Showing posts from August, 2018

No Man Is An Island - Or Is He? On Beginning I Contain Multitudes

The English poet John Donne most famously wrote in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions And Seuerall Steps in My Sickness - Meditation XVII that, "No man is an island entire of himself . . ." And he is right, in a way, none of us are ever alone, ever completely disconnected. In fact, the poet Walt Whitman understood when he wrote in "" from his Leaves of Grass, "I contain multitudes." We are always a "we" and never simply a "me." Why is this? As Ed Yong states in I Contain Multitudes, "We exist in symbiosis - a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. We are in fact a kind of island. We are, each of us, an entire world.

Back when I was in school, I hated science class. Why? Because so much of it was rote memorization. Memorize the periodic table of elements, memorize the parts of a cell, memorize the parts of an atom . . . I tuned out and began to daydream; after all, when would I ever use any of this i…

Louisiana's Way Home

"I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? they will have an answer. They will know.

This is what happened.

I will begin at the beginning."

So, too, does Kate DiCamillo begin her latest novel Louisiana's Way Home.

Kate DiCamillo is one of those authors whose books constantly leave me in awe of the gift she has with storytelling. One reads her children's novels and knows that she writes what we refer to as "classics." These are the stories we fall in love with and read and re-read again and again, to our children, to our grandchildren, or to ourselves. From the moment I met Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie when I read this book to my older son, I knew in the same way that I knew when I read an author like E.B. White: this is an author I trust to take me anywhere t…

Simone Weil & Love In The Void

How does one begin to approach such a modern mystic, such a pure spirit as Simone Weil? She was described Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus as "the only great spirit of our time." I first encountered her work years ago, back when I was in undergraduate school when I came across a copy of her Waiting For God.  It was my love for the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky that I had been reading obsessively that caused me to begin a further studying into Existentialism and had begun reading everyone from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Camus and Sartre. It was Albert Camus statement that made me pick up a paperback of Waiting for God from the shelf of the bookshop where I was working and purchase it so that I could begin reading it on my break. What I would soon discover is that I became so engrossed in her writing that I completely forgot to eat my lunch. 
I had never read anyone like her. 
"Attention," she wrote, "consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empt…

Imagination In Spiritual Formation: Sarah Arthur's A Light So Lovely

When I was a boy, I read books. Devoured them, to be more precise. And in the reading came the shaping of both my imagination and my spiritual formation. I discovered belief in story, in narrative, and in creativity.

So much of who I am and what I believe can be found by simply perusing my bookshelves. My spiritual path was no less arduous or magical than that of Dorothy's wandering along the yellow-brick road or Christian's as he makes his way to the Celestial City. Though the books I read as a child were an escape from the boredom of school or the loneliness of my boyhood, they were also journeys into learning awe, amazement, wonder, delight, bravery, honesty, generosity, and that there was more to this world than my young philosophy could dream of, though they did start me dreaming grander, bigger, and more expansively about what was truly possible. Fantasy and fairy tales made me believe that the impossible was possible and opened my young spirit to allowing for miracles,…

Walking In Wonder: Entering The Sacred Circle

This year began with the word awe. Every year I have a word that shapes and forms how I attempt to approach my daily life, to force myself to see through the lens of that word, as last year the word was joy and I made it my intention to "count it all joy," which is easier to proclaim than to live out. So I awakened each morning with the goal to see the world not through the eyes of pessimism and sarcasm and cynicism, which comes so naturally to our culture, but through a spiritual purposefulness of reverence and wonder. To approach with awe instead of a commercial consumerism is, in itself, an act of defiance. It is a willful choosing to see the world and those in it (both people and nature) not in terms of being a chance for transactions but moments and opportunities of transformations (my own). What I had not expected was that this would be a season of sorrows, one in which my depression returned and that there would be days when simply getting out of bed and living out m…

The Turnaway Girls

As a child, I devoured fairy tales. The worlds were magical, but they also showed me the reality that there was both good and bad, lightness and darkness in the world. Fairy tales did not sugar coat the violence nor the importance of our choices. The older I got, the more I continued to read books that reminded me of those first fairy tales I loved. Fantastic and magical worlds created by E. Nesbitt, George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Later on, I would add Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Catherynne M. Valente, and Katherine Arden. I have never lost the wonder of reading works by writers who create mythical and magical worlds that had not existed before they put pen to page. When, as a boy, I learned that people actually wrote these books, I thought no less of them than proper wizards, mages, or magicians. What they did was no less miraculous than what happened on the pages of their books. 
I l…

Reading As Escape: The Neverending Story

"Boy Reading" by Henry Lamb
Growing up, I felt no sense of security at home or at school. So often I found myself a lonely outsider who gravitated to the corner of a room in the hopes of going unnoticed, where I could lose myself in a book. Books were my security blanket, so I was the bibliophile version of Linus. I tried whenever I could get away with it to not go anywhere without a book. Often I got patted down by my parents if we were going somewhere where I wasn't supposed to read but where I, a shy introvert, was supposed to socialize. I failed at this miserably. Books, unlike people, allowed me to remain in my imagination and my mind. I preferred to spend time in Narnia, Earthsea, Moonacre Manor, Bayport on Barmet Bay, Market Chipping, or Misselthwaite Manor than in my local school, which I never learned to love. I wanted to be friends and have adventures with the Bastable or the Pevensie children, or with Jo March or Meg Murry or Peter Pan than some of the kids I …

Beloved Books & The Beloved Wild

"Jungle Tales" by James Jebusa Shannon
There are some books that remind one of why one loves reading and of all those books you have cherished growing up. As a boy, I never stopped to consider whether a book was labeled a "boy's book" or a "girl's book," because either I liked a story or I didn't. A female protagonist or a female author never factored into my decision to read something. I simply explored our local and my school library, sometimes only looking at the cover or maybe reading the synopsis of the story, or sometimes only reading the first page to see if it interested me or not. Because I did not discriminate as so many of the boys in my elementary and middle schools so often would, I found kindred spirits in the likes of Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Meg Murry, Sara Crewes, Mary Lennox, Maria Merryweather, Jo March, and even the occasional Nancy Drew. I'm glad that I did because I discovered some of my most beloved books, those …

Entering The Most Beautiful Village In The World

"Plums, cherries, pears, pistachios. It's spring. The village of Paghman is filled with flowers. It's summer. Every year, when the wind rustles the leaves, and the fruits sway on the branches, the people of the village go out and pick plump apricots, plums, and cherries. Harvest, when the sweet scent fills the air, is the happiest time of the year."

So begins Yutaka Kobayashi's The Most Beautiful Village in the World.

Beneath the beauty of this season, there are hints of what is to come, as only a few lines later, the narrator adds, "But this summer Haroon is not here. There is a war in Yamo's country. And his brother is a soldier."

This is the first year that young Yamo gets to go with his father into town to sell their fruits amidst the shouts of other street vendors amidst the small, colorful shops crammed side by side with wares. While he is unsuccessful at first, the boy slowly begins to sell the cherries he and his father have grown and picke…