mysticism

Delicious Words: The Best of Books Devoured in 2014


I love reading.  L O V E reading.  Books have sustained me through some of the hardest challenges of my life.  They are inspiration, education, and sanctuary.  They challenge and uproot.  They uplift my whole person.

That said . . . I've been rather lax in my reading.  Part of it is that being a mama takes up a lot of time (in an awesome way), but then after my sweet boy goes to bed, it's honestly easier to take in some TV shows on Amazon Prime than it is to pick up a book.

Still, my goal was to read ten books in 2014 (I know, I know, such a small goal for a woman who professes to L O V E reading), and I exceeded that.  So yay me.  And also yay to the fact that reading, even what feels like a paltry amount, has reminded me of just how much I need to be reading.  Not just because it is awesome and good for your brain and nourishing to me on a personal level, but also as a writer.  If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be a professional reader, too.

Here are some of my [highly professional?] favorite reads of 2014.


Non-fiction

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.  This was my first read of the year, and oh man, was it a good one -- and kind of perfect that it was my premiere book of 2014.  It's an autobiographical account of author Kidd's journey out of patriarchy and into her own self.  Perfect for any woman seeking to embrace her own woman-ness in a deeper way.

“I often went to Catholic mass or Eucharist at the Episcopal church, nourished by the symbol and power of this profound feeding ritual. It never occurred to me how odd it was that women, who have presided over the domain of food and feeding for thousands of years, were historically and routinely barred from presiding over it in a spiritual context. And when the priest held out the host and said, "This is my body, given for you," not once did I recognize that it is women in the act of breastfeeding who most truly embody those words and who are also most excluded from ritually saying them.” 

- from The Dance of the Dissident Daughter


Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self by Richard Rohr.  If you follow me on social media, you may already know that I read a good deal of Rohr's works this year.  I even started a free book on Facebook for other Rohr readers.  So I probably don't have to tell you that I really (really, really) like what Rohr has to say.  Reading this Franciscan's priest's words helped move me from seeing the world, and specifically matters of spirituality and faith, in black and white (otherwise known as dualism) to opening up to a greater and more mysterious spectrum of existence and possibility.  Read it if you're weary of spiritual shoulds and are looking for another way.  I also recommend The Naked Now, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Falling Upward, all by Rohr and all among my 2014 reads.

“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.” 

- from Immortal Diamond


Red, Hot, and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story by Sera Beak.  I have something of a love/hate relationship with this book.  I felt like the book's description made promises that the book itself did not deliver on.  However, I have to put it on this list anyway because I love how committed Beak is to finding her whole self, no matter the cost.  Don't read this is a self-help book (that's what messed me up, I think -- read her The Red Book if that's what you need) but as an autobiographical love story between one woman and her Holy.

“Ideas aren’t helping you anymore, Sera. Concepts have run their course. Paradigms pop. Theories leak. Techniques are only top-offs. Beliefs brush away. Books close. Workshops end. What truly transforms is this Closeness with Me. You gotta hug Me so tight that nothing comes between Us.” 

- from Red, Hot, and Holy


Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I haven't finished this yet, despite having started it at the end of 2013.  It's not the kind of book you can rush through.  I find it hard to read more than a few pages at a time, because it is rich and healing and alive.  It is a collection of retold myths and fairytales.  Required reading for the awakening woman.

“If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman, don't worry, there is still time.” 

- from Women Who Run With the Wolves

Fiction

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  This book.  This book.  It is perhaps the best book I read this year.  It is a work of art, leaving me breathless like few works of fiction ever have.  It is hard, and lovely, and challenging, and sacred.  Go.  Read it.  Now.  I'll wait.  (And read Ness's other works afterward, because those are really quite good, too.)

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” 

- from A Monster Calls


The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  This trilogy isn't high art like Ness's book.  But it is really, really fun.  And it's set in a fantasy world based loosely in Russian culture, which I found unique and refreshing.  The story can be a little predictable, but Bardugo makes up for that with lots of engaging adventure, bloodshed, characters that you care about (pirates!!!!), and romance that I didn't hate.  Like I said,  I had a blast reading these, and couldn't stop until I'd consumed all three back to back to back.

“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.” 

- from Siege and Storm, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy


His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin Lafevers.  I started this series in 2013, but the final book only released this November.  I have been practically panting for it all year, and per-ordered it so I'd get it on release day -- I never pre-order books.  I basically love this trilogy with all my heart.  It's about assassin nuns (assassin nuns, people!!!) set in medieval Burgundy.  Snarky, deliciously dark at times, full of ass-kicking women, they are SO GOOD. 

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” 

- from Grave Mercy, book 1 of the His Fair Assassin Trilogy


Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham.  This book is the first in The Maeve Chronicles, a series retelling the story of Mary Magdalen.  Under Cunningham's care, Mary becomes the fierce and fiery Celtic (eeek!) Maeve, who is raised by seven mothers and goes off for training under the Druids once she comes of age.  Trigger warning: there is sexual violence which, while not explicit, is nonetheless devastating.  Honestly, although it took me awhile to come around to it, this is one of the reasons I love this book.  It's the best fictional representation of sexual violence I've seen because, as with true life sex crimes, it completely stops and reroutes the story.  Nothing is the same after this intimate shattering.  I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

“I've outgrown my childhood name, and I haven't found a new one yet.”

- from Magdalen Rising
Poetry

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke.  No best-of-books list would be complete without poetry.  And Rilke's poetry is so, so rich.  It is just what I needed to read: the words of a mystic, questioning, reaching into the darkness, and learning to be satisfied with not-knowing.  Rilke's poetry echoes my own heart's throbbing.

“I circle around God, that primordial tower. / I have been circling for thousands of years, / And I still don't know: am I a falcon, / A storm, or a great song?” 

- from Rilke's Book of Hours


The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon.  I'm still working my way through this collection of poetry, but it is powerful.  Visceral, electric, and full of emotion.  And I love that Moon independently published it.  Basically, yum.

“You will lie to everyone you love. / They will love you anyways.” 

- from The Anatomy of Being

Friends' books

This list would not be complete without mentioning the bravery of my friends who published books in 2014.  I've blogged about a couple, but here they are in their totality, all gorgeous and worth reading(I feel pretty sure I'm forgetting someone . . . if so, my deepest apologies! pregnancy brain strikes again -- remind me and I will happily add yours to the list!)

For 2015 . . .

I've already started reading some of the books that will become my best-books-of-2015 list, I can just feel it.  Like A Discovery of Witches, for example, which I'm currently devouring.  I'd like to read more fiction across a variety of genres, styles, and topics, both for fun and for my edification as a writer.  I tend toward reading a lot of more self-help-y kind of books (usually spiritual ones), particularly when I feel like my heart is spinning.  So more fiction for 2015.

I'd also like to read more parenting books.  I've bought a decent bunch of them over the past two years, and have barely touched them.  I'd like to finish one or two.

Similar to my accumulation of parenting books, I've accumulated even more books on writing over the years -- and again haven't read most of them.  So I'm planning on reading more of those, particularly Writing Begins With the Breath because, well, writing tends to bring out the worst of my neuroses, so writing + breathing sounds like a better plan than writing + emotional eating, or writing + floundering in self-doubt, or writing + depression.

Looking back over this list, I notice that the authors mentioned are predominantly white.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is curious.  I'd like to widen my range of authors, to take in the experiences of those who don't look like me.  I think it's important, as a person and as a writer.  I've already started doing this with my son's books, expanding our picture book collection with stories featuring non-white characters and both male and female main characters, as well as purchasing toys that aren't all male, or the kind of toys marketed only for males.  It's time to challenge myself and expand my mind in some of the same ways as I'm doing for my son.  One book I'm particularly looking forward to/nervous about reading is Writing the Other, which delves into penning characters of a different ethnicity than the author.

And more poetry.  Because poetry = awesome.

On top of that, a number of my friends are publishing new books in 2015, so I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on those.

Most of all, though -- I've purchased a TON of books I haven't read yet in the last year or two.  So my main book goals for 2015 are to a) read a bunch, and b) buy no more books!  (Anyone else have a book buying problem?)

I'm also having a baby in the spring if all goes well, so I'm setting these book (and all 2015) goals with fluidity and grace.  Who knows how much time I'll have to read/create/brush my teeth in the second half of the year, so I'm holding everything quite loosely (or trying to). 

Okay, enough from me.  Your turn!  What were some of your favorite reads of 2014?  Anyone with me in the assassin nun fangirling?  How about your reading hopes for the new year?


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Love, Unqualified -- Part 2


(find part 1 here.)

We love.
We love.
We love, without condition, without a "but you," without excuse. 

We respect.  We preserve dignity.  We look for the value of each other.  We can do these things, wisely.

But how?

For the longest time, I thought that loving someone, especially someone who is "other" than me for whatever reason (gender, race, income, culture, location, etc.) meant doing something really big.  Like joining the Peace Corps, or making buckets of money so I could donate more, or making like Mother Theresa and moving to Calcutta. 

But it doesn't have to look like that.  It could look like that and be valuable, of course, but smaller lovings are equally important and just as valuable.

Loving, the kind that lasts, starts in the mind.  Or maybe the heart.  Or maybe both.  Regardless, it begins within.  That's the spark.

So what it looks like for me is challenging myself and the stereotypes and prejudices I find entrenched within me.  Do I really believe that a person is less worthy of my respect and valuing of her because she is a lesbian, for example?  If so, why?  And I don't know if this is always the case for everyone, but for me, each time I challenge my prejudices, they crumble. 

I realize that I received a certain amount of cultural, social, and religious grooming that helped gestate some of those broken ways of thinking, and I begin to dismantle them.  

I discover, for example, that I can find no valid reason to believe that God loves homosexuals less, or that women are less capable as leaders than men, or that poor people are always responsible for and able to escape from their own poverty.

That is a good beginning.  The self investigation, the seeing, the rooting out.

And then I go further.  I question deeper.   

For example: What is life really like for the Black men and women of Ferguson?  Is the mainstream news accurately reporting events there?  What are their goals in not reporting the full story?  And what do, say, crime and prison statistics reveal about the reality that the Black American community lives in versus the White American community, or the Native American community, etc? 

I question -- myself and the status quo.  And I try to learn empathy.  I learn to forgive myself and others for not getting it right, and I attempt reparations where appropriate.  And I try to teach my son to do the same.  That, I believe, is both the spark for and the answer to loving, period.

Is this over-simplified?  Pie-in-the-sky thinking?  I don't know.  Maybe. 

But I do think that love, period, starts with really seeing each other, and really seeing ourselves.


What do you think?  How can we better love each other without qualification?

Love, Unqualified


The lines are drawn, "in" versus "out" made excruciatingly clear, and we dare to call this love.

We have forgotten how to love one another without lines, without boundaries, without exception.

Instead, we have made enemies of the "other" -- which is really just another way of saying that we have made enemies of each other.

We all can recognize the pick-up lines, the ones that say that none is unlovable, none is without value -- and then we turn around and refuse to love, refuse to value:

You are respected -- unless you are poor.
You are trustworthy -- unless you are Black.
You are wanted -- unless you are gay.
You are valued -- unless you are female.
You are our brothers and sisters -- unless you are not Christian.
You are a beloved part of our global community -- unless you are not Western.

"We love because [God] first loved us" -- unless we don't like you or we fear you or we feel uncomfortable to any degree for any reason when we are forced to breathe the same air as you.

This is the kind of "love" I see pouring out across the lands, the kind that [religious] leaders not only either ignore or allow but often promote. In versus out. Us versus them. We call it spiritual, Biblical, righteousness, but it is justified hate: hate that is justified by the majority in protection of the majority.

We have the audacity to say that God meant it to be this way. This, this qualification above all else, this turning of injustice into divine decree, is a horror to me. But then I remember that there are scriptures like this one and this one, and I wonder that maybe it's not so much of a stretch after all to learn to think that God wanted it this way, and I shudder.

For so long, I thought that the world was made more beautiful by a diversity of faith, but now . . . now the blind dualism of some of these faiths makes me ill. The gross acts perpetuated and excused and ignored by some faiths are so heinous that I'd rather just see organized religion removed from the earth.

We love because God first loved us?

How about: we love, period.

We love.
We love.
We love.

This is your challenge. This is my challenge. This is our challenge.
The world depends on it.

We love.

Coming next: Part 2 -- a few thoughts on the how of "we love."