My husband likes to pretend he's working in the yard. In fact, we have no yard, but he does indeed work the land...or rather, the containers of dirt that line our outdoor areas. Having been raised by two farmers - one from the midwest, the other from the middle of the Pacific (Maui) - his thumb is greener than most people's. With nothing but a cement oversized patio and a covered porch, he has somehow managed to grow flowers and food. First we inherited potted rosebushes. Then my mother in-law gave us earthboxes, and he started with my favorite summer crops - tomato and basil. As the variety of plants has increased, so has his set up - installing grow lights in the house to sprout seedlings, very creatively using the minimal space available, and adding greenhouse type awnings to the sides of our patio walls.
We also don't have a garage or basement or any sort of tinkering area, which is not that big of deal since my husband is more of an artist than a handyman, but he can build stuff when he's inspired, so when I requested a fountain, he went to work and made one out of large ceramic pots in three different sizes. Then someone gave us a cute pedestal type fountain, so he spent time getting it to function properly. For Christmas, when he asked what I wanted, I requested an outdoor fire pit (I bet you're wondering how we fit all this stuff on our patio, along with a small table and chairs, and still with a little room for the kids to blow bubbles, do chalk art, etc...well, honestly, it's pretty miraculous), which he initially balked at, picturing the diameter to take up most of the width of the patio.
Well...a funny thing happened on Christmas Eve...he stopped into a bakery which our pastor had recommended, and guess who he saw? Our pastor and his family. He told them he was out looking for a fire pit to give me for Christmas, and then they told him that their landlord had left one in their yard which he said they could keep, but they didn't want it...so, you've figured out the end of the story, but the really amazing part was that it was the tall, narrow kind - called a chiminea, since the smoke rises out of it like a pot bellied stove - so it takes up very little space on our patio and it's whimsically charming. Best Christmas present ever. Smitten by divine serendipity once again.
In local literary news...our neighborhood library was a zoo today - they're remodeling the downtown branch, so everyone has been re-routed to ours, which is tiny. I couldn't find my requested books on the hold shelves - turns out there are so many transfers right now that they had to put them all in a room in a back. I've never seen the children's section look so sparse - the EZ readers had been totally raided. I guess this is a good problem to have..but I will be glad in a few weeks when our sleepy library is back to its normal self, complete with our usual librarian - he's a young-ish guy with a ponytail, glasses, who's reserved but friendly - I'm guessing he's into sci-fi and technology and saving the planet. Today it was a slew of older women running things, probably from the main library, which is about five times larger than ours, and not within walking distance...though we rarely walk to ours since we always are transporting so many books back and forth, and it would probably shorten the life of my trusty bookmobile.
So since I've failed to have a consistent Bible reading plan for...oh, a number of years...I had hoped to try afresh with the start of the church year, but it didn't happen until the advent of Lent (pun intended), at which point I began following the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, which takes you through the Bible in two years in a sequential fashion - not in order or chronologically, but through three books of the Bible at a time with each day having a passage from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and an Epistle. It also has several psalms (think it takes you through them twice). Thematically, the readings are patterned after the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea is to read the Word morning, noon, and night, but I usually just do it in the mid-afternoon when my children are having quiet time in their rooms, and if I miss that, then right before I go to sleep, or if I miss that, then two days' worth at once (which is what's happened this week). I haven't yet worked in the psalms, but I'm hoping to read one in the morning and one at night.
Today I read in Deuteronomy and Hebrews about belief vs. unbelief (God's faithless and unfaithful chosen people) , and then Jesus' words in John 3
about baptism and spiritual rebirth...fast forward to tonight when I read The Princess and the Goblin
by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' favorite author) to my daughters, the chapter was all about belief /unbelief - including the truth that even seeing isn't always believing, and it used the imagery of baptism - the princess submersed in a a magical bath that cleanses and renews her, inducing a peaceful sleep. As we were discussing the Christian symbolism (really the first time it's been obvious and we're pretty deep into the book) of believing the gospel, dying to our sinful self, and becoming born again, which baptism represents, I suddenly realized it was all so evident to me because I had just read it in the Bible! Yet another divine serendipity
I left the debut meeting of a new book club (six women from my church) wondering if Literary Mom is a misnomer. I'm really not all that widely read when it comes to fiction and other forms of creative writing. I love good literature but it's only recently (thanks to classically educating my children) that I've begun to read the classics. As for novels written in the last one hundred years (other than Lewis & Tolkien), I've only read what I was required to in school, so when the other women were bouncing book titles off each other, I was strangely brought back to middle school P.E. where the ball was passed to everyone but me. It didn't take long for them to figure out I wasn't athletic, and after a few rounds of literary back and forth (i.e. have you read xyz?), I was on the sidelines. Of course no one made me feel inferior (except maybe my own self), but it was cause for introspection.
What have I missed by not reading fiction written in the last 50 years? 20 years? Decade? I've read biographies, memoirs, and all sorts of non-fiction, though I admit mainly Christian books, but I do think (and I say this rather sheepishly) there are at least half as many good ones as bad ones out there (but that's sort of an evolving assessment). I've also read many spiritual classics, and I continue to be drawn those kind of books. I'm just now coming to a fuller appreciation of story, but I am skeptical of what modern writers who don't know Christ have to teach me through their imagination. I don't want to invest precious time in their words - honestly, I'd rather just see the movie...and even that has become rare. Instead, I have a strange affinity for serial TV shows. If I'm going for pure entertainment, I don't want to have to do any work, and I prefer the story not to end, so I can chill out with the characters I've come to know and love.
So when I do buckle down and read a work of fiction, I have to believe it will be relevant and redemptive...if not life altering. Who are these authors? What are they filling their minds with? The creators of worlds and peoples and situations...they all draw from their life experiences and beliefs and observations, which they make through the lens of where they come from and what they've been taught to see. Just because someone can tell a good story, does that mean the story is good? Should we be intimately influenced by so many voices? Do we even know how they are affecting and shaping us?
I love it when God speaks to me through a serendipity. He often does it through repeated words or phrases that reappear in pairs or clusters - for a day, a week, a season. Some people might argue that my experiences are coincidences or that my mind is finding patterns because that's what it's hard wired to do. Oddly enough, that's exactly what makes yesterday's serendipitous moment profound to the point of transcendence...because it was all about the brain and spirituality, or as the book that started this whole thing calls it: "neurotheology."
About three weeks ago we were on vacation and stopped into a thrift shop where I found a copy of Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning about the Brain and Spiritual Experience
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. I vaguely remembered having read about it and being intrigued, so I was pleased to score such a deal on a relatively new book. Initially, I was captivated, both by the subject matter and the author herself - a "mainstream Christian" (whatever that means) NPR religion reporter on a paradoxically personal and objective quest to explore the relationship between the brain and God.
About halfway into it, though, I struggled with going forward. Two things were happening: 1) my specific belief system was challenged (much like the author herself) by the fact that people of all religions have the same kind of brain activity when meditating or praying; 2) spirituality was defined as having mystical experiences, even though that is not the stuff of day-to-day faith, nor do most Christians (pentecostals aside) have other worldly conversions or supernatural seeming encounters. In fact, many never do.
Still, it was a fascinating topic and I wanted to finish the book, so I kept reading. Yesterday I read about brain scans that scientists studying neurotheology performed on "spiritual virtuosos": Newberg found another peculiar similarity. With both the nuns and the [Buddhist] monks, the parietal lobes went dark during deep prayer and meditation.Newberg calls this "orientation area" because it orients you in time and space: those lobes tell you where your body ends and the rest of the world begins. That is why Sister Celeste (and countless other mystics) described a unity with God, or as she put it, 'God permeating my being' It was the neurological reason that Michael Baine felt a "deep and profound sense of connection to everything, recognizing that there was never a true separation at all."
Later that day, I received some books from my Amazon wish list that I had ordered using a gift card from my birthday. It was a little like Christmas, getting these packages several days in a row. That night, I took a stack of my new books up to bed, and decided to a read a chapter from each - sort of a literary nosh, if you will. In the introduction of one of them, SoulTypes: Matching Your Personality and Your Spiritual Path
, I read this passage: A group of scientists interested in exploring whether there are brain-based differences that determine our religion are using the type of prayer described there to define who is and isn't "spiritual." In all religions, these neuroscientists say, mystical, spiritual moments happen when parts of the brain (parietal-lobe circuits) go quiet, turning off your ability to distinguish between the body and its surroundings. Without sensory data, you feel a sense of being part of infinity or, for the religious, being "one with God." They use SPECT scans to determine whether the person is having such an experience. Building on this research, books such as The God Gene describe how we either are or aren't wired for faith. Kenneth L. Woodward, a religion journalist for Newsweek, points out the problem with this approach:"The chief mistake these neurotheologians make is to identify religion with specific experiences and feelings. Losing one's self in prayer may feel good or uplifting, but these emotions have nothing to do with how well we communicate with God. In fact, many people pray best when feeling shame or sorrow, and the sense that God is absent is no less valid than the experience of divine presence."
As I read that, I had an emotional experience - not of the presence of God, but of excitement over him having clearly communicated with me. He didn't do it through my feelings, an audible voice, or a supernatural sign - he did it through my life. He did it by leading me in one day to two books dealing with spirituality, which otherwise were totally unrelated, yet intersected at this one specific point, from whence they each went in very different directions. God used the second book to reassure me by validating/confirming the very thoughts that had come to my mind while reading the first book. It was especially powerful because it was merely a sidebar, so to speak, in the second book, and I therefore had no way of knowing that topic would be addressed, let alone that I would discover it just at that time!
In my first giveaway
Jacque chose a cookbook, and since she's partial to Italian food, she will be receiving a well-loved copy of The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces
, the bestseller by Diane Seed, a.k.a The Italian Gourmet
I come from a family of traveling chefs, so this was owned by my grandfather who spent a lot of time in Italy...and the kitchen. I inherited a shelf of his prized cookbooks when he passed away a few years ago, but I just don't have time to work my way through them in this crazy kid raising, homeschooling stage of life, so it's better that I adopt this one out to someone who may use it as much (or almost) as he did. Besides the simple and authentic recipes, my favorite thing about this cookbook are the colorful Mediterranean-style illustrations. Buon appetito Jaque! :)
The random number generator chose #11, which just happens to be my favorite number, and the eleventh commenter was Jacque who said:
It is always a treat when I get to step into a bookstore because my town does not have one and the closest is two and a half hours away. I always head towards Childrens Lit first (being a first grade teacher) and then head on over to the cook book section.
Clearly she's a woman after my own heart, since the children's area is the first section I hit, and I have a bookshelf filled with cookbooks, despite the fact that I get most recipes online or make them up. So congratulations Jacque! And now a question...would you rather have a children's book or a cookbook? Or a children's cookbook? :)
I'm not really a numbers person....still, I can't help but "like" that we hit 50 fans for the blog's facebook page on the same day I spent $50 on 50+ books at The Book Place! I'm thinking it's time to share the literary wealth...If you want to win a book from my library (I promise it will be good), comment with the answer to this. When you enter a bookstore (or library), which section do you make a beeline for? (i.e. biography, historical fiction, religion, children's literature, etc.) Be as specific as you can because the winner (chosen randomly) will receive a book that fits their answer. You can choose more than one genre/topic if you can't narrow it down! Winner will be announced Tues, 7/13.Each of these will give you one entry, so do all three for the most chances of winning: 1. Comment your answer here2. Share this on your facebook page (comment either here or my FB page to tell me that)3. Tweet the giveaway on twitter (be sure to include @literary_mom and don't forget the underscore!)