Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
by Diane Ackerman

I have posted my thoughts about this book - which I loved - on my book blog. It was my eighth - and final - book for this challenge in 2008. I look forward to some limited participation in this challenge in 2009. Thanks, Vasilly!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

Published in 2007. 413 pages.

Reading Escape, the memoir of a former polygamist wife in the FLDS Church - the cult formerly led by Warren Jeffs - is a bit like driving past a bad car accident on the freeway: one isn't sure that she really wants to see what happened but she can't help staring anyway.

A compelling read - I read nearly the whole thing in one day - Jessop's account illustrates the evil of a religion that teaches that women and children are a man's property and that discourages education and individual thought. The book could have used some better editing, as it sometimes rambles and repeats itself, but it's worth a look. Escape was a Salt Lake County Library's Reader's Choice pick for the second half of 2008.

(Cross-posted from my book blog.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
by Anne Lamott

Published in 2007. 257 pages.

I read Anne Lamott's previous compilations of personal essays on faith - Traveling Mercies and Plan B - in 2006. (I posted some thoughts here.) I liked Grace (Eventually) about as well as Plan B but not as well as Traveling Mercies.

What I love most about Lamott's writing is that her spirituality is so "real." She takes her everyday struggles - with things like body image and her teenage son and "forgivishness" - and finds God in them. She shares her vulnerabilities with us, her readers, and we are strengthened as we realize that we, too, can receive God's grace.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:
Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking. [page 50]
When Jesus was asked about beauty, he pointed to nature, to the lilies of the field. Behold them, he said, and behold is a special word: it means to look upon something amazing or unexpected. Behold! It is an exhortation, not a whiny demand, like when you're talking to your child - "Behold me when I'm talking to you, sinner!" Jesus is saying that every moment you are freely given the opportunity to see through a different pair of glasses. "Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, and yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." But that's only the minor chord. The major one follows, in his anti-anxiety discourse - which is the soul of this passage - that all striving after greater beauty and importance, and greater greatness, is foolishness. It is untimately like trying to catch the wind. Lilies do not need to do anything to make themselves more glorious or cherished. Jesus is saying that we have much to learn from them about giving up striving. He's not saying that in "Get over it" way, as your mother or your last, horrible husband did. Instead he's heartbroken, as when you know an anorexic girl who's starving to death, as if in some kind of demonic possession. He's saying that we could be aware of, filled with, and saved by the presence of holy beauty, rather than worship golden calves. [pages 79-80]
The best way to change the world is to change your mind, which often requires feeding yourself. It makes for biochemical peace. It's almost like a prayer: to be needy, to eat, to taste, to be filled, building up instead of tearing down. You find energy to do something you hadn't expected to do, maybe even one of the holiest things: to go outside and stand under the stars, or to go for a walk in the morning, or in such hard times, both. [pages 252-253]

(Cross-posted from my book blog.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Story Of A Soul

... I saw that all the flowers He has created are lovely. The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realised that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay. It is just the same in the world of souls - which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice His eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be. (p.20)

I believe that if a little flower could speak, it would tell very simply and fully all that God had done for it. It would not say that it was ungraceful and had no scent, that the sun had spoilt its freshness, or that a storm had snapped its stem - not when it knew the exact opposite was true. The flower who is now going to tell her story rejoices at having to relate all the kindnesses freely done her by Jesus. She is well aware that there was nothing about her to attract His attention, and that it is His mercy alone which has created whatever there is good in her. It was He who ensured that she began to grow in a most pure and holy soil, and it was He who saw to it that eight fair lilies came before her. His love made Him want to keep His little flower safe from the tainted breezes of the world, and so she had scarcely begun to unfold her petals before He transplanted her on to the mountain of Carmel. (p.21)

The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story Of A Soul translated by John Beevers is a very inspiration book that tells of the short life of St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower. Marie Francoise Therese Martin was born in 1873 in Alencon, France. At the young age of fifteen she became a Carmelite nun. In 1897 she died at the age of twenty four. On May 17, 1925 she was canonised by Pius XI and became known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

However, The Story Of A Soul tells more about her devotion and insight to Jesus than it does about her life. The first half of the book describes her childhood and family, the calling to her vocation, and the beginning years of her life at Carmel. Then the book takes a turn and becomes more of a spiritual writing. St. Therese shares her faith and devotion to Jesus through the life lessons that she learned during her short life. I found this part of the book extremely inspirational. She uses scripture, life examples, and her thoughts and feelings when expressing these insights. And her humbleness and honesty are very refreshing.

I was watered by His tears and Precious Blood and His adorable Face was my radiant sun. (p.93)

John Beevers' introduction is informative and helps fill in the gaps of information. St. Therese's easy style of writing is enjoyable and moving. I highly recommend The Autobiography Of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story Of A Soul to others who like to read spiritual books or books of faith.