My Half-Way Through Summer Reading List: Books I Have Read, Am Reading, or Intend to Read in These Warm Months



Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (poetry): This slim volume of new and collected poems has been on my shelf for years. I’ve dabbled in it, but have never read it cover to cover. I’ve picked it up again because a.) Annie Dillard calls Cairns “one of the best poets alive,” and b.) because Cairns penned of one of my all-time favourite terms of endearments (from God to humanity): “beloved numbskulls.”

What a Plant Knows, A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (non-fiction, science): This book was one of Amazon’s Ten Best Science and Math Books of 2012. So of course I’m reading it. Actually, I’ve never read a Math book for pleasure and Science books only make my reading list if they are fascinating and accessible to art majors – this one seems both. Here’s a bit of a summary from the back cover: “an intriguing look at how plants themselves experience the world—from the colors they see to the schedules they keep…Chamovitz encourages us all to consider whether plants might even be aware.” Hmmmm!

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman (memoir): Oh my goodness! I recently finished this amazing book and I am still reeling (in a good way). Christian Wiman served as editor of Poetry magazine (the most prestigious poetry gig going). Not so much a narrative sort of memoir, but paragraph-long musings on faith, doubt, love and hope, all set against the backdrop of Wiman’s devastating cancer diagnosis and prognosis, this book required a thinking cap, but the mental effort is so worth it. As I read I felt my heart/soul/insides expand to near bursting. And throughout the last chapter I wept.

Medicine River by Thomas King (novel): Another book that has been on my shelf for years. I grabbed this one on my way out the door for our annual holiday on Galiano Island because it looked like good beach reading. And it was. It’s the story of a good-hearted, generous half-Blackfoot man who bumbles along with little self-awareness but bucket loads of kindness. It’s also the story of family, community, identity, love and healing.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery (Children’s lit): Can you believe my kids (aged 12 and 14) had never read or been read this book? When I discovered this horrifying fact a few weeks ago I set out to remedy the situation pronto. We finished reading it aloud last night. It was as good as I remembered.

Inner Compass, an Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf (non-fiction, spiritual formation): This book is a layman’s Jesuit/Ignatian Theology and Practice 101. While the writing style is a bit clunky, the practical exercises have been helpful especially the insights on consolation and desolation.

Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson (non-fiction, marriage): Attachment theory meets marriage advice. Johnson is a psychologist and the creator of the groundbreaking Emotionally Focused Therapy. Throw out all that advice you've read about unpacking your childhoods, learning how to argue better, making grand romantic gestures. ”Instead," says Johnson, "get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship…” Just finished this one last night too. Really good.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Word? The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization by Andrew Lawler (non-fiction, journalism/natural history): Here’s the blurb from the jacket: "Why did the Chicken Cross the World presents the sweeping history that this humble fowl deserves. Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrate’s last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, African shamans, Chinese philosophers, and Muslim mystics praised it. Neuroscientists studying the long-abused chicken brain are uncovering signs of a deep intelligence as well as insights into our own behavior.” This is why I’m reading it. And because one reviewer said that it reads like a mystery novel. And because we keep chickens.

What are you reading, Blog Chums?






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The Slow Sacred Texts of the Dying

photo credti: Macia Pevey

My sister sits daily at the bedsides of the dying.

She is a hospice chaplain. This is her job.

On a recent visit to a private residence, my sister was greeted by the 80-year-old daughter of a 104-year-old dying woman. The daughter, white-haired and stooped, opened the door and in a sing-song drawl called over her shoulder, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” a pronouncement that had my sister rubber-necking over her own shoulder looking for “the preacher” who had snuck in behind her.This geriatric announcement, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” while so funny on so many levels, is also so true. My sister is a preacher. She preaches from the slow, sacred texts of the dying’s last days.

This is what she preaches:

We need to fearlessly affirm. The dying shed all inhibitions. My sister, middle-aged and of normal attractiveness, has been told she’s beautiful by more patients than she can count. The approach of death has not affected these people’s eyesight; it’s affected their inhibition, shattering the veneer of decorum that has kept them from voicing their true feelings and thoughts. The words come forth in childlike innocence and honesty and are therefore the furthest thing from flattery because they are offered by those with nothing to lose or gain. My sister receives these words like the benedictions they are.

We need to connect at all costs. On one particular visit, my sister entered a hospital room to find the patient’s children hunched, each in his or her own chair, paralyzed in isolation and anxiety at the decline of their mother. My sister sat with them, holding their mother’s hand. Gently, she suggested that the patient’s 60-year-old daughter place her hand on her mother’s leg.It was a simple act, but in touching her mother, this grieving woman broke the spell that held her apart from the one she wanted to love. Soon she was massaging her mother’s feet as her siblings swapped stories from their childhood. One truly hilarious story involved a rabid squirrel, a garbage can, and a baseball bat. Soon they were weeping with laughter, the beauty of their connectedness restored by physical contact and their shared stories............

But wait, there's more! To read the rest of this post take a little jaunt over to Shelovesmagazine. The ending is just a click away.


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Postcard from Portugal (so why the cranes?!)



Every spring and fall, the North American prairies host a remarkable event. It’s called kettling. Migrating Sandhill CranesGrus canadensis pause en route to come together and ride the thermals. Their numbers reach hundreds of thousands, all aloft, all rising and soaring in a mysterious symmetry. I’ve stood below such a spectacle of swirling flight and marveled. What calls them to come together? Why not just set off in their individual flocks, as efficiency would dictate? I am not an ornithologist. I’m a storyteller and so my anthropomorphized version would go something like this: the Sandhill Cranes come for a family reunion of sorts – swap stories of the past season, make plans for the next, and encourage one another for the next leg of the journey.

I’ve just come back from a similar sort of family reunion. It was seriously lacking in the plumage and spindly legs of the cranes’ gathering, but we did come from varied flocks to fly together for a while in Portugal. A Rocha leaders and other participants from over 20 countries, on every continent but Antarctica (we’re still waiting for the penguins to send a delegate) came together for a five-day gathering that occurs just once every three years. We sang with gusto in at least three languages and were challenged by the wise words of biblical theologian Ruth Padilla DeBorst. But most of all we were encouraged by the incredible stories shared − stories of saving forests in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, stories of opening the eyes of children to the wonders of creation in New Zealand, the UK and Uganda, stories of significant conservation research on elephants, storm-petrels, and plovers.

They were good stories. They were bolstering stories.

Would you like to hear one?

This one comes from Mwamba, A Rocha’s field study centre in Kenya, on the Indian Ocean coast and was told to me by Jaap Gijsbertsen who, along with his family, spent a year and a half helping lead the work.

He was asked to provide a retreat and teaching for Erisata, a community development organization in the Masai Mara reserve. Jaap happily agreed and put together a one-week course that included the theology of creation care as well as practical application, with plenty of time spent getting up close and personal with habitats and creatures surrounding the A Rocha centre.

At the end of the week, the A Rocha team took the Masai participants out in a glass-bottom boat over a coral reef reserve where they conduct their conservation research. None of the participants had ever been in a boat, let alone swum in water. As herdsmen, living 700 km from the ocean, learning to swim is completely irrelevant and even going into water is seen as dangerous and irresponsible behaviour.

Therefore, when Jaap offered these dignified Masai land-lovers snorkels, fins and masks, they balked. But with a bit more coaxing the village headman and pastor showed his leadership by accepting Jaap’s offer.

After strapping a flotation device around his waist, he took the plunge, and proceeded to float face down over the coral reef. He floated so long, without coming up for air, that his fellow tribesmen began to grow restless. Just as they were arguing about who should go to the headman’s rescue, he shot his head from the water. His face broke into a wide smile as he shouted, ‘Halleluiah! God is truly amazing! You will not believe what is under there!’

His amazement at the beauty of what he had beheld was infectious and almost all the other participants went in as well, each emerging with his own wonder-struck expression.

The week came to a close and the participants left transformed. They left not only with a fuller biblical understanding of God’s love for all of creation and their responsibility to actively care for the Masai Mara, but with an awe-inspiring first-hand understanding of a world they never knew existed.

And because, as leaders of A Rocha National Organizations, we came together and heard this story we left transformed as well – transformed in the knowledge that creation care begins with wonder.

Creation care begins with wonder and is sustained by gathering in friendship, song, wisdom and the sharing of stories.
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Hate Mail and the Good Christian Woman


“Hate mail” and “good Christian woman” are not phrases usually found in the same sentence. Good Christian women certainly do not write hate mail, and heaven forbid they should act or speak in a way that warrants receiving it.

And yet, when a good Christian woman steps outside the bounds of her prescribed social or political boundaries, when she dares to speak or act without permission from those setting the status-quo agenda, watch out. And get ready for an avalanche of vitriol.

Katharine Hayhoe is one such woman. She receives up to 250 pieces of hate mail a day—some of it so obscene and threatening that the FBI has been called in to investigate.

Her offense?

She’s a Christian woman of a theologically and politically conservative stripe and she is a Ph.D. climate scientist. Her mission: convince fellow Christians of the realities and dangers of climate change, a mission that last year landed her on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” list.

Hayhoe is accomplishing her mission by presenting the irrefutable science in presentations across North America. She also is demonstrating how the proponents of climate change denial have purposefully targeted conservative Christians. It’s quite sinister, actually.....

Read the rest at Shelovesmagazine





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Becoming the Woman in the Mirror

Every time I look in the mirror I receive a jolt. Who is this woman staring at me through eyes marked by a spray of smile lines, with hair the colour of antiqued pewter? It’s not the signs of age that shock me—it’s the overall effect. The woman in the mirror looks mature in all senses of the word. She certainly doesn’t match the image I have carried of myself through most of my life—the image of someone young, a child even. Someone who giggles and speaks in a sing-song voice. Someone gentle and mistake-prone and completely lacking in authority and wisdom. 
But the grey hair and smile lines have started to dupe the outside world. Apparently, they think I have something to say, as evidenced by the number of invitations I am starting to receive to share “my wisdom” at conferences and gatherings...
Read the rest of this post (...how will it end!?!...) over at ShelovesMagazine

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