//SCWH: Requiem (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

“Would you mind talking more about your last statement?” “You didn’t mention psychological horror!” “What about Frankenstein and other classics?” I had enough responses to the last post (after just twelve hours, guys! Whoa!) that I realized I needed to write a followup post and discuss some of the topics readers brought up.

I decided to start by expounding on the postscript I made to the last post. I stated, “After discussing this with Arielle, we came to the same conclusion: redeemed horror cannot, in the strict sense of the word, remain true horror. It may start out as such, but it would be something else by the end. And that, I think, is a good thing.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘horror’ as the quality of something that causes feelings of fear, dread, and shock : the horrible or shocking quality or character of something.

Three hundred and sixty-five times, the Bible uses the phrase “Do not be afraid” or another version of the same idea. Not because there’s nothing scary happening, but because we as Christians don’t need to be afraid. There’s something bigger than our fear out there, and it has our back.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Most horror definitely doesn’t leave us thinking about true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy things. You’ll notice Paul didn’t say don’t ever think about anything that ISN’T on this list but we can call this verse a guideline. Horror is a powerful genre because the imagery stays in our brains, and the storytelling pulls no punches. It’s in-your-face. It’s graphic. It’s, well, horrifying.

Personally, I believe powerful genres should be redeemed, and I believe horror definitely can be. The demon is cast out by a higher power, for instance – that’s redemptive. But the point of most modern horror is Evil Wins. That’s something I can’t get behind. In the Grand Story, evil doesn’t win, which means the idea that ‘evil wins’ on a large scale is a lie. Lies don’t sit well with me.

So what I mean when I say that redeemed horror isn’t truly ‘horror’ is that in redeemed horror, evil does not win. And evil winning is what true Lovecraftian horror is all about. (An argument could be made for slasher horror, where usually one protagonist escapes, but I can’t think of a single instance where ‘one person living’ made up for the rest of the carnage.)

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE ‘HORROR’ THINGS

In my last post I gushed about creature-horror (or ‘creature features’) and how much I love it, but now I’ll give a few more examples of well-done fiction that falls under the heading of ‘horror’ these days.

  • Classic gothic horror. We’re talking Stoker, Shelley, and Poe here. Stoker is plain flipping awesome, and provides TONS of religious, symbolic imagery in which good triumphs over evil. Shelley is all about monsters, experimentation, and reanimation – which are incredibly complex, unceasingly fascinating subjects. Poe is more of a mixed bag – the man could write horror like nobody’s business, but I don’t like everything he wrote. Good won sometimes, sometimes it didn’t. Other favorite ‘horror’ classics are Jekyll & Hyde and The Invisible Man.
  • Zombies. I LOVE ZOMBIES, OKAY. There’s so much potential where zombies are concerned. I love the ghoulishness and the humanity and the different ways it’s portrayed. I love it.[Speaking of which, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is now available digitally. You should get it, because it’s one of my favorite movies ever. I saw it four times in theaters.] I also love mummies. LOVE. Love mummies.
  • Psycho-thrillers. I think psycho-thrillers are often labelled ‘psycho-horror,’ and I suppose that’s because twisty, bendy, psychological chaos is kind of horrifying (nobody wants to live in such situations) but personally, psycho-thriller is one of my favorite genres. It’s a genre that makes you think and question. One of my upcoming novels, Nihilum, delves into the psycho-thriller category.

Many things fall under the umbrella of ‘horror,’ but sometimes horror means horror and sometimes horror means scary. I’m all for scariness. I love it. I’ve always been extremely difficult to scare, so thoroughly enjoy things that try (although they rarely succeed). But horror – that which revels in carnage, terror, and evil without enough goodness to redeem the story – is not something I will ever write or condone. It isn’t thought-provoking, it isn’t entertaining, and it isn’t something I want to spend time on.

CREATURE-HORROR EXAMPLE: I adore Alien versus Predator. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies ever. But I disliked the sequel very much. In AVP, we have lots of courage, determination and self-sacrifice. In  Alien versus Predator: Requipem,we have cruelty, unnecessary killings, and honestly, the darkness of the cinematography made it hard to see. The only good part was Wolf, the Predator who arrives to clean up the xenomorph mess – and (spoiler) Wolf is killed by humans. So we have the character who was attempting to save the humans and fix everything is killed. I don’t like that.

TO SUM UP: Good has to be stronger than evil. And that’s that.

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//should Christians write horror?

“I WANT TO WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT SOMETHING TO DO WITH STORIES.” I was sitting with my feet propped up on the windowsill, staring at a blank page. Arielle, always eerily at the ready with an answer (seriously, it’s basically a superpower) said, “WRITE ABOUT WHETHER YOU THINK CHRISTIANS SHOULD WRITE HORROR.” Well, I thought. Yes. Good.

I have limited knowledge of the horror genre. It’s never particularly appealed to me – or I should say, it’s never appealed to me in and of itself. 90% of my horror-movie knowledge is from sitting in theaters, watching the previews. I could skip watching these, but they help me write suspense – watching camera angles, cinematography, suspenseful lines, etc.

But when it comes to actual horror movies, there is one genre I really like: creature movies. I adore creature movies. From old black-and-whites like Them or The Creature from the Black Lagoon to The Blob (the Steve McQueen version, obviously) to The Thing (both versions) to The Cave and every Predator movie – they’re my jam. Also, ever since the time my brother watched Jaws with me for the first time and we got hungry for bagels halfway through, I’ve been hungry during every creature movie, ever. (Note: the only time this has gone wrong was when I decided to eat cold, leftover sausage during John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. For some reason that particular alien + cold sausage = not the most agreeable thing to my appetite. I did it, though.)

As for paranormal horror movies, 99% of the time I’d have to say I have no interest. Granted, I’m not usually even tempted (aside from Crimson Peak. Because it looks gorgeous, and it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and…)

However, I’ve read some ‘horror’ books (Dekker, Peretti, Zindel) so I feel I can answer the question ‘Should Christians write horror?’ with a definite IT DEPENDS.

I feel like Christians have their opinions on horror split down the middle. One half says “ALL HORROR IS EVIL AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED” and the other half says “EVERYTHING IS ACCEPTABLE AND FINE, CHILL.”

Well, everything is NOT acceptable, but every genre can be redeemed (except probably erotica. Which is self-explanatory) if it’s done right. I’m a firm believer that broken things can be fixed, and most horror is ‘broken’ because God is nowhere to be found.

Most paranormal horror stories involved several things: ghosts/demons/lots of stupidity/lots of murder/lots of sex/lots of brain-searing, gruesome violence/lots of graphic imagery.

I remember one time a friend was writing a horror story and he asked me to read it, because he needed a second opinion. I agreed, because he was a Christian, and a good writer on top of that. The main character in the story was a Christian, and the story involved demonic activity. When I finished it, I told him that it was well-written, but there was no point to it. When he asked what I meant, I told him the main character was a Christian, but to what end? So he had a ‘Christian’ main character – if it didn’t affect the story, there was no reason for him to be a Christian in the first place.

In paranormal horror, the horrors (be they ghosts, demons, or serial killers) run rampant, cutting a bloody swath through the cast. The purpose of these movies is to shock and frighten – and if you’ll forgive me for saying so, shock and fear just aren’t enough for me. If I want to be shocked and frightened, I’ll read an article about the upcoming election. Shock value isn’t a redeeming feature, and most horror movies have no interest in redemption – which is why I don’t like them.

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was this whole post an excuse to include a gif of my predator boyfriend? maybe

I stated earlier that I adore creature-horror but don’t go for paranormal-horror, and let me explain why. Creature-horror frequently has a heavy focus on humanity. It focuses on a cast of characters as they band together against a common enemy. From what I’ve seen of the paranormal-horror genre, the movies tend to delve into some very cultic themes, with absolutely no spiritually redemptive qualities. Creature movies a) don’t have the cultic/spiritual element – rather, it’s usually aliens or mutants or some such and b) have a larger focus on the people in the movie rather than the shock value/horror aspect.

Paranormal horror tends to dwell heavily on evil. Creature horror tends to dwell on…well, creatures.

Are these huge differences? Well, to me they are. They make the story good – although not all of them are this way. (I didn’t finish the Alien sequel because I couldn’t stand anybody in it. Plus there were no Predators, which is the whole point of an Alien movie. Wait, what?)

I think the problem with most paranormal horror is the lack of anything redemptive. It delves too far into the occult and asks you to splash around in graphic violence, torment, and death. It asks you to dwell on darkness with little to no light. Some people like this, but I don’t see any redemptive qualities to it. Some paranormal horror movies might have a fantastic human element, but when battling spiritual darkness (demonic/ghostly forces, etc.) I believe you need spiritual redemption.

Good paranormal horror can be done, but it’s extremely rare. Personally, I’d love to see more Christians tackle the horror genre. I think it has incredible potential – rife with spiritual symbolism and themes that could leave extremely powerful imprints on readers and viewers. I think Peretti and Dekker do this very well – although horror is a very fine edge, and it’s hard not to tip over into ‘too far.’ As for ‘how far is too far,’ I think that frequently depends on the writer and the reader. As long as you’re very open to God’s word and what he’s telling you, you’re safe. When tackling paranormal horror, I would definitely advise remaining constantly in prayer and spending even more time than usual in the Bible. Technically, the Bible has paranormal horror! Possessed madman running amok, demons wreaking havoc – but as I’ve stated in previous posts, the whole point of the Bible is God. The whole point of the Bible is spiritual redemption.

I’ve been asked whether I’ll ever write horror, and the answer is – probably not. I may write novels with horror elements, but I doubt I’ll ever write a full-on horror novel. I’m just not that interested.

Nietzsche once remarked about the Abyss, and claimed that if you gazed it for too long, it would gaze back. I don’t agree with Nietzsche on many points, but I agree with him on this. What we dwell on, what we spend our time on, will become part of us. Some of us can handle more than others – some of us can write the book for the sake of the reader. Some of us can’t. Those who can’t shouldn’t, and those who can should be careful.

 In the end, I think it all comes down to one question:

what should you be willing to make part of you?

Note: After discussing this with Arielle, we came to the same conclusion: redeemed horror cannot, in the strict sense of the word, remain true horror. It may start out as such, but it would be something else by the end. And that, I think, is a good thing.

 

//Harry, magic, and the Bible

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I grew up believing (firmly) that Harry Potter was evil. I could watch Lord of the Rings, Willow, and Stardust to my heart’s content, but Harry Potter was a horse of a different color. When I first saw the Lord of the Rings, I was enchanted. I thought, This is very different from what I know of Harry Potter, so okay. Then I watched Stardust, and thought, This is a lot of magic, but all the witches are bad, so okay. This is still different. Then I watched Willow, and thought, Okay, we have wands and a good sorceress and a bad sorceress. Wait. Why is this okay and Harry Potter isn’t?

Since double standards have become my biggest peeve over the years, I began to look into what the Bible said about magic. I wanted magic to be okay so badly, but I decided that if my research turned up with the result Magic = Evil, I would go with it. It would be devastating, but I would stick by it. The thing was…I couldn’t actually imagine it being wrong. I mean magic, like anything, could be used for evil – but as a fictional element, it complimented Christianity so beautifully, in such vivid ways, that I couldn’t envision the thing that had so frequently inspired and strengthened my faith as inherently bad.

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The Bible mentions several things that we usually toss under the umbrella of ‘Magic.’ Deuteronomy 18 talks about occult practices, and how God strictly forbids them. These occult practices include, according to the King James translation, are: Divination, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, spells, necromancy, and contact with demons/the dead.

However, anyone who knows language will tell you that these words weren’t around when the Bible was written. When the Bible was translated for ‘modern’ readers from the original Hebrew, the translators did the best they had trying to match words to the text. I did some digging into the etymology of these words and uncovered some fascinating facts.

The word ‘sorcery’ wasn’t around until the 1300’s. It’s derived from the Latin word, sortiarius – meaning ‘teller of fortunes by lot,’ or more accurately, ‘one who influences fate or fortune.’ Obviously we use the word sorcerer (and the female version, sorceress) in very different ways now. Languages change, meanings change. It’s what language does.

The first use of the word ‘spell’ was recorded in the 1500’s, originally meaning ‘a procedure which causes harm,’ but which meaning did not include healing or protection.

The word ‘wizard’ is from the early 15th century, originating from the word ‘wise.’ The word ‘witch,’ usually used as the female version of ‘wizard,’ meant ‘female magician’ but was also closely tied with actual occult practices such as divination and necromancy.

However, accuracy is everything. Let me present two modern media interpretations of witches.

The Vampire Diaries witches, and the Harry Potter witches. Here we have two vastly different kinds of people, although both are called by the same term. Both use what each show calls ‘magic.’ However, having seen both kinds, let me illustrate the differences.

In Harry Potter, ‘witch’ is used the same way as ‘wizard.’ It means someone born with magical abilities. Waving a wand and saying ‘lumine’ to make some light? Hardly evil. The term is, in fact, almost entirely removed from the original meaning of the word.

In The Vampire Diaries, however, we have witches of a very Biblical sense. They communicate with and channel dead spirits. They perform séances. They use dark blood spells. They delve into all kinds of nasty things – things strictly forbidden by the Bible. There are no wands involved. This isn’t magic – this is the occult.

Words change. Actions do not. I could look at my cup of coffee and call it a witch, but that doesn’t make it so. If it began channeling dead spirits, that would make it a witch.

And yet, as I spoke about in my last blog post, we get so caught up in words that we don’t look past what we call something, no matter how inaccurate. We see the term (whether it’s right or wrong) and don’t bother to look at the actions and deeds performed by that person.

I came to believe, although I hadn’t read the books or seen the movies, that Harry Potter probably wasn’t bad. In fact, it was probably good. Maybe even great. However, until you’re actually acquainted with something, you can’t have much of an opinion. I’d told my parents that I disagreed with their views on Harry Potter, but I respected them and therefore wouldn’t bring it into the house. – so when I visited my Potterhead sister Melanie in Washington a couple weeks ago, we marathoned Harry Potter.

I watched with a critical eye. Would I be proven right or wrong? What was the deal with Harry anyway? Why has he always been such a hot topic? So I went into the movies thinking, now I can have an opinion. Now I’ll know what I’m talking about. And if I’m to condemn this series, I’ll know why.

I’ll be honest – I thought there would be more bad stuff in there. I really did. I thought there would be more issues. But you know what? You know the one thing that was truly biblically unsound in the entire series? The Divination class that the kids take in that one movie. The class that’s considered rubbish, even by Hermione, the smartest witch in the class. (Yes. Female magic-users are called witches. But please recall my previous statements about how important terminology versus actual deeds is. There are bad witches, and there are good witches. There are bad female magic-users, and there are good female magic-users. With great power comes great responsibility.)

So, one scene, basically. One scene, in one of the movies, had something I disagreed with. Something that the Bible disagrees with. So why is there such a stigma surrounding the franchise?

Honestly, I think it’s because the series is so powerful. I was incredibly moved, encouraged, and inspired. Harry and his friends are children – children who sacrifice everything to defeat evil. Children whose love and loyalty is stronger than even the Pevensies. The themes of good versus evil, of light versus dark, are so obvious and so bold that I don’t know how anyone misses them. These movies pull no punches, and they don’t fool around. Hermione is tortured by the evil Bellatrix Lestrange – but Hermione doesn’t give in. Harry saves the life of someone he hates. Ron, in the first movie, as a pre-teen, is willing to sacrifice his life to save Harry and Hermione. Over and over again they demonstrate incredible courage, incredible love, and incredible self-sacrifice in the face of terrifying and destructive evil.

They demonstrate more Christ-like character traits than most characters in Christian fiction stories.

J. K. Rowling is often misquoted as saying that she wrote these books to turn children to the occult and away from God. You know who actually said that? Philip Pullman, the author of The Amber Spyglass. (In his novels, the kids end up killing the fictional version of God, and living happily ever after. In Rowling’s books, Harry ends up sacrificing his own life to save everyone from evil. Everyone lives with the result of their consequences. Many die, because many heroes do.) Rowling is also misquoted as saying she uses ‘real spells’ in these books. What she actually said was that she didn’t make up most of what’s in the books. Gryphons, trolls, unicorns, dragons, giants, dwarves, goblins. The ‘spells’ are all just Latin words. The only people who can use magic are those born with natural tendencies towards it.

This last fact honestly surprised me – I’d been led to believe that the franchise presumed to teach any kid how to use magic. This just isn’t the case. Harry discovers he has magical abilities when he causes the glass in a snake exhibit to disappear long enough for his vile cousin to fall in; and thus, he is sent to Hogwarts to learn how to control and use his magic responsibly.

Magic, as a fictional element, can be used for good or bad – but it isn’t in the Bible. You know what my etymology searches turned up? God forbids communication with the dead. He forbids communication with spirits. He forbids fortune-telling. And magic, as we know it in fiction today, is never once mentioned. Oh, sure, modern translations use the word, but it’s misapplied. Every time it’s used, it’s in the context of necromancy or fortune-telling.

Most people think they’re being discerning by hating Harry Potter, that they’re telling the good from the bad. I thought this for a long time, too. But over the past year I’ve really studied and dug into magic and the Bible and what it says, and this post presents my conclusion.

Magic is a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Etymology is important. Deeds are more important than terms. Terms can be misapplied.

You may disagree with me, and I respect that, but I’ve done my research and I have dug for the honest truth.

A Parting Note: I know a lovely lady who is very cautious around fictional magic because her family has a history of being involved in the occult. This is perfectly understandable. This is, I believe, what the Bible means when it talks about stumbling blocks. It’s like alcohol: a glass of wine is amoral. In fact, it’s even beneficial to the health – but if you’re a recovering alcoholic or have a history of alcohol abuse, that glass of wine becomes something far more powerful, and you are wise to avoid it. There are more important issues than Harry Potter, and it’s not a salvation issue anyway.

I’m going to leave you with Romans 14: 14 – 17, as final food for thought.

 “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that [there is] nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him [it is] unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with [thy] meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

//so much the better

aslanI was recently interviewed by my friend and fellow writer, Eli. He asked an excellent question about Christianity and mythology, and I gave a response – but the response was too short. That day I was asked to expound on the subject.

SO HERE I AM, EXPOUNDING

Many modern Christians are afraid. They’re afraid of anything that hints at opposition to their faith. While modern college campuses build ‘safe spaces’ to keep the students from verbal injury, modern Christians build ‘safe spaces’ to keep themselves and their children from anything that doesn’t agree with their beliefs. As commentators will tell you, this mentality of ‘safety’ does nothing to build up strength – rather, it weakens, as those seeking ‘safety’ will never learn to defend themselves. It wasn’t until recently, when I marathoned the Harry Potter movies for the first time, that it clicked. (Note: Magic and the Bible is a subject for another blog post, to happen soonish.)

When we act as though Christianity is weak, we portray a belief that God cannot defend himself. Charles Spurgeon said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” Except we often fail to treat the truth as a lion, we treat it as a fragile house pet that will die if the temperature changes.

We are told to beware of false doctrines and false teachers. ‘Beware of.’ Be aware of. We aren’t told to scream when we see them and run the other way.

NOW, DON’T GET ME WRONG

There are things we as Christians simply shouldn’t indulge in, and this may vary person to person. We’re to appropriate – not accept. (Right and wrong do not vary, but things cause others to stumble that don’t affect others in the slightest.) This is where the conscience kicks in. For instance, I stopped watching Supernatural around season 8 because I couldn’t stomach the theology anymore. I could handle the skewing of heaven, hell, angels, and demons (most of the time) – but once they brought ‘God’ into the show, I was out. Watching God get blasphemed and treated like a fictional character no better than everyone else? Excuse me, I’m not fine with that. (This wasn’t easy, by the way. I was as attached to Sam and Dean and Cas as anyone.)

WHAT I’M SAYING IS…

Christianity has always been a faith that appropriates – or rather, redeems. I’m currently re-reading Esther DeWaal’s book, The Celtic Way of Prayer: Recovering the Religious Imagination. In the book, she describes in detail how Christianity affected the Celtic way of life, and how they accepted and absorbed their newfound faith into their old beliefs. Christianity, like a divine virus, took over paganism and appropriated it. They wrote new lyrics for old songs. They changed the words to pagan rhymes and suddenly, they went from pagan chants to God-filled blessings. Christianity does not destroy, it heals.

C. S. Lewis knew this better than anyone. As the most inspiring author I’ve ever read, and the one I continue to love the most, Lewis did not cower in the face of mythology or different theologies. Rather he accepted them for what they were – stories rife with equal falsehood and beautiful truths – and he used them to further God’s glory. He was heavily inspired by the beauty of them – and who couldn’t be? He straightened his shoulders, faced them, and said, “You’re beautiful, but much of you is false, and I’m going to change that.” And so we see mythological creatures filling his novels. We see him giving new twists to Greek myths – and as a result, we have some of the most inspiring, gorgeous, God-filled books ever written. I recently listened to a series of lectures on C. S. Lewis (presented by Hillsdale College) and in the Cosmology lecture (my favorite in the whole series), the professor said that if Lewis found truth in paganism, then, “…So much the better for paganism, not so much the worse for Christianity.”

We’re to find dark places and shine light into them. Not hide from dark places, not enter dark places; but to seek out and redeem for heaven. We’re to be salt and light, to flavor and shine – and while you can’t be salt and light until you’re salty and lit (as my mother would say), once you are salty and lit, you have no excuse. Running away or hiding in supposed safety – God doesn’t call us to this.

HE CALLS US TO WALK WITH THE LION, TO TURN IT LOOSE AND WATCH IT DEFEND ITSELF, AND THOSE WHO WALK WITH LIONS HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.

 

who is He

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Confession: I’ve always felt slightly pagan. My whole life, I’ve been drawn to the mystical side of the world – toward mystery and stars and standing stones. I’ve been more inspired to faith by works of New Age writers than by most sermons I hear on Sunday morning. I was thinking this over today, wondering how this began and whether it was wrong, and I came to the conclusion that no. It’s not wrong – at least, not the way I have it. I am very firmly a Christian. I love the Lord – and yet, I wondered, how come I felt closest to the Lord not inside a building with my back against a pew, but barefoot in the grass, or standing on my driveway looking up at the constellations twinkling in the blackness over my head? How come I find trees and a gray, windswept sky more worshipful than a devotional printed on a page?

I believe, too often, we attempt to fit God into a modern box. We poke a few holes in this box and set it on a shelf, and every now and then we take it out and revisit not the true God, but the small, dusty idea of God we’ve grown used to. This is a God of tiny communion cups and crumbs of bread, of badly-written worship songs and rules you won’t find anywhere in the Bible.

When you actually open up those sacred pages, this is not the image of God you find. No – the God you find there is the one who spoke the Universe into being. This is the God who set foot on water and did not sink, who bent to help the lowest and rose to give us life, the God who subverted cultural norms for women and who taught the most radical, newfangled notions people back then had ever heard. This is a wild God, a jealous God, a God who rides on thunder and lightning and whose still, small voice is more powerful than a hurricane.

In many ways, the true image of God is more similar to pagan gods of old than our modern idea of Him. He is not a tame lion, but He is good. He is ancient, He is new, He is eternal. Who are we to think we can confine Him into the finite, frightened, doubtful box that we label ‘Sunday’ and ‘Church’ and ‘Discipline?’ Not that those are bad in any way, but we have it all wrong; we see through a glass darkly and miss who He really is.

Today after we read aloud from Proverbs, Dad had us all read a verse we’d picked about God. I chose Psalms 135:7, which holds my favorite description of God.

“He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries.”

I was inspired this morning to begin a journey through Psalms and write down all the descriptions of God that I find. It’s going to be an interesting, enlightening experience – care to join me?