Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 156

Here’s a list of books that I’ve finished in the summer months…so far.

Spirituality Books
The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang was recommended by an author I respect. I guess this was a popular book in the 40s and Dr. Lin’s thoughts on what makes for a good life range from “Human Life a Poem” to “The Importance of Loafing” to “How to Lie in Bed and Sit on a Chair” to “Why I am a Pagan.” There are huge chunks of philosophy such as: What is the essence of human dignity? Answer: playful curiosity, a capacity for dreams, a sense of humor to correct those dreams, and a certain waywardness and incalculability of behavior. Another philosophical question: What are the three virtues of the great person? Answer: wisdom, passion and courage. His ideas on women, however, are horrendous (I forget what it was like in the 40’s and 50s. Still is, of course, but no one dares put it in print today) and I almost threw the book out when I came upon them. But, I decided to read on...all 428 pages. I love Chinese poetry and this book has the same wisdom of lauding detachment, daydreaming, sipping wine with friends while composing and reading poetry, savoring beauty, relishing life’s simple pleasures, and choosing not to get swept up in ambition and busyness.

The book club that I belong to just finished The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. Years ago, I had read her memoir of coming to consciousness as a woman in the church, but still found it relevant. Unbelievably relevant! She wrote it 20 years ago! Here’s one insight that stuck with me: “Back during my awakening I’d learned to recognize my anger and allow it to have its place. I had stopped treating injustice against half the human population as a misdemeanor.” Right, mistreatment of women is not a misdemeanor. It’s a major crime and should be treated as such. I’ve written before about holy anger and go spastic when people tell me to calm down about injustice to women. You stay calm when dealing with misdemeanors like jaywalking and double parking. But when you confront injustice to women, you should react as if someone was being tortured in your presence. Rage! Rage!

It was like visiting an old friend when I picked up David Steindl-Rast Essential Writings. I’ve always admired this Benedictine monk and his writings gave me hours of holy leisure. “Fresh” is what I look for in spiritual writing and Brother David’s take on spirituality stretches. For instance, he writes that two characteristics of any kind of Love (one’s country, pets,significant other…) are “a sense of belonging and wholehearted acceptance of that belonging with all its implications.” Never would have defined love that way, but how true it is. And here’s his take on salvation. “…Jesus saved people long before the cross was in view. He saved people by making them stand on their own two feet. That’s how he was understood as a savior by his own contemporaries. He gave them back their self-respect and gave them back their deepest relationship—to God, to the Ultimate—by reminding them that they were never lost.” Good stuff here.

Mystery Books
I follow many mystery series including these authors: Charles Todd (both Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford); Anne Cleeves (Det. Perez and Vera); Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway), Jacqueline Winspear (Maisse Dobbs); Louis Penny (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache); Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone); Nicola Upson (Josephine Tey); Michael Connelly (Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch).

This summer I read The Chalk Pit by Ruth Galloway and just finished The Late Show by Michael Connelly where he introduces a strong new female detective of the LAPD, Renee Ballard. This series will definitely become part of my repertoire. The best mystery I read this summer though, was Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. It had a great twist where an editor is reading the latest novel by her blockbuster selling author only to discover that the last chapter is missing. Then we find out that the author has been killed and the editor becomes the lead detective into his murder. It’s a clever and well-written book which keeps you guessing. All you can ask from a mystery.

I’m going on vacation in a couple weeks and am overjoyed that new titles from three of my series books will arrive then: Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton; Glass Houses by Louise Penny, and The Seagull by Ann Cleeves. I’m especially happy that Grafton is at Y in her alphabetical series. When I started reading this series I counted the years and hoped I would still be alive by the time she got to Z. The final book should arrive in 2019 and before I open it I plan to reread A to Y straight through and then savor Z. If I die before it arrives in bookstores, I promise you I’ll be the first solely human ever to return from the dead….

Writing & Poetry Books
Karen Herring calls herself a “literary minister” and if you read Writing to Wake the Soul you’ll get to see her ministry in action. Karen, who is ordained, works as a consulting literary minister at Unity Church-Unitarian, St. Paul, MN “leading guided writing sessions that invite participants to correspond with their own inner truth.”

She also offers “contemplative correspondence” sessions around the country through a program called Faithful Words. I like how Karen took major spiritual themes such as Hope, Prayer, Justice, Reverence, etc. and designed writing prompts that invited participants to explore these traditional words in ways that were meaningful and authentic. I’m going to steal a lot of her ideas for the women’s writing circle that I facilitate.

As for poetry, I got hooked on Poetry East, and ordered a few back issues when I sent in my subscription to the quarterly literary journal. What a classy publication—great poetry, art and layout. Two of the back issues I read were “Spring 2008: Snapshots” and “Spring 2013: Origins.” The first issue revolved around Rilke’s quote: “You, swiftly fading photograph/ in my more slowly fading hand” where poets were invited to reflect on old snapshots from their own histories. That produced some intimate, poignant poems. The “Origins” issue asked poets to share an original poem and then comment on why and how they composed it. It’s a great way to demonstrate the creative process rather than try to explain it.

Old Monk will be away for two weeks reading more books. See you after Labor Day.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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