Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

Dear Readers,

My book is finally available in print on Amazon after a long delay. My father wanted me to finish this project, so I have completed it as a tribute to him.

You can view it at this link:

Drifting into the Divine

It’s also still available on Kindle if that is better for you.

Please feel free to send me a note about your reading experience if you wish, and pray that my story will benefit someone on their own spiritual journey.

Peace & Grace,

Olive ♥

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My father was planning to help me complete a print version of my book for Amazon before he died. Therefore in his memory, I intend to complete it in the near future. I’ve been working on the third edition which includes several revisions.

At some point, I will be either removing this entire site or perhaps just the parts that will be included my Amazon book. That would allow me to make it available to more countries around the world for free or at a reasonable price, and would also let me run promotions if my book is an Amazon exclusive.

It meant a lot to me that my father wanted me to write my story because he admired my work and wanted the truth to be told. Many people would feel differently about negative press, but I think he wanted to “come clean” in some symbolic way.

He showed tremendous character in a variety of ways. Although he was not religious, he went out of his way to send me letters and videos about religious festivals in Spain. He mailed me a lovely painted tile of Santa Catalina the patron saint of Valldemossa, which I hung by my doorway. He also sent me a beautiful set of paper neules which were hand-cut by Mallorquin nuns, and I hang them with pride during every Christmas season. He called me his little snail because I move slowly and gently through life, and he sent me a blue glass snail in a satin-lined little box. These loving and respectful gestures tenderized my heart towards him over the past several years, and changed our relationship in meaningful ways.

We communicated about recipes and cooking and sent photographs of our meals to each other, because we both loved to try new dishes. I bought an English version of his pasta cookbook, so that we could literally cook from the same page. Although he loved Mediterranean food, he missed things like cornbread and Thanksgiving turkey.

I miss his little gestures very much, and this Father’s Day will be especially painful for me. This little snail may be in her shell for awhile, but after the rains are over I may reappear as a little delicacy with a tiny fork on someone’s plate.

Please pray for me.

Peace be unto you,

~Olive~

 

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The subject of mental dysfunction and depression is addressed by Joan Didion in “The White Album” and F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up”. Their treatment of this subject is similar and distinctive in several ways. Fitzgerald and Didion both reflect back to the time when they first realized that something was going awry in their minds, but Fitzgerald writes in a more straightforward and analytical manner about himself. He uses metaphor and humor more often, and Didion uses more physical description of objects and people to depict what is going on inside her mind.

 
In Fitzgerald’s essay, he writes about a nervous breakdown with an expository style, comparing his mental state to a broken plate. He tells the reader with startling honesty: “-And then, ten years this side of forty-nine, I suddenly realized that I had prematurely cracked” (140). Then he gradually reveals the details of his mental state:

I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me was only an attempt to love….in the same month, I became bitter about such things as the sound of the radio, the advertisements in magazines, the screech of tracks, the dead silence of the country…hating the night when I couldn’t sleep and hating the day because it went toward night. (142)

He looks back at the warning signs that he did not recognize at the time, very clearly portraying the torments that he was experiencing, with such clarity that it almost makes the reader want to draw back, and examine whether they are familiar with such feelings. Then he describes how he began to feel a sense of worthlessness, and again uses the plate metaphor in a poignant fashion:

Sometimes, though, the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under leftovers. (144)

He is amazingly artful in his use of a common household object to depict himself as feeling inadequate for everyday purposes and ambitions, and it makes the reader feel sadness for the broken plate. The plate becomes almost a Disney animated character with feelings similar to “The Brave Little Toaster.”

 
Fitzgerald describes the middle of the night anxieties that are common to most humans when he writes “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance of the death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day” (144). This passage actually has shock effect, because the reader is brought to the horrible realization that some people experience the three o’clock a.m. agonies throughout every day. In the same expository style, he informs the reader that “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement- discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint” (146). He clarifies his own condition so well, making it evident that this species of discouragement is totally irrational and based on anxieties that have no rational basis. Then he says in a humorous tone, “I have the sense of lecturing now, looking at a watch on the desk before me and seeing how many more minutes-” (147). This humor is much needed at this point in his essay, because by now the reader is feeling very labored and distressed, and needs a bit of lightness. The watch also seems to connote an attempt to regain some control of his environment by measuring the time.

 
Joan Didion also writes as one looking back upon the years when her mental struggles began to manifest themselves. She said that it all started with her beginning to question all of the things that she had held true:

I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. I suppose this period began around 1966 and continued until 1971. During those five years, I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another… (421)

The vagueness of her sentences creates a feeling that truth was becoming blurry to her, that nothing is really clear any more. She visits a psychiatrist and supplies the reader with his findings:

Patient’s thematic productions on the Thematic Apperception Test emphasize her fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and depressive view of the world around her. It is as though she feels deeply that all human effort is foredoomed to failure, a conviction which seems to push her further into a dependent, passive withdrawal. (423)

She is expository in a way that is similar to Fitzgerald, but she describes her depression and anxiety without the metaphor or humor. However, she later uses language to present her confusion and growing paranoia in a fashion that engages the reader with dislocated scenes and events. In this segment, she describes a night when The Doors came to her house to practice before cutting an album:

There were three of the Four Doors. There was the bass player borrowed from the Clear Light. There were the producer and engineer and the road manager and a couple of girls and a Siberian husky named Nikki with one gray eye and one gold. There were paper bags half filled with hard-boiled eggs and chicken livers and cheeseburgers and empty bottles of apple juice and California rosé. There was everything and everybody The Doors needed to cut the rest of this third album except one thing, the fourth Door…(428)

The reader is entangled in this twisted collage of mismatched people and foods and the sense of disorder. The two colors of the eyes of the husky, the empty bottles, and the half-filled bags all seem to connote the growing vacuum of confusion and tension in the mind of the author. It also creates a strong sense of the time period and a subliminal feeling of being on mind-altering drugs.

 
As a reporter, Didion often had to prepare for travel on the spur of the moment. She describes a travel list that she kept on hand during this time, a list of things to collect before she departed on her frequent trips:

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, one article I needed and never had: a watch….I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during this period or of the period itself. (438)

Here again is the watch, the symbol of control over one’s environment. This passage bears a resemblance to Fitzgerald, in that it depicts that the author is slipping into instability and a terrifying loss of control. The missing watch is an effective metaphor to recount a restless and chaotic time, and the author’s feeling that she was a victim of this time period in many ways.

 
The styles of both Didion and Fitzgerald allow the reader to go inside their minds and feel their pain and hopelessness. While Didion writes with an unpredictable style that creates a colorful collage of experiences, Fitzgerald is more analytical and stays on a set course in his writing.

Works Cited

The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000. Print.

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I learned so much among the Spanish people, not only about civility which seems to be disappearing in my own nation, but about things that make life simpler and more pleasant.  I would never intentionally shed negative light on my own country, but we could learn so much if we would be more humble and listen to our friends from other places.  My father was a wonderful guide and explained many things to me as we wandered around different villages and cities.

image086

For example, I love the beautiful lace curtains that hang over the doorways in Spain, and it didn’t occur to me right away that I didn’t see any screened doors or windows.  My father explained that the lace is a more fashionable way of fulfilling the same purpose. When the doors are open, the lace keeps insects out of homes. Many of the people have beaded curtains, like the ones that were so popular in the hippie days in America. Flies and other insects can sense the motion of the beads in the breeze and it frightens them away.  And the homes are more aesthetically pleasing to look at without all of the screens.

One of the most pleasant features of Spain is the remarkable cleanliness of the place. The streets in even the larger cities like Barcelona were incredibly clean.  I never saw trash cans or litter drifting around while I was in there, because the business of trash disposal and collection occurs at night.  Metal hooks are set into the stone walls beside the doors, and the people place trash bags on the hooks at dusk for the trash collectors.

In the entire time that I was in Spain, I never sat at a table in a restaurant that had spills or crumbs on it.  Even in the airport McDonald’s, the tables were kept spotlessly clean and shiny. People seem to genuinely take pride in their villages and cities.

One taxi driver in Barcelona was beaming with pride as he explained to us about the best sites to see during our visit, and he pointed out his apartment as we drove by, remarking several times as he drove that he loved living in this beautiful city.  I don’t know that I have ever seen people take such pride in their places of habitation.  In America, we are proud of our own property, but Spaniards take pride in their whole community.

After a couple of weeks in Spain, it occurred to me that I had not seen any semi-trucks on the highways even in the cities.  My father explained that they transport merchandise at night, not in the daytime.

I saw a sign in the village square which showed a picture of a hand covered in chain mail, and I asked my father about it.  He told me that is was for the butcher shop. He explained that in Spain, a butcher is required by law to wear chain mail over the hand which is holding the meat when he cuts it.  It is not only a tradition but a matter of insurance liability. More importantly, it’s good sense.

My father asked me one night if we wanted to go to a tapas bar, and I glared at him and said “What?”  Then he repeated himself, and explained that tapas are appetizers or hors d’oeuvres.  In Spain you go out for tapas when you are not ready for a full meal but you need a little something to hold you over.  I love this concept because it saves the embarrassment of going in a restaurant when you only want soup or a salad and the waiter looks at you with annoyance as if to say “cheapskate” or “there goes my tip for this table.”

I noticed that many waiters wear arm bands above the elbow that resemble garter belts made of black satin.  So one day I inquired of a dashing young waiter, “Do your arm bands represent something, or do you wear them just to look nice?”  He answered, “We adjust the length of our sleeves with them, so that our cuffs don’t come in contact with the food we serve.” What a great idea! And they look much classier than rolled-up sleeves.

I saw mostly small cars in Spain, because they are economical and more suitable for the narrow roadways and easy parking.  I did not see the gigantic gas hogs driving around there like I am accustomed to seeing here.  The people are also smaller, and I rarely saw an obese person.  The competitive over-consumptive capitalistic spirit seems to be absent from the atmosphere.

Weapons don’t mean a thing to most Spaniards.  My father says that aggression takes place everywhere, but the Spanish people don’t like fighting.  In fact, he says they don’t like to place their hands on each other at all during an argument.  When they get angry with one another, they shout mostly, but seldom push or strike one another.

My father says that there is a strong sense of community in Spain, that
there is not an attitude of every man for himself, striving against the whole world.  Spaniards think in terms of every man for himself and his neighbor.  He said that Americans think this is communist, but it isn’t. Communism is every man for the government.  What could possibly be wrong with “love thy neighbor as thyself”?

There is no charge for medical care in Spain, and if you need antibiotics, you don’t need a prescription. You walk to the pharmacy and buy it complete with instructions on dosage, warnings, etc.  You are assigned a doctor based on where you live and from there to specialists if you need them.  Spain is fourth in quality of medical care in the world, and America is around thirty-two while the care is more costly than anywhere else. My father had a quadruple bypass surgery about two years ago, and paid nothing for his care. There goes that community spirit again.

People really enjoy being together is Spain. When you meet a friend at a restaurant, you don’t sit for an hour and get your ticket from a hurried waiter. You commune with your friends for hours over food and wine presented with style and kindness. No rude service there! My father says once you sit down at a table, it is yours as long as you like and no one will take it from you.

The cathedral bells there ring out the hours of the day, the church services, special holidays, and the deaths of villagers. I loved seeing the birds flying from the bell towers when they chimed. There are unique rings for each kind of event, and the bells toll differently to signify the passing of men or women or children.

I have been dreaming of Spain ever since our departure.  My son and I wandered around the beautiful Barcelona airport for an hour or so before our departure, shopping for last minute souvenirs and gifts.  The floors were so polished that I felt as if I was walking across a pond.

When we flew into the Atlanta airport, we looked out the windows and saw trash everywhere in and around dumpsters.  As we walked inside, we smelled the dismal smell of sweat and dirt.  We were so sad that this is what foreigners experience when they arrive in America.

When will we ever learn?

~♥~

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Excerpt from Frozen Tears: Part I

Of “This World is Not My Home: A Spiritual Journey”

~~ 

My brother and sister and I were all born in The Moon of the Snowblind, an unhappy month known for unpredictable weather, evil Ides, blustery winds, cold rains, and mischievous leprechauns. We were hurled headlong into a nightmare with no one to wake us up. If only we could have found and captured just one leprechaun and demanded three wishes, perhaps we might have acquired some of that Irish luck or a pot of gold, but there were no rainbows within our darkness.

Our mother was a yellow-haired enchantress who wore dangling orb earrings, tie-dyed dresses and crocheted sandals. She derived pleasure in casting her spells upon men of the cloth, and casting them aside.

Our father was a charming cellist of Cherokee descent, who loved melancholy women and chamber music. He wore shell necklaces and tapestry vests, and wrote short stories about legless hobo angels who traveled around in boxcars.

The three of us grew from pure sparkling seeds into distorted rootless trees.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving...


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Dear Readers and Seekers,

In October when I released my Kindle Book on Amazon, I gave them exclusive rights and removed all of my memoirs from this site.  But I have decided to post a few book samples for you to enjoy since that is not breaking their rules.

If you click on the “Memoirs” tab above, you can read the entire sample.  It contains excerpts from Part I, II, and III.

I have not been posting here very much lately for a variety of reasons, but I do appreciate you stopping by, and I try to visit your blogs on a regular basis as well.

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Book Sample

From “This World is Not My Home:  A Spiritual Journey”

~~

Foreword by Sparrow

What a story! It’s like a combination of a Charles Dickens novel (as the author’s pseudonym suggests), an LL Cool J song and an R. Crumb comic. This picaresque tale centers on love and food, which are often intimately connected. Olive spent many years searching for both, on the creepy highways and streets of America, where exploiters and saints waited to harm or aid her.

I first met Olive in 1975 in Gainesville, Florida. A couple hundred of us drifters had gathered in the “hippest” town in Florida, where Tom Petty was (unbeknownst to us) turning up his guitar. Olive resembled three fairytale characters rolled into one: Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood. She had pretty golden hair, quiet blue eyes and high cheekbones. Always she wore purple (but did she own more than one purple outfit?). She lived nowhere, and was accompanied by Katy, her green-clad “Lady-in-Waiting.” Olive was a singular blend of courage, innocence and mordant wit. I never saw her wear shoes, and I remember the hardiness of her feet, like a peasant’s in a Bruegel painting.

I am Sparrow because of Olive. Another Michael had begun working at Mother Earth Natural Foods, where I bagged raisins and almonds in the back room. Someone would call, “Michael!” and both of us would rush up front. “One of you could be ‘Mike,'” Dorothy suggested. I already hated my name, but the one worse option was ‘Mike.’ So I visited the Princess of Love, humbly requesting a new identity. “You be Sparrow; you look like a sparrow” were her words; I remember them exactly. Sparrow is my name still. As “Sparrow,” I’ve been published six times in the New York Times.

I remember dancing with Olive to free concerts at the University of Florida. She moved her body like a giggling ghost. Rarely did our little group speak about our former lives. Rather we ate barley soup — cooked by Isabel — and laughed together. Only tonight, reading This World Is Not My Home, did I learn the true story of Olive Twist.

Sparrow

Phoenicia, NY

October, 2013

~~

Wounded but Winged

I am writing this story, because words have wings that lift me above sorrow. My story is not intended to blame, hurt, or offend anyone. It begins and ends with compassion, because forgiveness can take the angry and guilty thorns out of us and allow healing to begin. Everyone can benefit from forgiving and being forgiven. Through compassion, we are set free to redeem ourselves and others.

The larva of this story has twisted and languished inside its gloomy cocoon for years gnawing at the edges of my mind and awaiting release. A dark bruised butterfly comes forth with wicked truth, fluttering with tattered wings. If she lights upon you gently, I hope something good will come of it.

~~

Frozen Tears: Part I

My brother and sister and I were all born in The Moon of the Snowblind, an unhappy month known for unpredictable weather, evil Ides, blustery winds, cold rains, and mischievous leprechauns. We were hurled headlong into a nightmare with no one to wake us up. If only we could have found and captured just one leprechaun and demanded three wishes, perhaps we might have acquired some of that Irish luck or a pot of gold, but there were no rainbows within our darkness.

Our mother was a yellow-haired enchantress who wore dangling orb earrings, tie-dyed dresses and crocheted sandals. She derived pleasure in casting her spells upon men of the cloth, and casting them aside.

Our father was a charming cellist of Cherokee descent, who loved melancholy women and chamber music. He wore shell necklaces and tapestry vests, and wrote short stories about legless hobo angels who traveled around in boxcars.

The three of us grew from pure sparkling seeds into distorted rootless trees.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving...

~~

Flashes: A Child Remembers

Who murdered the minutes,

The bright shining minutes,

The minutes of youth? – Joan Baez

What did I do wrong?  I have been crying for a long time. I have been hot and hungry and sad. I have been waiting for the hands that take care of me, the eyes that study me, the lips that smile and make odd sounds. But they took a long time to come.

I have been choking on my tears. The curtains are open. The sun has been burning me through the window, and the blankets have made me sweaty. I have been crying and kicking my feet against the crib rails. My room was empty for too long. Now the hands seem angry as they yank at my clothes and blankets, and short hot puffs are coming from the mouth. The eyes are flashing. What did I do wrong?

I am jumping on the bed with my sister. We love to jump. We jump and twirl and fall down, tumbling on each other. We laugh until we are breathless. This is so much fun. The pictures on the wall are jumping too and swirling around us. Our hair floats up and down. We are so happy. I wonder how the pictures look upside down. I will find out when we finish jumping and jumping and jumping. We are having a good time. Suddenly the door opens, and our mother is mad. She wants us to stop.

Tonight we all go to see a movie called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It is at a drive-in theatre. There are lightning bugs around our car while we watch, and the metal box in the car window makes loud music and sounds. The dwarfs and the little animals are so funny. We all laugh together. When we drive home, I pretend to fall asleep in the back seat. Daddy thinks I am asleep and picks me up in his arms to carry me into the house. I want to be carried in like a baby. But I can’t stop smiling and Mommy sees me. She and Daddy laugh, but he carries me inside anyway.

My sister and I are playing outside and Mr. Cole from next door calls for us. He is in his garage, and he says he wants to give us some candy. We love candy, so we run inside. He closes the door to his garage and sits on a chair. He holds out a bag of candy. What a nice man! We walk over and reach our hands into the bag. Suddenly he reaches his cold rough hand into my panties, smiling. What is he doing?  I look at him with questioning eyes. He touches my sister the same way. We look at each other and at him, but we are confused. Why is he doing this? The candy tastes good, but something is wrong. Maybe we better go home. We leave quickly. Mr. Cole calls out to us, “Come and see me again tomorrow.” What a nice man!

I notice one day that Daddy has been missing, and I ask Mommy about it several times. She won’t say anything, but she looks sad. The house seems colder and so does our mother. My sister and brother and I are wondering what is wrong.

One day, Daddy comes to visit us. He doesn’t come into the house, but we meet him on the porch. He is so handsome. He brings his brown guitar and sings songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. He holds me on his lap and asks me to sing. I am so happy with him near me, and I have missed him.

A lady is waiting quietly for him in a car that is parked by the house. I wonder why she doesn’t get out of the car and come over too. Who is that lady? I don’t like her. I am sad when Daddy gets into the car and drives away. After he leaves, I wander into the house. My mother is playing the dulcimer and singing softly:

I never will marry.

I’ll be no man’s wife.

I wish to live single

All the days of my life.

The shells in the ocean

Will be my death bed,

The fish in the water

Swim over my head.

Her sadness washes over me and my heart tries to surface for air.

Another day, a friend of our mother comes to visit, and Mother is not home. His name is John, and he has visited our house before. He is handsome like my Daddy. He plays the guitar too and I love to hear him sing.

My sister and I tell him we are home alone. He is very friendly and says he wants to visit us anyway. He asks us if girls and boys have the same stuff in their pants. We tell him no. He says he doesn’t believe us, that everyone must have a hot dog. We laugh and tell him that girls don’t have those. He says he doesn’t believe us. We decide to show him. He comes into our bedroom, and we take off our panties. He looks surprised and says that he is glad we showed him. Then he decides to show us his. He pulls down his jeans. It is scary and we start to scream and cry.

Our brother suddenly walks in from school and sees everything going on. His face turns red and he runs back out. We pull up our pants quickly. John pulls up his pants and leaves. My brother doesn’t talk to us and we are scared, and we hide in our room when our mother comes home. We know we are in trouble. Mother comes in with a hairbrush and spanks us with it. She never says anything, but we know we did something wrong.

One night Mother is angry and puts me outside the front door in the dark. I am crying on the front step and tapping on the front door. Please let me in. I am scared. Then a man in a car stops at the end of the sidewalk. He is smiling and calls out to me. I go to his car and he asks me to get in. We go for a nice ride and he gives me candy to eat. He brings me back home after I have stopped crying. My mother is on the step when we drive up, and she looks really angry. When we go inside, I see that her face is red and sweaty. She spanks me for going for a ride with the nice man in the car.

One summer, Mother takes us to Florida to see a family there. We are so excited. We get there and Mr. and Mrs. Linebaugh have three kids too. We all play together all day long. They decide to let us stay the night to play with their kids some more. Just before our mother leaves, they decide to let us stay all weekend! Wow! We will have so much fun.

We have a great time, and the food is good and their house is so big. But our mother doesn’t come when she is supposed to. A week goes by, then a month, and then the summer is almost over, and still our mother hasn’t come. Mr. Linebaugh decides to send us home on a Greyhound bus, and tells us our mother will meet us at the station.

We have a fun ride on the bus together, and we get to the station when it is dark outside. We wait and look for our mother, but she doesn’t come. It gets very late, and the police come and take us to their station. A nice policeman feeds us sandwiches, because we are hungry. He keeps making phone calls, and after a long time in his office, our mother comes and she looks very unhappy. After a long talk with the police, she takes us home.

But people start watching us after that. A neighbor says we don’t get enough food, because they invited us over to eat, and we stuffed ourselves. We are home alone late at night, feeling scared many times. One night, I try to cook eggs for us. I turn the burner on too hot, and the pan and the eggs start to smoke. I get scared and cut off the stove. I grab the pan and set it on a chair. It burns a hole in the chair. When our mother comes home, she spanks me because of the chair.

One evening a lady comes to the door. She asks for our mother, and we tell her she isn’t home. She asks if she can come in. We open the door, and our Siamese cat scratches her leg and tears her stockings as she comes in. Her leg has blood on it, so I tell her I know where the band-aids are. I run and get her one. She asks us about our mother, and where she is. We tell her that we don’t know. She asks us to take a ride with her in her car. It has a round symbol with words I can’t read on the side of it. We ride to an office building, where some people are sitting in rooms writing out papers, and a man says they are taking us somewhere else to live. We ask when we will be going home, but no one will answer us. What did we do wrong?

~~

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Black Elk SpeaksI love this description by Black Elk of his vision in which he saw the son of Wanekia, the Great Spirit:

“They led me to the center of the circle where once more I saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming.

…Against the tree there was a man with arms held wide in front of him.  I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from.  He was not a Wasichu (white man) and he was not an Indian.  His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather.  His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red…while I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light…He spoke like singing:  “My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me.  Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this.  You too must say this.” 

~♥~

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Several people have asked me lately how they can read my book since they don’t have a Kindle.  Kindle reading apps can be downloaded for free to computers and various devices through Amazon.  Here is the link to see which one works for you.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000493771

Thank you to those of you who have been reading my book and sending your remarks.  I am grateful to all of you.

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, ...

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“The suspense: the fearful, acute suspense: of standing idly by while the life of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance; the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it; the desperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger, which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul and spirit, which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces; what tortures can equal these; what reflections of endeavours can, in the full tide and fever of the time, allay them!”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

English: A photograph of an engraving in The W...

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English: "The Little Match Girl"For most of my life, I have felt like The Little Match Girl waiting for an angel to come and rescue her from the streets, or Cinderella scrubbing the floors while her stepsisters dress up for the ball.  But something is changing since I visited my illustrious father in Spain.

I feel like Alice upon returning home from Wonderland to tell her adventures, or the little girl who first noticed The Leaf from Heaven, or The Ugly Duckling finding out about her swan-hood. My soul is transforming from that of a poor little gypsy to a noblewoman, because I’m connected to something special.

There’s no wealth or fame in this story, just a sense of treading closer to the Earth, rather than feeling like a ghost who passes by and reaches out with invisible fingers.

Peace & Grace,

“Sister Olive”

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So, daughter, inasmuch as it concerns you so closely to set forth on this devout journey under good guidance, do you pray most earnestly to God to supply you with a guide after His Own Heart, and never doubt but that He will grant you one who is wise and faithful, even should He send you an angel from Heaven…

The simple style of this bishop (Saint Francis de Sales) really speaks to me… This book on the devout life is a series of his letters to a married woman who earnestly desires to grow closer to God…

Ponder Jacob’s ladder:–it is a true picture of the devout life…Consider, too, who they are who trod this ladder; men with angels’ hearts, or angels with human forms. They are not youthful, but they seem to be so by reason of their vigour and spiritual activity. They have wings wherewith to fly, and attain to God in holy prayer, but they have likewise feet wherewith to tread in human paths…

Here is one of my favorite passages from Chapter 3 where the writer explains that where God is concerned, no one “falls through the cracks” if the heart is sincere and humble…

A different exercise of devotion is required of each–the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual…

No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion. Aristotle says that the bee sucks honey from flowers without damaging them, leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them;–but true devotion does better still, for it not only hinders no manner of vocation or duty, but, contrariwise, it adorns and beautifies all.

~♥~

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and ...

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Devout LifeI have started reading this book as sort of a spiritual self-improvement course, and on the first page of the introduction, I found this lovely passage that I want to share with you… I feel already that this angelic fellow is speaking directly to my heart.  It’s a little spooky, especially when he keeps writing to someone that he refers to as “daughter”… I am very excited about what I will learn!

Almost all those who have written concerning the devout life have had chiefly in view persons who have altogether quitted the world; or at any rate they have taught a manner of devotion which would lead to such total retirement. But my object is to teach those who are living in towns, at court, in their own households, and whose calling obliges them to a social life, so far as externals are concerned. Such persons are apt to reject all attempt to lead a devout life under the plea of impossibility; imagining that like as no animal presumes to eat of the plant commonly called Palma Christi, so no one who is immersed in the tide of temporal affairs ought to presume to seek the palm of Christian piety.

And so I have shown them that, like as the mother-of-pearl lives in the sea without ever absorbing one drop of salt water; and as near the Chelidonian Isles springs of sweet water start forth in the midst of the ocean and as the firemoth hovers in the flames without burning her wings; even so a true stedfast soul may live in the world untainted by worldly breath, finding a well-spring of holy piety amid the bitter waves of society, and hovering amid the flames of earthly lusts without singeing the wings of its devout life. Of a truth this is not easy, and for that very reason I would have Christians bestow more care and energy than heretofore on the attempt, and thus it is that, while conscious of my own weakness, I endeavour by this book to afford some help to those who are undertaking this noble work with a generous heart.

~♥~

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The Way of the HeartOur society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state.

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general, we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not ever take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us. People must be motivated to come to Church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised and, above all, everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the Church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.

All this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self, is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.

Passage from “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence” by Henri Nouwen

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Cover of "The Inner Voice of Love"

When I first read this passage in Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love, I felt as if the Holy Ghost was speaking directly to me and that I was seeing myself for the first time in a magnified mirror.  I suddenly realized that I have been searching for my father for most of my life; in sweethearts, friends, professors, and spiritual leaders. Perhaps some of you can identify with this battle:

 “You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.

For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

Excerpt from “The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” by Henri Nouwen

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This is the bibliography for my graduation lecture entitled “Madmen, Mystics, and Monks” which is also posted.  See “Olive’s Pages” in the sidebar, and look under “Essays” to see the script.

Peace and Grace,

Olive

Bibliography

Augustine, Saint. The Sermons of St. Augustine. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble , 1999. Print.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Trans. Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen by R.H. Fuller. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1959. Print.

Bunuel, Luis. An Unspeakable Betrayal. Trans. by Garrett White. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2000. Print.

Dubus, Andre.  Broken Vessels:  Essays by Andre Dubus.   Boston, MA:  David R. Godine Publisher, Inc, 1991. Print.

Finch, Robert. “When You Wish Upon A Star: On the Evolution of Spiritual and Moral Thought.” Ecotone. Winter 2008: Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

Maharaj, Rabindranath, and Dave Hunt. Death of a Guru: A Remarkable True Story of One Man’s Search for Truth. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1977. eBook.

Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print.

Neihardt, John.  Black Elk Speaks: as told through John Neihardt by Nicholas Black Elk.  Lincoln, NE:  U of Nebraska P, 2000. Print.

Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. New York: Picador, 2004. Print.

Sempangi, F. Kefa. A Distant Grief. Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1979. Print.

Shaw, Luci. “Royalty.” Witnesses to Hope. N.p., 25 Mar 2010. Web. 13 Jun 2011. <http://witnessestohope.wordpress.com/category/poetry/shaw-luci/page/2/&gt;.

Vaswani, Neela. You Have Given Me A Country. Louisville, Ky: Sarabande Books, 2010. Print.

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I thought some of my readers might enjoy reading the script from my 30-minute graduation lecture that I delivered in November of 2011 for my Master of Fine Arts degree.  I hope that you gain something from it, as I certainly enjoyed studying and preparing for it. I have posted the bibliography for you and it can be found in the sidebar under “Olive’s Pages.”

The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani

~♥~

Madmen, Mystics, and Monks:  Memoir as a Spiritual Journey

In this lecture, I intend to focus upon how authors use literary devices to persuade readers to travel with them on a mystical journey and contemplate their concepts of truth.

Mystical writers face a unique set of challenges. Richard Goodman, author of The Soul of Creative Writing says that spiritual authors use words as soldiers to captivate readers and lead them into another reality. In Flannery O’Connor’s essay “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction” she writes:

…if  the writer believes that our life is and will remain essentially mysterious, if he looks upon us as beings existing in a created order to whose laws we freely respond, then what he sees on the surface will be of interest to him only as he can go through it into an experience of mystery itself.

The spiritual writer must avoid clichés in their language, and walk a tightrope with the reader in order to perform their delicate art of persuasion. The voice must be one of compassion and humility and three elements must be present in order to retain the interest of the doubter:

  1. The writer must establish a rapport with the reader immediately.
  2. The mystical writer should illustrate abstract ideas with realism.
  3. The writer must leave the reader with a sense of longing and mystery, to make them want to embark upon their own spiritual journey.

If these three ingredients are measured out carefully, the writer may succeed in this precarious art of persuasion. In this lecture, I will provide some examples of writers who successfully use these methods to disarm the skeptic and take their readers on a spiritual journey.  The passages I am using in this lecture are on your handouts, so that you can follow along if you wish. For the benefit of our poets and fiction writers, I am including a poem by contemporary poet Luci Shaw and a fiction excerpt from Pulitzer prizewinner Marilynne Robinson.

~♥~

Let’s Begin with the first step of Establishing a Rapport with the Reader:

Dianne Aprile, author of several books including The Abbey of Gethsemani: A Place of Peace and Paradox, lectured once about the similarities between writing and walking.  As a writer, I am trying to persuade the reader to walk with me, so that we can have a conversation. In order for a skeptical reader to willingly go on a spiritual journey with an author, the narrative voice must be magnetic in some fashion that causes doubters to let down their defenses and open a friendly dialogue. Without establishing a rapport, it is impossible to be persuasive, so this is the most important element in spiritual writing.

Several methods are very effective to establish rapport. Vulnerability engages the emotions of the reader with a sense of empathy.  Reflection causes the reader to think back upon their own experiences of a similar nature.  Humor makes the reader laugh and enjoy the conversation.

The first two examples I will use are writers who make themselves accessible to their readers through vulnerability.

Black Elk Speaks, translated by John Neihardt, is the memoir of Black Elk, a famous holy man of the Oglala Sioux and second cousin of Crazy Horse, who extends his hand to the reader in such a way that one cannot help but continue with him. His voice is clear, humble and inviting:

My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life, as you wish; and if it were only the story of my life, I think I would not tell it; for what is one man that he should make much of his winters, even when they bend him like heavy snow?  So many other men have lived and shall live that story, to be grass upon the hills. 

One of the most compelling aspects of Black Elk’s style is the sorrow of his voice, and the sense of great longing.  This is a common element in mystical writing, because it creates a sense of the helpless human condition.

Rabi Maharaj describes his own helplessness in his memoir The Death of a Guru, which was written in 1977 and translated into over 60 languages.He describes being born into the Brahman caste in India and being groomed to be a guru.  He longed to interact with his father, a renowned guru, who spent the last eight years of his life in a trancelike state.

We never shared anything in our lives.  Because of the vows he had taken before I was born, not once did he ever speak to me or pay me the slightest heed.  Just two words from him would have made me unspeakably happy.  More than anything else in the world I wanted to hear him say, “Rabi! Son!”  Just once.  But he never did.  For eight long years, he uttered not a word, not even a quiet confidence to my mother…

The writer immediately invites the reader to share his heartbreak, to have a sense of his pain and vulnerability as he continues to describe his father:

How often I stood in front of this extraordinary man, staring into his eyes until I became lost in their fathomless depths.  It was like falling through space, reaching out to grab something, calling for someone, but meeting only silence and emptiness. (15-16)

By using language referring to space and fathomless depths, the reader is able to feel that his pain defied description or quantification.  Like space, his loneliness knew no boundaries. In a style similar to Black Elk, this author has expressed his pain to establish rapport with his reader.

Another common device is the use of existential reflections, in which an author recalls the time he first questioned how he fit into the scheme of things. The next two excerpts are examples of this kind of reflection.

In Robert Finch’s article called When You Wish Upon A Star: On the Evolution of Spiritual and Moral Thought,” the author reflects upon the first time he wondered if he really had any control of his life or destiny:

When I was a boy, I read a lot of science fiction. It seemed to me the most exciting and imaginative literature of the day—and to a boy of twelve, it probably was. I have forgotten most of what I read, but there is one story, Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall,” that made a deep impression on me…

The author has already created a tone of mystery by mentioning the story called “Nightfall” and the strong feelings that were evoked when he read it, and the reader is interested in continuing this mysterious journey:

For a long time I didn’t know why I had been so affected by it, but now I think that reading the story provided my first inkling that our lives, our deepest selves, our collective psychological identity might be shaped and controlled by stars and other manifestations of the physical universe in ways we did not understand, or even suspect…

In this passage, the writer invites the reader to identify with his early moments of questioning, and to contemplate the mystery surrounding their own lives. Doing this in the context of science fiction adds to the sense of a great void and feeling insignificant within time and space.

Neela Vaswani writes of her childhood spiritual quest in You Have Given Me a Country.  She writes about her mother being a Catholic and describes her father’s religious heritage from India.  Listen to how she sets the stage in this passage:  “He was a traditional Sindhi, part Muslim, part Sikh, part Hindu, part Buddhist, and had been educated by Jesuits.” (22)  Because of the depictions of her parents, the reader is naturally curious as to where this will all lead. Then she proceeds to describe her anxiety about being unbaptized in a later chapter: “Baptism.  Such a small motion.  Water dropped onto the head.  I decided I would baptize myself.  I didn’t want to be Catholic.  I just wanted to be rid of the word heathen.  The way it hissed and bit.” The snake metaphor at the end is very effective to describe the questions and fears she felt about being a heathen. (76) After this,  she describes her own inquisitive nature and her visits to the library:  “I took out books.  A children’s Torah, heavy as a stone.  A Koran, river-blue.  The graphic Mahabharata in Amar Chitra Katha form- two frugal staples per comic spine.  The New Catholic Bible, martyr-red, in a sleeve of thick plastic.” (79) Instead of just stating that she was preoccupied with matters of religion, Vaswani allows the reader to go with her on her search and to see and feel the sacred texts, by using colors, weight, and texture.

It is important for the spiritual author to show their pathway to truth, and not just their arrival at a specific destination.

Some spiritual authors season their writing with touches of humor to make the reader comfortable with them, and the next two authors do this very artfully.

Andre Dubus grapples with the topic of injustice in his collection of memoirs entitled Broken Vessels, and he sets the tone with an allusion to a verse in the Psalms which says, “I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind:  I am like a broken vessel”.  Then in his first story, Out Like a Lamb, he describes being called to watch over a farm and some sheep for some friends while they are away.  He expresses surprise at how unmanageable the sheep turned out to be:

And Christ had called us his flock, his sheep; there were pictures of him holding a lamb in his arms.  His face was tender and loving, and I grew up with a sense of those feelings, of being a source of them: we were sweet and lovable sheep.  But after a few weeks in that New Hampshire house, I saw that Christ’s analogy meant something entirely different.  We were stupid helpless brutes, and without constant watching we would foolishly destroy ourselves (4).

In this playful story with heavier undertones the sheep are a metaphor for humans, and the author makes the reader feel both brevity and pity for the sheep throughout the story, portraying them as helpless victims and describing the various ways that they “destroy themselves”.  The author artfully juggles humor and heaviness.

Marilynne Robinson also mingles humor in her 2005 Pulitzer award-winning novel Gilead, describing a group of religious children who decide to baptize a litter of kittens:

…They were dusty little barn cats just steady on their legs…I myself moistened their brows, repeating the full Trinitarian formula.

Their grim old crooked-tailed mother found us baptizing away by the creek and began carrying her babies off by the napes of their necks, one and then another.  We lost track of which was which, but we were fairly sure that some of the creatures had been born away still in the darkness of paganism…

Two or three of that litter were taken home by the girls and made into fairly respectable house cats…The others lived out their feral lives, indistinguishable from their kind, whether pagan or Christian no one could ever tell…

I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand… (22, 23)

This passage is rich with tactile detail that allows the reader to touch the furry warm brows of the kittens and feel the moisture of the creek water. The narrator of the story reflects in a believably childlike manner about this incident and wondering what the cosmic implications were.

In each of the passages so far, the spiritual writer has effectively created a rapport with the reader through vulnerability, reflection, or humor.

~♥~

The second step that I mentioned is that the spiritual author must “Illustrate the Abstract with Realism”:

Once the spiritual writer has established a rapport and lured the reader into a conversation, they can start to gently impart their concepts of truth. Realism is a valuable tool in the hands of a mystical author, because it allows the doubter to contemplate and vicariously experience the metaphysical. Personification, analogies, and recounting of events are far better than abstract statements of theology.  I will be using a variety of different authors to illustrate this point.

Transcendental poet Luci Shaw uses images and comparisons to cause the reader to make connections between objects and ideas, in her poem called “Royalty.”  She enables the reader to envision things, with her use of rich imagery.

He was a plain man
and learned no latin.

Having left all gold behind
he dealt out peace
to all us wild men
and the weather.

He ate fish, bread,
country wine and God’s will.

Dust sandalled his feet.

He wore purple only once
and that was an irony.

Shaw contrasts rich and poor through condensed images such as the plain man with dusty feet who left all gold behind, hung out with wild men, and wore purple only once. She cleverly lists God’s will with the foods and drink in the stanza about what Christ ate.  This allows the reader to make associations between food and drink and God’s will and to recognize all of them as sources of nourishment and strength.

Rabi Maharaj also uses physical detail as he writes about his mother in Death of a Guru, allowing the reader to fully experience the altar room:

Quiet, meditative, and deeply religious, she was not only father and mother to me but my first teacher in Hinduism.  How well I remember those early lessons learned as a little child sitting close beside her in the family prayer room in front of the altar with its numerous gods!  The heavy scent of sandalwood paste freshly marked upon the deities, the flickering deya flame attracting my eyes like a magnet, and the solemn sound of softly repeated mantras created an aura of holy mystery that held me spellbound…

Those unblinking eyes of clay and wood and brass and stone and painted paper seemed to watch me when I was not watching…(20)

The author allows the reader to smell the sandalwood paste, to see the flickering deya flame, and to hear the sound of the mantras. The images of the deities on the altar seem somewhat terrifying with their “unblinking eyes.”  By describing tangible objects, the author allows the reader to experience the intangibles.

F. Kefa Sempangi is the author of A Distant Grief which is his story of being the pastor of “The Redeemed Church” in Uganda in the 70’s during the brutal reign of Idi Amin.  He describes a church having an identity crisis because of western leadership. Sempangi beautifully depicts one of their prophetic leaders becoming frustrated.  In some sense, he uses the character of Katongole to personify the Holy Ghost:

On this day, Katongole wore the long white traditional robe of the Baganda men and we talked together for several hours about the present crisis in the Ugandan church.  The longer we talked the more angry Katongole became.  Finally, he could contain himself no longer.  He stood up from his chair and, glaring with wisdom, delivered an impassioned lecture.

“The church has made many mistakes,” Katangole said, pronouncing each word distinctly. “We have had political independence for 10 years and the church is not yet free.”

The physical description of Katongole is powerful with rich phrases such as “glaring with wisdom” and the way that he was “pronouncing each word distinctly.” The image of a stately black man in a long white robe is in itself compelling and the reader can almost hear his voice. The deep sigh of the prophet is important because it causes the reader to pause, and adds drama to his message.

Katongole took a deep breath and continued speaking.  “We are like Samuel and Eli in the Bible,” he said.  “For all of Samuel’s life he worked in the Temple and all his life, Eli stood between him and God… Samuel could not believe that God wanted to talk to him alone…

Instead of hearing God’s message to us as Africans, we have heard an enculturated gospel.  We cannot believe that God wants to speak to us in our own language. (40-41)

Rather than merely writing a factual narrative about the identity problem in the African church, Sempangi paints an exquisite portrait of a spiritual event. The reader can see and hear the leadings of the Spirit in Africa at that moment.

Black Elk also uses strong images and metaphors in the telling of his spiritual journey. He awakens all of the reader’s senses and his writings pulse with creatures and plants and landscapes. Here he describes a vision in which he saw the son of Wanekia, the Great Spirit:

They led me to the center of the circle where once more I saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming…Against the tree there was a man with arms held wide in front of him.  I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from.  He was not a Wasichu (white man) and he was not an Indian.  His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather.  His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red…while I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light…He spoke like singing:  “My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me.  Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this.  You too must say this.”  (188)

It is appropriate for the visionary to use elevated language and vivid imagery. The serenity of his voice shows the enormity of his faith and adds credibility to his belief in a parallel earth where he and his people will finally dwell in peace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor who was executed for his resistance to Hitler and the Third Reich.  In his collection of essays entitled The Cost of Discipleship he uses analogies to explain theological concepts.  In this passage, he writes about the difference between what he calls cheap grace and costly grace:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.  The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices…grace without price, grace without cost! 

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again…the door at which a man must knock.   (Bonhoeffer, 43, 45)

These analogies allow the reader to understand Bonhoeffer’s assertions.  His usage of metaphor is effective because it is easy to understand that something priceless should not be sold at discount prices. Anyone can understand that you must knock before entering someone’s house, and that if you found a treasure hidden in a field, you would happily sell your belongings to purchase the field and acquire it.  That is why realism works so well to describe complex philosophical ideas.

Saint Augustine artfully juxtaposes physical description with the metaphysical in his Sermon for Christmas # 13, in which he describes the birth of Christ:

He nudges the stars, but nurses from the breast.

He fills the Angels, speaks in His Father’s bosom, says nothing in His mother’s lap…

Look at how he miniaturized Himself so that He could lie in that manger.  That doesn’t mean He had to leave something behind in order to fit.  He just received what He wasn’t while remaining what He was.

Augustine presents the impossible so casually and physically that it almost sounds logical and scientific, presenting the notion of the divine presence being in many settings at once.

In each of the examples in this section the writer uses realism to depict the spiritual realm, allowing the intangibles to become tangible to readers.

 ~♥~

Now we come to final step, which is to Leave the Reader with a Sense of Longing and Mystery:

An effective spiritual writer will leave the reader with questions and a desire to embark upon their own truth-seeking journey.  The writer must present their pilgrimage as an ongoing process as opposed to a creating a sense of finality.

Luis Bunuel, the iconoclastic Spanish filmmaker and surrealist writer expresses his dislike of those who become too smug about their religion in his autobiography:

I have always been on the side of those who seek the truth, but I part ways when they think they have found it.  They often become fanatics, which I detest, or if not, then ideologues:  I am not an intellectual and their speeches send me running.  Like all speeches.  For me, the best orator is the one who from the first phrase takes a pair of pistols from his pockets and fires upon the audience.

This illustrates why it behooves the spiritual writer to be open about all of his human frailties, and leave the reader with a sense that he is still progressing, but has not arrived. There must be an air of mystery in order to stimulate the reader’s desire to seek truth on their own.  I will use very different sources to demonstrate the importance of ending with a sense of mystery.

Saint Augustine describes his limited capacity to understand the divine in one of his sermons about the incarnation, remarking:  “Well, how should I know?  I’m only a human being.  I don’t know why God was begotten.  I’ve labored to find out, I must say.” 

Donald Miller writes in his book Blue Like Jazz that he used to dislike jazz because of its lack of structure and the fact that it doesn’t resolve.  But he ends his memoir with a comparison between spirituality and jazz music:

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music.  It is music birthed out of freedom.  And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality.  A music birthed out of freedom.  Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.

He implies that everyone finds spirituality in their own way, not through conformity with traditions. He invites readers to seek God in their own style.

I will close with one final example of how C. S. Lewis successfully leaves the reader with a sense of longing, in this passage from The Four Loves.  Lewis uses a voice of humility, admitting that we humans often delude ourselves into thinking we are closer to God than we really are:

Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than we have really reached.  If we describe what we have imagined, we may make others and make ourselves believe that we have really been there…

Then the author proceeds to describe the unfulfilled longings we carry around in our innermost being, using beautiful similes, and an analogy of dreaming and waking:

If we cannot “practice the presence of God”, it is something to practice the absence of God, to become increasingly aware of our unawareness till we feel like men who should stand beside a great waterfall and hear no noise, or like a man in a story who looks in a mirror and finds no face there, or a man in a dream who stretches out his hand to visible objects and gets no sensation of touch.  To know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep.  But for news of the fully waking world, you must go to my betters.

OLIVE TWIST ©2011

~♥~


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My sister really impressed me with the card and gift she sent me for my birthday, and I wanted to share it with you.

First, here is the card with the little tropical motif, and the art is entitled Shaken Not Stirred by Steve Katz.

That would make a great title for my story, because I would say I have been shaken but not stirred. It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses in II Corinthians 4:8-9 which says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”

I also enjoy the little quote from Mae West, which I can imagine her saying…

But then I had another surprise when I opened the card to find this message…

 

Whoa!  You’ve got to be kidding!  It’s even got my name printed in it!!!

I called her on the phone and asked her, “Where in the world did you find this card?”

“I couldn’t believe it either when I opened it and saw the message,” she said laughing.  “Now be looking out for your gift in the mail.”

A week later, I received a lovely package from Hicklebee’s bookstore with an artistic mailer and a label with a little elf sitting on a stack of books.  I opened the package to find this…

Brother Sun, Sister MoonSaint Francis of Assisi‘s Canticle of the Creatures

It brought tears to my eyes as I read this beautiful prayer from one of my favorite saints with the exquisite papercuts throughout the book, and all of the nature motifs and animals in it.  What a beautiful card and gift!  I don’t know what else to say…I’m at a loss for words.

~♥~

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“I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”

~Donald Miller

If you’ve never read Donald Miller, you should check him out sometime, because he is a Christian writer with a delightful and often humorous way of fleshing out human frailties and existential questions.

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“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

~From God in the Dock

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I wanted to share the titles of some of my favorite books and other writings with you, many of which I read during my graduate studies.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations to share with me. 

*************************

Augustine, Saint. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York, NY: Barnes and  Noble, 1999. Print.

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