Beauty touches a place where advice can never reach; a story can articulate a hurt and heal it in the same stroke; music stirs an answering chord when words have utterly failed. The power and the love of God can be in all of these things, and He can meet us in them in ways we can’t even explain. I used to think I needed an agenda for my art: a good, godly set-up and delivery. I don’t have an agenda anymore—I just want to be honest about how good God is, and how lovely His love for us.
– Lanier Ivester, from an interview by Lancia E. Smith
I have a glad feeling that many of you are already familiar with Lanier Ivester.
I can’t remember how many years ago it was that I first encountered her work, in the form of the essay “Love Begets,” but I’ll never forget it. Lanier took an area of life in which I have very little experience (and believe me, this piece made me feel the lack of canine family members in my life) and related Caspian’s story with such gentle but perceptive detail that my eyes were blurry with tears by the time I finished reading. For as vivid as the account was, it wasn’t simply about the loss of a beloved dog, of course; it was about loving without fear, and a kind of grief that makes room for courage.
Lanier’s blog is full of notes and essays like “Love Begets,” and it’s a gateway to the atmosphere of the home and life that she stewards — an atmosphere that has made me approach the practices of gardening, feasting, hosting, curating books, and celebrating Christmas with greater thoughtfulness and joy. “In Praise of the House Party” is a fine example, and if you haven’t heard her reading of the piece yet, well, please treat yourself to it.
She is also the proprietress of an online bookshop that reminds me of Anne Blythe’s philosophy about books: “[E]very book in it is a friend. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph” (Anne’s House of Dreams, XII). Lanier’s posts on her favorite authors are like personal introductions, and give the sense that their works have been woven deeply into the fabric of her own life. L.M. Montgomery, Rumer Godden, Tasha Tudor, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Jan Struthers, and more; it’s a testament to her skill that I can type those names off the top of my head.
But I think what I regard most highly about Lanier’s writing is her gift for telling a story about past events. She lays them open with an authorial hospitality that is wholly hers; it feels simultaneously like a high privilege as well as the most natural thing in the world to enter the settings of her words. Whether recounting a trip to Cornwall or a Thanksgiving at home, she uses broad and fine strokes of attention to make the landscape of both her outer surroundings and inner emotions come alive. And the inner thoughts which we’re shown consistently bear the mark of someone who has learned to view the world and its inhabitants with grace.
Through her stories and essays, Lanier has taught me to let a blessing simply be — to live it first, and then describe it right down to its roots and release it to be a representation by itself of the goodness and the love of God. As a welcome consequence, I’ve come to view the events of my own days with fewer caveats and less didacticism.
But best of all, her words draw the beholder of all this beauty back to its Source.
Beauty is not just for special occasions; it is most beautiful in the workaday hours of a common life, in the small rites and ceremonies and touches and pauses wherein we acknowledge that our little existence matters in the midst of a whirling cosmos. Making beauty can certainly avow to God that we love Him—but, perhaps even more, it shouts into our timid hearts that God loves us.
Lanier doesn’t flinch from addressing the brokenness of the world. It doesn’t take a reader long to discover that she knows and has borne profound losses. But I never fail to receive an impression of a certain tenacity holding steady underneath, a strength that refuses to cede the good ground of hope even in the midst of very great sorrows.
Lastly, on the level of the everyday, her pieces have frequently helped me to be mindful of my limits — not out of a “wisdom” based in self-preservation, but an exhortation to live more fully in obedience and offering. (I might seek out a quiet place to read “Nulla dies sine linea” myself today…)
If you haven’t had the chance to read or listen to Lanier’s work yet, you’re in for a rich feast indeed.
Links (and a quote that I keep pinned in my writing notes):
– “I don’t want to fail. I want to sing the songs of Eden to a tired and homesick world. I want to write of beauty and truth and goodness, unashamed; I want to spin words and weave stories that will make other people know they are not alone. But even this ambition, sweet as it is, comes short of the mark. For if I truly believe that in attempting to write a book I am being obedient to something that God has placed within me, then His pleasure is the final word. It will not matter in the least whether I succeed in the temporal sense or fail utterly.” (Lanier Ivester, “God’s Own Fool”)
This post is part of the Deep Draughts of Beauty series.