Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for May 31, 2019
The May NonRequired Reading List
“The things that compose nature; trees, hillsides, streams, creatures, wildflowers, vine...those things are all actual and symbolic at the same time. What I am trying to do is partly based in the real, and partly based in the symbolic. When things are going well you can’t tell the difference.”
The poet Maurice Manning, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, spoke those words of the ‘actual’ and ‘symbolic’ in a new documentary about his life, craft, and place. Manning vocalized a hunch that’s been hiding out in the back forty of my soul. Though I am unaware if Mr. Manning carries the Christian contemplative lineage within his ribcage as I do, I find his words to be walking a similar incarnational path.
The hunch Manning unintentionally vocalized is this...as far as I can tell the person of Jesus (a wilderness contemplative) and the Christ (universal Presence in all things) breathe together in the actual and symbolic at the same time. And for me, the mystery of faith is what I experience when I can’t tell the difference.
The contemplative in the world seeks this union in the difference. To be in and with the flow of matter and Mystery in our everyday human realities. That seeking lands contemplatives in practices that shift perceptions or till the grounds of grace. After a spell (one can never know exactly how long in these matters) contemplatives locate themselves in a ‘Christ-soaked world’ or sense a ‘heart strangely warmed’.
When one is well seasoned in contemplative practice the actual and the symbolic draw breath together from the same source. The exhalation, becomes the poetry of the ineffable. And as this breath finds a habituated rhythm of reception and release -- theologians become free enough to speak like poets, and poets humble enough to sound like theologians.
May NonRequired Reading List
Contemplative Church: How Meditative Prayer & Monastic Practices Help Congregations Flourish by Peter Traben Haas (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
What would a local church congregation look like that integrated contemplative and monastic practices into their community life? Peter Traben Haas (friend of Contemplify) has written a book outlining the possibilities of a contemplative flourishing in congregational life in Contemplative Church. Haas holds the post of guide in this book; naming the problematic climate of 21 century Christianity and its cultural waters, highlighting the foundational contemplative evolvers within the lineage, and offers a tool kit for contemplative becoming in both personal and communal life.
Overall, this is a love letter to the monastic past and the unfolding contemplative future. Haas invites us on a personal journey of becoming amidst the exposition of contemplative giants and seers who forged pathways and practices for us to deepen.
Haas writes, “In contemplation, we discover again and again that underneath all the surface fragmentation and division of life, we are held together by a force of love making contact with each of us, inwardly in the silence, so to hold us as we grow...each of our spiritual journeys is evolving and unfolding, and created to deepen” (p.78).
Contemplative Church is highly recommended for those looking for an in-depth primer on the contemplative lineage in the Christian tradition and/or seeking to integrate contemplatives practices into the devotional life of person and parish.
So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgård (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
I would never have picked up a book on the art of Edvard Munch had Karl Ove Knausgård not written it. Knausgård has a knack for elevating the daily mundane to near mystic heights. Well, that is if you like his style. A key point of this book is that it examines the life, times, and art of Edvard Munch as it intersects with Knausgård’s own understanding of Munch’s import as a fellow artist attempting to transcend a time’s accepted modalities within a particular art form.
One specific section that I’ve been ruminating on since picking up So Much Longing in So Little Space is where Knausgård unpacks the initial and seemingly iconoclastic period of an artist’s work where they are breaking through forms to discover their own. Knausgård shows his metaphysical break dance moves as he simultaneously encircles the artist’s journey from historical, philosophical, and personal perspectives. It was a joy to read with my heart pounding each page. You feel the anguish of desire for Munch (and Knausgård) to share their authentic voices in their respective crafts. The actual and symbolic have their say in the matter, and after much struggle they seamlessly become one in their art...and suddenly Munch’s Scream or Knausgård’s My Struggle seems artistically obvious and culturally inevitable.
I was left longing for more of this mystical artistic perspective from and about Norway’s most famous sons. This book is for Knausgård fans and for those who see art as a gateway to contemplative devotion.
Arts and Articles
Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story by PBS: Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman were pioneers in contemplative spirituality, ecumenicism, Civil Rights Movement and community work. Watch this at least twice.
Christian Life Today by Thomas Merton (Now You Know Media): This is a series of responses Merton gave to a community of Carmelite Sisters that he recorded in his hermitage. Its delightful to hear Merton doing what we are all doing, wrestling with contemplation in our own contexts. Also, I found this entire series on Hoopla for free (Hoopla is a digital library).
Matter is a Relative Matter with Maurice Manning by Rob Curry and Tim Plester (LushPlayer): Maurice Manning has slowly influenced my life, which I imagine is the way he would most appreciate doing so. Also...you gotta read Maurice Manning’s Poetry. (Hat tip to Chris)
The three most recent episodes of Contemplify…
May the distinction between the symbolic and actual persist in your vision, one pouring out of each eye.
May wholeness be found in the unity behind your eyes, without conflating the dynamic duo into a flattened one, but allowing a creative third to emerge from the tension between.
When in doubt, take drink and solace with Yeats who put to paper:
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look you, and I sigh.
P.S. If you are feeling the warm glow around the Contemplify fire, please consider throwing another log on the fire by passing a favorite episode or this email to a kindred spirit. If this message finds you ruminating on the work of Edvard Munch & seeing your own call to take the artistic leap into the unknown, disregard this ask and I wish you well.