Friday, March 27, 2015

The Confessions, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Title:  The Confessions

Author:  Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Date Published:  1782 (completed by 1769)

Challenges:  The Classics Club; The Well-Educated Mind (biographies); Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Enlightenment)

Though Confessions falls under the Enlightenment literary time period, Rousseau wrote as an early Romantic.  He lived by the seat of his emotions and full of contradictions, which maybe explains why he was not very stable.  He was a contemplative wanderer (drawn to serenity in nature and the country) and an emotional wreck.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau may be known as the philosopher whose ideas inspired the French Revolution, but Confessions was more personal and introspective than philosophical.  He did not include great details about his social, political, or educational concepts in this autobiographical work, particularly those ideas from The Social Contract and Émile, and that left me even more curious. 

In the first half of Confessions he seemed a typical energetic, young boy, curious about his world. His father taught him to love reading, and it was from books that he developed a romantic view of the world and life.  But very early on he believed his life was burdened, beginning with the loss of his mother, immediately after his birth.   He ran away from a difficult apprenticeship as a teenager, and found himself in the care of a much older woman (who was like a mother to him, and whom he worshiped obsessively); then they became intimate lovers, and it was simply a very odd relationship, indeed.

To add to his complications, Rousseau suffered from poor health and moved from job to job.  He learned to become a music teacher, which was totally hysterical because he knew nothing about music.  But he eventually taught himself and genuinely contributed to the field.  He even wrote operas. 

from Confessions

By the second half of his story, after his (mother-figure) lover rejected him for being absent too long, he moved in together with a young woman and her family.  At some point, the woman, whom he was certain was his soul mate, became pregnant, and he convinced her to give the baby to the State orphanage.  According to Rousseau, they did this four more times.  Later he claimed it was out of fear of poorly raising his children under his current situation: he was not well-off; he would not be a good father; and he was prone to wander. In addition, he disliked his young lover's family, and did not want them to influence his children.  (That is usually why couples move out and have their own home, but I digress.) He did eventually marry this poor girl many years later.  

In continuing the topic of lovers, he became obsessed with another young woman, who was married and had a second lover herself.  He was so sure that this was love, and it was this woman who became the subject of his highly praised romantic novel Julie or The New Heloise.  But this intimate relationship proved to be ruinous, which was bound to happen.

Speaking of disastrous, Rousseau, while a solitary man, also adored and prized his friendships very much.  Many of them were people he shared his ideas with, people he admired, and people he trusted.  And because he later lived in the public eye - given his position in administration, the popularity of his operas, and his published literary works - he was often criticized and challenged by others, including Voltaire who opposed his ideas. His philosophical notions caused such uproar that book burnings and threats to his liberty and his life haunted him everywhere.  Even his home country, Geneva, rejected him.

After Rousseau became an expert in the fields of education and child rearing, thanks to Émile, it was no wonder that he was criticized, given the abandonment of his children. If he was such a champion of mothers nursing their babies, as opposed to hiring wet nurses, why did he never gave the mother of his own children the opportunity to nurse her babies?  Like I said, he was contradictory.  But then again, hearts can change.

from Confessions

Everyone had a reason to be against him.  Religious orders were angry with him because he rejected original sin and saw all religions equal.  But he also blamed arts and sciences for the corruption of men, which he believed were born good but affected by their external influences.

Personally, Confessions was an amusing read, and I enjoyed the translation, but it was also a temperamental roller coaster ride for me.  I started off feeling allured by his sweet, innocent charms, but then I was put off by some of his odd behaviors that bordered perversion.  (In my day we called what he did "flashing.") But I forgave him for that.  

His peculiar relationship with an older woman left me perplexed.  (And I thought Madonna invented the Boy Toy in the 1980s.)  By the time he shared the story about five children he had with his young lover, which they gave up to the State, I changed my mind about him drastically and only saw his selfishness.  

His unstable and infatuated love interest with a married woman was truly problematic, especially because it was coupled with his lustful fantasies.  Though he was not entirely explicit, I think it was too much personal information for me.  

from Confessions 

Finally, he was a bit arrogant about himself and his high expectations of how others should treat him. But by the time it was apparent that friends, acquaintances, and the world had turned against him, I had pity for him.  Compounded by his poor health, every day was a bad day for Rousseau, even if he did bring it on himself.  If I could, I would have given him a hug because he really needed one.

So what is to be done now?  Regretfully, I remember nothing about Rousseau's ideology from my college philosophy class.  I am curious to understand his philosophical ideas, and why he was opposed, now that I have been acquainted with the man.  At some point, I'd like to read Émile, The Social Contract, and maybe even Julie.  I want to know what materialized from the mind of this complex man after reading the inside story of his heart. Then I can go back to his Confessions and say, "Ah, that is why he thought as he did."

P.S.  I took this quote from John Taylor Gatto, a school teacher.  When I see it, it makes me think of Rousseau.  Perhaps this is what he was striving for; that in writing Confessions, he created a different way to write about a life - a personal, introspective autobiographical story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books from my childhood/teen years that I would love to revisit

 Top 10 Books From My Childhood (Or teen years) 

That I Would Love To Revisit

Most of my childhood books were obscure, and I cannot remember them.  The ones I do remember are from school - required reading.  I went to a Catholic elementary school, and we had to read these books (some of which are shocking to me today because of the language, like Of Mice and Men). Nonetheless, they left an indelible impression on me.  I have already reread these in my adult years, except the last two that I read in early college, but I still yearn to return to them again.  Some of them I have loved, then hated; but then I renewed my love for them again after a another reread.  All of them I would love to revisit again and again.

Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Crucible - Arthur Miller

Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

The Pearl - John Steinbeck

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank

Kaffir Boy - Mark Mathabane

Night - Elie Wiesel 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

More Reading Challenges!

What just happened?  One minute I was worried that I was unable to keep up with my reading commitments, and the next thing I know, I commit myself to three new reading challenges.  To be fair, I did say that I would join a couple of these when and if they came up, but I totally forgot about them...until they came up.  When I made my initial reading list for 2015, I did not include these; hence, I had to play musical chairs with my spring TBR list, which no longer looks as I posted it last week. But, no problem.  

So I am taking the time now to mention these up coming reading challenges, in the event you'd like to join:  

O @ Behold the Stars is hosting a laid-back read-along of The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, beginning March 26th (read at your own pace).

Fanda @ Fanda Classiclit is hosting another month of Zoladdiction (Émile Zola - your choice), beginning April 1st.  (She is also hosting a Germinal read-along). 

And Corrine @ The Pursuit of Happiness is featuring a leisurely group read of Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.  This begins May 1st and ends August 1st.

If you are interested, you can visit these blogs for more info.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my spring TBR list

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

If March 20th marks the beginning of spring, then I will still be reading 
Confessions, by Jean-Jaques Rousseau,...

and Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 
which is my fourth turn with this essential American classic.  
This book was nowhere on my proposed list of books to read in 2015, 
but since I have somehow found myself mixed in with a book club in my community, 
and this was the next book chosen to be read by the group, I gladly consented.

The next six I hope to start in April or May: 
The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper,

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,

The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola,

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau,

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe,

and The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. 

These last two I will start in June and they will carry over into summer: 
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, 

and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself, by Harriet Jacobs.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

This Spring Break is Over (and I am actually glad)

These African daisies cannot wait for spring!

A few weeks ago I decided to take a spring break from social media and my blogs.  Frankly, I wanted to see if I had any self-control left in me.  For months it has been bothering me how much time I use to maintain Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Booklikes, Goodreads, Google+, and Pinterest, in additional to trying to keep up with numerous book and homeschool blogs that I like to follow.  It amounted to a lot.

With the burden to keep up with social media, I was neglecting important things, like my kids and researching for our next school year and even just making time to read this tome (Confessions, by Rousseau) on my nightstand.

I knew the extra pressure of keeping up on social media was not good use of my time.  It was consuming and distracting me and in no way enhancing my literary experience.   Don't get me wrong: there are extremely talented people in this world who have a great forum utilizing social media and making a living out of it. They have thousands and millions of followers, and a paycheck!  But I don't have that time to dedicate to it. Besides I've got a following right here under my own roof: a total of five followers who are quite demanding of me, and that does not include my husband.  That is about all I can handle.

This is home!
In addition to the time issue, there are some personal reasons I needed to reevaluate why I was using Facebook.  It irritates me that I cannot retain my fan page without a personal page, too; but those are the rules.

So in regards to the social media: I dumped Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, which I used the least, and Booklikes because it is just a different universe over there.  And I got rid of Facebook, which was like a burden lifted from my shoulders.  The only three I am keeping are Goodreads, Google+, and Pinterest.  I definitely am not getting rid of Pinterest.  And Bloglovin is maintenance free, so I am still there.

I feel like the compulsion to use all of social media at one time has dissipated completely.  I've been cleansed. Yay!  It feels so good.  But my love for writing and reading I hope never leaves me; hence I still want to keep my blogs.  While I was on this little spring break, I set my blogs to private to see if I even wanted to continue writing publicly, and I know now that I do.  So, the social media spring break is officially over; and while there are some new changes for me now, I feel like I am home again.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Title:  East of Eden

Author:  John Steinbeck

Date Published:  1952

Challenges:  The Classics Club; and The Essential Man's Library Reading List

I have been chomping at the bit to write a review of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, for a week now, but time has been my adversary.   Finally, today I get almost the entire day to unleash. 

First, this was an extremely anticipated novel, though I had no idea what awaited me.  My only experience with Steinbeck has been two short stories: The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, two tragic, heart-rending, broken stories.  (By the way, don’t skip these if you haven’t read them, yet.)

Ok, be forewarned; there may be some spoilers here. 

My immediate feeling was that I was reading an American version of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because East of Eden has tiny gleams of fantastical, mystical qualities, with a hint of accounts about two generations of families.  No one would probably ever come up with such a connection, and I know the two are about as wide apart as the Grand Canyon, but that is what happens to me when I read and read and read.  I have outrageous flashbacks. 

Next, the biblical themes are obvious throughout the story.  Steinbeck could not have intended his biblical references about the human condition to be subtle because they jump right out at the reader.


For example, the title refers to the story about the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, lived, until they sinned and were driven out and placed somewhere to the east of the garden.  The setting of this story, Salinas Valley, California, represents that place of struggle, where man (or the characters) wrestle with what is right and what is evil; it is somewhere east of "Paradise."

Paternal Love and Acceptance

Another biblical reference is the desire for parental love or acceptance.   Adam Trask, Samuel Hamilton, and his Asian servant, Lee, read through Genesis 4 where God commands Cain and Abel to make an offering to Him.  God accepts Abel’s animal sacrifice, but does not respect Cain’s offering of vegetation. God is pleased with Abel, which consumed Cain, who later killed his brother in jealousy. 

Adam Trask found it offensive that God rejected Cain but favored Abel over an offering.  What was not discussed was that God did not reject Cain because of his offering; it was due to his disobedience (probably because he did not bring an animal sacrifice as commanded, like Abel did). 

Meanwhile, this paternal favoritism, which piqued Adam, is prevalent throughout the story.  Adam’s father, Cyrus, favored Adam over his brother Charles, and now Adam favored his son Aron over Aron's twin brother, Cal, until the very end.  Lee called it "the symbol story of the human soul" because "The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears." And then that rejection and fear leads to sin and guilt - "and there is the story of mankind."

Good vs. Evil

Then there is the theme of good vs. evil: Steinbeck demonstrates the battle between good and evil has been present since the beginning of civilization.  It rages on to this day, and it will until the end of time.  

Everyone will struggle differently with doing good and avoiding evil.  Some, like Cathy, Adam’s wife and Aron’s and Cal’s mother, will embrace evil and use it to their advantage; others may deny its existence, like Adam and his son, Cal.  They could not recognize wickedness on their own and needed to be shown.  Adam finally grasped the truth, but Cal ran from it because he could not accept it.  And then there are those who recognize their own battle, like Aron did, and admit their own short comings; they are well-grounded and have a better chance in the world.

Free Will

Steinbeck also presented his view of free will.  Free will means that man is not a robot, pre-programmed to live or behave a certain way.  Instead, man is meant to think and choose for himself. Using Genesis 4:7, as Lee did, God tells Cain,
If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. 
Lee pointed out that the Scriptures used the Hebrew word, “timshel,” which is translated, “thou mayest,” (though my version is translated, “you should,” which is similar because it shows ability). Lee argues that this "makes man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice."  

This is a hopeful prospect for man: while sin is in his nature - if he disobeys God’s commands, sin will overpower him - with free will he may control or is expected to control his behavior, in order that he may not sin and, hence, prosper.  But I think Steinbeck left out the part about obeying God, and that is too bad because that is an important piece of Scripture.  God tells Cain that if he does well to obey His commands, he is already overpowering his desire to sin.  So obeying God is doing good, and disobeying God is sin, which may even lead to doing what is evil. 

This is a benefit to Aron who worried that since his mother Cathy was a wicked woman, he was doomed because he had inherited her evil.  He knew he often did what was wrong or wicked, and he felt terrible (guilt).  But he also struggled with his desire to do what was good and right.  When at the end of the story he received his father's blessing (another biblical aspect), he learned he had the free will to do what was right and a way to overcome evil.  At least, that is what the reader is left with.  But the story never changes, and man’s dilemma forever continues with choosing to do what is good while constantly struggling with a natural desire to sin and disobey God. So actually, Steinbeck, we did inherit that (wicked) nature from our parents.

The World's Story

Finally, the one idea that gave me shivers was this: Steinbeck said, 
A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil?  Have I done well-or ill?
Then he described three men of his own lifetime whose deaths marked the kind of life they had lived. The first two were not loved because the living rejoiced in their deaths.  The third man was greatly loved because the living wondered how they could go on without him.

By the way, who were these men?  Just curious.

Steinbeck said "men want to be good and want to be loved," and "most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love."  I am not sure I totally agree with this because some men are beyond hope.

Then he said,
if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
There is truth to that, yes.  And that goes back to choosing what is good and right.  But if we really want to choose what is good and right, the right way to do it is to obey God's commands, in which case, to love one's neighbor as you love yourself and to love God with all your heart, soul, body, and mind.  I would just caution living for the world's approval because the world is not always right.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Title:  Persuasion

Author:  Jane Austen

Date Published:  1817

Challenges:  Persuasion Read-Along 2015; Reading England 2015, Dorset, Somerset; and Back to the Classics 2015, classic by a woman author

The first time I read Persuasion in October 2013, it did not penetrate my heart or mind, and I was left feeling somewhat neutral over it.  That bothered me, too, because I knew there was something worth appreciating about it, though I did not know what it was.  When I saw that Heidi @ Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine was hosting a Persuasion Read-Along, I knew it was an opportunity to be re-encouraged.  I was hopeful that I would have a different experience this time. And so I did.  Extremely different.

Immediately, it was as if I were reading under a microscope.  For example, I understood the character relationships and connections more clearly.  So many characters come in and out of Austen's story that I sometimes get lost following who is who and how they connect.  But more importantly, this time I had a deeper awareness of Anne's sentiments, especially towards Captain Wentworth.  

I rather not retell the story, but I must to a degree: Anne had the opportunity to marry a really great guy, Frederick Wentworth, whom she was very much in love; unfortunately, she was "overly-persuaded" not to marry him by someone who cared about her, someone Anne looked to for council.  Eight years later, he reenters her life and is greatly improved from years past - he is a captain in the British Navy.  But he has not forgiven Anne for rejecting him; yet, he is still looking for "an Anne-type girl" to marry.  

Jane Austen stamp, Great Britain

Meanwhile, for the next several weeks or months, Anne is trying to settle her feelings regarding Captain Wentworth: Is she still in love with him? Does he like her or hate the sight of her? Should she just go away?  Could they at least be friends?  

Poor Anne - although she wouldn't think so - is often hard on herself.  But one of her best qualities is that she always puts the needs and feelings of others before herself, even if she must suppress her true desires.  She even thought it acceptable if Frederick would consider her a friend; then she could be content. She didn't ask for anything more.

But that is not how this love story is going to end.  While there is a lot more going on between other characters, Anne's family members, and two other possible love connections for Anne, the one relationship I want to focus on is between Anne and Captain Wentworth.  Back to poor Anne: she has to witness Wentworth begin to develop a potential love interest with an acquaintance, and, yet, she keeps it quietly to herself.  Then suddenly, there is a whirlwind change in the story, and Captain Wentworth is free from this other woman, without regret.  Anne secretly admits:
No, it was not regret which made Anne's heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate.  They were too much like joy, senseless joy!  (Exclamation point mine.)
She soon notices Wentworth's embarrassed encounters with her, his tenderness towards her, and eventually that he resents her no more.  At one point he expressed jealousy of another man.  Jealousy! She is certain that "He must love her."  Yeah, he does!  Fast-forward to the very end, and Wentworth writes one of the most awesome love letters in my literary history that I have ever read, including this famous line:

You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.

At heart, he still loves her, and he waits for a sign from her that she loves him, too.


That seals it.  It is done.  No one shall ever persuade Anne out of this union ever again.  No long engagement for this happy couple.  They know certainly that they want to be together, and whatever shall be shall be. That's marriage, and there are no guarantees.  Marrying for love may be hasty, but marrying for money and social connections may not be the wiser or more secure.  Guess we'll know in the long run.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Title:  Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Author:  Mary Rowlandson

Date Published:  1682

Challenges:  The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Mary Rowlandson
Mary Rowlandson, a British native living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, shares her terrifying experience: being forced from her home, witnessing the brutal murders of neighbors and family members, and being separated from her children, save one dying in her arms from a gunshot wound.  

In 1675, American colonists were in the middle of a Native American conflict between several New England tribes and the British and their Indian allies.  King Philip's War, named after Native American Metacomet, began after the alleged murder of an Indian translator and advisor to Metacomet. Three Wampanoag Indians were tried and hanged for this crime. In revenge for the trial and hanging, a number of surprise attacks occurred on colonial towns.  Homes were destroyed and men, women, and children were either murdered or taken captive; Mary Rowlandson was one of those taken captive.

Rowlandson narrates in vivid and terrifying description what it was like on that February morning: Indians came into her town, burning homes, knocking men or women on the head, shooting, stabbing or butchering some to death, stripping bodies naked, or taking others alive. She witnessed the death of one sister and a nephew.  Her husband was not home during the time of the attack when two of their oldest children were taken and a third was wounded.

At first, she thought, "if Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive, but when it came to the trial my mind changed..."  And so began her eleven-week ordeal of survival in the daunting wilderness, often on the march and fleeing from the pursuing British, foraging for food to sustain herself, but always clinging to God and His Word.  

Within a week, her wounded six-year old died, but she knew her two older children were alive and in nearby camps.  In her burden and anxiety, she asked God to give her "some sign and hope of relief." Then after a raid on another English colony, an Indian brought her a Bible that he took as loot and had no use, which she accepted willingly and saw as an answer to prayer.

She gained strength from Psalm 27: "Wait on the Lord, Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine Heart, wait I say on the Lord."  And in understanding her loss of family, relations, her home and its comforts, she read from Job: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  

She was able to comfort her son, when she saw him, with Scripture, such as Psalm 118:17-18: "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord: the Lord hath chastened me sore yet he hath not given me over to death."  Other times, this verse, Psalm 46:10, was good enough: "Be still, and know that I am God."  Or when she could not worship on the Sabbath and had no where to lay her head, 
I cannot express to man the sorrow that lay upon my spirit; the Lord knows it.  Yet that comfortable Scripture would often come to mind, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee."

The Killing of Jane McCrea
(This painting is often used in captivity stories, and was on the cover of my copy.)
Rowlandson suffered in her heartbreak over the separation from her children and endured humiliation in the midst of her captors - who threatened her, struck her, or were unkind to her, particularly the women.  Sometimes she was "met with favor," but other times unkindness.  She did meet Metacomet (King Philip), and he was very good to her.

To survive, she was forced to look for her own food in the wilderness or to beg for pieces of food from others.  Food included: ground acorns, bear meat, or boiled horse hoof.  Once she sustained herself on molded crumbs of bread that she found in her pocket.  She remarked that "it was very hard to get down their filthy trash," and yet, in her hunger, she believed that God allowed them to be "sweet and savory to [her] taste."

Near the end of her captivity, she learned of her possible restoration and had to set a price for her redemption; this was ironic because the Indians had taken or destroyed all of her property, and she and her husband had nothing to give.  Nonetheless, she was redeemed for twenty pounds.  Later, she and her husband were able to track their two older children and redeem them, as well, so that they were all reunited once more.

Rowlandson recalled how God had His hand in this conflict, and how He provided for the Indians, whether it was to stop the English from pursuing or permit Indian victories, destroying towns and taking more captives.  She says,
Now the heathen begins to think all is their own, and the poor Christians' hopes to fail (as to man) and now their eyes are more to God, and their hearts sigh heaven-ward; and to say in good earnest, "Help Lord, or we perish."  When the Lord had brought His people to this, that they saw no help in anything but Himself; then He takes the quarrel into His own hand; and though they (the Indians) had made a pit, in their own imaginations, as deep as hell for the Christians that summer, yet the Lord hurled themselves into it.  And the Lord had not so many ways before to preserve them, but now He hath as many to destroy them.
In regards to her afflictions, she said,
I have seen the extreme vanity of this world: One hour I have been in health, and wealthy, wanting nothing.  But the next hour in sickness and wounds, and death, having nothing but sorrow and affliction.
Having known these miseries, she could now look beyond her troubles and be at rest in the Lord.

If I had to answer the question, "Why did Mary Rowlandson write her story?" I would say her simple message was this: God chastens those whom He loves, and He is able to carry them through their afflictions.  "That we must rely on God Himself, and our whole dependence must be upon Him."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Book (or Reading) Related Problems I Have

Ten Book (or Reading) Related Problems I Have

1. Sometimes I bite my nails when I read.

2. I underline a lot and write all over my pages.

A mess

3. I buy used books faster than I can read them.

4. It irks me when my 18-year old leaves his phone, watch, wallet,
and eye glasses on my bookcase.  They are not part of my books.

5. I love my bookcase that my husband built for me, but it is just a bookcase,
and I must not treat it like it is another family member.

Just a bookcase

6. Some people have pets.  I have books.

7. I get excited about going to the library.

8. I would rather read than exercise.  

9.  I bring books with me everywhere,
including family gatherings and birthday parties.

10. Most of the time, I'd rather be reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, by John Bunyan

Title:  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Author:  John Bunyan

Date Published:  1666

Challenges:  Literary Movement 2015, Renaissance; Reading England 2015, Bedfordshire; The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, covered numerous reading challenges for me, especially for my Literary Movement Renaissance period, which tend to be religious in nature.  It was only 77 pages, but what a formidable, little book! 

In this short personal history, Bunyan recounts "the merciful working of God upon [his] soul." When God begins to prick the conscience of Bunyan, showing him his disobedience and wickedness, the author describes how he rebelled against and tried to hide from God.  Gratefully, there were people in his life who introduced him to the Scriptures, and he immediately enjoyed reading God's word; however, it also opened his eyes to God's standards, and conviction weighed heavy on his heart.  

This burden led to an extremely long and agonizing trek to salvation and conversion for Bunyan.  If you have ever read The Pilgrim's Progress, then you will begin to see Christian's journey unfold before your eyes. John Bunyan suffered through temptation, doubt, lack of or little faith, and ignorance of truth. When he thought he found comfort in God's word, he become fooled and discouraged all over again, blaming Satan for misleading him in his faithlessness.

Statue of John Bunyan
located at Southampton Row London
His most worrisome concern was a misunderstanding that he would never achieve salvation due to his blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, while tempting God.  Imagine convincing yourself that you could never be saved, and yet fully understanding the ramifications of God's wrath!  You could do nothing but wait for your coming judgment.  Bunyan lived with this dread and trepidation day after day.  And when the reader thought he finally found God's truth, love, and peace, Bunyan immediately turned to his anxiety, temptation, guilt, and doubt all over again.  I think I wrote the word "finally" about six different times, thinking he was complete, until finally!!! He embraced God's free gift of grace, with no strings attached.

My favorite was this irrefutable moment when he said: was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse: for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, 'the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).'
And immediately following, he continued:
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away: so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God...
Bunyan's conversion was a long and slow process, but eventually he rose to be a great witness for Christ's glory.  He spent twelve difficult years in prison, apart from his wife and children, because he would not conform to the Church of England.  Of this suffering, he learned,
...I see the best way to go through sufferings, is to trust in God through Christ, as touching the world to come; and as touching this world, to 'count the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness, and to say to corruption, thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art my mother and sister...(Job17:13-14)'

John Bunyan in Prison, by Andrew Geddes
located at Bedfordshire, England