I’ve been reading many many books — they aren’t particularly connected, but thought I would mention a few of them.
I only read “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen because my book group picked it. It haunts me. Thanks to both some of the material via my online Princeton certificate course, some of the study and workshops at the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Stories, and recent events — from Ferguson to Baltimore to more global conflicts — I am coming to understand how naive I have always been, how privileged even. The cycle of violence, the cycle of retribution — it seems to lead nowhere and of course seems so much more “natural” than forgiveness and restoration. I guess that is sin, yes? This biography of Chris Kyle, a SEAL and sniper, and his experiences of training, war, and love was a jarring contrast. There’s obviously a part of me that is like “Jesus can sort this out, this is over my pay grade.” If Chris Kyle had lived longer, to be a grandfather for example, would he have changed in his hatred of the enemy? Can you be a soldier and love your enemy? And is it just me being naive? I can just not pay attention to war — maybe that is sinful. No, that is sinful. I should pray for all the soldiers, all the armed forces, and yet pray for peace. I shouldn’t turn away from either. Seriously in some ways this book broke my heart.
Now, “The Rosemary Tree” by Elizabeth Gouge was a surprising delight. First, I thought I had read all the Gouge books there were. It was just pure joy to discover this. While it has a large cast of characters, who end up interconnected and in relationship in surprising and often beautiful ways, the center character in a way is the frail retried Nanny — who can work only by prayer these days. Being a fiction narrative, of course her prayers have wonderful results. Other characters pray as well. The language, the descriptions — it is all beautiful, powerful in its own quiet way. This is prayer in a mystical way, as if one can become one with God, feel His love, His presence, perhaps as golden light or protective darkness. Perhaps we all have moments of feeling a little like this, whether we call it prayer or not? It struck me that the characters were disconnected from reading the bible (even the Vicar/father character) — being a Christian all based on feeling is not what I would recommend. Frankly sometimes you are going to be bored. Or it’s going to be hard. Or it’s going to be confusing. However this sounds as if I didn’t like this book but I loved it. The children especially were so delightful and real. And there’s a happy ending with true love all over the place! In terms of justice/restoration — God works it out. There is an evil character that will be haunting too. The character made me so angry! And it made me angry that the other characters didn’t fight her or resist or often even seem to realize what was going on….
Prayer by Timothy Keller is the “Christian” book I finished this summer. I’ve been reading it slowly for many months. I recommend it very highly. Any question you might think of concerning prayer, I bet it is in here somewhere. I really like the emphasis on connecting prayer to bible study. Between this book and some of the stuff I’ve been learning and experiencing in classes, my prayer life has both expanded and, frankly and sadly, contracted. First, on the plus side, I try not to pray for x or y now, I try to pray for relationships/wholeness. So — not “Holy father, please be with Kyle’s children and keep them safe” but more “Holy father, please be with Kyle’s children and keep them safe and help them to know you and your love, way deep in their hearts, with a peace that is your greatest gift to all of us, out of your mercy and abundance.” It isn’t that more words are good — or that that is even the best I can do — but the focus isn’t just on God like Santa giving things, but God like a father acting in relationship and protection. Or, well, maybe? On the other hand — and this is terrible to admit — but I think I pray less often now….. I can’t quite come up with a pattern or habit of prayer. What do you all do? (It could be of course that I’m still just taking baby steps in prayer, and should be laughing at myself.)