Scripture Sunday (49)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. I’m not a qualified expert in any way, so I will keep my thoughts to my highly-subjective impressions. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

 

 

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

-Job 38:4-7, 31-33

Why I chose it:

Job is a frustrating book to read, because I relate so much to some of the things that Job and his friends say, and because really bad stuff happens to Job that he didn’t “deserve.” But God’s closing monologue in 38-41 is a great illustration of how we comprehend only a tiny fraction of creation and a minuscule pinch of our place in the universe. Plus, there’s really beautiful imagery in these chapters, especially in these two small bits I picked out.

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January Recap: Rereads

I didn’t read very much this month so I decided to give you mini-reviews for everything. This will be in two posts: Rereads and Goodreads. This one will cover the books I read this month that I’ve read before, so they’ll be more “what-did-I-notice-this-time?” than legit reviews.

By the way if anyone finds my blogging brain please return it. I miss it and I need it.

Cress and Winter by Marissa Meyer

I’ve been rereading The Lunar Chronicles for a few months, and it’s really rewarding. I think Cress is overall the best Lunar Chronicles book (although I enjoy Scarlet more because Scarlet and Wolf are The Best). We finally have the entire main cast on the page, and lots of little things are setting up for the conclusion in Winter. There is a lot happening and all of the main crew have their roles and strengths, but Cress and Thorne have the most growth in their arcs.

In particular, I’ve appreciated Kai more this time around. He’s in really difficult political position, and inexperienced. He knows enough to know that he can’t win every battle, and so he focuses on picking and choosing where he can do the most good in a war against a superior enemy. He’s also very self-sacrificing but not happy about it; he’s a grouchy selfless emperor playing a long game.

I’m still mad about how long Winter is. It’s twice as long as any of the other books in the series, and while there are a lot of characters to deal with and lose ends to tie up, they should have edited this thing more. If they moved some stuff around and revamped other parts, they could cut out one whole palace visit, and therefore a couple hundred pages at least.

That being said, I love this series, these characters, and how Winter deals with the Snow White fairy tale. Winter is a beloved character (both in her world and to me personally). Her sacrifice, in not using her glamour and “brainwashing” people, is one of the strongest parts of this book because it’s not an easy or simple decision to make and live with the consequences.

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

This book was published posthumously and therefore I love over-analyzing the editorial choices and wondering if Tolkien would have presented it in the same way. The organization is so interesting! They put everything chronologically which is probably the best choice, but it means that some topics gets separated out and scattered throughout the book.  For example, what the “Men” are doing while the Elves are throwing themselves into shenanigans. Some sections are much stronger and better developed than others. The creation of the Trees of Valinor and the Silmarils, and the final stories of the Quenta (Beren/Luthien, Turin, Gondolin) are the best. The rest is, essentially, context. I’d love more development of Finrod, Fingon, and the trash pile sons of Feanor. But. There’s so much here as it is. The last two sections seem more like appendices to cover the years between Quenta and The Lord of the Rings than anything else.
There should be more ladies. I always find Yavanna really interesting because she’s just trying to create and accomplish, and everyone else gets in her way or ruins it all the time. Melian has A Lot To Deal With pretty much all the time. Galadriel doesn’t get much screen time but she’s great. Luthien gets the biggest role and is AMAZING but I wish we got more of girls like Haleth, Idril, Elwing, Morwen, Nienor, and Rian.

 

January Recap: Goodreads

I didn’t read very much this month so I decided to give you mini-reviews for everything. This will be in two posts: Rereads and Goodreads. This one will cover the books I read for the first time this month.

By the way if anyone finds my blogging brain please return it. I miss it and I need it.

Meet Me In St. Louis by Sarah Benson

This was a light and enjoyable read for the most part. The book is divided into the months between June 1903 and May 1904. The “chapter” months are very episodic, almost like a series of short stories, as there aren’t any strong arcs to speak of. The characters are consistent but a little shallow; Esther and Rose, especially, don’t ever move past their boy-crazed silliness; but at least they keep us entertained. Grandpa Prophater was my favorite, as he is the most “aware” of the hilarity of this family. One of the scenes I found most interesting was when Mrs. Smith said she could understand why someone would want only one child, creating an ABSOLUTE UPROAR in the house from her five kids. Mr. Smith explains she’s upset because she can’t care for all five kids the way she wishes she could, but there’s a subtext of real frustration in Mrs. Smith’s pronouncement, as well. No matter how hard she tries, life is always uncertain and keeps her anxious about taking care of everyone.

So. Light and enjoyable read, but with some darker undertones that kept it interesting.

 

Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry

This Middle Grade book is a delight. It’s a fictional nonfiction book, written by Rey about the planet of Jakku and the people, places, and things you will find on it. There are lots of pictures: Rey’s drawings and schematics, manuals, documents that she has picked up in her wanderings. I have never cared about Jakku much, either as a fictional setting that I wanted to know more about, or a place I wanted more stories set on. However, author Jason Fry make Jakku really fascinating through Rey. Part of it is all the plants and animals she describes, which make Jakku feel more like a real place with an actual ecosystem. The geography was even more fascinating: some of the locations Rey draws and describes we see in The Force Awakens, but some of them we don’t, like The Sitter on his rock and Old Meru’s shack. Rey mentions lots of stories and legends floating around Jakku as well, such as a secret imperial base that someone is still guarding, buried beneath the sand.

If you’re looking for a “story,” though, you won’t find much of one here. It’s almost entirely exposition, with anecdotes from Rey’s childhood, her scavenging adventures, or about other scavengers that she knows or has known (she knows a lot of dead scavengers who weren’t careful enough to avoid sinking sand or live wires or leaking fuel lines. Yikes.). The end of the book tries to tie this book into TFA more, but it was the only part of the book I didn’t like. If she takes her “survival guide” with her off-planet it becomes more of a diary with a lot of useless tips about how to survive a place she no longer lives in. I like the idea of Rey leaving her journal behind, so someone on Jakku exploring can find it in her AT-AT house, and use the information to survive.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

What a heartbreaking book! Each of the characters from the protagonist Sethe, her boyfriend Paul D, her lost husband Halle, her MIL Baby, to her daughters Denver and Beloved have their own personal scars and brutal histories. In multiple ways this book is a horror story: the horror story of American slaves and their owners; the horror story of Sethe’s murdered daughter and the family she is haunting; the horror story of Paul D’s life history.

However, there is such a strong hope throughout the book, even in the very worst moments, that redeemed the story from a bleak resolution. Sethe begins to realize that maybe she can hope for more than just getting by, or living in the horrible choices of the past. She learns how to want things for herself, and since she’s got her freedom legally, all she needs to do is seize it psychologically. The way the different members of the family persevere and support each other, and the way their community forms around them to help at different stages, is amazing.

Even if every happy bit in this book was gone, it would still be worth reading to remind us of how horrific American slavery was and how we should never ever ever forget or gloss over it. It happened, to real people, by real people, in a country that prides itself on liberty and justice for all.  Beloved doesn’t shy away from this or completely excuses the choices that anyone makes, whether they’re slaves, ex-slaves, slaveowners or employers.

The ending of Beloved, with the emphasis on community, and the importance of asking for help, concluded the psychologically-messy story very well. I would have liked to see Paul D take some responsibility for his actions re: Beloved and being so rude to Sethe but it is implied that he’s going to make up for past behavior.

The Wicker King (Review)

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

33158541The format of this book hits you first. The chapters are really (really) short. There are photos, documents, and other “visuals” that help tell the story. The narrator is unreliable and his friend is unreliable. Because of all of these things, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what is going on or what a character is actually thinking or feeling, rather than what they appear to be thinking or feeling. The prologue starts in media res, and the narrator occasionally has memories or flashbacks of memories throughout the book, so the story isn’t very linear, either. But August (the narrator) clearly notes when that is happening, rewarding your close attention. Your mileage may vary just based on the structure and format, but I loved it.

The narrator’s best friend, we learn, is suffering from hallucinations, so part of the plot is the narrator trying to figure out what to do about the hallucinations in terms of a mental illness, and part of the plot is the narrator trying to figure out what to do about the hallucinations in terms of actual real things that are happening in another world.

So yes, this is a tricky book to read, but well-worth it. It explores mental illness, toxic friendships, healthy friendships, child neglect (degrees of), child abuse (degrees of), and what real emotional and mental support is. I loved the two main characters, as well as their “staff” of supporting characters: the twins Peter and Roger, who care too much and are Angry About It; Rina, the lonely graduate trying to make it; and the rest. I liked that even though August and Jack were trapped in some ways, and felt 100% alone and trapped, the book was subtly showing all of the helpers that they had around them, who ultimately keep them from a Real Bad Ending.

I do have some problems with the book, mostly in how the third act plays out. It seems too neat, considering the GIANT MESS OF PROBLEMS that the characters have to deal with. Mental health is important and difficult, and I didn’t feel like either of the MCs had properly dealt with the co-dependency, everything else aside. I worry about Jack and August in the future, whether they’ll learn to lean on their support system, whether they’ll learn to not lean on each other so much; whether they will let go of the hallucinations or if those will still play out in their lives somehow (that last page implied that they’ve still got some serious kinks to work out, pun intended).

 

Scripture Sunday (48)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. I’m not a qualified expert in any way, so I will keep my thoughts to my highly-subjective impressions. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

First:

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

-Genesis 18:13-15

And then later:

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

-Genesis 21:6-7

Why I chose it:

Sarah has her problems like the rest of us but I appreciate that she has a sense of humor. She doubts God’s promise to her and Abraham,  and is chastised for it. However, when God fulfills the promise, she isn’t grudging or grouchy. She invites everyone to enjoy how wrong she was and how right God is.

 

Myth Monday: Izanagi and Izanami Do Some Stirring

As I’ve mentioned on previous Myth Mondays, my mythological education was primarily in Western Classics, so I’m most familiar with Roman and Greek mythology (with a little Norse and Egyptian in there too). I’ve been challenging myself to learn more world mythology. Last year I learned a lot about Mesopotamian/Akkadian/Babylonian mythology. This year I’m focusing on Japanese mythology and Irish legends. Because of my background, my Japanese series will occasionally veer into comparative mythology. I love drawing lines of comparison between different ancient stories and characters, and finding patterns in them.*

For this post, I’m focusing on the Japanese creation myth and some of the oldest gods and goddesses. You can find my sources at the end of this post, or in the links buried in the post. If you have sources on Japanese mythology you would recommend, let me know in the comments!

Izanagi and Izanami

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Source

Back in the old old old days, there were a bunch of gods that lived in heaven, but no earth, just an abyss. Izanagi and Izanami weren’t the first gods ever, but they were the first to be born: brother and sister deities. One day they were standing on the stairway between the heavens and the abyss-that-isn’t-earth yet, and looking down at the abyss. Seeing as it was a big waste of space, they went to work on it like craftsmen. They took a giant, magical, jewel-encrusted spear, and poked it into the abyss, stirring it. When they lifted it, drops fell off of the spear, and the drops formed islands.

And so Izanagi and Izanami created the islands of Japan. Having made such an excellent place, they decided to go live there. Along the way they got inspired to get married to each other.** The marriage ritual involved walking around a pillar in opposite directions. In one version I read, this was so they could happen upon each other as if they just met each other as a man and maiden. But in others there’s less detail and it’s just the way the ritual goes.

In any case, they get married. Everything goes fine for a while for Izanagi and Izanami, who are creating islands, rivers, lakes, etc etc etc, which are all deities, or kami, in their own right (according to Shintoism). Kami are the essence or spirit of any thing in nature, such as a rock, a river, or a plant.

In some sources the first kid that Izanami gives birth to is disfigured Hiruko/Ebisu, god of fishermen. In some sources, Izanami has a bunch of kids after Hiruko at this point, ending with Kagu-tsuchi, the fire-god. In the more trust-worthy sources those kids are born later so I’m going to stick with Kagu-tsuchi for now. When Izanami gives birth to Kagu-tsuchi the fire-god, it is very uncomfortable and dangerous, and Izanami becomes ill and eventually passes on to the Japanese underworld, Yomi.

Izanagi is NOT OKAY with this development, and tries to get her back by going to Yomi. Izanagi finds Izanami, but it’s too dark to see her. Izanami understands the natural way of things better, and tells her husband that she really shouldn’t go back to the land of the living; she already ate Yomi food anyway, which as we all know means she has to stay in Yomi forever.*** But if Izanagi insists, Izanami will try to negotiate with the lord of Yomi. The only condition is that Izanagi can’t look at her.**** Izanagi agrees, but to NO ONE’S SURPRISE he breaks his promise and sneaks in to see her. Izanami, being dead, is rotting away and covered with maggots and gods of thunder (I….don’t know why thundergods are relevant).

Izanami is understandably pissed off, and Izanagi decides he had better get the hell out of there (pun intended). Izanami sends Eight Ugly Females to pursue him. Through some chicanery and wiles, Izanagi successfully escapes, and puts a boulder across the entrance to Yomi.

Izanagi is covered with gross Yomi stuff at this point, so he goes through a cleansing process that is the inspiration behind Shinto purification rituals. During his cleansing, the other primary Shinto gods and goddess are born. The first is Amaterasu, the sun-goddess. Amaterasu is very important in the Shinto religion, being the sun and live-giving and all that, just as Ra is a primary Egyptian god and Apollo is a primary Greek/Roman god (granted, Apollo has to kick out Helios for the privilege). I wrote about Amaterasu very briefly in a previous Myth Monday post on eclipse myths. After Amaterasu, Tsuki-yumi the Moon-god is born, and then Susano/Susa-no-wo, the storm-god. Amaterasu and Tsuki-yumi are content and satisfied with their career tracks. Susa-no-wo, not so much.

TO BE CONTINUED ON A FUTURE MYTH MONDAY

*nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrd
**this happens a LOT in world mythology, not only Japan. Wikipedia has a whole page on it but other famous married siblings include Zeus&Hera (Greece) and Osiris&Isis (Egypt).
***This is similar to the Greek myth of Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld, and could have returned home if she hadn’t eaten three pomegranate seeds.
****This reminds me of the Greek Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Mortal Orpheus can rescue his wife from the Underworld only if he leads her out without once looking back to make sure she’s there.

Sources

Ancient.eu on Izanagi and Izanami

Davis, F. Hadland. Myths and Legends of Japan. Dover Publications, 1992.

Japanese Mythology on Izanagi and Izanami

Scripture Sunday (47)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. I’m not a qualified expert in any way, so I will keep my thoughts to my highly-subjective impressions. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

-Genesis 9:12-16

Why I chose it: 

I LOVE A GOOD RAINBOW. I love this passage and never get tired of it. It’s really hopeful in spite of the fact that almost all life was just wiped from the earth. According to my Bible, the word “remember” here isn’t the opposite of forgetting but the act of giving attention to someone or something; so every time a rainbow appears, God is giving attention specifically to us and the promise he made.