Friday, June 15, 2012

Sarah Smith and the Something More

Ah, Mother’s Day.  It came around again.  Of course, Provie was drawn out of the mothballs in the attic and given a good shake and presented to us in her annual splendor.  For Christian women, she comes hand-in-hand with Mother’s Day.  There is no escaping her.

I will confess here and now that I am none too fond of the Virtuous Wife from Proverbs 31, whom I have nicknamed Provie. Oh, I know her worth is far above rubies.  I know that her own works will praise her in the gates.  In fact, I am willing to concede that some of the most beautiful things ever written about women in the Bible are written about her.   The words are sublime and inspiring: "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." "Her children rise up and call her blessed." "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness."  There is much to admire, but something is missing.
My husband says I am far too hard on her; I don’t care.  “She just wants to take care of her family,” he says, “You know half a dozen women who are just like the Virtuous Wife.”  Then, he lists off my wonderful friends in support of his statement.  “Yes and no,” I reply.  I do indeed know myriad women who mirror some of the outward qualities of Provie, but they are so much more so than she. I mean, does anybody really like this Proverbs vision of the ideal woman? She's always getting up early and buying fields and spinning and filling up ships and getting food and displaying her merchandise. Sounds like a real bore to me.  And, yes, her husband will have no lack of gain.  And yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.  I get it; she’s pretty darn amazing.  But again, something is missing.

This view of a wife comes to us from God, of course.  He inspired Solomon to put down the words.  We know, then, that He must want us to take note of the qualities of this Virtuous Wife.  This character sketch apparently also comes from that good, ol' scoundrel, King Solomon’s, mom. He called himself King Lemuel in 31:1, but he wasn’t fooling anybody.  I can only imagine that Bathsheba harangued him constantly to make better choices in his love life.  As she watched the parade of foreign beauties arriving in Jerusalem to share her son’s bed, she must have wished for him just one Hebrew wife who had in her possession the greatest attribute of all: fear of the Lord. Years later, I imagine, he wrote this proverb under divine inspiration to make it up to her; “Ma was right all along,” he must have sighed to himself, as he witnessed the deceitful charms and passing beauties of his pagan wives.  Thus, was ensconced for all times the wifely ideal.  Again though, I say,  something is missing.

I believe that the Christian ideal of womanhood must veer at least a bit from this Proverbs 31 portrayal, by necessity of this Age of Grace in Christ. Proverbs 31 is all about doing. Provie works and works and works and works.  It is good work, too.  Blessed work that fortifies and edifies her family.  She is at a distance, though.  We do not get to know her.  When will she draw near a moment and just be? Doesn’t it remind you of Martha, Lazarus’s sister?  I can imagine Provie’s being worried and troubled by many things.  But, I as a Christian woman want to choose the greater part.  I want to choose the one thing that is needed.  So, I offer up as my own role model Sarah Smith of Golders Green.

Do you know Sarah Smith?  She is the Great Lady from Chapter 12 of The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis's novel about heaven and hell.  The narrator boards a bus in hell that is bound for heaven.  On it are miserable souls kept in the bondage of their own making.  He then takes a tour of heaven with 19th century Scottish author, George MacDonald, as his guide; he, along with the other souls under damnation, must make a choice: to die to themselves and find life anew in the realm of glory or to return to hell in the chains of self-satisfied sin.  In that plane, as in ours, too  many make the latter choice.  It is not Scripture, but it is Spirit-soaked.  My favorite part is when he first views the Great Lady (edited):

Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. . . . Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done. . . . Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

"Is it? ... is it?" I whispered to my guide.

"Not at all," said he. "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."

"She seems to be ... well, a person of particular importance?"

"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things."

"And who are all these young men and women on each side?"

"They are her sons and daughters . . . Every young man or boy that met her became her son . . . Every girl that met her was her daughter."

"And how ... but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs . . . why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses."

"They are her beasts. . . . Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. . . . And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them." I looked at my Teacher in amazement. "Yes," he said. "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength.”

“But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life." (emphasis added)

Now that . . . that makes me weep with shameful knowledge of my own shortfalls and sins and doubts and denials. I cannot feel bad about not getting up early and filling up a bunch of ships; but, I can remember times when I have not shown the love of Christ to those upon whom I have come in my life, and feel real and true sorrow.  My husband says, “Of course you like this Sarah Smith
, because you like gadding about with kids and animals and not doing any real work.”  As always, he knows me only too well.  There is nothing to suggest, though, that Sarah was less than industrious during her earthly time – but she was something more.  There was overflowing  joy in her; there was overarching love in her.  If Provie is Martha, then Sarah is Mary – both women, good and true; but one who just got it a little better.  There is only one thing I want from this life: to live it in a way that, when the shadows fade and we are out of the cave and into the sunlight, my eternal legacy will mirror just a hundredth of that of Sarah Smith of Golders Green.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

After All, Early June Strawberries Are the Best

Or maybe I just think they are because it had been so long since I'd plucked a ripe strawberry from the vine and enjoyed its sweet juiciness then and there.  Despite our chilly spring here, some of my strawberries are already bright red-ly eatable; so, I ate them!  Blueberries will start coming ripe next.  And I've even plucked a few snap peas as well.  They said I was silly planting my garden in March . . . but, I'll get at least two harvests of some crops this summer!  Happy garden produce time to all gardeners out there in cyber-ville!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I Hate Anti-Stratfordians

I know, I know, hate is a strong word.  But, I do hate anti-Stratfordians, and here is why:

I just finished Bill Bryson's updated and expanded illustrated edition of his Shakespeare biography.  It is a nifty piece of work -- wry and inquisitive without falling into wild speculation; appreciative without being hagiographic; concise and yet very satisfying.  The last chapter raised my blood pressure a bit, though: Claimants.

Now, Mr. Bryson does a nice smack-down of the anti-Stratfordian poppycock peddlers.  He gives many different theories the once-over, finds each one severely and comically wanting, and dismisses each in turn.  Mr. Bryson asserts with authority and incredulity at there having ever been any question of it Shakespeare's authorship of the plays attributed to him.  And that is well and good.

But, I want revenge.  Yes!  Revenge!  It absolutely infuriates me that so-called scholars and other people who ought to know better continue down this perfidious path unpunished, besmirching not only the name and reputation of one man, but the entire ideas of the individual human spirit and creative genius.  William Shakespeare, the son of a glover (eew!  tradesman!), was a provincial know-nothing who only attended grammar school and then trod the boards for a living.  There is no way he could have written some of the most sublime artistic expressions of English language.  Ergo, he must not have written them.  Must have been an aristocrat . . . or two . . . or three!

That whole conjecture is repulsive to my American soul; but, it ought to repulse anyone who marvels at and is grateful for the great works of art that enrich our lives and expand our humanity.  To think that it is only a certain "type" of person who can scale the heights of Mount Horeb to brush his fingers against the face of God, is to know nothing about art or about history.  Tell me again of all the great poet kings.  David.  Yes, but according to the anti-Stratfordians, David could not have been king at all and written those glorious psalms because he was born an obscure shepherd boy in the wilderness of Judea.  Must have been Saul -- oops, he had backwater roots, too.  Um, Jonathan?  He was born royal, so it must have been him.  See how ridiculous that theory is?

Was William Shakespeare chosen by God in the same way as David or Abraham?  Or, was it sheer human gumption and a ton of hard, diligent work that brought him to the summit of his art?  Or both?  I guess your opinion on that depends upon your opinion of creative work.  I believe that all art wells up from the spring of our Creator God.  I believe that there is no such thing as a thoroughly secular piece of art, because all creative expression in man is a reflection -- whether conscious or not -- of how he views and honors his Creator -- either to His glory or to man's damnation.  I also believe in the 10,000 hour rule -- that excellence in anything comes at the price of, if not blood, then toil, sweat, and tears. 

Those not of a spiritual bent might disagree with part of my premise.  They would do well not to; but, that is up to them to decide.  What is not up to them to decide is on whom the spark of genius will fall. I believe it falls on far more than we will ever remember in posterity, but few are willing to make the sacrifices to realize their own genius.  William Shakespeare made those sacrifices.  Interestingly, his friends made their own sacrifices, too, after Shakespeare's death -- ensuring that the Bard's works were collected and published and kept alive.  Fall on your knees, you lovers of language, in gratitude for the people who saved Shakespeare for us, and the good God who covered it all with His blessing.

Anyway, to deny William Shakespeare credit for his achievements is the most base sort of robbery. 
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

I know that the villain Iago said that; that does not make it less true.  I also know that those rascally anti-Stratfordians have parlayed their lies into, if not riches, then renown.  But, they are trying to steal from the glover's son, the grammar-school boy, the actor, the playwright --  yes, and even from all in this world who yearn to reach that elusive summit, no matter how low our origins -- the only good name that should ever be attached to that very good body of work: William Shakespeare.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Also Read . . . or Reading . . .

Some other books I'm getting through are as follows: 
How to Keep Kosher: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Jewish Dietary Law by Lisë Stern is so not written for a shiksa, Christian, and Messianic Jewish dilettante like me.  But, it is a wonderful book!  I've been wondering lately if we who are Christians give up something beautiful when we ignore Jewish laws and traditions in our true freedom in Christ.  After all, our Savior walked this earth as an observant Jew.  So, I've been exploring things like keeping kosher and keeping the Sabbath.  This makes my husband very tense.  The man loves bacon.  I see it as just another way to worship and honor my awesome God -- to remember all the things He did before putting on flesh and dwelling with us.  Ms Stern's book is written with clarity, humor, understanding, and charity.  There are many ways to keep kosher -- many different levels of observance.  This book will help you achieve however strict or casual an observance to which you are called.

In the same spirit as the above book, I'm also reading Sen. Joe Lieberman's paean to remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy, The Gift of Rest.  Why aren't Christians more particular about honoring God by observing this commandment?  I think it is because it is -- at least for me -- too easy to get caught up in the constant rush and excuse our lack of obedience through a misunderstood (or calculatedly misunderstood) freedom in Christ.  It's not about being legalistic and whited sepulchre-ish.  It's about opening up to even greater gifts through obedience. It is definitely worthwhile to me to study further the blessings of true, biblical rest.

And now for something completely different: I have found that one of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson, has released an updated and illustrated edition of his excellent biography of William Shakespeare!  Oh, happy day!  So, I'm indulging in that toothsome treat as late as I can keep my eyelids open at night.  Loving my two Bills!

Starting on some Angela Thirkell, as well.  Right now I have read the first couple chapters of The Demon in the House.  She is said to be of the same vein as Austen, Wodehouse, and Benson.  I'm having a hard time getting into this first volume, but I'll keep at it.  It took me a little while to get into E.F. Benson, as well, and that ended up reaping fruitful rewards.

Lastly, I'm trying to read one of the Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald every couple nights.  They are so packed with beautiful, startling, revolutionary, revelatory, and awe-inspiring ideas -- I cannot digest more than one at a time.  I can barely digest the one.  This man was so anointed and Spirit-soaked; it just reminds me what a puny, measly, crummy little baby Christian I am.  But, you know, it reminds me in a good way -- how much "further up and further in" I have in store for me if I just stay faithful in my walk.  Yay!  I can see why C.S. Lewis chose George MacDonald as his spiritual guide in that marvelous book, The Great Divorce.  If Jack is anywhere done with the real George on the other side of the veil, I'm going to steal him away for a while myself.

Three By Christie

In my ongoing effort to make note of every book I read in 2012, I ought to write that I re-read three Agatha Christie novels last week.  I know: re-reading mysteries?  Doesn't that defeat the point?  But, Ms Christie wrote so many mysteries, so many of which I have read, and they are so skillful and so sly that I forget whodunnit after a few years.  So, I keep cycling though my mass markets, year-after-year.

There are actually only four of her mysteries whose denouements I can never forget: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Murder on the Nile, and And Then There Were None.  If you've never read Agatha Christie, don't read Roger Ackroyd first (as I mistakenly did); but, do read it once you've met and fallen in love with Monsieur Poirot in other mysteries.  It is a humdinger.

The three I read last week were: Sparkling Cyanide, Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, and Murder is Easy.  Not much to note about them other than that Christie makes what must be such a difficult writing task look so darn easy.  And the crimes, even murder most foul, are so darn fun.  Dang Brits!  Why do Americans even try to write?

(That said: I know several American authors who write extraordinarily well.  You'd almost think they were British.  But, as a national whole, the Brits outclass us by sheer sparkling, spectacular volume of wit and skill with pen or quill.)