Hail, Gladdening Light – Brisbane Concert Choir. The video isn’t great, but the music is marvelous.
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Barbara Brown Taylor
HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (October 6, 2009), 244 pages
Kindle Edition $1.99, Amazon paperback $11.90
Learning to Walk in the Dark
Barbara Brown Taylor
HarperOne (April 8, 2014), 213 pages
Kindle Edition $14.99, Amazon Hardcover $21.06
Kindle edition purchased during a HarperOne sale for $1.99
I have long been a big fan of Barbara Brown Taylor. I have been reading her books since I first became part of the Episcopal Church. She was for many years an Episcopal priest in a small town in Georgia. She was particularly known for her preaching. Her first several books were collections of her sermons, and they were all very useful to me as I became part of the liturgical tradition. Eventually she left the priesthood to become a professor in a small college in Georgia. She documents her journey in Leaving Church. One of the many factors that caused her to leave was the fact that her preaching was so renowned that busloads of homiletic aficionados crowded out members of her congregation on Sunday mornings.
An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark follow Leaving Church. Taylor’s earlier books revolve around Biblical themes and images. This is to be expected, since Episcopal sermons are based on the lectionary, the assigned scripture readings for the week. These two books are very much autobiographical.
An Altar in the World focuses on finding God outside the four walls of the church. Several passages in the book fall into the category of TMI – too much information. I did not need to read all of the details about her horse riding accident or the death of her father. Still there is much in this book that resonates with me. Taylor writes:
In my life so far, I have been a babysitter, an Avon lady, a cashier, a cheese-packer, a horseback riding instructor, a nursing unit clerk, a cocktail waitress, a secretary, a newspaper reporter, an editor, a fund-raiser, a special events coordinator, a teacher of creative writing, a hospital chaplain, a pastor, a preacher, and a college professor—and those are just the jobs that I have been paid for.
That makes me feel better about my varied work career as an adult. Taylor admits that she is not terribly good at prayer, something I totally understand. She also spends a good deal of time discussing the modern Jewish practice of Sabbath. She writes, “One thing I wish were mine is a proper Friday evening Shabbat service, beginning with the lighting of two candles when three stars can be counted in the darkening sky.” I relate big time. But that’s a topic for another blog entry.
Learning to Walk in the Dark is about what the title suggests. The darkness, as you might surmise, is both physical and metaphorical. Taylor writes about how darkness is almost universally portrayed as a negative. She points out that this negative perspective applies to every single reference to darkness in the Bible. She tells us that there is much to learn from the dark. She writes that the night is more nuanced than the day in that the sun is the sun, but the moon has phases. Each chapter in the book is based on one of the phases of the moon.
With these two books my appreciation for Barbara Brown Taylor continues.
The ads on Facebook are not completely useless. Every once in a long while you see something worthwhile. Some months back an ad appeared on my news feed for Early Bird Books. It promised discounts on eBooks. I clicked the link and was taken to a simple, spare Web page where there was a field to enter my email address and the promise of a daily email with eBook special pricing.
It’s all legit. I signed up and each Monday through Friday I get an email for discounted eBooks. As you might expect there are no new titles here, but there’s a wide variety of backlist titles. There will be four or five books at $1.99 or $2.99, and usually one book, generally a classic in the public domain, for free.
Most of the prices expire the same day the newsletter is issued. I didn’t take that seriously, but one day they listed the Erica Jong novel Sappho’s Leap on sale for $1.99. I went back to Amazon a day or two later and it was back to $7.99.
I have acquired a couple of books via Early Bird. I got Michael Chabon’s book of essays, Maps and Legends for $1.99, and I got the Tolkien precursor, The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison, for free.
Not a bad deal. One small email delivered to your In box five days a week, and you never know what you might uncover.
An Olive Street recollection.
I started a new novel on Friday evening. The title is All Our Yesterdays. It’s the story of a group of friends over the years starting in 1968 in Berkley. The story opens with the narrator talking about the party he and his roommate held in their small, grungy apartment off campus at the beginning of their sophomore year. A review will no doubt be forthcoming, but what I have to write about today is the memories that the initial scene evoked.
These are thoughts that I have shared before, but I haven’t gone there is a while. When I graduated from Pitzer College in Claremont in 1975 I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving Claremont. I stayed in town becoming what we called a Claremont cockroach. I shared an apartment on Olive Street with my friend George. And it’s that place that the opening pages of All Our Yesterdays evoked.
George was the consummate computer nerd in a day when that meant working at a remote time-sharing terminal connected to a mainframe. Though George was one of those rare few who had access to the sacred Computer Room. I became well acquainted Alison, his girlfriend, since George was often off writing a program when he was supposed to be spending time with her. Alison and I became the best of friends. There was Anne, the butch dyke and Ann her willowy femme lover. There was Julie who lived in an apartment upstairs on whom I had a terrible crush. Eric and Jim lived across the hall. After George moved to Westwood my roommate for a while was another Jim, about whom the less said the better. I then shared the apartment with Beth, a Scripps College sophomore.
There was my job at the B. Dalton/Pickwick bookstore in Montclair Plaza. There was the strip shopping center right across the road from the apartment. It contained a somewhat run-down Safeway where we did a lot of our grocery shopping. It also had an old-fashioned newsstand which carried pretty much every magazine, including titles such as the The Village Voice and the New York Review of Books. It housed the laundromat where we did all of our laundry.
Such, such were the joys. Though that and $3.25 will get you a grande decaf cappuccino, dry. (With apologies to George Orwell and Boston Pobble.)
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
Harper (November 11, 2014), 293 pages
Kindle Edition $8.89, Amazon Hardcover $17.27
eBook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System
I have long been familiar with the field of archaeology. I was, after all, a classics major in college, studying the languages, history, culture, and art & archeology of Greece and Rome. In the 1980’s I subscribed the Biblical Archaeology Review (sometimes called the National Enquirer of Biblical archaeology), and again more recently in the iPad edition.
Lives in Ruins is all about archaeology and archaeologists. It not by any means an academic exercise. Not only does Johnson visit and interview archaeologists, she actually goes to work in the field. The book opens with her paying the standard fee, just like any other student, to work on a dig in the Caribbean. Right out of the gate Johnson reminded me that there is a lot more to archaeology than that of the Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern worlds. This site was focused in the remains of the slave trade in the eighteenth century.
Johnson pays a lot of attention to the archaeology of the American Revolution in the eastern United States. And she does give classical archaeology its due. She spends a week working on a dig on a small island on the coast of Cyprus.
Lives in Ruins, however, is more about the archaeologists than the archaeology. She writes about people dedicated to their work, often living on a shoestring, intent upon moving their investigations forward, even at the expense of financial security.
It is a fascinating world, and Johnson does a masterful job of portraying it.
Vivaldi’s Gloria, Voices for Peace (Musicians Solidarity), Auditorio Nacional de Música de Madrid
Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands
Open Road Media (December 20, 2011), 203 pages
Kindle Edition $7.99, Amazon Hardcover $18.50, Amazon Paperback $12.31
Kindle edition purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $1.99
This volume is an interesting and eclectic collection of essays by Michael Chabon, who is best known for his fiction. He starts with a long essay on Sherlock Holmes in which he discusses not only Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction, but Doyle’s own background. He describes a professor that Doyle had in medical school who was the basis for Sherlock Holmes. Chabon then goes on to discuss the genre of horror fiction. In one essay he starts out writing about the Jewish legend of the golem, the man created from clay, and then morphs into a discussion of his own creations in the form of writing.
In several essays Chabon discusses his own writing. He talks about his first computer, an Osborne 1a which he bought it in 1983. As he describes it, it was we used to call a “luggable.” He is surprisingly candid about his own struggles as a writer, and describes how frequently people assume that his fiction is drawn from his own life, even when there is not the slightest resemblance.
There is little that is profound here, but Maps and Legends is an enjoyable diversion.
We have calendars throughout the house. Typically our bedroom calendar is images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the kitchen calendar is usually nature photography, normally coastal photographs, and specifically the California Coast the past couple of years. Given my being in a state of career transition I was prepared to forego our calendar tradition this year. However, I received an unexpected although small check from my former employer, and decided that I would use the money to continue our calendar tradition.
I was glad that I could do that because I pay special attention to the calendar I put above the desk in my loft office. For a number of years I bought calendars with photographs of cathedrals, but at one point they were no longer available each year. The years in which one was published I made sure to get it. Sadly, there have been plenty of years when none was available. One year I bought a calendar with photos of lighthouses. Very enjoyable, but not the same. In 2013 I bought a Buddhist-themed calendar. It had a lovely, serene photograph each month along with a quote that reflected the Buddhist tradition. But it really didn’t reflect who I am. Certain days had an icon, which the legend told me meant that day was inauspicious for hanging banners. Simply not my tradition. For 2014 I settled for a Wonders of the World calendar. Nice enough, but not what I really wanted.
When I decided that I could spend the money on our 2015 calendars, I already knew which calendar I wanted above my desk. I had seen it online and it was exactly what I had been missing: Cathedral Cities. Marvelous! I am delighted and grateful.
And, of course, I must have my Episcopal liturgical calendar.
Happy New (calendar, spiritual, writing, or whatever you choose) Year! Even if we are already a week into it.
P.S. If you’re wondering, the cover is the cathedral at Durham, and January is Truro cathedral in Cornwall.
Here is the classic carol for Epiphany. Of course the book of Matthew, the only gospel in which the story appears, does not use the word “kings” in Greek , but rather “magi.” The word is variously translated wise men, magicians, and sometimes astrologers. And Matthew makes no mention as to how many of them there were.
Nonetheless, enjoy this beautiful performance from Kings College, Cambridge.
So we begin the first full week of the new year. And I begin another year of blogging.
One thing I’ve noticed of late is that I’m trying to avoid rants. One blog entry sat in my drafts folder for over a month until I was able to turn a rant into a more considered reflection. I had one blog entry that was most definitely a rant in my head, but as I started typing it came out as a more reasoned line of thought. I hope that is becoming a pattern.
I don’t know what this blog will look like in 2015, aside from attempting to avoid rants. I can surmise, however, that I will discuss topics much like those I have addressed for the past several years. There will be entries on liturgy, spirituality, and religion. I will no doubt write about cooking and my favorite cooking shows on television. I expect to continue with the book reviews. And Sacred Music Friday will certainly continue.
Whatever I end up writing about this year, I hope you will continue to join me. I love having you along.