to their sources one of these days for the sheer fun of it. I love books that are full of quotations.

Just a few bits to give you the flavor of the book:

“You know the people,” said Pamela, “who say, ‘Of course I love reading, but I’ve no time, alas!’ as if everyone who loves reading doesn’t make time.”

She has been nowhere and seen very little; books are her world, and she talks of book-people as if they were everyday acquaintances.

She was glad she lived among people who had the decency to go on caring for each other in spite of lines and wrinkles—comfortable couples whose affection for each other was a shelter in the time of storm, a shelter built of common joys, of “fireside talks and counsels in the dawn,” cemented by tears shed over common sorrows.

It wasn’t sad to be old, Jean told herself, for as the physical sight dims, the soul sees more clearly, and the light from the world to come illumines the last dark bit of the way….

The other rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says tea, and a fire and a book and a friend—the four nicest things in the world.”

If you love books with kindness and laughter and true values and happy ever afters, even in the midst of life’s sorrows, then you will enjoy Penny Plain.

 

An Opportunity to Trust

White Arum Lilies by Tony Hisgett

A few months ago, I received a call from one of my children. He was sitting in a parking lot an hour away from school with a smoking vehicle. The car was dead.

Usually, this particular young man is more than capable. However, this situation was beyond his experience, and he was unsure about what to do next. After discussing the situation, we agreed that the only thing to do was to call a tow truck. I had to leave for a meeting with my pastor and said I would call him later to decide the next step.

As I drove to my meeting, I worried and prayed. I told the Lord how J needed a car to work this last year in school. I told Him that he had food to buy and school bills to pay. Without that car, J couldn’t get to work. What if he would be forced to drop out of school a semester before graduation? None of us had the money to buy him even a junker car to last until May. What were we going to do?

At my meeting, I shared my anxiety. My pastor prayed with me for my son and his situation. As I was leaving, he said, “This is an opportunity to trust, to trust that God will provide for J’s needs.”

An opportunity to trust. How often do we see difficult or perplexing circumstances as opportunities to worry and to fuss and to run around, crying and complaining instead of seeing them as opportunities to trust God? We can have faith that our loving Heavenly Father, who created the world, who owns all things, and knows our needs before we are even aware of them, has every new circumstance in control. He wasn’t caught by surprise when J’s car broke down. He wasn’t wringing His hands in heaven because of the school bills or food needs or lack of transportation.

No, God had all of this in His sovereign control. He knew the exact minute that car would die, and He allowed it to happen for His own glory and J’s good. The Lord already had the provision ready to meet J’s need before the circumstance occurred. He wants His children to depend on Him just as the sparrows depend on him for food and the lilies of the field depend on Him for clothing. He wants us to depend on Him for our daily bread and for our every need.

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Matthew 6:31-32]

Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11]

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [Romans 8:31-32]

In our proud independence, we think that we need to take care of our own needs, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, instead of relying on God’s gracious, abundant provision. Scripture says that the Lord doesn’t let the children of the righteous beg for bread I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. [Psalm 37:25].

Here I was anxiously seeking provision for my son when God has promised to take of J. In myself, I am not righteous, but because of Christ, God the Father regards me as righteous so I can trust Him to not allow my children to be in need, physically or spiritually.

How many times over the years have I seen His provision! Over and over again I have been in need, sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, often spiritually. Yet, I have never been abandoned by our God. He has always supplied my every need in His perfect time and usually gave me more than I asked for. His generosity never fails. Sometimes His timing wasn’t what I thought it should be, but it was always exactly right for the situation.

There is a hymn that I would sing with my children when they were small. The words even now remind me of the Lord’s provision when my faith is weak:

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given

God, His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne?er forsaketh
His, the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy

Lo, their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev?ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev?ry foeman must surrender

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given –Caroline V. Sandell-Berg

Christian friend, are you in need today? Is there a circumstance in your life where you are poor and needy. Go to your Heavenly Father. Take this opportunity to trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He always gives good gifts to His children.

For my readers who don’t yet have the Lord as your Heavenly Father, are you in need today? He is willing to meet your needs—spiritually in Christ first and also physically and emotionally and in every other way. Go to the Lord, ask Him to save your soul and to provide for your needs. You can list those needs, but He already knows exactly what you are lacking in your life. Take this opportunity to trust that Jesus died for you, that He rose again from the dead to save you, and that He will lead you for the rest of your life.

As for J’s need, a friend had a van that he is not using. He graciously loaned it to J for the remainder of the school year until J graduates and can buy a new car.

God provided quickly and abundantly. He will provide for you, too. The next time a need arises, remember my pastor’s words: “It is an opportunity to trust.”

Lights So Lovely

pexels-photo-63507.jpeg

We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. – Madeleine L’Engle

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. John 8:12

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

We live in a confusing and tragic time. Natural disasters, political chaos, and horrific tragedies surround us. As Christians, we hold the treasure of the gospel, the good news that brings hope and light into our dark world.

However, the best way to share that treasure effectively is to shine as lights, reflecting the light of Christ, in our communities and in the lives of the people we know . Jesus told us that we were the light of the world. The apostle Paul said that we hold the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels. The Bible tells us over and over again about the patience, the kindness, the gentleness that God has for His children. How can we, as His representatives and with His Spirit within us, be any less patient, kind, and gentle with those around us?

If we are shining as lights, if we are loving and kind, if we are sacrificial in our care for one another, the people in our lives will come to us to find out the secret of why and how we can live that way? While there may be those who choose darkness, there are also many whom God is calling, those drawn to His light and love and joy.

It is important that we live our lives with love and gladness and joy and service because the world is watching us. Why do we choose to give up our own rights for others? Why do we love the unlovely? Why do we sacrifice our own time/money/power to help others? Why do we give up our own wills to serve others?

The Christians in ancient Rome drew the attention of even the emperor because they rescued and raised the children, who had been left to die in the streets and on the hillsides. Christians fed the hungry, they cared for the sick, they clothed the naked. They weren’t powerful politically. Most of them were rather poor, especially once the persecutions started. But, in the end, Christianity overcame all the pagan gods because of love, just as God’s love overcomes all of our own defenses and rushes in and sweeps away our preconceptions, our false ideals, our barriers.

For who can defend against pure love? Who can hide forever from the light? One of the things that confused the Jews most was that Jesus did not come as a conquering king, riding a white horse, and expelling the Romans from the Promised Land. Instead, He came to serve and to die so that He might save His people from their sins. His love conquered their hearts. His love conquers our hearts. And His love will conquer the hearts of all those whom God has called.

John Donne said it well in his poem:

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

It is the love of God which batters his heart, enthralls and ravishes him. The love of God will do the same to and for us. Christ said a servant is not greater than his master. Thus, we should not expect to share the gospel except by the means He used.

Jesus never allowed for sin or idols in people’s lives, but He always spoke to them in the context of loving them. He loved the rich young ruler when He said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” He had compassion on the Samaritan women at the well when He shared with her that He could give her living water and He spared the woman caught in adultery with the admonition to repent.

I think if people around us are offended, it ought to be because of their rejection of the gospel message itself, not the delivery. In the song Could You Believe, Twila Paris wrote:

Could you believe if I really was like Him
If I lived all the words that I said
If for a change I would kneel down before you
And serve you instead
Could you believe?

Let us be the sweet aroma of Christ to our neighbors and friends. Let us serve them with gladness and joy. Let us shine so brightly and beautifully that “that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it” as Madeleine L’Engle said.

Do you live this kind of life? I am aware of my continual failures, of my sinful selfishness and self-absorption. But the desire of my heart is to live for Christ and so I am compelled, I am persuaded that this way of life is the means by which we can spread the good news abroad of Jesus and His love. Won’t you join me in living in such a way that the watching world says, “I want what they have.”