At the end of last year I was attempting to read four or five books at a time. Now I am capable of doing that. If that is the only thing I need to do. But these short people at this house keep insisting they need food. And clothing. And transportation. What’s up with that?
So one of my resolutions (you know, a manageable one) was to keep no more than two books going at a time. But I’ve come upon two that have me stalled. They are totally unrelated other than they were both on my recommended reading list. The first book has been recommended by my sister and many other homeschool moms. It is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The second was recommended to my by a dear friend and my husband within the same week. Oddly enough neither had read it for years. It is Lord Foul’s Bane—the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.
The Practice of the Presence of God sounded like such a good, life changing book. The premise of the book had been explained to me long ago. Brother Lawrence, a monk, kept a constant rapport with God. He prayed and praised not only during set aside prayer time but also while at menial chores. I heard about that and purposed to do the same thing. I’ve found that it is sometimes in the smallest, meanest chores that I have felt the closest to God.
But reading the book has been somewhat of a struggle. I am pretty sure the problem is me. Brother Lawrence has the seventeenth century motto of Nike—“Just Do It.” It is a simple formula. Your mind strays, you just redirect it. You just keep moving forward, one step at a time. I want to shout because I am so frustrated. I don’t think Brother Lawrence had two young boys giving accounts of the imaginary land of Whozitwhatsits complete with shouts of victorious Whachmacallits fighting. I don’t think he had the phone ringing, the dog begging to go pee and the neighbor girl wanting to sell me magazine subscriptions. To help a school I already have paid taxes for. I just don’t think he did. So what do I do with Brother Lawrence? He makes me feel that one of us is being simple. Sigh. Yes, I am sure it is me. I see where as a country (and individually) we are drowning in our excess. We have too much to distract us from Jesus. We cannot focus for all of our previous choices. And when I say we, the finger is pointing at me. It just makes me feel less alone to think I might not be the only one.
I am pressing on. Knowing Brother Lawrence is right. And I am distracted. And I need to practice God’s presence. A lot.
The second book, a fantasy, first book in a series, didn’t grab me at first. Thomas Covenant is a leper who has lost life—his life—because of his disease. It is at the scene of an impending accident that he is transported to another world where he seems to be expected to be a hero (don’t worry, I haven’t gotten far enough to really give a good spoiler). Definitely a unique twist, but I allowed myself to be led there.
In the second world, while his health appears to be improving, it is his mind he worried about losing.
Stephen Donaldson is a beautiful writer. He is a wordsmith. I have read and re-read paragraphs just for the sheer beauty of the words. But his wonderful words paint an aching picture. I kept feeling related to Thomas Covenant. Why was I feeling related to a leper? Slowly I am coming to see the metaphor that is this character. He is an outcast. He is locked out of society. He is different. His disease is unlovable. He is grasping to hold onto not just his physical, but also his mental health. He makes his way through both worlds one step at a time. He keeps moving. He does the next thing presented to him. And how many days have I felt like that? I don’t know, maybe my struggle with Covenant is that I have identified with him a little too much and if he fails, see a prophecy for myself. Yes, yes…over analyzing a bit much there. But when you suspend disbelief that happens.
What I feel I am getting from both books is a message to focus on the now. Walk to joy one step at a time. Even though our difficulties as a family have been minor compared to some, this is the first time in my life I have really questioned God. I have had difficulty finding praise. I haven’t had music on for me in the house for a few months. I’ve never felt like this before. Now know, I don’t question God’s existence, I don’t question He is right. I am just confused as to the whys and wherefores. It comes down to something I have said before. “The problem is not with God, but with me.” But it’s just a different problem and, like Thomas Covenant, I feel stranded in a different land. Hopefully I can hang on to Brother Lawrence’s arm and fall in step and refocus. Hopefully Thomas Covenant and I will come through the impending battle.
O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections. –Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
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