Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 Top Book Reads

Here are a few of the what I consider some of the significant books I have read this past year. They are not in any particular order.

The Aeneid by Virgil:

A friend whose knowledge of literature I respect had recommended reading Virgil. Also one of my favorite quotes from Willa Cather's "My Antonia" mentions the poetry of Virgil. I picked up a copy of a reprint of a respected English translation at Barnes and Noble, and worked my way through it. Given the beauty of some of the passages in the English translation, I wish I had taken Latin so I could read it in its original language. It is an epic story and an exposure to classic literature is not complete without reading "The Aeneid".

O' Pioneers! by Willa Cather:

"O Pioneers" along with "My Antonia" and "The Song of the Lark" comprise a trilogy of Willa Cather's more prominent novels. I was captivated by Cather as an author a number of years ago when I read "My Antonia". I have seen the movie adaptation of "O' Pioneers", and for some time have had this on my list of "must read" books. I was not disappointed. Cather's description of the prairie and the interplay between the land and the immigrant pioneers that settled on it is exceptional. I am now looking forward at some point in this coming year to reading "Song of the Lark".

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson:

I consider this my most significant theological read of the year. It is a relatively short book, but in my mind of significant importance. Carson discusses how God's love becomes distorted, what it means in a Biblical context to say God is love, the issue of God's love and God's sovereignty, and concludes with a discussion of God's love and God's wrath. In that last chapter there is a very helpful section where Carson deals with the love of God and the intent of the atonement.

Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt(Kindle Edition) and Kingdom by Anderson O'Donnell (Kindle Edition):

The first dystopian novels I ever read were George Orwell's "1984" and A. Huxley's "Brave New World". There were a few others along the way, but it has been a number of years, even decades, since I have seriously revisited the dystopian genre.

A dystopian novel takes a specific trend or cultural current in society and follows that trend or current to a logical extreme. This challenges the reader to look at those trends and currents with a more properly critical scrutiny. To write a dystopian novel in a way that makes it "realistic" and "believable" takes some real writing skill. Both of the above titles meet the challenge.

"Prison Nation" will challenge your view of "law and order" issues. Of the two titles, it is the more Orwellian.

"Kingdom" challenges the governmental-industrial complex and the extremes of DNA research and DNA manipulation. It is in some respects reminiscent of "Brave New World". I need to warn you that "Kingdom" gets an "R" rating for language and sex. As such, I do not give it a full unqualified recommendation even though it is of a relatively high literary quality. Read at your own discretion.

The dystopian genre is not one I would ever want to fixate on. The genre by definition can be pretty dreary and bleak. Some dystopian writings such as "1984" don't leave the reader with any thought that there may someday be hope for positive change in the bleak new world order. "Prison Nation" and "Kingdom" in contrast do leave the reader with a faint glimmer of hope that something better will eventually come; think "V for Vendetta". Though the genre is not one to fixate on, it is a literary genre worth visiting every now and then.

The Aristotelian by Steve Poling (Kindle Edition):

I want to also mention my friend Steve Poling's first published work "The Aristotelian". In this short novel Poling explores the influence of Mycroft Holmes on his younger brother Sherlock. Steve has since also published a Sci-Fi collection titled "Finding Time" (available on Kindle) which is on my "to read" list for this next year.

The Troy of Eternity

"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what waits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dreams of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the balled they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

("Gilead"; Marilyanne Robinson; (Picador, 2004); pg 57)

Monday, December 24, 2012

O God Our Help in Ages Past

"O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting, thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last,
and our eternal home. "

~ Isaac Watts

This past month (December 2012) we have had occassion to bury both my mother and my father. Dad passed away two weeks and one day after mom did. As I contemplated what a major change this is going to be in my life, the above words of Isaac Watts came to mind.

(Cross posted to Poetry Particulars.)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Standing by the Grave

"UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our sister departed, and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

ALMIGHTY God, with whom do live the spirits of those who depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; We give thee hearty thanks for the good examples of all those thy servants, who, having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labours. And we beseech thee, that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

MOST merciful Father, who hast been pleased to take unto thyself the soul of this thy servant; Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that having served thee with constancy on earth, we may be joined hereafter with thy blessed saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

(Excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer (1928); "The Order for The Burial of the Dead".)

From time to time over the years, I have contemplated the fact that in the normal course of providence in a fallen and broken world, eventually we all become orphans. It is not about becoming orphans as children of miner age, though that does happen. It is about how we as adult grown children watch our parents age and weaken physically and sometimes mentally, and that even to the point of dependency on those who had one time been dependent on them, and then succumbing to the final enemy of death.

I have watched over the years as some of my cousins become orphans as my beloved and aged Aunts and Uncles passed on. Over those passing years I have seen friends and acquaintances of my own generation go through the valley of losing beloved mothers and fathers to the grave; to become motherless and fatherless; to become orphaned in this world.

As of this week I and my surviving siblings are half way there. We are now motherless. Today we watched our departed 92 year old mother be laid into the grave alongside of her daughter, our older sister, who left us about two and a half years ago. Our 95 year old father is now bereft of the wife and companion who had been at his side for over 69 years. My sister and brother and I know that eventually our father will also depart from us; that the day will come when we will be left among the orphans of the earth even as both our mother and father have been left orphans by the previous deaths of our grand-parents.

No, we did not use the Anglican liturgy at the memorial service or graveside. Anglicism is not our family church tradition or background, and in fact is some distance from it. But even then, I have just enough familiarity with the Prayer Book service for the burial of the dead that I found comfort and encouragement in its words as I have shared above.

Rather then expound further on the meaning and comfort to be taken from the words quoted above, I will leave it for you the reader to read them again and meditate on the Gospel truth and hope those words convey.

Kyrie, eleison.