Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Tea - When Books take us to the Thin Places

Pride & Prejudice

"In my experience when people once begin to read they go on.  They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must.
Yes.  They find it widens life.
We're all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can't give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough.
But in books we experience all life vicariously."  
Grandfather to Jocelyn in A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge

I have been lost in Torminster these past few days.  Feeling quite poorly in body but alive in the realm of the soul and mind and everywhere else a good book finds its' way into my world.

I have read A City of Bells a couple times but there is still something afresh once in awhile on its' pages.  Words I wondered how I missed them the first time around, not to mention the second.

When I finished, I didn't want to leave my literary friends on the pages so I pulled the sequel off the shelf.  Even if Sister of the Angels is a Christmas story I like to read at the Holidays.  I'm just early this year.

Very few statements express more how I feel about books as those above... written by Goudge and said by Grandfather.  I have long thought that the written word is God's way of making up for our finiteness.

I think one of the reasons I love a good children's book... for I much agree with Lewis that if a book is not good enough to read at age fifty, it is not good enough for children... is how they take me from my Real world into that of Another.  Or perhaps my own long ago life.

Not only the classics of children's reading but I even love picture books, especially when they remind me of my own children's baby and toddler years.  My husband knew the words to Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) so much that he could recite it without looking at the book.  Twenty years after reading it to his little girl, the words to Goodnight Moon had been typed out and put in a frame next to his place setting at her wedding dinner. :)

Tears can come to my eyes when I read through I Am a Bunny (Ole Risom with illustrations by Richard Scarry).  I have Stephanie's copy on my shelves, held together by a rubber band if I remember correctly.  For by reading it I am there with both of my children... even though they were born twelve years apart... reading from the beautiful board book.

I was raised in a non-church going home so I didn't know a lot about the Old Testament Bible stories.  They were more rumors than real experiences in my childhood.  So I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bible story books to my children.  Learning the real story even though it was often from books written in English children could understand.

I was in a Christian bookstore once when my daughter was very young.  I overheard a conversation between the bookstore clerk and a parent.  I can't even recall if it was a mother or father looking for a Bible for their young child.  All they would accept was a black King James Bible for their child's use.  I was close enough to notice the print was too small for a child to find it easy to read.  But from what the parent was saying, I had no desire to intrude even though I knew they were making a mistake.

For children remember the words and the experiences of their books, even the Holy Book.  I thought of the beautiful illustrations in some Bibles for children.  Indeed one can even keep to the King James and find a better selection.  For our desire is for our children to know Him and embrace Him and DESIRE Him. 

How lovely it would have been for this child, who is now grown up, to have memories of Mommy or Daddy setting them on their lap and reading them the Word of God and pointing to the beautiful photos, often in those days by the Masters' themselves.

Perhaps that is why I love books like A City of Bells.  For you cannot read it without feeling the wonder of God all around you.  It definitely reflects Goudge's Christian beliefs.  But the parent in the Christian bookstore would have hated this book.  For it also has a magical loveliness about it. 

The Celts talked about the "thin places" where the veil between the spiritual and physical is more transparent.   Somewhere I have read that observant Jews believe there is a "thinning of the veil" during the High Holy Days (of which we are in right now).  Both believe it is easier to hear from God in these places and on certain days.

I find some of Goudge's books to be such a place where there is a thinning of the veil between God and myself.  I find it amusing at times to read reviews of her books, especially my favorites.  For while many of us love her writing, there are the non-Christians who think she writes too much about God and on the other side there are the Christians who think she verges on New Age spiritualism.

As for me... Henrietta and Grandfather and the Bishop and even the reluctant converts in the story... they take me to a place where I can better hear from Heaven.  Where God can baptize me in peace.  Where His Presence dwells.

Perhaps that is why some of us love Narnia and Middle Earth and Pooh's Corner and the Lake District where animals talk and books about bunnies that look at the moon.  I think we were meant to live in the "thin places".  And Grandfather was correct, it is through books that our finite beings can live there... if only until we finish the last page.


Deborah Montgomery said...

Brenda, this is simply wonderful. I'm about to start Goudge's Eliot family trilogy. Will need to read City of Bells again.
You have put into words how I feel about books, and those thin places. Thank you.

Susan Humeston said...

Now you've done it - your writing today brought tears to my eyes - I know JUST what you mean about those thin places and the books/music/memories/smells/colors that bring us there and remind us that this vale of tears is temporary and eternity is right around the corner, right next to us if we could only see it.

Heather LeFebvre said...

I will have to read a City of Bells so that I can read the sequel at Christmas :) Loved your photo of your Goudge and Stevenson collection! Reading is such a huge part of my life, and such a joy, that I often wonder how people enjoy life without it. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I sometimes feel a little strange when I discuss with others how book make me feel and the places they take me. Sometimes, people look at me like I have 2 heads! Other homeschooling moms have criticized my decisions to allow my children to read Narnia and LOTR. I've not questioned my decision, however, because my children (who are 12, 14 & 18 now) can initiate and participate debates and discussions pertaining to christian themes in literary works. The insights they gain from characterization and symbols in literature are amazing. They, too, have been taken to places where the veil has been thinned.

I'm going to read this post to them. Thank you so much!

Karen Andreola said...

Your words about books - especially about the books you love - were poetry to my hears and heart today. I am encouraged by your explanation of the thin veil - so beautifully put.

The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes - and books like this, are a tender-and-true introduction to young children, I agree. Familiarity with simple Bible stories has its uses. I found myself telling an adult atheist-family-member-guest about my faith in God, recently, by sharing Bible stories most precious to me while I prepared lunch, and he was standing at the kitchen farm table. Why not?

Anonymous said...

Oh Brenda. Your blog just touches a deep part of me. We must be kindred spirits. Yours is one of the few blogs I have come across that encourages me to be *more* content with my life as it is rather than stirring up feelings of discontent. I often add your book recs to my Amazon/library wish list.