Sunday, 25 January 2015
I took this photo during 2014 in Oxford while our family stayed a week there at Keble College (what a thrilling time that was!). This chapel inside the college was so, so beautiful and filled with such peace. It filled my heart with awe! I couldn't help looking up at that cross, with the beautiful stained glass images behind, and thinking of the truth of this Symbol - both of Shame and Glory, Suffering and Resurrection; the focal point of all history and life. How truly is the Cross of Jesus Christ the only hope for humanity!
Last week, I happened upon some Goodreads quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; among the many moving, stirring and challenging snippets I read, I found myself reading this beautiful prayer Bonhoeffer wrote while in prison in Germany.
“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”
"Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man's troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
The Lord knew that I needed to read it, and used it to encourage my heart that week in a wonderful, comforting way. The realisation that though I might be in darkness, lonely, restless, bitter, feeble of heart and do not always understand God's ways, the Lord is my constant Light, He will never leave me and will always help me and give me His peace. That just encouraged me so much.
As I start the new school-year, I can easily find myself faced with worries and anxieties, and it can be difficult, at times, to just trust the Lord that He will hold my hand and guide me step by step through the drudgery, stress and deadlines of studying; also with the struggles, trials and toils I see around me with friends and family and loved ones. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile peace and joy with the trials and cares of day to day life. Where is the answer? How can we have hope and joy - yes, joy! - in a dark, sin-sick and painful world, where God's people are constantly under attack and suffering. The answer is perhaps best found in our Lord Himself. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs. He suffered the scorn and mockery of men, was stricken down and afflicted. And yet as He learnt obedience by the things He suffered, He prayed, "Father, glorify Your name!"
It can be really hard to understand all the strugglings and hurts of life, but when I remember that my Lord Jesus bled and died for me. . . His sufferings were for my comfort and healing, His grief was for my joy and peace, my heart is filled with awe and wonder and praise. I can trust Jesus with my future and life. I can and should and want to surrender my whole life to Him. Every bit and particle, every dream and hope, every sorrow and disappointment. He knows and loves me. . .
He loves you too!
Lovingly penned by Joy at 9:16 pm
Monday, 19 January 2015
I am very excited to have my sweet online friend, Schuyler, guest-posting on Fullness of Joy tonight! It is always a delight to read the articles and book-reviews she shares on her blog, My Lady Bibliophile, and this post is definitely no exception :).
It's easy to fall into the trap of shallow moralizing with fiction. "This character forgave the person who slapped him in the face, so I must, too." or "This brother responded lovingly when his sister knocked his blocks over, so I must as well." Using fiction merely as a behavior blueprint for good boys and girls underestimates its capabilities.
On the other hand, it's easy to over-glorify stories in order to prove their worth. "This fantastic novel will convict people of their propensity to modalistic monarchism and show them that the trinity is three separate and distinct persons."
What? Do we really feel so threatened by fiction that we bend over backwards to force value into it?
A story is a legitimate art form in its own merit. It doesn't have to justify its existence by defending the deep doctrines of Christianity. It doesn't have to fix your life problems before you reach the back cover any more than a beautiful painting or a classical piece of music. It's a lie, which we Westerners are huge proponents of, that people must always be working, thinking, growing, making money, doing better, reaching higher goals--and never take time simply to read a story because it is enjoyable.
We forget all too often that enjoyment in itself is enough.
I'm not saying we should check our brains at the door when we're reading fiction. Every story should be sifted through the light of God's truth. But I am saying that we have bought into the lie that taking pleasure in something is unfit use of a Christian's time.
Pleasure in itself is profitable. Pleasure in stories is valuable for very simple reasons. And today, I would like to share with you five reasons why you should love stories for pleasure's sake.
When I was little, I took the stories I loved and made up further installments of my favorite characters ad infinitum. Now that I am older, I take the elements I most love in stories and infuse them into my own writing. I could not write so richly were it not for a well-fed and confident imagination as I grew up. Imagination is not an accident; nor is it given only to certain people. It is developed when you read a book and ask "What will happen next?" and then keep on asking that question long after "The End". Without imagination, we cannot create in the image of our Creator. And God-glorifying imagination develops through safe and healthy channels of play--like good stories.
This week we have been listening to Peter Dennis's charming reading of The House at Pooh Corner. Pooh is almost heartbreaking in his simplicity--when you listen to him you are smiling, but the innocence is so charming that at times you want to burst into tears. The other day, as I was mulling over Milne's stories, I was quite startled to realize that Milne never taught anything in Pooh. He just wrote it to enjoy himself.
Why, then, is this fictional bear a classic? He isn't out to change the world or correct societal ills. He is just there to be. And that is enough. It is good, now and then, to read something simply to refresh our hearts. This refreshment gives us new strength and love. It's a simple means to tuning our souls afresh to God's goodness.
Paul says in Philippians 3, "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes fixed on those who walk according to the example you have in us." In other words, examine other people; look at their way of life. Look at how they are living for God or for themselves, and follow those who live according to Scripture. We see countless examples of good and evil in fictional characters. If we read wise choices, they will instinctively train our affections to value right conduct, and show us what it is to live in a pleasing manner for God. Peopling your world with wise fictional friends, as well as wise real friends, keeps you in the hands of safe companions. And that's a good place to be.
Some of the stories I listen to are not in book form at all. Much of the music I listen to is story-form as well--the story of a soul struggling to find grace, or a man loving his maiden, or a patriot fighting for his country. Jackie Evancho, Celtic Thunder, Andrew Peterson --all of them spend their lives telling stories. Some musicians spend their lives recounting God's goodness. Others take the folk tales of history and keep them fresh in people's minds. But without fail, each time I listen to the songs of grief and love and battle and wonder, my soul is restored by reminders of the things I most need to remember--that right wins, and love holds on, and God is working all things together for our good and His glory. These themes are most effectual to comfort weary souls in story form.
God says if we don't love the real people around us, we don't love him, and to love him we must love his children. To love a person we must learn how to invest in them: who they are, what they like, what makes them struggle. Reading a wide variety of stories reminds us that God works in people through different methods and timeframes. People are so different; and meeting as many different souls as we can through the training ground of fiction will train us to look beyond ourselves and our own perspective. When we step back and see one fictional character loving another, we often gain new perspective on how to do it ourselves. This awakens compassion, which helps us love God's children. And that in turn helps us to love God.
We need to abandon any feeling of being threatened by stories: that somehow, if our year's booklist includes fiction, we're not truly interested in what matters. To love good and true stories is no little thing--only the Holy Spirit enables us to value goodness. And to love fictional characters is an extension of the love that we bear for real people. Loving goodness and loving people are two fruits of the Christian life. It is a gracious gift that we should accept with joy from God's hands. I hope we never think we have to make the benefits complicated to believe stories are worth our time.
Schuyler McConkey is a novelist and Bright Lights ministry leader living with her parents and two siblings. She keeps busy with the last edits of her magnum opus, a WW1 espionage novel, and critiquing various manuscripts for friends and writing partners. Schuyler also authors a blog, My Lady Bibliophile, where she writes book reviews and articles evaluating classic literature. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to Irish love songs, learning Gaelic, and reading too many Dickens novels.
Lovingly penned by Joy at 11:03 pm
Saturday, 17 January 2015
It is pretty exciting whenever I hear about upcoming releases from Rooglewood Press, and it is doubly so if the release is a new Tales of Goldstone Wood story! Anne Elisabeth Stengl, author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series of novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, Shadow Hand, Golden Daughter and novella "Goddess Tithe" is releasing her second novella, Draven's Light. As most of you know, I have a huge love for Anne Elisabeth's writing and what she's done with her Tales of Goldstone Wood series, so I definitely wait to read this new book :). Today, we get to see the cover-reveal!
In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest
Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.
The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.
But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?
Coming May 25, 2015
Also, by clicking here, you can learn how this story came about :). Be sure to participate in the giveaway after the excerpt section - Anne Elisabeth is offering a prize of three ARCs (advance reader copies) of Draven’s Light =).
ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit: www.AnneElisabethStengl.blogspot.com
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
(coming May 25, 2015)
He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.
But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.
The beat of a man’s heart.
He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked under her left shoulder.
“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”
His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.
“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him, though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”
The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.
His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he would be born again in blood and bear a new name.
Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight, protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.
A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said, “will you do it?”
“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.
But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”
“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires, building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity: Will it be tonight?
Tonight or no night.
Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center, which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these, bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.
Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just beyond the circle, watching him.
The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood, their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the gaps between.
Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.
“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.
“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.
“Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow before life may begin?”
Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am ready, Father.”
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.
The sacrifice was brought forward.
Lovingly penned by Joy at 1:08 am