Category: Reading

Let’s Talk About Easter!

Yes, you heard me right: EASTER! I know it’s unusual. I know it’s weird. I know I am weird.
In September/October I read the book “Surprised by Hope” by N. T. Wright. And in it he talks about “Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church”. His thoughts fascinated me. His description of why it matters how we live now, had me baffled. The inside flap of the book cover reads:

“Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. For if God intends to renew the whole creation – and if this has already begun in Jesus’s resurrection – the church cannot stop at ‘saving souls’ but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God’s kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.”

It came to me as a big surprise when I read his explanation on “the new heavens and the new earth”, but also what happens to the dead until this new heaven and the new earth are in place. It’s a different perspective, very new to me, since I grew up with a whole different set of teachings. I plan to really work through this book one more time, since there were so many new astonishing interpretations.
BUT the reason I’d like to talk about EASTER in a Christmas post is also something that I learned in this book. On page 255 and following, Wright talks about “Celebrating Easter” and he basically tells us that our celebrations of the “big” church events are totally upside down. We start with Advent & Christmas, which are celebrated like nothing else on our calendar. HUGE, elaborate, amazing… Then comes Lent, which is only being observed by a few people. Then the drama peaks again with Good Friday. The churches I know make a very big deal out of Good Friday. Which it is, of course. But then:
What about Easter?
It kind of disappears after the big drama of Good Friday. Easter is then just one of the “normal” Sundays. Sometimes it’s turned into a baptism service, that represents the resurrection of Christ. But then it’s done, right? Well, not according to Wright:

“Easter week itself ought not be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up…”
Well, that really got me thinking this fall, and especially once Advent came closer, I thought about Easter more and more. I don’t think I ever contemplated the importance of Jesus’s resurrection before I read this book. What an eye opener!!!

(By the way, did you read his mentioning of “champagne” in connection with Easter celebration? For North Americans that might be very strange. But not for Europeans. I fondly remember many celebrations that we had, called “champagne breakfast” or “Sektfruehstueck” in German.)
And since I’m a very visual person, I thought about what it would be like, if we had that big “ugly” cross from Good Friday up on stage at Christmas time? It could be next to the Christmas tree and the manger. Why not? Why not have a reminder that Christmas was only one part in God’s overall plan to save us from our sins, from our brokenness and hopelessness. What about an empty tomb next to the Christmas tree? And lots and lots of flowers, real flowers (which might be hard to come by in our climate zone), but one can dream, right?

“Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity;… We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and para-religious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.”               (N. T. Wright)
I definitely learned a lot about the proportions of each holiday, and that’s just from a few pages of that book! From now on I definitely want to celebrate Easter differently. That’s one of the New Year’s resolutions I’m working on…

But to prove to you that I haven’t gone “totally weird” – yet, I will include a few pictures of my decorations for this Christmas:

My daughter’s advent calendar. Made many years ago.

The stockings are hung, but not filled yet.

Don’t worry, I do know there are only 4 Advent Sundays.
These were just leftover candles that I had.

So, with that said, I do wish everyone a wonderful, blessed and Merry Christmas and I’ll be back after the holidays!

Still Reading…

I’m still reading this book. I can’t rush through it. I have to savor the words, the meanings… And English being my third language, I really enjoy getting to know some new ways to express things, feelings, circumstances… I am thoroughly enjoying this book. I’m now reading chapter 9 (out of 11).

But chapter 8  “How Will He Not Also?” talks about TRUST. My trust in God.  Ann Voskamp asks this question on page 148: “Without trust in the good news of Jesus, without trust in the good news of God’s saving work even in this moment, without an active, moment-by-moment trust in the good news of an all-sovereign, all-good God, how can we claim to fully believe?”

And a few paragraphs down she answers with:

“If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief… atheism.”

Lately I had a few situations where I had to let go and trust God. Totally. Completely.

One of the situations was that my daughter got sick a few weeks ago. And being many thousand miles away did not help either. There was nothing I could do to ease her pain, or to help her in that situation. I had to trust the people she’s travelling with and the people she was staying with. But ultimately I had to trust God that He would provide for her, comfort her and ease her pain and restore her health. It was a VERY long week for both of us.

Thanks is what builds trust.” (Ann Voskamp, page 150)

It helped a lot that my daughter got sick the week of the American Thanksgiving. Because I really learned to thank God in ALL circumstances. (I’ve wrote about it in this post.)

I’m thankful that God orchestrated even the timing of it. He does care about his children. He really does. And also reading this book about EUCHARISTEO = giving thanks in all circumstances. The timing on this could not have been better. And for the last few weeks I’ve deliberately started to give thanks. To practice eucharisteo daily.

“Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on… This living a lifestyle of intentional gratitude became an unintentional test in the trustworthiness of God – and in counting blessings I stumbled upon the way out of fear.”

This has been my exact experience as well. I did start to make a mental list of things I was thankful for that week my daughter was so sick. And you know what? The list became long, really long. And there were moments, yes it started with moments, but moments became hours, and hours became days, where I was able to stay “cool” and not loose it, because there was still so much to be thankful for. And the more I thanked God the more I trusted Him. That was a whole new discovery. And then I read:

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks – from known to unknown – and know: He holds.”

And after that week was over, and my daughter was finally on the mend, I still kept thinking about “giving thanks in all circumstances”. There are other difficult circumstances in my life right now, that I don’t feel at liberty to discuss here on the blog, but even in those I seek to find things to be thankful about. “It could be so much worse” is one of the things that I keep telling myself. And when I meet women and see their burdens, a lot of mine shrink instantly. Some of us women carry a lot. And we try to juggle everything that comes our way. Even when our lives are shaken up, when we walk in darkness, we are never alone!

I’m ending this post with part of the paragraph that shook me up pretty well. Things I had not considered before. Ann Voskamp talks about the time when God told to Moses, “As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33:22-23 New Living Translation)

“Is that it? When it gets dark, it’s only because God has tucked me in a cleft of the rock and covered me, protected, with His hand? In the pitch, I feel like I’m falling, sense the bridge giving way, God long absent. In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, cracking dreams. But maybe this is true reality: It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake. Then He will remove His hand. Then we will look.

Then we look back and see His back…

And I’ve an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance, before we can look back and see God’s back in the rearview mirror.”

Happy reading, everyone!

Reading right now

The book I’ve been reading for the last few weeks is “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. What a beautiful book, what a beautiful language! Here is someone who uses such a beautiful English! Personally I find it like poetry. It’s very soothing to me.
She writes about being thankful. And to do so, Ann had started a list of things that she’s thankful for. Her goal was to write down a list of 1000 things that she’s thankful for.
In her chapter 4 “A Sactuary of Time” she talks about us not having time, always rushing, always running.
And going into the Advent and Christmas season that seems especially the case. I see my calendar filling up with events, with family gatherings, with concerts to attend and Christmas parties to go to. And they are all good in itself. But it’s the combination of all of it that makes me weary before I even enter this season. I don’t want to miss this and do want to be there, and I end up, once again, running, rushing… And I’m not even talking about baking, shopping, decorating!
Here are some quotes from chapter 4:

“The hurry makes us hurt.
And maybe it is the hurt that drives us ? For all our frenzied running seemingly toward something, could it be that we are in fact fleeing – desperate to escape pain that pursues?
Whatever the pace, time will keep it and there’s no outrunning it, only speeding it up and pounding the feet snag on time and leak empty. The longer I keep running, the longer the gash, and I drain, bleed away.
Hurry always empties a soul.”
I can so relate to these words. How many times have I not paid attention to what my kid is telling me? And they’ve called me on it. And still I would say, “No, honey, I’m listening.” But was I really? There are too many times, when so many things are going on at the same time. There’s the news on TV, my daughter is telling me about school, and I look through a pile of mail. Where is my attention really?

“Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment.”

Whoever invented and marketed multi-tasking?

Why are we so proud about multi-tasking?

Why does it have to be on every resume, on every job ad? I’m on the phone, talking to someone, but at the same time, I’m reading an email and checking the calendar for some info. Who has my attention?

Just writing these things down makes me dizzy.
And what about God? Do I multi-task as well when it comes to God? I read this, I write that and in between I send a groaning of a prayer, and on I go to the next best thing…
Do I take time to sit still? To listen? To ponder and actually think? Lately I found myself even not finishing a song that I’m listening to. I call that selfmade ADD.
Here is another beautiful quote:
“The clock ticks slow. I hear it for what it is: good and holy. Time, what God first deemed holy above all else (Genesis 2:3). Thank God for the time, and very God enters that time, presence hallowing it. True, this, full attention slows time and I live the full of the moment, right to outer edges. But there’s more. I awake to I AM here. When I’m present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God. In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and … holy.”

Time. What precious gift we’ve been given. How do I honor God with my time?

About Reading & Libraries

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been reading a lot. Sometimes I would read 2, 3 or even 4 books at the same time. And yes, I would finish them all!

When I was 9 years old I made the first discovery of a library in a small village in Moldova. I so loved to spend time in the library. Just the smell of all the books… And yes, I do love the smell of a book, especially a new book, when you just open the pages, and they are still so crisp and new, and the smell of ink and paper just comes at you… I have to admit, I smell every book before I read it. I won’t read a book if it doesn’t smell good. And if I’m bying a book, it has to smell good, otherwise I won’t buy it. I know, I am weird. I’ve known it for a while…
And to this day I love libraries. Some days I just go there to be surrounded by books. Just the atmosphere of a library… When my kids were little, even before they all knew how to read, we would spend part of our Saturdays in the city’s library. There was this really nice kidz corner with all kinds of toys and puzzles and all kinds of books. We would look at the pictures, some days I would read to them. And once my oldest could read, she would read to her sisters. I have very fond memories of going to the library.
I also have to admit, that I’ve collected quite the library myself over the years. But it got to the point where I was reading at such a speed that to keep this up, I had to go and use the library, I just could not afford to buy all the books I was reading. So I decided to just keep buying books from a few of my favorite authors and to get all other books from the public library. And it’s actually amazing what kind of books you can find at the public library. They even have Christian authors, they have all kinds of Bibles and Bible commentaries. So I’ve been using the public library even for our Women’s Bible studies, especially when I’d like to enhance it with some additional info on history or traditions from the Bible.
And then I discovered the “online request” at the public library. Did you know that some books don’t make it to the shelf until maybe 2 or 3 years after the library has bought them? People request books online, and so the book basically goes from one request to the next. And depending on how popular that author or the topic is, you won’t see that new book on any shelf in the library for years… Some people (including me!) put in their request for some books when they are still on order!

But all the books I was reading kept me often from reading my Bible and doing Bible study or spending time in prayer. And so this past August God made it very clear to me I should stop reading fiction books. At first I was devastated, especially when I got the news from the library that certain books from my favorite authors were waiting for me to be picke up at the library. It was very hard to cancel those book requests. But I heard God so clearly saying to my heart: “Those books will be there one year from now.” And so I obeyed, not willingly at first, but I did.

Well, I knew I could not just give up reading cold turkey, right? So I started reading all kinds of books by Christian authors, some books more difficult than others. I’ve decided I’ll be sharing with you some of what I read. Each week I’ll devote at least one post to a book I’m reading.

If you have any good books you’d like to recommend to me, let me know. (But please, no fiction! God made that very clear to me! Thanks for understanding.)

Happy Wednesday everyone!
And to all my American readers:
A Very Happy Thanksgiving!