The backstory of a new chapter by Leslie Bustard in a brand new book — Why We Create (published by Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

In the last BookNotes I used the word resurrectionary. It was meant as somewhat of a play on the word revolutionary, since the resurrection really is nearly a revolution, inviting us to join the regime change, living all of our lives in ways that bears witness to the peculiar newness of the new creation that Christ’s bodily resurrection illustrates and assures. I listed a few recent books that seemed useful for anyone wanting inspiration for this extraordinary Kingdom calling.

None of the books were simplistic and none were cheap or formulaic. None were academic, but all were thoughtful. I think they would be fun to discuss together, to read with others, to allow them to further empower you to be a resurrectionary of sorts.

Please consider this as a bit of an addendum to that column.


Ordinary Saints: Living Every Day to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

One of the books in that fun list was Ordinary Saints. For those who read carefully, you might have noticed my mentioning a particular chapter in this wonderfully diverse collection that came out from Square Halo Books a few months ago. I said that there were several good reasons to read Leslie Bustard’s chapter on homemaking (not least, I might have said, because it is very well written and, frankly, inspiring for anyone who lives in a house wanting it to be more of a home.) I said it was good and beautiful and true, and I meant that.

What I did not say, and now feel a bit sheepish about, is that Leslie is a dear, dear friend of both Beth and me, and her husband, Ned, is one of my best pals. We admire their three young adult daughters and we love their small, indie publishing venture, Square Halo Books, run out of their row house in downtown Lancaster. I love that house — I even love their dog. Despite the embodied goodness Leslie described in Ordinary Saints about this modest, artful, warm, home she has created on their narrow urban street, I must say (if you have not heard) that as I write, she is in hospice, in something like a coma, dying of one of the cancers that invaded her body several years ago. We are grateful for the many, many folks who have been praying for her and her family. I didn’t mention this horrible matter in that previous review as I was trying to respect their privacy, such as it is.

I must say (if you have not heard) that as I write, Leslie is in hospice, in something like a coma, dying of one of the cancers that invaded her body several years ago.


Many of our BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds customers have purchased Square Halo Books books from us. (They kindly published my own book for recent college grads, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, which many of you know.) I know you see their names pop up here from time to time. For instance, I have routinely mentioned a marvelous book Leslie dreamed up, edited, and compiled (with her daughter, New York City educator Carey Bustard and Pacific Northwest writer Thea Rosenburg), Wild Things And Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children (Square Halo Books; $29.99 – OUR SALE PRICE =  $23.99.) See my previous BookNotes rave reviews here or here. I know Leslie is very (rightfully) proud of this major volume.

Leslie’s upbeat, Biblically-based chapter called “Homemaking” near the end of Ordinary Saints is thoughtful, important, theologically well-informed, and a genuine delight to read but it does not capture the sadness of these last few months. Those that know the Bustards — and they are known and loved by many — realize that they have lived rich lives these last few years, aware that Leslie’s remaining time might be short. They have worn it well. Leslie has been braver than you could imagine and a model of a faithful Christian facing the throes of dying. But, still, the chapter’s author and the book’s editor knew more about the spiritual haven that their home could be than they wrote about in that chapter. With no mention of her situation, it is simply a beautiful piece of writing and highly recommended.

(There are, importantly, several good chapters in Ordinary Saints, about coping with hard stuff; the Bustard’s dear friends and Square Halo business partners, Alan Bauer and Diana DiPasquale, each have good chapters that include some heart-rending anguish; another contributor has a chapter on chronic pain while another is glorifying God through the notion of limits. But there is nothing about dying. Perhaps it was too close to the bone, knowing what was coming, and now is.)


Why We Create edited by Brian Brown & Jane Scharl (Square Halo Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

If Leslie’s great chapter in Ordinary Saints didn’t reveal her journey of trusting God amidst anxieties about her cancer journey, her brand new chapter in the brand new Square Halo Book release, Why We Create (edited by Brian Brown & Jane Scharl) was written exactly about that. As our dear Ned and his daughters sit with Leslie as she rests in hospice care this very week, she may not be aware that this book was just released. With Ned and his Square Halo colleagues so distracted by this personal Via Delarosa, they may not have known that the book has been released, is out in the wild, and is here at Hearts & Minds.

With their encouragement, I highlight it now, sharing what Leslie (and Ned and their daughters) would want: a good review of yet another good Square Halo Book. And this one really is in their wheelhouse — Why We Create is a thoughtful, substantive, introduction to the topic of creativity, imagination and the arts, emerging from a serious reflection on the essential creatureliness of our world and God’s call to culture-making, imagining, naming, making.

I am not ashamed to admit that I dipped in first to read the piece by Leslie, a piece I did not expect to see in this collection. I was gobsmacked, as they say, when she started the essay with a memory of being at a local restaurant in early 2020, sharing with close friends about her dual cancer diagnoses.

“One friend leans close and asks me, “Can you keep looking for beauty in this time? Will you share it with us, this new beauty you find?””

“Can you keep looking for beauty in this time? Will you share it with us, this new beauty you find?”

I could not stop reading, even as tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew how she would answer.

Leslie notes right away that these questions could seem rude, even heartless, given that she was staring at a death sentence. “But to me, — and my friend knew this,” she reports, “they were right on the mark.” Spot on, as her friend Malcolm Guite might say.

She continues,

This was the real core of the matter: how would I, who has continually sought after beauty in my everyday, ordinary life, continue the quest when the road turned into the valley of shadow?

This, I am sure, is a large part of what it will mean for any of us to be a resurrectionary, a person so taken with the truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection and the creedal affirmation that we, too, will “rise in glory” and live in a physically (re)new(ed) earth; the quest looms large: how will we continue the search for goodness, for truth, for beauty, even when life is hard in this sin-sick world?

We are, as we all know, “between the times.” In Christ, God’s Kingdom has come, but yet is not yet fully known or seen. Leslie loved that song “Mary Consoles Eve” by her friend Katie Bowser (singing with Rain for Roots) on their kids Advent album Waiting Songs, with the repeated chorus of “almost – not yet – already.” Indeed, we take great hope in the truest truths of Advent and Christmas and Easter, the realities of incarnation and resurrection. But still: how do we embrace hope in this good but broken world where the gospel is true but not fully realized?

Leslie writes maturely in this good new chapter called “Gratitude: The Foundation of Human Creativity” in Why We Create. She draws deeply from the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper — she bought the books from us, I’m tickled to say — who proclaims, “To be conscious of gratitude is to acknowledge a gift.” Ooooh, there it is: she sees gratitude as one of the chief cornerstones of the human capacity to create and make. And to nurture the virtue of gratitude one must be clear about the abundance found in the conviction that life is a gift.

Bustard says:

Walking through that shadowed valley of cancer and seeking after beauty — everywhere from my backyard to my doctor’s office— became a journey of discovery for me, a life-lesson of how attentiveness leads to gratitude. This is the means of grace God offered me. He offers this means of grace wherever he calls His children to go.

Who writes stuff like this except one who has struggled with the deep intellectual questions, and, having rejected the options of stoicism, say, or nihilism, or hedonism, is thoroughly rooted in a Christianly-conceived and Biblically-informed worldview? Someone like Leslie Bustard.

She wisely cites Pieper a time or two more, moves (not surprisingly) to the dappled things of Gerard Manley Hopkins (and in a lovely surprise, cites one of the lesser known lines of that majestic poem), and tells us the plot and glory of the film Babette’s Feast. She offers a few of her own lines of original poetry and reveals a bit about her own heart as she struggled to remain on the look-out for beauty — she could have used Barbara Brown Taylor’s line about being a “detective of divinity” — and to learn to be grateful, even in her time in what she calls “cancer-land.”

Her candid, personal chapter is a gift in this rather meaty volume. The book is compiled by the Colorado-based Anselm Society and it is laden with world-class thinkers asking foundational questions about the Creator and His sub-creators. Yes, there are a lot of Tolkien-esque conversations here, with footnotes from Silmarillion, Leaf and Niggle, his essay on fairy tales, and more, alongside citations from Catholic philosophers, Orthodox mystics, and modern thinkers such as Dorothy Sayers, N.T. Wright, Norman Wirzba, and Esther Lightcap Meek. It’s that kind of a book.

The other contributors to this volume include Jessica Hooten Wilson, Marilyn McEntyre, Peter Leithart, Hans Boersma, Anthony Esolen, and more. (I loved a piece by Grace Olmstead — “The Art of Cultivation” — author of the much-discussed Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind.) Near the end, Jeromie Rand, an Anglican priest and admitted story-lover, asks and answers, finally, the title’s lofty question: why we create. His answer is rich and good, drawing on Alexander Schmemann and reflecting on the eucharistic life for the sake of the world.

Why We Create and its many thoughtful authors illustrate nicely much of what can be said of the tagline of Anselm’s project: seeking “A renaissance of the Christian imagination.”  It fits nicely next to other key books like this in the Square Halo backlist catalogue — It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery by Gregory Wolfe, and, for instance, Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God by Malcolm Guite.

(No book is perfect, not even Square Halo ones, and I could offer some small criticisms. Ensolen takes a swipe at a feminist artist that was gratuitous and needless; Brown suggests the Trinity is hierarchical, dancing near heresy; in an otherwise beautiful chapter on time, the author fails to cite Jamie Smith. But Leslie makes up for the oversight by citing both the remarkable Created and Creating by jazzman William Edgar and German luthier Martin Schleske’s beautiful The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty. Hooray!)

Here is a good interview with Anselm Society’s very impressive Brian Brown conducted by Lancia Smith at the Cultivating Project (which Leslie wrote for, by the way) in which he talks about the book.

I am glad Leslie was honest in this chapter about some of her pain as she walked through the Shadowlands. In any case, “Gratitude: The Foundation of Human Creativity” is a short piece that will be cherished, of course, by friends of Leslie, but, more, by any who suffer. And, even more broadly, by anyone wanting to cultivate the sort of character, the virtue, the interior life, that is able to do this sort of good, good work. Leslie has long been a great grace to Beth and I, as she has time and again shown an almost child-like curiosity, a eager and open mind, and a deep faith in her very solid, Reformed theology. And has always done so with lots of smiles and generous hugs.

(You may enjoy knowing that Square Halo may very well be compiling a larger collection of her recent writings — the cancer journey evoked much in her, including a remarkable outpouring of poems and prose, published mostly online. Say a prayer that it may be so.)


The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living Leslie Anne Bustard (Square Halo Books) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I have commented on this before in previous BookNotes, but, again, I might not have been fully forthcoming. When it was clear that Leslie was not (short of an extraordinary supernatural miracle) destined for a long life, Square Halo Books released (just a few months ago) a beautiful collection of her poetry. As she notes in “Gratitude: The Foundation of Human Creativity” (in Why We Create) her diagnosis accelerated her exploration of what was already an obvious gift — her ability to appreciate and explain and, eventually, write poetry. She had long been a teacher and a lover of words. (She and Ned and Beth and I partially bonded over an appreciation of good pop/rock lyrics and somewhat out-of-the-mainstream faith-based contemporary music; she and Ned even had the great Charlie Peacock play at their wedding, which makes me smile to this day.) In her recent years she has deepened her love of wordsmithing and has advocated for women, especially, getting published in hip on-line journals and cool poetry sites. The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living is a gift to the world, a wonderful collection of various sorts of poems in various sorts of styles and themes, most quite recent.

Her friend Hannah Anderson wrote in a fascinating preface that:

Leslie has the ability to see beyond the world’s appearances to its realities and in doing so, remind us of its enchantment. With this, her first collection of poems, Leslie does the work of safekeeping, pointing our eyes back to those “unexpected items of world or unworldly enchantment” that we dare not lose.

There are too many poems to describe (and how does one do that, anyway?) and she playfully experiments with a handful of good styles here. The first portion walks through four seasons and these are very strong, rooted, placed. A few are about her cancer — one about a small scar below her breast — and a few of those are very powerful. Yet most are not directly about her season of illness. Most are about — as the old William Cowper song puts it, which inspired her own poem (”Light II”) — “sometimes a light surprises.” Indeed. And sometimes, these poems just might help you be surprised by the light of things, bright and dark.

And then there are two major sections, one in a unit she calls “Found” poetry, which is only to say they are inspired by other writings. There is a great one inspired by E. B. White’s own writing guidebook; there are several pieces inspired by Rilke, one “after Edith Stein, The Soul of a Woman (with Response)” and one inspired by Denise Levertov.

There are poems of Ekphrasis, which are poems inspired by works of art; for instance, there is a fascinating one after Rembrandt’s ‘Simeon and Anna in the Temple’ a good few on Cezanne’s works, some inspired by Rouault, and a couple that I am particularly fond of on her beloved Pennsylvania painter Andrew Wyeth.

And then there are tanka poems that are thirty-one syllable poems written in a five-line form — who knew? These are offered one for each letter for the alphabet (maybe an homage to Ned’s own alphabet books, such as Church History ABCs.) There are some lovely little poems about ordinary things, a few about theological topics and some offer nice words for friends like Luci Shaw and Karen Paris. But the ones for Carey, Maggie, and Elspeth, and for Ned, even now make me cry. There are great little works of art, and you will enjoy reading them over and over, even if you do not know Leslie or her family.

Numerous other wordsmiths, writers, and poets have weighed in with their great appreciation for this artful collection. From Karen Paris (Lancaster based singer with the band Innocence Mission) to Luci Shaw to Aaron Belz, thoughtful, respected artists have celebrated this beautiful, moving anthology. Although I’ve noted it before here at BookNotes, it seems timely to share about it here, now.

As her friend Margie Haack (another fabulous Square Halo author, whose This Place inspired Leslie’s own “Homemaking” chapter in Ordinary Saints) writes in her comments, the book is mostly about the threads of redemption running through the poems “carrying joy tinged with beauty.”  After beautifully written affirmations of Leslie’s attentiveness to the beauty found in ordinary things, the very goodness of creation, Margie continues:

But what makes Leslie’s poetry more deeply relevant is another thread that carries the faint tinge of illness and death. She stares into the hard facts of cancer with its unpredictable evil accompanied by its unpronounceable drugs. Her faith is not sentimental, rather it is strong enough to stand against the dark possibilities of her future.

It has been our privilege to be one of her favorite bookstores and we invite you to buy a book or two in her honor. We will be sure to pass the word to Ned, so he can lovingly whisper the news into her ear. Leslie Anne Bustard continues to bless the world with her good, good words.

















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