Wednesday, July 30, 2008

There's something about summer that tempts me even more than usual to lounge about all day and immerse myself in reading--something in which I cannot indulge anymore. I've been trying to avoid potato-chip books, like mysteries and fantasy, because once I start I don't want to do anything else, and get very cross when reality (the boy, the farm, etc) intrudes. During our vacation in Minnesota, I thought I'd satisfied myself with British detectives and magical adventures, but of course I was wrong.

My downfall? Rediscovering Elizabeth Goudge. I've loved The Little White Horse ever since reading it as a child, but though I read several of her other books, I was too young for them at the time. Now, I find, I adore them. She writes simple stories, but her prose is beautifully poetic, and she has realized that all conflict in life stems from the search for God. She's the only novelist I've read who writes about Christians without writing about Christianity, if you know what I mean. Rather, she writes about the everyday life of human beings who, as human beings, cannot escape their innate spirituality. It's lovely and inspiring and impossible to put down.

A common theme that I've noticed in her novels is the necessity of sacrifice. She describes it eloquently in The Bird in the Tree, as young David considers his grandmother's principles:

...her generation and his felt so differently about the truth. Her generation had built from without inwards, had put the reality of law and tradition above the reality of personal feeling, but his built from within outwards, the truth of personal feeling must come first; when there was no longer reality in a union, smash the union; never mind what laws were broken or what lives were crippled; live the truth.

But what is the truth? Later on his grandmother explains,

...if truth is the creation of perfection then it is action and has nothing to do with feeling. And the nearest we can get to creating perfection in this world is to create good for the greatest number, for the community or the family, not just for ourselves; to create for ourselves only means misery and confusion for everybody... It is far more truthful to act what we should feel if the community is to be well served rather than behave as we actually do feel in our selfish private feelings.

Modern psychology tells us to "take care of yourself first"; make sure your own needs are met before expending precious energy on others. But we are incapable of making ourselves happy--we give ourselves what we want, not what we need, and grow ever more dissatisfied and narcissistic. It's only when we forget ourselves in wholehearted service to our families and communities that we can feel content.

All sorts of sacrifices await us throughout our lives. They may be huge or seemingly insignificant, but each one brings us closer to Christ. My challenge now is sacrificing my desire to read for hours; to enjoy Elizabeth Goudge in small amounts instead of gorging myself all at once.