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Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for December 31, 2020
December NonRequired Reading List
The shuttering of one year and the soft opening of another. My woolgathering intensifies as the juicy meeting at midnight approaches…
The gong show of 2020 is over, skip the credits and go kiss your honeycomb lovely.
I witnessed a murder of crows holding a funeral for 2020, open casket and all. Those of us in attendance absorbed the ripsaw mourning caws in our ribcages. I reckon that the resonance of those holy crows loosened my ribs and they will rattle until the day I lie down in my own grave.
In praise of the undone. The unmade bed. The inbox unread. A one thousand piece puzzle stretched out across the formica table, 999 pieces in perfect placement, and a single errant tab whose absence elevates its pathetic legacy. Books marked half read and stacked for a future finish. Fears felt, faced, and put back in a box for further unpacking…
Each December I am tackled by a visiting sickness to close out the year. This annual bruising is not on my calendar, but it should be. My mind, body, heart, and soul take advantage of the downtrodden moment. They quit playing charades, and level me out in a queer innerpersonal therapy session. It has the raw appeal of heavyweight boxing but with breaks for stargazing and hot drinks. They go for broke and then hug it out. This year I fully consented to it, even admiring their opportunism at my sickly expense. As the elements of my being circled up for their first therapy session, I delivered mugs of ginger tea and lefse on a tray adorned with wildflowers. A reluctant member of this sacred circle ducked out to share with me the secret of the sickness -- it is the year’s impurities being flushed out from my system. The cold shoulders, reckless words, biting remarks, fuzzy lies, pathetic workarounds, sneering rage, eyes rolled, and dull acceptance of what should not be accepted. Like a deer shaking in the forest, my being collects itself to expel the trauma and malfeasance of the year. Rather than bodily shaking, my inner barbarians are hurdled out through nasal cavities, neck sweat, and unprepared orifices. Human creatureliness is nonchalant about its grosser aspects. The accumulation of my minor and major misdeeds come back to throttle me at the year’s end.
I try my damnest to hear the shake, rattle, and hum of the Beloved and do the electric slide in Her rhythm. More often than not, I trip over my own big toe and find myself nose first on the floor. She is a patient teacher.
Success and failure do not figure into nondual equations. But they do show themselves in the necessary and repeatable daily responsibilities. The presenting self hustles to sweep the kitchen, put away laundry, change diapers, and bring home the bacon. Days bleed into weeks, weeks into months, and months into a year. One must keep the carousel going and the pantry stocked with beans. The hidden self carries on in secret. Often lost in the poetry of a spindly leaf released at last to reveal a quivering and lonesome branch, or noticing the guilelessness of sister moon waxing, or the sight of sandy brown hair braided taut as if preaching a love beyond breaking. And the hidden self always saves his dinner fork in case there is pie.
My midwestern barometer on self-indulgent public self talk is dangerously close to striking red. The front bumper of these monthly missives is to teeter between the personal and the universal. To poetically play the notes on my xylophone so you can hear how they resonate in your sousaphone. I am grateful for the successes of this year, mindful of the failures, and teary at the state of the world. Joy and grief are two sides of the spinning coin. And the coin never stops.
This month’s NonRequired Reading List relays the 4 works that most impacted this contemplative sholever in 2020. In the season of best of lists, this is far from it. These are the works that drenched my soul with contemplation and rung it out in my daily life. A deep bow of gratitude to all of you who inspire and challenge me to shimmy on this path of contemplative transformation.
2020 NonRequired Reading List Top Shelf
A New Silence: Spiritual Practices and Formation for the Monk Within by Beverly Lanzetta (Get it at Indiebound)
I read A New Silence before I could highlight it in a monthly NonRequired Reading List this year. But by God, this book had such a groundshaking impact on me that I would be remiss if I didn’t include it here. A New Silence rolled the carpet back and danced with me in the living room of my heart. Beverly Lanzetta articulates the allurement of God calling contemplatives in the world towards deeper union with the Beloved. A life rooted in a contemplative rhythm can feel far away for those of us in marriages, partnerships, and with children. Lanzetta tips those illusions over to reveal the unopened gifts of these relationships on the contemplative path. I basked in the creative rays of her robust scholarship, poetic tones, and practical guidance to build a rhythm of life that reflects my heart’s greatest desire in the context of my life. A New Silence answers the cries of contemplatives in the world. Beverly Lanzetta offers a way to reorient your life around the ‘one thing necessary’ in your context. Destined to become a contemplative classic.
A New Silence belongs in the hands of any reader who takes the contemplative life seriously and with a shot of unbridled joy. A warm and rich conversation with Dr. Beverly Lanzetta is coming out soon on Contemplify!
*March 2020 NRR* Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith by Fred Bahnson (Get it at IndieBound)
Those with a penchant for detail will have already noticed that the work of Fred Bahnson has been peppered in the NonRequired Reading Lists with increasing regularity. Some of my top recommendations over the past few years come from his pen and perspective (Merton, Barry Lopez, Priest in the Trees). Bahnson is a public contemplative intellectual. I wish I wrote that sentence more often. Public contemplative intellectuals are in short supply these days.
I finally had the opportunity to read his book Soil and Sacrament, the record of a pilgrimage of depth across the topsoil of sundry landscapes. Bahnson travels through community gardens (Christian & Jewish), a Bennedictine monastery, and communal subsistence farming in Mexico. I found two incarnational questions echoing on each page. They are the same two questions that I walk around with in the back pocket of my heart - how then shall I live? How then shall we live?
“The search for an authentic life is an old one. When the early Christians went to the desert, this is what they prayed: ‘We beg you, God, make us truly alive.’” (p.11)
This rich work could only be touched on. I could fill pages on the beauty of Soil and Sacrament. It is a book for the courageous contemplative in conscious solidarity with the whole of the planet. And it is in the whispers and subtle edges of each page that Soil and Sacrament leaves its mark on your soul. Highly, highly recommended.
Also my conversation with Fred will be hitting the airwaves soon too. Until then, read his latest Harper’s piece on the great contemplative turning here.
*October 2020 NRR* These Wilds Beyond Our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity's Search For Home by Bayo Akomolafe (Get it a IndieBound)
This book shatters perceptions of linearity. Bayo Akomolafe is a multifaceted writer that brings the imaginal into his quest for home-making, place-making, and becoming. These Wilds Beyond Our Fences is unpredictable in its discoveries and echoes of the holy in corners unswept. And the levy of love for his daughter grounds Bayo's words in the relational here and now. I leave Akomolafe's poetics as a teaser of what this searching for home feels like,
“Encircled by crumbling fences and by an encroaching wildness, without maps and without answers, we will have to improvise if the sun is to shine on us tomorrow. The world needs you to fly, to rush into virgin fields and, with hands outstretched, pollinate the flowers...” (p.285)
These Wilds Beyond Our Fences is for anyone bearing the tumult of personal, generational, and planetary stress in a dogged pursuit of home.
*November 2020 NRR* Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology by Douglas E. Christie (Get it at IndieBound)
It took me months to read Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology by Douglas E. Christie. I found it a joy to read slowly, like a lectio divina practice, soaking in the poetics married with scholarship on the Christian contemplative tradition which I so dearly love. It reads like a love letter, albeit in academic one. Or a feast honoring a contemplative tradition that is bursting with so much fruit and waiting to be tasted by the many. Here is a rich dollop on disciplined practice gleaned from the desert monks,
"Disciplined practice of presence reveals much about what the early monks valued most: a freedom from care that manifested itself in simple, loving attention to the life of another. Anxiety about food, possessions, and money was harmful not because of anything inherently problematic in the the things themselves but because of how the anxiety that arose in response to them undermined one's capacity for living in joyful freedom." (p.333)
Blue Sapphire of the Mind is for any seeker willing to further wet their contemplative whistle, disarm their judgements, and join the great contemplative conversation. Listen to my recent episode with Douglas here!
The four most recent episodes on Contemplify…
The year is done. Perhaps overdone. There is a lot left undone and unmade. A creative space is open for contemplatives in the world to sidle up to the bar. To drink life from the bottom of the cup and have another. Thank you for stepping up to Contemplify and rallying around conversations, musings, practices, poems, and banter that kindles the examined life. From my seat at the end of the year, I raise my glass to you across the bar.
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P.P.S. The postings to kindle the examined life in a quarantined world are still being gathered and posted dailyish under Quarantined Qontemplative at the Contemplify basecamp.