here i am

I must first tell you I have not been writing in this blog because I’ve been devoting my rare moments of solitude to daily prayer and writing down the fruits of this contemplation in a journal. In case you don’t remember, a journal is a bound blank book you write in. With a pen. On paper.

About a year ago the deacon at my church asked if I would help him complete the second year of a spiritual direction program that would train him in The Spiritual Exercises of St. IgnatiusThe Spiritual Exercises is a scripted, guided sequence of meditations and contemplative prayer developed by the 16th century saint Ignatius of Loyola and most often offered as a 30 day silent retreat at a lovely chef-staffed facility with lush gardens teeming with flower beds filled with songbirds, but as the deacon explained it to me, he would need to lead someone through a modified version, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Daily Life, which would extend over the course of a school year or about 30 weeks September to June. Daily scripture reading, prayer, reflection, writing on my own. One weekly meeting with him at the church. There would be no cell for me in a remote stone-walled monastery. No confiscation of electronic devices. No silence. No solemn-faced sisters I could cajole into smiles. In fact, not even a steady sequence of ringing bells to call me to prayer. I would need to find a chisel and carve out space in my busy schedule to commit to this strict, scripted regimen for almost an entire year. Of course, if you know me at all, when he eventually returned to our conversation several months later to finalize his plans, despite all my reservations and praying he’d forgotten or found someone else, I said . . . Sure.  Why not?  If it will help.  YES!

Yes.

I smiled and said, yes. And I wish I could say, yes, I am becoming more holy and loving with all this prayer, but I don’t feel any different spiritually. I suspect I am also somewhat of a disappointment to the deacon because I do not bring him profound epiphanies or spiritual crises each week or give him much opportunity to practice direction. Yes, we have thoughtful discussions about scripture and theology and share with one another the fruits of the week’s contemplation, but my sense of mission and my conversation with God was pretty well-honed before we began, and if anything, over and over again, week after week, I bring him the same fruit: I bring him my tears of gratitude. I bring him awe and wonder and why me, God?  Why choose me?  Why give ME this faith, this hope, this love?  I tell him about the student who crouched down behind my lectern during class and cried as he told me how he wanted to write about choosing not to join a gang but didn’t know how to begin. I tell him about the woman with razor cuts lining her forearms like a Native American feather tattoo who writes to me in her midterm bluebook I have nothing to live for but keeps coming to my class every day anyway. I wonder with him why my own children are compassionate, kind peacemakers who stand up for the lonely and rejected, who seek out the widow they had never met at a funeral we recently attended and wrap her in tiny, tender arms of consolation. How every day, when I’m asked to pray for grace and contemplate the particulars of our unfolding story with God, to imagine myself there, written into the story, I’m the one on her knees weeping.

 

Now the Work of Christmas Begins

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken.
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people.
To make music in the heart.

~ Howard Thurman, African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader

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in a dark, dark wood (no spoilers)

darkwoodruthwareMy summer is now complete. One romance? Check! One thriller? Check!

I recently began this audiobook in a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware and could not resume my life until I made it through the last two nail biting hours. I pulled into my driveway one evening, reluctant to shut the story off, and made my way through the close of the day, but first thing the next morning, I grabbed my cell phone and gripped my blankets until it was over, stopping only for a few minutes to pad into the kitchen for a coffee refill or, well, air. I needed air because this is the kind of story that’s hard to listen to by yourself. You want to grab someone’s wrist or scream en masse in a dark theater.  Aaaack!! There is someone in the house? THERE’S SOMEONE IN THE HOUSE!! Who IS it? Get out of there! What are you DOing? Ware skillfully, slowly builds tension and sustains the mystery right up until the last two chapters. And for someone who seems quite good at detective-ing, I did not figure this one out! I had my suspicions and enjoyed the detective game, but while some of my hunches proved true, most fundamentally did not. It was WONDERFUL! If you’re an Audible subscriber, I highly recommend this storyteller’s version as Imogen Church offers a chilling narration. She provides distinctive voices for all the characters, which again were skillfully done. I especially liked her Northumberland Nurse and plan to call all my best friends pet and duckie from now on. I’m not sure how the novel would read on the page, whether readers would get impatient with the protagonist’s amnesia or grow weary of the manic machinations of the “hen party” organizer, who like a plucky sorority girl pulls them reluctantly into all sorts of cringe-worthy bachelorette games, but the audio version is cake. Go get some!


 

In a Dark, Dark Wood, By Ruth Ware (hardcover 320 pp)

Who can I trust if I can’t even trust myself?

from IndieBound.org

What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.
Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (“Lee””?”) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?,” Nora (“Lee””?”) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (“Lee””?”) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

from an NPR Interview with author, Ruth Ware

On the book’s geographic setting

It’s Northumberland, which is quite far north, so it’s a cold place to live and it’s quite an isolated place to live. You know, it’s not like America — there’s not, you know, huge swaths of wilderness. But you can definitely be a long way from civilization and a long way from help. And a big part of — which I think is one of my own phobias — a big part of the book is that they’re out of mobile contact. Their cellphones don’t work. So immediately they’re kind of in this isolated situation where they can’t get help even if they want to.

On the glass house where the bachelorette party takes place, and the constant feeling the guests have of being watched

I think it came from having watched a lot of movies as a kid. Things like, you know, the Scream movies where there are teens and people in an isolated location and the camera is the eyes of the killer. And very often you get those shots where the camera is circling the house looking in through the windows. And it’s incredibly creepy to be sort of outside looking in at people who are being watched unawares. And as I was watching, my instinct would always be: “Close the curtains!” This whole movie would never happen if you just had blinds. And I suppose it was born out of that — the idea that you might want to shut the blinds, and not be able to.

On the mystery writers who have influenced her

I read a huge amount of it as a kid. You know, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sherlock Holmes. And I didn’t consciously channel that when I was writing, but when I finished and reread the book, I did suddenly realize how much this kind of structure owed to … Agatha Christie. And it wasn’t consciously done, but … I would say I definitely owe a debt to Christie.

“NEW YORK TIMES,” “USA TODAY,” AND “LOS ANGELES TIMES” BESTSELLER
An “Entertainment Weekly “Summer Books Pick
A “Buzzfeed” “31 Books to Get Excited About this Summer” Pick
A “Publishers Weekly “”Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers” Pick
A “BookReporter” Summer Reading Pick
A “New York Post “”Best Novels to Read this Summer” Pick
A “Shelf Awareness “”Book Expo America 2015 Buzz Book” Pick

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euphoria

EuphoriaLilyKingHe is wine and bread and deep in my stomach. ~ Lily King

There are so many beautiful things to say about this book, but perhaps the greatest praise I can offer is this: I read it in three days, and once I finished, I picked it up and read it again. It’s magical, so magical in fact, that it passed my perfection test perfectly — like that first flutter of friendship, that quick spark of energy between kindred spirits, this book takes you in smack exactly on page 50. One paragraph in, right on cue, page 50. Perfection.

Now we readers are a hopeful people, but we are not always forgiving. It’s okay to admit it. We are a little judgy. We pick up a book, longing for that seductive pull that promises to take our imagination to a fabulous dinner party. We walk into the room with wide-eyed expectation. We wait graciously with our host as the cast of characters is introduced, and while we are full of questions, we watch patiently as events begin to unfold. But around page 50, if pieces are not falling into place, we stifle yawns and quickly begin to fashion our excuses. Maybe you’re a page 75er. Maybe you’re a 100. And if you are the determined sort to hold out for dessert after three hours of bad conversation over cold gruel, God help you. It’s page 50 for me because I just know. I can feel a connection with someone within a few minutes, and I tend to read books the same way. And right on cue, this book enchanted me.

Lily King’s Euphoria, loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, is the story of three anthropologists who get tangled up studying the tribes of New Guinea in the 1930s. The American Nell Stone has written a bestselling book on ethnography, which has made her famous and well-respected among her peers and has afforded her sufficient grant money to finance her excursions. She is drawn into relationship with the women and children of the tribes she inhabits while Fen, her embittered husband, is almost a Kurtz-like character on the hunt for virile rituals, sacred objects and warfare. The pair are at odds over her professional success, and Fen’s character is driven throughout the novel to one up her and restore what he perceives as an imbalance of power in their relationship. At the start of the narrative, Nell has successfully pulled him back from a murderous tribe, and as they float through an atmospheric riverscape in search of a new village, they come across Bankson, a college rival who soon comes between them in wonderful ways . . . right on page 50!

Nell is in bad shape. Fen has broken her glasses, she also has broken her ankle and is covered in festering lesions, and the attentive reader is quick to observe that it is Bankson who notices. Granted he is telling the story at this point, but King takes pains to show the reader that Bankson is tender and thoughtful . . . and drawn to Nell. I won’t give away all the details of their friendship but will simply cast them as two caring kindred spirits connected by a great love in this wonderfully seductive story, with the feel of Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa but full of intelligent commentary on gender, ethnography and the struggle for power or peace, for spiritual connection and intimacy.

After you read it, please do come back here and tell me your favorite parts. And because I am still under its spell and can’t bring myself to admit that fall classes begin this week, I’m going to go read it again.

I try not to return to these moments very often, for I end up lacerating my young self for not simply kissing the girl. I thought we had time. Despite everything, I believed there was time. Love’s first mistake. Perhaps love’s only mistake. Time for you and time for me, though I never did warm to Eliot. She was married. She was pregnant. And what would it have mattered in the end? What would it have altered to have kissed her then, that night? Everything. Nothing. Impossible to know. We fell asleep reciting. Who was speaking or what poem I am not certain. We woke to little Sema and Amini poking us in the leg.

She told me the Tam believed that love grows in the stomach and that they went around clutching their bellies when their hearts were broken. You are in my stomach was their most intimate expression of love.


 

Euphoria, By Lily King (288 pp)

Atmospheric and sensual, with startling images throughout, Euphoria, is an intellectually stimulating tour de force. NPR

A New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize
Winner of the 2014 New England Book Award for Fiction
A Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Best Book of the Year for 2014:
“New York Times Book Review,” “Time,” NPR, “Washington Post,” “Entertainment Weekly,” “Newsday,” “Vogue,” “New York Magazine,” “Seattle Times,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Wall Street Journal,” “Boston Globe,” “The Guardian,” “Kirkus Reviews,” Amazon, “Publishers Weekly,” Oprah.com, Salon

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