Monthly Archives: August 2007

A Few Good Tales

Per Emily’s request in a previous comment, I thought I’d post a short list of my absolute favorite books. This one is entirely fiction, mostly novels with a few children’s tales thrown in for their rare quality of wonder. God in his mercy knew I would need story to come to terms with life and godliness and to be honest, these tales have been some of my most poignant spiritual mentors. But they are also my rest and delight, my comfort after long, dusty days, my friends in the twilight of evening. You probably know many of these, but perhaps you’ll find a new literary adventure, and that is always worthwhile.

Elizabeth Goudge
Pilgrim’s Inn
Gentian Hill
The Dean’s Watch

Penelope Wilcock
The Hawk and the Dove

E.M. Almedingen
Ellen
Katia

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Return to Rhythm

I always underestimate the amount of time it takes to get back into the literal swing of things. Travel is such a whirling dance of its own that it always takes me a bit of time to change tunes and rhythm and enter back into the slower, but oh so beautiful song of home life. It has taken me all my growing up years of travel to get the hang of the re-entry process, of going from whirling dervish to quiet soul, but I’m finally learning to simply let the first couple of weeks slip by in gentleness. No desperate plunges back into schedule, no mad attempts at huge feats of thought or discipline, just gradual quieting of hours and spirit.

It helps to have a good book or two to aid the calming process and I’ve had two great literary companions to walk with me through these days. So I thought I would share them with you. I know I am greatly lacking in posts of late, but I can’t seem to pull my thoughts into coherency yet. So for now, I hope you’ll enjoy the thoughts of these other writers whose rich thought has so comforted me.

First is a novel. Let me just say that I find a good story to be one of the most comforting gifts in God’s good creation. Stories at their richest enter into our lives as we read them, companioning our thoughts, mirroring the joy, the struggle of our lives in the every day. The Hawk and the Dove is just such a book. It was actually given to me by a friend who so loved the story that she had a copy sent to me just for fun. I had put it in my “to read at a future date when I’m not so crazy” pile, but had another friend in England claim it as her favorite book in the world. So, on returning home and needing a good story to walk me through jet lag, I picked it up. And now it is my friend. It is a collection of tales told by a modern day mother to her daughter, all centering on the life of Father Peregrine, Abbot of St. Alcuin’s Monastery in the 13th century. These are quiet stories, tales of the soul as they probe the inner lives and thoughts of the monks who have promised to give their lives to love of Christ. There is drama to be sure, but each struggle and excitement ends in the “Great Silence” of the monastery at night, when the characters enter deep into the territory of soul. Each story is mirrored in the life of the modern day girl to whom they are told, and also, in mine. The stories stick with me, catch at my thought and conviction. They bring me joy. They remind me why loving God really is the root of all life.

The second book is one I have used for several years called simply Celtic Daily Prayer. (Written and compiled by the Northumbria Community.) It is a much-simplified version of the daily prayer practiced in many more liturgical traditions. In the past couple of years, I have discovered a grace in the liturgy and fixed-hour prayer of the Anglican tradition. While not replacing a more personal form of prayer, these common, daily prayers have helped me to set a rhythm of sacred thought. Morning and evening (when I can manage it) I come just for a few minutes and however distracted I am, I can center my mind on the words of the liturgy before me. A mix of Scripture and old Celtic blessings, the prayers can be said quickly if needed. There are daily readings of Scripture and short contemplations to accompany them. Sometimes I linger, sometimes I rush through. But I find that they help me to return to a rhythm of life in God, of waking up to praise, and kneeling before sleep to bless my God.

So there you have it; my remedy for re-entry into the steady dance of home life. Combine that with a steady procession of hot cups of tea, daily strolls in fresh air and meals with the family and the re-entry process should be quite easy. A return to rhythm is always a good thing. Happy summer day my friends.

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A thought to mull…

Captain O’Hara’s ideas of God were peculiar to himself. His God spoke with the voice of winds and waters, sat enthroned among the snows, crowned with the stars, His sword the lightning and his shield the sun. His garment was the green of upland forests and kneeling amongst the bladed wheat, amongst the flowers and grass, one touched the hem of it. And with this God, one fought for physical existence and was lamed and scarred by the fight even as Jacob; and with the pain of fighting, though Captain O’Hara could not have explained how, one somehow bought one’s soul.

-Elizabeth Goudge in Green Dolphin Street (One of my favorite authors and her description of a weathered sea captain with a soul as big as the ocean he sailed. It set me thinking this morning. Thought you might enjoy it too.)

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“Beauty, ah, beauty…”

So says Lottie, my favorite character in the book Enchanted April as she wanders the slopes round the Italian castle she has rented for a month. Those words came so many times to my mind in the past week, because there just isn’t much else to say about the Lake District. It really is every bit as breathtakingly gorgeous as I’d heard. I began to feel silly at points because I just couldn’t stop myself from muttering “it’s so beautiful,” under my breath every few minutes, as if saying it could somehow explain it’s loveliness. (I am quite sure Joel was very tempted to say “yes, I know Sarah, you said that five times five minutes ago,”, but he very kindly refrained). Pictures of course, cannot do it justice, but I thought you should at least glimpse this world, simply because it’s beauty was so restorative to the soul. Enjoy.

 

The first picture at the very, very top was the goal of a delightful scramble we took up from the doorstep of Hill Top Farm, the home of Beatrix Potter. It was an old road leading up through farm fields and windswept lakes to the vista you see above. The picture directly above is the idyllic home of Wordsworth, where he lived with his family during his years as poet laureate. The first picture below is near Hill Top, with a glimpse of the old stone walls that twine round the hills everywhere you look. The second one was taken on a particularly dappled day when we got a bit camera happy. Joel beat a very determined sheep to the top of the hill to claim it as king.

 

And the last, straight below, is from our day in Grasmere. On a whim, we took a twining old road up the mountain and ended up hiking for two hours. I could do that for days. When we stumbled upon this hillside of giant ferns, it was a bit like walking into a story book, we couldn’t resist acting just a bit like fairies ourselves and peeking out from our hiding spots. So there you have a glimpse. More thoughts to come when I can finally finish unpacking and get my head to stop spinning. Meanwhile, enjoy the last of these golden summer days. And, of course, I hope you find a bit of that “beauty, ah beauty,” yourselves.

 

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Home

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
Wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness,
Protect you through the storm,
May he bring you home rejoicing,
At the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing,
Once again into our doors.

Well, I’ve made it back rejoicing. And oh its good to step through these doors. I’ll write again soon, but meanwhile, peace to all of you wherever your home may be.

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Skies and Souls

After an absolutely exhausting two days of ceaseless scurrying (frenzied packing, walking (or running, depending on how late we were for our train, exploring (hah!) the maze of the Underground and generally trying to be in two places at once) I fell sound asleep yesterday on the last leg of our journey north. We are spending two days in the Lake District as a gala ending to our trip and I had snuggled into my seat, jammed my earphones into my ears, curled up with my jacket and fallen asleep to the rhythmic sway of the train. It would be charitable to say I was tired and slightly irritated; in truth I was exhausted and long past even basic civility. And so I slept.

I woke to a dimmer light and the lazy clack of the slowing wheels as we pulled into one of our last stations. I glanced out the window, but I did not glance away. We had entered different country as I slept and as the train sped off again, my eyes were caught in gladness by the gradual swell of hills, of pattern-straight fields of deepest green flecked with sheep, the moody blue of a late summer sky edged with storm and the coming of dusk. My pulse, body and soul, began to slow.

We had an hour’s wait to change trains at one whistle-stop of a station and so hiked up the road to the village pub for fish and chips. I stepped out into the evening and felt awake and fuller of energy than I had all day. We began to walk. Our path led through a darkling forest of tangled vines and gnarled old trees that kindled an unexpected excitement in us and by the time we reached the pub we were chatting with an energy that had eluded us for days. We had our superbly fried fish and set back off down the hill to catch the last train.

And we were suddenly laughing. I laugh now to think of us last night, caught in an unexpected giddiness of life as we nearly skipped back down that curved ribbon of a road. There was crisp air all around us and we were gulping deep breaths of it, our eyes feasting on shadowy fields, our heads nodding to the rhythm of our feet and the friendly nods of the occasional driver. We were almost shocked at ourselves. And yet, for days we had been in the busy city, rushing to and fro, with barely an extra minute for hush in the morning or rest at even. And suddenly we were suffused with country stillness. In a way, it is unexplainable, but we felt so abruptly alive again. As if we had been half asleep with craze and modernity and were suddenly awake with fresh air; with hearty meals and unfettered hills.

It just got better at our B&B where we were greeted by our landlord Dick with a happy climb up to our attic nook and good cups of hot chocolate. We awoke this morning to misty skies and grey, brooding mountains and an impossibly big traditional English breakfast (which, for the uninitiated, means bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, tea and fruit). With that sort of energy, we’ll be roaming the hills all day.

But before we go, I wanted to write something here, for there is a welling up of life in me that surprises me with it’s vivacity. I didn’t realize how tired I had gotten. There are so many great things about this summer, I have learned and talked and grappled with ideas. But I didn’t realize how hungry I was for beauty and for rest until my whole self revived in the darkling beauty of last evening. How much I missed sky and long walks and quiet hours. But more importantly, how quickly my spirit was re-nourished simply by the site and contemplation of God’s lovely earth. For it is in large part the beauty, the tangible presence of wind and open air that livens my soul. I have woken today with a sense of being sated for the first time in awhile; as if the sight of fields and the enjoyment of creation could fill up a hunger in me, as if quiet could satisfy my thirst. That’s something to think about for awhile.

Perhaps I’ll muse on it as I wander my own wild hill in the mysterious mist…

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Pictures

Joel, the picture-expert-guy of the two of us, has set up a photo blog where he is posting some of the pictures from our trip. He’s a great photographer anyway (we spent a good two hours in the Cambridge Botanical Gardens snapping away last weekend) but has also taken it upon himself to document at least a few shots of our stomping grounds over the summer. So, instead of posting myself, I’m going to send you over to Joel’s blog to catch a glimpse of our favorite scenes.

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