Tuesday, July 29, 2008

At Home in Mitford

My friend Lauren Yarger gave me this book, the first in a series of novels about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim, in a small North Carolina town. Lauren loves these stories and I can see why. Author Jan Karon has created a world I’d like to visit, peopled with lovable characters living everyday lives. It’s low-keyed, yet that simplicity is what reflects the beauty of the Incarnation. This book is a treasure.

I would love to have Father Tim as a friend or be part of his parish. He’s a man of strong faith who knows his Bible well, but he’s never preachy. As he says, he likes having scripture on hand to rise up and meet any occasion of the day. He mostly keeps these passages to himself, but we have access to his thought and I loved reading his reaction to any situation. It made me wish I knew scripture that well. One of his favorite verses is Philippians 4:13 -- “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

While Father Tim, who turns 60 in the book, doesn’t go around spouting Bible verses to the town folks or his parishioners, he is quick to call out a scripture reference to one listener -- his dog, Barnabas, since this is the only way to calm down the frisky hound. “That dog knows more scripture than most people,” said his neighbor, Cynthia.

A confirmed bachelor, Father Tim is drawn to Cynthia, a children’s book author new to Mitford, and she to him, but he’s unsure about how to proceed. “’Lord,’ he prayed. ‘I’m not used to this ‘going out’ business. Some might tell me to follow my instincts but I’ve spent so many years trying to follow yours that I’ve nearly lost the hang of following mine. So, thank you for being in on this and handling it to please yourself.’ There! That put the burden squarely on the Lord, he thought.”

I also loved Father Tim’s homespun wisdom about ordinary life. He was always right on target. Here’s his take on getting down to work: “How could he have considered taking Monday off? Monday was the diving board poised over the rest of the week. One walked out on the board, reviewed the situation, planned one’s strategy, bounced a few times to get the feel of things, and then made a clean dive. Without Monday, one simply bombed into the water, belly first, and hoped for the best.”

Karon says she writes “to give readers an extended family, and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” She does this beautifully in At Home in Mitford. It’s nice to know I still have a whole series of these books to explore.

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