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Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for December 21, 2019
December NonRequired Reading List
In my neck of the desert we are in the dark. The sun knocks off work a little earlier each day, and in the morning, the heavy drapes of night take an extra tug to draw before revealing the blurry-eyed sun wrenching himself from his pillow. We are in a season of celebrating light and darkness. I feel it all. Don’t be fooled by those who only speak of light in the darkness as if the darkness had nothing to offer. It is the edge of night that first kisses daybreak. As if intuiting the breaking of dawn, my spiritual director recommended I revisit The Dark Night of the Soul, to give language to the offbeat ballet I am watching behind the curtain of my eyelids.
Nothing in this life is as it first appears.
Last month, there was a knock on my door. Holding my baby boy, I answered the door to an irate man. He explained that he was a neighbor from across the street and had witnessed someone walk onto our property and pilfer through the drying laundry and steal one of my shirts. A bit dumbstruck, I just said - what? Without pause, he said, “I’ve called the police and you should do the same.” Then he shared some details that made me laugh. He began to describe the thief; ambling, pudgy, and shirtless. I chuckled, a shirtless man stole one of my shirts. I thought of Jesus saying that if someone wants to sue you for the shirt off your back, give them your coat too. Or was it the other way around? Nonetheless, how could I be upset with a bareback man nabbing one of my shirts? The neighbor’s rant continued and he implored me to call the police again. I looked at my son who yanked my beard to bring my eyes close to his as if to say - are you thinking what i’m thinking, old man? I thanked my neighbor for his neighborly attention, for alerting me to the situation, and that I’d be sure to follow-up in a manner that I found most suitable. I never did notify the authorities, but I did tie a prayer to heels of the wind to catch up to the newly shirted man.
This month’s NonRequired Reading List relays the 4 works that most impacted this contemplative shoveler in 2019. In the season of ‘best of’ lists, this is far from it. These are the works that drenched my soul with contemplation and rung out in my daily life. A deep bow of gratitude to all of you, who inspire and challenge me to cartwheel* this path of contemplative transformation. (A sneak peek to a few NonRequired Readings in the New Year...I’m looking forward to reflecting on this top shelf interview with Barry Lopez and the ground altering work of Resmaa Menakem.)
*I can’t do a cartwheel. I fall on my face when I try. Which is why I first deleted ‘cartwheel’ and then realized that it was a perfect metaphor. The child-like joy of trying something playful, falling on my face, and getting back up.
December's NonRequired Reading List
Living Without a Why: Meister Eckhart’s Mysticism by Prof Charlotte Radler, PhD (Get it at the Public Library or NowYouKnowMedia)
from the August 2019 NRR #34
This is a concise and vibrating audio introduction to the mysticism of Meister Eckhart. It clocks in at just under four hours but...buckle up and strap down (or whatever seatbelt metaphor you prefer). Dr. Radler invites you into the radical mystical teachings of Meister Eckhart. Late at night I would listen to Living Without a Why while my son slept in my arms. Ruminating on Eckhart’s teaching of the ‘birth of the Son in the Soul’ while holding my son in my own place of emptiness was the holy ground I needed to understand this teaching anew.
There is one phrase from Dr. Radler’s succinct teaching--as much as that is possible with Meister Eckhart--that I will hold onto forever. "For Eckhart, detachment was archaeological rather than architectural" (my paraphrased takeaway of Radler’s unpacking of Eckhart’s teaching on detachment). It has become a mantra animating my internal dialogue. Am I trying to create more space or am I letting go of something so that more space can be freed? It has become my practice to ask this question and attend to the sensations that arise in my body. I wait for Mystery to cue me on where I need to loosen my grip next on this path of emptiness.
As I pull a couple of books on Eckhart’s sermons from shelves, I begin a second listen of Living Without a Why. I recommend Living Without a Why for all those interested in the apophatic vein of the Christian tradition or for those drawn to a somewhat Zen-like approach to Christianity.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryū Suzuki (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
from October 2019 NRR #36
This book will be within arm’s reach for decades to come. I picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind from the local library. Upon finishing it, I recognized that this book was not finished with me. And likely never would be. I bought a copy for 3 bucks at a thrift store. The world shows herself to be an upside down and unpredictable matron when you can get a book of timeless wisdom for less than a sawbuck. Suzuki’s teaching is simple, humorous, wise, and delightfully confounding at times. I have made it a practice to read a portion each morning.
“So actually you will find the value of Zen in your everyday life, rather than while you sit. But this does not mean you should neglect zazen (practice). Even though you do not feel anything when you sit, if you do not have this zazen experience, you cannot find anything; you just find weeds, or trees, or clouds in your daily life; you do not see the moon. That is why you are always complaining about something.” (p.121)
Take a couple of paragraphs and call me in the morning. This is my contemplative prescription. Suzuki is teaching you how to make all of your life contemplative practice. A lot of folks talk about it from a postured nonduality (my two cents), Suzuki teaches you through your own embodiment (my 3 buck experience).
My friends tell me that I’m a Christian and I wholeheartedly agree. But my friends from across the religious aisles are also bolstering my practice without coercing me to join their gaggle. God, what a treat to feel their camaraderie and encouragement on this journey. May I do the same for them from the wisdom of my tradition in this Christ-soaked world.
This book is for anyone who wants the very details of life to be their most direct practice.
On the Road with Thomas Merton by Fred Bahnson / Film by Jeremy Seifer (Read and Watch at Emergence Magazine)
from September 2019 NRR #35
This article spans deep time; capturing the pilgrimages of Thomas Merton’s across the American West in 1968 and author Fred Bahnson’s identical journey fifty years later. A braided story line of pilgrimage, longing, monastic history, mysticism, and the fruits of lives devoted to silence and solitude. Bahnson states early on,
"What am I seeking? Here at the beginning of my journey following Merton’s steps, I wonder why, even in the midst of a flourishing family life, I still feel pulled toward silence and solitude, or why I can’t seem to shake this spiritual restlessness that has driven me most of my life, a propulsive desire to seek out the horizon. I feel those same yearnings in Merton’s writings. But my connection to him goes deeper still."
You will feel this article more than read it. Many times while reading this, I could taste the Belgian beer, rub my hands against the granddad redwoods towering overhead, or hear the cadence of a monk’s animated story. They are all beats of a contemplative heart striving for the poetic eye to describe it accurately.
“Perhaps this is our place of resurrection, not a fixed point but a longing, a portable question endlessly posed and endlessly answered whenever we go in search of God. A tectonic convergence of our desire for God and God’s desire for us, all of it mediated through that fickle, insatiable organ of perception that will travel to the ends of the earth to find what it craves, though it needn’t travel further than the next breath: the human heart.”
We are in climate crisis here on Earth. We have billionaires racing to Mars. In the U.S. we have healing work to do in relationship to the colonization of the land and the enslavement of people. We are a distracted populace being entertained to death, disconnected from our bodies, our stories, and our hearts.
"This is the work: to take these feelings of loneliness and exile and bring them into the furnace of the heart, where emotional abandonment becomes mystical abandonment."
Read this article. Bookmark it for another read down the line. This piece is for all those who agree with Karl Rahner who once said, ‘The Christian of the future will either be a mystic or cease to exist.’
The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life by Beverly Lanzetta (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
from February 2019 NRR #28
Have you ever felt the pull to monastic life? It can be easy for an outsider to romanticize the monastic way when your life ‘in the world’ gets overwhelming. Eventually you snap out of that monkish urge because it dawns on you that becoming a cloistered monk requires sacrificing creature comforts, or you remember the vows you would never be able to keep. So you let that inner yearning fade. If the draw of the monk archetype reaches you in any way, read The Monk Within. Lanzetta charts a path that is at once interspiritual, mystical and rooted in tradition (I know, I never thought I’d be writing that sentence either).
The Monk Within begins with this inner call that many of us have felt towards the monk archetype (as elucidated by Raimon Panikkar) and ends with examples of reimagined lived monastic principles. The journey from the faint cry of the call to the embodied promise of principles is a ride propelled by the force of love, through theology, practices, historical examples, and new ways of being a universal monk.
The Monk Within is a poetic response for those of us called to be contemplatives in the world. It offers guidance and support for the uncharted territory ahead. As you work with this book you realize that the monastic tradition has always dared to put that first toe forward in exploring new wilderness in the service of love. The Monk Within may just be the latest edge of that wild and storied tradition.
Arts and Articles
‘Evening Machines’ by Gregory Alan Isakov (gregoryalanisakov.com): This album would top my list for the year. It whets the appetite for mystery unspeakable, particularly the song ‘Caves’ which echoes the interplay of dark and light.
‘Northumbrian Sequence IV’ by Kathleen Raine (bodymindopleidingen.nl): A poem of allowing, of waiting, of welcoming. Let this poem pierce your Advent heart.
‘When White People Say Plantation’ by Sporkful (Podcast): The pursuit of understanding the recurrence of a non-culinary term in food culture, plantation. I always enjoy a deep dive into the meaning of a word, who uses it, and how. This episode focuses on how ‘plantation’ correlates to whiteness in America.
The 3 most recent episodes...
As you finish this year on a high note (or a low note, a thank you note, a forget-me-not note, an unreadable note, a lost note, or a love note), know that you held in the Mystery of Love. Mystery is not unknowable, but endlessly knowable. And so then are you. You are endlessly knowable in Love. Pin that to your heart’s sleeve in case your heart gets lost on its long walk home.
Wishing You a Vivid Advent Season,
P.S. An invitation before the Non-Required Reading List closes out...do you have a burning contemplative question that you think I might be able to respond to or explore? A question that was born from examining your own life or arose from listening to Contemplify ? If so, you can record your question here and it could be featured on a future episode of Contemplify. I thought this could be a fun and fruitful experiment for us to create together.
P.P.S. If you were forwarded this NonRequired Read List and want to sign up to receive the next one, sign up below.