The Irreparable Past

Mountains in WV

As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 31

Do you have things in your past that you regret?  I know I do.  Missed opportunities, wasted time and energy, failures, sinful decisions–so many things to regret.  I think it is the rare person who doesn’t regularly have a regret or two.

When I was twenty years old, I came to a realization that I had chosen the wrong major in college.  I had made the choice in good faith with the counsel of others, but about two thirds of the way through my four year course, it dawned on me that I was studying subjects for which I only had a slight ability and liking rather than studying the subjects for which I had a true aptitude .  However, it was too late to change majors without adding an extra two years onto my college career.  I toughed it out the last year and a half, earned my degree, and got a job.  It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to study and work in a field for which I had a great capability and which I loved.  Do I regret that initial decision to study the wrong subject?  Yes, I do sometimes.  I wonder what my life would have looked like had I chosen a more fitting major or changed my major when I first realized my error.  I wonder what paths I would have pursued instead of the ones I walked.  I could spent a lot of time regretting the ways not chosen, but is that a constructive way to live?

I believe that it is not a good use of my time to rue the past.  Instead, I must remember the good news that our God takes those regrets, the things in the past which I should have done but didn’t or should not have done but did, what Oswald Chambers calls the “irreparable things” and He redeems them.  The Lord somehow, in a way that is beyond my comprehension and knowledge, makes those regrettable words, deeds, and thoughts work for good in my life, in my loved ones’ lives, in His kingdom.

It is so easy to fall prey to guilt and depression when we think of all of the things we could have done or should have done.  We question if our life will be all that it could have been since we made a certain choice or turned in a direction that we now see so clearly was wrong.

Yet we have a Sovereign Lord who holds the whole world in His hands and who also knows our entire story from beginning to end.  Wonder at the fact that He is in control not only of the planets and the stars, the atoms and the molecules but also of your irreparable past.  Believe that He has a purpose for that past that seems so wrong and look forward to the promise of the future where He will never leave you nor forsake you.  And keep in mind Julian of Norwich’s words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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Reading Shakespeare

Hamlet

 

When you first approach reading Shakespeare, it can be a daunting experience.  Even though I grew up reading the King James version of the Bible with similar language, I still found Shakespeare a difficult read unless I had a teacher holding my hand throughout the play.  I could understand the basic plot line and even some of the language, but many of the jokes, the history, and the language went over my head.

When I first started planning to teach Shakespeare to my children, I knew I was going to need some help.  Three things especially have made an enormous difference in our Shakespeare studies.

First, whenever I could find them, we would use the Oxford School Shakespeare editions of the plays.  Each volume contains a synopsis, commentary, and extensive line by line notes on the language, jokes, people, places, and history.  There are also discussion questions and a book list in the back for more information.  Throughout each book, there are black and white photographs of the play being performed.  I have grown a lot in my understanding of each of the plays for which I’ve had this version.

Second, we listen to the play while we read.  The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare recordings are the best approach to the play, in my opinion.  While many people say that everyone should take parts and read it aloud, I did not feel confident to do so and neither did my children.  Now we can listen to Shakespearean actors act out the play on audio while we follow along.  These recordings are brilliant and make all of the difference in bringing Shakespeare alive.

Third, I read commentaries on the play for myself before, during, and after I read the play.  The two books I read most often are Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and  Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays by Peter Leithart.  Both of these books have been a great help in understanding what Shakespeare is doing.  I may not always agree with the author but at least it gives me a starting place in my thinking about the play.

Just recently I heard about Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber.  I just picked it up at the library today and am hoping to dip into it for my reading of Hamlet.  Another resource that has been a great help is Peter Saccio’s lectures on Shakespeare, two of The Great Courses lecture series.  My library carries these series and Dr. Saccio is an engaging teacher who “unpacks” each play thoroughly and winsomely.  I recommend them.

Of course, many teachers recommend watching Shakespeare whenever possible and we do that, too.  I will write about some of our experiences another day.

I hope these helps in reading Shakespeare will make a difference in your reading, whether you are reading on your own, for a class, or with your family.

The Burning of the World and A Bunch of Sweet Peas

The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914

The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914 by Béla Zombory-Moldován

The Burning of the World is the translation of a personal diary kept by Béla Zombory-Moldován during the first year of World War I.  The author was a young Hungarian artist who was on holiday abroad when war erupted in Europe in August 1914.  He quickly returned home, reported for duty (he was a reserve officer), and was thrown into the chaos that was the Eastern Front at the beginning of the Great War.  He writes of his feelings about the war, his concern that it isn’t quite as glorious as everyone is saying, and the sheer terror and chaos that he found in his first battle.  The end of the book tells of his injuries and the three months he spends convalescing, trying to forget all that he has endured and will endure.

While the writing is quite beautiful at times and evocative of the place and time, it could be rather choppy and disjointed at other times.  One thing I found difficult was that the numerous notes were at the end of the book.  Since the author was not writing for publication, these notes were often essential to determine who people, places, and situations were.  Yet having to constantly flip to the back of the book to read them interrupted the flow of the narrative and I had a hard time staying with it.

I was glad to read a bit about the Eastern Front as I had not read anything about it before this, but I suspect that there are other memoirs that would be clearer and easier to understand than this one, which is a shame since there are moments that the author’s thoughts and words really connected with me.  Recommended, with reservations.

 

 

A Bunch of Sweet Peas by Henry Donald

In 1911 the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, offered a prize of 1,000 pounds for the best bunch of sweet peas.  Expecting 15,000 entries, they were inundated with over 40,000 entries, among which were the flowers of an obscure Scottish parson and his wife.  The story follows the steps the parson and his gardener take to grow a beautiful bed of sweet peas–only their second year growing them–, the drought that threatened to kill the flowers only weeks before the competition, the trials to determine the best way to send them by train, the judging, and the final decision.  I listened to the audio, narrated by Judy Dench, which was a delightful way to “read” this story.  I will probably want to read it again as I’m sure I missed some of the details and because it is just so heart-warming.  It’s a sweet little story and was the perfect choice for lying in bed with the flu.  Recommended.

Who wants to read Hamlet in January?

TLCOBC Bkmk

There is a new online book club, The Literary Classics Online Book Club, which plans to read a classic work of literature every other month.  The first month TLCOBC will post interesting facts and background information on their blog and social media sites while everyone reads (or listens to) the book.  Then the second month, the club will host discussions about the book for anyone to participate in.  The first book they have chosen to read is Hamlet by William Shakespeare, often considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.  Andrew Kern from The Circe Institute has spoken and written about this play many times and is he is in the middle of a podcast series on Hamlet (the first of which you can find here). Before listening to the podcasts I have been meaning to re-read the play and this seems like the perfect opportunity.  Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to read the play, listen to Andrew talk about it and then join in a discussion?  Who’s game?

A wrench in the works

Have you ever had one of those days where you planned each hour and prepped for all of the activities, and then, in the space of ten minutes, the whole thing unraveled before your eyes which left you with a very different day than the one for which you prepared?  That is today for us.  Our new school term was supposed to start today but sickness and cancelled appointments have intervened so instead we have thermometers and ibuprofen and lots of fluids being brought to the sickbed.

In the past, I would rail against that kind of “wrench in the works” and try to make the child do school anyway or freak out over what wasn’t getting done.  However, the Lord was kind to me this morning and gave me the grace to stop, regroup, and cheerfully accept what I couldn’t change anyway.

I have been reading Secure in the Everlasting Arms by Elisabeth Elliot and this is what I read this morning:

“Almighty God, we bless and praise Thee that we have wakened to the light of another earthly day; and now we will think of what a day should be. Our days are Thine, let them be spent for Thee. Our days are few, let them be spent with care. There are dark days behind us, forgive their sinfulness; there may be dark days before us, strengthen us for their trials. We pray Thee to shine on this day—the day which we may call our own. Lord, we go to our daily work; help us to take pleasure therein. Show us clearly what our duty is; help us to be faithful doing it. Let all we do be well done, fit for Thine eye to see. Give us strength to do, patience to bear; let our courage never fail. When we cannot love our work, let us think of it as Thy task; and by our true love to Thee, make unlovely things shine in the light of Thy great love. Amen.”

—George Dawson, 1821-1876

What a comfort and encouragement for this unexpected day.  I hope it encourages you as well.

New goals for the New Year

Knitting

One of the things I most love about New Year’s Day is the fact that it is the start of a brand new year.  2015 has not yet been lived and it is inviting me to dream about what my life can be rather than regret what I’ve not accomplished this past year.   Part of the New Year’s holiday for me, like so many others around the world, is to think about goals I would like to accomplish this coming year.  Here are just a few that are I most want to accomplish in the upcoming months:

1. Have a life that truly reflects faith and trust in the Lord.  I have noticed a lack in my closeness with God and my ability to follow after Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength this past year. I’m sure it is tied to my neglect of the disciplines of daily Scripture reading and prayer.  This year I want to re-establish those disciplines as I know that a rich spiritual inner life leads to the same richness in my thoughts, feelings, and deeds.

2. Work on my fitness routine.  A few years ago, I had a great routine going but when a bunch of new (and good) changes occurred, my routine fell apart.  A friend has started walking with me two to three days a week and we plan to continue walking this year.  We try to go 2.5 miles every time we walk.  I plan to add in some pilates, too.  My goal is to be a few pounds lighter and in much better shape by the end of the year.

3. Build writing time into my daily routine.  Ever since I read this article on writing for 20 minutes a day a few weeks ago, I realized that if I spend just a few minutes every day, I will get in the habit of writing daily.  I am reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in which she says to sit down every day and you will eventually develop a habit of writing.

4. Reading goals for 2015.

I have a few smaller goals as well but these are my main goals.  Do you have any goals for this year?

Goals for my reading in 2015

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My reading life has improved in the last few years as far as number of books read, but this past year, I slacked off considerably in the number of non-fiction books I read, including theology and devotional books, which has always been a strong category for me.  Also, I never finished Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles, which I had meant to do and while I did stray a bit outside of my normal “comfort zone” of mysteries and middlebrow novels, I would have liked to have read in other genres a bit more.

While I do not like to be too tied down by strict reading plans, I have decided to create a few goals for this year in hopes of expanding my horizons a bit as well as read more non-fiction.

1.  Read at least two non-fiction books a month, especially devotional/theological books and biographies.

2.  Repeat last year’s goal to read more newish fiction (as opposed to my usual classics and 19th/early 20th century books).

3. Finish Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles.

4. Try books in a new genre and/or a genre I generally avoid.

5. Read through the Bible this year; it has been three years since I’ve read through the whole of Scripture.

6. A fun thing to try would be this plan to read the complete works of Shakespeare through in a year.  I don’t have time to do the whole thing in a year but perhaps over two-three years….

What are your reading goals for 2015?  More fiction?  More non-fiction?  Just more reading generally?