Treasure on a Tuesday: “Till We Have Faces”

There is a simplicity in the work of C.S. Lewis. His writings are either straight-forward and literal (A Grief Observed, The Four Loves, Mere Christianity) or directly allegorical or interpreted (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters). It is rare that he breaks from these two molds.

But Till We Have Faces is more Tolkein-esque, relying upon an entirely separate world with no modern ties and steeped in layer upon layer of indirect allegory. It is beautiful and haunting, and I have loved the tale’s pages since I first read it nearly a decade ago.

This retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche is set in the barbaric realm of Glome. We find ourselves in the presence of a king with daughters – one ugly, one beautiful, and one a saintly figure seemingly destined to save the kingdom in one way or another – and the king despises them all, for they are not sons.

While I won’t visit all of the details of this “myth retold,” it is certainly worth a read. Lewis believed that the power of myth was that it all pointed back somehow to the truths of what has happened since the commencement of our world – and he has buried so many thought-provoking pieces of truth in the depths of this incredible novel that make me come back to plumb the depths of my soul time and again.

This is definitely not a child’s story, but neither was Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Its darker, heavier, and more honest look at the lengths men will go to in order to preserve themselves before earthly and divine powers. It illumines the heart and base condition of man as being anti-god. I see in its pages a shattering glimpse at my own heart, and my own desire to pretend that God doesn’t exist.

After re-telling the traditional iteration of the myth in his note at the end, Lewis describes his process in crafting his version:

The central alteration in my own version consists in making Psyche’s palace invisible to normal, mortal eyes – if “making” is not the wrong word for something which forced itself upon me, almost at my first reading of the story, as the way the thing must have been. This change of course brings with it a more ambivalent motive and a different character for my heroine and finally modifies the whole quality of the tale. I felt quite free to go behind Apuleius, whom I suppose to have been its transmitter, not its inventor. Nothing was further from my aim than to recapture the peculiar quality of the Metamorphoses – that strange compound of picaresque novel, horror comic, mystagogue’s tract, pornography, and stylistic experiment. Apuleius was of course a man of genius: but in relation to my work he is a “source,” not an “influence” nor a “model.”

The tale captivated Lewis, as I’m sure did the truths within it. And it captivates me, too. After revisiting Lewis’ “myth retold” for the third or fourth time, I am in awe of his ability to weave both story and truth into a tale that still draws me in and splits me open.

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Treasure on a Tuesday: Favorite Classic "Chick" Books

If you have been over to my “Books” page anytime recently, you will likely notice something: I read a lot. This is partially because I love losing myself in stories (good ones, of course) and partially out of reaction to our culture that seems to encourage illiteracy (perhaps I’ll elaborate on that in a later post, but the gist is that we’re becoming an increasingly simple and visual culture).

Regardless, the result is that I read a lot. My favorites often include female heroines, but please don’t confuse my understanding of “chick” books with either romance novels or feminist agenda pieces – I look for simplicity of lifestyle, gentleness of spirit, a little spunk, and characters that challenge me to be better. So far, I am not an Austen fan. Pride and Prejudice was one of the hardest reads I slogged through for my high school literature classes. I hope to someday try again, as I someday hope to complete either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, both of which I started in middle school…

Here are two of my favorites:

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Perhaps my favorite book of all time, this beautiful novel and its subsequent series (eight books total) are perennial reads – meaning I take a romp through all eight of them every few years. Anne is an orphan, wide-eyed, imaginative, and searching for a place of her own where she can get away from taking care of other people’s twins. On a fluke, she is installed in the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older gentleman and his spinster of a sister – who want a boy to help with their family farm.

But Anne, in spite of all the odds, finds a place in their hearts and their home in this amazing tale of finding beauty in the redemption of forgotten things. The simplicity of life displayed in this (and the other books in the series) challenge me to live simply and in faith.

And because there are seven novels that follow, it is a journey that only begins with this volume. The journey’s end is just as breathtaking as its beginning. Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth and final volume, concerns the coming into adulthood of Anne’s youngest daughter, Rilla, during the tumult and upheaval of the first World War. In many ways, Montgomery seems to have written each of the preceding books in order to get to this one and have it stand as a testament to the changes in daily life and the innocence stolen from the entire world as the Great War fell upon it.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
You can easily tell what my favorite books are by the age of the copies on my bookshelf and the fact that I won’t let them out of my house. Little Women and Anne of Green Gables easily rank among my oldest tomes. I inherited my copy of Little Women from my maternal grandmother and the pages are so old that the entire thing is falling apart.

But that old book smell is awesome.

I greatly appreciate the March sisters and the way that Alcott so deftly integrates them into the family structure at such different times in their growing up. They are all, first and foremost, family, and then Alcott examines their differences and how they overcome their vanities and faults.

Meg is beautiful and gentle, if a little vain; Jo is intelligent, fiercely loyal, and yet headstrong and independent; Beth is a homebody, a gifted musician, and possesses the most gentle and quiet spirit of any female character I’ve known; and Amy, the youngest, is impulsive, spunky, vain, and yet somehow endearing in her youthful follies. Their mother is stalwart, raising them and seeking their best in the absence of their father, who has been taken away from them by war.

It is a timeless tale of growing up and seeking to know our own hearts, and it has so much variety in its pages that I never seem to be bored with these beautiful, strong, loyal women – and I see the depths of my own heart better through their lens.

Treasure on a Tuesday: Christian “Indie”

None of these are truly “indie” in the traditionally independent meaning, I suppose. They are more independent or nontraditional Christian releases, which is why I’ve labelled them “indie.” In the Christian airplay market, most things that don’t get play might as well be independent.

Regardless, these are some favorites from the last several years, and for a variety of reasons. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Phillip LaRue – Let the Road Pave Itself (2009)
When I was in high school, there was this brother-sister duo that we kind of listened to called “LaRue,” based upon the duo’s last name (naturally). Some good stuff, but not necessarily earth-shattering. Enter Phillip LaRue’s first solo release a few years ago – something changed in a big way. This collection of songs is honest and raw in a way that few ever are in a culture that often appreciates more polished offerings. Favorite tracks include “Chasing the Daylight,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Running So Long” and “Mountains High Valleys Low.” This is one of the few recent albums I can listen to from end-to-end, as each track is beautiful and (for most of them, at least) haunting in its own way. “Black and Blue” is about as emotionally wrenching as it comes, questioning God’s involvement in the roughest of days. Stunningly beautiful.

Adam Watts – Sleeping Fire (2006)
This guy name Jeremy Camp used to have a drummer named Adam Watts. Watts started releasing his own music starting with 2004’s The Noise Inside, and kind of branched off to do more of his own thing. Sleeping Fire is a bit more polished than Watts’ first album, and a bit more focused thematically. Many of the songs center on the idea that we’re inching our way through life, in faith, and illuminate the humanity in us all that Christ came to redeem. “Invisible Light” is one of my favorite songs, perhaps of all time. I also heartily enjoy “Fly Fall Fly,” “Bear With Me,” and “Real for Me,” and essentially the whole album.

Caedmon’s Call – Share the Well (2004)
This is one of those albums that matter. Caedmon’s set out on a series of international missions trips that led to the concept for this album. They incorporated native musicians, traditional styles, and global-consciousness into this incredible offering of songs. The band’s emphasis that the same God exists over all peoples is humbling in “There’s Only One (Holy One).” Christ’s sufficiency for all of those peoples is conveyed in the deep-reaching “All I Need (I Did Not Catch Her Name)” and “The Roses.” Scattered interludes by native musicians make this a project to listen to in order for full effect, and lead gracefully from song to song. Other favorites: “Volcanoland,” “Bombay Rain,” and “Wings of the Morning.”

Andrew Peterson – Resurrection Letters, Vol. II (2008)
You might ask where the first volume is if you ever start to look for it, but Peterson still hasn’t released a first volume to prelude this one. But that’s okay. This album stands just fine on its own. For much of our second year of marriage, Chris and I listened to this album as our alarm in the mornings. It is one of Peterson’s most polished releases, with great production value and the honest but fine-tuned tracks for which he is well-known. Favorites include “Invisible God,” “Hosea,” “Rocket,” and “The Good Confession (I Believe).” Peterson is a music-crafter. He is one of the many that inspire me to create things that matter, and make me weep when I hear those that do.

Treasure on a Tuesday: Older Mainstream Favorites

So… I definitely have not been able to put together the rest of my house post over at that other blog I write at sometimes. Our office is in at least three other rooms right now, and is likely to stay that way until we trim out the walls with new baseboards. When that’s done, we can start putting things back together! (I’m really stoked about that – it means I get to reorganize everything, again!)

Meanwhile, I’ll entertain you with some more of my favorite music. This time, I’m looking at some older mainstream favorites. And by “older,” I mean not from the last five years. I’m not talking classics. Talk to my husband if you want classics – I just do “older” and “recent.” If you’ve got a problem with that, I invite you to visit my disclaimer here.

Copeland – In Motion (2005)
Where does one even start with Copeland? I mean, the band’s first album, Beneath Medicine Tree, was incredible to me. Maybe it was the pseudo-emo phase I hit my first few years of college where I listened to a lot more emotionally-driven rock music (like Mae and Jimmy Eat World), or perhaps the fact that I saw them live in Greeley with a good friend and got a signed copy of their first album, but there was and still is something very magnetic to me about this group’s music. While BMT was a little tamer, In Motion is full of more upbeat tracks (good upbeat tracks – none of that crazy club stuff), designed specifically to get people moving. Favorite tracks include the opener, “No One Really Wins,” which sports one of my favorite lines: “In the endless fight of grace and pride / I don’t want to win this time;” “You Have My Attention;” and “Hold Nothing Back” and “You Love to Sing,” smooth and creative ballads that pull at the heartstrings, resting on the beauty of lead singer Aaron Marsh’s range. Also great, “Control” from Eat, Sleep, Repeat, the band’s third offering.

Coldplay – Parachutes (2000) 
Somewhere toward the end of my high school years, I started hearing these incredible key riffs on the radio (you know, when I still listened to the radio), and all my friends started listening to this British band. I was against the whole idea until I started connecting the riffs with Coldplay. My friend Danae loaned me her copies of Parachutes and Rush of Blood to the Head. I remember driving back and forth between my parents’ house and the place I house-sat for that summer, listening to the sonic loveliness of these two albums, driving around so that I had more time in the car to listen before I headed back home. It was a great summer. Regardless, Parachutes is still one of the few albums I can turn to when I’m in a funk (or just contemplative) and not become funkier (because as much as I love Jimmy Eat World, when I listen to them, my funks get funkier). Every track still hits a sweet spot when it hits my ears. Favorites? All of them. “Yellow” is, naturally, a classic. I hear “We Never Change” spring out of nowhere sometimes while I’m driving in silence – it’s simple guitar and melody combo haunting me more than a decade later. “Trouble” and “Spies” – if you haven’t heard them, just listen to them. In my opinion, this might be Chris Martin’s best vocal work out of all the band’s albums.

Dishwalla – Self-Titled (2005)

It’s amazing how I love each of these bands’ earlier albums, but the ones that are “favorite” are later albums. Dishwalla definitely falls into that category. I was introduced to the band through some great older friends who mentored for our youth ministry and played random tunes before and after youth functions. Dishwalla’s Opaline is one of the albums that was a pretty consistent play my last year of high school. When I went off to college, I kept waiting and waiting for a new album from the band, and – finally – they came out with their self-titled album in 2005. I was on vacation with my parents, met up with some friends from school out in California for a day or two, and picked up the album almost the day it came out at Barnes & Noble (because people still did that then). I listened to the album the entire way back to Colorado, sitting in the back of my dad’s truck. When lead singer J.R. Richards sings, it’s like stepping into a rock opera – the clarity and intonation is unbelievable – and it lends itself so well to this collection of songs. The run of “Coral Sky” to “Winter Sun” to “Creeps in the Stone” to “Surrender the Crown” might be my favorite album run, because this collection was created as an album rather than single downloads for iTunes. The transitions are seamless, and the songs sweep you along from one incredible place to another.

Treasure on a Tuesday: Catalina Mountains

For Christopher’s spring break, we joined his family in Tucson, Ariz., to celebrate a semi-related wedding (his sister-in-law’s sister got married) and to enjoy some sunshine and golf.
One morning, we decided to take a hike in the Catalina Mountains (a state park), and wound up on the Romero Pools trail, which was a little more difficult than we had thought it would be. It was, regardless, a really pretty hike (more like a mountain climb, but still a hike, I suppose), and I was amazed at how much life there is in the desert. 

We saw flowers everywhere, since it was spring there as well. The variety of colors in the flowers (purples, pinks, blues, oranges, yellows, greens – nearly every color of the rainbow) amazed me. I didn’t think what grew in the desert had much color, since it kind of needs to blend into its surroundings, but I was wrong – and it was beautiful

As we neared the end of our trail, we came to the Romero Pools, natural pools settled between sides of the mountains. The water was incredibly clear (since it’s runoff from snow melt), and we found a brief respite in the coolness of the water and the shade that the larger rocks and some trees offered.

This little guy was hanging out in a crack in the rock until Chris squirted him with some water to make him move. He blended right into the rocks around him, and I almost didn’t see him. I’m glad I did, though, because the pictures I took of him were some of my favorites from the day. So neat.

 

If you are in Tucson and looking for a day hike, this is a great little treasure. Take a lot of water, especially if you’re going later in the season than March. It gets warm, and you’ll drink a lot more than you think you will.

Beauty in barrenness. That’s a treasure in and of itself.

Treasure on a Tuesday-Wednesday: Sara Groves and My Favorite 15 Sara Groves Songs

In honor of Easter, I wanted to share some of the songs that reflect my understanding of the cross and the price at which my life was purchased so many years ago. As I started looking, however, I realized that so many of my favorites were by one artist: Sara Groves.

Over the last 12 years, Groves has released 10 albums. There are few artists who compare in their abilities to write creatively, challenge the integrity of my heart, and bring me face-to-face with the real person of Jesus Christ. Her songs challenge me to be a better follower of Jesus and, as a musician, she challenges me to be a better songwriter.

She’s hard to forget. I once saw her play live and she went up on stage, popped out her gum and placed it on the keyboard next to her before starting her set. She’s a normal person with regular struggles in faith, life, and love, but she’s one that I admire greatly in many ways. The result is that it’s hard to pick favorites because her music is just favorite. But I picked favorites.

And by “favorites,” I mean 15. There was no way around it, people. It would have been, like 50 if I hadn’t curbed myself to 15. I’ll keep these short and sweet.

If you haven’t ever listened to Sara Groves’ music, I suggest you start with these:

Conversations (2001)

  • (1) “The Word” – This was one of the first songs I ever heard by Groves. A timeless, catchy, beautiful song about Christ as the Word of God, rooted in Hebrews 13:8.
  • (2) “Generations” – One of the most influential songs for my heart while I was finishing high school, as it reminded me of the fact that what I sowed in my life, generations would reap after me. Every high school kid needs to know he or she doesn’t exist in a vacuum – we are part of a great story, and our choices have consequences.

All Right Here (2002)

  • (3) “Tornado” – A little different from most of her songs musically, this one’s a little more country and a little less piano ballad. Groves walks through experiences with people who cause chaos and who require forgiveness in this fun and heartfelt analogy-driven song.
  • (4) “You Cannot Lose My Love” – A simple song about the constant nature of God’s love. We cannot lose it. Ever!

The Other Side of Something (2005)

  • (5) “What I Thought I Wanted” – This first song began to resonate deeply in my heart when my heart was finally for the man that I eventually married. It’s a testament to God’s grace and sovereignty, even in the things we think might be too small for Him to notice.
    Thoughts on the Song: “Reflections” (from 9/13/2005)

Add to the Beauty (2005)

  • (6) “Kingdom Comes” – After Chris and I started dating, this was (I think) the first album by Groves that he heard. It flipped his thoughts about female singer/songwriters. This song, about laying aside comfort and personal desires for the sake of the kingdom, has been the basis of our hearts toward ministry and in our marriage. Bit by bit, the kingdom is certainly coming.
    Thoughts on the Song: “Christmas” (from 12/25/2005)
  • (7) “To The Moon” – A sweet and short bit of witticism on the state of the church today, which seems more than ready to head for the moon because no one understands us here. A call to remain exists in its well-conceived words, to fight the good fight and trust that God can take care of the details. We are meant to be set apart. Let us embrace and rejoice in what marks us!
  • (8) “Why It Matters” –  This stirring piano-driven song is about remembering why it matters that Christ came and died and rose again on behalf of our sins. Christ is the Light in the darkness, shining out hope and refuge in the darkest places. In Him we have “small ramparts for the soul,” and that is beautiful and meaningful.

Tell Me What You Know (2007)

  • (9) “When the Saints” – Perhaps my all-time favorite (I know, right? I did just say that), and for good reason. Every time I hear this song, the hairs on my arms stand on end. A play on the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Groves turns the song into a testament of God’s faithfulness to the saints through the years, from Paul and those in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) to those still sold into slavery today. We are part of an incredibly big picture that God is weaving together, of faith and life, and the mercy that is offered to us that makes us stand up and know, “I want to be one of them.”
  • (10) “It Might Be Hope” – Simple things catch my attention in captivating ways. They herald the provision and great goodness of Christ. This is a song about that, about finding hope in the littlest of places when life is hard.

O Holy Night (2008)

  • (11) “It’s True (feat. Toby Groves)” –  I am not ashamed to say that I listen to this Christmas song all year long. It’s beautiful and chilling all at the same time. The first several times I listened to it, I broke down in tears. It’s all true! God came down to save us! Hallelujah! (And it features Groves’ oldest son, Toby, which mostly just makes me cry more – so amazing.)

Fireflies & Songs (2009)

  • (12) “Different Kinds of Happy” – This song keenly expressed the end game of my last battle with depression, when I finally let my dear husband walk with me through its conclusion. It is an incredible image of having everything out in the open with someone you trust to love you, regardless of what he might find in your depths. Good and life-giving reminders for my heart.
    Thoughts on the Song: “A different kind of happy” (from 12/1/2010)
  • (13) “Joy is in Our Hearts” – This song strikes such a good balance between understanding sorrow and understanding the promises of joy and peace that we have in Christ. A great reminder that Christ Himself is our joy and strength.

Invisible Empires (2011)

  • (14) “Open My Eyes” – My recent favorite, I listen to this a lot because it is relevant to where I’ve found myself in life of late. God’s goodness and common grace are everywhere, and our circumstances do not negate that. I believe that He is who He says He is.
    Thoughts on the Song: “Thursday Thoughts – Rain is No Measure” (from 1/26/2012)
  • (15) “Precious Again” – One of the sweetest things I have known in the past few years is how God returns my heart to Him in simple ways. When life seems dry and I have no desire to seek Him, He makes it “precious again” to my heart, and I love this song for its expression of that promise I’ve found in Him.

Treasure on a Tuesday: Classic Christian

So… because the last of these posts caused some confusion, I want to be very clear as to the point of this whole thing with the addition of a disclaimer.

My Disclaimer: What appears in this series of posts reflects my personal favorites regarding certain categories of music, books, etc. Choices may not necessarily reflect popularity of an artist/author/whatever within whatever category they fit and may not reflect your own personal views. They are my favorites, which means they can be whatever I choose them to be. With music, I choose favorites based on a combination of actual talent, lyricism, and my own personal liking of the music. Books are often based on writing, plot, and my own ability to become wrapped up in the story. Should you disagree, that’s fine. You are allowed to have your own favorites. Just don’t tell me what mine ought to be. The only one who can determine that is me. That is all. Semi-rant done.

*****

There is something completely weird about music (especially Christian “rock”) from about 1997 through 2004 or so. It was a very unique time that sounds like very little else that has been produced since – quintessential 90s music… just a little later, because that’s how the Christian industry did things back then (maybe they still do – I stopped listening to the radio several years ago).

Regardless, being a musical product of the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was finally old enough to start buying my own music and also started buying music that actually mattered, there are a few albums that have followed me around for years by bands that put out quite a few albums in that era (and some still today).

Smalltown Poets – It’s Later than It’s Ever Been (2004)
Smalltown Poets didn’t make a terribly huge mark with their four albums (this was the last main studio release), but they made a huge mark on my own life, starting with their debut self-titled album in 1997. While some herald Third Verse as the best of their albums (don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album), I am personally partial to this one. In my opinion, it is a more consistent album sonically and thematically than the band’s other three albums. I need reminders of heaven – that it is something to look forward to, something to desire – and tracks like “There on the Sun” and “We Will Continue” (which is one of my favorite songs of all time) get my heart there. “Love So Divine” is hymn-like in its construction and so incredibly beautiful – “My every hope and fear / is resting here with Thee //” I need that every day. And “Lay it Down” is a sweet beckoning for all to come and rest their burdens at the Savior’s feet, regardless of what is being dragged along. In all, a wonderful collection of songs.

The Waiting – The Waiting (1997)
There are two types of people: Those who like the Waiting and those who don’t. Most of the dislike, unfortunately, comes from the unique nature of the lead singer’s voice. Personally, I love it for its lack of pretension – it’s just a man who loves to worship. I heard the Waiting’s “Number 9” and “Hands in the Air” for the first time on a sampler that I got in 1997 that also had a track or two from Switchfoot’s debut, “The Legend of Chin.” I still find myself singing “How Do You Do That?” at random moments in the car, though it will be months (years even) between listenings. I got this album at a point when most people still listened to albums over and over until they knew them backward and forward (or maybe it was just me – all I know is that most people don’t do this anymore). One of my favorites from the era, “Number 9” is full of sassy irony. While certainly a bit dated stylistically, the eternal themes found in the album are timeless, particularly in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood in “It is Enough” and “Beautiful Blood,” the surrender of “Hands in the Air,” and the longing for heaven in “Heaven is Home.”

Jars of Clay – The Eleventh Hour (2002)
Jars of Clay’s first album was one of my first two CDs (that and dcTalk’s live CD from their Jesus Freak tour), and it still remains a classic in many ways, but The Eleventh Hour is my favorite from their 90s-sound era (before they mixed things up with Who We Are Instead, which is in a different category altogether). This album is where Jars found a great balance between its early groove and its later creativity after the more formulaic sophomore album and more experimental third (I have nothing against Crazy Times or If I Left the Zoo… pretty much all of early Jars can be considered “favorite”). I love “Revolution” – it might be one of those timeless tracks for me. I remember hearing it for the first time and being completely blown away by its rhythm. The title track is a great reminder that we all need to be sanctified, and sounds a lot like Jason Wade of Lifehouse (whose debut album released in 2000). “The Edge of Water” is a little more personal, a little more emotional, waiting for the coming return of Christ – with a little banjo thrown in there for good measure. Definitely early Jars, but definitely also a great album in its own right.