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I went to the public library downtown this week to pick up a book I had on hold, and while I was there, I noticed that our faithful librarians had set up a whole table of newer books, all on the relationship between humans and animals. “Thank you very much,” I muttered triumphantly as I grabbed three tempting-looking titles right off the display.

I left the library after a little more browsing with five new books to read, and I felt the very same joy I felt at age 3, when my mother would take me to the library on Bridge Street and I would emerge with a pile of books in my tiny arms. Some things never change, I guess.

One of the new books I selected on a whim is a little volume by Sy Montgomery called The Hummingbirds’ Gift. It’s the story of Montgomery, a nature writer par excellence, working with her friend Brenda LaBelle to rescue some orphaned baby hummingbirds. Yes, some people actually do that, and it’s not easy. Hummingbirds—especially the bee-sized baby ones—are “delicate as froth.” In fact, “everything about a hummingbird is diaphanous. Their delicate bones are exceptionally porous. Their legs are thinner than toothpicks; their feet as flimsy as embroidery thread.”

These little birds, even grown up, are basically bubbles with a furiously beating heart and some feathers. Yet these “glittering sparks of life” survive— many species of them are endangered of course — and migrate and battle for mates and pollinate plants and raise young and live out their high-speed purpose on this earth.

So many reasons for astonishment!

I’ve also recently listened to the audio book of An Immense World by Ed Yong. This one is about the sensory world of all kinds of creatures, their different forms of intelligence, their deeply alien ways of experiencing life. I drive along in my car, listening, and every thirty seconds I audibly gasp: “What?!”

You may know the beloved poem “The Messenger” by Mary Oliver, which declares, “My work is loving the world.” In the poem, that work turns out to be “mostly standing still and learning to be astonished,” which is rejoicing and gratitude and “shouts of joy.” That’s our work, that’s our love.

I know there is much to grieve in the world. But amid the grief, in defiance of the grief, we continue to practice gratitude and joy, insisting on what is good and true and beautiful by God’s grace. We practice learning to be astonished at God’s glorious works, in the tiniest of hummingbirds, in our lives, and in the vast sweep of history.

As Reformed people, we emphasize God’s sovereignty over creation and our Lord’s redemptive work, reconciling all things to himself. Through the in-dwelling of the Spirit, we join in that redemptive work, out of love for God and for the world God loves, with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

I hope that you, the faithful readers of The Reformed Journal, treasure the community that we have created here in this space, where we challenge and encourage each other in this work. Every day, dozens of writers and thousands of readers gather here to ponder and muse and challenge and joke and lament and consider.

Our dear friend, John Hwang, gone from us far too soon, often reminded us that our “reader engagement” statistics for this website are outstandingly excellent for any publication. Please know that all of us who write for the RJ are so grateful for your support.

What we have built here is rather astonishing in its own right. Our daily blog, now a full twelve years strong, has some 4300 essays posted. The magazine, meanwhile, features substantial essays, book reviews, and poems. Our poetry podcast is a fan favorite. And now we are launching our newest endeavor, Reformed Journal Books.

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Thank you for your support, and may this week offer you many astonishments for which to be grateful.

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Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching early British literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for The Twelve as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.

6 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    The Ed Yong book, An Immense World, in one miracle after another. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.

  • Jan Heerspink says:

    The library on Bridge Street! That was my library — years ahead of you. That was a gorgeous library, and I have those delightful memories of going home with an armful of books! The joy continues when I take my grandkids to their library.

  • You stirred up such memories! The library in Ripon, CA with Mrs. Fulton, was my home away from home throughout my growing up years. I still recall the smell of books, the thrill of finding another title by a favorite author and then sitting on the floor to begin. Thank you for the reminder that “Our God Reigns…”

  • George Vink says:

    Good to see your name,Mary

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