We always live at life’s edge. Each moment becomes that edge. Looking back often comforts me because I can avert my attention from the sharp brim facing the future. Every past moment is cushioned within the experiences before and after it. Its context is sure. I like that. The present pushes me away from the cushion. The sharp edge of the now connected to the handle of yesterday slices into the unknown, next moment. Yet, it is the mixed messages from yesterday’s record (the good and the bad) that make me nervous about the future. At first I wrote this as my next sentence: My comfort comes less from the past’s good experiences than from the God of those good experiences. Then I realized that this may be pious silliness.
My experience of God and of life cannot be separated. God is good. God does good. Good is the expression of God, so to experience good is to experience God (James 1:17). Yet in all His goodness, this broken life sinks deep in suffering. The good is that God is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). So, it is the presence of God in all my experiences that works good out of brokenness. Yes. This comforts me. His presence in the good and the bad, which always works together for ultimate good (Romans 8:28 – 29).
So, as we experience the daily edges of 2017, I do look to the past for comfort and wisdom. The Word is ancient wisdom from the Ancient of Days. I look to the future by looking at it through the Word. And I look to the future through the wisdom of others from generations before me and also through the younger generations that are overtaking me.
I live in a house of books. I live a quiet life, so my books keep me good company as I move from edge to edge. January through March are good book reading months, but for me, every month is. Books keep me sane and feed my soul. But not just any books. I’d love to have a book store, but I never could, because I couldn’t stand to sell most books on the market. I’d only want to promote what I know to be nutritious — feeding life.
I’m always in a number of books or publications, all at the same time. When I read book, although I’m looking back at the cushioned past (which is a mixed bag of the lovely and the horrendous), it’s like sharpening the dull eyes of my soul. Then, I’m less insecure standing on the edge of the present, even though the future I’m facing is no less uncertain. Reading good stuff does a person good. Here are some diverse, life-feeding reads I’d like to share with you.
If you’re impatient with or intimidated by reading, start with some children’s classics. Good children’s literature is great adult literature. I recently ordered three E.B. White classics for a grandson: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet and the Swan. Yummy books. They picture true, life patterns that can help to shape healthy growth. Many biblical principles underpin them, even if the author did not have such an intention. Truth is truth, real is real, wherever we find it. These are great read alouds! Great for the soul and soothing in these tempestuous times.
The following first two points present good children’s literature for adults. Point three recommends a devotional resource, and point four suggests a heavy topic presented in accessible language with a caring tone. Here is a little buffet offering a broad selection.
The Story of Art and Music, which is book 6 in the series, The Bookshelf for Girls and Boys. (You may remember this series from your childhood.) This is so delicious! I love the amiable tone in which the authors introduce the history of art and music through simple explanations, biographical thumbnail sketches, pictures, and illustrations. If you have never asked, “What is the difference between music and sound?”, or “How do we get harmony?”, it’s time to ask and pick up this book (through your local library, Amazon.com, or a second hand store).
You have probably asked, “What is the use of art?” and this book gives a one page, straight forward, inspiring answer. This volume is two books in one, and a charming treasure. Book 6 goes well with Book 4 (1948 edition; not all editions include the content in this book 4). Pictures, Stories and Music contains classic paintings with delightful, conversational stories to explain each picture. The second half contains scored songs — ready for you to sit at your piano and play traditional children’s pieces such as “Polly Put the Kettle on” and “My Old Kentucky Home”. I’d recommend this classic series for every home; no children needed. Good children’s literature is good for adults. You’ll learn so much and you’ll experience a good Philippians 4:8 cleaning of your soul. To learn more about this series, google The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls. Many editions have been printed from the 1920s to the 1980s.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, the 1963 Newbery Medal award book. I recommend this book to everyone! It makes for a great family read aloud book, and it is the first in a series of five books (the Time Quintet). Last fall, Paul and I read these aloud to each other in the evenings. Paul ended up doing most of the reading. I enjoy hearing his deep, handsome voice narrate and play all the parts! This book is a horse of a different color. It is science fiction and fantasy set within a solid but odd family. L’Engle’s Christian worldview roots her stories. I’ll have to wait for future post (no promises) to write more about this book and series. Have you read A Wrinkle in Time? If so, how did or do you respond to it?
Let’s look at a totally different genre, the Christian devotional: Today in the Word, a monthly daily devotional from Moody Bible Institute. Visit TodayInTheWord.com. We’ve been getting this publication for years, and although I do not read it everyday (because I have other materials), I often read it, and usually read a number of day’s readings in one sitting. I appreciate the monthly article called “Theology Matters” that deals with one theological issue. Also, the question and answer section in the middle tackles questions readers submit, such as, “Why do I find it so difficult to pray?”
The daily readings offer a reading guide through the year (which I don’t follow, because I have another plan), but the thrust of the publication is a daily essay that walks you through the month’s study — a book of the Bible or a theme. Because this publication has more continuity and substance (but is not heavy) than a number of others I’ve seen, it is a good gift to give to a Christian friend who wants to grow. Ask God to lead you to the right persons to give your used devotionals.
On a heavier note, explore No Easy Answers by William Lane Craig, published by Moody Bible Institute back in 1990. This is now old, but so good for today’s edge. His subtitle is “Finding Hope in Doubt, Failure, and Unanswered Prayer.” For when you’re trying to figure out how to respond to life’s puzzles and hurts.
Craig deals with issues that relate to my dissertation’s research on suffering and joy. His chapter on failure is helpful because he deals with failure that is not a result a result of sin (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life, which is more commonly addressed in other works as sources of failure, truly so). He addresses failure that is not related to the sow-reap principle, which is hurtfully puzzling and spiritually disorienting. While he doesn’t fully develop this topic, he writes a beneficial chapter on it. He has two chapters on suffering and evil (including a helpful syllogism) and a chapter on hell. He approaches heavy topics without the heavy hand of theologically technical vocabulary or dense development. He has so much more available on his website: ReasonableFaith.org.
We live on this moment’s edge. Moment by moment. Edge to edge. How are we preparing for the next edge and the next? What builds us up? Reading aloud on a winter evening is so much better than watching angst agitating TV news all evening. Each moment we are experiencing God’s goodness (are we not breathing?); thank You, Lord! God wants to use everything in our lives to mature us in Christ. And reading good things is one way: it feeds. Hearing and reading God’s Word builds our faith (Romans 10:17). Reading good literature enriches our lives (Philippians 4:8). Yes, I’m standing on life’s edge, but I’m supported — standing on the good books/Book.
PS: I haven’t forgotten! I am going to publish a chart or inventory list (as mentioned in the last post) to be used as a tool to help us decide what to read, to help us evaluate the benefit (lack thereof, or harm) of a given book to our lives. It is partially done. I have another article to post before I post this tool.