Mini Book Club

Two of my longtime friends and I have decided to read The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine (NJHD) together.  My friends and I live far apart, but we are able to discuss via email as we go along.  And we have chosen one of the number of short books that are included in the Writings.  I’m discovering that there’s a lot to be said for this sort of mini book club, so I thought I’d share the concept in case anyone else might find it interesting.

Selling Points of a Mini Book Club:

  1. Good Friends: You can pick congenial friends, which allows your conversations to deep-dive because you already know each other and don’t have to explain a lot of things. And it’s not a bad way to deepen your friendships, too!
  2. Easily Organized: Having only a few people makes it much easier to organize.  All you have to do to get started is pick a book and figure out how much you want to read each week.
  3. Keeping It Short: Picking a short work from the Writings feels less daunting if you happen to be pushed for time or undergoing one of the more overwhelming phases of life.  And you can choose how much to read each week, so it can be a very short amount if you like.  In our case, the way we divided up the numbers has worked out to an average of about 20 pages a week, but you really could do much less than that.  We’ll finish the whole project in 9 weeks. (Note: Unless everyone in your group is using the exact same translation, your reading schedule will have to indicate which passage numbers to read each week, not which pages; we discovered that pagination varies by translation.)
  4. Conversation/Comments:  To me, the conversation is probably the best thing about a mini book club.  When I read by myself, I only get my own perspective, my own questions, my own applications; it’s so much better to hear thoughts and responses from my friends as well.  We are learning from each other, and besides, it’s fun.  We chose to communicate via email, but different venues will work best for different people, obviously.  With only a few people, the conversation doesn’t get too huge and unwieldy to follow.
  5. Read Online If You Like: In case you weren’t aware, you can read the Writings online or on your phone using the New Christian Bible Study website or the app.  There are multiple translations and languages to pick from.  Every reference to a passage from the Old TestamentNew Testament and other books of the Writings is hyperlinked so you can take a look if you are curious. 

By the way, so far NJHD seems to be a good pick for this purpose. (FYI, sometimes NJHD is published together with other short books under the title Miscellaneous Theological Works.)  About 25 big topics are briefly covered with some main points that make me stop and think.  At the end of each chapter, there’s a sort of list of more details about the topic being covered, and each detail tells the reader where to find a further explanation in the Arcana Coelestia.  Some of the details are pretty intriguing, so I find myself getting sidetracked to take a look.  I like the combination of pulling back to look at big issues together with the ability to drill down if I have particular questions.

I hope one or two other women somewhere out there in all our various homes around the world might find that a mini book club could be another way to connect with each other and the Lord’s Word.  

Letting the Lord’s Love Flow

You know when a song gets stuck in your head – but in a good way, the mood and words buoying you up along your way? I love that there are many religious songs I’ve learned in my life that come to mind, reassuring me even in extremely hard moments. 

There’s a song by The Child’s Sisters called “One Heart.” It opens with “Oh Lord, we are gathered” and often when I’m tired or uncertain but trying to keep moving just the tone of that opening line comes to mind and is a wonderful prayerful reminder. 

There’s a song called “Cares Chorus” that starts “I cast all my cares upon You. I lay all of my burden down at your feet.“ This one is even pretty directly a biblical passage, but having its beautiful tune brings those words to mind in a more complex, deep, and reassuring way than the words on their own. 

The last while I’ve been thinking about capacity. How much I can hold. How much I can do. How much I can give. How much I have. And what those capacities mean: if I’ve got space for a lot more but am running on empty; if I’m full and overflowing – past capacity; if I have more to give but don’t know where it can go; or when something is uncomfortable how can I build my capacity to go through it without overflowing. (There’s a great book by Francis Weller called The Wild Edge of Sorrow that was really useful in my thinking about this).

One of the Bible songs that comes up most often for me because of these ponderings is called “Let the Love Flow” by John Odhner (it’s a part of the Songs from the Word collection by John and Lori).

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Sports – Blessing or Curse?

This past winter our family went to a college hockey game. It was a blast. Lots of noise, crazy cheering, some unsportsmanlike booing, and a lot of social chatter. And, we got to watch twelve hockey players perform their always (to me) stunning combination of grace, speed, synergy, and tussle. One of the players’ mothers is a friend of mine, so we even had a team to root for.

I’ve loved sports all my life. In fact when Covid first hit in March 2020, it did not register with me until I heard that the University of Minnesota had canceled its entire spring sports season. My jaw dropped and I actually felt shaky.  For the first time I imagined the immensity of a problem that would generate this level of response. But even aside from that: how could we possibly live without sports? Our neighbor Jessie, who became a pride of the town placing first as a national discus thrower, never got to throw the disc her crowning senior year.

Just like in theater, where we happily “suspend our disbelief”  that the world being acted out in front of us is real, in sports we temporarily and eagerly engage ourselves in the belief that it DOES matter who wins. And how thrilling that is for those of us with that competitive gene. 

We know there are competitions in the spiritual world, and sometimes I think what I see here begins to mirror those events. With daughters who run and ski, we have become fixtures at cross country, nordic ski, and track meets. It’s amazing to watch runners mutually improve as they pit themselves against each other in practice, rising and rising to new heights of strength and endurance as they prepare to face the opponents from other teams. Around here, when two runners sprint for the finish line and cross close together they never check the scoreboard first. It’s the parents who try to figure out who won; the athletes simply embrace. 

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I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. I often think of it as something to strive for and practice, but recently I’ve had some moments of gratitude sweep over me unexpectedly. It happens in the quieter, focused moments. A reminder to slow down, perhaps. To pay attention. In one particular moment, gratitude swept my heart off its feet a little and I was quickly aware how impossible it is for that to have come from me. It reminded me that the point of striving for gratitude in our lives isn’t just about being humble, but about actually letting the Lord into our lives and our hearts. The practice of gratitude is a calling, the feeling of gratitude is a gift.

Gratitude is so easily aimed outward – we identify things to be grateful for, and look for the Lord’s hand in our situations and good fortunes. It is good practice to attribute the good things in our outward lives to the Lord, but if we simply stop there perhaps we stumble into too external a picture of where the Lord is. After all, providence is about the good that’s allowed, that’s findable in any situation. It’s the ability to be grateful, turn to the Lord, and to live a good life regardless of whether our external situations are fortunate or not. So while I fully support being grateful for the good things in our worldly lives, I’ve lately been noticing more of how the Lord works within. I’ve been appreciating the great inward gifts that are the opportunity to see good and the push in my heart toward gratitude, which seem to come more deeply from the Lord, and sit more deeply in providence.

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