Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Reversing Course for New Perspective

Most of the trails we follow are "in and out." We walk in, there may be a loop, but then we follow the initial trail back out. It isn't unusual that we follow the trail in and then turn around and follow the same back out. 

Have you ever read a book that was ... a bit of a slog, but as you glanced back you kept finding gems? 

In and out trails can be like that.

A number of years ago I read The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I really struggled with it, I found it a challenging, to say the least, read and never truly enjoyed actively reading it. I was thrilled to finish it, and, I think, glad to have read it.  What I found I was constantly flipping back in the book to recapture an idea or a thought, and, there, I found the gems.  It was never on the first time that they really struck me, but when I had context from further on and turned back to them that I really saw what was there.

Walking an in and out trail is like that. The perspective switch opens our eyes to seeing better even things we noticed before.  On Saturday - and I wish I had taken pictures, now - We saw some mushrooms in a median type section. One side was super muddy so another way around was forged and the area between remained wild.  Jason saw the mushrooms on our way in and pointed to them, but they were significantly more clearly seen going in the other direction. It wasn't just that I knew they were there, rather they were clearer and more obvious.

But, it also opens our eyes to see things we didn't see at all before.  Either they were hidden behind a tree or rock or some barrier and now are revealed by going the other direction, or the familiarity of the obvious can be seen past to more hidden glories. 

Sometimes going forward is aided, strengthened, better enjoyed by reversing course and gaining new perspective.  

Friday, July 31, 2020

Review: I'd Rather Be Reading

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading LifeI'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly this is a 3.5-3.75 star. I did enjoy this read. I laughed often, I felt a kinship often. Anne talks of the idea of the reader and how the reader lives her life; how we live books. It's light and easy and short, quick essays but for some reason I always felt like I would rather be reading ... but maybe something else. A bit of a guilty pleasure, a bit of candied apple - enjoyable, some substance, a lot of sugar.

View all my reviews You know it's a good day when you finish 2 books and get 16000 steps.

Book Review: When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh

When in Rome (Roderick Alleyn, #26)When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two years and six days later, after at least 2 restarts, I've finished.

It isn't that I didn't want to read it, or that I wasn't enjoying it, rather it wasn't a priority and I wasn't entirely engaged. It would fall down below other books and then I'd realize it had been months since I read any of it. Even this final re-start which began on June 30, or thereabout, took a while to get going and I read the final two chapters this afternoon.

To some extent, the jargon is dated and some of the implied conversations that made sense in context in the 1970s did so less sense today. This made reading it more effort than I generally put to a mystery. I had to carefully read each word and do some deciphering to carry on with the story and the plot. But then, I read most of the end in a sitting because I had to know. It took a while for the plot to develop to that state.

This is an improbable cast of characters thrown together on a tour of Rome. Why they registered for this tour is a question that matters to the outcome of the plot. Some have motive - some have none - for a crime against a fellow.

(view spoiler)

Perhaps not the best entree into reading Marsh, but the one I had at hand. I wouldn't discount another if it fell into my lap.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Hide and Seek

When we first started walking in the late winter, all was brown - except when it was white with snow.  Variation on the theme of brown was cause for notice and celebration. When the harbinger of spring and ramps were out and noticeable, they were noticeable specifically because all else was sameness. 

But as the green filled in, rising from the floor to eye level to canopy, the variations became harder to separate in sight.  

We have a harder time seeing the trees for the forest.

Often, we find specific plants and flowers in patches. Here is a large group of trillium, there a bunch of Virginia Bluebells, yet a patch of goldenseal up here.  But those patches are rarely an unadulterated grouping of one flower; there are other beauties to see mixed in: fungus, moss, lichen, another wildflower or more. Sometimes patches overlap patches.

Here's the thing. I can see, sort of, the expanse. I can see individual flowers, one, maybe two, at a time within the expanse of the patch. My ability to attend is limited.

God's ability to attend is unlimited. As a part of his omnipresence and omniscience, he can see each and every flower individually as it sprouts, grows, matures, and even dies. He can glory in their beauty even when they are unseen by human eyes, hidden on a hill for just his own pleasure. 

But. God doesn't have the joy of the find. We have been given a gift in our limitation, we can be going along and enjoying one Virginia Bluebell

only to turn the corner and -surprise!- find a patch of them intermingled with trillium and may apples. 

The camera struggles with "patches" more than my eyes.

In many ways, the finding is the fun. The seeing, yes, but the finding is a joy.

This finding isn't just in flowers, but even in our relationships with people. There is great joy in finding the right community, a good friend, a common interest.

Better yet, God promises that when we seek Him, we will find  him when we seek Him with our hearts. He will be found by us.  He also tells us that he will go out to seek and save the lost sheep (cf the lost Adam?) ... but it isn't because He doesn't know where to find us. 

And that is true, eternal joy for a finite people. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and ArtWalking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty years ago when I first read this book, I loved it. Admittedly I loved the feel, the atmosphere of it, but struggled more with the ideas and ideals. I didn't have the relational background for many of the ideas in it, so the style and general consciousness was enough.

I've been intending to re-read it for a number of years and finally took the time.

Perfect timing.

The style and the ideas came into more overlap for me on this second reading. I could love both. Her insistence that Christians are artists and that Art - good art - is an expression of faith (even if not understood by the artist himself) is incredibly satisfying and strengthening. She insists that disciplined effort, that listening to the work, that revision, that vulnerability (even unto death) are all necessary for good art.

I really loved the idea of finding "cosmos from the chaos" the artist sees, seeks, attends to what is not immediately obvious in the overwhelm. As the Spirit hovered over the chaos and brought forth creation, so artists look for the solid ground in a world that is ever washing over and around them to bring order. Yes.

There are so many concepts here - naming, wholeness, trust, probabilities, paradox, love. It would be nearly impossible to collect them and share them. I can only share the book and say, "Read this. Take up your work." The best review would be to practice the discipline in some art.

I don't plan on waiting another 20 years before a re-read.

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The irony that I listened to this through shell-shaped ear buds is not lost on me. Nor is the fact that I listened mostly while walking in the out of doors (and some while cleaning). Nor that Tim Robbin's soothing tone could be compared to a constant drone that both numbs and distracts from the world around. In many ways, I could have wished for a different narrator.

The numbing of a world through the drone of a screen, video, advertising, jingles, radio, constant noise our our F*R*I*E*N*D*S being on a TV screen and our identification with their struggles. Of our Facebook "walls" and Twitter "Feed" and our dependence on screens but not ideas are all ponderable offenses following a reading of this masterful book. Even in my earbuds by a reader I don't prefer.

Books here, are carriers. Carriers of culture and ideas. Of danger because they make you think, ponder, consider, change - but not just be happy and entertained.

I was shocked when searching for Faber's quote about what culture needs and is missing that so many questions or statements were about the quality of information as the first key. It wasn't the quality of information at all - or at least in the main. It was quality. Books, education, culture had quality - texture, nuance, ideas that could be informative but could also be formative.

The second item on Faber's list was, I was shocked to hear, leisure time to be with ideas to rest, to receive them as C.S. Lewis and Josef Pieper might say.

The third item was the ability and freedom to act on those ideas. The fire chief's misuse of ideas is one of the dangers of that freedom, but it is a freedom nonetheless.

The culture at large in F-451 has none of those things. They have limited access to quality. They have all entertainment, no leisure. Bradbury regularly speaks of "circuses" which I suppose is to make you think of ancient Roman "bread and circuses" food and entertainment to sate and calm the public. Here, there is no respite from the constant din of words and action and the excitement of driving fast through billboards designed to be read at high speed and the total self surrounding, immersion in yelling, attention drawing antics in their parlor screens. Finally, there is no way to act on ideas at all. Everything is scripted and anyone who is different - is different. Clarisse is interested in discussion and nature and ideas; she's an odd duck and it is noted and disapproved of and unmourned at her death.

Destruction is entertainment, cancellation is necessary for emotional stability. "Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile delinquents." says Faber. And yet Bradbury gives us the hope of the Phoenix bursting forth from the ashes. Granger, another displaced professor, explains to Montag that history is full of burning down and pulling out of the ash heap. As a family, we were listening to a series of lectures on Greek Myth which mentioned one between the Trojan War and Homer's compositions; we know of the time when the Irish Saved Civilization; China's badly named "Cultural Revolution"; and we think of the book burning under the Nazi regime. Ideas will resurface, can we save culture through knowing stories and the thoughts of the ages?

Here is Bradbury's premise. It isn't the destruction of the books exactly that he laments, but what is embodied therein and how we can embody that quality in ourselves. How we can share ideas with others. How we can conjecture and discuss. How we can even dispute and disagree. The microfilm didn't work, the great books had to be embodied in people because they were safer than carrying a book around.

Bradbury is decrying the same-ness of everyone singing the same advertising jingle at the same time on the subway, of the lack of the individual who wrestles with ideas, who drinks a beer with his neighbor on the front porch and agrees to disagree - because he is free to do so. The flattening of society into non-identity purposely through a constant lowest denominator input is what causes the burning.

The antidote:

"Stuff your eyes with wonder," he said, "live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."

Be a free people.

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Making trail friends

We've been taking three walks each day just out the front door and around our neighborhood. The dog is a fan.  

When Jason came home, we sort of fell into a walk before work, a walk with the kids at lunchtime, and a lunch after work. He no longer has an hour and a half of commuting per day and, I have to say, we love having him home and creating liturgies for our day is only part of it. 

We have this little patch of woods along a creek ravine in our neighborhood with a gravel trail through it.The part we walk through is probably all of 2, maybe 3, acres and the trail is skinny, down the middle. You can see houses on either side, but we found all kinds of spring flowers and, now in July, fungus along the path.  Our mile-long door to door walks take us along this pathway.

Some of the flowers we saw just in our woods were dutchman's breeches, spring beauties, may apples, blood roots, rue anemone, and more.  It was exciting to see something new almost every walk before the tree canopy filled in.  It was interesting to watch the green start at the ground and slowly move upward until the canopy was filled. There were daily - and sometimes hourly - changes to observe.

We got used to asking oursevles, "what is that?" One thing we asked ourselves this about was an asparagus looking post. It was clearly a plant, but just one stalk shooting upward.

Not many days later, we could tell: Jack-in-the-Pulpit! Right along the path. 

Obviously, these pictures are of different ones, but we did enjoy following one Jack through his maturity. We looked for him every walk, every day. We made friends.

But, getting to know "our" Jack meant we were able to see other Jacks in other Pulpits in other woods. And in our woods. Most of them were tucked back behind in the under tree brush and leaves. There were at least 4 others that we found in the little woods along our path.  One night Jason and I went to another park entirely and had a similar experience to the trout lilies in the previous post - there were so many that we almost couldn't point them all out.  Because we knew our Jack, we knew others nearly instinctively.

Eventually we were able to recognize the leaves once the pulpit was no more.  It wasn't through a lot of effort - I never drew him in my nature journal, for example, it was simply stopping to observe and know a friend daily. 

There is something about the familiar. About consistency. Regularly visiting the same trail or path matters.  Karen Glass, in her book In Vital Harmony, emphasizes Charlotte Mason's emphasis on the science of relations, "The first step in forming relations is to become personally acquainted with something concrete--maple trees or tulips or George Washington or a painting by Leonardo DaVinci."  and "forming relationships--learning to care about many things--is the object of education." To do that, we have to put our students and, perhaps more importantly ourselves, in a position to observe and relate. To wonder. 

Once we know, we see it everywhere.

I've been reading Madeleine L'Engle's seminal work Walking on Water and she mentions this idea - also found in Mason's writing. 

L'Engle (pg 172, parenthetical aside mine):
In psychology class in college I remember the professor telling us that if we suddenly become interested in, say, mitochondria, we will come across articles on mitochondria in newspapers and magazines; they will appear to be in the news everywhere. But, if it were not for our particular interest (ahem - relationship), we would not have noticed the articles or turned on the television programs. 

Mason (vol 1 pg 173-4):

We know from our own experience that, let our attention be forcibly drawn to some public character, some startling theory, and for days after we are continually hearing or reading matter which bears on this one subject, just as if all the world were thinking about what occupies our thoughts: the fact being, that the new idea we have received is in the act of growth, and is reaching out after its appropriate food. This process of feeding goes on with peculiar avidity in childhood, and the growth of an idea in the child is proportionably rapid.
Ideas call out to ideas, whether in finding and recognizing Jacks-in-the-pulpit or noticing that our books are talking about the same things and to one another. We build a relationship with ideas, between ideas, between people and ideas, between God and ideas and suddenly find

" ... that all knowledge is connected. Miss Mason wanted us to apprehend that all knowledge is joined by a unity of "the relations which bind all things to all other things." " (Glass, 27)

Oh, that the Lord created such a funny flower as a Jack-in-the-pulpit and that leads to a meditation on Him and how he created such a funny creature as a human, in His image, who relates to flower, other people, and the divine King of the Universe. There is a unity centered in Christ who created and upholds all things.

That's why we make trail friends.