Reading in Transit: Jana Riess and Julie Schumacher

Authors Bookstore at MSP -- irresistible section

Context (or Chatter)

I spend more time writing than reading, these days — too little of both — and I read online more than I read printed books. But if you read this blog, you probably don’t need me to tell you there’s a charm in holding the book in your hands and turning actual pages instead of staring at a screen. Also, actual books have a far longer battery life.

I’m in Bloomington, Indiana, just now, traveling with a family member who has an audition today at Indiana University’s sprawling, beautiful campus (which must be simply gorgeous when it’s green). I spent lots of hours in and between airports yesterday. Much of that time I spent reading actual books, and it was delightful.

On a similar trip to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, I found Authors Bookstore, a charming airport bookstore at Minneapolis-St. Paul, and bought a very promising, shortish novel which claims to a national bestseller. I’m not disputing that; its renown is sufficiently compatible with my never having heard of it before. I started reading it then and finished it yesterday.

Authors Bookstore at MSP
A little bibliophile Mecca at MSP

Then I finished a book I picked up almost on a whim in Salt Lake City a few months ago and starting reading on the warm, sunny commuter train (and platform) at the end of workdays. It was excellent too, and the fact that I read the second half of it only yesterday doesn’t disparage its charms at all. I do that with books, even very fine books.

And yes, I’d be pleased to tell you more. Thanks for asking.

Short Take: Parallel Experiences

Author’s Note

In 1 Nephi 1 Lehi’s experience resembles Joseph Smith’s later experience with visions and the gold plates (see Joseph Smith – History), and foretells our own experience with the Book of Mormon.

Troubled by prophets’ warnings that Jerusalem must repent or be destroyed, Lehi prays “with all his heart in behalf of his people” (v. 5). Like Joseph, who prayed with a different question and later in penance for his own sins, Lehi sees a pillar of fire and hears much. Like Joseph, he is physically exhausted afterward (v. 6-7).

Another vision follows. In it a heavenly being (perhaps Christ) descends from heaven with twelve others. As Moroni to Joseph, they bring to Lehi a book. (See vv. 9-12.)

Lehi reads and learns of the imminent Babylonian captivity (v. 13) and other things. The book tells of God’s mercy, and “the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world” (v. 19).

Not coincidentally, this happens in the first chapter of a book we are commanded to read – a testament of Christ, and an account of the scattering and gathering of Israel – which was first delivered to our dispensation by an angel responding to earnest prayer.

Like Lehi and Joseph, we’re to teach what we learn from the book. We hope not to be threatened with death, as they were, but we can expect a common blessing with Lehi and Joseph nonetheless: as we read, we too will be “filled with the spirit of the Lord” (v. 12).

Short Take: “Our Daily Bread”

Author’s Note

In the scriptures Jesus both prays and teaches prayer. His best-known instruction is what we Christians call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4; 3 Nephi 13:9-13).

In this model prayer Jesus praises his Father and acknowledges his own subordinate place – as we might well do from our lowlier position. He asks for big things: “Thy kingdom come,” and so forth, showing that he knows and is committed to the big picture. Then he turns to daily needs: forgiveness, protection from evil, and food.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” he says. But why should I ask for it? Don’t I buy it – and the minivan and fuel I use to haul it home – with money I earn by working?

I might feel independent, but in truth our dependence on God is total.

Paul said, “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. . . . In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28).

King Benjamin said, “[He] is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21).

Much later, the Lord himself explained that the power of God “is in all things [and] giveth life to all things” (D&C 88:13) and “enlighteneth your eyes” and “quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 88:11).

By asking – or thanking – God for my daily bread, I acknowledge him as the ultimate source of all life, including mine.

C. S. Lewis on Prayer and More

I was looking for some things C. S. Lewis said on praying for people we don’t like, including tyrants, for something over at FreedomHabit.com, when I encountered these gems:

  • “In praying for people one dislikes I find it helpful to remember that one is joining in His prayer for them.” (a 1951 letter)
  • “We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter 4)
  • “For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter 11)
  • “You don’t teach a seed how to die into treehood by throwing it in the fire: and it has to become a good seed before it’s worth burying.” (3 December 1959 letter)

The last of these suggests a good goal: to become a good seed, “worth burying,” before I am buried.

Short Take: The King’s Prayer

Author’s Note

King Lamoni’s father, a Lamanite, is learning the gospel from Aaron. He wants immortality and eternal life. He wants the Holy Ghost to change his wicked heart. Aaron tells him he must call upon God.

As he prays, notice that there is no pretense. He doesn’t pretend to faith or knowledge that he doesn’t have. He doesn’t try to impress Aaron or save face with his servants. He’s unafraid to use the if word, where God’s very existence is concerned. He starts where he is, as he is, with desire, a bit of hope, and the early symptoms of faith.

He prays, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, will thou make thyself known unto me. . . .”

Notice also that he already knows the exact price of what he wants: “I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 22:18).

We could do worse than to pray like a Lamanite.

By the way, the results in this case were spectacular.