Monthly Archives: February 2014

Review – Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present

UnknownCarolyn Weber takes readers through a journey of living in the present.  Not because everything was going so well that she wanted to capture the unambiguous happiness of life, but because even in the pain – which she details through several physical and emotional struggles – there is something to realize as a gift beyond ourselves. 

I was drawn to her story – that of an English professor in the throes of tenure, sabbatical, publishing, raising a family, and seeking to follow God.  Into this story she weaves poetry and prose – Chesterton, Lewis, Donne, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Sayers –  along with scripture – Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary.  These layers provide a rich context for living in the present.

Here is a woman who unknowingly ruined an interview because she stated that her motivation for teaching was “To love my students into understanding” (49).  The interviewers neither understood what she meant, nor wanted to understand.  Still she continued to live out this mission not only in the classroom, but within her family and through her writing.

Here are just a few snippets of Weber’s voice that guides readers through the narrative.

  • “I couldn’t afford therapy so I started writing.” (39)
  • “When it comes to our worries and gifts and talents and abilities, we give what we can in him [Christ], through him, and to him” (56)
  • “Irreverence begins in not paying attention.  And yet, I think, it can also stem from counting too often and too closely.” (61)
  • “Because we serve such an extraordinary God, we are called to live in difference.” (123)
  • “Liminal space – living on the threshold where the present meets eternity” (130)
  • “I didn’t see that it wasn’t about wrapping my head around anything, but about having the Holy Spirit wrap around me.” (162)
  • “reading is a trinitarian act” (164)

In this marvelous narrative journey, she also speaks of the extraordinary u-turn friends who drop everything in the moment to be present in the difficult times of life.  Of God’s relentless work of refining us until we see that he is the answer instead of anything else in our lives.  And of changing the ubiquitous phrase carpe diem (seize the day) to carpe Deum (seize God).  The first focuses on our presence in the present, while the other recognizes the source of the present.  As we grasp God we can fully live in the moment no matter what is happening around us.

In later chapters Weber reveals a new challenge in her life and the struggles she faces seeking to see the gifts of the present.  The book ends not with a resolution to this struggle – but with a grasping of God no matter the outcome.  Into this unfinished story readers aren’t able to rest in a resolved ending, but, more importantly are able to hold onto God, the real hope for their present.

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Categories: Readings | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Hill Top: Venturing to Beatrix Potter’s World

IMG_2072 “Once upon a time there was a little girl called Lucie, who lived at a farm called Little-town.”  So begins The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter, a well-loved part of my childhood.  As I met this young girl on an adventure to find her misplaced handkerchiefs, I was also drawn into the world created through the illustrations. These beautiful watercolors show images of a farm, a waterfall, a small ‘woman’ in a neat room behind a tiny door in a hill.  

After visiting the Lake District in England last summer, these pictures have taken on a new life.  It turns out these aren’t imagined illustrations for a children’s book, but reflections of life around the land that Potter loved.  Into this land she inserted her characters, sometimes people, but mostly animals.  A dressed up hedgehog doing laundry didn’t seem amiss.  There is a joy of seeing beyond the confines of the world in these pictures – and the stories.

Beatrix Potter: The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Genius by Linda Lear. provides a further view into this woman.  Beatrix Potter may be primarily remembered for her child’s books, beginning with The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  However, this is only one part of her heritage.

Hers was not an easy path to publishing.  For years, starting as a child, she actively worked on her drawings and the wording of the stories.  She eventually had to privately publish Peter Rabbit in order to produce a book that met her specifications.  Once the quality, and marketability, of this book was obvious, Frederick Warne & Co. took on the task of putting together the trade publication.  It wasn’t long before Potter this one book became a series.  Through it all, she continued to have a significant voice in the content and look of her books.  Eventually, when it was suggested that book related toys and items be developed, she had final say in these products as well.

Always drawn to this land she loved, her financial success in publishing allowed her to purchase her own place – a farm in Sawrey. Though she wasn’t experienced in farming, she was not afraid to learn.  Starting with this farm, she became an integral part of the life of this community.  As she was able, she bought up other tracts of land in order to preserve traditional farming practices and keep the land from potential commercialization.  She wanted people to be able to see and enjoy this land and its ways as she did.

Enjoy it I did when I visited.  Here was more than a house preserved, but an entire landscape.  Driving the narrow roads through the small towns provided the perfect preparation to see her farm, Hill Top, and the places Potter brought to life in her drawings and stories.

Walking through the flower gardens in the rain and up to the green front door of this grey farm house, I was ushered into a living space.  The kitchen area had a large fireplace with a low, timbered ceilings.  Walking stick and hat were ready for Potter to head out on a walk.  A study lined with books had a table set for tea.  What a glorious place to rest for a bit!  A stairway headed up to the bedrooms.  Then a long hallway brought me to Potter’s workroom.  Her desk was set up with copies of her work – letters, water colors.  A room saved as she wanted it.

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I wanted to stay – and I did walking from room to room.  Her bedroom.  The study.  Back to the work room.  Then I finally left and headed back out into the gardens.  Rabbits were running through the grass and around a few trees.  Rain ran off the leaves.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t have an umbrella.  It was great to be part of this world even if for a few hours,  in the midst of that farm I first heard about so many years ago.

Categories: Literary Pilgrimages | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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