Book Report: My Love Affair with Public Libraries

January 26, 2023

My last trip to the library was a bonanza of books. A pile I had placed on hold were waiting for me, and I returned home eager to determine which one I would read first. (Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton won, by the way–and it is a gem.)

I knew that more than likely I would decide not to read each one. I would at least read the first few pages of each one, but not more than a few pages if what I read didn’t appeal, didn’t spark interest in the characters, the writing, or the plot to come. I no longer feel obligated to read something because it is on my list or someone has recommended it or because I think it is a book I “should” read. I have a long TBR list and even though I am a fast reader and dedicate parts of everyday for reading, I know I will never read every title I want to read. (An aside: I hope when I die I have a book in my hand.)

How grateful I am for the library. I request books knowing I can test the temperature, dip my toe in, but then I can retreat to shore if the book is too cold or too warm. And then I can return the book to the library for someone else’s pleasure.

Public libraries will always be on the top of my favorites list, so when I heard about what lawmakers in North Dakota are trying to do, I could feel my own temperature begin to boil.

A bill has been proposed by the House Majority Leader of Dickinson, ND to ban books with sexually explicit material and books that depict gender identity from PUBLIC libraries. Librarians who refuse to remove banned titles could face up to 30 days in prison. https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-politics-and-policy/north-dakota-weighs-ban-sexually-explicit-library-books-rcna66271

This proposed bill is not about protecting children or anyone else, but it is about censorship.

If you live in North Dakota or have ties to North Dakota, it is time to speak up and support the gift of freedom that public libraries offer. Wherever you live, support your public libraries and librarians.

An Invitation

What do you love about your public library? I would love to know.

The Presence

January 24, 2023

The Presence by A.E. Borthwick

Recently, I moved this print from underneath the guest bed to the garret where I can see it from my desk. In previous homes it hung above a fireplace, but I never found the right spot for it in this house. I’ve missed it, however, and finally, with minor rearranging, “The Presence” is now a presence once again.

This print by Scottish artist, A.E. Borthwick, has been a presence in my family since I was four or five years old.

My father, who had a lovely singing voice, was the liturgist in our church in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and when we moved away, the church gave him this framed print. At one time there was a letter for my father taped to the back of the print and oh, how I wish I still had that. However, I am grateful the print has survived the many moves.

My parents were master of resettlement and within a couple days of each move to a new location, boxes were unpacked and our home was organized and comfortable. That included hanging pictures, and “The Presence” always had a prominent location, usually in the living room.

Many years later when I was grown and had children, my parents asked my sister, brother, and me which of their possessions we would want someday, and I said the only thing I really wanted was that print. It symbolized home for me. Soon after that conversation, my parents gave me the print, instead of waiting until they downsized.

History of “The Presence”

A. E. Borthwick (1871-1955) was a painter, stained glass artist, and printmaker born in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He studied at the Edinborough College of Art and also in Antwerp and Paris.

He painted “The Presence,” which is set in St Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, in 1910. Before WWI began he sent the painting to Munich where prints were going to be made. When war broke out the painting was sold to an American company and “lost.” It was rediscovered when it emerged to illustrate a newspaper article answering the question, “Is Religion Dead?” The answer given was “No, because of Christ’s abiding presence in his Church.”

At the end of the war an Act of Congress was passed that meant the painting would be returned to Scotland and during WWII it was preserved in the vaults of the Royal Scottish Academy. It had been presented to St Mary’s Cathedral in 1944, and there it remains.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm5G351clFk

The Changing Meaning of the Painting in My Life

The painting depicts a scene in the cathedral. Communion is being administered at the High Altar, and at the back of the cathedral Christ extends his hand toward a kneeling penitent. Christ is shown in radiant light. The light is so bright in the shadows of the cathedral that one needs to look closely to see the figure.

For most of my life I didn’t think much about the meaning of the painting, and I certainly didn’t relate to the setting. The churches my family attended were far more simple and humble than this massive cathedral. Nor did I think about what would make a person hide in a corner in grief or pain or in need of acceptance or forgiveness.

No, the presence of the painting in our homes meant we were home once more.

When I was training as a spiritual director, however, the word “presence” became more significant for me. During that two-year training, I was exposed to a variety of spiritual practices, including centering prayer. Part of that practice is to use a centering word that in the words of Thomas Keating, “expresses your intention of opening and surrendering to God…Gently place it in your awareness each time you recognize you are thinking about some other thought.” (Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating, p. 36). I tested a number of words, such as “light,” “open,” “heart,” and finally, much like receiving a word for the year, I received “presence.” I knew without a doubt that was the word.

Over time the word itself transformed in my mind into the painting itself. I felt the image, the meaning of the painting itself.

My Mantra as a Spiritual Practice

Eventually, the one word, “presence,” expanded into a mantra: “May I feel the Presence and may I be the Presence.”

I whisper these words to myself, for example,

  • When I begin or end my morning meditation time,
  • Before I meet with spiritual direction client,
  • As I begin to write a post for this blog or work on another piece of writing,
  • When I plan a new session for the church writing group I facilitate.

I find myself saying these words to myself as I move through my day, for I never know when I will need the guidance and comfort of the Presence nor do I know when I will have the opportunity to be the Presence for someone else. That can happen as easily at the grocery store or library as it does in one on one conversations at church.

The mantra is a form of prayer.

And now once again I have the physical presence of “The Presence” to support and remind me that I am beloved and I am to reflect that belovedness in the world.

An Invitation

Is there a word or phrase, an image or object that reminds you of the presence of God in your life? I would love to know.

Book Report: Books by Brian D. McLaren

January 19, 2023

I begin most days sitting in my Girlfriend Chair in the garret, meditating, praying, writing in my journal, and reading a book that will stretch me into deeper spiritual growth.

Currently, I am reading Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It by Brian D. McLaren. Each time I read one of his books or listen to his podcast, (Learning How to See with Brian McLaren, https://cac.org/podcast/learning-how-to-see/) I can almost feel my limbs being pulled, my brain enlarging, and my heart expanding. Easy reads? Not exactly, although McLaren is such a good writer, making the experience of confronting tough issues and below the surface thoughts, a pleasure. Not only does McLaren become a real person with his own challenges, but he invites the reader into the conversation. In fact, each chapter includes questions for reflection and action.

McLaren was a conservative evangelical pastor who struggled with issues of belief versus faith for many years. Eventually, he left his formal role as a congregational pastor to write (over 15 books so far) and to live his faith as an activist and public theologian. He is on the faculty of the Living School at the Center of Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr.

The first book I read by McLaren was The Great Spiritual Migration, How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian (2016). I don’t know how I became aware of him–perhaps through Diana Butler Bass whose work is also important in my spiritual development. Once I had read The Great Spiritual Migration, I knew I needed to read some of his earlier books.

I read A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (2010). Those ten questions continue to be relevant.

  • What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
  • How should the Bible be understood?
  • Is God violent?
  • Who is Jesus and why is he important?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • What do we do about the church?
  • Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
  • Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
  • How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
  • How can we translate our questions into answers?

You may think you know the answers to those questions (and maybe you do), but I invite you to read McLaren’s explorations. You will learn something new and maybe feel something new.

Next I read We Make the Road by Walking, A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (2014). Books with “spiritual formation” in the title are always a reason for me to look beyond the cover. Even though the book follows the liturgical year, I didn’t wait to read season-designated sections. I started and just kept reading, but with Lent starting soon, I may re-read those chapters under the heading “Alive in a Global Uprising.” As I look at the table of contents I note several chapters I have marked with a star: “Women on the Edge,” “Your Secret Life,”, “Moving with the Spirit,” “Spirit of Love: Loving God,” and “Spirit of Love: Loving Self.” Perhaps I need to re-read those chapters and see what so appealed to me.

I still have two unread books on my shelf by McLaren. The first is Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World ((2012). I’ll get to it, I promise, for I agree with McLaren’s premise that we need a new faith alternative built on “benevolence and solidarity rather than rivalry and hostility.”

Before reading that book, however, and as soon as I finish Faith After Doubt, I will read his latest book, Do I Stay Christian, A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (2022). Several people I know have read this book and have encouraged me to read it, but once buying it, I realized I first needed to read Faith After Doubt, and I am almost done reading that book in which McLaren proposes a model of faith development.

  • Stage One: Simplicity
  • Stage Two: Complexity
  • Stage Three: Perplexity
  • Stage Four: Harmony

Along with defining and describing each of these stages, especially their limitations and consequences, he goes further to highlight the potential gifts of moving through the stages. He encourages faith communities to become four-stage communities because they “produce spiritual activists, harmony activists, whose faith expresses itself in socially transforming love, politically liberating love and ecologically restoring love.” (p. 184)

The operative word in Stage Four, by the way, is LOVE.

When you read a McLaren book, don’t overlook his footnotes, and have your highlighter in your hand, for you will need it.

Now back to reading the last chapter in Faith After Doubt.

An Invitation

What spiritually stretching books have you read?

The Gifts of a Roaming Day

January 17, 2023

“How long has it been since we roamed?” I asked my husband as we buckled our seat belts.

We guessed the last time was late in November when we drove around the lakes in suburbs west of Minneapolis. With most of the leaves on the ground, rather than on branches, we had clear views not only of lakeshore, but homes with water views –some huge and ostentatious and others old and more like summer cottages. A perfect day to imagine what it might be like to live in a lake community.

Since that day we had been occupied with the holidays and family events, the death of a dear friend, and weather unsafe for driving. The day had come, however, to resume our weekly practice of roaming. Seeing what we could see. Relaxing in the rhythm of the road. Learning something new, perhaps.

Our destination was Winona, a town in southern Minnesota situated on the Mississippi River. I did a little research and discovered that Winona means, “first born daughter” in the Dakotah language. I happen to be a first born daughter, so that felt like a good omen. When I looked up Winona on the internet I discovered there were over 40 homes or buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites, including the public library, and we hoped to spot many of them as we wandered city streets. Part of our roaming this past fall was to visit the library in each town, but Winona’s was closed for the weekend as part of commemorating the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. Next time, we said. And, believe me, there will be a next time.

Our main reason for going to Winona was to visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. https://www.mmam.org on the banks of the Mississippi River. That has been on our list for years, but even though a number of friends had told us what a special place it is, somehow the timing was never right. Who wanted to spend time in a museum during non-winter months and during the winter, finding the day when the weather conditions allowed for easy travel was a challenge. Besides, the image I had of the museum was a dark cavern of crusty oil paintings of old clippers ships. That just didn’t appeal to me, even though I think of myself as a person influenced by the element of water.

Instead, this museum, which opened in 2006 and is housed in a gorgeous turn-of-the century influenced building, is dedicated to great art inspired by water, including world-class impressionist and Hudson River School art. But the museum also seeks to showcase contemporary art that expands and opens one’s relationship to water.

Our timing, as it turns out, was perfect. We immersed ourselves in the work of Anne Labovitz. https://labovitz.com And immerse is the operative word. Along with nine large paintings that focus on water’s surface quality and luminosity, we entered into what felt like sacred space–an installation of gently swaying walls that mimic the slight movement of calm water. Along with seeing and feeling, one hears a soundscape recorded at sunrise on the shores of Lake Superior. I sat inside the waterscape, contemplating, remembering, as if real water was washing over me.

I know most of you who read my blog do not live close enough to visit the museum, but if you do, I urge you to go see this exhibit before it closes on January 21. Our visit to this museum reminded me, once again, that treasures reside everywhere, including our back yards.

What has been on your list forever that you simply have not accessed yet? What might you discover accidentally if you got out a map, a real map, and figured out how to get THERE from HERE? Or if that is not possible, what are the other ways to enliven your curiosity? Of course, books, and perhaps something in a genre you normally don’t read. But that can also be true for other media–watch a documentary, instead of a mystery or crime show. One friend is taking an online class on bird identification and knows that will add to the pleasures of her daily walks. Another friend told me recently that she does virtual tours offered by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and I am sure many other museums offer similar opportunities. Or even simpler, have you ever walked through the doors of the church down the street or visited a library other than the one in your loop of life? Recently, a friend and I were driving home after lunch, and I spotted a beautiful old library I had never seen before, and that is now on my list. Perhaps follow a block and see where it ends and then turn around and see where it ends in the other direction, stopping when something interests you.

Become a tourist in your own part of the world. Become a tourist in your life.

Saturday my husband I set out in sunshine, hoping to see eagles and hawks and we did. (The day’s tally was nine eagles, but only one hawk who looked permanently frozen on a bare branch.) But we had not expected to be so uplifted and amazed. We felt honored and privileged by the gifts offered to us. And we know we will return in the spring and summer when the river is open and the museum gardens are in bloom.

In the meantime, I wonder where we will roam next.

An Invitation

Where or in what way is your curiosity inviting you to roam? I would love to know.

Book Report

January 12, 2023

It is only January 10, and I have already read a book that for sure will be on my Favorite Books of 2023 list: The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.

This is the first book I read in the new year, and it sets the standard high for my reading life this year. (An Aside: The second book was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and while it doesn’t surpass The Marriage Portrait, it is good, very good, indeed.)

Lucrezia is a young noble girl in 1550’s Florence, daughter of the grand duke, and she finds herself married to another duke after her older sister dies. She is intelligent, curious, an amazing artist, imaginative, active, not passive, but her role in life is to produce an heir. Her husband shows tenderness and care for her, but…

He bends at the waist and, sliding a hand around her neck, stoops and presses his lips to hers–a brief, emphatic pressure. It reminds her of her father, bringing is seal down on top of a document, marking it as his.

p. 138

The characters are well-developed, as is the setting. The writing is impeccable, and as for the plot, well, I felt my heart race as I read the last few pages.

I have read other books by O’Farrell, including her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am; Seventeen Brushes with Death, and she is a writer who clearly gets better and better with each book. I remember not being excited about reading her 2020 book, Hamnet, which was about Shakespeare’s wife and young son. That was probably because as a decades ago English major and teacher, I read so much Shakespeare, but the book was a gift and all the reviews were excellent, so…. Needless to say, I loved it. Now I think I will add Hamnet to my re-read list.

Now I am reading a fun palate cleanser, Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Rayburn.

An Invitation

What’s your first book of 2023? I would love to know.

January Check-Up

January 10, 2023

Defrocking happens first.

And then resetting.

Room by room.

From this:

To this:

Even the bedroom moves from holiday cheer to winer warmth.

Sometimes I feel like a set designer, but restoring order and creating comfortable, interesting spaces has always helped me move forward into the next step, the bigger task. At this time of the year the goal is to move into the new year.

Shopping the house and rearranging and fashioning a slightly different look in each of our rooms is only part of the new year assignment, however. Not as physical, but just as important, if not more so, is my annual ritual of re-reading my journals from the previous year.

Sunday afternoon I settled into my Girlfriend Chair in the garret and re-lived the past year, As I read, I wrote down in my new journal some key events and thoughts, and I noted signs of growth, along with what I still need to learn. I looked for patterns and ongoing questions. I was touched by the joys and the deep sorrows.

I honored the past year and my life in that year.

Some Key Learnings

  • My word of the year was rhythm. I was more aware of my own rhythm. Along with being aware of each day’s rhythm–appointments, items on the To Do list, my husband’s needs and plans etc–I became more aware of my own rhythm and the pace I needed to function and live well. I often asked myself, “What is possible now?’ as well as “What do I need right now?”
  • About this time last year I entered a time of intentional discernment about whether or not to continue working on my memoir. I gave myself time and space to listen to my heart and to explore what gives me purpose and meaning. I asked myself how I wanted to use my energy now. The result of this discernment time was to let go of my memoir as a book, No regrets. In fact, I have felt lighter, freer, and in some ways I have reclaimed myself as a writer, not as someone who hopes to have a book published. Here’s the other thing: I have discovered that I was not just discerning whether or not to continue working on my book, but I was discerning how I want and hope to live my life, this stage of my life. Like decluttering, discernment is an ongoing process.
  • This stage of life, these elder years, are tender ones in which loss plays a primary role. More and more I realize the importance of spiritual practice in my life; the need to maintain the ways I ground myself and deepen my relationship with God, along with ways to remain open. How do I continue to discover and live as the person God created me to be?

Simple Things That Added Joy

So much in my life continues to be life-enhancing, including meeting with my spiritual direction clients, facilitating the writing group at my church, attending weekly services, being with family and friends, writing this blog, and even continuing the process of decluttering. Along with these ongoing aspects of my life, I noted in my journal other pleasures.

  • Entertaining at 4 o’ clock. Some snacks and beverages and gathering with a couple friends in the living room or on the patio. Easy. No fuss. Wonderful fellowship.
  • Continuing to roam. Driving to small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin. What’s interesting here? What would it be like to live there? We made a point of visiting the library in each town, and, of course, having lunch at the local bar or coffee shop.
  • Installing new carpet in the bedroom. Fresh and clean. A lighter look.
  • Working on shorter writing projects. Submitting to various online venues and having some published.
  • Trying to stay away from my desk on Sundays. I’ve noticed major slippage in that department as the year progressed, but I am restating that intention for 2023.
  • Writing 6 words to describe my day. For example, “Explored near and not so near.” or “Practice, play, prepare for next week.”
  • Listening to my Pandora station, Christmas piano music, all during Advent. Such a lovely, soothing background for whatever I was doing.
  • Facilitating conversation groups on topics important to those 55+.

I have not completed my January list—there are closets to clean and papers to organize and the oven is dirty, but even so I am planted in the new year, and I am grateful to be here.

One more thing: Thank you so much for reading my posts and for your kind and thoughtful words. Writing this blog is one of my pleasures; one of the ways I continue to learn and grow, and I thank you for your patience as I continue in the practice of life.

An Invitation

What are your new year’s rituals? I would love to know.

Book Report: December Round-Up

January 6, 2023

I read a lot in December–not my usual December activity, but, thanks to a crummy cold, I spent more time curled up with good books. VERY good books.

I’ve already written about the latest Louise Penny book, A World of Curiosities, which I loved, and I re-read her first book, Still Life, but the month was full of other book delights, too.

Nonfiction

  • Faces of Christmas Past by Bill Holm. A friend loaned me this charming memoir written by a Minnesota author who was a frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion. He died in 2009. The premise of this short book was writing the annual Christmas letter, whose purpose is to declare, “I am alive, it says, still on the planet. I have not forgotten you. The thread, whether of blood, nostalgia, or friendship, that sews us together has not been cut.” p. 15.
  • Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging by Mary C. Morrison. I re-read this book before leading a conversation about what those of us 55+ hold in our hearts. Full of wisdom, simply, beautifully stated.

Mystery–it is all around us, and we do not know it. But sometimes when we give it time and space, whether in deep peace or great anguish, it will come up behind us, or meet us face to face, or move within us, changing the way we see everything, and filling our hearts with joy and an upbringing of love that needs no direct object because everything is its object.

p. 87
  • A Place in the World, The Meaning of Home by Frances Mayes. Best known for Under the Tuscan Sun, a bestselling book that also became a movie, Mayes writes so evocatively about creating and being in home. Reading this book made me think about the many homes I’ve lived in and loved and how hometending remains a key spiritual practice in my life. Mayes says, “My house became my icon” (p. 126), and I understand and identify with that.

Fiction

  • The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Ferat-Fleury. This small, one-sitting book is a love letter to books and reading and matching people to the right book at the right time, along with the power books hold to change one’s life.
  • Wild Geese by Margaret Ostenso. I love it when I am led to an author from the past whom I’ve not known about. Ostenso, originally from Canada lived much of her life in Minnesota, and this book, a psychological and sexual drama, caused quite a sensation when published in 1925. The patriarch of a family on the Canadian plains controls his family, always threatening to expose his wife’s secret of an out-of-wedlock child. Written beautifully, this would be a terrific book club selection.
  • The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye. I have enjoyed other books by this author, such as Wintering, and I am glad I read this one, too. However, at times I was irritated by the ongoing barroom scenes and sometimes the chronology was confusing, but the characters intrigued me–the brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps and became ski jumpers at early ages. We meet them as grown men–one has become a writer–and many secrets are revealed along the way.
  • No Land to Light On by Yard Zgheib. I was so impressed with this book about the plight of refugees in this country that I gave a copy to our college granddaughter for Christmas, and I am eager to hear what she thinks about it. A Syrian grad student at Harvard married another Syrian who returns to Syria for his father’s funeral and then because of the presidential order is not allowed to return to this country. I’m not sure what I feel about the ending. Read it and let me know your thoughts.
  • Joan is Okay by Weike Wang. A young female of Chinese descent is a physician in NYC right before the pandemic. Working in the ICU is the totality of her life. At first she just seemed quirky to me, but the book becomes more serious as it explores immigration, relationships between generations, and the role of women.
  • The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh. I was sucked in to this book almost on the first page. SECRETS!!! The wife in the couple has much in her past that her husband knows nothing about, but as an obituary writer for a newspaper he begins to question some contradictions. The author keeps the reader guessing in a masterful way.
  • The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani I have not read any of this author’s previous books, but may in the future, for she tells a good family saga. The story is set in both Italy and Scotland mainly around the years of WWII. The family background is unveiled as the matriarch is dying.
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I received this book for Christmas, and if that had not been under the tree for me, I would have bought it the next day. What a book! No surprise–the writing is lush, and if I had started underlining favorite lines, the whole book would be a pink mess. David Copperfield by Dickens inspired this story of a boy who suffers terribly as a foster child in Appalachia. Sometimes the subject matter makes it hard to read–he was always hungry, for instance–but don’t stop. This character and his desire to love and be loved made me continue turning the page. And the Big Picture message about poverty and opioid addiction and stereotypes about a region in this country are profound. This book definitely needs to be added to my favorites of 2022 list.
  • Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. As lush as Kingsolver’s writing is, Strout’s sentence structure is simple and clear. I read this in one day, but that doesn’t mean it is a simple book. The time period is the pandemic and Lucy’s former husband decides they should move together from NYC to Maine. Lucy is grieving the loss of her second husband who died just a year ago, and her adult daughters are going through their own struggles. This book can be read without reading the previous books in which these characters are developed, (My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh, William!) but do read the trio. Strout wrote the books Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again, too and that character is mentioned in this recent book. You get a whole family and community when you read Strout books.

Not that it matters, but I am often asked about the number of books I read in a year. This year I read 150 books–101 fiction and 49 nonfiction. But who’s counting! In 2021 I read 120 books. Why the increase? Well, I will think about it and let you know, if I come up with a theory.

Here we are in January and a whole year of reading is ahead. My TBR list continues to grow, especially since I just received the most recent copy of BookWomen http://www.bookwomen.net with its list of ‘best reads” submitted by readers, including me. I am moving slowly into 2023, but this coming week I will return to my normal Book Report days on Thursday.

An Invitation

Did you receive any book gifts this past month? I would love to know.

Word of the Year: Beloved

January 3, 2022

Happy New Year!

Along with defrocking the house and writing thank you notes–neither of which I have done yet–opening a new journal, and rereading the previous year’s journals, receiving a word for the year is a new year’s ritual.

Notice I said, “receiving” and not “choosing.” More about that later.

Last year I didn’t receive my word, “rhythm” until mid-January, but some years I am aware of my new word during Advent. For several years I made a collage to represent the word I received, but one year when a word had not appeared, I made a collage first, hoping it would reveal the word to me. And it did. “Fullness.”

(Left to right: “spaciousness,” “word,” and “fullness”)

This year thinking about a word for the year had not even occurred to me as Christmas approached.

Surprise–on Christmas Day, like the birth we celebrate on that day, my word appeared.

That morning before going to church I read the day’s meditation from Richard Rohr, “We are the beloved.” He quoted Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the word “beloved,”from his book Life of the Beloved. I have a copy of that small book, and I decided to re-read that book in 2023.

I also noted how often in recent months I have said or written to someone, “You are beloved.”

During church I experienced an overwhelming feeling of being beloved myself. First, because of my love for this community and the ways I have felt ongoing love within that community. But also such a clear voice from the Creator God, “You are my Beloved.” I felt that voice and those words reverberating throughout my whole body.

“Don’t forget this feeling, Nancy,” I said to myself. “I wonder if you have received your word.”

Affirmation

Once home the family festivities began, including opening a staggering number of presents. We took our time, taking turns, passing each one around the circle. Oohing and aahing. Grandson Peter immediately tried on the clothes he received–each one from his list. The used wrapping paper mounded on the living room floor. And then I opened one last present; one sent to me by a friend. It felt like a book, which my husband says is a dangerous gift to give me because I read so much, and it is hard to keep up with the books I own or have already read.

I was stunned when I saw the book: You Are The Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, a collection of Henri Nouwen’s words compiled and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw.

Yes, I have received my word. There was no doubt. Beloved.

January 2 Meditation

In this meditation Nouwen refers to Jesus’s baptism when he hears a voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17) and Nouwen says, “Jesus lived his life from that inner place of love.” He also emphasizes how those words are for you and me, too. “Once I have accepted the truth that I am God’s beloved child, unconditionally loved, I can be sent into the world to speak and to act as Jesus did.”

I have no idea how this word will become manifest in my life, and I suspect it will be a challenge, actually as each of my previous words have been, to live the word fully and openly and to accept where the path of that word beckons me.

Looking Back at Previous Words

Asking for a word has been one of my intentional practices for many years. My words have included “devotion,” “sacred yes, sacred no,” “spaciousness,” “fullness,” and last year’s word, “rhythm.”

(Collage using the artwork of Steve Sorman)

What I am beginning to realize is how each of these words continue to live in me. To nourish, challenge, and lead me. I don’t finish with a word, accomplish or outgrow it, but instead the words grow in a kind of active relationship with each other. What does it mean, for example, to maintain “spaciousness” in my life and at the same time welcome “fullness”? I know I will continue to learn the rhythm of sacred yes, sacred no.

Each word call me forth.

Each word deepens me.

Each word is an expression of knowing I am beloved and of holding others in their own belovedness.

Receiving A Word

I have heard people say, “I’ve decided my word for the year is going to be “hope.” Or perhaps, “faith.” Who am I to doubt that the word they’ve chosen is not the word actually delivered, but I encourage you to allow the Spirit to work within you; to open to the mystery.

One of the best guides for this process is Christine Valters Painter in her newsletter Abbey of the Arts. https://abbeyofthearts.com/blog/2022/12/06/give-me-a-word-2023/

Words of Wisdom

We were made in love, for love, and unto love, and it is out of this love that we act. This deep inner “yes” that is God in me, is already loving God through me.

Richard Rohr

Happy New Year! You are beloved.

An Invitation

I would love to know your word, as you discover it.

Book Report: The New Louise Penny

December 22, 2022

NOTE: I’m taking a holiday break from the blog and will be back the first week in January.

Louise Penny’s latest book is A World of Curiosities, and, no surprise, I loved it.

Although it was released (and on my doorstep) on November 29, I just read it last week. My husband devoured it right away, but lest you think I am an incredibly generous soul, my plan was to read it after Christmas when I could immerse myself in it without a long list of Christmas tasks pulling me away. And preferably, on a cold and snowy day. Well, I got the cold and snowy days, and thanks to my own lingering cold and lack of full energy, I snuggled in with the book earlier than planned.

This book seemed even more complex to me than earlier books–lots of characters, old and new; a hidden room; a puzzling painting; old cases, all connected, of course. One of the themes is forgiveness, but also the belief that there is always more than meets the eye, a statement made more than once in the book.

How good it was to be back in Three Pines with the people we faithful readers have come to love. And the cover is beautiful.

Two More Things

  1. You may have noticed in the photo a bunch of pencils with the inscription I’M F.I.N.E. I subscribe to a couple Louise Penny fan blogs and entered a drawing to win these pencils. I’M F.I.N.E. is the title of one of Ruth’s books of poetry and in true Ruth style F.I.N.E. stands for “fucked up,” “insecure,” “neurotic,” and “egotistical.” Perfect pencils for a writer!
  2. Yes, I watched the Three Pines Amazon series and enjoyed and recommended them–and hope there will be more. Is Gamache as I pictured him? To some degree, but I didn’t imagine his hair and eyes quite so dark. I had a softer look in mind, but his demeanor is very much the way I think of him.

I’ve been reading more this month than I normally do in December and there is still over a week left. With a predicted blizzard on the way, there may be even more reading time than anticipated. My hope, however, is that our loved ones arrive as planned, and we are too busy enjoying family time for more than bedtime reading. I will post my December Book Report early in January.

An Invitation

What books do you hope to receive and what books are you giving? I would love to know.

Advent #4: Cold Days Before Christmas

December 20, 2022

By “cold,” I don’t only mean the temperature, which will soon be below zero, but also the lingering cold I have been fighting for two weeks. No, it isn’t COVID, and I am grateful for that, but who needs to be less than at top form on these days approaching Christmas. Besides, I love the Advent season –both the waiting and the preparing–and this limited energy is frustrating.

I have cancelled appointments and missed some special events, but I am keeping the prize in mind –Christmas with our family. Therefore, I’ve gone to bed early, slept later than normal, and napped when I felt the need. I’ve wrapped myself in a shawl and sipped hot cider flavored with a slice of dehydrated orange, and read more books than normal for December.

I have baked only a few loaves of cherry walnut bread and have not made any cookies. Sigh! However, missing those good smells, I made a simple simmering potpourri, which fills the house with the scent of comfort and welcome. My husband has done most of the wrapping (Bless him!) and I did the bows, and the presents are all in place.

Every Christmas is different and no one year is apt to be exactly the way you envision. Some years will be remembered more than others. I doubt any of us will forget last year when we spent Christmas Day on the patio because our grandson had COVID. He sat by the kitchen window, and we were able to watch him open his presents. Or there was the year when our granddaughter, who is now a sophomore in college, was only six weeks old, having arrived five weeks early. We all knew that would be my mother’s last Christmas, and it was.

We try to make each celebration perfect, but perfection comes when we accept and rejoice in what is. When we start from a place of gratitude and open our hearts to the love that is present, to all the ways we are held and beloved. When we remember that our task is not to fix the perfect meal or try to find the best present, but rather to live in the light of who we have been created to be.

I admit I hope to leave this cold behind by December 24 –preferably before then–but whatever happens, I know I will feel the warmth of those I love and who love me.

May these be days of warmth in your life.

An Invitation

Do you recall any Christmases that didn’t quite turn out as planned? I would love to know.

NOTE: Ingredients for Simmering Potpourri

Fresh or frozen cranberries
Orange slice
Fresh rosemary
Whole Star anise
Whole cloves
Whole allspice
Cinnamon sticks

Add 2-4 cups of water or apple juice. Simmer on the stove. Add more liquid as needed.