Sunday, November 30, 2003

Reading for one's life

I've been in a particularly intense reading mood recently. Reading about reading and writing and about readers who write and writers who read.

First, I read a review in The Atlantic (scroll down to the second book reviewed) of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie. The book is about four mid-twentieth century Catholics: Flannery O'Connor (novelist and short story writer); Thomas Merton (monk and writer); Dorothy Day (a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a writer); and Walker Percy (novelist). One of the themes Elie brings out is that (at least for the converts to Catholicism—Merton, Day, and Percy)
it was in literature, first of all, that they found religious experience most convincingly described. As they read Dickens and Joyce, Blake and Eliot, Augustine and Kierkegaard, they recognized themselves as people with religious temperaments and quandaries.

Emboldened by books, they set out to have for themselves the experiences they had read about, measuring their lives against the books that had struck them most powerfully. (pp. x-xi)

Of course, they all went on to write, in one genre or another, about their firsthand religious experiences, enticing us to seek and taste and see for ourselves, too.

Another book I came across while browsing the poetry shelves is Planet on the Table: Poets on the Reading Life edited by S. Bryan and W. Olsen, a collection of essays by poets about reading. The essays combine pedagogy, autobiography, and criticism. The recommended books and poems to read, as well as ways of reading, are quite diverse.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A reminder

Because I haven't posted an excerpt here from Sr Joan Chittister for a while, here is her commentary on the Rule of St Benedict for March 27 - July 27 - November 26:
The message under the message is that unless the group [e.g., monastery, church] becomes more and more immersed in prayer and the scriptures, giving them priority no matter what the other pressures of the day, the group will cease to have any authenticity at all. It will cease to develop. It will dry up and cave in on itself and become more museum than monastery. This stress on our responsibility to call ourselves to prayer is an insight as fresh for the twenty-first century as it was for the sixth. For all of us, prayer must be regular, not haphazard, not erratic, not chance. At the same time, it cannot be routine or meaningless or without substance. Prayer has to bring beauty, substance and structure to our otherwise chaotic and superficial lives or it is not long before life itself becomes chaotic and superficial. A life of spiritual substance is a life of quality. The Tao puts it this way:
She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.
[Updated 11/28/03]: Sr Joan Chittister's books, tapes, videos, and cards, along with excerpts of her writing, are availabe at Benetvision.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A few articles

The LA Times is running a three-part series of articles about Wal-Mart, beginning with today's: "An Empire Built on Bargains Remakes the Working World."
From a small-town five-and-dime, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has grown over 50 years to become the world's largest corporation and a global economic force.

It posted $245 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year — nearly twice as much as General Electric Co. and almost eight times as much as Microsoft Corp. It is the nation's largest seller of toys, furniture, jewelry, dog food and scores of other consumer products. It is the largest grocer in the United States.

Wal-Mart's decisions influence wages and working conditions across a wide swath of the world economy, from the shopping centers of Las Vegas to the factories of Honduras and South Asia. Its business is so vital to developing countries that some send emissaries to the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., almost as if Wal-Mart were a sovereign nation.
An LA Times Magazine cover article about Fuller Seminary: "Jesus With a Genius Grant": Fuller Theological Seminary Is Teaching That Smart Christians Can Have It All--Science and the Bible, Body and Soul, Left and Right. To Some, That's Apocalypse Now. To Others, There's No Turning Back.

I need run out now and buy a paper copy. Perhaps commentary later.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Mere coincidence or ?

Sunday afternoon I received a call from my landlord asking that I close all my windows before I left Monday morning because painters were going to start prepping to paint the outside of my duplex. Now, when I moved into my duplex over four years ago, the paint already was peeling severely from the outside. I quickly grew a planter of ivy to cover the bare clapboard next to my front door.

I've not worried too much about the outward appearance of the duplex because it was not my responsibility, and the rent was a great deal in a lovely neighborhood.

But I thought it an interesting coincidence that one week after I brought home my oak dining table, my landlords began beautifying the outside of my house, too. They even replaced the garage doors, which previously quite defied description they were so battered.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Grasping the whole

I checked Sparrow's entry this morning at Mercy Street and saw she had posted a quote from the Friend/Quaker Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion, which I had bought just yesterday.

Douglas V. Steere begins his biography of Kelly, which is included as a preface to Testament, with these sentences:
An adequate life, like Spinoza's definition of an adequate idea, might be described as a life which has grasped intuitively the whole nature of things, and has seen and felt and refocused itself to this whole. An inadequate life is one that lacks this adjustment to the whole nature of things—hence its twisted perspective, its partiality, its confusion.
Spending log

One of the exercises this week in The Artist's Way is to keep track of all money spent. I've started this type of record keeping too many times before—lasting, at best, two months. But once more, I'll try. I want to focus not so much on how much money I spend but rather on what I spend it and why.

Starting yesterday, Monday, November 17:
  • $18.23 (cc) for 10.607 gallons of gasoline at $1.719 / gallon; 119,038 miles

  • $4.00 (pre-paid account) for salad mix

  • $20.57 (cc) for three books. I stopped in at Archives Bookshop because I had some extra time before needing to leave for work. Bought:

    The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration—$10.00—because it has a lot of the old evangelical, gospel-type songs that I learned in the Baptist church growing up but that Lutherans don't know and that aren't in their hymn books (although some of the old gospel songs are now being included in newer Lutheran hymnal supplements).

    A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly—$5.00

    Walking with Thomas Merton: Discovering His Poetry, Essays and Journals by Robert Waldron—$5.00. I'm overwhelmed by all the Merton books available and thought this would give me a good overview and guide to Merton's works. I can take advantage of my alum status and check out Merton's books from the seminary library.

  • $4.30 + $1 tip (cash) for pho at lunch on the way to work. Think about what I could do to make and bring my own lunches to work more often.

  • $0.79 (cash) for packet of cinnamon sticks to make Cranberry-Orange Sauce for potluck at work 11/18.

  • $0.75 (cash) for peanut M&Ms from the vending machine at work. Remember to bring my own healthy snacks to work, e.g., an orange or two.
[Update at 9:00 PM]: $0 spent today. Potluck for lunch at work. No other occasion or desire to shop. Middle of the month—no bills due.

[Update for Wednesday, 11/19/03]: $4.00 (cash) for church dinner.

[Update for Thursday, 11/20/03]:
  • $1.00 (cash) for sucker someone at work was selling as a fundraiser for his daughter's sorority for Alzheimer's research.

  • $5.60 (cash) for hot chocolate and muffin in lieu of lunch

  • $31.93 (cc) for used books from Bodhi Tree Bookstore

    The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals edited by P. Hart and J. Montaldo—$8.00

    The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism by William Johnston, S. J.—$10.00. And because I can't pass up the opportunity for yet another T. S. Eliot quote, the title is taken from Eliot's Four Quartets:
    the light is still
    At the still point of the turning world
    The Cloud of Unknowing, 14th Century Anonymous. Thomas Keating's Centering Prayer method draws much from this book.

  • undisclosed

  • $ undisclosed for dinner and fundraiser for Pasadena-area Bad Weather Shelter
[Update for Friday and Saturday, 11/21-22/03]:
  • $2.17 (cash) for yogurt plus granola and the LA Times

  • $2.00 (cash) library fine

  • $3.00 (cash) cut flowers from the Farmer's Market

  • $18.79 (cc) for 10.681 gallons of gasoline at $1.759 / gallon; 119,271 miles (21.81 miles/gallon—mostly city traffic with one 50 mile freeway round-trip)

  • $2.92 (cash) bean and cheese burrito, spicy, with cilantro
[Update for Sunday, 11/23/03]:
  • $2.50 (cash) for load of wash in large frontloading machine at laundromat

  • $1.45 (cash) for coffee and donut whilst waiting for wash to finish

  • $ undisclosed church contribution

  • $3.00 (cash) for sandwich for church fundraiser

  • $1.65 (cash) Sunday LA Times, purchased because the cover article of the Magazine is about Fuller Seminary

  • $358.25 (cc) round-trip ticket to Washington state for Christmas. The fare might have been cheaper if I'd bought the ticket more in advance. But it's difficult to know my schedule so early. Plus it's high demand time for air travel.

  • $14.02 (cc) for Simone Weil's Gravity & Grace.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Alternative giving

I was struck by this paragraph (p. 98) in Week 5 of The Artist's Way describing what Cameron calls the Virtue Trap:
Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic [or whatever other area you might substitute] anorexia as a martyr's cross. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.
I've been wrestling with what it means to live abundantly in a way that honors the earth and the lives of people around the world. What does it mean to live a life of simplicity yet a life that is joyful and not bound by rules and a sense of superiority?

Today I went to a presentation about the Lutheran Stand With Africa campaign working on the issues of HIV/AIDS and hunger. It was a very hopeful presentation about people in Kenya and Uganda, particularly women, forming successful farming and fishing co-operatives and of programs to assist AIDS orphans. The presenter also brought some fair trade products with her.

As the holiday season ramps up, there are many ways to give gifts that also directly benefit people in need of economic opportunities. For example, Wendy and co. have already purchased more than four $500 "Knitting Baskets" (two llamas and two sheep) through Heifer International. The list below is only a partial listing of ways to celebrate the holidays and give alternative gifts. It is pretty much Christian/Lutheran based, but there are plenty of non-religiously affiliated organizations out there, too.

ELCA World Hunger Appeal Alternative Gifts Catalog, including water projects, farming animals and seeds, refugee camp assistance, etc.

SERRV International, including coffee, chocolate, gift baskets, and gift items.

Alternatives for Simple Living, "encouraging celebrations that reflect conscientious ways of living."

Bread for the World, including a letter writing campaign to Congress to fund the Millennium Challenge Account (anti-poverty programs)and HIV/AIDS initiatives.
William Morris

I'm looking forward to seeing (certainly more than once) the William Morris exhibit that just opened at The Huntington. From The Huntington newsletter:
Of all his interests, domestic decoration most inspired Morris. He once wrote, "If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, 'A beautiful House.'"

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

New table

On the one hand, writing about the dining table I purchased seems so mundane. On the other hand, I'm very happy about my table, so it will get its own entry.

My previous table had been co-opted as a left-hand return for my desk. Also, it had been damaged and wasn't very attractive anymore. I have been using a card table for quite a while, but it's usually piled with stuff anyway.

I decided it was time to have a proper table. I wanted a round darkish oak table, a similar color as my piano. And it had to be a small table because I just have a tiny space to fit it. So I drove down towards a nice, new furniture store but stopped a few blocks away. I walked into an antique/used furniture place, saw a dark oak table with four caned chairs, and bought the set. I don't know anything about antiques, but I judged the price was reasonable compared to what I'd pay for a new set. The chairs aren't perfect and one of them needs some repair. But the table is in beautiful condition and is exactly what I imagined. It has a leaf, so it can be extended into an oval shape that sits six people comfortably.

Last night I had some visitors over. I displayed a beautiful handwoven runner in browns and creams my dad brought me from Niger and which I've not been able to use until now. I also found four amber-color glasses at the Salvation Army store in which I put votive candles. It was lovely.

New house rule: Not one piece of paper gets put onto that table even if it is right inside the front door.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

A quick update

Well, the week of no extraneous reading is finally almost finished. One more day to go. . . . I've done pretty well, though not totally avoiding non-necessary reading. Last night I was too tired to clean house or knit, so I looked through my books on altars, which involved a little reading, but it was related to one of the exercises for this week in The Artist's Way about altars. I've watched just over one hour of TV for the week and have not listened to the news on the radio.

I had volunteered to lead the women's Bible study today before I planned the no reading week so had to read for that, in addition to work reading. But no WSJ, no weblogs, blogs, or other Internet sites, no reading through mail except to check if it was urgent, no newspapers, no books or magazines. I checked my comments and e-mail. I'm definitely ready to catch up with websites again and read for fun.

So, instead of reading, I went shopping—the book mentioned one of the effects of this week might be a sorting out of stuff and a desire for new things. I did sort through my clothes to store the summer things and, now that it's finally cool enough, bring out winter clothing. And how convenient that the Nordstrom's half-yearly sale for women and children began on Wednesday! I bought a couple pairs of shoes, dress work shoes to replace a worn down pair and a new pair of leather clogs to show off the handknit socks I'll be wearing some day! I also made some great finds at the upscale Salvation Army store (I always seem to hit the 50% off days), as well as at a consignment shop.

Monday, November 03, 2003

No reading week

Although I'm not following the full Artist's Way program, I am writing the morning pages, and this week I'm trying to cut out all extraneous reading. Already I'm going wild. Here at work, I obviously have to read e-mail and read for some of my job duties. But I usually have the WSJ open on my desktop and pull it up to read an article or scan the headlines whenever I'm seeking a diversion. There's also plenty of other "business" reading I do that doesn't necessarily need to be done right now. I find I do it especially when I want to put off a distasteful or just plain hard work task that needs to get done.

At home, one of the biggest reading draws is weblogs and other online sites. I had a lot of "extra" time this morning because I didn't spend it online.

Even when I stopped to get a bean and cheese burrito on the way to work, I had already picked up a paper and was leafing through it while I waited for my order to be prepared before I realized that it was non-essential reading and quickly put the paper down.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

An awakening question

In an instance of synchronicity tying together a number of strands of thought and experience, I found this book this afternoon: Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story. A Complete Compendium. Recently I've been thinking and learning more about Thomas Merton and his writings, as well as about mysticism and contemplation in general. A few years ago I also took a course in Sufism.

Chapter 3, "Merton, Massignon, and the Challenge of Islam," by Sidney H. Griffith, provides rich material to ponder. I had become acquainted with Louis Massignon's work on al-Hallâj when writing a paper for the Sufism course. The chapter focuses on the life of Massignon and on his influence on Merton.

Merton adopts a phrase of Massignon's derived from Massignon's study of al-Hallâj, le point vierge, "the innermost secret heart (as-sirr)—the deep subconscious of a person." (p. 65) Merton describes it this way:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God . . . the person that each one is in God's eyes. (quoted on p. 67—my ordering of the sentences; from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander pp. 156-58)
All that to come to the passage I most wanted to write here, again quoted from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 131:
The first chirps of the waking day birds mark the "point vierge" of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to [God], not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the "point vierge." Their condition asks if it is time for them to "be." [God] answers "yes." Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. (quoted on p. 68)

Saturday, November 01, 2003


Overheard by a veteran Trader Joe's shopper: "Why don't they carry bread my children will eat?" Spoken by non-veteran Trader Joe's shopper attempting to buy groceries at TJ's because of the grocery workers' strike.