Take a little time during holiday activities and read something together: a story, a poem, an Advent devotional, a Psalm, Luke chapter 2, a children’s book. You’ll create closeness, meaningful traditions, and enrich your Christmas celebration.
Sample pages from BIBLE POEMS (with reader doodles)
The creativity of Donna Marie Merritt, poet and author of Bible Poems for Reflection and Responseextends even beyond her poetic word pictures. She had the idea of giving her readers the opportunity to not only reflect on her poems (which themselves are reflections on the Bible) but to allow space on the pages, including 17 blank pages, for readers to respond with their own poems, thoughts, prayers, drawings and doodles. The book released this month (September 1, 2020). What we’ve already heard from readers tells us this book is encouraging reflection:
“These jewels, these pearls each carry a small glimmer of truth, wisdom, stern instruction, and unconditional love.”
“I am delighted to take away thoughtful pieces … to meditate on further.”
“The questions raised throughout the book help me evaluate, repent, and respond with worship.”
One reader sent us photos of the reflective/responsive art she created on the book pages. You can view those colorful doodles in this short video:
As a publisher I love to bring authors and readers together, and especially I love it when they are reflecting together on God’s truth, creation, and the life of faith. In this way, writing—and reading—a book of poetry can lead to worship expressed in words, art and action.
Publishing is not complete until readers have read, digested, and interacted with the book’s contents.
The book may hold something different for each reader. They may even glean meanings of their own. The reader plays an integral role in the whole process/picture/purpose of publishing.
For instance, a “blurb” describing a book may appear on the back cover, on bookseller catalog pages and promo materials. An editor, a marketing person, or the author may write these descriptive blurbs. But we have worked so closely with the book’s content that we may not express its benefits with the same freshness as a reader just discovering the book’s treasures and the author’s unique voice and message.
When readers choose to share their reactions to—and interactions with—a book, and post a review, they often describe the contents and benefits better than we have done. The newest AGATES Book of Poetry release—I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble—has prompted readers/ reviewers to articulate their responses in words that I wish I had thought of myself! For example, in these comments recently posted on Amazon:
“I was so fortunate to find this book at a time when I was going through an absolute low. Not only did [Sarah Noble’s] words bring me comfort and healing during this time but it made me feel like I’m not alone in this turmoil. She covers so many of the intricacies within grief, mourning, depression, loss, struggle, and pain. Her words create this powerful imagery that also shows the possibility of something truly beautiful coming from such dark times.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect while reading this book, particularity because I am not in a time of lamenting in my life. What I discovered, though, was that it helped me realize how fortunate I am right now not be be in a place of despair, but also recognize how friends in my life may be and how this book would be powerful and helpful. Most importantly, this book emphasizes how in all phases of life, Christ is present and living and how His father, and ours, is clinging fervently to us.”
Susan Jenkins writes:
“When I first held this book in my hands, I turned to the table of contents and was immediately engrossed in the extensive scope of its poems. Hard subjects are included in the segment of PAIN, such as Migraines, Suffering, Crush, Wail and Stiff Neck. The author bravely addresses each topic, and in a gentle approach that, I believe, brings a sense of healing to the heart and mind. The other three sections—BEAUTY, CHRIST and WONDER—are all as descriptive, encouraging and even playful at times, speaking to the interior of the reader’s very soul.”
Bethany McKnight-Kamau writes:
“Sarah manages to express the total range of human emotion with a heart that is continually bowed in worship. The images that she creates through her words paint beautiful pictures of pain, disappointment, gratitude and hope. Beautifully written!”
This never fails to bring us great satisfaction: to see a book go full circle from the author’s experience to the reader’s experience. From insights and observations that captured the writer’s imagination, heart and mind—to words presented artfully on the pages of a book, reaching readers and capturing their imaginations, hearts and minds!
Depending on what part of the country/world you live in, you may have already winterized your home by “backing out” the sprinkler system, cutting back perennials in the garden, mulching roses, bringing in or covering patio furniture, checking insulation around windows and doors, etc. Here in Colorado we have done some of those things. Days are mostly warm still, but night temperatures can plummet. Maybe you live in the southern hemisphere and you’re preparing for summer. You may want to read this post six months from now. More northern parts may have already seen snow as in the photo above. Brrrrr.
Christina Slike has advice for those who are preparing for shorter, colder days and for spending more time indoors:
Have you winterized your home inside?
The season is just around the corner, but there’s still time to prepare. Here’s how you can get through the extra-long dark evenings and nights:
Dust your bookshelves and nightstands.
Organize the books around your house.
Be excited about new adventures and knowledge you can find in a new book.
Order some recently-released books from Cladach. (see below)
While waiting for your new reads to arrive, I recommend you have a blanket, hot drink, and a comfortable, well-lit lounge area ready.
Congratulations. You’ve winterized your home! When the Cladach books arrive from:
Because I value the gift, solace, and challenge of poetry, I have started collecting quotes that help illumine the process and purpose of poetry. I’ll add to the list as I find good ones, from both historical and contemporary sources. Here is what I have so far:
“…the music of the soul.” ~Voltaire
“…the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” ~Samuel Johnson
“…the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself.” ~William Hazlitt
“…[that which] makes my body so cold no fire can warm me,” [and makes me} “feel as if the top of my head were taken off.” ~Emily Dickinson
“…not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.” ~T.S. Eliot
“…the breath and finer spirit of knowledge.” ~William Wordsworth
“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.” ~Dylan Thomas
“Make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.” ~Wendell Berry
“Through poetry, [we] can inquire about the world and [our] place in it…. It is a communal form of inquiry directed towards discovering universal truths.” ~Nayeli Riano
“Poetry is, to me, the art of putting the NOW into words.” ~Gary Haddis
“Poetry calls upon us to probe our deepest emotions and longings.” ~Sharon Olds
“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” ~Robert Frost
“People who pray, need to learn poetry.” ~Eugene Peterson
“To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.” ~Edgar Allen Poe
“A good poet tries to lead you into universal experience by leading you into a shot of concrete experience–one flower, one frog…That’s what it takes to pull you into the depth of everything.” ~Richard Rohr
“Poetry, like faith, can look at the back as well as the front of reason; it can survey reason all round.” ~Charles Williams
“Poetry, in capturing the moment, captures the soul.” ~Mary Harwell Sayler
“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel—but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling—not knowing or believing or thinking.” ~E.E. Cummings
“In poetry the words are the body and the ‘theme’ or ‘content’ is the soul.” ~C.S. Lewis
“A poet is a man who is glad of something and tries to make other people glad of it, too.” ~George MacDonald (in his novel, At the Back of the North Wind)
“What draws us to poetry is its ability to connect with us by burying ideas beneath the mere words written. Subtext is the magic that keeps us coming back. But in order for the magic to work, the text above the subtext must always remain somewhat ambiguous.” ~Greg Boyd (in regard to biblical poetry)
“To me, that’s the gift of poetry—it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life. … Reading poems can help bring clarity and insight to emotions that can be confusing or contradictory.” ~Caroline Kennedy
If you enjoy digesting good poetry, and if you find yourself craving poems that are “delicious, nutritious, crisp, textured, with just the right touch of spice” … then you’ll agree with poet (and poetry editor) Mary Harwell Sayler who uses these culinary words to describe poetry that stands out from the usual crowded buffet of verse filled with “empty calories, rehashed left-overs, and saccharine sweetness.”
I agree with Mary about the importance of a creative, healthy diet of poetry. Sometimes I feel the need for “comfort food” poems that warm my heart like savory stew warms my insides. Or poems that stimulate my senses the way a good, strong cup of coffee wakes me up in the morning. Or poems that bring the catharsis of tears and laughter, like lunch with friends.
Help yourself to a serving of skillfully and lovingly-prepared, delicious poetry today.
As a publisher, I love to hear stories of how our titles have found their way into every corner of the world and into the hands of readers. I occasionally hear from authors with stories like the following.
“Last night in the Shelter an ultra-orthodox [Jewish] man — with a long beard and dressed in black — about our age checked in and wanted to talk to John and me about the Israel Trail. He was not in the usual age category of hikers who stay at our shelter, and it is unusual to find an ultra-orthodox walking the Trail. He’s from England, and turns out he already read Walk The Land in English and even quoted bits of it. Now he plans to walk the Trail for a few days and had some specific questions about water, sleeping, etc. After talking for about 45 minutes, John asked him what he thought about the spiritual parts of the book. He answered diplomatically that we had our differences. But it was an interesting conversation and contact.”
“An old friend back in high school found me on Facebook and we got together for coffee. She told me that she was attending a women’s conference in Texas a couple of years ago and Scandalon was offered as one of the books to buy. She bought it and then realized that it was me who wrote it. As it turns out, she told me that her parents didn’t allow her to attend church back in high school, but she came to my dad’s church once with her next-door neighbor. As a result of that service she became a Christian. A few years later, she married a pastor and has been a pastor’s wife for decades.
“The second story is from one of my former students in southern China, Muti. Muti wrote me recently and told me he was walking along a street in Hong Kong, and on a shelf outside a bookstore was Scandalon. He talked with the bookstore owner and she told him she liked the book because of the stories about China. So, of course, he bought a copy.”
Whether they find their way to Texas, Hong Kong, England, or Israel – What a joy and privilege to publish these books.
Here’s an eclectic list of books, varied in subject, genre, and form. I like to find the best in popular books, old and new, and find hidden gems that are less-well known but sometimes even more worthy of being found on a “best-seller” list. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite among these:
(In no particular order)
STONE BY STONE: Tear Down the Wall Between God’s Heart and Yoursby Jasona Brown (WhiteFire, 2015) – I’m part of a group of prayer ministers in my church. We spent several months this past year reading and discussing this book and praying together over personal issues that came up. Stone by Stone brings to light obstacles in our hearts that hinder us from freely and fully receiving God’s love and living in wholeness, in the joy of the Lord. Topics covered include:guilt, unforgiveness, lies believed, trauma, and unhealed memories. I enjoyed the conversational style of the author, the way she so transparently shared her own story, and the way her compassion for hurting people comes through.
A GUIDE FOR LISTENING AND INNER HEALING PRAYER: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach (NavPress, 2011) – As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive guide. It includes personal stories from the authors life and examples from other people’s lives as well. I recommend it to anyone desiring to remove barriers to intimacy with God and to be free of negative emotions that have plagued you for years, to experience release, freedom, and healing of emotional wounds. This book can lead individuals step-by-step in that healing process, and it can equip groups like the one I’m in, to facilitate a listening and inner-healing prayer ministry for the wounded people the Lord brings to us.
THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Free Press, 2007) – Science has not been my forte. But this is a fascinating book. Like many Christians, I had some skepticism. Can you really believe both science and the Bible? Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project presents a clear and sincere personal testimony of coming to faith in Jesus. He also discusses scientific discoveries in an easy-to-follow way that I actually enjoyed. He says we don’t have to choose between science and God. Especially helpful is Collins’ explanation of how and why a Bible-believing Christian may accept the theory of evolution.
SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central, 2014) – I love poetry and have a collection of poetry books. Some are antiques that belonged to my great-grandmother. Some are tomes I studied in college. I turn to poetry in times of deep emotion and it helps me walk through those times. Well, for my birthday last year I received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I decided I wanted a current volume of poetry. I remembered seeing a small “Poetry” section in our local B&N. When I went there, that section had disappeared, but a few poetry books were squeezed on half a shelf somewhere at the bottom of the “fiction” section. Sad. The pickings were slim. But She Walks in Beauty stood out to me. After scanning the topics (“Falling In Love” “Marriage” “Work” “Growing Up and Growing Old” “Friendship” “Silence and Solitude”) I bought the book. It didn’t disappoint. Ms. Kennedy included poems by some of my “old” favorites, such as Frost, Yeats, Browning and also introduced me to contemporary poets. She even included Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and poetic passages from the Bible. The poems cover nearly every aspect of a woman’s life. To me the best parts, though, were Ms.Kennedy’s insightful, personal, and beautifully-expressed introductions to each subject group of poems.
SOLDIER’S HEART: A Novel by Michele McKnight Baker (Heritage Beacon, 2015) – I read this Civil-War era novel in manuscript form. Many fiction manuscripts have crossed my desk through the years. But few have made as strong an impression on me as this one did. An agent sent me the manuscript. During 15 years of acquiring manuscripts for Cladach, only twice have I failed to win a contract for a book I really wanted to publish. Soldier’s Heart is one of those. The characters, the setting, the time period, the twists of plot, authentic conflicts, and the theme of generational sins and reconciliations make Soldier’s Heart an unforgettable read. What we now call PTSD, often diagnosed in military personnel returning from war, used to be called “soldier’s heart.” If you enjoy Christian historical fiction—read this novel.
ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFULby James Herriot (Bantam, 1974) – One winter day I felt like reading something cozy and familiar; so I perused the well-worn volumes of my personal library and pulled some James Herriot books off the shelf. I first read his warm and wonderful series of Yorkshire-vet tales in the 1980s. The Chicago Tribune (according to the back cover) said this book was “bursting with love, laughter and the joy of life” and a “soul-satisfying autobiographical book. Human beings just naturally respond to a writer as lovable, wholesome, eloquent, humorous and well-stocked with anecdotes as James Herriot.” I agree. Worth keeping for decades and reading over again.
ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: Lessons from the Sheepfold by Marilyn Bay Wentz and Mildred Nelson Bay (Cladach, 2015) – I read this book more closely than any other on this list, since I edited it! When Marilyn first sent her completed manuscript, which I had agreed to publish, I had just read a couple of James Herriot’s books. He describes so vividly his experiences with sheep and other farm animals. I looked forward to more such stories from a sheep farmer I knew, right here in Colorado. During the revision process, I asked authors Marilyn and Millie, “Do you enjoy your sheep? Do you love what you do— the farm, the outdoors, the mornings and evenings, the barn, the pastures, etc? Your choices of words, images, vignettes will help me experience the sheep farm vicariously. I want to smell the sweet hay, to hear the lambs bleat, to feel a newborn lamb, the bite of a chilly midnight during lambing season. I want to laugh and cry with you as you deal with rogue dogs and coyotes, search for a lost lamb, watch your flock come running as they recognize your voice.” Marilyn and Millie caught the vision of “creative nonfiction” and accomplished the feat of writing their shepherding experiences as stories with dialogue, sensory details, and emotion. In an entertaining way, the authors “show us” as well as teach us why the Bible says we are all like sheep.
THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord (Intervarsity Press, 2015) – I have some of my preacher father’s and some of my preacher grandfather’s theology books that were handed down to me. I’ve acquired and studied other, more recent theological books, mostly written from the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, as well as broader Evangelical and even a few Reformed works. In recent years, have enjoyed books by N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann. I heard about Thomas Jay Oord before I knew of his many books. Since we had mutual acquaintances, I responded to Mr. Oord’s request for readers to review his then-forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. I read it in pdf form. This book provokes thought and lays out a convincing case concerning why evil happens even though “God is love.” You can read my Amazon review of the book here.
LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (Penguin Audio, 2009) I own three video/DVD versions of Les Miserables — an old movie, a more recent movie, and a stage musical production. The story—with its timeless themes of justice, mercy, and redemption—always inspires and the music lifts me. I wanted to read the book, but haven’t yet tackled that thick volume. Instead, I started an Audible membership and downloaded this Audible/audio version of the great classic. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and enjoyed this abridged, well-narrated version of the book. An accessible way for tired or busy eyes to devour and relish great literature.
My friend, Margaret, who lives in Alaska, saw this intriguing set-up in a front yard. I think I’d be curious enough to open the little door and see what gems of stories and poems might be inside for the taking and reading. I’d feel a spark of anticipation that I might glean some insight, delight, or window into the soul of the author, who evidently loves flowers, is creative, and values people as well as written expression.
If you have something to say and enjoy sharing your gift with others, you can find a way to be published!