From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor:
“…I stopped the poetry reading earlier than I had planned, but at the break I had them all go outside and read at least one poem to a tree. I could not have asked someone to do something like that when I was thirty years old, but at fifty-six, I am willing to take more risks. Some of the students looked at me as if they were deciding whether it was too late to transfer to another class, but…after the break I had some converts.
“‘I read those poems before I got here,’ one of them said, ‘and they were okay. Poetry’s just not my thing. But when I read one of them to the tree like you said, it sounded different to me. It was like the words had an inside and an outside and I had only read the outside. Reading them to the tree, I heard the inside. The words were so beautiful I almost cried.’
“‘I felt completely stupid,’ another one said, ‘standing there in the quadrangle reading to a tree, but after a couple of lines I realized that the tree was really liking it. I am going to try reading to a bird next.’
“After the testimonials were over we all agreed that we would not speak to the other graduate students about this experience, at least not until happy hour. My point is how often we are embarrassed to do and say the things that really affect us. Perhaps this is because we cannot defend ourselves while they are happening. Or perhaps we have a corporate agreement that we will not embarrass one another, even if it means never going very deeply into the things that matter the most to us.”
What I’m reading right now:
Summarized in the phrase “pray and work,” “The Rule of St. Benedict” provides the inspiration for Christine Valters Paintner’s newest exploration of the mutually nourishing relationship between contemplative practices and creative expression. Artists of all stripes and stations in lifepoets or painters, potters or photographerswill discover how traditions of Benedictine, Celtic, and desert spirituality can offer new sources of inspiration for their work. Through this twelve-week course, themes like “Sacred Tools and Sacred Space,” “Creative Solitude and Community,” and “Nature as a Source of Revelation and Inspiration” are enriched by Paintner’s perceptive discussion and enhanced by insightful quotations from well-known artists and writers. Each week offers suggestions for grounding both the creative and the spiritual life through three basic practices: walking, lectio divina, and journaling. In sync with Paintner’s vibrant Internet presence, The Artist’s Rule is supplemented with online resources, including guided meditation podcasts, video lessons, and discussions.
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“The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate. You might even decide not to kill anything for twenty minutes, including the saltmarsh mosquito that lands on your arm. Just blow her away and ask her please to go find someone else to eat.
With any luck, you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way to becoming an oak tree. You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away. If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it comes from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it…”
—-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.
What I’m reading right now:
In With a Daughter’s Eye, writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson looks back on her extraordinary childhood with two of the world’s legendary anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. This deeply human and illuminating portrait sheds new light on her parents’ prodigious achievements and stands alone as an important contribution for scholars of Mead and Bateson. But for readers everywhere, this engaging, poignant, and powerful book is first and foremost a singularly candid memoir of a unique family by the only person who could have written it.
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WHAT I’M READING:
No one could take the place of the recently departed Jackson, but artist Marlowe Stewart and her lover Daa (formerly Sheila Swenson of Minnesota) need someone to occupy his space – and share their house rental in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district. Their housemate Jack, a masseur, is delighted when Marlowe’s long lost cousin Sheba McKenzie arrives by bus from Indigo Falls, Virginia, seeking room, board, and enlightenment. Soon Jack is leading Sheba up the two flights of stairs to his attic room for a full-body massage. Then comes her introduction to Immortality Thinking and banana smoothies. That’s when Vic Morris arrives in his Chevy pickup, stuffed panda in hand, to bring his high school girlfriend, Sheba, home to marriage and motherhood back East. They’ve burned off their pasts to reinvent themselves in California: Marlowe, a political lesbian ready for a life change; Daa, her devoted lover; Jack, whose brilliant hands belie his head; Sheba, the innocent in Paradise; Dante, the gentle troubadour who specializes in unrequited romance; and Vic, primed for lessons in love, San Francisco style. Here in a land of Buddhist rituals and midsummer nights, full-moon parties laced with magic mushroom tea, they play out their destinies as the realities of life and death intervene.
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