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Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for December 26, 2021
December NonRequired Reading List
On the regular I catch a moment between lovers just beyond my yard. No peeping required. Shortly after quitting time I hustle my kids out the door to scrape knees, jump ropes, or wheel about the yard in the twilight. I started to notice one of my neighbors meander about with her Marmaduke-sized dog during this golden hour of play.
She putters on the corner, looks eagerly over her left shoulder, then back at the dog. You can feel her anticipation building and pulsating from across the street. She looks East hesitatingly, waiting for the signal to keep moving.
Finally she sees a distinct frame and gate. At the other end of the block a man has turned the corner from the bus stop and is making his way down the sidewalk. A subtle grin flashes, disappears, and she hesitates no longer. The dog snaps to and lurches her forward, then circles back to her as if saying, “Can you believe it? He’s coming!” The man’s broad beatific face opens when he sees them. Now all three are moving with purpose. They reach each other and kiss (sometimes the dog slips his in first). The man takes the leash in one hand and his beloved’s hand in the other. They walk home. It is all over in an instant and yet it is never over. It happens everyday. It preaches to me every time I see it.
This is the juicy message of Christmas. Christ is always coming. Meister Eckhart says, “Christ’s birth is always happening. And yet if it doesn’t happen in me, how can it help me? Everything depends on that.”
May the smooch of Christ find you on the sidewalk this Christmastide.
This month’s NonRequired Reading List relays the 4 works that lingered most in the soul of this contemplative shoveler in 2021. Tis the season for ‘best of’ lists…this is not that. These are the works that created the conditions for me to kiss contemplation and hold hands with Mystery on my way back home. A deep bow of gratitude to all of you who inspire and challenge me to shake, rattle, and hum on this path of contemplative transformation.
December NonRequired Reading List
The Bear is my favorite novel I have read in recent memory. It is the story of a father and daughter, the last two humans on the planet, cultivating a life in rhythm with the givens of nature. This story is told with tenderness, yet without sap, of the reality of survival, humanity’s precarious position, and the enduring flame of love. I hesitate to say more. I don’t want to spoil the serpentine journey of discovery, loss, deep listening, and homecoming that unfolds. Read the book and then listen to my conversation with the author, Andrew Krivak here. Riveting the whole way through.
Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse by David Budbill (Get it the Public Library or Bookshop)
A library fluke is how Moment to Moment landed in my hands. I was requesting a book of poetry from the Zen Buddhist monk Ryōkan. My assumption was that David Budbill was the translator. Happiest mishap of my summer. Budbill pays homage to the Zen poet tradition in this text by dropping himself into it. The poems reflect the simplicity of Ryōkan, the humor of Han Shan (Cold Mountain), but the poems are unmistakably David Budbill. When a poet is capable of chopping down exasperated words to plainly show that this mad existence mingles with ravishing beauty I drop to the skin of my knees.
Moment to Moment is for poetry readers who need to feel the clearing song of a night sky.
Books on the life and work of Thomas Merton are commonplace. There are few that are able to hone in on a particularity of Merton that extracts a sample that reflects the radiance of his whole life. Shaped by the End You Live For does that. Thurston focuses on what spiritual pilgrims can learn from Merton’s evolving vowed path. Thurston’s brilliance is in her patient unveiling of the core tenets of Merton’s monastic spirituality (obedience, silence, solitude, prayer, and creativity) and slowly walking the reader through their significance until you exclaim with Merton, “If you want to have a spiritual life you must unify your life. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
Shaped by the End You Live For is for all pilgrims seeking to hear the hum of the universe that Thomas Merton found.
Lines of poetry spring, hop, and finally rest on the branches of my consciousness. Ornithologist and cultural conservationist Dr. J. Drew Lanham has written a book of poetry as unique as each bird that he studies. The evocative renderings of the individual bird, playful seriousness in the rules for being a Black birder, his endless praise of wildness in all forms, and the angles of attention a reader must cock their head to see beauty resting on branch almost out of view. Lanham brings you into the birding experience -- which is really just the practice of deep attention, no? The poetic phrase of his that is currently sticking in my ear is “The Gospel According to Decay. Everything is wet or dead--or will soon be.” (in “On Finding Swamp Religion”). Each time I empty the compost I am preaching the Gospel of Decay. Listen to my conversation with Drew here.
I recommend Sparrow Envy to poetry readers in love with the wildness of this world, with birds, and lesser beasts.
The a slew of episodes from Season Two are out now (and a new episode with Amy Frykholm continues the next leg of Season Two in the New Year…)
Enlivening the First Christmas with Stephen Mitchell (Season 2, Episode 4)
Backporch Advent Outpost with Chris Dombrowski (Advent Bonus #2)
Backporch Advent Outpost with Todd Davis (Advent Bonus #1)
The Monastic Heart & Prophetic Imagination with Sr. Joan Chittister (Season 2, Episode 3)
Slow Yourself to be Awed with J. Drew Lanham (Season 2, Episode 2)
Gary Nabhan (aka Brother Coyote) on Wisdom Gleaned from Fishers & Farmers (Season 2, Episode 1)
Arts & Articles
“Billy Conway” by Jeffrey Foucault (jeffreyfoucault.com): Billy Conway was a helluva drummer. I have swayed to his rhythm more than once when he played with Jeffrey Foucault (friend of Contemplify). Conway passed away this week. Foucault eulogizes him in word and spirit. We should all be so lucky to live such a life and be immersed in such a friendship.
“Routine Maintenance: Embracing Habit in an Automated World” by Meghan O’Gieblyn (Harper's Magazine): Pour your daily cup of coffee, sit in your favorite chair during your reading hour and pull up this gem. Time for a boring and quiet revolution where we make our "nervous systems an ally instead of our enemy."
“Desmond Tutu” (Instagram): The passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu got me to climb out of my social media cave and post something. I've crawled right back in for another season of hibernation.
I leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver…
Making the House Ready for the Lord
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
Out on the Sidewalk,
P.S. Cheers to you kind reader this Christmas season. May your evenings be full of solace. If a kindred spirit forwarded you this email and you'd like to get the next one sent directly to your inbox without any fanfare sign up below.
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