Sometimes my heart just throbs for meaning in ordinary living, and for God’s presence in my scheduled bustle, and my mental flurry. Doesn’t yours? I know that He is less than a gauzy veil away, but I often feel that I’ve turned a corner and lost his familiar shadow treading next to mine. In these moments, I realize anew the blessing of fellow wanderers who have found the way. Who doesn’t need a reminder to recognize the beauty in today? These three books re-define significance, casting a vision for the God who meets us in the small things.
Roots and Sky
Author: Christie Purifoy
Published: February 2016, Revell
Length: 208 pages
I drank this book like a parched soul who did not even known she was thirsty. Thirsty for pouring into a place and making it beautiful, and thirsty to know that the smell of simmering apples and cinnamon makes God smile too! Christie Purifoy gave up her career and a steady paycheck to buy an old brick farmhouse with a plot of ground, and pursue her dream of re-building it into a home. Roots and Sky traces her journey toward homecoming. The tired days, the depressed months, the fists-at-the-sky tantrums, and the oh-so-thankful glimpses of what is “adding up to something astonishing.” I am thirsty to know that my apartment-hopping, schedule-swapping, career-untangling days are still part of home, because home is not just a destination, it is a journey.
Christie’s story is crafted by memoir, so it unfurls through her own dreams, and lessons learned, but she touches longings that we all share. God speaks to her in chipped paint, snowflakes, and scratched bannisters, and listening in reminds us too to open an ear to God in every moment. Her life includes many things mine does not: children, a house, or a green thumb. But everything in her story says that God has made all things good, and the weight of significance rests in peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
A few nibbles of wisdom wedged in my heart this time around, but there are many more within these pages. To summarize a few of Christie’s words, God invites us to celebrate the extravagance of life with Him! Excesses such as ordinary days, countless specimens of plants and animals, and more beauty than is necessary everywhere you look make us re-think our judgment of waste. May I remember to participate in God’s overflow next time I savor a bite of chocolate cake. Many of these superfluous treasures are impermanent. Spring bulbs scarcely remain for one season, and many creatures live for a mere day. But, in God’s kingdom, perfect and eternally significant should not be confused with unchanging. Next time a friendship lasts only for a few months or all that effort baking cookies disappears ten minutes after the oven beeps, I have a chance to receive this truth. In fact, God’s glory is in ALL the earth. In the raw, not the idealistic; in burnt toast, not just the perfect meal. There is no need to burden our hearts with pursuing significance outside of this: we testify to God’s glory by hearing His very words whispered all around us in Creation, and cultivating this beauty with Him.
Gift from the Sea
Author: Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Published: 2005, Pantheon Books (1955 originally)
Length: 144 pages
Originally published in 1955, this classic of the faith sold 300,000 copies its first year and has been in print ever since. Written by the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the famous, record-braking pilot, Anne writes very personally. In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas describes Anne’s struggles with fame’s lack of privacy and a controlling, sometimes cruel husband.
The couple suffered the kidnapping and murder of their first-born baby, and, according to biographer Susan Hertog, affairs on both sides. Anne does not mention any of these specifics in her reflections, but writes from the depth and understanding of one who has lived a lot of life, and worked to squeeze the beauty from it. Anne took a secluded week in a seaside cabin, and here Gift from the Sea was born. It holds eight chapters of reflection, each inspired by various shells and the beach’s magic, on topics such as family, womanhood, life’s purpose, and what we need at our core.
Rather than pining to stay alone by the sea forever, her reflections churn around how to bring the peace and centeredness she found in isolation into practice within an easily fragmented home life. The triumph of this work of recognizing beauty in the small things is the example she sets of habitually noticing common objects we might easily overlook, and holding them in sight until they release wisdom. She views the world as full of jewels, or hidden messages, waiting to be un-dusted by the seeker.
The Pleasure of God
Author: J. Ellsworth Kalas
Published: Febrary 2016, Westminster John Knox Press
Length: 124 pages
This slim volume is divided into twenty-two chapters, each pondering one of the many ordinary tasks no person can avoid, tasks which, by necessity, make up the majority of our time. We cook a meal, shower, walk to the car and shop for groceries. And then we sleep. Would we be closer to God if we could avoid so many earth-bound pursuits and concentrate on weightier matters? Kalas argues “no” for a list of activities that continually surprised me.
I have considered the glory in a beautiful meal, but have never considered what good company I am in when I pack moving boxes. The importance of solitary times I readily acknowledge, but leisure time seems much less God-full. Yet, as Kalas reflects, God’s smile must radiate “when a preschooler giggles at something a busy adult doesn’t see, or when an eleven-year-old lies in the summer grass and dreams of she knows not what.” It is easy to think that directly spiritual activities please God most, and so easy to feel guilty when other moments don’t make this cut. But Kalas’ examination shortened my gap between heaven and earth. I don’t have to wait until devotions to find God. He has drawn near in the showers I take (this is, after all, a cleansing), in the steps I tread (God himself walked with Enoch, Adam, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus), even in my errands and work (wasn’t the Sabbath God’s celebration of work? The good work He had done?). Thank you, God, that you are already here.
Former professor and president of Asbury Theological Seminary, as well as a prolific writer, Kalas passed away last November. Asbury’s announcement of the professor’s passing, with a short bio, may be found here.