December Reads

What I’m reading:

Do you ever find a certain topic coming up again and again in your reading and discussions with other people? I could call it accidental but it almost seems like God is sending me messages. It started this month when my brothers wanted to share “Waking Up White, and finding myself in the story of race” by Debby Irving. They wanted us to have family discussion about the topic.

Shortly after, the husband and I met an author, Ray Drake, at the hospital where we exercise. We started reading his book, “Dancing With the Fat Lady”, which has a lot to do with race and our local Native American population.

There’s even more. I’m in a small group book study starting in January and to get ready I’m almost through with the book we’ll be doing. It’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero and I’m getting a lot from it. It also has sections that deal with the things we learn from our family of origin concerning race and culture.

And now it gets a little spooky. On top of the kitchen cabinets, where I was cleaning during an insane moment, I found “The Grass Dancer” by Susan Power, a Native American. Her novel is full of Native American lore and story. I can’t wait to put this all together and see where it leads.

It was so much fun to trade books with Hope*Writer Sara Stevens. We missed out on the official book exchange so partnered with each other. She sent me “The Road Back to You” by Cron and Stabile. I want to see what this enneagram thing is all about.

Last, not least, I’m planning on finishing “The Next Right Thing” by Emily Freeman, because it will be the next right thing to do. She, and Hope*Writers are my encouragers when it comes to the art and craft of writing with purpose.

They say(and I’m sure they are right) that to be a good writer, you must also be a good reader. I’m planning on ramping up my reading program over these long winter months ahead. I could use suggestions too. What have you read lately that you loved?

What I Read for Encouragement

pexels-photo-247195.jpegI’d like to encourage people today, although I don’t know exactly who or in what way. Does your head hurt? Did you sleep poorly last night? Have you gotten bad news lately? Are you feeling stale? Numb? Anxious? Maybe I want to encourage you.

Go read Psalm 103. You don’t have to be someone who has a religion – it’s literature, a book that’s been around a long time and is easily accessible. Just read it.

What if there is a God and that is an accurate picture of him? What if there is some “pit” he wants to pull you out of? What if he does want to satisfy the desires you have to be loved and valued? You could jump on that train of thought, just for a few minutes and see how it feels. I’ve memorized this chapter because I so often need to hear what it says.

I’m getting pretty aware of the things that are wrong with me.  When I hear a writer describing a distance “as far as the east is from the west”, and he’s telling me that’s how far away all my wrongness is going…  I get the impression that someone has a plan to deal with bad stuff, mine and everyone else’s. Thinking along those lines gives me hope. Hope is important.

Here is the most hopeful part of the reading for me – the part where “he knows how we are made, that we are dust, earthly”. I do kind of add my own translations as I think more and more about it. To me, it says “I know how I made you – different from anyone else. I know exactly what you are capable of and I don’t expect any more from you than that.”  That’s the way I want to be known. It encourages me to think that God and I might be on the same track in that regard.

The writer of this psalm felt that even when God knew him completely, he still loved him in a way described as “from everlasting to everlasting”. I’m a writer, and I can’t think of a way to top that. When I rehearse this psalm in my mind, I always think I want to be know that way and loved that way. It would make me happy, encouraged, hopeful. It’s a place to start.

Sure, there are some qualifiers in there, referring to those people who are known and loved. Again, as a writer, I’m paying attention to the verbs throughout the whole chapter. “Rescues”, “satisfies”, “works righteousness and justice”, “made known his ways” – all things that God does and is doing instead of things I have to do. I think the writer is saying that God is willing and able to work with people, to bring them to where they love him back, want to keep his covenant and remember to obey him.

It encourages me because it’s a good deal. It’s better than finding an honest used car salesman, or whatever analogy you want to use.  There’s more in that chapter and maybe there are other parts that will seem important to you, if you read it. Try it on.  See what it makes you feel and want. And consider that it is meant to encourage you.

 

 

 

 

 

On Having a Library

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Books by old, dead guys (no disrespect meant), some still wrapped in cellophane…

Many times, when not tending to the urgencies of my life, I turn back to the job of paring down, preparing for the coming stage when there will undoubtedly be less space. This week I came to an important conclusion which I hope will help me. I had to ask myself the question “do I want to have a library, or do I want to read?” Some clarity is needed here, because they are not the same.

Over the years, the husband and I have moved six times. Each time our library has grown with our changing interests, filling boxes and boxes of books, taking a lot of storage space. We have seldom done anything to diminish the load. We did sell our Encyclopedia Britannica set when it became apparent that there was better, more current information available on the internet – that’s about it.

I went through a period when my primary furniture interest was bookshelves. I bought them with visions of having a real library in our home, where shelves lined the walls and comfy chairs begged us to sit and read. That didn’t happen, but we did end up with bookshelves in every room but the kitchen (actually there were shelves for books in the kitchen too, sorry).

I have come to some useful observations, one being that I have not read a majority of the books I own. They are not interesting enough for me to want to read them NOW. They are “someday” books, waiting for whenever. The most embarrassing example of this is the set of classics we bought, again with the Encyclopedia Brittannica, in our second year of marriage. Quite a few of them still have the cellophane wrappers around them, having not even been opened in 40+ years. I know I’m probably missing out, but I seldom get the urge to read Socrates, or even Freud. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Another useful observation that gives me some direction for the future, is that a lot of my pleasure in books is that I like to look at them. Even the ugly ones, old and tattered, please me when they are lined up on the shelf in just the right way. I could pretend that they speak of my eclectic, intellectual interests, but no, I like their color, their geometric forms, their two or three word messages printed with a variety of interesting fonts looking at me down the row. And for my visual pleasure I probably need only five boxes of books, not thirty-five.

You see, the important question came clear to me yesterday, as I took another load to the used book store. The question is, do I want my own personal library, or do I want to read? The answer is that I want to read. But with few exceptions, I don’t want to read what is in my own library. I want to read the book I heard about on the radio, or the book one of my daughters wants me to read with her, or the book that tells me how to cope with life here and now.  I want to read it slowly, note the parts I like, maybe write down some quotes, and then I want to give it back so I don’t have to cart it around and dust it for another 40 years. If it’s one I think would be valuable to read again (and if it looks pretty) it will go in one of the five “keeper” boxes.  Just sayin’, it’s time to lighten the load.

 

One of the things about retirement that I’ve noticed is that a lot of my retired friends have asked for recommendations of good books. I’ve had to think of my favorite reads and be able to name them. I’ve also been looking for good writing. As my interest in writing grows and I wonder how I might express things I want to write, I look for books that captivate me, stir my desire to be moved by words. When I read, I’m also thinking “Do I want to write like this?”, “yes or no?”.

 What have been your favorite, most valuable reads? Whose writing inspires you?

The Poem Hunter

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The Poem Hunter

(when faced with a party at which poems will be read)

 

How do you find a poem when

Your head hurts and your eyes

Don’t want to read

When the grass needs cutting and

Your husband is due at the airport

When it must be true and worthwhile

And makes delight in people

Who understand that sort

Of thing.

 

How do you find a poem that

Matches the mood or lack of one

That teaches you what you

Already know about life,

To be true, or maybe you doubt

To be true. And most of

What you read is defying your sense

Of understanding.

 

Others find them, but you do

Not have the patience because

You have a headache and

The lawn needs mowing. How

Do you find that one special poem when

It’s obvious you feel guilty

About not writing

That poem.

 

The occasion will come and

Your turn, your poem, will be something

You couldn’t find, although it is

Probably out there somewhere

It’s enough

To make you wonder if

You even like poetry. Because

Sometimes, you don’t.

The Silence Cure (or Go to Your Room!)

like love silence, but especially certain forms of it.  I love it at night, with maybe a few normal background sounds. I love it outside, with just enough bird sounds and leaves rustling to let me know the natural world is intact.  I even like being silent and spending much of the day without talking, or having the TV  or radio on.  But I couldn’t really put words to why I love silence until this morning when someone did it for me.

My present reading project, which I would highly recommend to anyone, has been reading through Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy”.  I think some who read my blog probably are not having an active interest in pursuing Christianity themselves but maybe would like to be more educated on what’s out there.  And who doesn’t like the thought of a conspiracy to be investigated?

This morning’s reading was about silence and solitude.  If a person were truly interested in being a follower of Jesus, silence and solitude would have to be a part of life, because it was a part of his.  That’s what following means – to do what he did.  But why did he do it, and what can it do for me? The first thing I think of is having to shut myself up, “get thee to a nunnery” style and take some pledge of wordlessness – not going to happen. But here was an interesting thought on the quantity of silence.

By solitude we mean being out of human contact, being alone, and being so for lengthy periods of time.  To get out of human contact is not something that can be done in a short while, for that contact lingers long after it is, in one sense, over.

It lingers. I think I know how he means that. And this,

Silence is a natural part of solitude and is its essential completion. Silence means to escape from sounds, noises, other than the gentle ones of nature.  But it also means not talking, and the effects of not talking on our soul are different from those of simple quietness.  Both dimensions of silence are crucial for the breaking of old habits and the formation of Christ’s character in us.

Ok, I’m to be silent because it helps me break bad habits. How does that work?

“to break the power of our ready responses to do the opposite of what Jesus teaches: for example, scorn, anger, verbal manipulation, payback, silent collusion in the wrongdoing of others around us, and so forth.

Oh yeah, those ready responses. I get it.

There is  more but I will give two more of my many highlighted passages about silence.

The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for there you find you are safely more than what you do.  And the cure of loneliness is solitude and silence, for there you discover in how many ways you are never alone.

And yes to this one! Hopefully someday it will be this simple….

One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to do nothing. Thus the Christian philosopher Pascal insightfully remarks, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”

Could This Be You?

wpid-20140831_174115.jpgDear WritingSelf,

Do not get discouraged when you can’t think of anything you feel like writing. Feelings are a sneaky enemy of getting things done. They make you think you have nothing to say that anyone wants to hear, nothing to write that anyone wants to read, and this is not true. Your feelings tell you all kinds of things that aren’t true but we won’t go into that right now.

You know your mother always wants to read what you write and haven’t you been surprised at comments from others as well? If only one person gets something of value from your letters and posts, isn’t that significant? Even if it were just Mom, she matters! People matter! I know you try to tell yourself you are just writing for your own satisfaction – it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads you – but that’s only partly true. We’ve been over this before. People read because 1) they’ve been through the same things and like to know someone else has as well 2) they haven’t been through the same things and are curious and like new ideas. You care about people and want to contribute to that process so you write. You write for people. You write for yourself. Both are true.

And didn’t you start writing, even with the first letter when you were young, because you had a unique way of looking at ordinary things? Didn’t you want everyone to know that their way of seeing the world was also unique and possibly inspiring. There really is nothing new under the sun but there might be a new way of thinking about that experience, that act, that situation. Your way of thinking might expand someone else’s world a little even if you’re not on some “best seller” list.

Pleeeease, don’t think about all the other amazing (more amazing than you) writers you’ve found online and let that discourage you. The majority of people on this planet never write anything. The fact that you want to write makes you part of a small number of people willing to write the history of all people as they write about their own lives.

You’re having a dry spell, so what?. Are you going to pretend that you’ve never heard another writer mention something like that before? It will pass. Go make a list, write a letter to a friend, jot down a silly poem, describe what you see out the window or what you had for lunch. In five or ten years, that might be a precious reminder of this time in your life.

And last but not least, God put it in your heart to be a writing person for a reason. Keep writing and find out what it is.

Community

That is a word to wrestle with (or, with which to wrestle, just so 6th grade English teacher doesn’t fight to get out of her coffin…).  Monday nights my email inbox fills with weekly digests of all the bloggers I have followed.  I recognize most of the names and think of something I’ve read from them that really intrigued me and gave me a reason to push the follow button.  I try to always have a reason. 

Yesterday, which was a Tuesday, I settled down to read and interact.  I know this is essential to being part of the community and I want to do it.  I got as far as the first site and ended up reading several long, thoughtful posts.  And then it was time to quit reading and interact with some housework and a doctor’s appointment.

This happens so much of the time.

One blog out of so many.

Anybody else have this problem?

I despair of keeping up after having started a reading relationship.  And from what I understand, it is reaching out to new writers and encouraging them that really builds community, following more and more blogs, more and more to read, comment on, keep up with.  The problem is not that I am a slow reader.  The problem seems to be that I am really interested in what I’m learning about someone.  And I do seem to need a lot of time to think about what I’m reading.

This community of bloggers is a big, fascinating marketplace.  I’m not upset (eh, maybe a little) because I’ve already accepted that I have limitations.  I can’t be best friends with the whole world, but I can get better acquainted with some of it.  So, today Lord help me decide where to read, where to comment, what to write.  I will rest in that, for today. 

A to Z Challenge: P for Poem (hello National Poetry Month)

I have a friend, J. Carroll Barnhill (J for Jesse and he’s always wondered how he ended up with two girl names…). A few years after I met him he had a bad fall from a very frisky race horse and shattered his hip.  He came to stay at my house for his rather lengthy recovery and it was suggested to him that since he couldn’t do much but lie in bed, he should read or maybe write poetry.  Many years later he is still writing poetry and reading his favorites at gatherings of all kinds.  He doesn’t type much, which is why I’ve gotten to type most of his creations and they are all stored on my computer. As “keeper of the anthologies” I wrote this poem for him and it was included in the preface of his first book.

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Another Silly Poem

 

“Another silly poem,” he said, “for you to type today.”

“You probably don’t have time for this, but I thought I’d ask anyway.”

The words are scrawled on whatever’s at hand, envelope, napkin or pad.

Sometimes hard to read, grammatically strange, but inspired by a vision he’d had.

 

His words, his thoughts, his moments of life, captured with pen and ink

Are presented to me with a hopeful smile and then “What do you think?”

Obviously bursting with pride at this “newborn thing” he’s made,

Yet giving his feelings a place to hide in case I don’t give a good grade.

 

All his years of living, places and times, simply written down

Passed on to those who identify, who marvel, who laugh or frown

Or cry or argue or shake their heads – amazement on their face.

How can so many words jump out from such an unlikely place?

 

For he’s been a man of action, a workman with his hands.

Setting poles, stringing wires, driving machines, caring for horses and land,

Loving and losing, rejecting and choosing – no busier person around.

Who would think he’d have dared to try this new thing, this talent freshly found.

 

It’s his courage that takes the time to share and cares to pass things on

It’s his joy that sees the fun and rhyme, and hope life’s built upon.

Word upon word, one page at a time, a life I’ve never known…

So with respect I sit to type “another silly poem”.

 

Shirley Dietz © 2006