Relevant Obscurity in 2019

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2018 was a veritable reading bust for me. Health and personal challenges left me lethargic in writing up books from the beginning of the year. Frankly, I almost gave up the ghost with Relevant Obscurity…

I am away for the holidays letting my mind ramble as I explore. I am seeing places in my personal  life where I feel a similar lethargy and places I feel somewhat constricted. My ramblings have shown me this same constriction has bled into my blogging life by what I post and what I leave out.

I started Relevant Obscurity 3 1/2 years ago to concentrate on the classics. But reading reviews of other bloggers has opened me up to wider reading interests and I want to go with that flow, instead of sticking with self-imposed limitations.

Here is my projected approach to reading and writing in 2019:

  • Biographies. Some writers have particularly interested me during these 3 1/2 years and I want to know more about them, including Edith Wharton, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Madeleine L’Engle and CS Lewis
  • The 19th and early 20th centuries. My favorite time period, which seems to be a hot topic in monographs these days of people and events. Yes, more nonfiction
  • Series and major works. I want to complete the Chronicles of Narnia, write about LM Montgomery’s Emily series (why isn’t Emily as well-known as Anne?), finish Henry James’s major work and read as much of Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction as possible
  • Contemporary fiction. “Yes, Laurie, step into the world of 21st century contemporary fiction.” So far it hasn’t hurt
  • Plays and poetry. I am neglecting these by concentrating mostly on novels
  • Spanish-speaking countries. Last winter I posted about starting German with the Babbel app. It soon became apparent that I could actually learn a language with this program, so I switched to Spanish. There is logic in there somewhere, but it’s a long story! I have become obsessed with Spanish creating my own reading challenge of Spanish literature, history and culture. And I dream about an adventure to Chile or Spain…

Book challenges will be less in 2019, but I am happy to continue with Back to the Classics, the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Roof Beam Reader’s TBR, the Classics Club and Library Love, because they are fun and helpful. One new challenge I am undertaking is The World at War Reading Challenge. I am also looking forward to the Wales Readathon in March and RIP in the Fall.

We’ll see what actually transpires this year, but I remain positive.

Wishing everyone a fulfilling 2019!

 

Blogging the Spirit-Soul of Earth

Florespeak

 

Soul of Earth, sanctify me.
Body of Earth, save me.
Blood of Earth, fill me with love.
Water from Earth’s side, wash me.
Passion of Earth, strengthen me.
Resurrection of Earth, empower me.
Good Earth, hear me.
Within your wounds, hide me.
Never let me be separated from you.
From the power of evil, protect me.
At the hour of my death, call me
That with your living ones I may thank you
For all eternity. Amen.
Adapted by Jane Pellowski, from Anima Christi

National Poetry Month, James Weldon Johnson’s, The Creation (1927)

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I inherited my grandparent’s library. Many of the books have their signatures and a date and in a few volumes one has gifted it to the other with “Love, Eli” or “Love, Lorraine.” I cherish these.

Every once in a while when I am looking for something to read or rearranging shelves aIMG_5087 title strikes me that I missed or hadn’t felt a pull to in the past. As I looked for something to end National Poetry Month I found this book and a piece that made me pause. I read it all the way through and frankly was sobbing at the end.

In the Hebrew Bible, I love the first chapter of Genesis and the way God is described making the world. Johnson takes those first verses and amplifies the personification of God, of God’s love for his Creation and the care and consideration of what he made and how he exclaimed, “That’s good!”

Johnson’s words affect me specifically because I have always seen Nature as God Incarnate. And in modern America we are killing off Nature, God’s Creation,…well, that’s a post for another time…I am sure these feelings of mine contributed to my reaction.

When you find someone else’s words that speak so deeply and directly to you it is a joy. This is long. Skim if you want, but it’s worth reading all the way through.

 
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The Creation

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.      Amen.

jwjohnson

To learn more about James Weldon Johnson, you can read his biography at the Poetry Foundation website.

 

______________________
The Book of American Negro Poetry. Edited by James Weldon Johnson. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922, 117.

#BloggingTheSpirit

“I thank You God for most this amazing day…” e e cummings

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

ee cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), the man of lower case letters and eccentric punctuation. The word order in his poems, too, is different: personal, idiosyncratic, experimental.

This poem sings the spirit of nature for me, although I didn’t understand it all until I came across a recording of the man himself reading it. His intonation, the breaks and pauses…How many times does it happen that one can hear a classic poem read by the poet long dead in his own voice?

 

 

#BloggingtheSpirit

Ceremonials of Common Days, Abbie Graham (1923)

Every letter is something of a miracle. A soul dictates its thoughts. Queer markings appear on a piece of paper. The paper is sealed and stamped. Other signs are placed on the outer covering. The little packet is intrusted [sic] to utter strangers. It arrives. It is translated by another soul. It may transform a day–those hieroglyphics of a soul.

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This book-find was providential. I stumbled upon it at the library used book department.

It is a short book by an author I’d never heard of, but just a glance through the pages showed me not just a kindred spirit, but a mentor, a way-shower who teaches me to revel in the sacredness of mundane daily life. This is a spiritual book without theology or sectarian divides, celebrating ordinary aspects of the daily round from the playful to the profound. As such, Graham is quick to define charged words so as not to be misinterpreted:

Soul and Heaven will have no philosophical nor theological connotation. Soul will be used as a symbol to represent the most important part of a person, the part that is admitted into Heaven. Heaven will refer to the place we think of when we think very quickly, before we have the opportunity to consult any second-hand information. A Ceremonial may be interpreted as a spiritual obeisance to the created beauty of the world.

The word Ceremonial as Graham uses it is something you create either in your mind while waiting for an appointment or on the train or a physical act you do alone or for someone. A Ceremonial is a way of thanking, acknowledging, of gratitude. Her words are simple, but deep and descriptive.

Divided into four sections corresponding to the four seasons, Graham starts with Winter and Christmas Eve when “Love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words…The love that through the year is silenced by ‘busy-ness’ is expressed in terms of tangible beauty. Christmas Eve is the Ceremonial of Gifts, of gifts that are given to explain something which the heart cannot say.”

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Graham leaves space to create your own ceremonials.

In Spring she celebrates The Day of the First Fruits of My Garden. “It is a song of joy for created things—joy that a seed planted in the ground will bring forth its fruit in its season; that a dream intrusted [sic] to the soil of a human heart will bring forth its harvest of an hundred fold.”

In the Spring there are also Vagabond Rites that take place on trains, walks through town, pilgrimages to a favorite orange orchard. The “pretentious rites” are those of train travel that involve overnights where the newness of views out the window, food prepared differently, the company of strangers is a Ceremonial that “loosens up tightened soil and conserves wonder.”

Graham writes with touching tenderness about writing letters on New Year’s Eve, the kindness of Pullman car porters, of coffee, fountain pens and the desire to free all the balloons from the balloon man, because they belong to the sky.

In Summer, there is the Liturgy of Common Things like coffee, for instance.

The Coffee Ceremonial is observed at breakfast following the first night of camping out in summer. The only requirement is that there must be enough and to spare…Good coffee is good, not because of blends or grades but because of sociability and leisure. The best coffee is Sunday morning coffee, or camp coffee, or afternoon coffee, or after-dinner coffee, or coffee which is drunk on some such unhurried social occasion. The Ceremonial of Coffee is, therefore, a Ceremonial of Comradeship.

In Summer, there is also the Ceremonial of Hotel Stationary, made possible by the hotel management who also gives you “pen, ink, blotters and mail box.”

All year round there is the Ceremonial of Sundays, called specifically, The Festival of Beauty, of Loved Things, of Leisure, and of Worship.

I reserve for it whatever I most enjoy—flowers, blue china at breakfast, books, important letters, special walks, colored candles at supper and waffles, pine incense and colored flames in my fire. On Sunday I would not do any work, not say nor think nor do unworthy things. I may this day announce to the people who I like the fact that I do like them.

Autumn brings Thanksgiving and the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People, not necessarily people she knows well, but the anonymous children she passes who play in the street, shop owners, porters on trains, post office employees who make letter-writing possible, musicians, nurses—

for those whom I know only through the printed page, for those who have designed certain buildings and parks and monuments, who have constructed roads, for those who sit in offices and plan for the well-being of the world, for the people around the world who work that I may have the necessities of life.

For Thanksgiving is an articulate season, a time for expressing the unspoken things of the heart. The Ceremonial of Being Glad for People was the initial ceremonial. Because of it the other ceremonials were made necessary.

The end of Autumn brings her full-circle when it is time for the first fire, which marks winter. “The Ceremonial of My First Fire, belongs to the gods…All the gods who have ever been worshiped through the medium of fire are summoned to this Festival of Fire. (my little wood fire) is no longer an ordinary receptacle for burning wood, it is consecrated with a loveliness that shall make it worthy of the comradeship of a winter.”

Ceremonials of Common Days though published in 1923, reminds me of what I call today’s ‘gratitude movement,’ a daily practice of declaring joy and thankfulness for the ordinary bounty of our lives. I like this perspective, because I think the ordinary and the mundane are underrated. Little miracles occur everyday, but we step over them, ignore or see past them, because we expect something bigger. I love that Graham reminds me that my small little life is bigger than I realize and to realize that is itself a miracle!

Have you ever come across something—a book, a painting, some music that affected you to the extent that it reflected your desire for something deeper or revealed another way of finding meaning in your life at a time when you were vulnerable or at a crossroad?

___________

My Edition
Title: Ceremonials of Common Days
Author: Abbie Graham
Publisher: The Womans Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1923
Pages: 97
Summary

For Blogging the Spirit, #BloggingTheSpirit

 

Blogging the Spirit: When Others’ Words are Sacred

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Everyday is a renewal,
Every morning the daily miracle.
This joy you feel is life.
Gertrude Stein

 

When I say I connect to God in Nature, it sounds so trite.

And so unoriginal. Even though it is true.

I am not very good at articulating what I mean, because when I try I sound so superficial.

As I am a reader I can’t help but be inspired by words, whether they are officially-sanctioned liturgy and sacred writings or the personal musings of well-known writers and other artists or someone like me. I drink them in and am inspired. And connected.

I chose just a few examples to share. I really ‘feel’ these and I hope you will, too.

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Recently, a friend pointed me to the writings of Reb Nachman of Breslov. Admittedly, I had stereotyped people like this as being so different than me, what could we possibly have in common? Well, a lot, as it turns out. According to tradition, Reb Nachman often went into the fields and meadows to pray and be alone with God.

Grant me the ability to be alone;
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
Among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things
And there may I be alone,
And enter into prayer
To talk with the one that I belong to.

—Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) was a Hasidic master and religious thinker and a great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.

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In the Episcopal Church, short topical prayers can be inserted into the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayers.

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church

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Mary Austin (1869-1934) wrote beautifully of the deserts and mountains of the High Sierras.

I rise, facing East,
I am asking toward the light,
I am asking that my day
Shall be beautiful with light.
I am asking that the place
Where my feet are shall be light,
That as far as I can see
I shall follow it aright.
I am asking for the courage
To go forward through the shadow,
I am asking toward the light!

—Mary Austin was an early nature writer of the American southwest. The Land of Little Rain (1903) is a classic on the animals, people and plant life of the High Sierras and the Mojave desert of Southern California.

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In this prayer, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) writes about reverence for the life of animals. I find this particularly emotive and frankly, I wish everyone felt this way…

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

—Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher/theologian won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

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Wendell Barry (1934-) writes often about his connection to nature and on environmental issues. His poems are personal, but so relatable.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—Wendell Berry is a well-known environmentalist and writer.

Are you inspired by poems or passages that are similar? I would love to know about them!

Connecting Post for #BloggingtheSpirit

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Hello! Welcome to Blogging the Spirit.

Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.

Thank you for participating!

~Laurie

October’s Blogging the Spirit

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Hi All,

I just want to make mention that this month’s Blogging the Spirit will be on the 29th.

Everyone is welcome to share through a blog post, a Tweet, an Insta or wherever your social media lives on any aspect of what inspires your connection to God/Source/Nature/People.

Books, music, art, film, photography, poems, a liturgical passage, a personal reflection. You decide!

Use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you. You can also come to this blog on that day and leave the url in the comments of the post I will put up. Go here for more information.

See you on the 29th!