Summer Reads

Looking for something good to read by your fellow Christian novelists this summer?

Check out the following in science fiction, romance, and mystery.

Science Fiction

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So what happens when humanity has to be re-booted by AI’s? Updated and now in a paperback edition from my favorite science fiction and fantasy author, here’s a wonderful offering wherein you’ll find elements of faith, knowledge, and redemption intertwined with an exciting plot that will keep you engrossed to the very last page.

Also, an audio and print version of the short story on which the novel is based is available free on the author’s website. “The Understudy” is read by the author and is about 17 minutes long. I promise you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

Romance

Annie Dolze calls her romance “short and sweet,” which is exactly right for a beach or a lawn chair read right on your very own front porch. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

My Baby the Spy involves, to wit,  “Two spies. One very secret baby.” Clean  romances are hard to find and this one’s so well-written I got through it in one sitting! It’s that good. There’s the twists and turns of romance, of course, but the intrigue of espionage will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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… Click on the book cover for more on the plot!

Cozy Mystery

Cybele brings a bit of an international flavor to the cozy mystery genre. The spunky Indian American heroine, Marteena Mohan, discovers that the case of murder that ensnares her as the chief suspect, is not so cozy as hair-raising to solve. As she tries to keep one step ahead of the law and her enemies, she wrestles with the faith that she thought she had abandoned.

By the way, she has some very loyal (and eccentric) friends who have decidedly strong ideas of their own and a detective that is a threat in more ways than one!

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… Click on the book cover for more on the plot!

Well Met, Jude: Mann & Mantel

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I’ve been reading David R. Helm’s Commentary¹ on Jude while finishing up Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy. She’s a gifted writer is Mantel. Her incisive yet poetic imagination will send chills up your spine. And Helm unfolds his commentary with a literary feel that many theologians sadly lack.

I began the first book in Mantel’s trilogy just as the last book, The Mirror & the Light, was being released in March. It had taken Mantel more than fourteen years² of research and writing to complete what she now calls “the central project of my life”³: a project charting the rise and fall of the man best known for masterminding Henry VIII’s break with Rome and ushering in the Protestant Reformation in England.

Cromwell was a complex man whose history is a dark shroud relative to his contemporary’s, the gentleman-born Thomas More of whom much hagiographia exists. So to recover Cromwell, Mantel dug into the many records of his time preserved in libraries and royal court records. She also dug into her imagination to fill in the blanks of his early life working at the forge as a blacksmith’s boy in Putney to working as a clerk with the merchant bankers in Antwerp, before finally being mentored by Cardinal Wolsey who was himself the son of a butcher.

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Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein (1533)

The trajectory of Cromwell’s life as a self-made man who rose to become Henry VIII’s right-hand man and the architect of Tudor policy reverberates to this day. But the rise from commoner to courtier was hard-won. And one thing that Mantel makes clear to the reader is that the past is ever at Cromwell’s elbow: the bellowing voice of his alcoholic father and the feel of his hard fist, the ditches and marshes and hardships of a runaway, the gaze of a dark-eyed lady in Antwerp, the capable steps of his beloved wife, Lizzie, who died of the plague and the disconcerting contradictions that were his two daughters (Anne and little Grace) who died from it the very next year, Wolsey’s silk-clad presence replete in adroit political coups, counsels and strictures, all ghosts that walk the halls of Austin Friars, his London home.

Though the noblemen around him scorn it, he never forgets his history. Neither does Mantel let the reader forget: each line of Cromwell’s history is seen through his eyes and written solidly in the present tense. The reason is very purposeful. Our history would look very different for us now if not for Thomas Cromwell, our present altered past recognition.

During these current days of political and social unrest, one thing remains clear. We cannot have a clear understanding of the present if we don’t remember our history and what has shaped it. History can’t be ignored with impunity. It lies beneath us like unseen geological strata and walks among us peopled by ghosts from the past.

Many thousands of years have passed since Eve took the bite out of the apple but she’s close among us reminding us of that moment every day, the maelstrom of guilt, shame, and  judgment that was pronounced. Each time we bury a loved one, each time we sit by a bedside at a hospital, each time we read of disasters and wars, or see riots and fires and mobs in cities, the twin shades of Adam and Eve pass through our midst. They initiated the rebellion against the rule of God in our world.  We have been driven out of Eden with them. We have birthed our Cains, Abels, and Seths.

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The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve by William Blake, 1826

In his Commentary, Helm points out how conscious Jude is of history as he writes to churches under threat not only of persecution but false teachers. The admonitions and commands in the twenty-five verses that comprise the letter are laden with historical references to events and people, even angels, but not as if they remain in the past, but because they are witnesses to the present.

Much like the novelist Thomas Mann in his masterwork Joseph and His Brothers, Jude too, says Helm, is conscious that figures of history are never dead. They walk as “ancient archetypes” coming to life again, going by different names, working the same mischief, dooming themselves and others to destruction. They are warnings to us as well as examples. And they must be heeded because they are given to us for just that purpose in the scrolls and manuscripts and records on which they have been preserved.

After his greeting “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ,” Jude says he found it necessary to write “appealing to you to contend for the faith” because “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God …” (Jude 1-4). “Long ago” is for Jude as “this” day, a past event and a present danger indicating the same downfall. And so he parades the ghosts of apostates before us, making no distinction between them and the current false teachers, declaiming, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain in Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion” (Jude 11), as if living apostates are the walking dead and damned.

Time, you see, condenses in the present. The dead are among the living.

from Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers (1999) qtd. in Helm, pp. 303-304

History is that which has happened and that which goes on happening in time. But also it is the stratified record upon which we set our feet, the ground beneath us; and the deeper [we] go down into the layers that lie below and beyond … in our moments of less precision we may speak of them in the first person and as though they were part of our flesh-and-blood experience.

Deep-sunk in musing, yet mightily uplifted, was the soul of Jacob in these days when he with his brother Esau buried their father; for all past events stood up in him and became present again in his flesh according to the archetype; and to him it was as though the ground beneath his feet were transparent, consisting of crystal layers going down and down without any bottom and lighted up by lamps which burned between the layers. But he walked above them among the experiences of his proper flesh, Jacob, present in time, and gazed at Esau, who likewise walked again with him according to his archetype and was Edom, the Red.

from Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light (2020), pp. 38 & 64

Austin Friars was a small place once: twelve rooms when he first took the lease for himself and his clerks, for Lizzie and the girls, for Lizzie’s mother Mercy Prior. Mercy has now entered into her old age. She is the lady of the house, but she mostly keeps to her own part, a book open on her knees. She reminds him of an image of St. Barbara he saw once in Antwerp, a saint reading against the noise of a construction site, backed by scaffolding and raw brick. Everybody complains about builders, the the time they take, the mounting expense, the noise and the dust, but he likes their banging and thudding, their songs and their chat, their shortcuts and secret lore. As a boy he was always climbing about on somebody’s roof, often without their knowledge. Show him a ladder and he was up it, seeking a longer view. But when he got up there, what could he see? Only Putney.

Now Austin Friars begins to shape like the house of a great man, its front lit by oriel windows, its small town garden expanding into orchards. He has bought up the parcels of land that adjoin it, some from the friars, and some from the Italian merchants who are his friends and live in this quarter. He owns the neighbourhood, and in his chests…he keeps the deeds that have divided, valued and named it. Here are his freedom and titles, the ancient seals and signatures witnessed of the dead, witnessed by city wardens and sergeants, by aldermen and sheriffs whose chains of office are melted for coin, whose corpses rest under stone. … History inks the skin: it writes on the hide of sheep long slaughtered, or calves who never breathed; the dead cut away the ground beneath us, so that when he descends a stair at Austin Friars, the tread falls away under his foot, and below him there is another stair, no longer visible except in the mind’s eye; and down it goes, to the city where the legions of Rome left their ashes beneath the earth, their glass in the soil, their bones in the river. And down it plunges and down, into the subsoil of himself, through France and Italy and the pays bas, through the lowlands and the quicksands, by the marshes and the meadows estuarine, through the floodplains of his dreams to where he wakes, shocked into a new day: the clang of the anvil from the smithy shakes the sunlight in a room where, a helpless child, he lies swaddled, startled from sleep, feeling as if for the first time the beat of his own heart.


¹David R. Helm, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, Crossway Books, 2008
²https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/05/22/final-book-hilary-mantels-wolf-hall-trilogy-will-finally-published/
³https://www.npr.org/2020/03/08/813384354/the-mirror-and-the-light-author-says-trilogy-is-the-central-project-of-my-life#

 

Journey

I lift up my eyes‬

one day’s dawn closer‬

‪Love’s banners streaming‬

‪nail-scarred grace unrelenting ‬

‪boundless praise flowing‬

shouts bursting

‪tears spilling

‪prayers ascending‬

‪a radiant crescendo‬

‪jeweled vision before me —‬

‪New Jerusalem.‬


Psalm 84: 5-7 NIV

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

The Waiting

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

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Gormley Statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral

It’s not time that drips so slow
through the coffee grinds of the past
that percolates in the heat of memory
now distilling the sweet and bitter
into a narcotic pool of the half-remembered.

It’s not space that encroaches
into visions that come in the night
to shake the weary from slumber
and snap the mind to stark awakening
in the light of the inexorable coming.

It’s eternity placed in the center of being
robbing the world of its threatening specters
carcasses of vanity parading through cheap confetti
chained to open graves of corruption and pride
rotting corpses in that day’s foretold light.

Oh You who call me from realms free of time
where space recedes to glorious expanse of a new dawn
who cautions me in apostolic prophecy,
who stations in my heart the outpost of your dominion,
Oh, now greet me, now descend anew with thy holy kiss!

Thoughts at Dusk, April 2020

There’s no news but breeds new fears
In the flickering light as dusk falls
In the last cry of a distant bird
In the misshapen shadows of the unseen
Within cloistered walls.

Bated breath and heaving sighs
The chill alarm of a sickness bred
In a distant lab, a plague let loose
Not of locusts or frogs but airborne
Contagion, the ghost of times gone.

In the night an insistent distress
A job lost, and mouths to feed,
A waiting game for a government check
One nightmare subsides only to waken
Another in the fell dark.

A manic wind pulls the screen door free
What have we let in, what have we to do;
Across the street, above the lampposts
A twinkling starry host and the watchful moon
Shine their peace.

A Sinner’s Plea

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“Miranda and the Tempest,” John William Waterhouse, 1916

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” (Mark 2:17)

Lord Jesus,
Speak life to my bones
Command health to my soul
Restore loving compassion
Instill sweet amazing grace
Send forth Your Spirit
Throw open the gates
Cast light in the darkness
Lead me to Your Word
Speak of Your blood
Shed from the cross
Grant healing forgiveness
Set free my guilty soul.
Amen.

 

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” … For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10: 9-13, ESV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, ESV)

Lenten Days

 

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Herodian Oil Lamp, 1st c. AD

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor. 7-11, ESV)

Father, before you I kneel in dismay
Ashamed I’ve grieved you again today
Aware that this handful of dust and clay
Rescued from darkness to eternal day
Betrayed your love, from You turned away:
O forgive me, I pray!

Driven by discontent and greed
All I could see was my own selfish need
Taking me swiftly where You do not lead
Enticing in thought, and word, and deed
Faithless to endure and your word to heed:
O Spirit of God, help me!

Nothing I do will right my wrong
Against You I have sinned and oh how I long
To be set free from guilt so strong
Blinding me to whom in love I belong
Who over death my victory won:
My hope rests in Jesus alone!

For His is the blood that washed me clean
His death on the cross covered all my sin
His is the power that sets me free to begin
Humbly to walk with You again
Trusting the word of my sovereign King
For life abundant united to Him!

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


Ash Wednesday was originally the day in the church year when people who were ordered to show public penitence for their sins began forty days of penance—outward displays of inward repentance. Sometime around the end of the first millennium the practice became more general. The symbol of this was marking the forehead with ashes. It was the sign that a person had begun a multi-week fast, with forty weekdays included. They were now setting out on an internal journey of the spirit that would end only with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. The message was visible on their faces” (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save).

Faith’s Furnace

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

…Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
(Daniel 3: 16-18, 24-25)

Even if the fire should scorch
The flames should singe till sight is lost
And flesh burn off like candle wax —

Even if dreams deferred
Rot the heart and sicken hope
To shriveled bones like raisins in the blaze of day —

Even then I will not bow to gilt or gold
To fortune’s prince or hell’s hot blast
For a Love stronger than death.

Continue reading “Faith’s Furnace”