Ceremonials of Common Days is Reprinted!

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The new and the old

 

This collection of the Ceremonials of a Year is an Anthology of the Wonder of Common Days. The Ceremonials of a year are accumulative; they can never be concluded, as long as one lives on earth. A Ceremonial may be interpreted as a spiritual obeisance to the created beauty of the world. From the Forward

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A few months ago I was contacted by a woman named Michele Lamond who wanted to reprint Abbie Graham’s Ceremonials of Common Days. Originally published in 1923 it was due to come into the public domain and she wanted to use a quote from one of my posts on the back of the reprinted edition. I was only too happy to give permission and was thrilled that this beloved book would now be widely available.

Having just received the new edition I am happy with the more modern format and engaging graphics.

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The book celebrates simple loves of daily life as the seasons turn: lighting the first fire of winter; celebrating ink and letter-writing as a means of “conquering distances;” the Coffee Ceremonial that acknowledges this “gregarious beverage” which Graham observes in the morning that follows the first night of camping; and the Ceremonial of the Roads–in praise of rambling–in which Graham quotes Thoreau; and many more ways of honoring ordinary life. There is a page at the end of each season for readers to create their own ceremonials.

On Thanksgiving Day I celebrate the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People. A year is a lean year or a year of plenty in proportion to the poverty or richness of its fellowships….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. From Autumn

Revealing a kind of quiet bygone age of simple observation, generosity to others and a slower pace of life, yet Graham calls for being fully engaged in a world where the mundane is not taken for granted, but celebrated in grand style.

The holidays are coming and I say, “Celebrate the Ceremonial of the Stocking Stuffer!”

Available from:
Michele Lamond, Proprietor
NelliesNotecards.com
Venice, Florida

Happy Thanksgiving to Friends everywhere…

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Dead

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I have posted excerpts from Abbie Graham’s, Ceremonials of Common Days before.

This little book is almost a century old, and while not overtly religious is one of the most spiritually healing books I own. Graham is not well-known. I had never heard of her when I plucked this book on a whim at a library book sale. Without that happy chance, I am certain I’d go through my life never knowing her. This book that calms me, inspires me, provokes my creativity and gives me hope in the dark, I almost passed by.

At this time of the year, Halloween/All Saints/All Souls/Dia de los Muertos, when the recently dead and the ancestors call out for remembrance, Graham has this to say to me. I hope it is meaningful all around.

 

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When the kingdoms of the world have passed before me, I close my eyes that I may perceive that mightier kingdom, the kingdom of the spirit. I re-see people in terms of spiritual values.

I see people in human forms and all of the material creation as scaffolding for the spirit. When the human spirit is ready to be launched on the infinite seas, the scaffolding will be thrown aside and the spirit will slip out to sea, unencumbered, yet grateful it will be for the things of the earth that prepared it for its long voyage. All things will be hallowed that helped to shape it for that eternal launching.

Sacred, for me, will be the western prairies, the mountain streams, the lake paths, the sunrises seen above neighboring chimneys, the quiet walks along a village street, the gardens, the fragrance of old-fashioned flowers, the moonlight falling in my room, and rain at night with trees blowing.

How much these things and others shall have shaped my spirit, I shall not know, but of their daily fashioning I am aware. As my spirit, dominant and eternally adventurous, shall enter the vast seas, I shall not forget the sacramental service of the scaffolding of earth.

To all the newly departed, I say, “Bon Voyage!”

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Book Notes #2: The Chronicles of Narnia, Books 3-5

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Prince Caspian

The Pevensie children are called back to Narnia a year after they come back through the wardrobe. This time they are at a train station on their way to boarding school when suddenly they feel a familiar physical pull and find themselves on a deserted island they soon realize is Cair Paravel where they ruled Narnia as kings and queens. They have been summoned to help Prince Caspian regain his rightful place as King of Narnia.

There is a lot of magic in this one and some beautiful passages that describe the reawakening of the talking animals and trees of Old Narnia who were silenced when Prince Caspian’s ancestors, the Telmars, conquered the land.

Another intriguing aspect of this book is that air and breath take on magical properties. The air makes the children appear to be older, says the narrator, “I think I have explained before how Narnia was altering them. Even Lucy was by now…only one third of a little girl going to boarding school the first time, and two-thirds of Queen Lucy of Narnia.” And Aslan breathes into Edmund before he is sent into enemy territory and “a kind of greatness hung about him.” This reminds me of Genesis when God brought Adam to life through His breath.

While I liked many passages in this book and I liked the book overall compared to The Horse and his Boy, the thought occurred to me after I finished it if all the Narnia books have this same basic theme: a threatened Narnia and someone(s) to the rescue? That sounds tedious.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

But I am pressing on and in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which happily has a different theme. Prince Caspian sets out on a sea voyage (add to your ‘sea cruise’ series, Lizzie?!!) to discover the fate and where possible, avenge the seven lords that were banished from Narnia by the Prince’s evil uncle with the help of King Edmund and Queen Lucy and their tiresome cousin Eustace. During a sequence of events though, Eustace becomes a dragon and that section right there completely captured my imagination! But what is that about? Is there an explanation further along? I hope so.

So far, I am finding that these books alternate between the childish and the profound; sometimes I feel like I am reading passages my 10 year-old self would have loved and then come upon a section with images so deep I want to pause and reflect.

The Horse and His Boy

Just a note on The Horse and his Boy. I am not sure this book has aged well. I found much of the writing uncomfortably racist in its portrayal of the Calormen, who are easily seen as Middle Eastern, because Lewis has portrayed them through a very stereotyped lens. I am purposely not reading any reviews or criticism of the Narnia books until after I finish the series, so I don’t know if this reaction is an obvious one for others and whether Lewis has been criticized for it.

Having said that, I feel very strongly, in general, about historical context when it comes to criticizing points of view that are no longer acceptable. While the racism (homophobia, sexism, etc.) should be called out that does not mean the author, the book—or whatever medium—should be banned or thrown out only because during the time it was written people held these points of view; unless, of course, the whole premise or tone of the book is destructive, which is another matter.

At this time in human history, we are sensitive to the way our words heal or destroy and that is a good thing. But it makes our relationship with the past a bit tricky.

Reading Chronologically vs. by Publication Date

As an aside, when I reviewed The Magician and his Nephew, I did not like it very much; I don’t think I quite understood it. I should not have read it first, but in my series of books published by HarperCollins all the books are published chronologically and not by original publishing date. I keep thinking about this book and realize I like it more and more. I think it will make more sense in the context of publication, so I am going to reread when it’s ‘turn’ comes up.

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BookNotes are short reviews of books that have made an impression, but time constraints do not allow a full record of the titles.

Mary Oliver, September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, talking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. —from “When Death Comes”

 

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Mary Oliver died today.

Poet of nature, of spirituality; she loved all life.

Now she is with all of her beloveds…the two- and four-leggeds, the winged ones, the fishy furry slithery ones, the ones who grow tall from the forest floor their branches a shelter to the spidery predatory squirrelly ones.

Oliver’s death is an uncommon experience for me, since most of my favorite authors are classics writers and long dead! I don’t have to mourn the sudden silencing of their voice as I have to do now. But words live on and become more treasured than when uttered the first time. In 2017, I reviewed her latest collection of essays, called Upstream.

Looking for one of her works for this moment is impossible. There is never just one. So this:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? —“The Summer Day”

And this:

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
—”At Blackwater Pond”

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I don’t have a Name for God…Why I call myself a Pagan

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In Wildness is the preservation of the world. Thoreau

 

I say the word God. I thank God. I get mad at God. I question God.

But I don’t have an image of what or to whom I am talking. No image forms in my mind’s eye. I don’t see Jesus or an old bearded man. I don’t see a God or Goddess. God, for me, is an experience or a feeling of connection to the generative force in the Universe. It’s that present something that continually creates and moves forward all life.

Growing up in an interfaith secular home meant holidays were celebrated in their commercial forms: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Hanukkah gelt. God didn’t enter into it. As a young adult, I tried to understand or reconcile my multifaith background through rites and rituals, through behaviors so that I might “feel Him.” I was mystified by others in pews and classrooms who totally got this, felt this and for whom through all the tenets and dogma, God was real. I wanted that, too. I wanted that so much I lied to them and myself hoping that the saying, “fake it till you make it” might actually work.img_5320

But the moment I stepped on a trail or looked up into a blue cloudless sky at a hawk soaring elegantly on thermals or noticed the scent of pine—God made sense to me.

I fought this desire to find God in Nature for a long time. It seemed trite, “I find God in Nature!” I wasn’t a hippie or a mountain man. I was just a gal in the city who couldn’t seem to get God the way my peers did.

For several years after discovering Wicca and other Pagan paths, I joined groups still trying hard to feel what other folks were feeling, this time about Gods, moon phases, the seasons and what was expressed in the holidays of the Wiccan year. I loved the ceremonies marking the equinoxes and solstices and the celebrations of the full moon. But finding a pantheon eluded me and the philosophies seemed complicated. Maybe I was just too lazy to commit to the beliefs of any religion if all I needed in order to find and experience God was to lie on a boulder in the sun with a lizard.

What do you call this?

But this idea that what I am experiencing is God, still doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what I am participating in if I don’t feel it’s the God of Judeo-Christianity or the Gods of the Witches. My experiences in Nature sunning myself on a boulder on a mountain in the San Gabriel’s with a lizard as a companion seem bigger than religion and God as I understand them. Turning my head, eye to eye with Lizzy basking together in the heat of the day is a connection that is so profound to me and greater than a similar experience with a human being. It is two very different species meeting and having the same experience with the life-giving rays of the sun. The word God feels too small here and religion doesn’t have room for this. Except, it should….

We are “starstuff”

cosmosI am old enough to remember Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, scientist, author and miniseries star. When “Cosmos” came out most people I knew were riveted. No one had ever explained the universe and the night sky to regular folks in lay terms before. Sagan was personable, easy to understand, not patronizing and above all made us feel closer to the sky, as if it was part of our neighborhood.

One of his most famous concepts had a big effect, “we are starstuff.” We are part of the beginning of the Universe when it exploded into bits, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Further, he said, “if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” And that means when we look up into the night sky we see our relatives.

The Genesis account of Creation is, to me, right there with it. God as the Big Bang calling all Creation into being, breathing life into the first human means we are all related as well. In both cases we were created/have a Creator who connects us past, present, future. Whether we look across the sky to the bounty of stars or across a room full of people we are looking at our cousins, because all life is the incarnation of our Creator. Therefore, it is not a stretch or a fantasy to feel connected to God in Nature any less than we do with blood relatives.

From starstuff we get mountains, the sea, trees and bugs and coyotes; we get the planet Jupiter, a kitten and Grandma Sadie. When we bask in the healing rays of the sun oimg_4741 - copyr watch the tides forming from the pull of the moon we feel our kin. Genesis gives us this same connection. We are not separate to do with the Earth as we please without repercussions. Modern Pagans get it. Indigenous peoples get it. This perspective is fundamental to the way we treat our non-human relatives, including this planet, so it is ironic that the Judeo-Christian establishment condemns this as Nature-worship, as if worshiping, loving, respecting, seeing Nature as holy and sacred should be considered blasphemy!

Being Pagan gives me a perspective of myself in the Universe that traditional religions are blind to. They have turned animals, plants and the land of the Garden into resources; they have turned them into something to USE, instead of seeing them existing for their OWN sakes. But….it IS in their holy books to see Nature as sacred. And when that happens it will heal the rupture that separates ‘man’ from Creation. Then the land, the animals, the very air will breathe, literally, a sigh of relief.

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This is a very personal post. I am sharing these thoughts, because if you follow me on my Instagram and other social media I often post poems and quotations with my photos that describe or evoke my relationship with the natural world. As a book blogger, obviously words move me. When reading the classics I am sometimes stuck on a beautiful phrase that stays with me. So too in the way poets and other writers capture a feeling that describes Nature and helps me to feel connected. These are meaningful moments for me and so I share….

 

The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis (1955)

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” Aslan

And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring….And when the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.

magiciansnephewI read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW) a few years ago. I liked it and knew I would read the other books in the series. I didn’t know there is, what we would call a prequel, until I struck up a conversation with a woman in a bookstore who is an avid Narnia fan. Apparently, after Lewis published the LWW a friend asked him about the lamppost that appeared out of nowhere and in order to clear that up he wrote The Magician’s Nephew (MN). So does this mean the MN is really the first book? When I looked this up, I found Lewis scholars from the 1950s with various opinions that plague newer scholars and fans alike to this day. Chronological order (Lewis’s preference) puts the MN first. Published order puts it 6th or before the Last Battle the last released title. Being that the MN shows not only the origin of the lamppost, but the creation of Narnia by Aslan and how evil enters the Kingdom of Narnia, I believe chronological order is best. But I am only two books in; not the best authority.

I have to admit though, half way through I was very disappointed in the story. I found it dull, the magic not particularly, well, magical. Digory and Polly, neighbor children who are thrust into the void by the power of the magic rings invented by Digory’s Uncle Andrew land in a world made up of innumerable ponds and woods. Even the world that unleashes the Witch and the evil brought to Narnia did not hold my interest. Only the desire that I read all the titles forced me to continue. And then suddenly, Aslan appears and the book takes a most promising turn.

This world has a hopefulness the other worlds did not. It is a new world without flora or fauna, but that changes as a magnificent and glorious sound pierces the air and the children realize Creation is being sung into being before their very eyes!

There were no words. There was hardly even a tune….It was so beautiful he [Digory] could hardly bear it…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count….The second wonder was that the blackness overhead all at once, was blazing with stars….a thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world….If you had seen and heard it, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing….The Voice rose and rose till all the air was shaking with it; the sun rose. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up….the earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion and stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song….

These passages and the ones that speak about the creation of the animals and other two-legged beings, are the kinds of magic that moves me. Creation being formed out of Song and love and beauty by a Lion who is at once Creator and Sacrifice (LWW). Because, yes, one cannot but help to see that connection. Aslan is birthing the world through the sound of his Voice, bringing forth the first plants, the new starry heavens, the sun and wind and all the animals, birds and beings that will populate this new world.

Out of the trees wild people stepped forth, gods and goddesses of the wood; with them came Fauns and Satyrs and Dwarfs. Out of the river rose the river god with his Naiad daughters. And all these and all the beasts and birds in their different voices, low or high or thick or clear, replied. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.

Aslan tells the animals and other sacred beings to guard and protect the land because evil has been let loose. The Witch followed Digory and Polly into Narnia, but for now she is headed for lands far away and won’t trouble Narnia for hundreds of years. In the meantime Narnia must be made strong. Aslan sends the children on a journey to find the fruit of a special apple tree that once planted in Narnia will reign over it against all evil. When they return Aslan tells Digory to throw the apple a certain distance and it settles into the soft mud. In the morning the tree is big and filled with fruit. Digory is certain an apple from this tree will help his mother’s cancer and Aslan gives him one to take home.

When Digory and Polly return to London, Digory’s mother eats the apple and is cured. Digory plants the core and a tree grows again overnight. As the years pass and the children grow up so does the tree which has a symbiotic relationship with the one of its origin: it wiggles a bit on days when it is windy in Narnia, even when there is no wind in London. But its shaking has weakened its roots, and one wind-filled day in London the tree topples over. Now middle aged and with unfaded memories of Aslan and Narnia and all he saw there, Digory cannot just chop up the tree for fire wood. So he takes part of the tree and builds a wardrobe which he puts in his house in the country….

The passages of Narnia’s creation, vocalizing it into Being, the animals talking to one another and back and forth with the children tick many of my fantasy-girl and spirituality boxes. I am so glad I stuck with this book. And I further learned I wasn’t so far off the mark when I wanted to set the book aside, because the arguments of Lewis scholars who say the books should be read as released, instead of chronologically with MN to be read first, stems partly from the fact that this IS a dull book up until Aslan’s entrance and children (and adults?) might be turned off by the dull first half and not want to read any further.

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My Edition
Title: The Magician’s Nephew
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Device: Paperback
Year: 1955
Pages: 221
Summary

The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham (1944)

“I’ve been reading a good deal. Eight or ten hours a day. I’ve attended lectures at the Sorbonne. I think I’ve read everything that’s important in French literature and I can read Latin, at least Latin prose, almost as fluently as I can read French. Of course Greek’s more difficult. But I have a very good teacher. Until you came here I used to go to him three evenings a week.”

“And what is that going to lead to?”

“The acquisition of knowledge.”

“That doesn’t sound very practical.”

 

 

razorThis is my first book by W. Somerset Maugham and I found it to be a compelling narrative with a theme that is close to me. It is a book with a large cast of characters, but by weaving them in and out of each other’s lives Maugham keeps them familiar to us. We watch as their individual fortunes rise and fall affecting all around.

The story begins just after WWI and centers on Larry Darrell and his childhood friends. He is the only one of his group who fought, joining the Air Force to train as a fighter pilot. Traumatized by seeing his best friend killed, when he returns home he is unable to resume his carefree life as a member of the upper class. Set to marry his long-time love, Isabel, and live the conventional life of his class, his experiences during the war have changed him in ways that make that life impossible. He is full of questions about the meaning of life and no longer feels comfortable in the Chicago of his childhood. With inner demons demanding attention he embarks on a life of study and manual labor in France and Germany and to India where at the feet of gurus and into ashrams he spends several years. Confounding his friends with his voluntary poverty and perpetual study, he refuses to reign in his voracious quest for answers.

As the years pass and Isabel loses her ability to wait for him; as the offers of employment dry up and the words of wisdom from well-meaning friends fall on deaf ears, Larry remains undaunted. At its heart this is the story of one man’s spiritual journey, but it is also that for all the characters who experience existential crises in the life choices they make and in the way their lives unfold.

Maugham, who plays himself in the story, met Larry just after he returned from the war at a party given by Isabel’s uncle Elliott. As a writer, he comes to Paris often. His meetings with Larry make him the perfect go-between keeping all at home informed of Larry’s whereabouts and progress on a quest they cannot understand.

Maugham structures the narrative so that he runs into the characters accidentally on streets, in restaurants, at events as a device for “catching up.” He is the older, trustworthy, non-gossipy family friend. They pour out their trials and tribulations to him, their decisions, their changes of heart or circumstances, whether their hopes are attained or dreams dashed.

That Maugham plays himself in this story had me confused. Is this a fictional account of a true story? If so, does his presence make it nonfiction? Or are the characters fictional in order for Maugham to expand on the real point of the book—the quest for the meaning of life vs. living a conventional material life, and as a vehicle that showcases the new Eastern spirituality that had become so popular in the West?

My confusion forced me to learn more about Maugham to see if that might shed some light.

Maugham was involved with some of the major players and organizations that brought Indian religion and philosophy to the States in the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. Swami Vivekananda and the Vedanta Society, Paramahansa Yogananda and The Self-Realization Fellowship were well-known messengers of this new spirituality. They lectured throughout the United States and Europe to packed houses making positive impressions everywhere. Maugham uses himself in the book as a sort of messenger not only between Larry and his friends, but as Larry’s sounding board, foil, and inquisitor to his spiritual journey. By forcing Larry to explain himself through their conversations he becomes the transmitter of this spirituality to the reader.

As a new reader of W. Somerset Maugham I thoroughly enjoyed his style of writing and telling of this story. He is asking us to think about what makes a meaningful life and the struggle between material desire and spirituality. Is Larry the better person for his choices and Isabel, who refuses Larry’s life of poverty, the villain? Is a life of inner exploration superior to that of outer conformity to convention? Or does there have to be a choice between the two? A universal conundrum for sure.

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My Edition
Title: The Razor’s Edge
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publisher: Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1944
Pages: 258
Full plot summary