Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Yep, Gilead as in Balm in Gilead and as in all kinds of biblical references. So, why am I reading a book that oozes Christian scriptures from its pores? Because one of my dear friends who is revitalizing her Jewish roots recommended it to me – during our phone call when we were chuckling about my Chanukah wishes to her (in April when all of her other friends were wishing her good Passover!). So, after we talked about what I was doing for Christmas – (after all what is the point of friends if not to 1) accept you as you are; 2) join in with your absurdity and celebrate it as if it were the best thing since hot butter on popcorn!) So … anyway, after all that she said she was reading Gilead, and thought it was great.  And, I totally agree with her.

Gilead is fiction that read like autobiography, sort of. The book is written as a series of letters by Reverend John Ames to his very young son. The Reverend has just been diagnosed with angina, and does not expect to live much longer. His son is about seven and the Reverend is afraid he will have no memories of his father. So, the letters are the Reverends effort to share his life and to create a reservoir of memories for his son. 

The first half of the book complies the Reverend’s recollections of his own early life – adventures with his father and grandfather; slavery and abolition; war and pacificism; and his first love – their marriage, the birth of his first child, the death of his first wife and child. Then the letters shift to memories of meeting his Lila, the Reverend’s current wife and the mother of his son. There are wonderful sweet observations of the son by the father. The tenderness and love are a joy to read. And, there is the Reverend’s struggle with forgiveness as the son of his best friend returns to town after years of absence.

And, there are quotable lines. The book is rich with quotes you will want to remember and paraphrase … I am confident that I will find a great blessing [lesson] in this. … The full soul loathes a honey comb, but the starving soul relishes even the bitter things. … Material things are so vulnerable to the humiliations of decay. The book is rich with phrases and sentences like this.

The author, Marilynne Summers Robinson (1943) is an American novelist and essayist.

So, give Gilead a read. I did find it a balm as I move ever closer to retirement and find myself thinking about my own mortality. I would love to hear about your favorite quotes from the book if you give it a look?

Marilynne Robinson. 2004. Gilead. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York

Sheila’s Trifecta by Dorothy Van Soest

When I first started to read Sheila’s Trifecta  I couldn’t put it down. I found myself completely engaged with the characters in the book and I couldn’t wait to learn about their ongoing self discoveries. The book is not new, but I wanted it to be my second blog post because it everyone should know about it! Everyone should give it a read!

The author, Dorothy Van Soest is a political activist, social worker, professor and former dean of the school of social work at the University of Washington. She is deeply committed to working for social justice, peace and the celebration of cultural diversity. Her author’s bio notes that she maintains that personal and spiritual growth are essential for anyone engaged in social change efforts and that belief is clearly reflected in ‘Sheila’s Trifecta’ her first novel.

The novel’s opening epigraph is a quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (of death and dying fame): everything in life has purpose. There are not mistakes, no coincidences; all events are blessings give to us to learn from. This is the perfect opening, as the book begins with Sheila’s dying.  In death, Sheila is reunited with Sky and Gritty who call Sheila Spring. The three have been friend across multiple lives as together they are led in their spiritual progress and growth by their guide Suma. Suma helps them all, helps them each to ever deeper realizations that there indeed are no mistakes, no coincidences. As they review the events of each of their lives together they discover the blessings that were woven throughout their actions and experiences.

Dorothy describes the book as a self help novel, and it is. She concludes her introduction to the book with the hope that readers will find the book to be a damn good read, and it is.  The book is self published, but you can find it online in many of the major booksellers, it is even available as a kindle ebook.

It’s a fun, thought provoking, heartwarming read. I heartily recommend it to one and all!

Life after death? Reincarnation? what do you think!?

Dorothy Van  Soest.  2006. Sheila’s Trifecta. iUniverse, Inc.

The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance by Dorothee Soelle

First impressions matter. And so I thought for more than a minute about which should be the first book that I would write about here. I asked myself, the classic: if I were going to be stranded on an island and could have only one book, which would it be? Hmm … too hard. If I could have only a very few books, which would be first in the pile? Still hard, but I’m pretty sure, it would be Dorothee Soelle’s “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance”

This is not an easy reading book. But, I would say it is definitely worth the effort of learning a few new words, and it is absolutely worth the time to pause and ponder some new/different ideas. When I was in college I had a dear friend – Joe Gosse – who told me that the books that were the most important in his life, he would read only a few lines (at the most a page) a day. He said that gave him the time and space to really think about and to digest what the book has to say to him. Maybe “The Silent Cry” is that kind of book.

Dorothee Soelle (1929 – 2003) was a German liberation theologian.  In a biography of Soelle, Renate Wind describes her as a religious provocateur. I like that descriptor – a religious provocateur! In reading her books, I experience her as a feminist and maybe as a spiritual guide. She certainly was quite brilliant, and her words, thoughts and ideas in “Silent Cry” light a path to a more socially just world.

The opening epigram is a poem fragment, a question, from Rumi: Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?

Ah, yes. Why indeed. In this book, Soelle does her best to wake us up to the love, to the mysticism that can – and should – found religion and that can inspire work for social justice.  Mystics, she tells us, proclaim a message about compassion and justice – a message about the meaning, purpose and place of love in creation and in relationship.

The Greek word for reading means to have renewed cognition, to re-cognize!

As I read this book, I found myself inspired to write

Listen in the thundering silence

Hear the silent cry

The wind sweeps across my being

Echoing in the aching vacuum

You once filled with your grace

The grace of your light.

It’s just that kind of book!

Soelle asserts that we are all mystics. She talks about ecstasy and invites us all along on the journey as she explores the places of mystical experience: nature, eroticism, suffering, community, and joy! She carefully and evocatively explores mysticism as resistance considering aspects of life as if we lived in a liberated world; ego and ego-lessness; possession and possessionlessness; violence and nonviolence; concluding with reflections on a mysticism of liberation.

A few of my favorite words & ideas from the book: revolutionary patience; attentiveness; the conduct of life as a sacrament; compassion; panerotic power; stages of the journey: be amazed, let go, resist; to live sunder warumbe – without a why or a wherefore. Sunder warumbe! That is a phrase that has resonated with me since I first read the book. It reminds me of the zen ‘wu wei – doing without doing, natural action. So many of the ideas within this book are evocative, they evoke other thoughts and ideas as you read. This book is a luxurious invitation to love and liberation. Ah – this is a book I am going to re-read! Today.

Mysticism, activism and social justice? what’s your experience? how much of the same cloth do you find them to be?

Dorothee Soelle. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Augsburg Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN