Book Report: Reflecting on Home

September 15, 2022

Sometimes a book does everything but jump into your hands. That was the case with two books I read recently.

I must have read a review of The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend (2021), for I added it to my TBR list, but when I saw it in Arcadia Books on our recent trip to Spring Green, WI, I knew I could not wait for it to come out in paperback or for the library to add it to their shelves.

First of all, look at that cover. So beautiful, and it is the kind of book that simply feels good to hold. But more than that is the topic, the themes. The author grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young adult lived in Oregon and California, but later in adulthood moved to the Madison, Wisconsin area. She writes beautifully, richly about each landscape–the kind of multi-layered, descriptive writing I love–but having lived in Madison, those are the sections I loved the most.

Her essay, “Strange Angels: Encounters with Sandhill Cranes,” is perhaps the best nature essay I’ve ever read.

Like a group of pilgrims or spiritual seekers collecting before their journey begins and uttering preliminary prayers, the cranes seem to be readying themselves, preparing for the long flight they must make, some of them for the first time.

p. 159

Like the author I love the sound of the cranes and always feel blessed hearing them. “Perhaps that is why their call is so evocative, why it seems to float across the millennia as it does, immutable and enduring.” p. 160. Cranes are not part of my life here in St Paul, and I miss them.

I also loved the essay “An Alphabet of Here, A Prairie Sampler” as well. C is for Canada Geese. G is for Great-Horned Owl. Q id for Queen Anne’s Lace and Queen of the Prairie.

Z is for zigzags, zaps, and zings of summer lightning, the zed-shaped folds of the aurora opening its luminescent green curtains on a winter’s night when it’s twenty degrees below zero, and the z-z-z-z-z-ing as we sleep–cat on the bed, collies on the floor beside us–the zodiac swirling around us like the well of life that is here, now, the only one we are given.

p. 187

Some books beg to be read aloud, and I am grateful my husband was willing to listen as I read select essays to him while driving through the countryside on our way to Cleveland recently. This books was our perfect companion.

I discovered The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther de Waal (2021) when we toured the gardens at St John’s University, Collegeville, MN this summer. Because I can never resist a bookstore, we browsed the Liturgical Press bookstore on campus, and I found this little treasure. Years ago I read her book Seeking God, her book on Benedictine spirituality, but it is no longer in my library–I may need to get another copy. This book was written during the pandemic and at a time when she is moving from one home to another, and she employs what has sustained her through the years–the Rule of St. Benedict, the gifts of Celtic spirituality, the teachings of Thomas Merton, and the Psalms–to guide her through a time of transition.

I hold on to stability but I must not be static. Here is the paradox…I must be prepared for the continual transformation in which God is bringing the new out of the old…It is just a matter of somehow keeping on keeping on, a continual bending one’s life back to God whatever happens.

p. 64

I was especially moved by the chapter titled “Diminishment,” in which she reflects on how time seems different as we age, but also that “Life now brings a greater opportunity to pay attention to look consciously at the ordinary minutiae of daily life in the things around…”

She also underscores the key question of Benedictine life: “Am I becoming a more loving person?” When we were driving through Indiana, I noticed a small sign on the edge of a cornfield, “Fear God,” it said, and I thought to myself, “How does fearing God make me a more loving person?” Instead, I suspect adhering to that idea would make me a more fearful person. I want to be a more loving person. Thanks for the reminder, Esther de Waal.

Ok, that’s it. I am so happy these two books will live on our bookshelves.

An Invitation

Have any books found their way into your hands, your heart recently? I would love to know.

Book Report: Books in My Devotion Basket

August 18, 2022

The basket where I keep the current books I read and refer to during my meditation time almost overflows. My Bible is a constant, of course, as is my current journal and my prayer cards (See my post on August 9, 2022), but the other books are a potpourri of what I want to study right now, or books by favorite or recommended authors, or daily devotions. The basket is also where I keep new books, browsing and welcoming them to my library, before I decide if I want to read them now or keep till later.

Here’s what is in the basket now.

  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh. I have been reading this book slowly and for quite some time. I don’t pretend to understand everything in this book about some of the foundational teachings in Buddhism, but the ongoing practice of awakening and all that means and involves challenges and inspires me. Singh, who died in 2017 was the author of other books that have had deep influence on my life, The Grace in Dying, The Grace in Living, The Grace in Aging.
  • Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman. How often I have read a powerful quotation by this spiritual leader (1899-1981), but I have never owned a book by him. It is about time. This book is a collection of meditations and prayers and as in the words of the first meditation is “an island of peace within one’s soul.” That is not to say, however, the book is without exhortation to action, for there is nothing about Thurman’s faith or life in faith that is passive.
  • The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther De Waal. I remember reading her book on Benedictine Spirituality, Seeking God, many years ago and am eager to sit with this slim book. According to the back cover, this book is about the houses she has loved and the process of letting them go and moving into new environments. I have done that many times and am sure De Waal’s experience will deepen my own. I discovered this book recently when we visited the Liturgical Press bookstore on the St John’s University campus in Collegeville, MN.
  • Trusting Change, Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering. The dedication in this new release is “For all of us sharing this chrysalis time.” I loved Hering’s earlier book, Writing to Wake the Soul : Opening the Conversation Within, and have also enjoyed retreats and classes I’ve taken from her. She is a gifted teacher and writer, and I have no doubt this book will be a gift itself. I am especially intrigued by the chapter, “Practicing Equanimity.”
  • Conversation, The Sacred Art, Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction by Diane M. Millis. I have read sections of this book, including the chapter “Listening to Your Life,” but as I begin preparation for two conversation groups I will offer beginning this fall at my church, now is a good time to read and study this book. As I have with Hering, I have benefited from Millis’ gifted teaching and writing and know this book will be helpful and inspirational. I recommend her Re-Creating A Life, Learning How To Tell Our Most Life-Giving Story.
  • The basket also holds one edition of Oneing from the Center of Action and Contemplation and at least one issue of Presence, An International Journal of Spiritual Direction and Companionship. I am always behind reading those journals. Sigh!

With this basket at my side, morning could extend into afternoons and evenings!

An Invitation

Does your devotion/meditation time include reading? I would love to know.