Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January Travel

Ice and snow; snow and ice.
Sunshine has become January's punctuation, a brief mark between winter's verbs and nouns: freezing rain. Icy drizzle. Blowing snow. Black ice.
I heard someone say she had to chisel her windshield, and I knew just what she meant. I'll have to remember that next spring when it's time to clean out the garage!
Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, I'm spending January in England.
Last year, I spent January not feeling well, and reading the Miss Read books by Dora Saint about village life in England, including the entertaining Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre. Nothing much seems to happen in Miss Read's books, but when you finish one you realize it was life unfolding one day at a time. You can really only see what was happening when you look back on it.
Miss Read's books made me feel as if I'd been to England on a slow, gentle trip, and it was a perfectly delightful (and restful) way to spend January.
This year, my daughter Julie gave me Patrick Taylor's book An Irish Country Christmas. I'd been looking at it in the bookstores for several months, and managed not to buy it (promising myself I'd get it from the library after Christmas.) What a lovely surprise to receive it as a gift!
It didn't disappoint, and once again I found myself “traveling” in County Antrim and North Down, Ireland, meeting such interesting people as Dr. Barry Laverty, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, and Arthur Guinness, “a vast black Labrador” so named because “he's Irish, black, and has a great head on him . . . just like the stout.”
I've enjoyed it so much I found the two books that preceded it, An Irish Country Doctor and An Irish Country Village, and I'm enjoying them one or two chapters at a time -- I'm in no hurry to finish. These are books to savor and take one's time with, not because they are so deep, but because they are so rich in the details of everyday life in a time and place that have changed a great deal.
Snow and ice may limit where I'm able to go in my neighborhood, but these good books have taken me on a lovely winter vacation.

Two other books I've been enjoying are Founding Faith by Steven Waldman, and Tell It Slant, by Eugene Peterson.
If you're interested in politics but tired of tawdriness, Founding Faith may just remind you that politics has always been a curious mix of the practical and the ideal, the best and the worst of us.
I first heard of this book in an interview on National Public Radio, and was intrigued. Waldman, the founder of BeliefNet, starts at the very beginning, looking at the religious underpinnings of the first explorers and settlers in the New World. There are surprising details, insight, and interesting connections I'd not been aware of before. Footnotes offer documentation and even more detail. How all this comes together in the discussions we still have about the role of religion in our public policy and decision making is fascinating.
This book has been a bit controversial -- Waldman doesn't quite toe the traditional evangelical line -- but like anything controversial, it's best to take a look at it for yourself and decide what you think.
Eugene Peterson continues his series on spiritual theology with Tell It Slant, a book focusing on how Jesus used language and story. I've just started this one, but it promises to be both filling and nourishing!
Even if you're not familiar with Eugene Peterson, you may have read some of his work if you've read anything from The Message, Peterson's popular, accessible paraphrase of Scripture. In fact, The Message is so popular that Bono uses it and has quoted it while on tour with U2.
Whatever the weather, it's a good time to read!

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