I gaze up at Mars and Venus in the dim sky of early dawn, red guardian of the night and bright herald of the coming day, steadfast in their stately dance through the heavens. Far closer to earth, three bats catch my eye as they swoop and circle, sometimes together, sometimes singly, in constant motion, choreography in the air. A fourth joins the dance, their flight like fleeting lines of calligraphy tracing the sky along lines only they can see. Then, suddenly all four vanish, as if at some secret signal. Perhaps the sun, still 20 minutes from rising, has lightened the sky just enough to announce bat bedtime?
Just as I turn to go inside, a single bat streaks from the silhouetted trees to fly in joyous loops and circles, up and down, around and about, seeming for all the world like a preschooler who’s escaped his bedroom for one last gleeful playtime before being put to bed. Or perhaps a young teenager daring to stay out past curfew just long enough to see if he can, to see what really happens when day begins and bats must say goodnight. Laughing, I watch his youthful antics as a Wren began to sing. After just a minute, having tasted the dawn, he, too, vanishes, the sky now the realm of birds. I look up again; Mars and Venus still dance, their movement nearly imperceptible, their course sure through ages past and ages yet to come.
Stephen reads to me nearly every evening; this has been part of our end-of-day routine for years now. We’ve probably read through over a hundred books by now, the majority fantasy or science fiction, with a smattering of classics and a few other genres. I really look forward to the time to connect, to unwind after the fullness of each day, and to enjoy a good book together. I often sketch while Steve reads, sometimes making cards or sketching the view out the window, but more often than not sketching him as he reads. Here’s a selection of sketches from the past year or two. These are all done without preliminary predrawing; sometimes I have a hard time with proportions, but I’m getting to the point I think I could sketch him from memory. 🙂
It’s been over two months since I posted, and I am planning to start posting art and musings somewhat more regularly. I have recently decided to step back from most of Facebook, which is giving me more time (it’s so easy to lose vast amounts of time browsing through friends’ news feeds and reading comments), and, more importantly, is freeing up more mental energy. I am still posting some artwork and photos on Facebook, but I am reading very little there and am enjoying greater peace of mind and more time to read and to make art, whether painting or sketching.
We came home from Maine near the end of June, and since then I’ve been taking time off from my dog training business to get settled back in after three months away, but mostly to recover from many months of stress that started with my parents’ health issues back in the fall, included some health issues for Stephen and me, then the twins’ premature birth and our temporary and sudden move to Maine, then my father’s illness and death. And then I wiped out on my bicycle and cracked a few ribs a week before we returned home from Maine. I was ready for a break!
During this time I’ve been trying to establish a better rhythm for my days, and toward that end I’ve been reading some helpful books, as well doing much pondering as I walk the dogs and some journaling most mornings. One book which I’m very much appreciating right now is The Pressure’s Off, by Larry Crabb, who has long been a favorite author of mine. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but he emphasizes the absolute importance of desiring intimacy with God over the blessings we would like to have in this life. He says that as long as we believe that if we live a certain way doing the “right” things we are likely to have the life we want (health, comfortable home, children who are doing well, etc), we will be under tremendous pressure to “get it right.” But if our greatest desire is to draw close to God no matter how things are going in our life, the pressure is off, because we aren’t focused on outcomes that we can’t really control anyway, and we can be satisfied at the deepest level of our being that nothing but God can truly satisfy, since we were created for connection with him.
I’m also reading Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, another favorite author of mine. I’m only in the third chapter, but she starts right out talking about longing for God, about reading Scripture in a way that draws me into the story and then makes the story of Scripture a part of my life, and about solitude– how I love that word as an invitation to my soul to step out from under the pressure of daily life and expectations!
Just yesterday I started reading Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris, which I expect will stir in me a desire for a Benedictine-like rhythm to my days, which will help maintain my focus and dependence on God. I have previously read on and pondered Benedictine spirituality and always found it helpful, but it’s hard to stay on track without some sort of accountability (which is built into Benedictine life). Both Larry Crabb and Ruth Haley Barton talk about the need for spiritual friendships that provide ongoing encouragement and discernment, which brings me to another book I’m reading and discussing with a close friend: Crafting a Rule of Life, by Stephen Macchia. I’ve found it a bit tedious at times, but useful for helping me sort through various aspects of my life, interests, passions, goals, and responsibilities, and I think discussing it with a friend will help with both discernment and mutual encouragement. That seems especially important during this time of somewhat limited interaction with others due to Covid-19.
As usual, I am reading a mini-library, rather than just one book, and the one I’ve mentioned are just a few of my current books. I’m also reading a fascinating, fabulously well-written, informative book called Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance, by Marian Gosnell; A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (just started this, but think it will be hard to put down); Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan (which I think will tie in well with the books on spiritual focus); and A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis; as well as a couple of art books about painting landscapes; and Dog Songs, a book of beautifully illustrated and insightful poems by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite contemporary poets. In addition to all of these books, I am reading through the book of Psalms over and over (about once a month) and Stephen and I are reading aloud through the Old Testament a page or so at a time. And he and I have also been reading through Orson Scott Card’s many science fiction books, which are very engaging I’m planning on picking up The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy sometime in the next week or so, as someone recently recommended it.
Well, I wasn’t originally planning this to be a post primarily about books, but that seems to be where my thoughts have gone. I do find that reading slows me down from the overly fast and pressured pace of life dictated by modern technology and issues and often helps to establish some rhythm to my days. It also gives my wonderful cat Acadia time to snuggle on my lap, where she makes sure I don’t get too deeply absorbed in whatever I’m reading. If you have any recommendations for me, please feel free to mention them in a comment. I have a long, long list of recommended books, but I’m always happy to add to it.