Book Report: June Round-Up

June 30, 2022

Big Books.

Books Read Again.

A Book about Books and Bookstores

Books with Spies and Intrigue

New Books, Old Books

That about summarizes my reading this month, but perhaps you want details.

Big Books

I read three books over 500 pages and don’t regret one minute immersed in all those pages.

  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fannonne Jeffers. The main character Ailey spends summers in a small Georgia town where her mother’s family lived in bondage as slaves. The book explores the complicated history of that family and leads us through the generations, going back and forth in time. As readers we see the results of the trauma, oppression, and cruelty, as well as the resiliency and passion for life. In the middle of the book I wearied of the male dominant-female abused sex scenes, but was glad I didn’t give up reading the book, for there is much to love in these characters and their lives.
  • The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. A terrific summer read, which I wrote about in an earlier post this month. https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/06/09/book-report-great-circle-by-maggie-shipstead/
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Another terrific summer read, a re-read in my case. I wonder if I read this in the summer the first time around. The title refers to a painting, and each chapter focuses on a specific character, although the main character Penelope, who is the daughter of the painter and a figure in the painting, is never far away. You will love some characters and others, not so much!

Books Read Again

Along with The Shell Seekers, I re-read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which is well-worth reading again or for the first time, if you have not yet read it. The book is divided into sections: Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorrow, Ease, Illness and Decline, Death. A full and complete life. Daisy Goodwin Flett’s mother, Mercy Stone was raised in an orphanage, the Stonewall Orphan Home, and her father was a stone cutter. Thus the title. The book is Daisy’s witness to herself –there is a reference to her “decoding” her life. Gorgeous writing that is at once lush and understated.

A Book About Books and Bookstores

In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch. At times obscure and too esoteric for summer reading. Nevertheless, I enjoyed being reminded of the gift of browsing good bookstores. The author says there are many types of browsers, including the idler who just wants to while away the hours, the flaneur who meanders through the stacks, observing, loitering, shuffling; the general who sees the stacks as a thing to be conquered; and the pilgrim, who seeks wisdom. Deutsch worked at the famous Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, which unfortunately no longer exists, but I am grateful I visited it a couple times and left its underground warren of rooms with piles of books for my personal library of spirituality and theology books.

Books With Spies and Intrigue

The Expats and The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone. This author has written LOTS of books, including a brand new one, Two Nights in Lisbon. The Paris Diversion is a sequel to The Expats. At times I didn’t quite follow the plot and at times I didn’t care for the main characters, a husband and wife, both full of secrets. However, I loved the twists and turns–and being in Luxembourg and Paris.

New Books, Old Books.

I’ve already mentioned three of the new books I read this month (The Great Circle–2021; The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois–2021, and In Praise of Good Bookstores–2022). The fourth new book is nonfiction, Bitter Sweet, How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain. Cain’s earlier book, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) is on my personal Great Books List; a book that made a difference in how I view myself and my relationship to the world. This book isn’t on that same level, but I identified with much of what she wrote. On her Bittersweet quiz, I scored 8. Above 5.7 means I am a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.” The book includes excellent chapters on grief and inherited pain.

The Shell Seekers was published in 1987 and The Stone Diaries in 1994. I also read Solar Storms, a novel, by Linda Hogan published in 1995 and Without a Map, a memoir, by Meredith Hall published in 2007. Reading Solar Storms, I felt totally immersed in Native American spirituality. Angel has been separated from her mother, who hurt her physically and emotionally, but she sets out to reconnect. The book is rich in transformation and reconciliation and also the urgency of saving the traditional native way of life. I read a used copy, and I loved seeing what the previous owner had marked as meaningful.

Meredith Hall wrote the luminous novel Beneficence, which I wrote about in a May post. https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/05/19/book-report-beneficence-by-meredith-hall-2020/ Without a Map is her stunning memoir of a life that could easily have ended in tragedy or at the very least bitterness, but instead the author is a woman of great compassion and forgiveness. When she was pregnant at age 16 in the 1960’s, she was expelled from school, totally rejected by her parents, and the baby was adopted without her seeing him. Somehow she survived, but life remained challenging for many years. This book helps me understand the insight and compassion she has for her characters in Beneficence.

So that does it for this month: 10 books for summer days.

An Invitation

What did you read this month? I would love to know.

Turn Anger into Action

June 28, 2022

When my husband and I were first married, and he was in medical school, I taught high school English at a large and diverse public high school in Webster Groves, Missouri. That job supported us during those years, but that was in 1971 and my income didn’t make a difference when I applied for a credit card. Only my husband’s income counted, but he didn’t have an income.

In his last year of medical school I was pregnant. Our first child was due in August, which meant I would be able to teach through the end of the school year, and then we would move back to Minnesota where Bruce would be a resident in family practice. He would have an income.

What I didn’t know those first months of my pregnancy was that the superintendent of schools and the principal (both white men) conferred to decide if I would be allowed to continue teaching. Apparently, school board members were consulted as well. You see, I was the first female teacher in the school district who didn’t lose my job because of pregnancy.

There is another piece to this story. There were a number of students, who were also pregnant, and during the lunch hour we gathered in my classroom to talk about how we were feeling and what we saw in our futures. I was the only one who had a bright future; a future that included a husband with a good job; a future that included good medical care; a future that welcomed this new life I was growing.

I know some faculty members felt those young women should not have been allowed to continue attending classes, and I also recall some of my colleagues who were uncomfortable working with a pregnant teacher and expressed that discomfort, making off-color remarks.

I have often thought about those young women sitting uncomfortably in my classroom on chairs not made for pregnant women. What has happened to them and to their babies? And what do they think about the recent Supreme Court decision.

I tell these stories because they are examples of women not being viewed as full human beings, as people deserving of all the rights assumed by men, especially white men.

Others decided what I and other women were allowed to do and how to move forward in our lives.

The next decades saw lots of changes. Thank you feminists of both sexes for working to make these changes. Not all was perfect. Not everything changed, and the fight for equality for all has continued, but now, just like the children’s game, Simon Says, the Supreme Court has dictated, “Take a giant step backwards.” The writer Glennon Doyle calls this time “The Great Backslide.”

I am angry and I am sad. And I am scared about the future.

Earlier in the week I sat in my “Paris” garden and addressed and wrote messages on postcards to be sent to registered Democratic voters in Florida. The message was a simple reminder to request mail-in ballots for the upcoming election. I supplied the postcards, the stamps, and the time, and Postcards to Voters sent me the instructions and a mailing list. The morning’s task felt like prayer.

Be angry. Be sad, and acknowledge your fear, but at the same time lift your voice in the way that truly makes a difference: VOTE.

Vote and remind others to vote. Are there young people in your lives who are eligible to vote? Ask them if they have registered? If they haven’t, let them know what they need to do and help them do that, if necessary. Share stories and experiences with them about what it means to live without the right to live authentically and fully. Tell them to celebrate your birthday or the 4th of July by requesting a mail-in ballot.

It is good to march and protest and certainly to support worthy candidates and causes financially, but ultimately, what each of us can do and needs to do is vote. Vote for candidates who are willing to support the rights of all people.

An Invitation

How are you? I would love to know.

Note:

For information about sending postcards: https://postcardstovoters.mypostcard.com/blogs/ptv-faq/how-to-get-addresses

Book Report: Morning Reading

June 23, 2022

June 23, 2022

In the summer I am more apt to begin my day with a walking meditation than reading, writing in my journal, and praying in my Girlfriend Chair in the garret. However, some days I still create time for devotions, study, and reading. My current stack is enticing.

  • The Seven Story Mountain, An Autobiography of Faith by Thomas Merton (1948). I can’t quite believe I have never read this classic, although I have read a number of other Merton titles. For example, both New Seeds of Contemplation (1961) and Spiritual Direction and Meditation (1960) have been important books in my own spiritual development. This spring I found a copy of The Seven Story Mountain in a Little Free Library. “Now is the time.” In the introduction Robert Giroux, Merton’s friend and editor, relates a story about receiving a piece of hate mail. “Tell this talking Trappist who took a vow of silence to shut up!” Giroux’s answer was “Writing is a form of contemplation.” That was all I needed to begin reading this work of contemplation, which I am reading contemplatively. An aside: Merton was accidentally electrocuted in Bangkok in 1968. I was a student there then, but knew nothing about Merton or his death and only later was drawn to his work.
  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh (2017). I bought this book when I attended a writing retreat led by Karen Hering at the Christine Center, Willard, WI, in 2019. Sometimes books just need to percolate on my shelves, but like the Merton book, this seems like the right time. Both The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older (2014) and The Grace in Living, Recognize It, Trust It, Abide in It (2016) have become sacred texts in my life, and I was so pleased to find a more recent book. Singh died in 2017. I am reading this slowly, too, and resting in her wisdom.
  • Awakening the Creative Spirit, Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction by Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman (2010). You may recognize Paintner as the abbess for Abbey of the Arts. https://abbeyofthearts.com Beckman is a dancer and a practitioner of dance therapy. Over the years I have read many books by Paintner and have been privileged to be a guest writer in her weekly newsletter. I decided to dip into this book right now for a couple reasons. First, I think it may inspire some prompts for the weekly writing group I facilitate, but second, I am feeling a bit dry creatively myself, and I expect I will find inspiration on these pages. I’ll let you know.
  • Getting to the Truth, The Craft and Practice of Nonfiction from the editors of Hippocampus Magazine (2021). I almost added this to my discard pile after I decided to set aside any further work on my spiritual memoir, but some of the essay titles intrigue me, like “Why You Should Write About What You Don’t Remember” by Wendy Fontaine and “One-Moment Memoir” by Jenna McGuiggan. I don’t promise to read every essay nor do I imagine doing the exercises, but I intend to read this more as a contemplative reflection on next steps in my own writing. Again, I’ll let you know.

Off the meditation cushion, aka my Girlfriend Chair, I continue to read good fiction. I’ll give the June Book Report on Thursday, June 30.

An Invitation

What are you reading that you hope will inspire you or will lead you into deeper reflection? I would love to know.

Summer Spirituality

June 21, 2022

This is what summer looks like in our backyard, thanks to the resident gardener in our house.

Each time I walk from the backdoor to the garage or look out the kitchen window or sit, book in hand, on the patio, I am reminded to savor this season and to notice the gifts of God in these days and in our lives.

If you are an ongoing reader of this blog, you know that I am not a summer person. I am a winter person who relishes hibernation and cave time. I meet God in the stillness, the quiet, the dark that arrives early in the afternoon and leaves late in the morning. In stews and soups simmering in my small kitchen, in sweaters and shawls and cozy throws thrown over my legs. Winter feeds my introverted soul.

My Summer Story

Because my father worked for a large corporation and was transferred and promoted often, summer began when a moving van pulled up in front of our house, usually as soon as the school year ended. For me, summer was a time of loss, leaving my friends and all that was familiar and known. Instead of a time of fun and freedom, summer was a time of loneliness. I yearned for school to begin in the fall where I could meet kids my own age and find a place for myself in new classrooms. But I also felt anxiety during those summer months. Would I like my new school? Would I make new friends?

In my adult years I’ve reframed that loneliness into solitude, and I wrap my spiritual practices in silence and stillness. I realize, however, that I still carry with me the stigma of those empty summer days of my childhood.

Leave them behind, I remind myself, but also learn from them. What can summer mean for me now?

Now is the time, I tell myself, to open to the invitations of this season–to live beyond the irritation of mosquitos and sweat and frizzy hair and nonexistent breezes.

Now is the time to both create and respond to the rhythm of this summer.

Opening to this Summer

As always I begin in silence. Sitting in my comfortable chair in the garret, I close my eyes lightly, not tightly, and take a couple deep cleansing breaths, finding my own rhythm. I allow questions to emerge:

How am I as I enter this summer season?

What do I need now? Do I need rest? Change of place, of pace? Inspiration? Connection? What is the call of this summer? What is possible this summer?

How can this summer season meet my needs? How can I invite God to be with me during this time?

Is there a spiritual practice calling me or a new way of becoming present to something I currently do in my life?

What have I learned during the winter and spring months that will enhance these summer months? What do I bring with me from those recent seasons? What is unfinished? What do I need to put down?

I open my journal and jot down a few words–“spaciousness,” for example, but I make no attempt to answer all these questions in one sitting. I know some questions will answer themselves as I move through the days, and others will emerge, but in the silence I become more aware of who I am and how and to what God calls me at this time.

Summer Spaciousness

Instead of that summer loneliness I experienced as a child, I relish these open days. Days that unfold. Spacious days offering time to read, to doze, to celebrate the glories of the June color blast garden.

When our children were young, we made summer lists –things we wanted to do and places we wanted to go–but now we mention in passing trips we could take or things we could do, but neither of us seems to be making the arrangements or plans. We are both content right here, right now.

Instead of a hummingbird who is in constant motion, vibration that delights, I am more like our big old dog, Boe, who lived with us at Sweetwater Farm. He was content no matter where he was. Stretched out under the harvest table, he opened one eye as I passed through from my office to the kitchen, and maybe he thumped his tail greeting me, but otherwise he didn’t move.

These days seem to stretch out before me, and I feel the twists and turns of life untangle. No, those twists and turns don’t quite disappear, but they feel more manageable, more breathable in the slightest of summer breezes.

Summer Themes

The arrival of summer solstice can be an invitation to notice the unfolding and opening of summer days in your life. Do any of the following summer themes resonate with you? Do any of them open memories of past summers? Which of these summer themes shimmer and tickle and lift an “ah” to your lips? Pay attention. God is moving in your summer days.

  • Summer Spontaneity
  • Summer Senses
  • Summer Spaciousness
  • Summer Simplicity
  • Summer Shifts
  • Summer Sacred Space
  • Summer Silliness
  • Summer Stillness
  • Summer Stretching
  • Summer Celebrations
  • Summer Support
  • Summer Sadness
  • Summer Sweetness

Summer Spiritual Practices

Is a new spiritual practice beckoning you? Or is summer a chance to adapt your ongoing spiritual practice in a new way? For example, moving your prayer and meditation time outside. Here are some possibilities:

Keep a summer journal. Pilgrims carried a small book with them a vade mecum, which means “go with me.” In the journal they wrote prayers, poems, and wisdom for the journey, but it would also be a way to record what you notice and learn and feel as you wander and roam. Where do you notice the movement of God?

Practice visio divina (sacred seeing), which is similar to lectio divina (holy reading). This practice invites you to see with the eyes of the heart and to pay attention to what shimmers, what invites you, what startles or amazes you. Where do you discover outdoor “chapels”? Perhaps commit to taking one photo a day and at the end of the summer print your photos. Do you notice any patterns? Where did God appear for you?

Other practices include extending hospitality to guests, gardening, walking outdoor labyrinths, spending time in nature, stargazing, pausing to send blessings out into the world as you open windows, volunteering in some new way in the community, trying something new that challenges you. Change your routine in some way and notice what that opens for you.

How about inviting a loved one to a practice of sharing daily with each other one gift, one expression of God, noticed or experienced?

I invite you and I invite myself to open to summer.

A Blessing

May the God of summer give us beauty.

May the God of summer give us rest.

May the God of summer give us joy.

May the God of summer give us inner light.

May the God of summer gives us what we need for healing.

May the God of summer give us a sense of satisfaction in the work of our hands.

May the God of summer lead us to amazing discoveries as we travel the inner roads of our soul.

Amen.

adapted from Joyce Rupp

An Invitation

What intentions do you have for this summer? I would love to know.

Book Report: Favorite Reading Places

June 16, 2022

I can read and am happy to read in any location, but on these June days I most enjoy sitting on our patio with a full view of the garden; a garden developed and tended by my husband. I receive its beauty every day.

The only setting better for my reading pleasure is a view of water, preferably big water. Water where I can hear the sound of waves, gentle or with more energy. The first COVID summer my husband and I packed up outdoor chairs, cold drinks and snacks and our books and headed to nearby lakes where we could sit at a distance from anyone else and enjoy a “vacation day.”

When we lived at Sweetwater Farm, I stretched out on the sectional in the area at the front of the house we called “the nest.” When the windows were open, I often heard the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by or I might hear our donkey, Festus, signaling that it was dinner time NOW.

As a child, I remember reading on a blanket spread out on the beach of the resort where my family spent one or two weeks each summer. It was one of those old-fashioned kind of resorts with individual cabins and not much, if any, in the way of amenities, but we loved it there. At night or if it rained, my book and I moved onto the screen porch, and I was just as content.

In one house we lived in for only a short time when I was in the 7th grade, there was a window seat in the closet of my room. Guess where I read? When our kids were young, we sat on the front porch swing, and I read aloud the next chapters in the current family book. Our house in Madison, WI, had one of those large, livable porches, too, and I often spent the whole day there reading or writing, only stopping to make dinner, which we would eat on the porch and then read there until bugs interfered with our comfort.

One of my favorite reading memories is reading in the adult pool at a country club. We lived in Dallas, TX, for two years when I was in junior high school, and we often spent hot summers weekend days at the club. My father and brother sometimes played golf, and my mother sat near the kiddie pool, watching my younger sister. Nobody, and I mean nobody, used the pool designated as the adult pool. That pool had wide steps leading into the water, and I sat on the top step, the water lapping against my legs and waist.

Once a lifeguard told me to get out of the pool because it was just for adults, and a man I didn’t know told him to leave me alone. “She’s not bothering anyone.” I suppose I thanked him and just kept reading.

More important, of course, than place, however, is the book. Right now I am reading a long and absorbing novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fannonne Jeffers, and I will need many more hours of reading in favorite locations before I write about this book.

Looking Back: Favorite Books of June, 2021

I will list my favorite June books in a couple weeks, but in the meantime here are a few of the books I read a year ago.

  • I re-read two favorites and loved them even more the second time around. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiyu Davila Harris, a debut novel, was a summer sensation. OBG stands for “other black girl,” and is used when there is more than one black woman in an office. Now think about that! In this case the office is a publishing house. I can imagine this book being the basis for a television series.
  • What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwartz is set in Bangkok in 1972. That interested me since I spent a semester in Thailand the fall of 1968, and I recognized many of the place names. The dysfunction of the American family whose son disappears reminded me of Ann Patchett’s themes at times. An engrossing read.
  • I only read two nonfiction books last June. (I think that will be true this June, too.) One was The Seeker and the Monk by Sophfronia Scott, in which the author explored her own spirituality by studying Thomas Merton. The other nonfiction title was Morningstar, Growing Up With Books by Ann Hood. I am a sucker for books about books, and this was a good one.

An Invitation

Where do you like to read? I would love to know.

It Takes A Village

June 14, 2022

I heard voices. I thought I was dreaming until I heard the distinctive “thump, thump, thump” of someone jumping on the neighbors’ trampoline.

I got out of bed and walked to the kitchen window where I could see the trampoline in the backyard next door, and three boys were laughing and talking and jumping.

Did I mention that it was 11:45 PM?

Perhaps they heard me or felt my presence, but they then quietly disappeared into the house.

I wish I could say that I slept well the rest of the night, but that was not the case. I knew I needed to talk with the parents, for middle of the night trampoline parties held by elementary school-aged children is not ok. I was quite certain it was not ok with the parents either and for whatever reason they were not aware of the backyard action, but still I was not eager to be the mean old woman on the block.

The next afternoon I went next door, and when the young Dad came to the door, I said, “I hate to do this, but did you know your boys were jumping on the trampoline at 11:45 last night?”

No, he had no idea. The boys had a sleepover and after setting them up with a movie at 10:00 pm, he and his wife went to bed, congratulating themselves that all seemed to be well. He apologized and assured me they would take care of it.

I reassured him that we thoroughly enjoy the boys and emphasized my hope that the boys knew they could always turn to us if they needed help of any kind.

A bit later I received a note of apology. The note is now on my bulletin board–a sweet treasure and a symbol of how it, indeed, takes a village to care for our children.

We have 22 children on our block, and it delights my husband and I to see them playing with each other outside, racing up and down the block, making up games, and enjoying big chunks of non-screen time. There is an air of safety, and I trust that everyone on the block takes responsibility for the care and protection of those children.

However, I also know that in the bigger picture we have failed our children. We have failed to protect them. Parents are afraid. Teachers are afraid. Children are afraid. And yet, we continue to ignore ways to protect our children, and, in fact, all of us by not enacting gun regulation laws. And it is up to each of us, everyone in the village, to create the change that will allow our children to grow without fear or trauma that will color the way they live the rest of their lives.

An Invitation

How are you willing to be part of the village that cares and protects our children? I would love to know.

Book Report: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

June 9, 2022

I always read in bed before turning out the light, but only occasionally do I begin the day reading in bed. Last Friday, however, I woke up a bit earlier than usual and decided to treat myself to what I call “Edith Wharton Time.”

Now I have no idea if the American writer Edith Wharton actually started her day by reading in bed, but when I toured her gorgeous home, The Mount, in Massachusetts and saw her spacious bedroom looking out over the gardens she had carefully planned, I imagined her enjoying the morning reading or writing in bed before attending to her agenda for the day. She had servants, of course, and perhaps even was served breakfast in bed. That was not the case for me, but I don’t usually eat breakfast anyway.

I only had 50 pages left to read in Great Circle (2021) by Maggie Shipstead, and reading them in the early hours when I felt refreshed from a good night’s sleep seemed like a perfect way to start the day.

I loved this book.

The plot summary on the back of the book is accurate and enticing:

After being rescued from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences a lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen, she drops out of school and finds an unexpected patron in a wealthy bootlegger, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, movie star Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film centered on her disappearance in Antartica. Scandal-plagued and trapped in her role as a Hollywood wild child, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after getting fired from a romantic film franchise. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s destinies–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different places and times–collide.

Does this tempt you?

At 651 pages, reading this book is a commitment, but I enjoy sinking into a book with rich descriptions of place and engaging with complicated characters and twists of plots and staying with a story that spans lifetimes. And the circle theme–circles as endless and wondrous, but as Marian points out in the book she writes about undertaking the North-South Pole journey, “Endlessness is torture, too.”

I now have added Shipstead’s two previous novels to my TBR list: Astonish Me (2014) and Seating Arrangements (2012). My library hold list continues to grow!

Starting my day by finishing the book must have been a good omen, for the delights of the day continued. My husband, who was busy with his garage sale selling the discarded furniture he has painted, pointed out it was National Donut Day. That required a trip to a favorite bakery, The Baker’s Wife. And later I enjoyed time with a friend sitting in the sunshine on her patio. A good day, indeed.

An Invitation

Do you enjoy reading in bed? I would love to know.

Cleaning as Life Review

June 7, 2022

Folder by folder. Page by page.

What was once overflowing is now orderly and neat.

I even have empty drawers and shelves in the garret.

Such a good feeling.

Cleaning and home tending is one of my spiritual practices, and clearing the space is often the first step (or is it the last step?) when I move into the next stage of a project or prepare to start something new. That was true this time, for I have been in the process of discernment about ongoing work on my memoir. But this time the process of cleaning and sorting and discarding and letting go has also been a process of life review.

Each folder contained plans for a class I taught, a retreat I led, a talk I presented or a collection of ideas for an article to write or one already written.

One folder bulged with all the plans and materials for spirituality groups I led years ago at a center for those touched by cancer. I felt myself doing a bit of time-traveling, remembering the openness and vulnerability in those groups. I called one of those sessions “When Cancer Rearranges Your Furniture,” and brought in pieces of dollhouse furniture, which led to deep sharing about all the ways the participants experienced change in their everyday lives. In another session, I used Christina Baldwin’s book The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit (2002) to discuss the topic “ask for what you need, offer what you can.” Such a privilege it was to sit with people willing to explore their spirituality during difficult times. Later I was diagnosed with cancer myself and needed to probe my own spiritual grounding for strength and comfort.

Over the years I have considered writing a compilation of those ideas and exercises, and maybe now is the time. I keep that folder.

I also keep folders of materials about this stage of life, including the folder labeled “Growing Older with Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life,” a retreat I co-led in 2015; one of the first programs I did for my church. That event opened the door to ongoing ministry to older adults, a focus for me in recent years. As I toss duplicate copies and handwritten notes and scraps of paper, I remember individual interactions and responses to topics like “gratitude,” and “letting go,” and “entering the new year.”

The process continued, and I filled the recycling bin with what no longer feels relevant or no longer holds my interest or quite simply, feels done. Been there, done that.

I simplified physical space, a task many of us at this stage of our lives feel compelled to do, but I honored myself. “Nancy, you have done good work.” As I opened each folder I retraced paths of what have been important to me and ways I have used my gifts. I delighted in my own creativity and my teaching and organizational skills

And that is a good thing.

I am not done teaching or leading groups, but this clearing the space process, which is ongoing, opens me to what is possible and life-enhancing in my life. Where do I need and want to spend my energy at this stage of my life? And that is the key question for me.

The garret feels fresh and clean. And open.

An Invitation

How is the process of downsizing or simplifying the contents of your home, also a process of life review for you? I would love to know.

Book Report: May Round-Up

June 2, 2022

Fiction Dominated!

Out of the twelve books I read in May, only two were nonfiction, and both of those were memoir: The Pleasure of Their Company (2006) by Doris Grumbach, written as she contemplated her 80th birthday celebration, and A Ghost in the Throat (2020) by Irish poet Doireann Ni Ghriofa. I heard an interview with Ghriofa on NPR and was intrigued, but wasn’t sure if it was a novel or a memoir or a piece of literary criticism about an 18th century Irish poet Eibhin Dubh Ni Chonaill. I conclude it is all three. (The bookseller who sold me the book was quite sure it is a novel, by the way.) Did I love it? No, but I am not sorry I read it, and I appreciate the author’s reflection on the text of women’s lives.

Out of the ten fiction books I read, five were books in the mystery series by Nicci French (a pseudonym for a husband-wife team) featuring the psychoanalyst Frieda Klein as the main character. We also listened to the audio book of one of the titles on our road trip to Montana. I have finished the series and am glad I read them one after another for there is an ongoing thread in each of the books that might be hard to follow if read out of order or one without the rest. I won’t say more.

I read five other novels in May. The most memorable is Beneficence by Meredith Hall. You can read my review in an earlier post. livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/05/19/book-report-beneficence-by-meredith-hall-2020/ This is a stunning book, and I keep thinking about its gifts.

The other four novels read in May are:

  • Take My Hand by Dolan Perkins-Valdez, a new novel (2022), which is getting quite a bit of attention. The topic, which is sterilization of black women/girls without informed consent, is an important one, and the story told is chilling and appalling. The main character is a young Black woman, a nurse from a well-to-do family. Set in the 1970’s in Montgomery, Alabama, She works at a family planning clinic and becomes involved with a family in which two young girls are sterilized. That eventually leads to a major law case. One of the themes especially well-developed was the assumptions made about how, when, and what kinds of care and involvement to give.
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff (2021). What a good book group selection this would be, but don’t judge it by the book flap summary, which says nothing!!!! The book has been reviewed widely because of the author’s previous successes, including Fates and Furies (2015) and Florida (2018), or I would have had no idea what to expect. Also, a male friend informed me there are no men in the book. NO MEN! I didn’t miss them. The book is set in the 1100s in what became England and is based on a real person. Marie was sent to an abbey where she has visions of the Virgin Mary and transforms the abbey from poverty to riches and power.
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson (2019). A good vacation read. The story is based on the designing and creating of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress, and the main characters are two of the gown’s embroiderers. One of them is a Jewish refugee from France. Part of the story is set later in Canada when a granddaughter wants to learn more about her family history.
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker (1966). Based on her great-grandmother’s life, the novel, written over 30 years, was in response to “Nostalgia” fiction about antebellum and Reconstruction South. The main character, Vygry, who looks and is often mistaken as white, works in the Big House of her father, the master of the plantation. The plot moves from preCivil War through the war and to the years after the war. At times the book reads like a well-written text book, and I learned a great deal, but mainly the rich writing and the wrenching story of the characters’ desire for freedom kept me reading.

An Invitation

As always, I am interested in what you have been reading. What do you recommend? I would love to know.

BONUS NOTE:

My husband has been painting and decorating discarded furniture all winter, and the garage is full to the brim. Come view and buy examples of creative talents at his garage sale, Thursday through Saturday, June 2-4 from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. 2025 Wellesley Ave, St Paul. Access the garage through the alley ONLY. Proceeds support Lutheran Social Services for homeless youth. Wear a mask, please.

How to Mourn?

May 31, 2022

Part One

I tried to write in my journal, but nothing.

I have grieved the loss of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

I have grieved the loss of friends who died far too young and hospice patients with whom I sat at the end of their lives.

I have grieved the impending loss of others who are facing serious health concerns.

I have grieved the loss of so many in our country killed unjustly. Murdered.

I have grieved roads not taken.

I have grieved unwelcome changes.

Grief is not an unknown in my life, and I know it is not unfamiliar to you, either.

But this…

Years ago in a class on spiritual practices I taught, the participants made their own string of prayer beads. I have used mine occasionally since then, but not regularly. Now seemed like the right time.

Sitting in silence, I fingered the beads; each one a symbol for one of the children slaughtered and their beloved teachers. My string of beads were not long enough and I returned to the beginning again and again, holding the loss of all those who loved them. I wish I could say I felt calmer as my fingers moved from bead to bead, but that was not the case. Instead, I felt the pain more deeply.

I think I am to feel that pain sear through my body, for only then can change begin to take shape.

I don’t know what kind of action that means for me, other than making donations to worthwhile organizations, but in the meantime I sit with the beads; the beads that leave an impression on my fingertips.

Part Two

I gave the weekly writing group I facilitate at church the following prompt:

Write what is on your heart. Write your tears, your rage, your fears. Write what is at the bottom of your heart, and write what is touching your heart. Write your prayers. Write your lament. Write as a mother. Write.

During the sharing/listening time, one of the participants, who gave me permission to share the following, said her adult daughter had asked her, “What did you worry about when we were growing up?” She admitted she had to think about her answer. She thought she had probably worried about her children getting good grades and using good manners and living with a love of God and family.

I am not a huge worrier, but I suspect I worried about our children doing well in school and having good friends and making good decisions about difficult choices.

Not once did I worry about our children being murdered at school. That never occurred to me.

Part Three

Does anyone else see the irony, the inconsistency with the NRA forbidding the presence of weapons at their convention in Texas this past weekend, but at the same time they think providing teachers with weapons in the classroom is the answer?

Part Four

Pray AND…

You decide what that means; what action you can perform. Begin with prayer and then…

An Invitation

So many wise and important words and reflections have been offered in recent days, and I am grateful for how they have helped me sit with what we have created and allowed to happen in this country. I wonder what has been meaningful to you these past days and now where the wisdom gained will lead you. I would love to know.