Salad Days

Salad

You are what you eat.  Or so we are told.

Today, I want to suggest that we are what we read.

In a former life when I taught English to feral boys,  I told them that to eat a variety of nutritious foods was good for their health and to read a range of well-written books was good for their minds.   Eat junk – get spotty.  Read junk – get …flabby, mentally flabby.

My own reading this summer has not got off to a good start.  Like a good and thrifty housewife I determined to read some of the books that I’ve bought at some point but not yet read before going out to buy anything new.  Alexander McCall Smith’s ’44 Scotland Street’, the first in the series, and Lyndsey Davis’ ‘The Silver Pigs’ about a Roman detective called Falco, accompanied me on a week away near Chichester.  I didn’t spend very much time reading the Bible as often happens when away on family holidays and with little else available to read,  I chewed my way through these two books like a grumpy child who quickly realises he is not enjoying his meal but knows he must eat up or there’ll be no pudding.

My husband, on the other hand, nearing the end of a second reading of ‘Middlemarch’, has been deeply moved, wholly absorbed and stimulated to lots of Christian thought, self-reflection and engaging conversation.  I need to choose with a bit more care what I read for the remainder of the holiday.  Eating up what’s in the cupboards may be economical financially, but if it’s not good for you, throw it away.

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And So I Began To Read

And So I Began To Read
And So I Began to Read…
Books that have influenced me
by Faith Cook

Available from Ten Of Those

What are you reading at the moment?  Do you remember the title?  Can you name the author?  Occasionally, we speak about a book we are reading without being able to recall even these basic details.  Why is this?  Perhaps we read mostly for recreation while our minds ponder life’s banalities.  We all know what it is to read a whole page without having processed a single word.  Let’s be honest.  When we read like this, we know we are wasting our time.

Faith Cook is not one to waste her reading time.  Books have been a source of comfort, rebuke and delight to her since her childhood in China where reading matter was scarce and choice limited.  A missionary childhood taught her to prize books highly.  In her recently published book, And So I Began to Read, she shares with us some of the treasures that have most influenced her over the years and in so doing encourages the reader to reflect on his or her own reading experience and to pick up or dust off some forgotten titles.

One of the most interesting features of this short, readable and personal book (she is more commonly known for her work as a Christian biographer) is her account of her own spiritual relationship with reading.  In 1951, Christian missionaries were decisively thrown out of China following the Communist takeover of the country and Cook’s family moved to Malaysia sending their daughter to a boarding school in North Wales.  During these formative years of Christian growth she imbibed a legalism which forbade certain pastimes and stressed rules ‘to such an extent that even the reading of  a daily newspaper troubled [her] conscience.’  Shunning Dickens and novels altogether Cook describes how she learnt self-righteously to frown upon secular reading.  It is unsurprising, therefore, that all the works mentioned in this book are written by Christians and only one of the influential texts is a novel.

Starting in 1957 with her discovery of the work of Jonathan Edwards, Cook begins to walk and talk us through her library.

John Bunyan

“Cry to God that he would inflame thy will…with the things of the other world.” John Bunyan

On the topics of suffering and prayer Cook is nourished and comforted by Baxter, Bonar, Boston, Brooks, Bunyan, Spurgeon and Gurnall.  With a heart for those who may not want to tackle the dense wording of such writers, she helpfully suggests contemporary authors whose writing on similar themes may be more accessible to the modern reader.

Poetry, hymns and letters are also amongst the literature that sustained her over the years, Newton, Cowper and Samuel Rutherford being particular favourites.  These  ‘turned my thoughts away from my own troubles to the griefs and pain that the Saviour suffered for his people, putting my own in perspective.’    Through reading, Cook was self-medicating in her own suffering with the balm of others’ sanctified wisdom.  Books were to her ‘an unfailing source of strength and consolation’.  They accompany her like a reassuring and kindly guide as she journeys through the painful years of her husband’s reduced mental health and another move from Shepshed to Hull.

Reading presents the temptation of escapism but Cook assumes a responsible and structured approach to her reading time, aided by her husband’s rich supply of Puritan titles, in particular, Richard Baxter’s ‘The Saint’s Everlasting Rest’ which, ‘chimed with her own thinking at this time’.  As the Lord kindly provides reading matter for His pupil, she in turn diligently copies out long passages into a notebook, often memorising them by heart, embracing rather than running from the ‘quaint’ and ‘inaccessible’ language.  Her reading stirs a yearning for heaven and fires her desire to serve her Master in the ante chamber that is this life.  I wonder, does my reading do the same?

Cook describes movingly how the Lord often ministered to her ‘by means of a book’, especially in times of backsliding or luke warmth reminding us how tenderly ‘the great Shepherd of the sheep is well able to seek out any of his flock that are wandering in a wilderness.’

Samuel Rutherford

“Rutherford is beyond all praise of men.”  C.H.Spurgeon

The final section of the book describes how the author began to write.  Longing to share discovered gems with friends, she set about translating Samuel Rutherford’s seemingly impenetrable prose into more accessible rhyme, an endeavour which was enthusiastically received by the Banner of Truth Trust and launched her writing career.

Jesus tells us that we reap what we sow.  Faith Cook extends that principle to the world of reading inviting us to choose our next book wisely, with our gaze on eternity, aware that the time is short.  She teaches us, as Bunyan taught her, to see life as ‘a pilgrimage from this world of sin and suffering to the Celestial City.’  I am left asking myself whether my reading choices encourage or detract from this view.

 

Tending your spiritual garden

cbc52efbd7712e8683433bef588aab46It’s summer time. The strawberries are ripening and thrush and robin barge the queue for the cherries on the trees.  In their abundance these seeded delights seem to call out ‘Are you bearing fruit too?’  echoing Christ’s words to his disciples in John 15.  ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.’

A plant, if it is to thrive needs to grow its roots deep into the nutrient rich soil in which it has been planted. And that soil will nourish and strengthen it to become the fully blossomed beauty that it was meant by God to become.   The man or woman of faith is like the plant.  As a plant yearns for water, minerals, oxygen, light and sugar, we, in our right mind, yearn for the Word and Spirit of God.  And as a plant yields its fruit in season, we can hope to live out lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control as our Father does His gardening.

A newly planted dwarf cherry tree requires a surprising amount of water each day to keep it growing.  Great care was taken when we planted ours that a suitably deep hole was dug, that it was wide enough for the roots to arrange themselves comfortably and that the soil was the best we could afford.  It was then lovingly watered and we hired someone to continue the job while we were away.  The result?  Cherries.  Lots and lots of big, beautiful, fat, juicy cherries.

My bible sits on my kitchen table daily but I don’t take care nearly as much as I could to ensure that my plant, the life I’ve been given, is daily nurtured and saturated in its riches.  So it is no surprise that irritability and impatience are more in evidence than the fruit that God desires.    If I am to grow, I cannot afford this summer to neglect my spiritual garden; and I can’t hire anyone to do the job for me either.

The believer will not grow by roaming around looking for his food as an animal does.  Our food is always right in front of us, found in exactly the same place every mealtime. ‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’  Colossians 2:6

So as I prepare for a feast of summer reading, I hope I’ll be wise enough to keep feeding on His Word.