What I’ve been up to [May]

Reading




A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle–I’ve been working my way through this book for a few months now. L’Engle writes meditatively and beautifully about life and art and faith. It’s a bit all over the place, as her non fiction works tend to be, so it’s hard to describe–but I do know that this book gave me hope. She has a great deal of faith that the best way to live is to do our best, to live well in the small things we’re given, and to search out beauty and quiet and love. I need those reminders.

Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber–A fascinating nonfiction look at women’s work in the ancient Mediterranean world, specifically weaving, which made up a huge chunk of that work. Barber looked at various bits of evidence to draw a picture of how weaving worked and developed over time. It was a great reminder that so much that we take for granted now used to take mind-blowing amounts of work.

The Dangers of Temptation by James Runcie–One of the Sydney Chambers mystery books. I love these books, because they’re as much about Sydney’s life as a pastor, husband, father, and friend as they are about the mysteries he solves (each book contains six short stories/mysteries). We get to see each step of working through the mystery but also Sydney’s struggles to not be overwhelmed by everything else going on in his life. They’re relaxing, even soothing, because Sydney is really wonderful to read about and I love how much they’re about everyday life.

Goldenhand by Garth Nix–OH. MY. GOODNESS. What a wonderful addition to the Sabriel series!! We finally get to return to the stories of Lirael, Nicholas, and Sameth. It was beyond satisfying to see their stories tied up a bit more (and tangled a bit more), and the characters are all real-feeling and funny, and I got so invested! (I yelled at the characters a lot, but to be fair they’re pretty sensible characters and mostly don’t need it. I just get invested!) It was so easy to slip back into this world, but also great to see entirely new parts of it and meet new characters. Seriously, read the whole series (but in order!).

A Woman of Consequence by Anna Dean–I couldn’t resist when I saw that this was a Jane Austen-style mystery–and it was as good as it sounds. Dean did a wonderful job of capturing that Austen style of speech and description, and in true Austen fashion the characters and relationships took up as much, if not more, page time and thought as did the mystery. Dido Kent, the main character, was fun and spunky but also felt period appropriate in her beliefs and actions (other than maybe solving mysteries in the first place?). So much fun!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson–This was another fascinating book. Robinson imagines a world a few hundred years in the future when humanity has spread through most of the solar system and is in various stages of terraforming and colonizing planets, moons, and asteroids. He imagines all this in ways I’ve never seen done before, though: people get around the solar system by hitching rides on terraformed asteroids, for instance, that are full of various combinations of earth biomes, animals, and plants. Humans have undergone various genetic and physical changes as they’ve adapted to space and adapted themselves to increase life spans. Earth has accumulated problems and poverty as the rest of humanity has escaped to the rest of the solar system. He has a very good grasp of science that makes the future he imagines seem plausible, and a beautiful, wonderful writing style. It was a brick of a book, though, with a slow, sloooow plot that took frequent detours. It worked, really, for the book as a whole, but I did lose interest in the middle and pause in my reading for a few weeks. I was glad I picked it back up and finished it, even if the ending was a bit of a let-down after all of the build-up of the mystery (the solution was unexpectedly normal). But still, it was beautiful and fascinating and different from any other sci fi I’ve read.

Watching

Not too much (yes!). I’ve been working my way through Arrow, and rewatching bits of Grey’s Anatomy and Leverage. But nothing’s been blowing me away this month.

Listening

To podcasts, of course! I’m trying not to add any new podcasts, since my playlist is a bit overwhelming right now. But I’ve been especially enjoying BBC’s Newshour, which covers worldwide news. I’ve been going through some interesting-sounding old On Being episodes too, and they have had some amazing guests. Parker Palmer has been on there so many times! 

Music-wise… Maddie & Tae and Priscilla Ahn are two of my favorite modern artists that I’ve been rediscovering. Favorite songs: Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” and “Fly”, (but also “Shut up and Fish”) and Priscilla Ahn’s “A Good Day (Morning Song)” and “Dream”.

Doing

The weather here has been really wonderful, with nice temperatures and a mix of rain and sun. I’ve enjoyed getting to live with the windows open and walking everywhere possible.


Look who I found on my walk to the library!

Walking almost everywhere means I get to laugh at our local Canada geese and their attitude–especially because they left me alone!



Basically, I will never tire of finding flowers in unexpected places.



My best friend in town finished her thesis this month, and so we went out to celebrate together (a few times, really). But there are just so many interesting restaurants to check out! I got a German chocolate donut covered in chocolate chips, whipped cream, chocolate mouse, and drizzled chocolate, for instance. Hers had vanilla Oreos and raspberries.

And, of course, I’ve been spending lots of time in my local library, researching sermons and writing and just having a quiet place to work and be.



Writing

I had a devotion published in the Upper Room about God as a mother, and then wrote a blog post for them about my own mother.

If you’re curious about the idea of God as a mother, check out my blog post exploring the idea a bit more. I also wrote about craving quiet and the joys of reading again.


 

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into. Go and check out what other people did this May!

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Clouds

The sun blared down, drowning out colors and sharpening shapes and flattening everything into paper cutouts giving off shimmering heatwaves that were liquid rainbow invisible.

“It would be better if there were clouds,” Jenn groaned.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Brian retorted, languid as a heat-overwhelmed lizard. “Then it would just be humid, too.”

“I can’t believe we moved here,” she groaned (something that happened at least once a day). As always, she looked at the house, fake adobe with just enough texture that everyone could pretend it wasn’t mass produced. It was worse in there, of course, but she could wish they had a working air conditioning or even a swamp cooler. Or that there were clouds—they were in the shade anyway, of course, in the bush-sized mesquite tree’s shelter, but at least clouds would keep the sun from heating everything to a burns-at-the-touch heat that radiated back at them all as the day went on.

“When do classes start?”

“August 10. Why are you reminding me?”

“Because you can always go up there and use the library for … something. That’s air conditioned.”

“I don’t even have money for the bus. I just got fired, remember?”

“What about the corner store?”

“They kick you out after ten minutes. And I know it’s only a block away, but walking in this heat is not worth ten minutes.” Even sitting in the shade was exhausting; the heat seemed to suck her energy dry as the desert air. She’d thought Pittsburgh summers were bad—but days like this, she’d give anything to have humidity paired with below-90 weather! She’d even take back the snow and ice and awful driving.

“I’m gonna go get us some water.”

“’Kay.” Even Brian moved slowly, as if through tar—of course, the street outside had almost liquefied back to tar. The reminder didn’t help.

The heat weighed her down; memories of summers back home, of garden beds bursting with flowers and vegetables and of that special fresh, dewy smell of summer mornings as the sun came up, would have made her cry if not for the sucking heat. Perhaps that night, tossing and turning and slithering with sweat.

She fingered the keychain she’d gotten on her first day of work—even the cheap plastic was hot! This state—she didn’t finish the thought, couldn’t think of anything serious enough.

Could you drown in heat? It was suffocating.

“How do you survive?” Brian was back; he handed her a chipped pink plastic glass, then sat down with his own blue one, misshapen by a broken dishwasher years ago.

“You get used to it, I guess,” he shrugged. “And never do anything once the sun comes up unless it’s dire.”

“When do you have to go to work?”

“A few hours.”

“Thanks for coming by to hang out. I really appreciate it.”

“Sure,” he shrugged. “No problem.”

“I mean it.”

“Me, too. I miss seeing you around.”

“I just got fired,” Jenn corrected, but she was almost laughing for a second.

“I am sorry about that.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know. But still.”

They both let the heat crush them for a few minutes. Jenn drank most of the water in one prolonged series of gulps. It was a relief to set it down; her fingers were sticky-slick with sweat. “This is stupid, okay? Don’t laugh at me.”

“Okay,” Jenn promised as Brian stood up.

“I found these on the kitchen counter inside, and I thought you could use a cloud.” He held up a cotton ball, pulled apart to resemble a mythically perfect cloud, complete with wispy edges. His hand turned dark with the sun’s intensity, his fingers stuck out oddly, and the cotton-ball cloud was far too solid when placed against the porcelain sky—but she smiled.

“It’s not stupid.”


 

Thanks for reading! I wrote this as part of Rosalie Valentine’s The Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. Head there over the weekend to see what else people wrote for the challenge.

EDIT: Here is a link to all of the entries to the Dash.

And, for the curious, here is my prompt for the story:

Cloud

 

Quiet

Lately I’ve been craving quiet. I don’t necessarily mean lack of noise; I mean more a lack of technological noise, a space to think. Sometimes that has looked like a lack of noise, turning off podcasts and music and videos for a bit to just be. Sometimes it’s looked like reading a book instead of watching something. Sometimes it’s looked like going for a walk.

It surprised me. I haven’t been avoiding things by drowning them out with TV marathons. I haven’t been shoving them into games I didn’t really want to play. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, but those are about learning and listening, not avoiding. I guess I forgot that they’re still noise. There’s still beauty and space in quiet, even when I’m filling my quiet with good things. 

So I read a book. I went for a walk, and instead of putting a podcast on just observed. I thought about my upcoming sermon, and bumble bees, and summer plans, and poetry. It wasn’t frantic; everything slowed down in a way that normally only writing can accomplish. 

I’m not going to make promises I won’t keep and say that I’m going to always look for more quiet now. But it’s been really nice, and I hope I can keep seeking out the quiet in my life. I hope I can be a little less frantic and hit pause sometimes.

On Reading Again

Reading has been hard over the last few months. I love reading, and I missed it, but I just couldn’t find a book that either sounded interesting or kept me interested. 

The amount of TV I’ve been watching didn’t help. For me, watching TV and reading a book are two entirely different experience: a book invites you in, to imagination and experiences and emotions. TV is, for the most part, a much more passive experience: there is nothing to imagine, no connections to make. There is only what is, playing out on the screen in front of you. And I know that’s not entirely fair: TV invites us into fully imagined worlds and visceral experiences that aren’t possible in books. But I find books far more participatory and inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, I have finally begun to read again. On a day when I was being kind to myself, I went to a public library and checked out a few books that sounded interesting. I did the same a few days ago, leaving with an impossibly large stack of books. There’s no way I’ll read them all before they’re due. But I had a few books in mind, and I had a lovely conversation with two librarians who recommended several more. It all made me feel generous. I may as well! And then I went home and read until midnight because one book was just so incredibly wonderful. I could have put it down, but I didn’t have any plans for the night, and it was such a fun book: I did a lot of laughing, and a lot of moaning and whisper-screaming at the characters. I still haven’t returned it; I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I don’t quite want to let it go just yet. 

Trying new books has felt too risky. I’m giving up time and emotions to something that might be awful. It might have a message that I hate. It might be just mediocre. 

But right now that risk feels OK. 

God Talk

I have a very vivid memory of that moment: grass too green to imagine, framed and dotted by lush trees and a few brick buildings. I was in the car with an acquaintance; I don’t remember where we were going. I just remember sitting next to her, watching the cultivated college landscape go by as she drove down the winding road and said about the most recent speaker, “She said she thinks of God as She.” 

I didn’t quite know what to do with that; neither did she, to be fair. It was an idea she played with as we drove, and I listened. 

That’s the moment that keeps coming back to me as I think about God as mother.* That wasn’t the moment when I accepted it, or even heard of this idea. I think it was the moment where the idea of God as feminine became a possibility, or maybe even the seed of an idea. 

If you’re curious about this idea, feel free to check out my devotion.* Here‘s another personal narrative of seeing God as mother. This article offers a good overview of Biblical sources that describe God as mother, and this site has a pretty comprehensive list of verses.


*They’ll ask for a login to see the devotional I wrote, since it’s been a few days since it posted–but it’s completely free to create one if you don’t already have one, and I never get unwanted emails from them. Don’t freak out!

Speaking of freaking out: there’s also no need to freak out about all this God-as-feminine talk. As the Creator of both male and female (Genesis 1:26), both genders reflect God but God has no gender. And so I prefer to use no pronouns at all to refer to God–but that also means that it makes sense to use imagery and ideas of and about both genders to talk about God.

What I’m Into (April 2017)

Reading

Oh, boy. It was a good reading month; I read a lot of amazing books. I finished both The Iliad and The Odyssey this month, and loved them both. The writing was beautiful, and I loved the metaphors because they gave such a glimpse into life of the time–they were full of images of herding and weaving and all these tasks we never think about today. I love those reminders that life was so different in ways that we don’t even think about, like the hours and hours and hours of work it took to weave cloth (let alone harvesting of the fiber, cleaning it, spinning it, and maybe dyeing it) or prepare food. And both books were full of very strong, human emotions and characters.

I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. What a powerful story. It was so well-written that I had to pause from reading every ten chapters or so; the emotions were just so vivid, even overwhelming. Offred was such a poignant, self-aware, and observant narrator. It was a good (and by good I mean haunting) example of how religious legalism often isn’t about religion at all; in the official religion there was no mention of Jesus, and barely any, really, of God. I was so blown away/horrified/intrigued by it that I held on to my library copy for an extra week, because I couldn’t quite bear to give it up, and have now spent several hours discussing it with various friends. I’d love to do some more of that, if anyone’s interested; seriously, leave a comment or email me.  I’m now intrigued by the Hulu show; I don’t have any way to watch it right now, but I’ve heard really good things. Anyone else seen it?

And I’m in the middle of a few other good books that I’ll save for next month.

Listening

This month I intentionally searched out fiction-based podcasts, and I found some amazing ones.

Clarkesworld Magazine regularly posts short stories from their magazine (science fiction and fantasy). They’re always narrated beautifully, and they’re really interesting stories.

Escape Pod also posts short stories from their magazine. They’re just sci fi, but they have really cool noise effects and good narrators.

ars PARADOXICA is a time travel story (yes, please!), which unlike the others is one long story continued in episode form. So far it’s been creepy and fascinating, and I love our spunky scientist narrator.

The Bright Sessions is another longer story, told entirely through recordings made by a psychologist trying to treat multiple patients with special abilities. It has such good voice acting! The wider plot has been slow-moving so far, but the characters are interesting enough to keep me listening.

Welcome to Night Vale has such a dry sense of humor and I love it. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to start listening to this; a lot of people I really trust listen. I thought it always sounded weird, honestly, which is true, but it’s also hilarious and strange and fascinating. Although I’m not sure if it’s fiction so much as a series of shorts set in the same town?

Whew! I really got into fiction podcasts this month!

Watching

The Arrow, because I finally got on board that particular fan train. I’m really enjoying it, because the novelty of having an intelligent character who makes overall good decisions is just too good to pass up. Besides, season 2 of Supergirl isn’t on Netflix yet.

Writing

I had an article published on Off the Page, on finding God in nature.

On the blog, I wrote about my Lent disciplines this year.

I did a lot of personal writing, and a lot of writing that hasn’t been published yet. I worked on a short story that I’m super excited about. I submitted to a lot of magazines, and so it looks like it was pretty quiet on this front, but I got quite a bit done.

Doing

Lots of dogsitting! I don’t have anyone’s permission to post pictures of their dogs, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they were all adorable and so sweet (if not always obedient).

Carnegie-Mellon has a gorgeous campus; I walked around for half an hour, taking a phone call, and otherwise spent an afternoon buried in the library getting work done.


I enjoyed the fact that the weather has been warm and the plants are starting to grow and bloom again–so much so that I have no pictures of that, either! But it’s been wonderful.

That’s it for this month!

 

I’m linking up with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer.

Seeing God [Off the Page]

Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.

That rainbow mountain was why I was here.


 

I’ve always loved nature and seen God in it. Well, almost always. There were a few years there where that wasn’t quite true, and today I’m over at Off the Page telling my story of seeing God in nature, especially in those few years.

(You may especially enjoy it if you love hearing about flowers, bees, mountains, beautiful nature things…)