Category Archives: books

Green tea, and stories from Japan.

I have begun reading a few Japanese novels, in translation of course, and maybe I will add a nonfiction book, because Bellezza has drawn me into her Japanese Literature Challenge 12 — Yes, it’s the twelfth time she has hosted this project! I’ve never had any thought of joining in before, until this month I read a review of one novel linked from her site. It sounded intriguing, so I checked to see how many pages were in the book  — I am lately tired of slogging through 500 or 800 pages in order to complete a story — and it was barely over 200 pages, whee!

Nosing around the body of relatively modern Japanese literature with an eye to length, I soon came up with a plan. The first three books are short, and then things get more difficult, so I might not do all five before the end of March. But I did already complete The Great Passage, and am definitely having fun. It was the coziest thing on a rainy day, to sit by the fire with a book, and green tea from a Japanese-inspired pot. My list:

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo

 

If the tea in the photo doesn’t look green to you, it’s because, unfortunately, the day with green tea prevented me from sleeping that night, so I switched to a more thoroughly soothing blend for the next rainy reading session. I read while waiting at the dentist, and at the doctor, and after I crawled under the blankets at night.

Now I’m in the middle of Sweet Bean Paste, which refers to a confection that I’ve never been drawn to. The idea of mixing beans and sugar puts me off, but I should probably at least try to sample it before I write a review. If I could learn to appreciate it, it sounds like a proper accompaniment for my Japanese reading — and cup of tea.

What I need to know is, if a Japanese reader can’t drink tea with caffeine, what does she drink?

The Word of the Father has been made manifest.

I must have read C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation twice before in an attempt on the whole book, without getting much beyond it, but on this third try I have kept going. It seemed a fitting little paperback to read during Advent.

In the introduction we have an instance of Lewis’s exhorting us to read more of the Old Books, like this one from the 4th century, though we are timid: “The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.”

And Lewis also writes here about devotional vs. doctrinal works, On the Incarnation being one of the latter, that he finds the doctrinal books often “more helpful in devotion” than the expressly devotional ones. I can relate to his description of people who “find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Actually I don’t know about the pipe in the teeth, but I always have a pencil in my hand as I lie in bed with my book of theology or literature or whatever. And I marked some passages from St. Athanasius to share in this season when we focus on God With Us.

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to his own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

From the archives – 2010

Firelight and that happy grace.

The phrase I took for the title of this post describes what my housemate and I soaked up this evening as we sat by the stove, where she had been tending a wood fire since she got home from work. When I came downstairs from a nap, it was already brightening up the whole house, and our dispositions as well. The modern world doesn’t let us feel comfortable about the slowing-down and love of staying home that are natural during these cold and short days, but Kenneth Grahame does:

“The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture–the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation.

“Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.”

― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

A story, and thoughts for Advent.

The greatest pleasure and thrill of Christmas can’t be had without a little waiting, something like children of yore had to do, when their Christmas trees weren’t even ready for viewing until Christmas Day.

Seven years ago Pom Pom hosted a Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party to which we were invited to show up via our blogs four times during December. This year she hopes we will join her every day during December, but this time it’s a more general theme: Advent Blogging. Maybe it is the child in me that is once again saying, in spite of the much greater challenge, “Sure! No problem!” I am updating this post from back then as I join in seven-years-later, partly because I wanted to retain a quote from Pom Pom’s 2011 party announcement:

“Yesterday I asked my students, ‘Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren’t we fine right now? Don’t we have enough?’ …Here at Pom Pom’s Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn’t involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register….four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ….that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes.”

The babe in the manger is, of course, the One whose Advent we are anticipating, but I feel the topical field to be pretty wide open. I will be writing about whatever I am doing and thinking during this season, knowing that He is the life and breath of me and everything.

The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.

I’m not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor’s house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.

We need some weeks to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” and for it to register in our minds that God’s people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.

Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. One year I attended one at Holy Trinity and took the picture.

A children’s book that might contribute to a child’s understanding of time, and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, “a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke.”

Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.

It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger — and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.

All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: “She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.” But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.

Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn’t idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.

Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won’t say any more about that at this party.) I know I typically have things like cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.

The truth is, I’m not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don’t have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations, not to mention all of the usual work that doesn’t stop.

Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.

It’s hard to juggle everything, including trips to the post office or the extra shopping and chores, with the quietness we long for. Maybe that tale of the trees has a meaning even for me as a grownup, about being used for His purposes, and finding comfort and courage in that, even when things are crazy with hammers and saws, blood and humiliation.

One thing more about children: Their feeling about Christmas, as I have heard, but can’t quite remember, is that it takes forever to get here! For me, it comes on like a bullet train. Will I even be able to notice each day before it is gone, long enough to post something? In any case, as Metropolitan Anthony says,

“…if the time ahead has a meaning that is necessary for us, it is inevitably coming towards us at a sure and regular pace, sometimes more quickly than we could run to meet it.”

Sometimes more quickly? I just got a funny picture in my head of the children running out ahead to meet Christmas, and us adults dragging them back by their sleeves with one hand, while we try to write the last batch of Christmas cards (or today’s blog post) with the other. Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop, and sit by the fire to read another Christmas story!