Sunday, August 05, 2012

from the book pile, 2012: Dawn Eden, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jane Kenyon

to see the book pile from 2011, click here / from 2012, click here

From the book pile posts collect my reading reflections as I work my way through the tower of books teetering off the edge of my nightstand. I post the once a month the books I've read.  In the meantime, the fun little widget on my sidebar includes a "real time" thought about each title I'm reading. [update: I'm experiencing a technical glitch with my comments on the sidebar widget.  I'll try to fix that soon, but for now you can at least see the titles in my book pile.]

When I first started this blog in 2006 one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually.

Every new year, I consider making a number goal for books read in the coming twelve months. (do you do that too?) It's never a good idea; rather takes away the enjoyment of arriving at December 31 and tallying up titles from the previous year.  Feels like an accomplishment no matter the number.  Hope you enjoy!


Author:  Dawn Eden

Genre: non-fiction

Published: Ave Maria Press, 2012

General Impression:  Although this book was not exactly what I hoped for, Dawn Eden provides some of the most sound writing on the subject of wounding and forgiveness I've ever read.  Eden, herself a victim of childhood sexual abuse,  reaches out to all abuse victims but her primary audience seems to be readers already versed in Catholic teaching.  Much of the time I felt a bit like I was sitting in on a class for which I missed the prerequisite.  This is not to say I felt aggravated, by any means.  Only a bit out of the loop and wishing Eden could extend the range of sainthood to the broader communion of saints -- living and dead -- who join us as witness and fellowship.  Still, this book will go in my short stack as a ready reference on the subject of healing and forgiveness.

One of the best passages I've read on the subject of forgiveness:
"Does God want this particular brand of sanctity from us, where we would actually kneel down and kiss the hands of our worst abusers? No, not literally -- evildoers should never be rewarded for their actions... What's more, every person's story is different. Some of us can indeed reach out to those who hurt us the most, allowing ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable for the greater good of reconciliation and healing. For others of us, the most loving thing we can do for our abusers is to keep them from having any opportunity to abuse us ever again. 
While in these matters we should, whenever possible, seek advice from someone we trust, no one else can decide our course of action for us. The choice of whether it is best for us to initiate contact with our abuser, or seek to maintain distance, is ultimately between us and God.... 
Yet, in another way, I believe God does call every one of us to be thankful for our past. We may not be capable of kissing our abusers' hands. But we will one day want to kiss the hands of Jesus -- who, while not willing the abuse (for God never positively wills evil), permitted it to happen, knowing he would bring good out of it."

The saint most intriguing from Eden's book:  

"If we want to see a shining example of how cooperation with grace can, over time, lead a deeply wounded person to fulfillment in Christ, we need look no further than Dorothy Day.

...God worked a change in her, the kind of change I believe he works in every wounded person who desires it and is patient with the workings of grace. He transformed her heart so that, instead of seeking to gain love, she sought the grace to give love, to love God through loving her fellow human beings: 'I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and with anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.'

...Dorothy, in giving herself completely to God through neighbor and to neighbor through God, embodied a spiritual motherhood that was truly beyond anything she herself had received."


Author:  Barbara Brown Taylor

Genre: non-fiction

Published: HarperOne, 2009

General Impression:  I'm not sure why I am just now reading this book since it's premise is so near and dear to the heart of what I write about here at This Sacramental Life.  I finally noticed Barbara Brown Taylor's name credited enough times for it to sink in that I, too,  might enjoy reading her book.  An Altar in the World reminds us the splendor in the everyday ordinary that not only exists whether or not we notice, but that also can be glimpsed as we develop simple, daily practices of paying attention.  Leading the reader through daily, embodied spiritual practices such as "The Practice of Getting Lost" and "The Practice of Wearing Skin", Taylor reminds us persistently that such physical practices will serve us as tutors for the spiritual unseen.

I think I need to read this book again because I feel like I should have loved it.  Instead, somehow, it barely caught my attention and I can't quite articulate why.  Somehow the promise of the content was meatier than the content itself, in my opinion.  

Either way, I'm thankful for the well-crafted premise and imagine the content will be coming back to me in pieces over time.  This is really the best we can ask of any book, yes?

Excerpt #1 (book introduction):
"People seem willing to look all over the place for this treasure [of spirituality]. They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens. They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize. The las place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How could something as common as a toothache be a door to a greater life? 
...What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world."
The twelve practices:
  1. The Practice of Waking Up to God (Vision)
  2. The Practice of Paying Attention  (Reverence)
  3. The Practice of Wearing Skin (Incarnation)
  4. The Practice of Walking on the Earth (Groundedness)
  5. The Practice of Getting Lost (Wilderness)
  6. The Practice of Encountering Others (Community)
  7. The Practice of Living with Purpose (Vocation)
  8. The Practice of Saying No (Sabbath)
  9. The Practice of Carrying Water (Physical Labor)
  10. The Practice of Feeling Pain (Breakthrough)
  11. The Practice of Being Present to God (Prayer)
  12. The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings (Benediction)


12Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, Interviews, the Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, and One Poem

Author:  Jane Kenyon

Genre: non-fiction, anthology

Published: Graywolf Press, 1999

General Impression:  Oh, beautiful words.  I knew I would love getting to know Jane Kenyon, but didn't expect to bond to her work quite so quickly.  Kenyon's husband, U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, curated this collection of her prose after her too-young death to leukemia.  While the selections seem a bit disconnected (everything from short newspaper columns to Kenyon's translations of Russian poetry to interview transcripts with Bill Moyers and others), the effect of the accumulated whole provides a beautiful snapshot of the woman behind the poems.

Perhaps most striking to me is Hall's decision to include an unfinished essay Kenyon wrote, describing a transformative spiritual experience.  She left it unfinished not because she ran out of time but because she "became speechless when she tried to name it."  The essay left hanging mid-air, so to speak, seems fitting for her interrupted life.

I'm glad to know that all of Kenyon's suffering with manic depression and unanswered spiritual questions have been released into comfort and joy, but I sure wish she could have written more words (poetry and prose) to leave behind.

The poem in which Kenyon tries to name the experience:

"Once There Was Light" (from Having it Out with Melancholy)

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.

One of Kenyon's most popular poems with an interview excerpt about writing it: 

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Moyers: How did you come to write "Let Evening Come"?...

Kenyon: That poem was given to me.

Moyers:  By?

Kenyon:  The muse, the Holy Ghost. I had written all the other poems in the book in which it appears, and I knew that it was a very sober book.  I felt it needed something redeeming. I went upstairs one day with the purpose of writing something redeeming, which is not the way to write, but this just fell out. ...

Moyers: Do you still believe what the poem expresses, given Don's cancer and own illness?

Kenyon: Yes. There are things in this life that we must endure which are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? This is a great mystery. How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?

Excerpt from Kenyon's notes for a lecture titled "Everything I Know About Poetry":

8.  Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read god books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phones off the hook. Work regular hours.


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