Went to a cafe to meet a friend and see how everything was going; we bumped into a friend of his there, and one of the things that he said to me was to write and to question. So I thought I’d post and just see what happened.
I will structure this post by the titles of some books I have just picked up in a charity shop. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if the quality of books in charity shops in my town has gone up recently – even how new the books are has improved. However, I do not read a book just because it’s new! In one of the books, I found a piece of paper with handwritten illnesses on, from ‘decrease in sexual appetite’ to ‘constipation’. What a marker to use when reading a book, like using a parking fine or a court summons. If our books show who we are and our heart, our bookmarkers show what other people see of us.
‘Contemplative at the Heart of the World’ on Mother Teresa, by Angelo Devananda, and ‘Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work’ are both small paperbacks focusing on the work that she has done. The first one includes details about the way of life for nuns: “Whenever our superiors think it desirable for the greater glory of God to give us a change of residence, work, or companions, we should welcome this change as the very will of God and show a humble and joyful obedience.’
‘Victorian People’, by Asa Briggs, which contains pen portraits by this informed and dynamic historian about different characters of the Victorian period. I know people who read nothing but Victorian novels, and certainly scholars who study nothing but Victorian ideals. This volume looks at luminaries such as John Arthur Roebuck, Trollope, Smiles, Thomas Hughes, John Bright and Disraeli. Briggs is a generation before A. N. Wilson, who has written on Victorian People more recently as well, and I read ‘Victorian Cities’ before I went to university. Like most social history, it is a book of opinion, but also will have a deal of reassuring, but forgettable, facts in it – good to read to ensure a sound night’s sleep.
I had rejected the Briggs volume, before I spotted (and it took some searching, and I was going to move on), a Dallimore biography of ‘Charles Wesley: A Heart Set Free’. This is a paperback of about 240 pages. My first Methodist love was Charles Wesley, before I became more interested in John when reading about revival, and of course Charles is inseparable from the emotive side of the Wesleyan revival. Recently I have been using the two volume Whitefield biography by Dallimore to create a tilt for our baby’s cot when he had a cold (you will be relieved to know that I have now rescued those fine hardbacks from such an ignominious office), and I was thinking: it’s about time I read another Dallimore biograpy. Every page of the Whitefield one, it seemed, brought life, so I am enthusiastic about this volume. Susanna Wesley, Charles and John’s mother, was an inspirational figure, and George J. Stevenson said of her:
It has been recorded that Mrs Wesley, when she resumed her educational duties in the new rectory-house, added to her programme the singing of one or more of the psalms. The voice of melody is seldom lost on the mind of the young, and how much that new duty contributed to produce the love of poetry and psalmody which in so marked a manner characterized both John and Charles Wesley in after years, it would be impossible to tell.
Because I had found this, I scoured the shelves with new enthusiasm and – who knows why – walked off as well with a volume entitled ‘Dear Customer Services’ by Terry Ravenscroft which includes letters written deliberately to irritate big companies and to get them to write letters back – a little in the mode of ‘The Timewaster Letters’ by Robin Jarvis. In the shop I was reading a letter he writes to the Co-op praising them for their egg lasagne – it is amusing that the letter he receives back is an apology for the product and a free voucher. Do we know when to apologise and when to actually listen? Sometimes, we are not called to apologise. Jesus did not go around apologising much. What shocks the world, I think, is that others will take the time to do something for them, to think of them, to notice them. Jesus noticed others. We do not thank the consumer world, generally, for producing good products. Perhaps we should start doing so. Even genuinely thanking the person on the till at Sainsbury’s would be a start for most of us.
As I have been writing this post, the melody to ‘And can it be’ has been swinging around in my mind, even though the title ‘A heart set free’ has been adjusted slightly from ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free’. Which of these books will make the most impact on me? Will I actually read any of them? I certainly hope to read the Dallimore. It is quite possible that the ‘Dear Customer Services’ I will waste time reading, but then I will enjoy it; the elegance and power of language to compel and restrain, to point the finger and to prevaricate. ‘Victorian People’, in all honesty, will sit on my shelves unread… I may from time to time pick it up hoping to find a sermon illustration, or check the index for some fact.
And I know that the most life-changing volumes are probably the two on Mother Teresa, because she was such a dynamic woman, such a messenger of God, and in an ordinary and quiet way loved as Jesus loves:
I think we owe deep gratitude to the poor. Their life of suffering, their life of prayer, their life of tremendous forbearance obtains many graces for us. Also, there are all those thousands of people who have died in our hands. I am sure they pray much for us when they go to heaven. The whole thing is nothing extraordinary, nothing special. It has been just a simple surrender, a simple yes to Christ, allowing Him to do what He wants. That is why the work is His work. I’m just a little pencil in his hand. Tomorrow, if He finds somebody more helpless, more stupid, more hopeless, I think He will do still greater things with her and through her.