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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

Cultivating a Cozy Read

September 17, 2021



 

Old leaves were all a-rustling

On Autumn’s final day,

North wind was coldly bustling

On Autumn’s final day,

Small birds had flown,

Good crops were grown

And harvested away,

On Autumn’s final day.

 

— Brian Jacques, A Redwall Winter’s Tale

 

As the long days of summer draw to a close, we find ourselves fitting into the familiar routine of autumn. School is back in session and many of us are settling our older kids into a new adventure as they move into the next chapter of life at college. Fun summer reading is changing over to required texts. Parents feel an excitement for the future and an ache and longing for just one more day of their childhood. Can we read Peter Rabbit just one more time together?

I think autumn is a season of wistfulness. My childhood autumns were filled with colors and fragrances unique to September and October: bright leaves, the trip to purchase a new box of crayons (I love the smell of new crayons and I still buy myself a new box each year), wonderful simmering of canning tomatoes and preserves, and the dusty musk of harvesting in the fields. The bright flowers, garden rows, and even the relationships that we tended all summer long are now ready to be harvested, the next step in cultivating goodness. It is time to gather up and settle in, sip a steaming cup of cocoa, and breathe in beauty.

The book of poetry I have included this season is Malcolm Guite’s  The Singing Bowl. The first poem is a comfort and encouragement each time I read it, with its rhythm and words resonating truth. The words seem especially appropriate as we stand on the threshold of a new season, feeling a bit disoriented and unsure how to get our footing.

 

Begin the song exactly where you are,

Remain within the world of which you’re made.

Call nothing common in the earth or air.

 

Accept it all and let it be for good.

Start with the very breath you breathe in now,

This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

 

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.

Stay with the music, words will come in time.

Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

 

Become an open singing bowl, whose chime

Is richness rising out of emptiness,

And timelessness resounding into time.

 

And when the heart is full of quietness

Begin the song exactly where you are.

— Malcolm Guite, “The Singing Bowl”

The book suggestions in this issue speak to the cultivator in each heart. Take time to center your heart and mind. Trim away the distractions in daily life to stand in a garden and breathe in all that fall has revealed and feel blessed in the ordinary — seeing God’s glory through His creation. Many of the books embody the theme of gardening and harvest and what we can experience in the natural world (even if that happens on another planet!) I believe that gardens finally come into their own in September —

for as much work as we put into our plants, they give back to us with the fruits of their own labors.

 

Our choices for reflection will take your imagination on a walk through our world filled with lush landscapes as well as a far-off country and deep heaven.  Inheriting Paradise weaves together theology and gardening as a meditative experience and The God of the Garden reflects on the parallels between humanity and trees. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life takes you on a tour to the charming world of her own gardens that inspired her writing of Peter Rabbit and other tales.

Wendell Berry, whose themes are often connected with a simple, agrarian life and small town living, is a prolific writer of story, poetry, and reflection. His collected essays in The World-Ending Fire carry you away to the woods, rivers, and fields of a quieter country — a perfect balm for a weary soul. I recommend his recollection of a backcountry canoe journey in “The Rise,” as an introduction to his eloquently thoughtful writing. Berry writes that “We were still settling ourselves as if in preparation, but our starting place was already diminishing behind us. There is something ominously like life in that. One would always like to settle oneself, get braced, say ‘Now I am going to begin’ – and then begin. But as the necessary quiet seems about to descend, a hand is felt at one’s back, shoving. And that is the way with the river when the current is running: once the connection with the shore is broken, the journey has begun.” Berry’s words are not just a retelling of a moment, they are a metaphor for where we are right now — to break from the shore and begin our journey.

Because it is the school season — and I am of the belief that we should never stop learning —  you will find a few selections that provide a rich challenge; books you many never have chosen, but reward your imagination. C.S. Lewis wrote the Ransom Trilogy, his thought-provoking science fiction series, beginning in 1938; however, you will find the themes relevant to today. The books are rich in symbolism and ‘smuggled theology’ communicating Christian themes, and I encourage you to start reading them this autumn! To understand the books with greater insight and discover more meaning, we recommend Diana Glyer’s  A Compass for Deep Heaven-Navigating the C.S. Lewis Ransom Trilogy. The glossary is an invaluable resource to help you remember terms and know the difference between a hnakra and a hnau. This collection of helpful essays is a delight to new and returning readers of the Trilogy.

Finding truly satisfying and well-penned fiction is a challenge, so I am always grateful for solid recommendations. That is what we will always offer here! Miss Prim is one of those stories that captures your imagination with the most delightful cast of characters, lush settings, and endearing relationships and is the perfect book club choice. An absolute treasure!

As I was sorting through my shelves this month and thinking back to our favorite read-alouds, the common thread was anthropomorphic animals and their adventures. A surly human character is one thing, but embodying that surliness in a toothy weasel is even more intimidating! Brian Jacques’ Redwall series beckons the reader back in time to medieval castles inhabited by brave mouse warriors, wily foxes, heroic and clever otters, and mercenary stoats who lurk in Mossflower Woods. Bravery in battle and noble deeds await, along with some of the most delectable descriptions of feasting you will ever read! The novels are a longer read, so I have included the picture book for younger readers. For those who wish to banquet like the Redwall mice, moles, and rabbits, Jacques also wrote a cookbook! I cannot think of a better autumn tradition to start, and this would be the perfect foundation for a unit study on harvesting and cooking.

Young Cultivators will find adventure and virtue in the timeless stories and lovely narration of childhood classics. The wonderful, illustrated version of Little Pilgrim’s Progress is retold for young children, with furry critters experiencing Bunyan’s lessons as they travel through woodland realms. Anne of Green Gables is such winsome encouragement as we read about the brave and unflappable Anne — “But really, Marilla, one can’t stay sad very long in such an interesting world, can one?” What a pleasant example for all of us to follow as we enter this new season full of unfamiliar challenges and undertake new journeys.

We hope that you find adventure and encouragement in our book selections! Revel in the change of the seasons and look for the wonder in every crimson leaf. Remember to read the companion article in this issue — “Marginalia-Notes for Read” for additional interviews, podcasts, and a link to a beautiful film about Lilias Trotter, who is the subject of A Passion for the Impossible.

Reflections to ponder ~

The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson. Written as a memoir and a call to the reader to see the glory of God shining in creation.

Inheriting Paradise by Vigen Guroian. Personal reflections on the connection between gardening life, and God’s gracious generosity.

Placemaker by Christie Purifoy. Discover that cultivating beauty is a holy pursuit as we create, mirroring the image of God.

A Passion for the Impossible – The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness. The inspiring, true story of the woman who chose God’s call to Algiers.

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Martha McDowell. A tour through the gardens that inspired Beatrix Potter.

A Compass for Deep Heaven-Navigating the C.S. Lewis Ransom Trilogy. Edited by Diana Pavlac Glyer. The perfect complement to Lewis’s Trilogy! Even seasoned Ransom fans will glean new insights.

The World-Ending Fire – The Essential Wendell Berry. Essays selected by Paul Kingsnorth. This is a solid introduction to Berry’s thoughtful writing about country life, nature, and simplicity.

The Singing Bowl-Collected Poems by Malcolm Guite. Poetry collection inspired by the transfiguration in the ordinary.

 

Stories to delight in ~

Ransom Trilogy — Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. His classic science fiction trilogy.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. A magical story about a young woman who takes a job as a librarian in a French village. A perfect autumn novel.

Yours is the Night by Amanda Dykes. A mysterious tale of war and rescue set during WWII France.

Unwritten by Charles Martin. A priest changes the lives of an actress running from her past and a man hiding from his future in a story of redemption.

 

Cozy Reads with Young Cultivators ~

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and more by Beatrix Potter.

Redwall series by Brian Jacques. The series begins with Redwall, Mossflower, and Mattimeo with a total of twenty-two novels in the collection. Heroic mice, swashbuckling stoats, courageous hares, and other creatures set in a medieval time.

A Redwall Winter’s Tale by Brian Jacques. Picture book with engaging illustrations and poetic text.

The Redwall Cookbook by Brian Jacques. Perfect to add to a unit study or as a first cookbook.

Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor and Joe Sutphin. An illustrated version of Bunyan’s classic for younger readers.

Tales of Hibaria – The Awakening by Jamin Still. Stories of a world of magic and mysterious creatures, dragons, and where Constellations walk the land.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Classic English story of an orphaned girl and the magical garden she discovers at her uncle’s estate.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. 1908 novel about Anne, a charming and plucky 11-year-old orphan girl taken in by a middle-aged brother and sister.

Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about?

It just makes me feel glad to be alive-it’s such an interesting world.

It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything would it?

— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables



The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her kind permission for Cultivating. 



 

Annie Nardone

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