As the mother of three young children and a farm wife during the busy season, my reading time is late at night after everyone (including my snoring farmer husband) is asleep. I am well-versed in all kinds of booklights. Likewise, my listening time usually involves dishes and dinner-making.
It's taken me a while to learn some lessons about art and beauty: sometimes beauty is revealed not through good feelings but through darkness, pain, suffering, and ugliness. Here are some books and music that are beautiful in lots of different ways. A few of them are currently depriving me of sleep or are turned up loud enough to be heard over the running dishwater.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (fiction)
I am loving this novel set several decades after the death of King Arthur in ancient England. Giant follows an elderly couple named Axl and Beatrice who, like most of folks around them, have lost many of their memories to a mysterious mist that seems to cover the land. When Axl finally fights back the fogginess to leave their underground home in search of the vague memory of their son, the couple find that their desire to get back their memories comes with a price. For not all memories are fond.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (fiction)
When she is 17 years old, village girl Agnieszka is unexpectedly chosen to live with the Dragon, a sorcerer overlord who protects her village from the deadly forest as long as he is given a girl every ten years. Even though she is nearly sure the Dragon won't harm her, her anger and stubbornness at being torn from her home reveal gifts she didn't know she had. Agnieszka encounters deadly trees, magic curses, a dangerously powerful queen, and unexpected love in this tale of the long-lasting consequences of our fear and anger.
The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr (non-fiction spirituality and theology)
My first Rohr book was The Enneagram: a Spiritual Perspective, a Christian look at the nine personalities. In The Naked Now, Rohr uses elements of psychotherapy and spirituality to talk about the ways we limit ourselves to dual, black-and-white thinking. By reframing the Bible and the words of Jesus, Rohr emphasizes a mystical rather than rational approach to the Bible. Exploring the wisdom of Jesus, Christian contemplatives, and some forms of Eastern thought, Rohr shows us how learning to live in the present can change our future.
Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens (Alternative album)
This gorgeously painful album recounts Stevens' journey through the devastation and confusion he felt after his mother's death. From the sad resignation of I forgive you, mother, I can hear you/And I long to be near you/But every road leads to an end of "Death with Dignity" to the earnest plea to Jesus in "John my Beloved":
So can we contend, peacefully, before my history ends?Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield meFrom fossils that fall on my headThere’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I'm dead
My children and I have all been captured by Stevens' haunted trudging through life, love, and loss. The other night when my children wanted to be sung a lullaby, they asked for "the song about the man whose mom dies." It took me a while to realize they wanted me to sing "Fourth of July" so I began
The evil it spread like a fever aheadIt was night when you died, my fireflyWhat could I have said to raise you from the dead?Oh could I be the sky on the Fourth of July?
Well you do enough talkMy little hawk, why do you cry?Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?Or the Fourth of July?We’re all gonna die
(CAUTION: I haven't let my children listen to all of the songs; several of them are probably not appropriate for younger listening ears).
Psalms by Sandra McCracken (Christian/Gospel album)
Dating back to my childhood when my father would have us memorize them every summer, the Psalms have been a big part of my life. At the time, I was annoyed with his insistence but I thank my father now; I've recalled those memorized Psalms over and over throughout my life when I've needed comfort, relief, and words for the prayers I couldn't pray. In recent interview, McCracken says "The Psalms gave me words when I didn’t have my own words. They prompted me to sing a new song when I couldn’t find my voice. They directed my heart toward God’s faithful, saving love. They have drawn me deeper into a life of gratitude, often by being willing to go deeper into honest sorrow." I was happy to hear McCracken offer new melodies, new words, and new ways of bringing the Psalms into my home and life. Her voice is like the Psalms themselves: aching, beautiful, emotive, and prayerful.