I love quotes. I have a giant Google doc carefully organized into multiple categories with matching headers and a table of contents, and before that I had an assortment of Pages documents and a physical journal.
Part of it is that I love words. I love the alchemy of spining a few solitary letters and commonplace phrases into a thing of gold, of breathtaking value far beyond the sum of its parts.
I think part of it also is that I have Connectedness in the StrengthsFinder assessment and Introverted Intuition in Myers-Briggs and so I love to see how things connect across vast, unfathomable spaces. I love to see how a phrase or paragraph from a specific context in a specific story can have a meaning of similar poignancy for another human’s totally different specific situation.
One of the quotes I picked, for example, is from Marilynne Robinson’s Jack. Jack is a middle-aged prodigal, a white man in love with a Black woman in the late 1800s. He is a compulsive liar, sometimes a drunk. We have, it would seem, very little in common. And yet when he says, “I am at the center of a certain turbulence,” I want to weep. That one short sentence, unremarkable in terms of vocabulary or structure, a bit vague in terms of content, said something for me I had not known I needed to articulate. It means something rather different for me than it does for Jack but at the same time knowing how it fits into his story, and knowing the similarities and differences between that and mine, makes the emotional resonance even stronger. The emotional power of story (including non-fiction ones), coupled with the intellectual artistry of wordplay, makes a good quote one of the most catalytic, cathartic forces in the world.
And so I collect them, and here I offer a few that have struck me from my favorite reads so far in 2021. As always, please share some of your favorites in the comments and let me know what you’ve been reading this year! Chatting about books is one of my favorite things.
P.S. View this post on the website because I found a cool photos feature on WordPress and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. 😉
Jack | Marilynne Robinson
If they asked him why he had done them, he could not say, “I am at the center of a certain turbulence.”
“But once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you. You’ve seen the mystery—you’ve seen what life is about. What it’s for. And a soul has no earthly qualities, no history of the things of this world, no guilt or injury or failure. No more than a flame would have. There is nothing to be said about it except that it is a holy human soul. And it is a miracle when you recognize it.”
Marilynne Robinson just gets it. She gets humans and she gets words.
The Scorpio Races | Maggie Stiefvater
Because Sean Kendrick, looking like that, is the races, even if no race was ever run. A reminder of what the horses mean to the island—a bridge between what we are and that thing about Thisby that we all want but can’t seem to touch.
… My heart feels full and empty with all of the beginnings and endings. Tomorrow is the races with all of their strategy and danger and hope and fear, and on the other side of it is Gabe getting into a boat and leaving us. I feel like Sean looking out over the ocean. I’m so full of an unnamed wanting that I can’t bear it.
I’m so full of an unnamed wanting that I can’t bear it. Whoa. Also I felt “that thing about Thisby that we all want but can’t seem to touch” while I read the book and also about places I’ve physically been to. Maybe it’s the longing for the mountain, as in Till We Have Faces. (Connections!)
Eat This Book | Eugene Peterson
We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers. And that is certainly correct. The text of the Bible sets us in a reality that is congruent with who we are as created beings in God’s image and what we are destined for in the purposes of Christ. But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. The Bible is the most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book. Eat this book; it will be sweet as honey in your mouth; but it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trying to respond to your commands.
What about the Bible am I trying to avoid? What in it is bitter to me, what questions does it ask that am I not willing to? What would happen if I did?
Exegesis is the furthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love. It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get the words right. It respects the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. It follows that we bring the leisure and attentiveness of lovers to this text, cherishing every comma and semicolon, relishing the oddness of this preposition, delighting in the surprising placement of this noun. Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a “message” or a “meaning,” and then run off and talk endlessly with their friends about how they feel.
My religion major’s heart is singing. Exegesis is an act of love—yes!
When Breath Becomes Air | Paul Kalanithi
The man who loved hiking, camping, and running, who expressed his love through gigantic hugs, who threw his giggling niece high in the air—that was a man I no longer was. At best, I could aim to be him again.
… My brain was fine, but I did not feel like myself. My body was frail and weak—the person who could run half marathons was a distant memory—and that, too, shapes your identity. Racking back pain can mold an identity; fatigue and nausea can, as well.
That last sentence—ah. Yes. It’s true, and I hate that it’s true, that I know firsthand that it’s true. But it’s a comfort to hear someone else say it.
“Will having a newborn distract you from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I asked. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.
… After so many years of living with death, I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best. We talked it over. Our families gave their blessing. We decided to have a child. We would carry on living, instead of dying.
And yet, life. Pain might help mold identities, but it does not have the last word. Above it is the will to say: “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”
The Road | Cormac McCarthy
He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.
This book is the book of Job, it’s everything we want to say but don’t. And his prose!
I want to be with you.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
Of course after that I must leave you with Andrew Peterson’s numinous “Carry the Fire” (talk about words that stay with you—these lyrics have shaped me more than I probably realize).
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