Don't You Want to Thank Someone For This?

27 November 2014

Now I can see the world is charged
It's glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets' lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness 
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

'Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It's howling in the snowy peaks
It's blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it's a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it's waking up
And I'm waking up

'Cause I can hear the voice of one
He's crying in the wilderness
"Make ready for the Kingdom Come"
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

["don't you want to thank someone" // andrew peterson]

happiest of thanksgivings to you.

Guest Post: The Library of Borrowed Wit

10 November 2014

Nearly everyone around these parts is familiar with the name of Rachel Heffington. She reads, she writes, she blogs, she bakes, she nannies — she's a veritable Mary Poppins and the reigning queen of impromptu wit: in short, she's a darling. Just this past week Rachel released her debut mystery, Anon, Sir, Anon ("remember, remember the Fifth of November!"). I received an advance copy earlier this autumn, and I was able to savor this delightfully chilling book as the temperatures dropped and the leaves turned gold. Some books beg to be read at a certain time of year; this one is no exception. With its foggy Northamptonshire setting, Anon, Sir, Anon would make the perfect fireside mystery for a November evening. Grab yourself a copy and tuck in for an engrossing tale.

Continuing with her celebratory tour de force, I'm featuring the author this morning on a subject near and dear to the heart of Anon, Sir, Anon's Orville Farnham himself: the quotable nature of William Shakespeare and the Bard's own involvement within this new title. Without further ado, I'll give her the floor.

the library of borrowed wit: shakespeare's influence in anon, sir, anon
by rachel heffington

I remember my first encounter with Shakespeare: I was all of twelve or thirteen and had gone to Regent University to attend a production of Hamlet. I left feeling hopelessly confused as to why Rosencrantz was eating a lollipop and wearing modern clothes...hadn’t Shakespeare written his plays far before Tootsie Pops came into existence? Not to mention the fact that the dialog went (at best) just over my head. Because of this odd experience and the general idea that someone named Macbeth had a ghost and someone else was accustomed to saying, “et tu, Brute?”, for some years I avoided Shakespeare with a creeping feeling that he was either too lofty or too dry for my experience and tastes. What I neglected to take into account, however, was that Shakespeare wrote plays...and plays are meant to be observed.

One fateful night, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and was carried away on the glorious wings of one who has known what it is to thrill over a passage of Shakespeare. That night, I dreamed in Elizabethan English and was able to slay the most awe-inspiring men with my wit. From then on, it was a natural progression to others of his comedies and then into the slightly heavier works, like Henry IV and Henry V. I have read a few, watched more, and fallen in love with Tom Hiddleston, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson as they play timeless characters created by Shakespeare. Finally, I could understand why William Shakespeare had become a name synonymous with genius.

It can be hard to remember exact progressions in inspiration just as it is hard to tell the exact stages in which an October dusk turns from blue to daffodil to silver to azure to velvet. Shakespeare lent his brilliance to my library of borrowed wit, I continued to write my stories, and then came The Bartlett Book.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bartlett Books they are, essentially, very heavy volumes of quotations from various authors. Mine was a gift from my soon-to-be sister-in-law and is from the 1930’s. It happened to have a thick section of the more obscure Shakespearean quotes and as I flipped through the quotations one afternoon, a certain line grabbed my notice:

Death’s a great disguiser.”

How could it not suggest murder? Yet, what sort of detective would have a Shakespeare quote near-to-hand with a body lying at his feet? A Shakespearean actor, perhaps? And thus the eccentric Orville Farnham was born: a man more in love with The Bard’s work than, perhaps, Kenneth Branagh himself. I am a firm believer in the idea that eccentricities are only eccentric if they are repeated. Thus, Shakepeare and Farnham needed to become cemented as one. For this purpose, I invented The Game. If you will permit me, I will share a short scene to explain the rules:

Farnham spread his hand to indicate the chair at the head of the table. “Won’t you, Breen? Allen was about to bring in the pudding.”
The doctor bowed to Genevieve and smiled, but Genevieve saw the quizzing, questing look he shot at Farnham.
“‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last,’” Farnham said, not bothering to answer the unspoken question. It appeared to Genevieve that her uncle stared rather hard at his friend as if encouraging him to find some extra meaning in the words.
“Oh Lud.” Dr. Breen pushed his chair away from the table and crossed his legs, resting rough boots on the white tablecloth. He stretched his arms behind his head and grinned in an amiable fashion. “I know this one. I know I know this one.”
Rather than being puzzled or vexed with this new table ornament, Farnham pushed his chair back and did likewise. “You ought to know it. We’ve practiced enough,” he grumbled, settling into the new position. His feet now blocked his face from his niece’s view, but she could see Dr. Breen.
Breen worked his face into one big wrinkle. “Something about...oh, Lud.”
“How--” Genevieve began, intending to ask a question.
Dr. Breen unfolded his arms and beamed at her. “Of course! ‘Why, how now, Stephano!’”
Farnham applauded. “The Tempest. It’s really quite simple, Breen. I give you all the Watsonizing parts, you know. The useless questions asked for decorum’s sake. You shouldn’t have trouble remembering stupid questions.”
“So generous. Unflinchingly generous.”
Anon, Sir, Anon [chapter 3]

Featured as a game in Anon, Sir, Anon, Shakespeare’s work became ingrained in mine, and no one will be able to recall the character of Mr. Orville Farnham without remembering one of the greatest authors of old whose work deserves presentation to a new era of readers.

I hope readers of my mystery will be inspired to take up one of The Bard’s plays and give it another try. And to those of you who find Shakespeare to your liking? Priceless phrases like, “Let’s whip th’offending Adam out of him,” will slide into your vocabulary and give your conversation a delightful, unconventional color. Believe me, it’s fabulous.

. . .

all about anon, sir, anon

The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger. In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets. When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door. Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.

Available for purchase on Amazon // Read my review and others on Goodreads

all about rachel heffington

Rachel Heffington is a Christian, a novelist, and a people-lover. Outside of the realm of words, Rachel enjoys the Arts, traveling, mucking about in the kitchen, listening for accents, and making people laugh. She dwells in rural Virginia with her boisterous family and her black cat, Cricket.

Earth's Crammed With Heaven: The Ántonia Principle

03 November 2014

But she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.”
my ántonia / / willa cather

I don't make a point of hiding my affection for Willa Cather's richly descriptive memoir, My Ántonia. It's been almost a year now since I first read it, and although its length wanes next to Dickens' (whose does not, for that matter?), I've drawn some of my favorite quotes and passages from its brief pages. I lost myself wholeheartedly in that story last winter, blissfully ignoring the fact that it was a piece of required reading for my English course. I don't think I've enjoyed an assigned novel so well since Pride and Prejudice made a cameo on my World Literature syllabus two years ago. 

In January I emphasized the beauty of Cather's description, and while I could wax on for hours in the same direction, it is Ántonia herself who deserves a moment of recognition. I am continually drawn to the passage quoted above near the book's end. That something in her capable of "[firing] the imagination" breathes fruitful life and glowing vivacity into Ántonia to such an extent that it transcends her age and physical decline. At this point in the memoir, deep-set wrinkles have replaced her once-ruddy complexion; her hair has grown thin and lank; the health of her frame has turned sallow with age; but none of it matters. According to Jim, she "[can] still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow [reveals] the meaning in common things."

I realized soon enough why I kept returning to this section. Something in my heart cried out, That's what I want.

I wanted to be like Ántonia.

For that matter, who doesn't wish to imitate this lively girl, lovely woman, and now wise mother? Jim Burden devotes his entire memoir to her record. Cather paints her name on every page. Even the untamed prairie emulates her unquenched spirit. Ántonia wends her way through the book.

What strikes me about this woman, however, contrasts dramatically with the very thing that repulses me in Jim. While Jim spends the entirety of the book in her shadow, playing the role of her adoring worshiper, longing for their easy childhood days before the threshold to adulthood brought new troubles, Ántonia faces each fresh dawn with remarkable strength and courage. She plows and plants in the fields to save her family from starvation, ignoring Jim's requests to play in the tall prairie grass. She works in town as a hired girl and earns respect from her employers through her diligence and loyalty. And then in the high summer days of her girlhood, she finds time to dance each night away at the pavilion. Her name becomes synonymous with joviality, good health, strength, and fruitfulness: the very essence of life.

But if I were to be honest with myself, I'd admit that I am much more like Jim Burden, who paints pictures of Egypt and artfully leaves out what it lacks, refusing to face either the day at hand or the days to come in light of rosy-hued yore. My journal — stories new and old — ancient blog posts: all of them can attest to this. (Take your pick; I have witnesses enough.) And perhaps that's another layer of My Ántonia that appeals to me. Jim's heavily nostalgic tone wraps a veil of reminscence around the book. "Whatever we had missed," he concludes at the story's end, "we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past." For him, that is enough. His Ántonia is still the sun of his world, and he will spin out the rest of his days in her sphere.

God, in His infinite wisdom, does not call us to a romantic worship of the past anymore that he calls us to blindly accept the future. This hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks during our senior girl Bible study several weeks ago. Studying the Book of Ruth — a legacy as rooted in seasons of planting, tending, and harvesting as Ántonia — lent me a new appreciation for the present. As a narrative, it seems almost too simple in its brevity; as a record of God's intervention, it's positively magnificent. The words I want to focus on, however, are of Boaz's overseer.

and she said, "I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves": so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.
ruth 2:7

God — through Boaz — approaches Ruth while she is laboring steadily. This is the sort of living that is focused on the Lord's daily mercies. Ruth could have clung to Naomi, her one familiar tie in Bethlehem; she could have pined endlessly for Moab and her lost husband; she could have done anything other than the Lord's will. She didn't know the entirety of His plan, nor where it would leave her. She didn't even know Boaz. But she had the willingless to take the next step, though the way loomed dark as dusk before her, and she made a menial task like gleaning so faithful and beautiful that even the overseer bothered to take note of her.

And then the Lord intervenes on her behalf, and she stops in her work and throws herself before Boaz, humbled at His great mercy through this man. She depended on His Providence, and He provided for her.

Ántonia left Bohemia and learned to embrace life on the Nebraskan prairie. Ruth abandoned Moab and submitted herself under the God of Abraham in following Naomi to Bethlehem. And the anthem that rings through my ears as I sit on that couch with some of my closest friends and let the Word of God wash over me is this:

the Lord comes with grace and favor when we are diligent in the tasks He's given us.

I so often forget that life is more like a string of rumpled hills than a staggered array of highlands and valleys. I try to fool myself that excellence, dedication, and a willing spirit are not just as important (and sometimes all the more so) when writing a paper, expressing a thought, or cleaning a bathtub as when speaking before a crowd. Is it true, O Christ in Heaven, that we are weighed in the balance of the everyday? Do not we live out our faith on the same soil where You've planted our dusty feet? Therein lies the beauty of Ántonia's spirit and the awful grace of Ruth's bent figure: with only enough light to see a step or two before them, they have caught a glimpse of Heaven oozing through the plowed cracks of Earth.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude.
[elizabeth barrett browning]
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