Contemplify NonRequired Reading List Email for January 31, 2019
The January NonRequired Reading List
In the age of amazonian options, I prefer to pull books from the shelves of a public library. I love libraries. The fact that my whole city shares thousands of books (with remarkably few getting lost or stolen) across various reading rooms around town is egalitarian magic. And better yet, if I am seeking a specific title I make a request of my local library and they get on the horn with other libraries to track down this one book for me. Over the next couple of days, this book gets tossed into a bookmobile and transported to the nearest library. When it arrives, the librarian electronically taps me on the shoulder and I pop over to pick it up. This system of connectivity helps me discover books with joyful ease.
The requested books arrive for me to pick up as they become available, and I often scratch my jaw and wonder - why did I reserve this title? Nevertheless, I bring them all home and page through them to see if we are a match. This keeps my reading fresh and dynamic. This posture towards the library as a communal bookshelf has opened up new contemplative ponderings in me. It was in this way that I discovered Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers (once I am done re-reading it will surely be added to a future NonRequired Reading List) and it flipped my lid on a way of seeing that was already intuitively alive for me, but I did not know their was such a profound lineage already in existence.
May this month bring you into your city’s communal bookshelf for the discovery of a book that quakes you awake to a truth already birthing within.
Here is January's NonRequired Reading List...
The Silent Dialogue: Zen Letters to a Trappist Monk by David G. Hackett (Get it at the Public Library or Better World Books)
When it comes to stories of seekers finding their way in the world, I am a sucker. Both The Dharma Bums and The Razor’s Edge were formative pieces of literature that put fuel in my tank as I followed my own relentless spiritual seeking in my twenties. With my seeking still fervent but somehow also mellower, I was thrilled to discover The Silent Dialogue, the journey of David Hackett exploring the intersection of Zen Buddhism and Trappist Christianity. The book is comprised of Hackett’s journals from the 1970s while he was vagabonding in search of truth, God, meditation, and spiritual teaching in these two contemplative traditions. What makes this book wink from across the shelf is that Hackett shares his correspondence between himself and the Trappist monks at Spencer Monastery while traveling inwardly and outwardly. Here is one excerpt of a letter to Hackett from the late great Fr. Thomas Keating dropping wisdom such as,
‘I am glad that your feelings of abandonment are growing. A contemplative vocation, whatever its specifics may eventually turn out to be as regards place or method, is a call into the unknown, like Abraham leaving his home and country in obedience to the mysterious call of God. But this movement ever beyond where we are is, of course, not so much a question of place...’ (p. 57)
The pages follow Hackett’s travels east to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and then back to the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts.
The contemplative longing burning within him is palpable on each page. You can sense the youthful urgency to find a contemplative home, while also drawn to the world outside monastery walls. One yearning that felt close to what I have heard from many of you stopping by the Contemplify basecamp is - ‘Couldn’t there be a legitimate call for Western Bodhisattvas who, after undergoing monastic training, go out to help lay people in their spiritual journeys?’ (p. 99). The fruit I see planted by that deep seed of a question is the current upspringing of contemplatives in the world supporting one another’s transformation through a slew of mediums.
This book is one such support and is for anyone who has seriously wrestled with discerning their contemplative belonging in their religion, practice or place.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Get it at the Public Library or University of Pennsylvania’s African Studies Center)
I was recently at a contemplative gathering where the invitation to all was to read Dr. King’s famous letter as a contemplative work. It has been almost 20 years since I last read it, so I welcomed this opportunity. For those unsure of the context, this is a letter Dr. King wrote to fellow clergymen (assumedly all men and all white) who were taken aback by his leadership in actions of civil disobedience in Birmingham, Alabama for their unjust segregationist laws. I offer a few snippets here, but encourage you to read it in its entirety.
"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate...who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
And on the purpose of nonviolent civil disobedience.
"We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."
I hope the words of Dr. King move you, as they did me, to hold the mirror up to how you are showing up in the world as a contemplative. And finally the line that echoes in my ears.
"Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world."
The contemplative is not separated from the reality of their community, country, or culture, but invited to taste and see it in all of its manifestations; from the gooey goodness to the heavy cloak of oppression. Dr. King is calling all contemplatives out into public to be creative change agents of love despite the oppressive forces at hand. May it be so.
Arts and Articles
‘The Monk Who Taught the World Mindfulness Awaits the End of This Life’ by Liam Fitzpatrick (Time) : Thich Nhat Hahn is dying, and even in his death he is teaching through embodiment of person and place.
‘Thomas Merton, The Monk Who Became a Prophet’ by Alan Jacobs (The New Yorker): An excellent primer on Thomas Merton and his ongoing impact, especially for this ol chunk of coal.
‘These 4 New Yorkers Are Experts in Living. What Do They Know That We Don’t?’ by John Leland (NYT): I love this series evoking the wisdom from those who have lived long lives, and doneso with gusto. A reminder that life has no dress rehearsal.
Three most recent episodes of Contemplify…
The two most recent episodes are a part of Contemplify series titled ‘Life of a Day’ on the intersection of contemplation and daily life in the world. More to come every Friday for the next 4 weeks.
Matins & Lauds (Life of a Day Series #1)
Life of a Day Series (Trailer)
The Mystery Never Leaves You Alone
Wherever you find yourself on this day, be it the extreme cold or the heat of politics, may you feel the tension of being a contemplative in the world. Drawing upon the depth of presence which grounds you in this moment and propels you to tie your shoelaces so you can walk forward with Mystery.
May you dream mightily in both waking and sleeping hours.
And may you may share a pint and an inside joke with those nearest and dearest to you as soon as you can.
Called into the Unknown,
P.S. If you are feeling the warmth around the Contemplify fire, please consider giving it a shot in the arm by reviewing it on Apple Podcasts or passing an episode along to a kindred spirit. But only do so if you are in a work meeting and looking for something better to do, if you are outside sauntering with your beloved, disregard this message and saunter on.