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: 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.

Book Report: How Do I Learn About Specific Books?

May 26, 2022

A friend asked me recently how I learn about books I might want to read.

I was surprised by the question, for being aware of books I might want to read has never been an issue for me. Actually, the opposite is true, for I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of titles that interest me.

My ears have always perked up when I have been in the vicinity of “book talk,” but working in a fabulous independent bookstore, Odegard Books, decades ago certainly reinforced that tendency. I always enjoyed directing a customer to a book that would meet their interests and reading styles, and that meant not only reading widely myself, but being aware of old and new titles on the shelves. And, of course, there was the too often plea, “I don’t know the title, but it has a red cover and I think the author was a man.” Playing that guessing game was challenging, but fun and honed my book knowledge and awareness.

Back to the question at hand. How do I learn about specific books? Here are some of the ways I develop book literacy:

  • Podcasts and Online Newsletters. A favorite newsletter is Modern Mrs Darcy and the accompanying podcast, What Should I Read Next? Anne Bogel, the host, just released this week her summer reading guide and I am drooling at some of her suggestions. Each week on her podcast she interviews a guest, asking them to name three favorite books and one that wasn’t for them and what they are looking for in their reading life. Then she does some “literary match-making.” I appreciate that the titles are not just new releases, but are often backlist titles. Lots of podcasts focus on books, but sometimes podcasts like On Being with Christa Tippett or newsletters like Abbey of the Arts also introduce me to book titles. A personal requirement for me in podcasts, by the way, is a voice I can listen to –too chirpy or too fast–doesn’t work for me.
  • Newsletters from Favorite Bookstores. One of my favorites is Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI, and their newsletter is excellent. The reviews are thoughtful and clear without giving away too much. I trust what they recommend and appreciate that they don’t just list new titles or mention what an employee recommends, but give insights to the books. The Independent Booksellers Association, by the way, publishes a monthly round-up of new titles with recommendations from booksellers across the country. You can get a copy at your local independent bookstore–another good reason to hangout in a bookstore.
  • The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Of course. I used to pay close attention to what was on the bestseller list–a hangover from bookselling days, I guess, but these days that is not in my radar. I don’t read every review, but I at least glance at titles that have been granted review space, and I always enjoy reading the interview with an author in the “By the Book” column. Questions usually include, “What books are on your nightstand?” and What’s the best book you ever received as a gift?”
  • The Washington Post Book Club Newsletter. (online) Not only do I enjoy the casual style and commentary of the editor, Ron Charles, but there are always good links to other articles, and he ends each week with a poem.
  • BookWomen. This bi-monthly publication celebrates women’s words and explores the place of reading and books in women’s lives. Over the years I have written articles for them, which has always been a privilege, but more than that, I love reading about what others are reading.
  • Other Readers in My Life. I love book talk and relish conversations with others about what they are reading. I appreciate you readers of this blog who recommend books to me, as well.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, for I roam through other websites and I consult other venues. One thing I don’t do, however, is spend any time reading recommendations that come from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And I am not a Goodreads subscriber. Just personal choice.

Learning about books that interest me, of course, is important, almost an avocation, but the next question is what do I do with those reading possibilities? That’s where my book journal enters the picture. I keep my TBR (To Be Read) lists in my book journal, (I try to enter the source of the recommendation, but don’t always remember to do that.) ready to be consulted when it is time to request books from the library or for my next bookstore adventure.

Sources

Modern Mrs Darcy: https://modernmrsdarcy.com

Arcadia Books: https://readinutopia.com

Washington Post Book Club:https://www.washingtonpost.com/newsletters/book-club/

BookWomen: http://www.bookwomen.net

An Invitation

What’s your favorite way to learn about books? I would love to know.

If my Thursday, Book Report post is one of the ways you learn about books, I hope you will recommend it to others and suggest they subscribe to my blog. Thanks!

Thistle Talk on Difficult Days: Dealing with Grief and Loss

May 24, 2022

First thing Monday morning my husband headed to church to confront the nasty thistles invading the gardens. This has been and continues to be an ongoing battle, and one that will not be won today or tomorrow, but I admire his determination and commitment.

Thistles appear in our lives in many ways, and lately, thistles seem to be conducting on assault.

Daily, it seems, I hear news of family and friends challenged by serious health or economic concerns or the death of a loved one. Sunday morning, even before I was dressed, my husband showed me a post on Facebook about someone in our extended family who is experiencing hard times. We discussed ways to respond, but at the same time we can not make the basic problem disappear.

That’s a big thistle.

Thistles are prickly. They sting and their roots are deep. They don’t give up easily the places they’ve claimed in the garden. They tend to take over everything that has been loving and intentionally planted, and sometimes it is hard to see the growth, other than the unwanted thistle.

No one chooses a thistle. No one says, “Do we have room in the garden for a thistle?” Nope, they assert themselves without our consent or design.

So what do we do with these thistles?

Here’s what I am learning as a woman in her mid seventies: I have to leave room in my day for grieving, for feeling loss and sadness and sometimes shock. That means being even more intentional about my morning meditation time, which more and more means holding those in my heart who need tender care.

But I also have to leave room in my day for responding to those with tangible needs. Sometimes that means an in-person response –a meal, a visit, an offer to….–or it may mean a more distanced response, writing a note, sending a check, making sure others who need to know do, in fact, know.

Dealing with thistles takes energy, and I sometimes feel the toll encountering so many thistles takes on my spirit. I know that being present to the pain of others means I must be aware of my own feelings and what I am able to do at this stage of my life.

Doris Grumbach in her memoir The Pleasure of Their Company (2000,) which she wrote as she approached her 80th birthday, used the term, “lessening.”

I prefer lessening as both instruction and slogan for my old age.

page 50.

What that suggests to me in my life is choosing carefully, thinking wisely about how I use my energy, for one thing I know for sure: There will be more thistles.

Now is a good and necessary time to ask myself how many commitments are reasonable? What is the call in my life now and how can I respond? How do I best live my essence in this third chapter of my life? How do I create spaciousness in my life to be with the expected unexpected?

Two Thoughts for Reflection

The times are urgent; let us slow down.

African Saying

May you embrace this day, not just as any old day, but as this day. Your day. Held in trust by you, in a singular place, called now.

Carrie Newcomer

May your thistles not overwhelm your garden.

An Invitation

How do you respond to your thistles? I would love to know?

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 https://roberthubbell.substack.com and Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com
  • 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.