Books of 2013

At the beginning of 2013, I got out a brand new journal and began to record the books I finished throughout the year.  I didn’t intend to read a book a week, but at 11:30 pm on New Year’s Eve, through bleary eyes, I finished and recorded the last one.  And it wasn’t a “book a week”—some took a LONG time to read, and some were quick, but over the course of a year, I finished 52.

 

I enjoyed keeping the list, and it helped me to be more disciplined in my reading.  I always start a lot more books than I finish, but I finished more this year because of the list.

 

I’ve had numerous people tell me that I inspired them to get back to reading.  Reading books does take some inspiration, some desire, some motivation.  Spending an hour skimming the internet is easier than concentrating on a book.  There are important and worthwhile things to read on the internet, but I am a richer person for reading books.

 

Many people have asked me to share my list.  I personally love hearing what other people are reading and a good deal of what I do read online is book reviews!   I won’t list all 52, but I went through and picked ten—not necessarily the “best”, but ones I did very much enjoy and would recommend widely, some of which are pretty obscure and not likely to be discovered or read without a recommendation.  And of course, the “ten” turned out to be “eleven”—because I never did like being put in a box.  :-)

 

1.To the Field of Stars by Kevin Codd    We watched the film “The Way” with Martin Sheen a couple of years ago, and I have become fascinated by the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino is a 500-mile ancient pilgrimage route through the northern part of Spain, and I so want to do it!  I have researched and read several books on the Camino, but Kevin’s memoir is by far my favorite.  Probably my most enjoyable book of 2013, and also the very first one.  You will feel like you’ve been on the Camino with Kevin when you’re finished, and that’s a very satisfying feeling.

 

2. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz     How about a little Egyptian existentialism?  No, it’s not what it sounds like!  Mahfouz, the 1988 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, wrote this series of three novels about a multi-generational Muslim family living in Cairo in the first half of the 20th century.  The series was 1300 pages long, but I read the first two books the summer before, and then went back and finished the third.  I always say the mark of truly good literature is whether is stays with you, and I’ll truly never forget this story.  Mahfouz created such real characters—reminiscent of Tolstoy, and I do put this book right up there with Anna Karenina.

 

3. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin  I knew this book was a classic, and that I’d have to read it sometime.  I first read it two years ago, and had to reread it again.  It’s a book about religion during the Harlem Renaissance, and shows how sometimes the people who claim to know God the most are the farthest from him. Both Modern Library and Time Magazine rate this book in the top 100 20th century English language novels.  I absolutely agree!

 

4. Sister Wendy on Prayer by Wendy Beckett   This book was a gift to me, and I would never have read it on my own.  I loved it and shared it with friends.   I’ll probably read it again in 2014.  Sister Wendy is a cloistered Catholic nun who has devoted her life to prayer, and also to the study of art.  Twenty years ago she came out of seclusion to record several television series for the BBC on art.  Her thoughts on prayer are profound.  Her interview with Bill Moyers (available in parts on youtube) is priceless.  I want to be just like Sister Wendy when I grow up!  (except for the celibacy—I really want to keep my husband!!)

 
5. Escape from Camp 14 by Blake Hardin  I saw the story on “60 Minutes” of a young man born in a North Korean prison camp who escaped at age 23, and immediately got the book.  This young man grew up thinking the entire world was like the camp—devoid of adequate food, devoid of freedom, devoid of family life, devoid of love.  The interview was fascinating, and the book even more so.  When asked on television if he had indeed grown up not knowing what love was, he answered that he still wasn’t sure he knew.  It is hard to imagine an entire country under this oppression, but we need to imagine it.  We need to be aware, not to close our eyes to suffering.

 

6. Telling Secrets–Frederick Buechner   I love memoirs, and I love Frederick Buechner.  This is the second of four memoirs Buechner has, and I’ve read them all more than once.   I read two of them in 2013, and I will read them again.  They are that good.  But you MUST start with The Sacred Journey!

 

7. When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd   I found this 20 year old book just this year, and it is a jewel—a reflective memoir of the journey toward spiritual wholeness.  I am going through it again right now, slowly.  Incidentally, I am also reading Sue Monk Kidd’s brand new fiction book, The Invention of Wings, which is, as I type, selling at #12 in the nation on Amazon.   It was tough to put that book down to work on this list, but I did it.

 

8. Half-Life: Reflections from Jerusalem on a Broken Neck by Joshua Prager  I don’t remember how I stumbled on Joshua Prager’s TED talk, but it moved me incredibly.  Watch it.  You might be inspired afterwards to get his book.  It’ll make you think about forgiveness, and the cost of living in a broken world.  This book was, surprisingly to me, available only on Kindle.  As far as I know, it wasn’t a best seller, but it should have been.  It made me think of Bauby’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” also an unforgettable book.

 

9. Two-Part Invention by Madeleine l’Engle   I first met Madeleine L’Engle when I was in the fourth grade, and the librarian on the bookmobile that came to my school had put the new book “A Wrinkle in Time” back just for me.  I’m so glad.  That book is a favorite, and so is Madeleine L’Engle.  Two-Part Invention is the fourth volume of her Crosswick Series, and yes, you should start with the first one, A Circle of Quiet, or maybe even A Wrinkle in Time!  I know Madeleine intimately, she is a dear friend.  Of course, she doesn’t know me, we’ve only met in her books, but that’s enough.

 
10. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry   2013 was a year for re-reading books.  I don’t generally do that, but there are some books I cannot imagine only reading once.  I first read Hannah about seven years ago.  Don’t tell me Hannah’s not ‘”real”—she’s my dear friend and mentor who has taught me much about life.   Good literature is not mere entertainment, but can help us to see the world from the perspective of other people.  Wendell Berry, her “creator,” is an accomplished writer and wordsmith who has created an entire world in a fictional county in Kentucky.   I am astounded that this old man, a tobacco farmer, can know the thoughts of a woman as well as he evidently does.  I have read and loved most of his novels.  And I also love his poetry—my favorite poetry book is “Given” which I incidentally gave as a birthday present a couple of months ago!

 
11.   (BONUS!) Preparing for Christmas; Devotions for Advent by Richard Rohr   Yes, it was this book of Advent devotions that I got behind on and finished on New Year’s Eve, but they would be so good anytime.  Rohr is a Franciscan priest who teaches on the contemplative life, on moving beyond flat, us vs them thinking.  He challenges me, and it’s good to be challenged!  I best like reading Richard Rohr in bite-size pieces, so a daily devotional is perfect.  And Lent is coming!

 

I’d love to hear from any of my friends who “take and read” one of my recommendations.  Happy New Year!!!

 

Book Review: A Song for Nagasaki

A Song For Nagasaki
The Story of Takashi Nagai
Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb
by Paul Glynn

I stayed up late a week ago to finish this astounding book, totally mesmerized.  I had never heard this story, or known almost anything about Christianity in Japan.  It is a tragedy that this man isn’t more widely known.

Takashi Nagai, born into a Shintoist family in Japan in 1908, became a medical doctor specializing in radiology.  He had become an atheist as he grew into adulthood, but through much seeking, and against the wishes of his beloved father, became a believer in Jesus Christ and a convert to Catholicism.   He was greatly influenced by the writings of Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician who had also embraced Christianity.

Continue reading “Book Review: A Song for Nagasaki”

Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Tonight, while Brian spent yet another evening working on his new book, “Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness”, I watched a documentary called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.”

Eva Kor and her sister Miriam were identical ten year old Jewish twins, and because they were twins they were yanked from their mother as they stood in line to face the crematorium in Auschwitz, Poland. Their mother and every other family member perished. They were saved so that they could be used to be part of medical experiments, cruel barbaric acts of torture devised by a Nazi maniac physician named Dr. Mengele.

Eva’s fierce passion to live saved both her life and her sister’s life. Even though they were twins, Eva said she felt like Miriam’s mother, and when Eva, very sick in the infirmary, overheard a doctor say she wouldn’t live more than another two weeks, she knew that if she herself were to die, then Miriam would also have to die, murdered so that autopsies could be performed on both girls. Eva refused to give in to death, and did recover. Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians on January 27, 1945. Famous news footage shows a large group of young children, mostly twins hand in hand, walking out of their barbwire prison. Eva and Miriam are at the head of the procession.

The girls, who had been raised in Transylvania, were among the many Jewish refugees who found themselves in Palestine. They married men who had also been former prisoners, and while Miriam remained in Palestine, Eva and her husband relocated to Terre Haute, Indiana, where they raised three children, and Eva became a successful real estate agent.

Miriam, still in Palestine, had received injections by Dr. Mengele that caused severe kidney damage. (At one point, Eva would again save her life, becoming a live kidney donor.) A doctor told Eva that if he had access to Dr. Mengele’s records, he might be able to better treat Miriam. She began a crusade to try to locate those records, searching the world over. She never did find them, but her efforts caused her to become acquainted with a German physician who had been a Nazi and worked with Dr. Mengele.

Eva was learning that there was no future without forgiveness, and through a process of much soul searching, she forgave this doctor, and the two of them visited Auschwitz together. The film shows very dramatic footage of the two of them there, formalizing forgiveness and reconciliation. Other Jews who were present were not able to do the same thing. There was a lot of anger, a lot of emotion, but this little Jewish lady was a formidable preacher, a true Jewish mother, and campaigned for forgiveness. She said it is necessary to forgive so that we ourselves can be free. The film shows her engaged in heated dialogue with many different people, some Jews who could just not accept her call to forgive. They said it was too much, impossible.

There were debates about what is required in order to expect to receive this forgiveness. The different views expressed are very interesting, but you can’t help but notice that Eva has found a way to go on with life, while some of those who oppose forgiveness are bitter and unhappy. Eventually Eva decided that if she could forgive this doctor, she could also forgive Dr. Mengele. Even though he was dead and she couldn’t forgive him in person, she could choose to experience the freedom that forgiveness would bring. She forgave him.

There is nothing in this film to indicate that Eva, a Jew, has any identification with or understanding of the teachings of Christ. In fact, there are no “religious” reasons given for forgiveness, rather, it is the thing that humans must do in order to live. But whether or not it is intentional, she is following the teaching of Jesus, to love your enemies and forgive them.

She has traveled extensively, speaking to Jewish groups and student groups. With much determination and work, she singlehandedly opened in 1995 a Holocaust Museum at home in Terre Haute, Indiana, which was very well received by the community and had over 15,000 visitors in just a few years.

This movie should have ended there, but it didn’t. In 2003, this museum was burned and destroyed by an arsonist who has never been caught, undoubtedly a hate crime—the words, “remember Timmy McVeigh” spray-painted on the exterior of the building. The film shows heartbreaking footage of Eva walking through the burned out shell of her dream, but ends with the surprise announcement that in 14 months the museum was reopened in another, better location.

I was very moved watching this film, particularly the poignant end. Eva Kor didn’t only speak words of forgiveness, but demonstrated them. As an old woman, she didn’t say, “it’s too much.” She had enough forgiveness and faith to work to see her dead dream resurrected again, and rebuilt from ashes. How much did this woman forgive? I think seventy times seven.

The Grace Life Is

Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden part of it,
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.

—Frederick Buechner

Easter Sonrise

The day before Easter had been sunny, warm and beautiful, a perfect spring day. I had hopes for the same on Easter Sunday, and was awake to watch the sunrise. Sunrise on that sad morning 2,000 years ago was when the earth shook and everything changed forever–sunrise was the moment the Son of God rose from the dead.

The sky was brightening and at five minutes till seven an orange glow appeared on the eastern horizon. It grew and grew over the next couple of minutes, warming my heart as I watched. But then it began to shrink again, and soon disappeared behind the grey cloud that covered the entire sky. Those few minutes were the only time I saw the sun that entire day, as it remained overcast and later rained in the afternoon.

At first I was sad about the sunless day. But then I began to think how similar God’s own Son’s rising had been. Yes, the Son has risen. We have seen Him! He is here! His Kingdom is here! Who can deny that the Light has come? It’s no longer dark—as it had been dark at 3am, a few hours before. But on the other hand, it’s not what it’s going to be when someday God rolls away the clouds and we see Jesus in His fullness—the returning King come to set the world aright!

The Resurrection has begun. The New Age is upon us. Jesus began it, a few others in a cemetery in Jerusalem experienced it, but most of us are still living in hope and anticipation of the Resurrection to come. We are living in the in-between time, the time of walking by faith, the time when the Kingdom of God is more like an Impressionist painting than a photograph. The light has come, the glory of the LORD is upon us. The day IS dawning, and the Morning Star is rising in our hearts. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, and every year Easter becomes more beautiful as the realization of what God has done grows in me.

So Great a Salvation!


I can’t help remembering an episode of the reality TV show “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” I saw a couple of months ago. A man and a woman, beginning scuba divers, were left behind by their boat twenty miles out to sea. Swimming in the ocean and scuba diving freaks me out anyhow, not something I’m too keen on. It was a hopeless, scary situation. They prayed for rescue and just tried to hold on, but hours later, as night fell, it was apparent that nobody was going to come. They were hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and very, very afraid. They had to face a long dark night afloat in the ocean, fighting panic and exhaustion. They finally made the difficult decision to begin swimming in the direction of the land, knowing what a futile effort it was, and that their movement would create an attraction for sharks.

My stomach was in knots as I watched, and yes, the sharks did find them. They watched the dorsal fins circling about them, only imagining the size of the bodies beneath the water. They felt them brush against their feet, screaming in panicked desperation—there was no one who could save them. Miraculously, the sharks did not attack, and when, hours later, the sky begin to turn light and the sun arose, there was a brief time of increased hopefulness, which was quickly dashed after an hour of hard swimming seemed to get them no closer to the distant shore.

Hours later, however, exhausted, the shore did draw close. They were elated again, until they realized that the shore was not a gentle sand beach they could land on, but jagged cliffs that the waves were crashing into. Their bodies would be broken into pieces if they approached. Wrenching despair and disappointment and great fear…..but SUDDENLY!!!

A BOAT appeared out of nowhere. Fishermen, who saw them, and pulled up beside them, and hoisted their exhausted bodies out of the water, as they were too depleted to help themselves at all. They wrapped blankets around them and laid them in the bottom of the boat, gave them bottles of fresh water. And the poor man and woman were overcome with laughter, emotion draining from their bodies, not knowing anything else to do, they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Immediately, I thought of Psalm 126:

“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, It was like a dream!

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.

And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!”

And today, I also think of the disciples on Good Friday. They were devastated. Their ideas about the Messiah, this great revolutionary who was going to restore the fortunes of Israel, were dashed on the rocks. They had sacrificed everything, and it was all in vain. They were probably going to die with him too. There was no way out. There was no one to save. Their Messiah had failed, or so they thought.

Just a few days later, their King would rise from the dead, and they would begin to understand that they really hadn’t understood anything at all! I imagine they laughed, just like the stranded scuba divers, just like the exiled Israelites, the laughter of their world being turned upside down, or more correctly, turned rightside up. Their Savior had done it! Their Messiah had conquered death and the grave. And the story never gets old, as we celebrate once again the Resurrection of the Son of God and the victory of the cross. Thank you Jesus!!!!

Happy Birthday Philip!

It was late Saturday afternoon when I started baking Philip’s birthday cake. I’d had a ton of things to do, was just finishing up a brief phone conversation with my mother in law, and mentioned that the next thing on my list was baking the cake. She laughed and said, “Don’t you just love being the mom!” And I said, emphatically, “YES!” I’m glad I’ve got a son to bake a cake for—he’s seventeen and a joy.

His is always a dark chocolate buttermilk sheet cake, one I’ve made over and over again, but this time, I messed up and didn’t cook the cocoa long enough in the butter before putting all the other ingredients in. It didn’t dissolve and I couldn’t beat it hard enough. I poured it in the pan, and realized most of the cocoa was congealed in the bottom. What to do?

The only possible fix was to pour it back in the mixing bowl, heat the whole thing up and beat it again. And wonder of wonders—it seemed to work! I poured it back in the pan, opened the over door, and spilled cake batter all over the inside of the oven window. That was a first too. The batter instantly began to cook on the hot glass. I scraped off what I could, put the cake inside the oven, and closed the door. In a few minutes the smell of burnt cake filled the kitchen. Hmmm….

But in twenty minutes I pulled the unburnt cake from the oven, knowing it was just the spilled batter that was burning. The cake looked allright, just a little thinner than normal.

Outside the freakish spring snowstorm was raging. I turned the oven on to the “clean” cycle, and thanked God for technology. I left the cake on top of the stove to cool. About 9:30 I decided to make the icing—it too is a cooked butter and cocoa icing. Everything went fine until I reached for the powdered sugar, and found an almost empty bag. I dumped it in, got out the beaters, and finally admitted what I had known–it wasn’t near enough. And I didn’t want to go to the store!

I looked out the window to make sure my neighbor Vickie’s lights were on, and called her. She checked and said she had only a wee bit of powdered sugar in her bag. I jumped in my car because of the storm, drove to her driveway, and she prayed, “Lord, multiply it,” as she handed it over.

It was the thinnest frosting I’d ever tried to spread on a cake, but I poured it on the middle and let it spread itself, and then I used the remainder to fill in the edges. This cake wasn’t going to win any blue ribbons for appearance, but with family, it’s the thought that counts.

Now here’s the kicker! After church, we went out to lunch—Philip’s pick—BBQ. Brian mentioned to the waiter that Philip was the birthday boy, and none of us gave it a second thought. We didn’t expect the entire staff to come out at the end of the meal singing and clapping and carrying a humongous bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, which Philip plunged into, and everyone else did their part as well.

Afterwards, we went home, visited, opened presents, and the group soon disbursed. An hour after they’d left, I remembered I’d never served the cake! Oh brother! I’m still glad I’m the mom, and that I got to make my boy a cake. And so I had a piece. Despite all the tribulation that cake went through, it was still pretty good!

St. Patrick’s Prayer

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

War–the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC

The following quote is inscribed on the FDR Memorial in Washington DC.

I have seen war, I have seen war on land and on sea.

I have seen the blood running from the wounded.

I have seen the dead in the mud.

I have seen cities destroyed, I have seen children starving.

I have seen the agony of mothers and wives

I hate war.

The most violent and aggressive thing humans do is to wage war, and most wars are generally over the issue of who will rule, or possess the land. Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, the gentle, the humble, for it is THEY who will inherit the land.”

Selah.