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Favorite Literary Companions of 2012

A good book is like a good friend. It helps you to see the world more clearly. Perhaps it makes you laugh. Or cry. It nourishes your dreams. Very often it reveals to you a bit of yourself you did not know was there. And, as in the case of a good friend, I am sad when we come to the end of our time together, and I continue to think of it fondly in days, and years, to come.

Here are some of the more memorable encounters from the past year, in strictly chronological order as they came to me.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor’s wordcraft is a cauldron of conundrum, brilliant characterization, and truths so deep they defy reduction. Her stories have a meandering way of taking us inside ourselves, preparing us for “almost imperceptible intrusions of grace“.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

His words are sumptuous. His descriptions of Paris in the 1920s with her rain-washed cobblestones and sidewalk bistros and cafes are perfectly delicious. And his intimate reflections on the literary luminaries who were his friends, priceless. I found myself dreaming of living in a little garret in Paris myself with daily strolls through those same avenues, the gardens, the museums… And, always, I love peaking inside the creative process of genius. I remember him speaking of how he could not write about Paris while in Paris. He needed distance to see it properly. This, I understand.

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky said of this novel that he wanted to write one character who was completely without guile; innocent and good. Gentle Prince Myshkin allows himself to be thought foolish so that he may make others wise. It is a beautiful, redemptive story. An elegant counterpoint to Crime and Punishment.

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson

A chronicle of genius. Albeit eccentric, unwieldy, arrogant genius. A man who thoroughly changed the face of communication in our time. Isaacson weaves an engaging narrative about his enigmatic subject. I found myself laughing frequently. Deeply saddened sometimes. But mostly awed by this man who so often saw the not yet as though it already was. And as I have watched my one year old granddaughter navigate my iPhone over the past few months, it has been clear that his passion for intuitive design was spot on.

 Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultra-marathon Greatness, Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek is one of my heroes. Partly for his freakish ability to run obscene distances really fast, but also for his practice of foregoing a shower and sleep to hang at the finish line for hours congratulating finishers who have been on the trail far longer than he. This book tells the story of a spindly legged kid from a family with its fair share of challenges who grows up to be one of the most remarkable ultra runners the world has known. Jurek writes with great good humor and a deep sense of gratitude. He also includes some of his favorite (vegan) recipes.

Wounded by Love, Elder Porphyrios

Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet…The soul of the Christian needs to be refined and sensitive, to have sensibility and wing, to be constantly in flight and to live in dreams, to fly through infinity, among the stars, amidst the greatness of God, amid silence.

Do you see why I love this man? This is one of the most significant books I have ever read. I know I will revisit it often. Elder Porphyrios’ writings on love have been both nourishing and challenging. It was his belief that if we pursue love only and our hearts become filled with love–for God, and for others–that everything else takes care of itself. This is a very pedestrian reduction of his beautiful words. I invite you to come to know him yourself.

Lit: A Memoir (P.S.), Mary Karr

Liar’s Club, the story of Mary Karr’s rough and tumble childhood in Texas, is credited by many with starting a memoir revolution. This third in the a series tells of Mary all grown up. Of her ‘fairy tale’ prince, of the son she adores, and of the demons that will not leave her alone. It is raw and honest, tragic and hilarious. Ultimately it is a compelling, marvelously crafted story of perseverance and grace.

Lifted By Angels: The Presence and Power of our Heavenly Guides and Guardians, Joel Miller

“This is the staggering asymmetry of God’s goodness. There is more grace than envy, more love than hate, more heaven than hell.”

I read the whole of it in one day. I just couldn’t stop. Joel Miller’s narrative is enthralling, his theology is sound, and his subject matter fascinating. Read my review in its entirety HERE.

A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

I bought it on Kindle. For my phone. So it is always with me. I can’t tell you how often I pull it out. Just a poem or two. Or all of them at a go. Gift. This voice. That penetrates to the very essence of things. And renders them in such lovely expression. Par example


I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self purpose.

This is the line that caused me to buy the book. (Thanks, Karissa) The Night Circus is an enchantment. Mysterious. Beautiful. All done out in black and white. It is a feast of imagery and imagination. Read it for the artist in you. The part of you that still traffics in magic. Or wants to.

The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse

“Our art and our humanity are inextricably entwined, and within these pages I hope to–through story and reflection–examine the soulish ground from which creativity arises.”

Elder Porphyrios said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.” A poet has a way of seeing that is cleaner, purer, more acute than most. One of the compelling poet voices of our age is Michael Gungor. He and his compatriots are creating art that is deep and rich, beautiful and true. Art that is born out of stillness and out of communion.

In his remarkable new book, which releases today, this poet/prophet explores thoughts about art, about the roots that shape our art, and about nourishing our soil so that what we create is life giving and worthy. He’s a great storyteller, and the book is filled with vulnerability and good humor. I have had to resist the urge to bombard you with a zillion quotes because his wordcraft is gorgeous and the ideas so important. Herein is a sampling. I strongly urge you to read the book for yourself.

Part 1: Art

“Art is the body’s pronunciation of the soul.”

“The book of Genesis begins with a poem about a Creator who took a universe writhing in chaos and formed it into something cohesive, visible, and beautiful…” Gungor reminds us that as images of the Creator, we are called to do the same. He also alerts us that how we go about that says much about who we are,

“If you want to know what is in the heart of a culture, look at its art. Read its poetry, listen to its music, and you’ll begin to know the tree from which it fell.”

Part 2: Roots


“The world is getting so loud. We are over-stimulated. Numb. Bored….We consume our art like moths. We gather, momentarily, around wherever the biggest, brightest light seems to be. The danger of art created to rise above the noise is that it may end up being noise itself.”


With auto-tune, anyone can sing “on pitch”. With self-publishing anyone can be an author. But are we cultivating a culture of mediocrity? And are we robbing our art of its humanity? He speaks of their sometimes pianist John and how his humanness infuses his playing,

“His hands carry stories, emotions, doubts, and passions, all unique to John. A man cannot spend thousands of hours sitting at a piano without having some of his soul soak into the wood.”

First World Mindset

Indolence has destroyed the arts. –Pliny, ancient Roman author

In a comparison of the cultures of ancient Rome and modern America he sounds an ominous warning about where the sensationalism we demand could lead us, and about the insidious crippling of entitlement and luxury.


“Art’s primary value system shouldn’t be monetary. Art is too soulish, like love or sex, to be treated like a mere commodity.”

“Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is. It’s also the root of a lot of bad art.”


“The crowd’s affection, with all its adrenaline-inducing power, is a fickle and shallow drug.”


“All art is an expression of the soul, an expression of faith. All art is sacred. All art is religious. And no art is Christian.”

“There is a humility in faith, a hope, an acknowledgment of the possibility of error and the need for growth and change. This openness
leaves room for creativity.”


Part 3: Soil


Gungor speaks of how faith is formed of the stories we tell ourselves. And he speaks of the power of the one story. Of Body and Blood. Of community and the Table…

“So I listen to this story again and again. I let it do its work in the places that I can’t reach on my own. In a culture numbed and indifferent from overstimulation and noise, this story begins to infuse life and feeling back into my limbs, awakening my senses with the anticipation of new creation. It begins to enliven my dulled imagination with new color and possibility.”


“Doubt asks questions that need to be asked to make our faith pure and healthy.”


“This is why people have long turned to practices like solitude, prayer, study, and meditation. These disciplines help us find our breath; they help us become more human. They help us hear the Voice.”


“Faith, doubt, and hope are the stuff of good soil for creating and cultivating, as are honesty, integrity, patience, courage and any number of nutrients. But all of these only find their true value when they are made consummate in love.”

He closes the book with a benediction of such exquisite loveliness that I would like to include the whole of it here. That seems to be taking a bit too much liberty. So again, I offer you a taste. It is my fervent hope that you will give yourself the gift of reading this book. Whether you consider yourself a “creative”  or not, you are leaving your imprint on the bit of earth that has been entrusted to you. This book probes the heart and invites us to be intentional about the imprint we make. May it be so.

“…May your heart be opened to the love that formed you and everything else, the love that holds all things together and shall make all things new in the end, and may that love that was broken and poured out for you impel you into the world to break your own self open to be poured out for the world that God so loves. Poured out in acts of justice and mercy, poured out in good and hard work that brings order rather than disorder. Poured out in songs and liturgies, business plans and water colors, child-rearing and policy-making.

May your life be a brush in the very hand of God—painting new creation into every nook and cranny of reality that your shadow graces. Be courageous. Be free. Prune that which needs pruning, and water that which thirsts for righteousness…”

*All unattributed quotes in the post, Michael Gungor, lifted from the book.

Deep Calling to Deep…

I wish you could know my friend Kendra. She is a remarkable young woman. Heart wide open. Generous, courageous, curious. I walk away from every encounter with her encouraged and challenged.

So when she made a request of me, a couple of weeks ago, I took it very seriously. She asked for suggestions for some creative, inspiring, heart-and-eyes-wide-open reading. As I began to compile my list, it occurred to me that I would have you know these books. And I would LOVE to know what would be on YOUR list.

Here are some of the authors and books that call to deep places in me. That rankle and provoke, that compel me to dream better dreams, that stoke the fire within.

Mary Oliver, especially Thirst  Oliver sees the world with extraordinary eyes, and she paints it with lovely, evocative words that allow us to see it, too. Her writings on longing and prayer and the life within are some of the most excruciating and exquisite I have ever read.

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

P.S. I love hearing her poetry in her own voice. Listen to three poems here. The first will surprise you, I think. The second, one of my favorites, will leave you undone. Marvelously undone. The third will nourish and delight.

Thomas Merton, especially The Seven Story Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation. Also, the Book of Hours offers a lovely sampling of his work. Thomas Merton is an Anam Cara. A soul friend. One who sees the world in a way very like, only more so. I can pray his words and feel as though they are mine, just more elegant. More piercing and concise. More thorough. I crawl into them and travel through them to a place I want very much to know.

“You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires.  My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction.  And I do not possess my house in silence.

“But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence.  O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace and without complaining any more.  This, for Your glory.”

C.S Lewis, especially The Great Divorce and Till We Have Faces  Well crafted stories carry profound truths to deep places in our hearts. I have read the first title 6 or 7 times, and the second twice. Once each with friends. I still see these characters regularly before my eyes. Lewis’ insight into the meandering of the human psyche and his ability to convey these are unmatched. *Note, The Great Divorce starts slowly in my opinion. Persevere! It is SO worth the effort. Soon you will be reading so fast you forget to breathe. And re-reading. I promise.

Chaim Potok, especially My Name is Asher Lev I have read three books (thus far) by this author, all excellent. But this is my favorite. Important questions about talents and gifts, about faith, and most especially about where (or whether) one can live at peace within the other. Excruciating. Riveting.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho An evocative tale about a young man seeking his “treasure”. He finds far more than he could have dreamed. Something richer, deeper, better. Something MORE…

“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…”

Madeleine L’Engle, especially Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art I happen to know Kendra already loves this one, but it is most essential. This is a sweet washing of life and imagination and God and story and creativity and everything that makes us truly alive in the world.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God When I am lost; when my soul is terribly troubled and I do not know how to say what is happening, I rush to Rilke. Almost always, I find the words I need here. His was a turbulent, hungry, desperate, ecstatic journey with God. And he wrote it all down. So I borrow his words. And say what is already in my heart.

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like a spring rain?

John O’Donohue, especially Beauty the Invisible Embrace and Anam Cara  O’Donohue’s lyrical prose reads like poetry. (It doesn’t hurt that I heard him read before I read him.) I can always hear him now. A rich, Irish brogue that sings the words. Words about the beautiful. About love and kindness and spirit and God.

“…beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, especially The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky’s world can be dark at times, but his characters are nuanced and layered. No villain is without hope of redemption, and no protagonist is thoroughly without vice. All are pilgrims. We see more of ourselves in them than we might care to.

Lilith by George MacDonald  The path to resurrection will ALWAYS lead through death. But none of us wants to die. Really. This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read. Mostly because at the time of my first encounter I was digging in my heels and refusing to die to all the things I had used to define “me”. I felt like letting go of these would be death, NOT figurative but LITERAL death. This book, this fantasy of the highest order, helped me get inside that dark place. It gave me courage to do the hard work of becoming, by first being willing to walk into the terrifying darkness of being nothing.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield  This is one of the most important books I have ever read on pursuing your calling, whatever that calling may be. I re-read it frequently because I so need the kick in the pants it delivers. Here is an example of what you will find within:

If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Julia Cameron’s  The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice  Cameron is a successful writer, but she remembers all too well what it is like to be silenced by fear. In this book she teaches us how to break through barriers to our creativity. Barriers we are not even aware of that are blocking our art. It is highly interactive and requires homework. But it is so worth it.

Thanks, Kendra, for giving me a reason to revisit old friends. Pick and choose whatever seems right to you. It is a worthy start, I believe.

To all of you, friends near and far, who is it that fans the flame of your passion, your creativity?


Beasts of the Southern Wild

Hushpuppy lives with her daddy in the Bathtub. It’s the only home she has ever known. Theirs is a meager existence, raw, uncertain. But it is also a life of wonder. Of camaraderie and spirit. “The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world.” It is life lived close to the earth and her rhythms, and subject to her volatility.

The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.

The six year old poet philosopher stitches together an understanding of the world from all she sees and hears. She presses baby chicks against her ears to listen to their heartbeat. She drinks in the music and fireworks and renegade joy as the community revels in this outside way of life they have chosen. In the wilds of the Delta. Outside the levy.

When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe…

Hers is an epic story. Of melting polar ice caps, of prehistoric aurochs, of floods that threaten to take everything. Of a quest to find the  mother who was lost to the river. Because her father is sick. The father who taught her to be “a man”. To be strong and take care of herself. Who protected and cared for her in the only way he knew how.

She draws her story on the walls of her house, on a cardboard box, on her bedclothes. Because it matters.

In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.

It is a remarkable film. Beautiful. Poignant. Heart-rending at times.Little Quvenzhané Wallis is brilliant as Hushpuppy. Compelling, fiery when she needs to be, completely natural. And so vulnerable, at times, that I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and take her home.

Winner of 4 awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it is now playing in limited release. Look for it wherever art films are played in your area. In Nashville, you can find it at the Belcourt.

The Mockingbird and the Dogwood Tree

I opened the top of the Jeep last week. First time this spring. Sunlight warmed my shoulders. Warm breeze rifled my hair. And Lulu Mae brought the tunes. Earlier in the day, they had accompanied me on my run. And in the garden.

I have adopted their new album, The Mockingbird and the Dogwood Tree, as my official soundtrack for spring. 🙂

Poet storytellers with a style that is organic and clean, Lulu Mae has put together a work that is intriguingly diverse. I keep finding new reasons to love it.

Here are a few personal listening notes. Visit Lulu Mae’s site (or iTunes or Amazon) to sample a few. You want to know these folks. Trust me.

Hey Tom  A good place to start. Simple instrumentation. Clean storytelling. Of one who has gone away. Who is lost to us. And of the invitation to return.

The Fire in Your Eyes  A musical Tell Tale Heart of sorts. Of burying what we don’t want to see. And hoping it will go away. The sometimes unconventional harmonies hint that this is probably not going to work.

Corallina  A tender ballad for the unseen one. The one who does not perceive the beautiful inside her. Joel and Sarah’s sweet, gentle harmonies are positively exquisite.

Clean Up My Heart  A hard, driving confrontation of betrayal. Some wailing guitar work on this one. Abrupt tempo changes contribute to the disorientation of a world falling apart.

Give Me Some Music  A Lament. A plea. Set against an old piano with worn out strings that convey the raw weariness, the desperation of the singer. A great heart swell into the chorus with other instruments piling in. Here is where I had to sing out loud. On my run. (My apologies to the little birds and squirrels.) I just read this week about how ancient Greek philosophers believed music had the power to restore harmony to the soul. To heal. I believe it.

Why, Wyoming?

There’s a man I have seen and he is standing on a rock
And he can see the world in a way that I can not
When he comes down from the mountain,
On the way he is changed
And I wonder, will he ever be the same…

Oh, the mountains they can speak without moving their lips.
And the wind, she will tell me things that I cannot forget….

A ballade of place. Of how the grandeur of the mountains clean the mind and give dazzling perspective. Of the longing to be there when we are not. Having spent some time in the mountains of Wyoming myself, I know just what they mean.

The Man With the Golden Toy  Of vision. Of the power of a symbol, a token, vested with meaning…to empower, to strengthen, to embolden. Of little boy dreams and old man remembrance. Set to a rollicking bluegrass-like verse that breaks out into a a drum laden, beat driven chorus. One of my favorites.

When You’re Not Home  Life is full of choices. Sirens seduce us to a life that looks like freedom, but is bitter imprisonment. Occasionally someone comes along who helps us find our better selves. Who brings out the very best in us. This one’s for them. Poetic. Lovely piano licks. A melody that will linger in your ears long after. And masterful instrumentation.

The Mockingbird and the Dogwood Tree  Another ode to place. Perhaps I am a bit biased since I am a Tennessee girl, but I love this one! Nashville instrumentation right down to the pedal steel guitar. You will definitely hear this one spilling out of my Jeep this summer when I am driving with the roof open to the stars. 🙂

The Fiction of Speed  Of a lifetime kind of love. The sort that ferments and grows richer over time. The subject is deep and important, but the music is completely fun. A ukelele opening, melodica and handclaps on the interlude and chorus.

…If love is instant, then I don’t want it…

Me either.

Every Writer’s Dream

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~Ernest Hemingway

Writing is transcendent and torturous, frustrating and miraculous, wondrous, naked, and plain hard work. I find the whole process intriguing, and love reading what other writers have to say about it.

A fresh, new voice that I have been reading over the past few months is Jeff Goins. His blog is a treasure trove of honest, practical, sometimes inspirational, frequently provocative advice on writing.

Goins recently published two eBooks, Every Writer’s Dream and Before Your First Book, which contain cogent and succinct distillations of some of the very best of this advice. On the title page we are told each of these has been written for our “satisfaction, butt-kicking, and enjoyment.” I’d say that’s about right. 🙂

Every Writer’s Dream

Subtitled “How to Never Pitch Your Writing Again”, Every Writer’s Dream demonstrates how to build a platform, create a brand, and make meaningful connections. This has worked so well for the author that he received a book contract without ever writing a proposal, and has magazine editors asking him for content.

I love what Goins has to say here about being generous, about showing respect and about curiosity. He emphasizes the importance of offering value to others instead of engaging in sleazy self-promotion. It is a costly process, but honorable, effective, and important.

All of this takes work. It takes gumption and moxie. It will not be easy, and it is not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged. But I hope you stick with it. Because we need your voice. We need your art.

Before Your First Book

A writing career happens iteratively, over time. You don’t need to take a giant leap. You just need to take the next step….There are no big breaks. Only tiny drips of effort that lead to a wave of momentum.

So what is the next step? Where do I start? Begin by practicing in public, says the author. Create a blog. Write magazine articles. Guest post on a friend’s blog. This helps you find your voice and find your tribe. Important groundwork.

Goins then gives very specific advice around making initial contacts, including sample query letters which I found very helpful. He talks about who decides on the topic, about writing and re-writing, about persistence and how to effectively follow-up without becoming a nuisance, and about maintaining relationships once they are formed.

Perhaps the most compelling endorsement for both of these books is that I had to keep a notepad beside me while reading to write down all the ideas they generated.

If you dream of impacting others with your words…if you feel compelled to write and would love to reach a wider audience…if there is a book in you waiting to be written…you will not find a better friend than Jeff Goins. He may make you uncomfortable. He has little sympathy for my pathetic excuses. But he will give you the resources you need to get your story out there. And he will help you do it in a way that is honorable and generous and sustainable.

Speaking of generosity, you can buy both these resources for just $4.99. You can even sample the first section of Every Writer’s Dream free just to make sure it’s a good fit.

Thanks, Jeff, for provoking and inspiring. For making me uncomfortable and helping me know where to go next. May your tribe increase.

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice

It is, I believe, a stroke of genius to give the task of defining a crafter of words to a crafter of words. His profound respect for language…his awe and delight…translate as well as anything he will actually say. So, I am glad that William Tyndale found David Teems. It is a match made in heaven; a literary pas de deux that says as much in the spaces between the words as in the words themselves.

He writes with tenderness, with paternal authority and warmth. His voice is immediate, scintillate, penetrating, translucent. His text has a like-there-is-no-tomorrow desperate kind of charm that is both intense and weightless at the same time…

Biographical details of Tyndale’s life are sketchy and suspect at times. So Teems elects to piece together a life–as Tyndale would probably have it–from his own words. The letters, the treatises, and, above all, the translations.

I have decided to write this review in much the same way. Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice is a vast, complex, wonderful work and I can hardly do the whole of it justice. I will give you a few of my favorite bits as a taste. An enticement. And commend to you the rest.

Of Exile:

England had refused him. He would never see her again…Playing Pilate, she washed her hands of him…And once he set sail, he no longer belonged to England. He belonged to all English. And there is a difference.

[The] state of exile is the deepest memory in man. Beneath the surface of the Scripture, in its quiet heart, is the call to come home…For the Jew and the Christian, diaspora is an inevitable part of the inheritance.

Sing or go silent. Transcending exile will ask one or the other.

Of an art forged through fire:

Between imagination and faith there exists a kind of twilight…in the divide between them, eyes are irrelevant. Sight comes by another method, by a deeper more reliable sense.

And David was known as the sweet singer of Israel, her true king. To understand this is to understand the nature of the lyric itself, that mystical expressive afterglow–the inward life suddenly emancipated by an ecstasy that flows upward, forward, as from a deep gulf. David’s joy was ever as large and imprudent and unrestrained and electric and shameless and weeping as his sorrows.

Art demands intensity from its makers, complete possession. It is a kind of bright madness, one that often begins as an unrest in the artist’s center, the chaos from which order must be imagined.

The artistic, the prophetic, the headstrong, the expatriated, the exiled, all these come together in a confusion of living elements that render a single inimitable creature. It was such a creature that gave us our English Bible.

Of the lyric:

Maybe the young Tyndale was enchanted by the strangeness of the Welsh tongue, by the music it made, a kind of jazz…the carnival it made in the mouth…there exists in the Welsh language a whole system of mutations where two words “rub against each other and soften each other”…the transaction between words has a kind of romance in itself, submissive and aesthetically pleasing as great romances by nature must be.

By a passion that was “never purely academic,” we might say Tyndale’s wordcraft was a form of prayer. The result is a transcendent text.

His text possesses a kind of practical beauty, an accessible magnificence. It speaks well. It also sings well.

Par exemple:

Where the Spirit is, it is always summer.

Who taught eagles to spy out their prey? Even so the children of God spy out their Father.

And they heard the voice of the Lord as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day.

Entreat me not to leave thee

Let not your hearts be troubled

Take, eat, this is my body

In Him we live, move and have our being

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

The Lord bless thee and keep thee
The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be merciful unto thee.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

All quotes, save the last section, David Teems. Those at the last are William Tyndale. May his memory be eternal.

Regarding Oscar…

Usually when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its nominees for best picture, I commence a movie watching frenzy to catch up on all the ones I missed. One year, I had not seen any of them. But this has been a great year at the movies. This year I have seen all but one.

I possess no peculiar aptitude for film. But I do LOVE a well told story. For your consideration: viewing notes on eight of the nine.

The Artist A visual feast. A poignant tale. Storytelling without words. Gorgeous. Read my full review HERE.

The Descendants Life is messy. It is wonderful and awful and confusing and ecstatic and funny and crazy and good. This film has all of that. Provocative and painful. Humorous and healing. I hurt for Max and his family. I grieve over terrible choices and deep hurts. But I also cheer them on as they refuse to give up. As they carve a way forward. As they become family all over again. Redemption. Unexpected, but beautiful.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close One of the better book to film translations I have seen. In fact, and this will surprise you, in some ways I believe the movie was even better. Partly because of the genius of young Thomas Horn. He articulates the eccentricities of our quirky, brilliant little hero with an artistry that would be exceptional in someone twice his age.

Oscar Schell loses his father on September 11th. He keeps him close by fulfilling a secret mission his dad left for him. The mission will push him to do things that terrify him. It will people his life. It will be a bridge to his mother. It will make him brave. And it will give him one last chance to hear his father say he is proud of him.

There was audible sobbing in the theater when I saw this film. Oscar’s grief is our grief. He teaches us how to speak it. How to share it. How to keep breathing, even when everything seems extremely loud and incredibly close.

The Help Another admirable adaptation. Casting is superb. It is remarkable to me how like these women are to the women I saw in my head as I read. The storytelling is clean and uncluttered. And this story is very important. It takes us inside a world that many of us barely begin to understand. And it reminds us that some of the most courageous work in the civil rights movement (as in every work that has changed the hearts of men) is done by ordinary men and women whose names you will never know.

Midnight in Paris What if the things we taste and see and touch are not the truest things? What if there is a world more real than this one if only we knew how to find it? This film is a luscious, whimsical arabesque though an extraordinary city, in the company of extraordinary persons. Magic! More thoughts HERE.

Moneyball It is a great story. One of courage and tenacity. The acting is very good. But as a whole, I do not find the film to be remarkable. It seems somewhat disjointed, with random scenes that contribute little to the overall story. Just my opinion…

The Tree of Life Life is not tidy. It rarely ties itself up into neat little packages. Not surprisingly then, art that lingers in my brain and pricks my soul is art that reflects this. More questions than answers. Willing to live with mystery. Paradox. This film is such. More HERE.

War Horse An extravagantly beautiful film. The cinematography is genius. Even stark, desperate scenes are framed with such an exquisite eye, such deliberate artistry, that it gives me chills. It is a heart warming story, to be sure. Do not hate me if I admit that it seems a bit contrived at times. But, we meet some heroic and generous characters, and witness noble graces. And those are in lamentably short supply.

I have yet to see Hugo. It is not playing in my town at present.

I would not presume to predict which of these will win. There are others far more qualified to do that. I can tell you that if I were choosing I would place Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at the top with The Descendants a close second. I will also say that, though I purchase only a few films, I will buy Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life because I am not nearly done with them yet.

Which films have you loved this year? Do you have an Oscar pick, prediction or preference? Which film should have been nominated, but was not?

The Artist

Our collective imagination is flabby. Atrophied, I fear, from disuse.

Many of us would rather wait for the movie than read the book. Incarnating a character in our heads is too much work. We have an appetite for car chases, and explosions, and skin. These seem more accessible than subtle beauty or complexity of story.

Every now and again, a work of art comes along that challenges our imagination. That calls to that creative spark deep inside each of us. A work that nourishes us along the way with such excruciating loveliness that we are helpless to refuse.

The Artist is such a work.

It is a story without words. Nearly. A silent film about the end of silent film. In fact, until George Valentin has a nightmare in which he is surrounded by sound but unable to speak, I am unaware that even environmental sounds are completely absent. No shuffle of shoes against the floor. No honking horns. Only music. And image.

It is enough.

Sometimes the images are so exquisitely framed, it is painful. Two figures at table. Back to back. The falling star and the supernova. In stark relief. Both so graceful and elegant. So captivating. Alas, she is coming into her own just as his world is disappearing.

But somewhere inside this passing of the torch is a respect…an honoring of the one who made place. Who had faith. A loyalty that is right and good. And Beautiful.

Go see The Artist. Give yourself the gift of an hour and a half without words. Let the music carry you. Feast on the scrumptious images: the clothes, the hair, the cars. The elegance and refinement of a world too unfamiliar to most of us. And trust your imagination to help tell the story. It is more capable than you think.

For the Good Times

My dad used to drive a 1969 Chevy pick-up truck. Bright blue with a white top and orange cab lights. And a gun rack. It was not unusual for there to be a whole passel of kids in the back, especially if we were headed to the swimming hole.

Two or three times each year, my dad would attach a tall, black metal frame to the bed, and we would take cattle to market. The whole family piled in the cab. The truck would sway back and forth like a ship at sea when the cows moved from one side to another. It was delightfully terrifying.

The am radio picked up WECO, the local station, and that was about it. The mountains were not friendly to radio signal. The country and bluegrass music that poured out of that radio (and the 8 track player my dad eventually installed) formed the soundtrack of my childhood…

This week I have had fun revisiting some of those songs on a fabulous new album by The Little Willies. For the Good Times has a very organic feel…like a few friends (extremely talented friends) got together in somebody’s living room and just started playing. And we have all been invited to eavesdrop.

Norah Jones and Richard Julian are exquisitely paired on Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues. Their harmonies are so delicious I couldn’t bring myself to sing along the first four or five times I listened to it. (I have gotten past that. :))

I remember singing Dolly Parton’s Jolene as a little girl, before I completely understood all that the song was about. The haunting desperation of it captivated me. Jones’ vocals are warm and solid…and urgent. They make my heart hurt.

If You Got the Money Honey, I Got the Time is just about the most rip roarin’ pick up line ever. So. Much. Fun!

Foul Owl on the Prowl plops you down in the middle of a steamy, southern honky-tonk. I can almost hear the laughter, smell the sawdust and sweat, and see the sultry dancers strutting across the floor. Mmmm…

The guitar work on Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves is ridiculous! And the storytelling is brilliantly executed. Good, good stuff.

Remember Me, Permanently Lonely, and the titular For the Good Times make heartbreak poetic. And I have to say, I appreciate Jones and Julian leaving the third harmony part open for me. We wail a pretty mean lament…the three of us. 😉

Jones gives Loretta Lynn’s scrappy Fist City elegant sass.

Delia’s Gone is new to me. A surprisingly…frolicsome…homicidal ballad.

Good storytelling, superb musical artistry, and loads of fun. I have not been able to stop listening to it. I commend it to your attention. Enjoy.

You’re welcome. 🙂

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