October NonRequired Reading List
Contemplify / NRR #71
“Do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars; you have a right to be here.”
— Quoted from a 1692 Baltimore church bulletin
My dear Mom loves to tell the story of a time I had her in stitches. I was a near-sighted bucktoothed towhead waiting to get my eyesight checked. Peering around the optometrist’s waiting room, I noticed something peculiar. Knobbed knuckles, blue hairs, and bald heads surrounded me. I turned to my Mom, “This feels like we are in the waiting room for heaven.” She still chuckles about that innocent childhood observation. It remains my most vivid memory of waiting.
We hurry up to wait. We say - now, just wait a minute. And we are all waiting for Guffman. So much of our lives is a form of waiting and that form often takes the shape of a line. Waiting in lines is an American pastime; to check out, check in, pick up, drop off. It starts early in grade school. Multiple times a day students line up for recess, music, lunch, the bathroom and so on. Without conscious ill intent students are groomed to wait in lines. Then the “who” at the front of the line starts to hold real social power. The classroom teacher rotates the pole position or the mob shouts “it is not fair”. A phrase we memorize as youngsters because we are minors, too young to tattoo it on our soft forearms.
This meeting of fairness and waiting is a line we hold in tension. You know this if you have you ever accidentally cut in line. A socially aware person will clue into their tragic misstep when they notice the nostril flare and the bared teeth of their fellow homo sapiens in line. If the linecutter is a flaky and misses the facial cues, they will clue in when verbal fisticuffs rain down from both booming and mousy voices. The trespasser has broken an unspoken rule that binds the fabric of cosmic fairness. The mistaken must feel the pain of that rupture. It does not matter if the line is short or moving rapidly, the learned sense of waiting in fairness kicks in. The mob is ready to put a boot in the interloper’s ass if they do not get to the back of the line. I wonder if the Amish have this issue.
I want to furnish another type of waiting room. A waiting room that lays adjacent to the halls of spirituality. As you know there are many doors in the halls of spirituality. Most are unlocked, a few require a specific key. A person can open the doors that calls to them.But I have been rummaging about my stored thoughts on the spirituality of waiting. A waiting that does not come easily or even speak the language of fairness. In the back of my mind, under an old box of letters, I discovered scribbled notes from the Psalmists, Tom Petty, Simone Weil, Masanobu Fukuoka, Meister Eckhart and other noble waiters. All folks I admire who took the hinges off the doors of their life and waited.
The world is on fire, at war, and in protest, how can one uphold waiting? It is not that kind of waiting. It is the type of waiting that attends to a marshmallow nearing a golden brown over campfire coals. It is the type of waiting where you count contractions or are perched on a deer stand. There is nothing to do, the fullness of life and death are in attendance. One breath connects the two.
The agony of waiting might be in preparation for the shell to break, for the hatchling to emerge. Did you know that birds goes through a pronounced hormonal shift in preparation for the incubation period? Audubon Field Editor Kenn Kaufman considers this change of state within waiting birds to be a meditative state. His anthropomorphic reflex is quickly forgiven because of its creative reframing of “waiting”. One that might be considered for humans.
Waiting in conscious awareness is a hingeless door. Reinforced walls crumble, windows painted shut crack open, and the wind blows where it will. You can wait in a line in vain. Or you can wait in that same line wandering the desert of love. The act of mystical waiting feels the heat of that desert sun on their neck and the sand between their toes. Mystical waiting enables a person to cup an ancient desert seashell to their ear and hear oceanic love myths.
The story of mystical waiting is also the story of a belonging. Mystery slips a creased map of the Kingdom of God (to use Jesus lingo) into your back pocket. Your abode is marked in a Dr. Seuss like fashion; here, there, and everywhere. Mystical waiting introduces you to a sense of belonging as a creature on this planet. You belong to the earth more than any parcel of the planet belongs to you.
“Elementally speaking, after all, nothing has a permanent home. Some part of everything abides everywhere...We are matter and long to be received by an earth that conceived us, which accepts and reconstitutes us, its children, each of us, without exception, every one. The journey is long, and then we start homeward, fathomless as to what home might make of us.” (p. 313, The River You Touch)
It is a Christ-soaked world. It shapes us. If we wait long enough in stillness of spirit we can hear the world cry out to us. Falling in love with a specific place might be because you were first loved by it. When I joked as a boy that the optometrist’s office was the waiting room for heaven, I was not wrong. My mystical imagination was just not large enough to take the hinges off the doors of the waiting room.
Occtober NonRequired Reading List
The River You Touch: Making a Life on Moving Water by Chris Dombrowski (Get it at the Public Library or Bookshop)
Chris Dombrowski is a dedicated craftsman and drips with talent. I placed his book The River You Touch on the shelves reserved for my most cherished books. When I first heard the news that The River You Touch was set to be published this Fall, a celebratory drumbeat began in my head. It rolled on in the recesses of mind as I waited for this hardback bombshell to be delivered. Upon arrival, I lived inside of The River You Touch. I am a better father, husband, friend, and contemplative for it.
The River You Touch is a work of creative nonfiction that addresses the fog of modern confusion. A book of adventurous intention on how a person can lean into fully inhabiting their life through their webbed relationships with the land, creatures, and mystery. The mountains and rivers of Montana rise as central characters and the set for Dombrowski’s reflections on vocation, family, and community vibrancy. Chris Dombrowski’s poetic voice draws stories from his life in vivid detail and cascades the momentum of those vignettes into a holistic narrative that you can recognize as your own.
Personally, I have been waiting for this book since Chris mentioned it on Contemplify in 2019. Since then Chris Dombrowski has been a consistently sought after presence on the Contemplify podcast and NonRequired Reading List. You can listen to my most recent conversation with Chris on The River You Touch here.
The River You Touch is for any contemplative steeped in the fullness of life’s responsibilities and strives to walk with integrity in their sense of calling in the world. The writing is drop dead gorgeous. You will pause in wonder and appreciation. The audiobook is read by friend of Contemplify Jeffrey Foucault to boot. (Check out all of Dombrowski’s The River You Touch events here.) You can tell I loved it. I’ll stop gushing now.
The Women In God’s Kitchen: Cooking, Eating, and Spiritual Writing by Cristina Mazzoni (Get it at the Public Library or Better World Books)
Food and spirituality go together like music and dancing, or boredom and long winded sermons. In The Women in God’s Kitchen I was treated to contemplative feast with old friends like Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen while also being introduced to Gemma Galgani and Margaret Mary Alacoque. And then there is Hadewijch. She sits at the head of my table. She always seems to lead me to mystical explorations that nourish my body and soul while expanding my appetite. I have fallen in deep with Hadewijch, for she writes scrumptious carnal words, like, “love’s most intimate union is through eating, tasting, and seeing interiorly.” (p. 45).
Cristina Mazzoni (a cook as well as a scholar) invites “you to seek out and to savor with [her] in the following pages the food concocted, dished out, bitten into, tasted, and swallowed in the writings of holy women: food that may be mundane, unexceptional, and commonplace, but food that may also be delicious, nutritious, indulgent, or healthful…this food—through metaphors and similes, through anecdotes and memories—leads to mystical connections, underlines the presence of meaning even, or especially, in the midst of seemingly meaninglessness and leads us to share in the pleasure of cooking, eating, and learning at a divine table in God’s kitchen.” (p. 15), I could not have said it better.
The Women In God’s Kitchen is for the contemplative who knows that God’s ecstasy resides in one bite of pineapple. Mazzoni imaginatively serves these mystics with a feminist lens that entices you to hold the totality of wisdom from soup to nuts.
Season Three still flows sweetly in and around October. You can find the complete list here, but here are the three most recent episodes.
The River You Touch with Chris Dombrowski (Season 3, Ep 6)
Inarticulate as Watercolors, Brazen as Graffiti (Season 3, Ep 5)
Arts & Articles
MY TRIP TO SPACE FILLED ME WITH PROFOUND SADNESS (Variety): I would be hard pressed to call myself a William Shatner fan. I am coming around after reading Shatner’s reflection on his trip to space and his song on the urgency of life. (h/t to Andrew)
WRIT IN WATER: ON ROGER DEAKIN’S INDELIBLE SWIMS (Harper’s): I stumbled upon this review of the book, Waterlog. Leanne Shapton transmits the essence, format, and feel of Deakin’s book with an ownership all her own. This review made me want to read Waterlog with Leanne Shapton in the room.
Stay in the world
to transcend it.
Staying in the world,
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Though across the country many music classes have tragically died from negligence
One can even enter a door and depart it in the same afternoon to pronounce, “Rubbish, that spirituality is cuckoo, they have no idea what they are talking about. Let’s try another.” Another door, another dog day afternoon. I find this comical. Apparently St. Benedict did too, calling such doorknobs spiritual tourists (Chapter 1, Verse 10-13 from The Rule of St. Benedict. Hat tip to Adam for highlighting this). I digress and am not here to tease spiritual voyeurs. I have been there.
Just now I hear the gleeful shriek of neighbor’s baby daughter as her Dad skips to the car on the curb to sling drugs. Sungold tomatoes on the vine whose skins burst with cleavage. My drip nose child. The two dimensional image of a war-torn mother dead eyeing the horizon.