April 25, 2012

Reason for Difficulties

"Everything difficult indicates something more than our theory of life yet embraces, checks some tendency to abandon the straight path, leaving open only the way ahead. But there is a reality of being in which all things are easy and plain--oneness, that is, with the Lord of Life; to pray for this is the first thing; and to the point of this prayer every difficulty hedges and directs us." -George MacDonald

Edited by C. S. Lewis, this book contains 365 short excerpts from George MacDonald's writings. The above quote is one I've been rereading and pondering for a couple weeks.

George MacDonald's work is in the public domain. You can learn all about him and get links to his writings on the George MacDonald Informational Web.

George MacDonald - Anthology

April 21, 2012

A Praying Life

Let go of guilt about prayer and live connected to God as he intended.

Prayer is part of life,
Not just for some holy few.
Talk to the Father.

Paul Miller, in A Praying Life, addresses all the normal obstacles to prayer--from short attention spans to honest doubt about what good prayer does--and encourages us not to give up. He reminds us of the relationship we have with God and urges us to make that relationship a natural part of our everyday lives. Miller's theology is rich and practical. He refers often to struggles that he and his wife face with their adult daughter who is autistic. I've read several books about prayer, and this is the one that has benefited me most so far. Just writing this makes me want to go back and read it again!

A Praying Life - Paul Miller

New Testament History

Revitalize your reading of the New Testament

Knowing the background
Brings God's holy word to life,
So read history.

Besides the epic poems, I'm reading books that help me with my life of faith. F. F. Bruce's New Testament History has been on my shelf for a long time. I'd used it for reference before, but read it cover-to-cover for the first time this January. It helped me understand, among many other things, the complicated status of Judea; who the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were; and why Paul's preaching to God-fearing gentiles in the synagogues was so successful and controversial. My daily devotions have been enhanced by what I learned in this book.

New Testament History by F. F. Bruce

The Iliad of Homer

Where Western literature began

Unquenchable rage,
Even when it's justified,
Leads only to hurt. 

So begins my mission to read good books well. This was my third reading of the Iliad, but my first time as a father. Two scenes that touched me in new ways are when Hector returns to Troy and meets his wife and baby son, and when Priam goes to the Greek camp to beg Achilles for his son's body.

Iliad of Homer, translated by Robert Fagles

How to Read a Book

The book that inspired the mission

Pretentious title?
Maybe. But it does the job
It sets out to do.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

Mission: Read Good Books Well

This is the year I regain my attention span through reading.

photo credit
I've always been a reader--I even earned a degree in literature two decades ago. Over the past several years, I noticed a change in my reading habits. I began reading more blogs, news, and light "tricks and tips" related to my profession, and less fiction, poetry, and challenging nonfiction. As my reading habits changed, I observed troubling changes in my thinking patterns and attention span too. Deep analysis and divergent thinking became tedious. I found myself thinking in terms of quick fixes and bullet lists,
  • which
  • isn't
  • necessarily
  • good.
The catalyst for change came during winter break last year. We planned a family trip to visit the in-laws. Knowing that I'd have plenty of time to read (and that the internet connection would be flaky), I threw Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book into my backpack. I devoured that book in a week. The message was simple and challenging:

Read good books well.

That's my mantra this year. I determined to read challenging books and to read them rigorously.

But what to read? I set a goal to read five epic poems: The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. (Links are to the translations I'm reading, except for Paradise Lost which was written in a language I happen to know.) To keep from burning out on the genre, I decided to take a month or two for each book and intersperse some other edifying books among them for variety.

This blog is the book-by-book record of my reading. I'll post what I'm reading, some general impressions, and a very brief review (maybe a haiku). I welcome your reading suggestions, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to leave comments, subscribe, and share on your social networks. Just don't let it take you away from your reading!