Contemplify NonRequired Reading List Email for March 31, 2019
The March NonRequired Reading List
The refrigerator hums a B-flat. The hardwood floors creak an uneven falsetto. Suddenly the chants of my house choir are flattened by the sonic roar of a jet flying over head. Over rooftop. Over mountains.
Paul Simon thinks we are deaf to the sounds of silence. I hate to disagree with a master songsmith (one must take a firm stand in times such as these), but I believe we are acutely aware of the force of life that silence births. And that scares the Garfunkel out of us. Therefore, out of fear, we avoid the attentive labor silence demands.
The stories of old warn us that the silent gaze of Mystery is too potent for mere mortals to meet, so we glance at it slantwise when courage runs high. Even holy Moses who boldly insisted on seeing the face of God had to settle for just a glimpse of the Divine One’s keister. In this season of humanity’s proliferation of distracting eye and ear candy, I seek to engage in the subtle arts of silence. I don’t have the stones of Moses to demand a view of the Holy One’s face, a whiff of Her fragrance in the spring wind would suit me just fine.
The resonance of the booming jet subsides and minutes later the sound of a robin’s warble encircles our house. In the space between disruption and song, I hear the call back into the cathedral of silence. With courage bolstered, I inhale the fragrant silence and slowly exhale.
Here is March's NonRequired Reading List...
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
My coffee table is a wooden behemoth that I found on the curb in my neighborhood. My wedding ring was crafted by my wife’s grandfather. Our favorite bookshelf too. My battered copy of Thomas Merton’s letters was given to me by a mentor I dearly miss. I could go on.
I like matter infused with spirit. I like material goods that have stories. All of these pieces aforementioned create my hyper-local world; imperfect, relational and earthy. I read Wabi-Sabi in one standing (err, to be more precise, "one bouncing" with my sleeping newborn in a baby carrier) and have picked it up a couple times since just to hold it and flip through its pages. I reread favorite passages like this one:
‘Wabi-sabi can be called a “comprehensive” aesthetic system. Its world view, or universe, is self-referential. It provides an integrated approach to the ultimate nature of existence (metaphysics), sacred knowledge (spirituality), emotional well-being (state of mind), behavior (morality), and the look and feel of things (materiality). The more systematic and clearly defined the components of an aesthetic system are--the more conceptual handles, the more ways it refers back to fundamentals--the more useful it is.” (p. 41)
The unpretentious nature of materials in their rightful place brings a visible and useful grace to my life. It was in riding this train of thought that wabi-sabi clicked in for me. Useful and simple beauty are the adornments I seek to dress my life in, to guide me in known and unknown ways. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
This book is for the thoughtful misfits who say they don’t care about aesthetics...and for the perfectionists who fret too much about aesthetics.
The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe by Richard Rohr (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
The Universal Christ is the first spirituality book I’ve ever read dedicated to a dog (Rohr’s late beloved black lab, Venus). This is no small act, but a theological statement of beautiful proportions. More on that in a minute. In The Universal Christ, Rohr names the cosmic and personal implications of Christ being constant, available, and continually manifesting through evolution. By weaving in many of the themes from his previous work, Rohr creates a tapestry that honors religion, history, psychology, science, and the inherent dignity of our shared planet.
The boldness of this book is in reclaiming what was already present in the Christian Tradition, but was covered by the dust of duality, ignorance, and misuse of power. Rohr owns the missteps and curvy nature of the Christian Tradition while naming the true, the good, and the beautiful present within it amorizing the way.
The distinction presented between Jesus and Christ is a relational game-changer. Rohr lays the foundation for a Jesus who "sets the bar for what it means to be human. And a Christ who is big enough to hold all creation together in one harmonious unity.” (p.107) I have read The Universal Christ a few times now, and with each pass new discoveries and deeper resonations are unearthed. One of the aspects of Rohr’s writing that I am most grateful for is his ability to distill infinite meaning into memorable 6-word sentences. The Universal Christ is no exception; for example:
God loves things by becoming them. (p.16)
That punchy sentence is worth meditating on for a lifetime. In that very sentence you get the felt sense of what The Universal Christ is inviting you to embody, so that you can turn around and see that ‘the proof that you are a Christian is that you can see Christ everywhere else.’ (p.51). Now, the message gets to be a slippery slope of seeing Christ in the particularities of life as an integral part of the larger whole; this body, this child, this bread, and this wine. The particular becomes a gateway to the universal, one might even call that a sacrament.
This brings me back to Rohr’s dog, Venus. Stories of Venus are peppered throughout the pages of The Universal Christ, but most poignantly when Rohr relays the look in her eyes during her final days. The last lesson Venus taught Rohr was held in her gaze, mirroring and ultimately naming "all of this suffering and sadness as the one sadness of God." (p.161). That is the big invitation of The Universal Christ, to see Christ in every gaze we mirror back as fearlessly Rohr did with Venus.
This book is for anyone whose foundation is in the Christian tradition and who has followed a hunch that the Christ Mystery might be more radical and wondrous than what is typically being touted from the pulpit.
(Another version of this recommendation landed here.)
Arts and Articles
‘Poet Maurice Manning: A Voice in the Wilderness’ by Eric Reece (Garden & Gun Magazine): Poets like Maurice Manning are the resistance to the malady of fast-paced mediocrity. (Hat tip to Chris for sharing with me)
‘Handcrafting Books: Labors of Love’ by CBS News: The epitome of American wabi-sabi; books made by hand with an artful eye. I paused twice watching this clip wondering if I should dedicate myself to this craft.
‘Earth is a Woman’ by Greg Brown (Hymns to What Is Left): I kept returning to this song in March, methinks it's this tune that seeds hope for Spring planting.
'Kaia Kater: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert' (NPR Music): Kater is my favorite new discovery; powerful lyrics paired with a banjo and melodies that make me swoon.
The most recent series on Contemplify…
The last 6 episodes are a part of series titled ‘Life of a Day’ on the intersection of contemplation and daily life in the world. The most recent episode is about how to craft your own contemplative rhythm
May the unspoken Mystery drip from your lips to your soul and make its quiet home there.
With feet up, rest steady hearthside until you are ready to make mealymouthed attempts to articulate the Mystery to family and friends.
And if the mouths of your friends gape in confusion, disbelief or boredom, give a shrug with neither the intonation of disappoint or delight, but a gesture of accepting, of unknowing, of the hope seeded in Spring.
Shrugging in unknowing,
P.S. If you are feeling the warm glow around the Contemplify fire, please consider throwing another log in by passing a favorite episode or this reading list to a kindred spirit. If this message finds you with heavy lids and Iris Dement in your ears, disregard this ask and drift on.