Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hungering After The Beautiful & Good

Provence by Paul Cezanne

In the midst of a world that can often seem angry and hostile, I was reminded of a quote by one of my favorite novelists, George Eliot. "It seems to me that we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good and we must hunger after them." Reading that quote, I began to ask myself: How often do I focus on hungering after that which is "beautiful and good" in my day to day life? It's not always easy, but here are seven things that I've recently discovered that have helped or are helping to nurture and nourish my spirit:

The first is the book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy. She has contributed to many websites and blogs, including Ann Voskamp's. One of my favorite book series was the Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L'Engle. This was a series of four books (A Circe of Quiet, The Irrational Season, The Summer of the Great Grandmother and Two-Part Invention and were autobiographical works that came from her private journals and deal with her life, family and faith while living in a 200-year-old farmhouse called Crosswicks in Connecticut. If you haven't read this wonderfully written series I highly recommend doing so. If you have read them, then you'll love this book, too).  Roots and Sky is about Christie and her family moving into an old farmhouse called Maplehurst. She uses the seasons as a way to not only cover the time span that it took for this house to become a home for them, but also to move through the liturgical calendar. As a writer, she is quiet, contemplative and has a rich ability to show how God can be found in the ordinary things of our daily lives.

To give you examples of her beautiful prose, here are two small excerpts from the book:

What is God doing in my life? In the mornings, I wake to find that he has traced the world in silver. Every blade of grass. Each pumpkin on the porch. In the afternoons, I find him washing these fields with the mellow sunlight of autumn. He has gilded every rail in the fence and the sheet metal roof of the old red  barn. He has transformed familiar trees into something otherworldly.


Contrary to what we often think, belief is not the destination. It isn't the journey's end. It is a good pair of glasses. It is a telescope. It is a microscope. When we begin from a place of belief, no matter how small or insubstantial, we can see what was always there, hidden in plain sight.

Roots & Sky is a book to be savored and contemplated and not to be rushed through.

She also has a wonderful blog that can be found on her official website:

Secondly, the very quote from George Eliot is the name of a gorgeous blog entitled Thoroughly Alive by Sarah Clarkson. She describes herself as a "Writer and student, wanderer who wonders, at home and study in Oxford." Sarah has a tremendous gift with words and I always get excited whenever she posts a new blog. They can range from titles like "My Comfort Books," "We Need Imagination" and "After the Silence." Her breadth of subjects is astounding: covering literature, poetry, contemplation, the arts, music, and faith. If you have never read her before, check out her site and you won't regret it.

Here's the link:

Third is one of my all time favorite films, Babette's Feast based on a story by Isak Dinesen. It's a Danish film that came out in 1987 and deals with two pious sisters who live in a small village on the remote coast of Jutland. Their father, a pious and austere pastor, has died and they, now elderly, preside over his aged congregation. The film beautifully moves between their past and present. Life is the same day to day until a refugee, Babette Hersant, shows up at their door with a letter recommending her to be their housekeeper. Since the sisters cannot afford to pay her, Babette agrees to work for them for free. She begins to cook the bland meals that are required by the abstemious congregants. Then, Babette wins the lottery of $10,000 francs, which she spends on creating an elaborate and sumptiously delicious meal for the sisters, the congregants and some guests (who will turn out to be people from the sisters' pasts). It becomes an amazing illustration of the messianic feast, the feast of the lamb, where old enemies are reconciled and old lovers meet again. This is a truly moving scene. If you have not seen this Oscar winning film, then I highly recommend checking it out.

Fourth, I love food! I love eating it, reading about it (in fact, I highly recommend Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl) and watching shows about cooking and the culinary arts. One of my new favorites is a series that's on Netflix called Chef's Table. Unlike most cooking shows, each episode of this one is an intimate documentary on a well-known and world-renowned chef. What I love about this show is that it goes into their lives and shows how their love of food is connected to their families, their childhoods and to memories. This year, Chef's Table has four nominations for Emmy Awards. It also makes me long to travel to many of these restaurants to try the amazing and artistic culinary visions these creative chefs have made. 

Fifth is a podcast I have gotten addicted to: On Being with Krista Tippett. I especially love to listen to this when I am stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic of the morning commute. She covers a wide variety of topics from "Choosing Curiosity Over Fear" (with Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love), "Spirituality of Imagination" (with actor Martin Sheen), "Finding God in All Things" (with Father Jonathan Martin), and "The Courage to be Vulnerable" (with  BrenĂ© Brown, author of Rising Strong). She has spoken with some of my favorite theologians (Walter Brueggemann), authors (Marilynne Robinson), musicians (Yo Yo Ma), singer/songwriters (Carrie Newcomer) and poets (Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry). Her show has won Peabodys. The show is always fascinating as it asks: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?

Here's the link to her website:

Sixth is the music of Carrie Newcomer. She has recorded fifteen albums who is a folk singer, advocate of peace and a contemplative live, and the sacrament of life shows up in her songs. Her lyrics emphasize the sacred in the ordinary and social justice rooted in her Quaker upbringing. She's a deeply spiritual singer/songwriter, a poet, a lyricist, a seeker and an artist who captures the fragile beauty in daily life and the wonder of grace and hope. Of her songs she has said. "Music approaches the sacred through the wordless avenues of the heart."  

Newcomer has fans in recording artist Mary Chapin Carpenter, novelist Barbara Kingsolver and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis. Her music has earned rave reviews from Billboard and Rolling Stones. There is a rich authenticity to her songs. I also love how she describes her nightly ritual, "Every night before I go to sleep I say out loud three things that I am grateful for, all the significant, insignificant, extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. It is a small practise and humble, and yet, I find I sleep better holding what lightens and softens my life ever so briefly at the end of the day."   I love that and will start practicing my own "Three Gratitudes" as she calls them in her poem of the same name.

Her official site:

Last is the poetry of Wendell Berry. More than any other writer I have ever read, he is the best at giving one a sense of place. His fiction, poetry and essays are all rooted in place and images of the natural world. For those who've never read him, I highly recommend starting with This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems. These poems are infused by what he saw on his daily walks on Sunday around his Kentucky farm. He cares deeply about one's connection to the land, to the earth, and to community and this shows in all of his writing. Each one of these poems makes you see the importance of Sabbath in its own unique way. 

by Wendell Berry

Even in a country you know by heart
it's hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.

Those are seven of the things that help me to refocus on the "beautiful and good." What are yours? 
Please feel free to comment or e-mail me or let me know what you think of mine.

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh

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