Monday, December 3, 2012

A Gift to Give Yourself

A Note from Stephanie:   

In the middle of the madness that will be December (in spite of our best efforts to control it), I hope that you will find time to give yourself a gift, too—time with a favorite book. Time with your feet propped up. Time with a cup of joe or cocoa or tea. Time. The best gift of all.
I thought I’d share two of the books I return to at this time of year (and why).  

Journey into Christmas by Bess Streeter Aldrich. 

Bess Streeter Aldrich is my favorite story-teller. She’s “the other Nebraska author” that few seem to know about. (Everyone knows about Willa Cather.) Aldrich is “softer.” Her stories are gentle and filled with hope. Journey into Christmas (first published in 1949) is a collection of short stories guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes and encouragement to your soul. The themes are timeless (difficult economies and tough times) but hope reigns eternal. And hope wins. Aldrich’s gift with imagery resonates with me. For example:

     “Bellfield is similar to a hundred other small Midwestern towns. From the air its building look like so many dishes clustered together on a flat table. The covered soup tureen is the community hall. The red vase in the center is the courthouse. The silver-tipped salt shaker is the water tank.
     There are few changes in the ensemble from year to year. Only the tablecloth is different. There is a vivid green one for spring, a checkered green-and-tan one for  summer, a mottled yellow-red-and-brown one for autumn. Just now—the day before  Christmas—nature, the busy housekeeper, had dressed the table in a snow-white cloth for the first time …”

            In another story, where children think that Christmas has become too much work for their 81-year-old mother and decide they won’t be going home for Christmas, Aldrich writes, “…not one had understood how much less painful it is to be tired in your body than to be weary in your mind—how much less distressing it is to have an ache in your bones than to have a hurt in your heart.” Never fear, though—Aldrich always treats her readers to a happy ending.
             If I could, I’d send a copy to every blog reader. I like it that much.

The Day Christ Was Born by Jim Bishop. 

             “The road out of Bethany threw a tawny girdle around the hill they called the Mount of Olives and the little parties came up slowly out of the east leading asses with dainty dark feet toward the spendor of Jerusalem.”
            I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but with that opening and all the way to the end, I feel that I am seeing what Mary and Joseph saw as they journeyed toward Christmas. In addition, I begin to understand what Jerusalem meant (and means) to the Jewish people.
            Bishop’s Mary is a flesh-and-blood girl—not some other-worldly mythical figure I can’t relate to. In this book, Mary is faithful and aware of her heavenly Father’s care, but she’s also terrified and wondering. “God was everywhere. It gave Mary confidence to know that He was everywhere. She needed confidence. Mary was fifteen.”
            The book flap on my copy of this book says, “Bishop incorporates treasures of information … discovered by nineteen centuries of scholars in archaeology, linguistics and related disciplines, to create a tapestry woven from many threads of a gripping, ever-unfolding narrative that is biblically accurate yet filled with rich, dramatic, detail.”
            In plain language, Bishop’s account is the ultimate “you are there” experience (at least it is for me). He helps me see, hear, small, and feel what the most important event in all of human history might have been like for the real humans who lived it—Mary and Joseph, shepherds and Magi (in spite of the title, the story goes beyond that one day). Bishop provides the cultural context for the story in a way that helps me understand and appreciate “the players” far more than I ever have before. [Apparently the book is out of print, but abundant used copies are available online.]

            May your holidays be bright, and I hope you give yourself the gift of quiet time and reading. 

What’s your favorite holiday reading?