Recently, I mentioned a book club which I was so graciously invited into a couple of years back. Many of the women have a long-standing history with one another, and yet graft newcomers in seamlessly. If you read my last blog post I describe our latest read – Tolkien’s delightful Letters from Father Christmas in which he fantasizes to his children on the happenings at the North Pole each year. Each December the book club members bring a wrapped book to exchange. It is always interesting to see what is contributed to the pile and what each person ends up with – from fiction to memoirs, cookbooks to devotionals. This year I came home with Booked by Karen Swallow Prior in which she confesses early on that she “thought [her] love of books was taking [her] away from God, but as it turns out, books were the backwoods path back to God, bramble-filled and broken, yes, but full of truth and wonder.”
My own love of books dates back to the farthest reaches of my memory when, as a toddler, I would pile the books from shelves around me in bed as I drifted off to sleep. Instead of a favorite stuffed bear, I slept with all the characters and words collected from my day. As I make my way through Prior’s tribute to the written word, I feel an immediate affinity with her as I have struggled to express what various works have meant to me over the years.
Here she quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins in her effort to explain the place language and text and story, especially poetry, held in her life as she used it to guard against feelings of awkwardness. The written word is not merely an escape, but a means of explaining that incomprehensible truth from Scripture, “my power is made complete in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Beauty may be hiding in those places the world may see as ugly. Don’t forget the travel-weary, Jewish carpenter huddled with a young girl and a shriveled newborn in a back stable. Today, do you feel your soul to be stained seemingly beyond worth? Or rather, is your soul crying to escape the prison of an ugly, unwanted body? With regret and confusion I recall the hours spent in tears and frustration because I was not as I should be….that my child felt the pain and confusion of not being “right” in this world. Oh, dappled beauty! May we always see things as they truly are and praise Him. Whatever is fulfilling its purpose, or better still His purpose, is imbued with beauty beyond description, even if it be beyond our vision. Here is how Gerard Manley Hopkins describes it:
Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: