I love exploring the vast world of classic literature. There's always another book to read (and sometimes it seems like I spend more time making lists of books than actually reading). Here's a list of a few of the books I read in 2009:

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne doesn't impress me as much with his actual stories as he does in pulling such feeling and poetry out of inanimate objects. It's almost as if the house is a main character--full of history, symbolism, & meaning. His books have a very unique aura that some people find too melancholy, but I enjoy it.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This was such a pleasant English novel. I felt like I was just observing the lives and interactions in small community without necessarily reading a story, though there were plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting. I appreciated that it was very driven by characters and dialogue. Eliot is always delightful in a good and simple way.

The Robe by Lloyd Douglas

This was a story about a young Roman tribune who lived during the time of Christ, was present at his crucifixion, and happened to cast lots for his robe. The robe was strange and fascinating to him, and caused him to seek out the truth about who Christ was. I loved the perspective of this story; it gave a fresh outlook on the life of Christ and his early disciples, both Jew and gentile.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This was very characteristic of its time in literature--many difficult life questions and a lot of drinking. There are many profound morals to be found in the protagonist's hard reminiscings about the Flyte family (ironically, flyte means "strife"). It shows what happens when religion becomes a mindless tradition. You fail to embrace it, but you can't ignore it, and you deteriorate from the inside. It's not the kind of genre that I typically read, but it's a fascinating rendering of apathy & sin.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

It's worth reading simply because it's the archetypal science fiction story. It has all the important characteristics of the genre. There are some insightful points on societal development, though philosophically the existence of God & thus the God-given nature of man is out of the picture. Still, it's an interesting read & significant literary piece. Besides, who can resist the enticement of time travel?

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

There's no question that it's a gruesome story. Power, strife, greed, & the tendencies of man in society are nasty topics, and they're described crudely in this book with the title that means "Beelzebub." It's an exaggerated allegory that's rudely provoking (and probably a huge turnoff to literature for high school kids who are forced to read it in school...)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This is another rather crude book. (It seems like there was a lot of that this year, mostly because I've been focusing on reading well-known classics & books commonly used in the classrooms.) I appreciated this story, not really for its literary themes, but for its historical exposé, which I thought was brilliantly poignant. The last chapter was heart-rending. Simply put, it was an eye-opening masterpiece of misery.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like Brideshead Revisited, this story was full of tormented minds and too much wine. It shows the shallow emptiness beneath the glittery American dream of the Roaring Twenties. Yes, the story was affecting, but unlike Brideshead, there was no hint of a redeeming entity.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Here's another classic novel that I appreciate more for its insights into an historical era than for its literary themes. It's the story of a proud, self-absorbed Southern belle named Scarlett O'Hara. (I think it's the only story I've read with such a villainous protagonist!) I appreciated the reliable constancy of the characters. Each were predictable (or predictably unpredictable), and they all added to the story in their own way.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

What a clever, charming little book! It was very engaging and entertaining; plus, the French Revolution was a fascinating time in history. I think I'd be a great book to read out loud my children someday.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I can really only handle one massive Russian novel a year. They are so heavy--literally & figuratively, but they're entirely worth the effort. This book was my favorite of the year. The psychology of the characters, their detailed thoughts & interactions, and the resolutions of their fates were so interesting. There were some beautiful and profound passages, and some scenes that were perfectly cutting. The ending was so lucid and very stirring for me. It's one of those books that I hope to read again someday, and I know I'll get even more from it.

I'm glad I got a chance to write down my thoughts about some of this year's books, because to be honest, I have a pretty poor memory, so hopefully my notes will be able to refresh me on them in the future. I hope 2010 will have even more great books in store! I've been accumulating a lot of good non-fiction as well, and I'm looking forward to reading and learning lots more!

Happy New Year!

Advent is a very reflective time for me. It's a time for expectation and preparation. I love that it's so richly reminiscent of ancient things, and so convicting and hopeful for the things yet to come. It shows the full and colorful canvas of Christianity.

It seems like so few people see that picture, though. I just wish they would remember how Christmas is Christ's Mass--the fulfillment of all God's promises and the ultimate feast.

The story of the "Christ Mass" began in Eden, when the need for a savior was created. God established his chosen people and sent a baby who would rescue them from slavery in Egypt. God revealed His truth to these people, and from them came prophecies--such beautiful, hopeful, longing prophecies! The people hoped and prayed for centuries; they sang psalms and they celebrated feasts that reminded them of God's salvation from slavery. They were unfaithful, yes, but they still had God's truth and they still had His promise.

Then God chose a woman, and unlike Eve, this woman obeyed Him. Out of her obedience came, not death, but LIFE for all mankind.

But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. (Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.) He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD... Micah 5:1-3
He came and fulfilled all those strange and beautiful prophecies. He was born to a small woman in a small cave in a small town called "House of Bread," visited by small shepherds to become a shepherd himself--a humble King. It's the wildest, most creative story I've ever read!

I'm bursting with anticipation for the Christ Mass! At midnight on December 25, I'll hear the ancient prophecies, sing the ancient psalms, and say the very words uttered by the ancient people of God. Then I'll partake in the feast of our salvation from slavery; I'll eat the bread that was placed in the food trough two thousand years ago--the redeeming flesh that was sacrificed on the tree.

We remember the advent of the child, and we prepare and purify our hearts for the advent of the bridegroom, when we'll celebrate the Mass of Christ--the great wedding feast--into eternity.

It being the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, I thought it'd be fitting to write about The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). I read this exactly 2 years ago, so a lot of the details have left me. I hope I'll re-read it at some point, but the important thing is that the big picture has always stayed with me and inspired my thoughts at every Mass and every late stargazing night.

Liturgy, in practical terms, comes from the Greek leitourgia meaning "to perform public duty." Basically, it's the outward manifestation of faith. It's expressed by the Church most radically through the Mass, the celebration focused entirely on Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice. All liturgy points to Christ:

"...Christian worship is the practical application and fulfillment of the words that Jesus proclaimed on the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, in the Temple in Jerusalem: 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself' (Jn 12:32)." - Chapter II
The liturgy is the celebration of Christ's sacrifice and our salvation - the cross and resurrection makes our communion with God possible. The liturgy is about God and man touching each other. It's our taste of heaven (literally). It's a mystery and it's a romance.
"The Christian theology of worship--beginning with St. John the Baptist--sees in Christ the Lamb given by God. The Apocalypse presents this sacrificed Lamb, who lives as sacrificed, as the center of the heavenly liturgy, a liturgy that, through Christ's Sacrifice, is now present in the midst of the world and makes replacement liturgies superfluous (see Rev 5)."
Our life on earth is just a preliminary to eternity. Our true home is in heaven. I love this word picture at the beginning of the book:
"Children's play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity. On this analogy, the liturgy would be a reminder that we are all children, or should be children, in relation to that true life toward which we yearn to go. Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation, a rehearsal, a prelude for the life to come, for eternal life...Seen thus, liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life."
This book was so profound for me because it showed how God uses the physical world to communicate with us. In bowing, kneeling, extending our hands in prayer...we are literally revering God with our bodies. We are tangible people, so God communicates with us in tangible ways, through art and music, through spoken and written words, through time changes & seasons, through nature, through bread. He wants to unite Himself with us, and every part of the liturgy is an expression of that. It's LITERAL - it's so very, very real. But the best part about it is that heaven will be even more real, and its beauty will never be exhausted.

Lately, I've been so thankful for the example that my mom sets in prayer. Her prayers are such a huge part of what makes our family what it is. Nearly every morning I see her sitting down with her Bible & prayer book, often simultaneously trying to keep track of the baby or help get breakfast for the little boys. I know it's not easy for her, but she makes the commitment to do it, despite the distractions. When I think about all of the responsibilities in my life, I wonder how I can justify omitting morning prayers so often when Mom does it with far more tasks at hand.

My paternal grandmother is a prayer warrior, too. I remember several times staying at their house & waking up very early (before six), not being able to go back to sleep. I would creep down to the steps and look through the rails to see Grandma sitting on the couch with her Bible and her prayer book. I know that she regularly prays for each one of her 19 grandchildren individually. She sends out waves of grace to us, though we probably won't fully know how much they've affected us until we're in Paradise.

I never met my great-grandmother, Edna Case, but her presence still influences my life. I'm sure it was partly from her that my Grandma got her early-rising prayer habits. She seemed like such a disciplined, intelligent, devout Christian woman. I've only seen her face in pictures, but I have seen her legacy in my grandmother and great uncle & aunt. All 11 of her grandchildren are still walking with the Lord and raising the 43 great-grandchildren in His ways.

Right now I want to be developing the discipline of rising early and devoting time to God in prayer. I have to admit that I've done pretty poorly in the last year, but it's a habit I know is worth working for. I ALWAYS benefit from getting my mind and heart straight first thing in the morning. It helps me stay prayerful, focused, and more industrious throughout the whole day. Sharing communion with God puts a sweet taste on my heart that lasts for hours.

Holy, holy, holy
Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning
Our song shall rise to thee.
I want to give that heritage to my sons and daughters someday (if that is God's will for me). I want them to have great relationships with each other like I have with my own siblings. I want them to be good friends with their cousins, to appreciate the godly family legacy that they have and be nourished in their own prayer life by the holy examples of their parents, grandparents, & great-grandparents.

They are feminine.

What better way is there to say, "I like being a lady"?

They are unique to females.

There are only two types of men in our society who can wear robes - judges & priests. Pretty significant, don't you think? Women can wear them every day; why not take advantage of it?

They are pretty.

Most feminine things are :)

They have variety.

Wearing jeans every day is so boring. Skirts & dresses come in every shape and color.

They are comfortable.

They have such a lovely, free, open feeling! Plus, many of them are much softer than pants. [Miniskirts & those with the slits up to the thighs aren't so comfy.]

They are easy to shop for.

Pants have to fit in 100 places whereas skirts really only have to fit in the waist. Plus, they're generally cheaper if you shop in the right places.

They are flattering.

People don't have to see those 100 places. A dress will just flow right over them.

They are old-fashioned.

The vast majority of women over the vast majority of history always wore dresses and I like feeling a connection to the women who came before me when I dress like them.

They are classy.

I always feel so much nicer & more ladylike when I'm in a skirt. I'm also generally more productive when I take the time to dress nicely in the morning. Staying in my jogging clothes or sweatpants makes me feel lazy.

They are fun to spin in.

It's true :D

They are romantic.

Okay, I have a way to kill the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Put Juliet in breeches.

They add mystique.

An alluring aura of mystery hangs about a girl who doesn't bare all.

They catch the wind.

They catch the eye.

A miniskirt or painted on jeans might catch the eye in one way, but a lady dressed with dignity catches it in quite another.

You can wear awesome leggings with them.

Okay, maybe that's just a personal quirk, but it is a fun trend to wear (especially now in the fall & winter)!

They are elegant

They have this cool flowy thing going on.

But perhaps the greatest reason why I love dressing this way is because of the beautiful, holy lady that I have in my mind as a model for Christ-filled women (literally):

"On the Man Called Christ."

The paradoxical, yet universal nature of Christ is both mystifying and so fulfilling.

"It revolutionised their very vision of revolution; and turned their very topsy-turvydom topsy-turvy."
Why is Christ is any different from other men? Why Christianity is different from any other "religions?" The reason is that myth and truth are united in that person of Christ.
"...in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom...there has never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers."
Men wrote myths because they longed for the story in which God touches man. Never did they dream that God would actually become man, and make Himself so man could touch Him.
"It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story."
The polytheism of the Greeks & Romans was a search to fulfill the imaginative side of man, but it could do little for the realistic side. The principles & proverbs of the ancient Orientals sought to fulfill the philosophical man, but couldn't satisfy his wild imaginings.
"The philosophy of the church is universal...Had Plato and Pythagoras and Aristotle stood for an instant in the light that came out of that little cave [the stable], they would have known that their own light was not universal. It is far from certain, indeed, that they did not know it already. Philosophy also, like mythology, had very much the air of a search...For it is the paradox of that group in the cave, that while our emotions about it are of childish simplicity, our thoughts about it can branch with a never-ending complexity. And we can never reach the end even of our own ideas about the child who was a father and the mother who was a child."

As I was going through my list of "significant books," I decided to post about The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton next. Ha! That was a month ago. In preparation for the intended entry, I decided to browse through the book again to refresh my memory. That turned into a full-blown re-reading along with copying passages & taking notes. Whoops.

The book has a pretty wide spectrum of topics, but it all comes back to a central point. Anthropology, history, art, religion, mythology, tradition - it all points to Christ. And no person seems to be able to convey this with as much common sense, humor & wit than Chesterton.

Humans seem to have some trace of supernatural in them. At the very least, the supernatural has always had a mesmeric hold over us. We seem always to point to the sky. Humans are strange, unprecedented creatures. As Chesterton puts it:

"There may be a broken trail of stones and bones faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting the human mind." -Chapter I (The Man in the Cave)
Somehow, we're so like animals, yet so unlike them. How did we come to be so different? Was it millions of years of evolution? Chesterton drily suggests that no matter how long a cow grazes on the hillside, it will never build its own cow-shed; no matter how long a sheep is in a pasture, it will never develop ancestor-worshiping practices. The phenomenon is not justified or explained any more by a million years than it is by a day. The fact still remains that it is an incomprehensible phenomenon. And where did our unnatural tendencies come if not from an unnatural (or supernatural) being?
"The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair disadvantage. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped up on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter...It is not natural to see man as a natural product."
Oh, I shouldn't start quoting or I won't be able to stop! I might as well just tell you to drop what you're doing and read The Everlasting Man right this moment. Seriously, just read the first chapter - The Man in the Cave. It contains enough profound wisdom to fill 50 books. I would be content to simply read it over and over again. Even the short paragraph of the metaphor of man and mirror overstimulates my brain with amazement.

And yet that's only the beginning of the first half of the book - "On the Creature Called Man." The second half is "On the Man Called Christ."

It looks like this is going to be more than one entry...

...I can't resist just one more quote!
"Behind all these things is the fact that beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul."

Here's a song that's been on my mind lately. I bought it on iTunes a while ago because I liked the band & the song sounded catchy, but recently I started listening to the lyrics and they have a challenging message.

Look at you now, just standing there like you think you’re something. The lights are up and the crowd is looking your way.
Waiting for what you have to say.
Go ahead boy give them a little taste of hypocrisy, maybe a hint of blasphemy.
Whatever you’re preaching it isn’t me.

You wanna walk with me, do ya?
You wanna walk with me.
If you love me then just love me, don’t you give me pretty words.
Lay your life down at the altar.
Let me see how serious you are.

These people don’t look to me no more they’ve got their idols in various forms.
With lust in their eyes they crave for more.
Take their place with the corporate carnivores.
Oh, keep your focus for the day will come when everyone will give account for what they’ve done; make me proud.
Make me proud my son.

Look at this broken world; look at my children.
Get ready go; sing to me the right song.
Look up say your prayers on the steps of the capitol.
Look up say your prayers, on your knees.
Look up say your prayers.
Look up say your prayers.
You wanted it to be like you always thought it would but all you seem to accomplish is the

A lot of times in my walk with God, I find myself praying in the mornings & evenings, but living for my own selfish pleasures during the rest of the day. I guess sometimes I feel like my "pretty words" will satisfy God's call for my life, but they won't.

My life is supposed to be a prayer & an offering to God. Repeating "Lord, Lord" isn't going to cut it (Matt 7:22-23). I need to lay myself down on the altar for Him, just like Christ did (Eph 5:2).

Real love isn't selfish. Real love is willing to make sacrifices. If someone is apathetic in a relationship, they hurt the other person like crazy. Well, God's a person and He loves us more than any other person we could ever know. There's no way to imagine how much we hurt Him when we're lukewarm.

Say your prayers. Pray for all your fellow Christians who've fallen into tepidity and those who still haven't found Christ. But don't just pray with words, pray with everything you do.

After the Scriptures, the book that's had the most influence on my spiritual life has been Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. It was one of those long-term readers that took me half a year to get through, but it was almost a daily devotional companion last year.

The writings of the saints & mystics really are phenomenal. Until I started dipping my toes into them a couple years go, I couldn't have imagined the intensity of a passionate relationship with God. Faustina was in a constant state of union with Christ; it seems like she was always aware of His presence, always talking with Him, thinking of Him, working for Him, loving Him. She was conscious of His holiness and so she was always contrite & willing to do anything for Him.

The prayers in this book are so simple, deep, & beautiful. I was convicted in the deepest parts of my heart because I recognized that that's where all of our souls are created to be - in humility, openness, and love toward God.

Everlasting love, pure flame, burn in my heart ceaselessly and deify my whole being, according to Your infinite pleasure by which You summoned me into existence and called me to take part in Your everlasting happiness. O merciful Lord, it is only out of mercy that You have lavished these gifts upon me. Seeing all these free gifts within me, with deep humility I worship Your incomprehensible goodness. Lord, my heart is filled with amazement that You, absolute Lord, in need of no one, would nevertheless stoop so low out of pure love for us. I can never help being amazed that the Lord would have such an intimate relationship with His creatures. That again is His unfathomable goodness. Every time I begin this meditation, I never finish it, because my spirit becomes entirely drowned in Him. What a delight it is to love with all the force of one's soul and to be loved even more in return, to feel and experience this with the full consciousness of one's being. There are no words to express this. (1523)
St. Faustina had visions of the intense sufferings of Christ because of our rebellion and especially our apathy. Not a page out of the 644 failed to move me to deeper repentance and love for God. Reading this diary, I was amazed at the infinity of spirituality. It's so deep that there's literally no bottom. This book absolutely blew me away! God has used this woman to bring thousands of souls to Him, and I only hope I can become 1/100th of the saint that she is.

I feel as fortunate as a queen to have been able to see some of the most phenomenal landscapes in the States on a western family trip these past 2 weeks!

Walking through the Badlands was almost like walking on the moon.

The formations in Jewel Cave were just as unearthly.

And I'd never dreamed of anything like the Needles of the Black Hills!

There's no way that I could even describe the vast beauty of Yellowstone.

I'd seen pictures, but experiencing it in real life was stunning. Half the time I felt like I was just looking at a postcard.

Now it feels to me like the world has infinite facets that I haven't even begun to see...

...unfathomable things...

We got to make beautiful family memories like stopping for lunch at a lake in the Grand Tetons, skipping rocks, playing in the water, and enjoying the sunshine & unforgettable view.

The long driving hours were just as scenic as the stops. Whenever I looked out the window at the enormous Wyoming & Colorado plains I saw in my mind's eye dusty covered wagons crawling slowly across.

And thanks to modern roads & automobiles, I got to see what so few other people in the world are privileged to see from the top of Pike's Peak.

But the best part of the trip by far was definitely this.

Thanks for the memories :)

Literature is an influential part of me. What I'd like to do is go through the list of my "significant books" and write about each. This list doesn't necessarily contain my "favorite" books. It's the books that have significantly shaped the way I think, contributed to my philosophy, or introduced important ideas to me. I thought this would be the best place for me to begin this new blog of mine.

The Holy Bible.

This is the one that I've read, listened to, studied, prayed, pondered, argued over, and loved the most. :) I grew up on it, memorized it as a child, practiced my penmanship with it, got chastised with it, and listened to hundreds of sermons on it. It would be impossible to extract it from my life and me remain the same person.

From a literary point of view, it contains all the things that I love. It's a historical masterpiece. Not only that, but it tells the story of a family. One of my favorite series as a child was something like "American Adventures" that began with two children going on the Mayflower. The next book was about their children, the next about theirs, and so on. I found it so fascinating! The Bible begins with the first man, continues with his children, and goes on to give the story of their descendants (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the 12 tribes of Israel). It follows the line of the Hebrews till it comes to the crux - Christ, on whom the fates of all humanity depend. It's the story of the whole human family - the ultimate genealogy!

One of the biggest things that I look for in any story is an ending that comes out of the beginning. (This is the main reason why you'll see Les Miserables is on my list...more on that when I get to it). A good story is bookended, crafting a conflict and resolving it. The Scriptures have the ultimate plot conflict: human sin, and the ultimate plot resolution: Christ. The entire Old Testament is a masterful story of the Hebrews and their struggles. The New Testament answers the Old, reconciling men to God, and ends with a ravishing prophecy of that eternal reconciliation.

A good book will also cause the reader to reflect on themselves and on the world, and will challenge the person to change them in some way. What could be more radical than the challenge to become like the crucified Christ?

The symbolism is deep and the foreshadowing ingenious. Any lover of literature must be in awe of the creative mystery conceived by the Scriptures.

I want to end with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis (a man whose books have influenced my philosophy tremendously). He wrote it in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves in fall of 1931, talking about the Gospel as it stands in relation to other human stories (or rather, mythologies):

"Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same
way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened:
and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is
God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God
expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found
there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call “real
things”. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a “description” of God
(that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which
God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties."
I suppose this is why humanity is so attracted to stories, because they mirror this beautiful "true myth" that God wrote. I only wish that more people could appreciate and love it as much as I've learned to love it.

A Reunion

Ever since we became acquainted 3 years ago, Blogging and I have had a relationship similar to many typical human friendships. Initial fascination, enthusiastic infatuation, occasional friendly familiarity, and finally, the disregard that comes from long absence all took their turns.

Why am I reviving the relationship? Maybe it's because I just because I like the feeling of having a fresh slate. Trouble is, slates don't stay fresh for very long. They often becomes a bore (or even a chore) after a while. But I know that learning to follow through on things is a lesson I need. [Plus, writing is one of the few things that I can do halfway decently, and it would be a pity if I neglected it any longer.]

So, Blogging, here I am again. We have some fond memories together and some strange ones. This reunion is for better or for worse, but I'm holding out for the better. ;)

Newer Posts Home