"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Life in a Bibliography

Phew... It's been a while!  This has been a long  month and a difficult one in some ways.  But here's a glimpse at my life in a bibliography:

Charles Williams.  Descent Into Hell.

Um.  Wow.  This book.  Yeah.  Wow.

The story follows three main characters: a single young woman named Pauline Anstruther who has come to the community of Battle Hill, a suburb of London, to life with her aging grandmother; a middle-aged historical scholar named Lawrence Wentworth who faces a turning point in his professional and personal lives; and the ghost of a construction worker who committed suicide in Wentworth's house while it was being built.

I suppose I should say that of the Williams novels that I've read so far, I found this one the most difficult to read.  There are long passages of character development and description where I felt disoriented as a reader, not to mention terrified.  The early chapters read almost as a ghost story, with horrifying and spooky details.  But these difficulties probably have a great deal to do with my place in life right now.  I often read alone at night to pass the time as I'm getting Lucy to settle.  I'm tired these days and this book is definitely intense, demanding your full attention.  I often felt disturbed and unsettled as I read through those early pages.  The Wentworth story never quite rises out of this horror as he chooses a path that descends into Hell, but Pauline's story takes instead a glorious turn toward salvation.

The most amazing thing about this novel, for me, was that I found it strongly spiritually convicting.  Pauline, an unhappy woman haunted by what seems to be a ghost of her own self, becomes involved with putting on a play by the famous playwright Peter Stanhope.  She has never told anyone about the visions she has of her own self following her, but she is afraid to go anywhere alone because of it.  In a breathtaking exchange of dialogue as they are working on the play, Pauline finally confesses to Stanhope her problem and he does something remarkable, he offers to bear her burden of fear.  After a back and forth from an incredulous Pauline, who can't believe that someone could offer to lift fear off her shoulders and carry it himself.  But she agrees to it anyway, with raised eyebrows and to her own astonishment finds when she walks home that her fear is gone.  For the first time in years, she feels free.  Williams calls this chapter "The Doctrine of Substituted Love."

Now, setting aside the awkwardness of such an intimately spiritual (though apparently platonic) relationship between an older male and a single female, this exchange convicted me because I've been clutching my burdens to myself lately, trying to save face.  Williams points out (through Stanhope) that sharing your own burdens gives you the strength to take on the burdens of others in need.  I needed to hear this, because too often I attempt to take on extra burdens without letting go of my own first.  I'll leave it at that, but this passage rose strong and clear out of the fog of struggling to understand other passages in this book.  And it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Luci Swindoll. Simple Secrets to a Happy Life.

The beauty of this book by Luci Swindoll is precisely its simplicity. In a modern world complicated by the impulse to be frantically busy and infinitely productive, Luci's wise voice reminds us to slow down and remember what is really important. Family is important. So is doing work that you love. Luci reminds us to laugh, to keep lists of what we've done and would like to do, to have hobbies, and to approach life with excitement. I'm glad for her perspective as one further down the road than I. Too many days I'm sucked into a false impression of life, spending too much time on social media or in deep theological reflection and not enough time with people.  Luci is a vibrant example of the active, joyful life.  I wanna be like her when I grow up!

I will say that this book, while wise and profound, is not intended to be deep theological reflection.  It has short, simple chapters and anecdotal use of scripture.  But Luci's wild ride of a life as a single Christian woman is fun to hear about.

Interestingly though these books are two different ends of the spectrum, I think Luci would agree with William's Doctrine of Substituted Love.  She has many stories in the book about the importance of being sensitive and loving toward other people caring for them and giving them joy.  Funny how both books went together in a way.

**Special thanks to Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program for providing this review copy of Simple Secrets in exchange for an honest review.**

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