Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Old Friends

I took a few more books with me to England this time. Last time, I was strict. I knew I would acquire more books in the charity shops than I could pack and I figured I didn't need to add to my already over-burdened return luggage. But this time round, as I move toward a longer stay, I decided I needed a few of my best friend books, the ones that companion my thoughts on a regular basis, that I want near in the off-chance that I need their courage, their particular shape of vision, their clarifying truth. I was, though, slightly surprised at the ones I decided to bring. Out of the countless possibilities (and let us be frank, I already have several C.S. Lewis and Goudges here, a couple of Berry novels, and a collection of G.M. Hopkins poems, so don't let their absence in this list fool you), the volumes in the picture below were, most of them, books I hadn't picked up in several years. But each presented itself as an old friend who had deeply formed my thoughts, a friend who had seen me through the deep, dark, or luminous experiences that make me most profoundly who I am. Each of them informs the way I see - love, theology, study, vocation - and so I want them with me as I live all those out here in Oxford. So, meet my old friends. I'd be very curious to know yours.

The Lord of the Rings. Still one of my favorite stories in the world, a sort of touchpoint narrative, an inner landscape whose atmosphere renews my wonder, my sense, really, of the marvelous nature of the world in which I move amidst battles and beauties of my own.

Mysticism. I think people sometimes get nervous at this word. But Evelyn Underhill's deep exploration of the topic is an exploration of what it means for the human heart, mind, and soul to move toward union with God. This book has shown me what prayer could be, what contemplation, and solitude, and even suffering form within the soul that responds to them as a way of deepening prayer, of moving ever closer toward Christ in will, thought, and affection.

Faith, Hope, and Poetry. Malcolm Guite's exploration of imagination as a 'truth-bearing faculty' is still a touchpoint book for me, particularly because he explores the topic through the great poetry of the ages. I return again and again to the opening chapter in it's joyous, clarifying explanation of how imagination communicates reality. Read my review of the book HERE.

The Art of the Commonplace. This book of Wendell Berry essays gave me a framework for understanding modern culture that has enriched and clarified many of my vague frustrations. His clear defense of community, his love of earth, his belief in the power of fidelity in home and family, is clearly outlined and defended in this collection of some of his signpost essays throughout the years. Health as Membership is one of my favorites.

The Genesis Trilogy. By Madeleine L'Engle. I brought this because it was one of the first books I read in which I encountered the beneolvence of God, the pulsing, radiant quality of his love in an almost tangible way. Madeleine's joy in the beauty of what God has made both in earth and people is a quality that deeply formed my sense of what it means to be holy, and what a true, and joyous spirituality can be.

The others I already have with me, and the several I wanted to bring and couldn't fit...? Simplicity by Richard Foster. Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge. Bread in the Wilderness by Thomas Merton. Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. On Fairy Stories by Tolkien. Lilith by George MacDonald. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Speak What We Feel by Frederick Buechner. King Lear (truly!). And oh, always a few more.

For now though, I'd love to know what you would grab if you could only take a few old favorites with you to a new home. Entertain me. I'm stuck writing essays for two more weeks. Off to study the resurrection in 1 Corinthians...