“With that manifest knowledge
which God gave to Adam,
whereby he gave names to Eve
and to the animals,
God did not reveal the discoveries
of things that were concealed;
but in the case
of the hidden knowledge
from the stars downward,
Adam was able to pursue
enquiry into all
that is within this universe.”

Hymns on Paradise 12.16


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Read in 2017

This was a year of re-reading old favorites, mitigating my commute with audio books, and meeting some new and excellent fantasy.

  • The Son of Laughter by Frederick Buechner. I enjoyed it, though didn’t see new profundity in the stories. A little less PG than I expected.
  • On the dignity and vocation of women by John Paul II & commentary by Genevieve Kinke. Very good. Very different from most Christian women’ books. (Was reading this on election night 2016)
  • Infertility companion for Catholics by Angelique Ruhi-López, Carmen Santamaría. Extremely helpful.
  • Arabian Nights
  • We Believe by Oscar Lukefahr
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson. It was a long perseverance to finish the book! It’s a commentary on the psalms of ascent that Jews sang on the road to Jerusalem. Some of the chapters were meh for me, some were amazing.
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald. On following when you don’t understand the way.
  • The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
  • Theology of the Body in Simple Language
  • The Two Towers by JRR Tolkein
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson (audio)
  • Return of the King by JRR Tolkein. This time through I was struck by the opportunities for redemption. Characters who made a mistake did not have it held against them forever.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (audio)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (audio)
  • The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkein
  • Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis. Recommended to me. I disagree with a lot (“big government can solve everything!”), but I learned a lot about the history of development and HIV treatment in Africa.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (audio)
  • Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Devoured this in 5 days. Most impressive world-building I’ve seen, save Tolkein.
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (audio)
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. Good, but I liked the Stormlight series better.
  • Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (audio)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling (audio)
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret (audio). Lots of whiny and angry children. Movie was better, I think.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (audio)
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. SO GOOD.
  • Signs of Life by Scott Hahn
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling (audio)
  • Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling. Mediocre HP fan fiction.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (audio)
  • Mary Poppins by PL Travers (audio). Definitely different from the movie. I didn’t warm up to Mary as much in the book.
  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. I was impressively able to stretch out reading this over about a month. Very good, and I can hardly wait for four years for the next one!
  • Dead Man’s Mirror by Agatha Christie (audio)
  • Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkein. Beautiful, sweet, and a little sad. Highly recommended.

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Silence of God

It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got
When they tell you all their troubles
Have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
‘Cause we all get lost sometimes

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God

– Silence of God by Andrew Peterson

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He didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t have to; He suffered so we’d know HOW to.

– seen on Facebook somewhere

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Practicing for Death

“At least three times a day, deny yourself some tiny, legitimate pleasure, such as the extra cigarette, the second drink, or the extra lump of sugar, in order to discipline your spirit and keep mastery over yourself for the love of God.

These little “deaths” are so many rehearsals for the final death. Dying is a masterpiece, and to do it well, we must die daily: ‘If any man would come after me, let him…take up his cross daily’ (Luke 9:23).” – Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book, via HouseUnseen

I like the idea that we have to practice for death. I touched on it here after reading Pilgrim’s Progress.

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Read in 2016

Some commentary was written as I finished. Mostly leaving these unedited because, 2016.

  1. Elijah in Jerusalem by Michael O’Brien. Dreams and visions. Encouragement to see truth/discern.
  2. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper. Entertaining, but lacking any depth behind its mysteries. They felt arbitrary.  I think this series is insidiously against a Christian worldview and I will be evicting it from my library.
  3. The Bible. Green and orange ESV journaling
  4. Sand by Hugh Howey. It was a creative story that I read quickly and for which I eagerly anticipate a sequel. However, the high profanity and sexuality content were disappointing, so I cannot recommend this book as highly as I did Wool.
  5. Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. I read it in less than a day, so it’s certainly a page turner. However, its bioengineering is much more far fetched (and, frankly, ridiculous) than I was hoping for.
  6. The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
  7. The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead
  8. The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead
  9. Early Christian Writings
  10. Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz
  11. The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead
  12. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
  13. Phantastes by George MacDonald. Not my favorite MacDonald, despite CS Lewis’ high praise of the novel. I’m not sure where the plot was going.
  14. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I borrowed this one on a lazy trip celebrating graduation. It’s set in a dystopian future following a band of Shakespearean actors. I devoured it in two days, but the ending felt anticlimactic.
  15. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. An enjoyable novel at the intersection of old books, the Internet, and mystery. The narrator reminded me of Odd Thomas.
  16. Island of the World by Michael O’Brien. Gut wrenching. Hard and absolutely beautiful. A novel of crucifixion and resurrection. It follows Josip, born just before WWII hits Croatia. I devoured it and sobbed through my last day of reading it. I would like to read it again more slowly.
  17. Fatal Tree by Stephen Lawhead. I think he didn’t really know how to end a delightful series. The first ones were page turners. Different from Lawhead’s usual subject matter and certainly interesting. However, I was disappointed in the last. It felt like it was finished by a different author.
  18. Saint Odd by Dean Koontz. Gripping. Rarely has the death of a character been so sweet.
  19. Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz. Enjoyed it – devoured in one plane ride on the way to Ireland.
  20. Strangers and Sojourners by Michael O’Brien. Similar to Island of the World in that it follows one character’s entire life through the large changes in the 20th century. This one follows a young female teacher who moves out west to the frontier. That’s a plot that I’ve read a lot of, but O’Brien puts his characteristic spin on things and it was wonderful. Would have cried much harder at the end had I not been in an airport (on my way back from Ireland). This novel was less overtly Catholic/Christian than his others.
  21. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Every November, terrifying horses come up from the sea on the island of Thisby. People catch them and race. Everything I wanted out of a book when I was young.
  22. Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. Read with Lindsay. Still very good. Convicted by thoughts on posture during prayer, being too content with spiritual troughs, something dull distracting you from prayer or sleep, and Ch 24 – spiritual  pride.
  23. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. I have been giving this to various people lately (our confirmation students, for one) and decided it needed a re-read. It was interesting (and slightly confusing) to read it concurrently with Screwtape.
  24. New Testament via church
  25. Letters of St Patrick. The two surviving writings of the great Irish saint – his Confessions and letter to a king. Written at nearly the same time as Augustine’s confessions. Good – some parts very familiar, some ancient and foreign.
  26. The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey. Meh. Cool premise, a plot that turns predictable, and a few chapters that need to be skipped for adult content.
  27. Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery. Lovely. The kind of mother I want to be.
  28. My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell. To cry with.
  29. Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberley Hahn. Not quite what I expected.
  30. Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey. Lighthouse operator in space. Felt like it could be in the Ender universe. A bit dark, but enjoyable. Not sure how I feel about the moral decision at the end.
  31. Halfway Home by Hugh Howey. People on a colony ship wake up before they’re fully grown and have to deal with a hostile planet and, possibly, computer. And each other. Engaging read. Again questionable on the morals propounded.
  32. Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. Read in preparation for a work retreat. First book like this I’ve ever read.
  33. Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Sequel to My Name is Asher Lev. In this one, the orthodox Jewish artist is grown up, raising children, and is pulled back into his Brooklyn world again. Quite good, as you’d expect from Potok.
  34. Christmas Playlist by Alistair Begg. Discusses the four biblical Christmas songs – Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon.
  35. Beginner’s Guide to Photography

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Living in Babylon, Buying New Pants

In Jeremiah 29, the Israelites have recently been exiled from their home and moved to Babylon. They’re dejected and confused. “Why would God take us out of the land He promised us?”

The prophet Jeremiah, remaining behind in Israel with the very poor, has heard from God and sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon. I imagine they were expecting some hopeful news: “God is sending some warrior angels to rescue you! He will defeat the Babylonians tomorrow! Pack your bags!”

Instead, he has harder news: you’re not coming back to Israel for 70 years. Settle in.

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

I have long loved this chapter in talking to new graduate students (the not-so-subtle metaphor here is to see grad school as exile, though I think rarely is grad school one of God’s punishments). To thrive in graduate school, one needs to view it not as a transitory period, where the temptation is to focus on schoolwork to the exclusion of all else. Jeremiah’s letter reminds us that we should invest deeply in our communities while we are there – make deep friendships, get involved in a church, even date, get married, and have children. Grad school is real life – not another holding pattern before “real life” starts.

Now I find this passage meaningful in a new way. I’ve been in the long, painful wait of infertility for about two years now. The extra challenge of infertility is that every month could be the last one. The uncertainty, the pain, and the hopefulness cycle over and over again, one after another.

I recently went to a support group where I found people who understood the unique challenges of this season. We shared many struggles, even down to not wanting to buy new clothes. “What if this is the month I get pregnant, and then I won’t be able to wear them?”

One woman wisely shared that God was asking her to live in to her current circumstances: buy a few new clothes, make the “baby room” a sewing room, make an appointment with the doctor. Don’t put your life on hold awaiting the good gift of a child.

I connected this beautiful idea to my beloved Jeremiah 29 passage*. I am especially meditating on the phrase, “Multiply there and do not decrease,” or in another translation, “Increase there and do not decrease.”

Alas, the immediate context of this phrase (meaning, “Have babies”) and being in the state of infertility are mutually exclusive. What, therefore, does “increase there and do not decrease” mean for me? What is God trying to grow in me during this barren time?

I am listening, I am praying, I am waiting as I sit here in Babylon, trying to grow and waiting for the call to come home. And I bought some new pants last week.


*I also have “Run the race that is set before you” (Hebrews 12:1) pinned to my desk. I only have to run the one race that God has given me, which at this moment includes infertility.

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