Book Report: Beneficence by Meredith Hall (2020)

May 19, 2022

Goodness. The state of goodness. That’s what “beneficence” means, and this is what this book explores. “Love and all its costs.” (p. 251)

Doris, the mother of the family, opens the story, which is set on a farm in 1947, with these words:

Every morning, early, when Tup and I get up to start our chores, the whole house still quiet and the children asleep I turn and pull the bed together, tugging at the sheets to make them tight and smooth. They are warm with our heat. I slide my hand across the place my husband slept, drawing the blankets up and closing in the warmth, like a memory of us, until night comes when we will lie down together again.

p. 5

A simple scene, but so evocative and so full. Of love and promise and commitment. Making the bed is a spiritual practice for Doris and also an expression of the dailiness and the goodness of her life.

Only a couple paragraphs later, however, Doris says, “You cannot know what will come.” She alerts the reader that this is no simple pastoral account of life on a farm, but this is a tale of what any family encounters one way or another. The love and the loss and the complicated responses to that loss.

It has been a long time since I have read a book that made me cry. This one did. More than once, and more than once I re-read paragraphs and even entire chapters, relishing the writing, but I also wanted to stay with these good, but imperfect people and to support them and honor them. They became real to me. In part that happens because the narration of the story changes in each chapter. Sometimes the father, Tup, is the narrator and sometimes the daughter, Dodie. There are two sons in the family, also, Sonny and Beston.

Almost at the end of the book, now 1965, Doris’s words echo the book’s beginnings.

The cows slept with their calves in the safety of the barn. The night offered all its promise. Tup and I moved to each other, our heat and our weight and our devotion. We slept without guard. There is never a going back. What we say and what we do stays, always. The great price of love and attachment is loss, with us every day. But here, too, each day, are their great easings.

p. 257

I do hope Meredith Hall has another novel in progress. In the meantime I plan to read her memoir, Without a Map. And, I suspect, I will re-read Beneficence again for this book is good. Very good.

An Invitation

Have you read anything recently that made you cry? Or what about a book that you know you will want to read again? I would love to know.

My News Strategy

May 17. 2022

How many times in recent months or, let’s face it, these past few years, have you said, “I just can’t watch (or listen) to the news anymore”? Or perhaps you have been addicted to the news, watching and listening more hours of the day than you know is healthy for you. Perhaps the radio or a cable news station accompanies your every move, wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

No surprise, for the news –local, national, and global–is upsetting, and that is stating it mildly.

Approaching the News as a Spiritual Practice

Jane Vennard in her book, Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul (2013) says all spiritual practices can be divided into three categories. (page 87)

  • Contemplative: caring for my body, resting, being silent, practicing solitude, praying, writing in my journal, walking mindfully,
  • Communal: participating in the life of a faith community or other communities in which you gather with others to pay attention to the holy in your life,
  • Missional: hospitality and service.

While the lines dividing the three types of spiritual practice are not always clear and well-defined, as Vennard points out, these categories of spiritual practice can help us become more intentional about our approach to the news.

Part of my morning meditation time, my intentional contemplative time sitting quietly in the garret or walking alone in the neighborhood, often is devoted to praying the news. I may simply name the issues or the people that worry me or touch my heart. I don’t pretend to have answers, but I lean my heart in the direction of those in need, those in pain or in the midst of sorrow and loss, and those who are trying to make a positive difference. Plus, I acknowledge and give thanks for the many gifts in my life; a life lived with ease and privilege and prosperity. I must never take that for granted.

Do my prayers matter? Well, that is a big question, but what I’ve noticed is that when I pray regularly I am more aware of the life around me. Near and far. When I watch or listen to or read the news, I pay attention to my responses. In a way I test my empathy level. Have I become hardened to the news? Do I sigh in disgust (“How could things possibly be worse?”) or descend into hopelessness (“That’s the way things are and what can we do about it anyway?”) Or do I approach the news looking for connection, for our common humanity, for reminders that God is counting on us to live into his love for us?

What I’ve discovered is that the more I pray, the more I find to pray about and the more I find to pray about the more I pray. And the more I pray, I don’t just pray the hurts, the losses, the fears, the unending challenges, but I also pray the love shown, the paths created, the courage, the care, and the revealed movement of God.

Along with this contemplative approach to the news, I have a communal practice. I am an active member of a faith community with a strong commitment to social justice issues. I value our gathering times when we lift not just our individual concerns, but our concerns for the world. Being part of a community gives me a base from which to move in the world, to respond to the news, and provides opportunities for the missional type of spiritual practice. Ways to serve.

Receiving the news is not only a way to stay informed, as important as that is, but it is also a way to strengthen my way of being in the world–as a contemplative who lives and serves with purpose in community. At least that is my aspiration.

My Choices: My News Sources

Even though I try to view my approach to news as a spiritual practice, the choices are overwhelming. Here’s my current buffet of choices:

  • I listen to Minnesota Public Radio/National Public Radio when I get dressed in the morning and when I prepare meals or clean.
  • I receive daily emails from The Washington Post and The New York Times.
  • I read two online newsletters that I highly recommend: Robert Hubbell’s Today’s Edition Newsletter and Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American
  • I read the Sunday New York Times–not always on Sunday, however. I admit I start with the Book Review and some Sundays I don’t get much further than that, but even reading the rest of the paper on Tuesday or Wednesday is valuable.
  • We watch the nightly PBS News Hour. Lately, we have fasted from watching any television news, but when we do, this is our choice.

A Thought

it isn’t more light we need, it’s putting into practice what light we already have. When we do that, wonderful things will happen within our lives and within our world.

Peace Pilgrim

An Invitation

What is your relationship to the news? What is your news strategy? I would love to know.

Book Report: April Round-Up and Powell’s Book Store Purchases

May 12, 2022

I have now read all four of Mary Lawson’s wonderful novels, and I hope she is writing, writing, writing! The Other Side of the Bridge (2006) is her second novel (Crow Lake is her first) and is set in a small Canadian town, shifting between two time periods, WWII and the 1960’s. The main character Ian, the son of the town’s physician, is often called upon to help his father, but as a teenager he prefers working on the farm owned by Arthur and his wife Laura. The story of Arthur and his brother Jake is a major part of the story, as is the story of Pete, a Native American friend of Ian’s. Many subplots, but they weave together beautifully.

Lawson’s 3rd book is Road Ends (2013). Warning: Dysfunctional family alert! The mother just wants to have babies and then ignores them when they have grown out of babyhood. Tom is the oldest of seven boys and Megan is the only daughter. She escapes to London and the father, who is a banker, escapes to his study. A heart-breaking story, but oh, Lawson can write. I reviewed her most recent book, A Town Called Solace in my March Round-Up.

I am now fully immersed in a mystery series by a husband-wife duo whose pseudonym is Nicci French. I read the first in the series, Blue Monday (2011) in April, and we listened to the second, Tuesday’s Gone (2012) on our road trip to Portland, OR, and this week I read the third, Waiting for Wednesday. I guarantee I will complete the remaining days of the week this month. Set in London, the main character is the highly intuitive psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, who could use some therapy herself. She develops an informal, but key relationship with the police department. A small boy is kidnapped and this re-opens a case from years before. Get ready for a major twist at the end. I recommend reading these books in order, by the way, for some of the characters and plots continue from book to book.

I have already reviewed two favorite nonfiction books read in April, Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jauoud and On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed, but I will mention two others. First, Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie, The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli. (2021) As an NPR junkie, I throughly enjoyed reading about their key roles in the early years of NPR, and as I write this, I can hear each of their distinctive voices. My only complaint about the book is that it lacks pictures, but it is radio after all!

I have not yet moved the other book, The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation (2016) by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell from my basket of morning meditation materials to my bookshelf, for I keep re-reading sections, in order to reflect and absorb the words even more. Despite the deep topic, the writing style is conversational, and invites inner conversation. The words “flow and “relationship” are key to the discussion. No doubt I will refer to this book again in future blog posts.

The Powell’s Report

First, I should mention that one night of our road trip to Portland, OR, we stayed in Missoula, MT, which has a charming downtown and a good independent bookstore, Fact and Fiction. Even though I knew I would make a big haul at Powell’s, I can’t pass up supporting independent bookstores wherever I find them. I bought two novels on my TBR list: Beneficence (2020) by Meredith Hall, which I read on the trip and loved and will write about in more detail in a later post, and A Ghost in the Throat (2020) by Doireann Ni Ghriofa. I listened to an interview with the Irish author on NPR recently and am intrigued.

I also bought a book at the Crazy Horse Memorial; a book I have been meaning to read for a long time, and I am so happy to have bought it at the memorial location: Black Elk Speaks, The Complete Edition by John G. Neihardt.

Then Powell’s. Armed with my TBR list on my phone and a store map, which is definitely needed, I took a deep breath and realized I needed a plan. I decided to focus on two sections–mystery and literature, both on the same floor and close to the coffee shop. At Powell’s used and new books are shelved together, and I decided to only buy books that had not been published recently, instead of current books easy to find in most bookstores. I made one exception, Great Circle (2021) by Maggie Shipstead. By the time I made the decision to narrow my purchases, I already had this in my basket and couldn’t force myself to eliminate it.

These are the used books I found that are on my TBR list:

  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan (1995)
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson (2019)
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker (1966)
  • The Expats (2012) and The Paris Diversion (2019) by Chris Pavone

I also decided to get a couple books I loved and want to re-read: The Stone Diaries (1994) by Carol Shields and The Shell Seekers (1987) by Rosamunde Pilcher.

Finally, a surprise find, a book I had not heard about, The Pleasure of Their Company (2000) by Doris Grumbach. This slim hardcover memoir written near her 80th birthday was on the shelf next to her novels. It caught my eye and for $6.95 used I could not resist.

I’m thrilled with my pile and the whole Powell’s experience. Now I know what our granddaughter meant when she said we would need to set a timer for ourselves or we would still be wandering the aisles when the store closed for the day.

An Invitation

What were your favorite April books and what is waiting on your shelves for the right time? I would love to know.

Re-entry: Thoughts Post Road Trip

The road is never long when the goal is time with a grandchild.

My husband and I volunteered to bring our granddaughter Maren home from her first year at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. We were eager for a road trip–a change of pace and scenery–and the lure of having Maren all to ourselves between Portland and St Paul was just the incentive we needed.

What a treat to see her in her new habitat, meet some of her friends, and hear about her classes and activities, as well as plans for the next school year. Plus, we thrilled with the diversity of landscape between Minnesota and Oregon, and how fun to see bison and antelope and prairie dogs and Bighorn sheep in their natural settings. Oh, and the coyote that dashed across the road right in front of us!

Each of our families made the trek through the Badlands and to Mt Rushmore when we were in sixth grade, but this was the first time we had been to the Crazy Horse Monument with its amazing museum of Native American art. The creation of the monument, whose origin is a fascinating tale, will continue for decades to come. Put this on your “must visit” list.

We oohed and aahed our way through Portland neighborhoods, including the Japanese Garden, realizing how color starved we were, thanks to our reluctant spring in Minnesota.

A great trip, but oh how good it is to be home.

Travel As I Age

  • I enjoy traveling, but I admit I am not passionate about traveling. I loved the big trips we had in the past–Paris, London, Rome and Florence, Tanzania, along with the semester I spent in Thailand when I was a junior in college. How amazing it was to experience other cultures and to see so much of what I had read about –or knew nothing about, but I don’t yearn for big trips. I view those trips as a kind of bonus in my life.
  • I don’t like to pack, but I enjoy unpacking. Deciding what to take –how much, for what kind of occasions and weather and possibilities–flusters me. But emptying the suitcases, doing the laundry, finding places for any new treasures does not feel like a chore to me. I love the feeling of settling back in and becoming reacquainted with the routines of my everyday life.
  • I am just as content and interested in the close by, as the far away. And then after roaming for only a day, I can sleep in my own bed. (Would someone explain to me why hotel beds seem to be so high–I need a running jump or a stool to get myself up into bed and when I do the bedding is so heavy I can hardly move. And what about the lack of good lighting? Don’t other people read before they go to sleep? I’ll stop whining now!)
  • I repeat: I am just as content with the close by as the far away. I like being a tourist in my own town, my own state, and I’ve started making this summer’s list of places we can visit in a day or maybe two.
  • I prefer immersing myself in a place. When we went to France several years ago, we stayed in Paris for the whole two weeks and took day trips, returning to our apartment each evening. We wandered neighborhoods, as well as seeing the most important sights. I like getting a taste of what it might be like to live in that location. That can also mean returning to a location over and over again. For example, we never tire of returning to Door County, WI. We relish the familiar, as well as the new discoveries.
  • I appreciate the spaciousness of travel. How good it is to learn and experience new things, but travel also opens my eyes and my heart to myself. I return home with new insights, new ideas for teaching or writing or even how to rearrange the furniture. Travel is a not only a time to wander physically, but it is also a time that encourages day dreaming and imagining what it would be like to live someplace else. Travel is a time to visit the “what ifs” of the mind.

Let me be clear: We had a great trip, especially the time we had to be with Maren. No regrets, but I am just as happy to once again be home.

Travel as Pilgrimage

As I prepare for or begin a trip, I consider my intention. In this case, it was obvious; spend time with Maren and gain a clearer vision of her college life. The agenda was simple and loose, leaving room for flexibility and possibility.

Just as important, however, at the beginning of a trip is to consider what to leave behind, in order to open myself to something new or unknown. For me that meant taking a time out from writing posts for this blog and spending a minimum of time emailing or doing other online tasks. I left behind my “to do” lists, and that, dear friends, is not easy for me.

As I travel, I ask myself how can I be receptive to what is in front of me and offered to me? What do I give of myself? Are my eyes open? My heart? On this trip we saw so much poverty and homelessness, for example. At the same time we saw so much beauty.

Now that I have returned, I need time to integrate what I’ve learned and experienced. What questions do I have about what I have seen? What else do I want to learn? How will this trip enhance my life and the way I live? I am in that stage now.


My next post, Thursday, May 12, I will share the list of books I bought at the bookstore mecca, Powells.

An Invitation

What kind of a traveler are you? What makes travel pleasurable for you? What role does travel play in who you are? I would love to know.

Book Report: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed and My Thoughts About Retirement Reading

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from the blog. My plan is to begin posting again the week of May 9.

First, the weekly book report: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed.

Part memoir, part history, part psychoanalysis of Texas, this slim volume enlightens the movement to make June 19, Juneteenth, a national holiday. On June 19th, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the end of legalized slavery was announced–two years after The Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.

Gordon-Reed grew up in Texas and in fact, she was the first Black child to attend an all- white school in her hometown, Conroe, Texas. Her story is compelling and offered me several new perspectives. For example, the Black high school near her home was Booker T. Washington High School, usually referred to in the community as “Booker T,” but when people outside the community called it Washington High School and assumed it was named for “George”

Another new thought: Gordon-Reed writes about the effect of integration on Black teachers. “The children were to be integrated, not the teaching staff…People who had been figures of authority were put in charge of dispensing books and doing other administrative tasks that took them away from contact with Black students, depriving those students of daily role models.” p. 51. Think of the longterm effects of that practice.

My family lived in Texas for two years, when I was in junior high school. My father was transferred there from New York and then transferred back to New York. During our brief time there I acquired a Texas accent and learned to address my teachers as “Sir” and “Ma’am”–both habits I lost quickly when we returned to Long Island. What I didn’t acquire was much real knowledge about Texas. I learned about the six flags that flew over Texas and about the Alamo and all the reasons Texas was great. I didn’t learn anything about the history of slavery in Texas.

When slavery in Texas was mentioned, it was presented as an unfortunate event that was to be acknowledged but quickly passed over. There was no sense of the institution’s centrality. Slavery was done. There was no point in dwelling on the past. Texas was all about the future, about what came next–the next cattle drive, the next oil well. the next space flight directed by NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.

pp. 27-28

In steps the historian. And we continue to learn and to gain insight about the implications of the past and what needs to happen now.

Now for Thoughts about Reading and Retirement.

After reading On Juneteenth, which I got at the library, I realized I have yet to read Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning book The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family (2008). Don’t scold me. Periodically, I take the book from the shelf of other miscellaneous, yet to be read nonfiction books and ask myself if this is the time. It’s a BIG BOOK, and I know when I read it, I will want to focus and fully immerse myself in it.

It’s the kind of book I think I will want to read when I retire, but I’m not planning to retire anytime soon.

Now here’s a confession. Sometimes when many around me tell me I must read a certain book OR when I hear or read too many reviews about a book, I lose interest in reading the book myself. Because of that, I know I have missed reading many books I would have loved. But it is not too late. There is always retirement whenever that happens or whenever the time is right for that specific book.

In the meantime I daydream about other books on my shelves I want to re-read or read for the first time.

An Invitation:

What books do you daydream about reading? What books did you miss when they were first published but interest you now? I would love to know.

Words of the Season

NOTE: After my Book Report post on Thursday, April 21, I’m going to take a brief break. My plan is to begin posting again the week of May 9.

One of my Lenten practices in recent years has been to describe each day in a word or short phrase or to listen for a word that invites reflection. (I use a template from Praying in Color to record those words.)

The last word, the only word, the word at the center is Easter. How grateful I am to arrive there, to know this word, but at the same time It is good to reflect on the journey.

One of Jan Richardson’s Easter reflections in her book In Wisdom’s Path, Discovering the Sacred in Every Season is about words that have been meaningful in her life. She finds a list she made years ago: courage, comfort, dwell, and many others and decides to make a new list. She notes that many of the words on the old list reappear, but there are also new ones: threshold, voice, longing, labyrinth, shadow, passion and others. (p. 96)

What similarities are there between my 2022 and 2021 Lenten words? What can I learn by reviewing the words from these two years?

The first thing I notice is how much more restrained 2021 is than 2022. I enjoyed the coloring and doodling process this year, and I wonder if it isn’t time to resurrect some coloring books; an activity that has been relaxing in recent years.

My word for the year in 2021 was WORD, and my word for 2022 is RHYTHM. The focus for each word is reflected in each of these images, I think.

During this recent Lent I seemed to have been more aware of the movement of each day, often expressing that movement in my simple doodles, as well as the choice of words. For example, the first Lenten word this year was “let,” followed by “flow,”, “slow down,” and “exhale.” Other words reflect my awareness of the rhythm of my day, of my intentions. “Flow” appears again and “roam” is noted three times, but other words, “steps,” “easy,” “gather,” “flexible,” “wave,” and many others all indicate some kind of movement and rhythm. The movement of God in my life and the movement of God in my own being.

During Lent, 2021, I spent more time writing in my journal about the word for the day. Often I discovered the word for the day in someone else’s words. For example, early in the Lenten season I re-read The Way of Silence, Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast and the days’s passage often revealed that day’s word. On February 20, the revealed word was “aliveness.”

If we could measure our aliveness surely it is the degree to which we are in touch with the Holy One as the inexhaustible fire in the midst of all things. p. 118.

In my journal entry I reflect on times I feel that aliveness.

        When I do things I love to do.
        When I am with people I love.
        When I read something that opens me.
        Sometimes when I am writing, and a word, a sentence feels just right.
        When I end a session with a spiritual direction client and sense they have gained insight into themselves or their relationship with God. 

A number of words in 2021 are related to the pandemic. "Relief" on the day we received our first vaccination and "rejoice" the day we received the second dose. Other words reflect a more solitary life--"cozy," "inhabit," "pray," "imagine,," "tucked in," and "safe."  The 2022 words feel more active, more indicative of a life not so confined. 

Some words are found in both years--"gift," 'listen," "gather," "host," and "space," but do they mean the same thing in both years? Further reflection is needed. In fact, I intend to sit more with both collections of words, for I know there are more insights to be uncovered. 

Perhaps, I will continue the practice of discovering my word for the day and note them on a calendar where I can see the relationships from one day to another and over time. In fact, I will start today.

Today's word is "meet.". Not only will I meet with my writing group, but as I listen to what they share and as I offer my work since our previous meeting time, I know I will meet new thoughts and perspectives. And I suspect I will meet the movement of God.

An Invitation:

What is your word for today? What words seem to keep appearing? I would love to know.

Book Report: Between Two Kingdoms, A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

At age 22 Suleika Jaouad learned she had leukemia and a 35 percent chance of survival.

Devastating. Obviously.

Much of the book details the four years of round after round of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant, and near-death reckonings –written clearly and beautifully. This is all important, but what really moved me in this book was the honest revelations about herself, a young woman going through such crushing pain and uncertainty, and about her needs and desires, met and unmet.

I bent over the sink and splashed my face with cold water and looked in the mirror. I looked terrible–because I was horrible, I thought, with a nauseating swell of shame. Along with the chemo, an ugliness was coursing through my veins. Small violences. Swallowed resentment. Buried humiliations. Displaced fury. And a marrow-deep weariness at a situation that dragged on…

p. 162

When her medical team declares her cured, she learns the healing needs to begin. Jaouad quotes Susan Sontag in her book Illness as Metaphor, “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.” In part healing means navigating from the kingdom of the sick to the kingdom of the well and to honor that she embarks on a pilgrimage, a 100 day road trip. In response to the column she wrote for the New York Times about being so young and having cancer, many people wrote to her about their own stories, and she decides to visit some of them, including a man on Death Row in Texas.

He understands what it feels like to feel stuck in purgatory, awaiting the news of your fate; the loneliness and claustrophobia of being confined to a small room for endless stretches of time; how it’s necessary to get inventive in order to keep yourself sane. These unexpected parallels are what initially compelled him to write to me, “You’ve fled death in your own personal prison just like I continue to face death in mine…At the end of the day death is death, doesn’t matter the form it takes.”

p. 338

Throughout those long years her family was there for her completely. As was her boyfriend–until he wasn’t. Caretaking is not easy, especially when you are just starting out in your own life. Jaouad shares all the ways he sacrificed for her and expressed his love, and she is deeply grateful, but ultimately, the reality of her needs was too much. A certain bitterness remains and more healing needs to occur beyond the last page of the book.

Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers.

p. 312

Fun Fact: Jaouad recently married the gifted musician, Jon Batiste.

My copy of the book is feathered with tabs, and I could have marked many more memorable passages. I am grateful for the wisdom and openness found on these pages, and offer a prayer that her cancer days are over forever and that healing continues in her life.

An Invitation:

What have you read recently that encouraged your own healing? I would love to know.

Holy Days

These are Holy Days.

This week leads Christians through the remaining days of Lent to Easter Sunday, but first there is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil on Saturday. Jews are preparing for Passover. The eight-day festival begins at sundown on April 15 and ends at sundown on April 23. And Muslims are marking Ramadan the entire month of April, ending with the Feast of Fast-Breaking on Sunday, May 1.

Yes, these are Holy Days, in which those of us who practice one of these faith traditions reflect on the stories central to our beliefs, gather with our faith communities, and observe the customs of these days. For example, a recent tradition at our house is to add the palms we waved on Palm Sunday to the basket of forsythia on our front door as a reminder of these Holy Days.

Along with attending each of the planned services this week, I will also attend a Solidarity Around the Cross prayer service at the Ukrainian American Center in Minneapolis, sponsored by my congregation as one way to respond to the world’s suffering. But I will also continue with morning prayer and reflection time, holding these days in my heart and reflecting on their meaning for how I live my life.

These Holy Days ask me to be aware of and live fully each holy day.

Some days I manage that better than others. This reluctant spring has added to the challenge here in my part of the world, but I am trying to love what is, to see and feel the holiness of each day.

I challenge myself to know, really know, the fullness of the words, “Every day is a gift.” Yes, regardless of the temperature, the precipitation, road conditions, or lingering brown landscape. I can continue to become more of the person I was created to be no matter the season, and I feel an eagerness to discover the holy days of this particular spring. In what ways will I be enticed to grow? How will I nurture others and myself? Where will I notice the movement of God?

Settle to be fully present to yourself, to whatever is, to God…dwell, and absorb and be–Give thanks.

from Christos Center meditation, 3/14/22

May these Holy Days be holy days in your life. May each day to come be a holy day.

An Invitation:

What might you do to be more aware of each day as a holy day? I would love to know.

I spotted these Lego vignettes of Holy Week in the Sunday School classroom where the writing group I facilitate meets each week. Holy Play!

Book Report: March Round-Up

This was a 12 book month–maybe because March was more like a lion than a lamb. Reading was definitely the cozy thing to do on snowy and cold days.

Fiction: Seven Books

  • My favorite this month was A Town Called Solace (2021) by Mary Lawson. One of my favorite books of 2021 was her first book Crow Lake, and this month I have already read another in her backlist. In my book journal notes I wrote, “If I wrote fiction, I would like to write a book like this.” The characters in her books, which are set in northern Canada, are real, flawed, vulnerable, and likable, sometimes lovable. Clara is eight years old and worried about her older sister who has run away. She is also worried about her neighbor Mrs Orchard who is in the hospital. At least that is what she is told. Clara takes care of Moses, her neighbor’s cat, but how to do that when she realizes someone else is living in the house?
  • I also loved The Floor of the Sky (2006) by Pamela Carter Joern. Lila, age 16, is pregnant and comes to live on her grandmother Toby’s ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. Toby is in danger of losing the ranch to back taxes –her backstory is revealed slowly, gently, and lovingly. Like the characters in the Lawson book, these characters entered my heart.
  • Another one of my favorite books in 2021 was This Is Happiness by Niall Williams, and now I am exploring his backlist. This past month I read Four Letters of Love (1997). Also set in Ireland, this is a story of two families. The father in one wants to devote his life to painting and the father in the other writes poetry and as a prize in a writing contest is given a painting by the other man. This is the story, as many novels are, of love and loss and discernment, but also miracles. Here is an example of one beautifully written passage (p.209):

The priest shushed them, and waved them hopelessly back towards the gate. He was a quiet man who sought quietness, and was suddenly alarmed at what landed in his parish. Panic prickled in his lower stomach like a bag of needles. It was the kind of thing you wished on your worst enemy this: miracles. Let the bishop have them, give them to Galway, but not here. Why were they always happening in out-of-the-way rural places? God! His shaven jaw stung in the salt wind and he rued the new blades he had bought at O’Gormans.

  • Jacqueline Winspear’s newest in her Maisie Dobbs series was published in March, and I didn’t hesitate to get my copy of A Sunlit Weapon. Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist and private investigator in post WWI London. This latest book is set during WWII and we get fuller views of Maisie with her American husband and their adopted daughter. While I don’t anticipate re-reading these books as I have done with the Louise Penney books, each one is a good read. I recommend reading them in order. The first book in the series is Maisie Dobbs (2003).
  • I enjoyed both Marjorie Morningstar (1955) by Herman Wouk, which I found in a Little Free Library, and The Bastard of Istanbul (2007) by Elif Shafak. (I will probably read Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love at some point.) I did not particularly enjoy The Camomile Lawn (1984) by Mary Wesley and am not sure why I didn’t set it aside without finishing. It is set in the early years of WWII in England and focuses on a decadent and sometimes abusive family. Some nice writing, but I won’t be reading more by this author.

Nonfiction: Five Books

  • I have already written a review of Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past (2006) by Diane Wilson and highly recommend it.
  • If you are in a discernment process of any kind, I also highly recommend Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment, The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way (2010) by Nancy Bieber. I have used this book more than once and am so glad it is still on my shelf and once again, it was just the help I needed.
  • The Making of an Old Soul, Aging as the Fulfillment of Life’s Promise (2021) by Carol Orsborn is a slim book, but packed with wisdom. She maintains the “purpose of life may be to clarify our essence,” and the book illuminates how awakening to that essence is possible to our final page. Previously, I appreciated a book she co-authored with Robert L. Weber, The Spirituality of Age, A Seeker’s Guide to Growing Older (2015).
  • Not as high on my recommended list are two other books read in March. The Salt Path (2018) by Raynor Winn and Soul Therapy, The Art and Craft of Caring Conversation (2021) by Thomas Moore. The Salt Path is the true story of Winn and her husband Moth who undertake a 630 mile walk in the UK. They are homeless and broke, and this is a brave, but not always wise decision, especially since husband Moth has serious health issues. The story is important, but the writing was not always strong. I have loved earlier books by Moore, including The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life and Care of the Soul, but this most recent book is not his strongest. I like the notion, however, that therapy is really care of the soul, and I like this quote:

…you are the servant and secretary, not the one who heals and saves. You are the priest and minister, but not the cause of success. Your job is to assist at the healing but not do the work first hand. Sometimes I think of my job as that of sacristan. I keep the temple clean and well-supplied.

An Invitation:

What did you read in March and what do you recommend? I would love to know.

What Is Life-Enhancing?

I’m not sure what is life-enhancing about this April view of our side garden, which we call “Paris,” except knowing that it is there. It is waiting for the days when I will sit there in the morning with my devotion materials or enjoy my lunch there while reading a good book.

In the meantime I am aware of so much in my life that is life-enhancing. In fact, that is an on-going conversation with myself, and I suspect God is eavesdropping and accepting my musings as prayer.

So here’s my top of the head list or should I say close to the surface of my heart list?.

  • Facilitating the weekly writing group at my church. Not only do I love being with the group, sitting in, silence and then writing, listening, and sharing together, but creating the writing prompt and selecting readings for the day adds to my life, my being.
  • Meeting with my spiritual direction clients. What a privilege to accompany each one of them on their own spiritual journeys. I sit in prayer both before and after our meeting times and hold them close.
  • Starting my day with meditation and devotion time. Some days it is hard to leave this quiet and enriching time and move into the rest of the day, and other times I feel almost propelled with purpose and deeper awareness of next steps.
  • Attending Sunday morning worship and adult forum. I am an introvert, a contemplative content in my solitude, but more and more I realize the importance of community and how that opens me to the movement of God.
  • Being in the presence of my personal library. During my devotion time this morning I read a reference in a Lenten devotion by Jan Richardson to a small book of prayers, All Desires Known by Janet Morely. Much to my delight, I realized I own that book and then spent some time browsing its pages. Spacious time for reading, of course, enhances my life in so many ways.
  • Tending our home. Yes, sometimes that is a chore, for who likes to clean the bathroom! Hometending most of the time, however, feeds my creativity, clears space for new thoughts, ideas, and plans, and opens my heart to hospitality.

Of course, this list must include both the planned and the spontaneous times with family and friends and the days my husband and I roam, driving country roads and exploring small towns. Writing posts for this blog is also on this list and receiving your comments. (Thank you, dear readers!)

One more thought: As I listed what enhances my life, I wondered how this list differs from a gratitude list. Perhaps they are the same, but here’s what occurs to me now. Being aware of what enhances my life opens me to the rhythm of each day and helps me discern my priorities and how to best use my energy. It’s sort of like a “to do” list, a Spiritual To Do List.

I will think about that a bit more, but in the meantime, I wait the day when time in “Paris” enhances my day once again.

An Invitation:

What enhances your life? I would love to know.