Tag Archive | Literature

Esther and the Purim Party

I read the book of Esther last week and was struck again by what an amazing book it is. What a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences.
 
Chapters 1-2
Israel is in exile, under the reign of King Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4).[1] With that much partying it is no wonder that he is somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.
 
He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).

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Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 1)

“Why should I believe the Bible?”

That is a very important question. In the next couple of posts, we will briefly consider various aspects of the Bible so that we are in a better position to answer that question.[1]

First, the Bible is…

Literature

The Bible is a very distinct piece of literature; it is truly unlike any other literary work. It is unique.

The Bible is the best selling book of all time and the most translated book of all time.[2] The figures vary but it is estimated that there are approximately 44 million copies sold each year. The Bible, whatever your opinion about its supernatural nature, should be read by all people. Reading and understanding the Bible is important in part because of the huge cultural impact it has had.[3] “No other book in all human history has in turn inspired the writing of so many books as the Bible.”[4]

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Ecclesiastes: Necessary Destruction

A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.

At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?

Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.

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C.S. Lewis on the Importance of Reading Old Books

As part of our book diet, C.S. Lewis reminds us to not leave out old books. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).

Lewis is wise to also say that,

“People were no clever then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).

What is Art?

So, what is art? That is a difficult question. Let’s look at some examples I’ve gathered. Art is…

…according to a dictionary:

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

~dictionary.com 

…indefinable

You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition.

~Marcel Duchamp , French painter and sculptor

…imitation or creation

Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.

~Marc Chagall, Russian-French artist

…creating beauty or harmony

Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me.

~Georgia O’Keefe, American painter

Art is harmony.

~Georges Seurat, French painter

…an expression of our innate desire to decorate

The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankinds deep-rooted primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance… it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment.

~Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Swiss multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer

…something that reveals the essential or hidden truth

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

~Paul Klee, Swiss painter

 

…a blessed mistake, a misfiring

Art is like the feathers of a peacock; there is no ultimate reason for it. It is nothing more than a leftover impulse from our distant ancestors. It is a mere signal to potential mates that we have enough time, resources, and leisure to be able to waste time on extravagance.

~This seems to be the Darwinian view (cf. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 253)

…thought expressed

To give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought, this—and only this—is to be an artist.

~Jacques-Louis David, French painter

…a source of calm in a chaotic world

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

~Henri Matisse, French artist   

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.

~Saul Bellow, American novelist

…self-expression or autobiography

What is art? Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief. It is born of people’s lives.

~Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist

 All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

~Federico Fellini, Italian film director

…communication of feelings

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling—this is the activity of art.

~Leo Tolstoy, Russian author

Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus.

~David Hockney, British artist

 …labor

Art begins with resistance — at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

~André Gide in Poétique

…philosophy

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.

~ Michelangelo Pistoletto in Art’s Responsibility

…according to my favorite definition:

“One individual personality has definite or special talent for expressing, in some medium, what other personalities can hear, see, smell, feel, taste, understand, enjoy, be stimulated by, be involved in, find refreshment in, find satisfaction in, find fulfillment in, experience reality in, be agonized by, be pleased by, enter into, but which they could not produce themselves…

Art in various forms expresses and gives opportunity to others to share in, and respond to, things which would otherwise remain vague, empty yearnings. Art satisfies and fulfills something in the person creating and in those responding…

One person’s expression of art stimulates another person and brings about growth in understanding, sensitivity and appreciation.

~ Edith Schaeffer in The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Quotes on Literature

“When we are at play, or looking at a painting or a stature, or reading a story, the imaginary work must have such an effect on us that it enlarges our own sense of reality.”

~Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

“Students value literature as a means of enlarging their knowledge of the world, because through literature they acquire not so much additional information as additional experience.”

~Marie Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration

“Literature… serves to deepen and to extend human greatness through the nurture of beauty, understanding, and compassion. In none of these ways, of course, can literature, unless it be the literature of the Christian faith, lead us to the City of God, but it may make our life in the city of man far more a thing of joy and meaning and humanity, and that in itself is no small achievement. Great literature may not be a Jacob’s ladder by which we can climb to heave, but it provides an invaluable staff with which to walk the earth.”

~Roland M. Frye, Perspectives on Man: Literature and the Christian Tradition

“Art is one of the means by which man grabbles with and assimilates reality.”

~Ralph Fox, The Novel and the People

“The primary job that any writer faces is to tell you a story of human experience—I mean by that, universal mutual experience, the anguishes and troubles and gifts of the human heart, which is universal, without regard to race or time or condition.”

~William Faulkner, Faulkner at West Point

“A poem… begins in delight and ends in wisdom [and]… a clarification of life… For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew… There is a glad recognition of the long lost.”

~Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes”

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See Leland Ryken, The Christian Imagination 

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