Book Review: Silence by Shusaku Endo

Silence – Shusaku Endo (Picador Classic, 2015)

In the realm of Christian literature, Japan does not loom large. Yet for years, I’ve seen Silence listed amongst the classics. Having finally read it, I find myself both wishing I’d read it years ago and glad that I read it now, in my thirties, with a few years of experience behind me.

The novel begins in the 16th century after Japan leadership has declared Christianity punishable by death and torture. The country is closed to missionaries, leaving those European priests and missionaries already in country stranded and endangered. Quickly realizing that putting Christians to death only creates martyrs for others to follow, the ruling powers work to force Christians to apostatize. They do so by torturing them until they will reject Jesus Christ and stomp on an image of him. (The book deals with Catholic Christianity, meaning that imagery is much more powerful and important to these believers than it may be to a modern Protestant.

The protagonist is a young Jesuit priest, who sneaks into Japan in search of his former mentor, rumoured to have betrayed the faith. We see the story almost entirely from his perspective, from his initial arrival with another priest, hiding in the mountains, to their eventual separation and his arrest. The story is intimate, horrifying, and heartbreaking.

This is a story about the silence of God. I can’t speak to how it might come across to a non-Christian but for me it was moving and, even five hundred years later, painfully familiar. While I have never been persecuted or tortured due to my faith, like most Christians, I have faced a silent God. Based on this book, I suspect Shusaku Endo has faced Him too. This is the question of Silence – what do you do in the midst of suffering when God seems to have turned His back?

The setting of medieval Japan is well-evoked; the peasants living in extreme feudal poverty, the samurais and warlords who rule over them. Endo evokes the extreme differences in these parties, from their power to their dwelling places to what they eat. On the other hand, characterization is slightly thinner. While we are deep inside our central characters mind and spiritual thought, there is almost nothing else known about him. He doesn’t seem to have ever existed before the story began. Likewise, the rest of the characters are shown briefly. Important while on page but hard to imagine otherwise.

For Christians who enjoy literature or readers wanting a fictional glimpse into a Christian experience, I highly recommend Silence.

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Book Review: Such is My Beloved by Morley Callaghan

Such is My Beloved - Morley Callaghan (McClelland & Stewart, 1994)

Such is My Beloved – Morley Callaghan (McClelland & Stewart, 1994)

Father Dowling is a young Catholic priest in a city parish. One day he happens to meet two young women, prostitutes, and begins a sort of friendship with them. His love for them is strong – perhaps even Christ-like – but shockingly naive and his increasing single-mindedness and involvement in their lives becomes distorting and distracting in every other aspect of his life. Father Dowling’s love for Ronnie and Midge, though platonic, seems to push out all other considerations and duties until, inevitably, his life and his vocation are affected.

The girls alternate between taking advantage of the young priest and genuinely liking him. Brazen one minute, shy and embarrassed the next, they have no idea how to react to his presence in their lives. The reader doesn’t see far into their minds but we are given a sense of their conflict, as well as some background to explain how they ended up where they are. In this, the 1930s Depression-era setting is crucial. Father Dowling is desperate to get the women off the streets, not realizing how difficult it is to find decent employment.

The story is short on plot, comprising primarily of Father Dowling’s thoughts and feelings, his reflections on this strange love he has developed, interspersed with visits to the girls. These are contrasted with his increasingly brief interactions with the other priests, as well as a rich parishioner who he attempts to engage to help Ronnie and Midge. Father Dowling’s atheist friend, Charlie, acts as a sort of foil for the characters of the other priests and the church parishioners, being the person who Dowling can speak to most openly. Charlie’s relationship with his girlfriend (a Catholic woman) also seems to act as a subtle mirror to Father Dowling’s relationship with the young prositutes.

As someone who’s spent a lot of time in and around church ministry, I found this book stressful. Most men I know who work in the church make a great effort to avoid any semblance of sexual misconduct, some going as far as to ensure they are never alone with a woman. And so while Father Dowling’s desire to help is admirable, he puts himself in a position to be misunderstood by others, frequently visiting the girls in the hotel they live in, in the same rooms where they perform their job. As the novel progresses, he becomes increasingly convinced of his holy love and even more reckless in his behaviour. This alienates him further from the church and the reader has to wonder if by taking better precautions in the beginning, he might actually have been able to help Ronnie and Midge more.

Father Dowling seems meant to be a Jesus figure (though he’s too naive to quite fit the profile), including his ultimate end with the religious authorities. There’s a fascinating scene near the end of the novel with the Bishop (who might be the Pontius Pilate figure) as he struggle with inner conflict but ultimately washes his hands of the consequences.

Overall, the book feels dated and I’m not sure how much it would interest a modern reader without a religious background. The Catholic church has been through so many scandals since the 1930s that Father Dowling’s actions seem pretty mild. Such is My Beloved is an interesting glimpse at Canada in the 1930s though and so perhaps deserves its spot amongst 20th century Canadian literature.

Book Review: Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

Reflections on the Psalms - C.S. Lewis (A Harvest Book, 1958)

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (A Harvest Book, 1958)

I started (an attempt at least) to read a Psalm before bed every night in the fall. So it seemed like the perfect time to read this lesser known work of C.S. Lewis.

In typical, self-deprecating Lewis fashion, he begins by explaining why he’s not really qualified but here are some of his thoughts anyway. And also in typical Lewis style, he has some real wisdom to offer.

Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the Psalms, beginning with the most distasteful and uncomfortable (such as the cursing of enemies or bragging about how blessed you are). Lewis provides insight as to what these songs and poems might have meant to their original audience, separating them from the modern meanings we can’t help but ascribe to them.

One thing that surprised me was that Lewis treats the Psalms largely as Pagan poetry. He makes the crucial distinction of them being written before the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Therefore there are things the psalmists simply could not have known or even guessed at. The modern reader has the benefit of hindsight to see a clearer (and more prophetic) meaning to many of the Psalms.

Which isn’t to say that that meaning is wrong. As Christians we believe that all scripture is influenced and inspired by God. As Lewis beautifully puts it, “No good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights.” So while the Psalmists might not have known the entire significance of what they composed, through the Holy Spirit those references certainly are deliberate and important.

But no one now (I fancy) who accepts that spiritual or second sense is denying, or saying anything against, the very plain sense which the writers did intent.

– C.S. Lewis

At the same time, according to Lewis, the writers of the Psalms are human and sinful and some of their own shortcomings find their way into the Psalms. If anything, this should encourage us, that we sinners can also be used to spread the Word of God.

For our “services” both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures. We are not riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we are, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster. To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God—drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.

– C.S. Lewis

Book Review: A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

A Grief Observed - C.S. Lewis (Faber & Faber, 2013)

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis (Faber & Faber, 2013)

I read a review of A Grief Observed recently that suggested this is a book read primarily by the bereaved and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. This is a book read by those who have experienced loss and who are struggling. I’ve read it once before, more than a decade ago, but it seemed like a book to return to in this time of my life.

A Grief Observed doesn’t have the polish and academic tone of Lewis’ other writings on Christianity. This is Lewis’ journal, his notes and thoughts in the early days and weeks after the death of his wife. It’s raw, it’s painful, and it’s very personal. Lewis doesn’t offer answers for the book’s questions of grief and afterlife and where is God in the suffering. He doesn’t have those answers. He can only ask the questions and try to piece together who God is in spite of the pain.

The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Lewis’ pain and grief is evident on every page; the ache with which he misses his life’s companion is hard to read about. He pushes against and questions God and wonders why and yet he returns to God and to the idea of God’s goodness. Not because it seems evident in his life but because it is what he knows best at the core of his being and grief without God is far worse than grief with God.

While this isn’t a reassuring book, it is a comforting one. It is a book that even all these years later tells the grieving, You are not alone. I find comfort in that. In the reminder that grief is a real and valid thing. That a man I greatly respect and whose wisdom I have benefited from experienced something similar. If misery loves company, A Grief Observed provides a little of that company, while still pointing the reader back to the ultimate source of comfort.

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.

Book Review: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981) (Guess who took those tiny bites out of the cover of my book?)

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981)
(Guess who took those tiny bites out of the cover of my book?)

The convergence of literature and religion is something that has long interested me as a reader, a writer, and a Christian. It’s rare that I’m quite satisfied with the way Christianity and the Christian life and walk is portrayed in art (this was one of my primary complaints with such books as Good to a Fault and The Bishop’s Man) but Graham Greene* accomplishes this with skill and pathos. His portrayal of a man struggling with morality, damnation, faith, and trust is heartbreakingly real. This quote comes as the main character, Scobie, struggles in prayer over his final decisions:

No one can speak a monologue for long alone – another voice will always make itself heard; every monologue sooner or later becomes a discussion. So now [Scobie] couldn’t keep the other voice silent; it spoke from the cafe of his body: it was as if the sacrament which had lodged there for his damnation gave tongue. You say you love me, and yet you’ll do this to me – rob me of you for ever. I made you with love. I’ve wept your tears. I’ve saved you from more than you will ever know; I planted in you this longing for peace only so that one day I could satisfy your longing and watch your happiness. And now you push me away, you put me out of your reach. There are no capital letters to separate us when we talk together. I am not Thou but simply you, when you speak to me; I am humble as a any other beggar. Can’t you trust me as you’d trust a faithful dog? I have been faithful to you for two thousand years.

Scobie is a British police man in a West African colony during World War II. He’s been there for fifteen years. He’s scrupulously honest – refusing bribes and favours that many others take – and he does his job well. Yet he’s unpopular with the other officers and he’s passed over for the role of Commissioner in favour of a newer, younger man. His wife, Louise, unhappy with the colony and humiliated by this slight, pushes for Scobie to send her away. A break, they call it, a few months in another location before he joins her and they’ll be at peace again. Scobie doesn’t have the money for this but Louise’s persistence and his own desire both to make her happy and to be alone result in him borrowing the funds from a questionable source.

This is Scobie’s first misstep and from there the novel traces his steady, slippery fall into a murky region of immorality. Greene’s foreshadowing is stupendous, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Nothing heavy-handed but events unfold with a sort of inevitability that kept me reading and made me more sympathetic for Scobie than I might have been otherwise.

After Louise departs, Scobie is called to help deal with the survivors of a passenger ship attacked and sunk by enemy boats. (The war has this sort of peripheral but crucial role in the story.) Here he meets Helen Rolt, a very young woman widowed in the attack, and the course of his life is altered.

What they had both thought was safety proved to have been the camouflage of an enemy who works in terms of friendship, trust and pity

Graham Greene proves himself as both a skilled writer and a man who understands the struggle, the tragedy, and the delight of religious faith. This is the second novel by Graham Greene I’ve read (I read The Power and the Glory years ago) and I will definitely be reading more.

 

* Irrelevant personal fact: When I was a kid there was a Canadian actor named Graham Greene who was on TV and I thought that he and the author Graham Greene were the same person for longer than I probably should have.

Book Review: A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

A Tale of Three Kings - Gene Edwards (Tyndale, 1992)

A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards (Tyndale, 1992)

This is a unique little book in that it isn’t quite a Biblical lesson, it isn’t quite a story. It’s a retelling, of sorts, of the stories of Saul, David, and Absalom, particularly as relates to David’s connections with each.

Saul was the first king of Israel, chosen by God when the people demanded they have a king so that they might be like the other nations around them. While Saul seems to start out well, he quickly falls into sinful behaviour and ceases to follow God. While Saul is still alive, a young shepherd boy named David is anointed as the next king of Israel. Saul becomes increasingly insane and eventually David is on the run for his life, living out of caves and in constant fear. Yet, when he is presented with an opportunity to kill Saul, he doesn’t. Because David trusts in God’s plan and God’s timing.

Fast forward years later. David is king. Throughout the Bible, David is described as “a man after God’s own heart”. Not a perfect man (see: Bathsheba and Uriah) but a man who genuinely seeks and desires God. The book of Psalms is filled with David’s honest cries to God – his praises and his pleas. David is a good king, chosen by God. His son Absalom, however, is steadily fomenting revolution. So here we have a contrast to the story of Saul and David. Now we have David and Absalom, where David is the king and another seeks to overthrow him. The question that the characters raise here is this: “Is Absalom another David? Or is he another Saul?” And, most importantly, how will David choose to respond?

Edwards points out that Saul was anointed by God and reminds us that sometimes people are in positions of power because that is God’s plan and just because they are insane or sinful or seem to be making the wrong decisions, doesn’t make it any less a part of God’s plan. He also makes the excellent point that we don’t always know who is a Saul and who is a David. Often, in the midst of action, we don’t know what the end result will be. We don’t know how history will view our current events. We don’t know what “the right side of history” so to speak will be.

Book Review: Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Crazy Love, Gale Cengage Learning, 2007

Crazy Love, Gale Cengage Learning, 2007

There are two ways I have to approach a book like this. 1) As a reader and 2) as a Christian.

In the first instance, I didn’t love this book. I really wanted to. I’ve heard great things about Chan as a speaker but it unfortunately seems to be the case that, though he may be a great preacher, he is not a great writer. The book is short and certainly not complex but it took me a long time to get through. It wasn’t until the last couple of chapters that I really felt engaged.

That said, this is a book for Christians and I have to look at it as such. It’s a book for church-going, middle class, happy with their lives Christians. It was a timely read for me. After some big struggles in the past year and a half, life has gotten so good for me. I think every day how fortunate I am, how much I have. It’s really easy for me to live in this bubble of suburban motherhood where my biggest concerns are Pearl’s nap schedule and what am I making for dinner and how often do I really need to dust my house. And while I believe that my job as Pearl’s mom and my role as Peter’s partner in life are truly valuable and important, it’s so easy to be complacent. To throw out a “Thanks for everything, God!” and not give much further thought to the creator of the universe.

This is what Chan is speaking against. This book is a warning cry against lukewarm Christianity. Chan, the pastor of a church in southern California, explicitly details what a lukewarm Christian might look like and reminds us that, as stated in Revelation, God will spit the lukewarm Christians out of His mouth. Chan is calling Christians to question whether or not they are really living as if they believe in and love God. One of the most compelling points in the book for me was when Chan, speaking of Jesus’ parable of the sower, says,

My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil.

While his intent isn’t to simply strike fear in his reader’s hearts or to make you question your salvation, Chan is challenging the church to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t look for how little you can get by with or how much you can get away with and still get into Heaven. Instead, Chan reminds us that the Bible compares Christ and the Church to a bride and groom and that when you are in love with someone – head-over-heels obsessed – you want to do everything for that person. You want to spend time together. You find the flimsiest ways to bring them up in conversation with other people. You will travel or work or sacrifice to make their lives better. And you don’t do so resentfully or reluctantly but with joy. This is how God feels about us and it’s how we as Christians should feel about God.

And when we do these things, that love should flow extravagantly into the rest of our lives. It should dictate and influence every interaction we have, every choice we make, every word we speak. This is where the real challenge comes in, at least for me. Do my actions demonstrate my love for Christ? Is my faith real and strong enough to take risks? To take risks with my finances, my home, my career, even with my family? Do I trust God enough to ask Him to truly work in my heart and in my life? To me, that can be such a terrifying thought. Because God might ask me to do something I don’t want to do. He might ask something of me that I don’t understand. He might ask me to let go of something that I’ve been gripping to tightly.

The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.

This is the paradox of faith. (Or one of the paradoxes at least!) That we are called to take big, terrifying steps. We are called to do things that we cannot possibly do. But we are called to these things by an infinitely loving God who has promised to never forsake us, to walk the dark paths with us. And yet, I am not even capable of reaching out to take His hand without His help. Instead, I can barely manage to pray, “God, help me not to clench my fist when You reach out to hold my hand.”

I have experienced that hand-holding, deeply passionate love of God for me. My whole life, really, but especially in the past two years. There have been things I’ve had to let go that I thought were truly what was right for my life. There are other things that I am still learning to release. Now, with a little bit of distance, I am overwhelmed by how much I’ve been given. How much I have. The question is – and this is the question that Chan is calling believers to ask – what am I going to do with what I have received?

I loved this prayer that Chan shares from A.W. Tozer and it is a prayer that I will be praying:

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire.

O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.”

Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

Book Review: What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey

What's So Amazing About Grace, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997

What’s So Amazing About Grace, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997

Grace is a small word with a big meaning. It deserves to have an entire book devoted to the subject (or multiple books) and Yancey is an excellent choice to tackle the subject. He delves deeply into grace here. What is it? What does the Bible say about it? Why is it important? And what does grace look like in our world? In our churches?

At the heart of the gospel is a God who deliberately surrenders to the wild, irresistible power of love.

Yancey examines stories like the parable of the Prodigal Son or Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman to show the grace that Christ demonstrated and desires from us. He details instances of legalism and its damages – both among Christians and non-believers – and Yancey exhorts the church today to learn grace. This is definitely a book aimed at Christians and Yancey acknowledges the fact that, without Christ, grace makes no sense. But for those who know Jesus, it is the most important thing of all.

The church falls short of this again and again and has throughout history. (By the way, when I say “the church”, I mean both the church as a whole and those individuals who make up that whole.) When people speak against religion or church they speak of judgement, of legalism – they are speaking about a lack of grace, whether or not they would use that term.

In comparison, we have been offered the ultimate gesture of grace from God: the sacrifice of Jesus. We never have and never will deserve that grace but it has been given freely and so we are called to respond.

The solution to sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behaviour. It is to know God.

There’s lots to challenge Christians in this book and I think that’s a good thing. Although written in 1997, it struck me that the current events and issues Yancey talks about are still hugely relevant today. News that has dominated this year: homosexual marriage, the Syrian refugee crisis, racism and civil rights; these are major issues in North America and the church needs to be leading the way in grace toward others.

Jesus did not let any institution interfere with his love for individuals.

Yancey has often been open about the lack of grace and the extent of the legalism in which he was raised. He speaks at length in this book about how his childhood church fight for segregation in the southern United States. It was a church without grace. When I was in university, for a while I had the job of writing regular e-mails on behalf of a Christian group on campus. I was once taken to task by a local pastor for including a quote by Thomas Merton in an e-mail, because Merton was a Catholic. It’s an experience that still bothers me and it came to mind as I read What’s So Amazing About Grace? I finally realized that what hurt me most in that encounter was a lack of grace. The church needs grace. A grace-filled church will ooze grace outwards. And grace will change the world. It already has.

Next Week’s Review: The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston

Book Review – A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

IMG_5184

This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time and it did not disappoint. I was familiar with Rachel Held Evans’ writing through her blog – mostly posts circulated by friends. And while I’ve never followed it religiously (pun!) I’ve generally appreciated what I’ve read from Evans.

A Year of Biblical Living (Thomas Nelson, 2013) chronicles Evans’ year spent attempting to live as closely as possible to the Biblical model of womanhood. Or at least, the Biblical model of womanhood as it is perceived today. (Comparisons to A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically are apt but the female perspective is crucial here.) While Evans doesn’t follow everything through for the full year, she does devote each month to a particular facet – from Purity to Obedience to Silence. She calls her husband “Master”. She attempts to cook her way through Martha Stewart in an effort to be a better wife. She remains completely silent in church. At the same time – and the part I enjoyed the most – Evans’ delves into research. She explores the roots of where we get our ideas about Biblical womanhood today. Through interviews with Jewish women, Christian scholars, and the women around her, Evans attempts to pull apart what’s Biblical and what’s cultural. It’s an important distinction and one I was able to learn a lot from.

As an adult, as a woman, and as a Christian, I’ve struggled with many of the concepts that Evans addresses and I appreciated her honesty as much as her investigation and exploration.

“…in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God’s presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God’s presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.

“If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation.”

Right there, Evans articulates a problem I’ve long struggled to identify amongst evangelical, conservative Christians. In an effort to elevate and value the role of a woman who stays home to care for her house and family (something I believe is fully worthy of respect), there are those who seem only able to do so at the expense of the working woman. As if a career is something you only do because you’re not married. Yet. Or you don’t have children. Yet. And not because you’re happy and fulfilled in your job. Or because you feel called to your chosen career. Or even because, at this point in your life, work is the best thing for you and your family.

I’ve been asked a few times recently if I plan to stay home after I have children. My honest answer is, I’m not sure. And I don’t want to answer that yet. Yes, I would love to be at home while my kids are young. I would love to be able to provide that for these kids and for my husband. But I also know myself and I know that in a year or two or less or more, I might miss working. I might miss the stimulation and challenge of a job. I might miss the regular contact with the outside world. I might even realize that I’ll be a better parent when I have a day or more a week away from my home and in a job. And that’s okay. I want to give myself permission now to have that option down the road.

I’ve sat and listened to Christian lecturers tell me that my ultimate role exists as a wife and a mother. That I shouldn’t desire anything more. That my family will suffer if I work outside of the home, if I send my kids to public school, if my husband comes home to a dark house and I rush in from work and make him Kraft Dinner. I believe that’s a lie. I believe that God created me (and every woman) with deep complexity. I believe He instilled in me skills and gifts and desires of all kinds. Some serve me well in my home and benefit my husband and will benefit my children. But others are laid deep within me and are there to benefit society, those in the community around me and maybe the world. I don’t think those desires are wrong; I don’t think they should be hidden away. I sat in a lecture like that next to a dear friend of mine, working on her Masters degree in Public Health, who told me afterward that she was sure being in school was the right choice for her, was what God had planned for her. And I applaud her. I look at so many of my Christian girlfriends who are smart and driven and who are changing the world.

I think of having a daughter of my own one day and what I’ll tell her about her future.

“God has big plans for you,” I’ll say. “God has good plans for you. He might take you anywhere. You might be a wife, a mother, a missionary, a doctor, a chemist, a researcher. You could be an accountant or a proof reader or a grocery store clerk. You can be more than one of those things at once. Don’t let anyone – even in the name of God – tell you to dream smaller.”

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”

I think my favourite part of the book was when Evans addresses Proverbs 31. If you’ve been a woman in the Christian church for a fair amount of time, this chapter has hovered over your head. While beautiful, it can also be the Biblical equivalent of the magazine covers in the grocery story checkout line. Here’s what you should be. Here are all the ways you fail to match up. I certainly have never bought land or made clothes. And while I hope my husband and children rise up and call me blessed, it’s more likely to be for my chocolate chip cookies and sense of humour than because of my profitable trading.

But Evans goes to the source and examines the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 31.

“I looked into this, and sure enough, in Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song.”

Doesn’t that change everything? Instead of Proverbs 31 being a laundry list of requirements, of ways that we should act and aren’t, it’s a celebration. It’s a blessing. As Evans puts it, something to be given unconditionally, not earned.

“A woman of valour” – that’s what the Proverbs 31 woman is. And she might be a woman who brings by a meal for a friend who’s sick. Or who is up all night with a colicky baby. Or who comes home from a long day of work and kicks off her shoes. It is a woman who does things – any thing – for God.

Ultimately, that’s who this book is for: women striving to worship God. Though it probably be of interest to men and women curious to know what the Bible really has to say about the role of women.

Book Review – Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

“I am trying to remain open to new realities, not blaming God when my expectations go unmet but trusting Him to lead me through failures toward renewal and growth.”

What I appreciate most when it comes to Philip Yancey’s writing is his honesty. I think he’s a wise man but he never pretends to have answers that he doesn’t. He puts his own doubts, his own uncertainties, front and centre and, by doing so, allows the reader to freely express their own. I have no time for Christian writers who pretend Christianity to be only mountain-tops and walks on the beach with Jesus. I have walked this road long enough to know that isn’t true. Yet neither do I wish to wallow in the valleys, in the shadows. The mountain-tops are real, but they’re hard to get to some times.

As Yancey writes:

“The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.”

In Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000), Yancey delves into those times in the Christian faith when God feels far away from us. He delves into the reality – both harsh and beautiful – that we worship and believe in a God we cannot see or touch.

“Life with God advances like any relationship: unsteadily, with misunderstandings and long periods of silence, with victories and failures, testings and triumphs. To achieve the perfection that drew us on the quest, we must wait until the race has ended, until death, and the waiting itself is an act of extraordinary faith and courage.”

Depending on my mood on any given day, that statement alternates between encouraging and horrifying. This is a journey that will not end while I live. The glimpses of perfection that which “drew us on the quest” – the highs we might experience, particular at the beginning of our Christian life – draw us forward. Those “Ezekial moments”, sustain us, encourage us. And yet, the promise of those moments will never be entirely fulfilled while we live these human lives.

Yancey offers encouragement here though.

“The journey itself is the goal. The very quest for our God, our determined pursuit, changes us in the ways that matter most. The silence and darkness we encounter, the temptations, and even the sufferings can all contribute to God’s stated goal of shaping us into persons more like He intended – more like His Son.”

One thing that I’ve come to learn in my Christian walk is that some times the act of doing something is very important. While I don’t follow a faith that says my actions gain me salvation, I do believe that they can help me along. I don’t feel like reading my Bible every day. Maybe you do and, in all honesty, I’m envious of that. I read my Bible because I believe that in doing so, I benefit myself and those around me. I believe that the more I read, the more I might desire to read. And I believe that even this pitiful effort pleases God. I truly believe that He can take my weak, sinful effort to read the Bible and He can use to change me. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.”

It isn’t our actions that save us, but a loving God who searches for the heart behind the action.Yancey puts it this way:

“Transformation comes, in the end, not from an act of will, but an act of grace. We can only ask for it and keep asking.”

It is that beautiful moment in Mark, when the father of a demon-possessed boy, cries out to Jesus,

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

What I found most encouraging in Yancey’s book was the reminder that doubt, uncertainty, and frustration are all normal passages in the Christian. Not ones where we should dwell, but paths we all walk through. Yancey offers encouragement, not answers, but most importantly, he reminds us, he reminds himself, that we are not alone.

“Hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Hosea 12:6

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.