Tag Archives: Christian

Practicing Reverence

“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.


Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure

Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure

Work as necessity.

Work as vocation.

Work as expression of our deepest selves.

In a series of lyrical essays, author Nancy J. Nordenson explores the nature of work as a place of intersection between the practical and the spiritual. She does this in language so gorgeous, it’s tempting to linger over each image and turn of phrase. Luckily the subject matter pulls the reader through.

“Work” in Nordenson’s view, is a mutable concept, a series of competing imperatives that exert a constant push-pull between the life we want and the one we end up with. Responsibility vs. freedom. The individual vs. the collective. Creativity vs. practicality. There’s no escape from this whirl of duality, only an ever-shifting accommodation. So much of the meaning of what we do is in the DOING, the figuring things out, the balancing of our needs and our desires.

Nordenson grounds her spiritual and philosophical exploration firmly in the practical using stories from her own work life and that of her husband–the ups and the downs–to demonstrate that one still must make a life even as they are “making do,” and how so much of our day-to-day contentment is a matter of knowing what is in our control and what it not. Negotiating where we can. Accepting what cannot be negotiated. Sometimes acceptance might mean getting on with an imperfect situation, or it might mean cutting our losses.

On a personal level, the concept that most resonated for me was that when it comes to human effort, value and compensation often have very little to do with one another. This is a pretty radical assertion in a culture that places so much emphasis the bottom line and too readily confuses a person’s worth with their annual income even as the notion job security goes the way of the dinosaurs.

Finding Livelihood argues that we–and our work–are so much more than the amount of our pay check.

The Long, Lonely Road to Self-Knowledge

A writer recounts her explorations into the nature of silence and the conflict between the social and inner worlds for those trying to add more silence to their lives.

A Book Of Silence

A Book Of Silence

Maitland doesn’t hold back. In tones that alternate between bravery and stubbornness, she questions her own motives in retiring from a large part of the social world. She also demonstrates reasonable objectivity when detailing the benefits and possible dangers of a life spent in silence.

I would warn potential readers that Maitland is a lover of primary and secondary sources. She’s a scholar as well as a writer. The historical and philosophical discussion can get dense, even turgid in spots. Chapter four, Silence and the Gods, is especially challenging in this respect. And chapter six, Desert Hermits, required a real effort to absorb. I’m incapable of ignoring a footnote, so I spent a lot of time flipping to the back of the book.

A BOOK OF SILENCE is a fascinating look at the contemplative life by a woman who struggles to put her ideals into practice in a society that doesn’t particularly value introspection. It isn’t an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one.

When Faith and Fiction Conflict.

I love Tracey Jane Jackson’s Caulde Ane books. They’re full of passion and suspense. In BOUND BY TEARS, Jesska suffers a tragic loss just as she’s about to graduate high school and embark on what she thought would be a wonderful life with her childhood sweetheart. In her grief, she begins to self-harm to a degree that frightens her family and forces them to act on her behalf in a way that only alienates her further. Jesska’s life stalls.

Bound by Tears

Bound by Tears

For ten years not much changes. Jesska works at a job she hates. Relations with her family have thawed a bit, but she associates mostly with her older half-siblings, Cameron and Megan, and Megan’s daughter Sofia. This all changes when Sofia’s paternity is revealed and her uncle comes to Portland to meet her. Kaspar is King of his people and used to getting what he wants. After identifying Jesska as his fated mate, he won’t take no for an answer. Jesska is wary of this bigger-than-life man, but also drawn to him as he and her brother work to discover who is responsible for the plot that separated Megan from her first two children.

There’s so much to praise about this novel. The Cauld Ane (and their Icelandic counterparts) are as fascinating as ever. The chemistry between Kaspar and Jesska is through the roof. The suspense ratchets higher and higher, especially when the man behind the tragedy Jesska suffered tries to force himself back into her life. I do wish the author had dragged that bit out a little. In my opinion resolving it so easily was a missed opportunity for additional drama and character development.

On the subject of characters, Jesska isn’t quite as likable as Jackson’s previous heroines. When Kaspar mentions his financial support for animal welfare organizations, she asks if he’s “one of those people who thinks animals are more important than children.” Huh? What sort of logical leap is this? One by a character who thinks cats are “little devils,” I guess. Also, for someone who was so attached to a “purity” ring, she’s ready to jump Kaspar quickly enough. Most irritating, she (in her despair) has renounced God, yet she’s pretty intolerant of other faiths. Poor Kaspar has to point out that being Catholic doesn’t mean he’s without a “moral compass.” But don’t feel too sorry for him. He thinks Wiccans are going to burn in hell. This, from a 1000-yr-old immortal-type with supernatural powers. Apparently, a pagan minding her own business as she dances naked under the full moon (and one must assume also any similarly peaceful Hindu, Buddist, Jew or Unitarian) is less entitled to an afterlife than the maniac who killed Jesska’s first love. As long as he repents and accepts Jesus before death, he’s golden. Oh, well, for every reader this religious arrogance irritates, I’m sure there’s a fundamentalist who’s clapping and cheering, which is why it didn’t keep me from giving the book a high rating. But, as this is MY review, I get to say what bugged ME.

To be fair, in the first five books the religious convictions of Jackson’s heroines adds to their charm. They manage to maintain strong beliefs, morals and standards during stressful, scary times and without condemning others. It’s one of the things I’ve loved about them. For me, Jesska just doesn’t measure up to Sam, Pepper, Grace and Charlotte.

The ending of the novel is exciting but crowded. At times it’s hard to keep the action straight because of all the characters involved and the number of late plot twists. But in the end, as usual, I was satisfied and eager to find out what might happen next to this ever-expanding Cold Weather clan. There are still a couple of hunky unmarried FBI and Private security guys. I’m hoping Jackson gives them their own Happily Ever Afters.

So, despite some unsettling religiosity, BOUND BY TEARS delivers all the passion and excitement Caulde Ane fans have come to expect.

Unique Take on Domestic Terrorism: BEYOND THE BARS by Brooke Williams

I began BEYOND the BARS with low expectations and plenty of preconceptions. Terrorism isn’t a topic I look for in my personal reading. I read either to be educated or to escape. Most of us who’ve lived through the past twenty-plus years have been forced to learn more than we ever cared to know about terrorism of both the home grown and international variety. So, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

Beyond the Bars

Beyond the Bars

It begins in a familiar vein…a radicalized someone-or-other (the group is never specifically identified and, in the end, unimportant) leaves his home with a backpack loaded with explosives. Then the scene switches in rapid succession to three separate points of view, each a witness to a bus explosion. The cities–San Francisco, Washington D.C., Des Moines, Iowa–are so widely spaced, we figure it’s got to be a coordinated effort by a terrorist group. And it is. But behind that terrorist group is one person who has no political statement to make at all–only a personal grudge that he manages to carry out from behind bars.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot in more depth without spoiling it for readers. Suffice it to say that this short novel is a complicated exploration of family–how it shapes us, how it betrays us, and how it can ultimately save us. There’s also a strong undercurrent of a bigger battle, that of good and evil. But in the universe of this story, these forces aren’t straight-forward or easily understood. Further, they transcend any single act and even any single lifetime.

Author Brooke Williams does a great job building layered characters, whose moral strengths make them vulnerable to the uglier forces of the universe. The villain himself became so twisted through bearing up under unspeakable abuse. In trying to protect his siblings, he lost his own soul. The only person who could reach him, his former wife, is now the object of his intense hatred. Her willingness to get to know a shy but interesting young man–her openness and lack of snobbery–has years later put her and her daughter in extreme danger. This theme of good qualities–protectiveness, tolerance–turning around and biting someone in the backside is one of the most compelling and disturbing aspects of the book.

I guess what I like about BEYOND THE BARS is that it explores what happens when “doing the right thing” doesn’t necessarily result in a happy ending. Does the disappointment ruin the good in us? Or do we go on being (attempting) good in spite of it? Is goodness really its own reward?

If you like fast-paced thrillers with a healthy dose of moral philosophy, BEYOND THE BARS doesn’t disappoint.