Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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More than food…

Jesus and his friends were lacking in social graces – according to the table manners and table piety of their day.  And for this — certain Pharisees called him on the carpet. “I can’t believe it! He did not wash his hands. There is dirt underneath his fingernails!”

My mother, my grandmother and her mother before her would have sided with the Pharisees.  Jesus, didn’t your mama teach you to wash your hands before you eat? Apparently, Jesus did not listen very well to his elders. And yet he knew that people come to the table for more than food.

The Pharisees are not alone in being fussy about table manners.

Christians are no exception. Growing up, we observed a rhythm of fasting and feasting.  On Friday, we would eat no meat.  On special days we would fast from all meals until sundown.  Every Sunday we would fast at least an hour before Mass and receiving communion.  Our small sacrifices were to remind us of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Ordinary reminders of the extraordinary God.

The good sisters at Holy Family were scrupulous in this regard.  The nuns who had lunch time duty sniffed out each lunch bag and box to make sure it was kosher. I will never forget a Friday when I was in the first grade — just six years old. My mom had packed a bologna sandwich. A BOLOGNA SANDWICH!  Possibly a mortal sin, my immortal soul was in danger. And so, my lunch was confiscated.  A note was sent home chastising my parents’ lax regard for the Friday fast.

The sisters had reminded us of the rules. They laid down the law, but they had forgotten that we come to the table for more than food.

Christians are notorious for fighting over meals and especially notorious for fighting over God’s table.  Is it an altar? Or a table?  Should we kneel, or do we stand?  What do we wear? White or black or rich brocade?  Should we use wine, or do we use grape juice?  Christians of many stripes and colors want to believe that their version of the Lord’s supper is THE version of the Lord’s Supper.

Family traditions are destined to clash at the dinner table.

Take the story of Raney and Charles, characters in a Clyde Edgerton novel.   Raney and Charles are newlyweds.  They live in North Carolina.  Raney is a Free Will Baptist.  Charles is an Episcopalian.  One Saturday night over okra and fried chicken, they discuss where they will attend church the next morning.  Charles hopes that Raney will attend the Eucharist with him at the Episcopal Church in town.

“I don’t think I could go to an Episcopal Church, ” Raney says.

“Why not?” counters Charles.

“They’re against some of the things we believe in the most. They serve real wine at the Lord’s Supper and they have priests.  Don’t they?”

“Well, yes”

“Well, I don’t especially approve of the way priests drink.” Raney complains.

Charles reminds Raney that Jesus himself drank.

Raney scoffs, “I don’t think so.”

“Well, he turned water into wine at the wedding feast.”

“Yes,” Raney concedes, “but it wasn’t wine it was grape juice. If Jesus turned water into wine on the spot it had to be grape juice because it didn’t have time to ferment.”

There was a pause at this point in their conversation.

“If Jesus could make wine” says Charles, he could easily make it fermented as not, couldn’t he? Why should Jesus mess around with half a miracle?

Full stop. Continue.

“I’ve been going to the Bethel Free Will Baptist Church for twenty-four years now and the preachers there have been studying the Bible for all their lives and they say its grape juice.  All together they have probably studied the Bible for over a hundred years.  I’m not going to sit in my kitchen and go against that.”

So, like Raney and Charles, we squabble over the magic words. We argue about  how the table is set.  We quibble over the menu and the guest list.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  These table traditions of Jews and Christians, Catholics and Protestants are to be honored. The Pharisees preaching of the kosher (kashrut) laws was not intended to be picayune.

The Jews have a wonderful word: “mitzvah”.   A “mitzvah” is a grateful gesture to God even in the most mundane of circumstances: as you prepare the evening meal, as you wash your dishes, as you bathe the baby, as you tuck your children into bed.

Daily food was holy food. God sat down at each table and shared in each meal.  But the Pharisees in Mark’s Gospel had forgotten this.  They had forgotten that we come to the table for more than food.

Jesus, a marginal Jew, knew this, of course.

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Have you ever attended a Passover Seder, a real one with a real Jewish family?  The holy story of the Exodus is woven around a simple family meal.  There are candles, special dishes and plates, symbolic foods and sumptuous courses.  The Haggadah, the prayer book, is passed from hand to hand.  Everyone has a part to play -– even the children.

“Why is this night so special?” the youngest asks.

The bitter herbs, the haroset, the lamb, the matzoh, and the wine make the rounds of the table.  Each course is blessed with the telling of the story.

And this is just as true at Emmanuel’s holy table.   I know that a hundred years ago, or so, the church purchased it.  And I know that twenty some years ago, a vestry committee approved the rearrangement of the nave. And I know that the Altar Guild lovingly laid out the linen and the silver this Sunday — just as they have done hundreds and hundreds of Sundays.

But this table does not belong to Emmanuel.  It does not belong to us.  It belongs to God.

God decides who is welcome and God excludes no one. Technically only the baptized receive communion but that’s a church rule, a rule that God overrules.  There is no checking your baptismal certificate at the altar rail.

At a nursing home service, the residents lean forward in their wheel chairs – regardless of whatever faith they came from. At baptisms, Jewish godparents are just as much a part of the family as the Christian ones. At a post 9/11 Eucharist, I remember a Muslim woman reaching out her hands in hope. On Christmas and Easter, when the church overflows, everyone is served.

We come for solace and for strength.

We come for pardon and for renewal.

We come in hope.

All God’s children come to the table for more than food.

JoaniSign


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The Virtue of Catholic Resistance: An Episcopal Priest Responds to James Martin, SJ

Today’s New York Times published The Virtue of Catholic Anger, an article by the Jesuit, James Martin, the editor-at-large of America Magazine. Rev. Martin responds to the “moral catastrophe” of the sexual abuse travesty in the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania. A liberal theologian, his well thought out response, I believe lacks a backbone. In short, it infuriated me. Here is my response.

Rev. Martin,

I admire your work and have read several of your books. I grew up in the RC tradition but was told by Sister Mary Clare in high school that because I asked too many questions I was “intellectually gifted but spiritually retarded.” Direct quote.

Long story short, an agnostic, I got a degree in philosophy. And later found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church where my gender and my intellect are embraced. I have been an ordained Episcopal priest for 24 years and I have served five congregations, as well as, at Virginia Theological Seminary.

I write to you specifically about your article today in the New York Times which you wrote in response to the “moral catastrophe” documented in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Your appeal to emulate the righteous anger of Jesus is very on target. But I am deeply dismayed at your very tepid recommendations about how to express that anger for Catholics in the pews.

This is what you wrote:

“I can only suggest a few specific actions: Speak to your pastor, write to your bishop, express your anger to the Vatican’s nuncio in this country. Most of all, work in any way that you can for real change, even at the cost of being seen as a troublemaker.”

Really? That’s all you’ve got to offer?

Telling a priest or a bishop or a nuncio? The same insular authorities and system that have covered up this abomination? What real power do laity have in a church whose polity gives them no real institutional authority whatsoever?  In a church where priests, no matter that they criminally abused children, remain a priest. In a church where dioceses do all they can to protect themselves and not minors in their care.

Your advise rings exceedingly hollow. Besides what you recommend, here is what the ordinary Catholic can do.

Call the newspaper.

Alert law enforcement.

Organize the resistance.

Stage walkouts and demonstrations.

Call for the resignation of all culpable bishops and ecclesiastical authorities.

Vote with their feet and worship in another corner of God’s kingdom.

Vote with their wallets and withhold and redirect donations to organizations that support the victims and work for change.

I learned a long time ago that the RC Church does not have a monopoly on the “catholic” faith. My church, too is broken and fallen, but it’s polity is open and democratic and built for reform.

I pray the church of my childhood finds redemption. But before resurrection can happen, corrupt and antiquated ways will likely need to die.

In Christ,

The Rev. Joani Peacock
Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Alexandria, VA

P.S. Roman Catholic friends, if you need to rest and regroup, the Episcopal Church welcomes you into our pews.

JoaniSign


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Wonder Bread

My apologies to the gluten-intolerant.

(Though I am happy for you that there is  gluten-free everything,  including communion wafers.)

Yes, my apologies, I confess that I am CRAZY about gluten.

“Bread is the staff of life,” has been my motto since I was a child.

Remember Wonder Bread? Wrapped in a package printed with bright balloons, the commercials claimed it could ‘build strong bodies”. Eight ways in the 1950’s. And in the 1960’s twelve!

Not so sure how. It was bleached so bright-white, no nutrient could possibly survive. As kids, we would roll it into balls and back into dough. And when spread with peanut butter, Wonder Bread would often tear. At least, that’s the reason my mom gave us why we couldn’t have the crunchy kind of Peter Pan.

But now, that I am so grown up, I buy the crunchy kind all the time. And my favorite food group remains – bread.

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I have an actual bread box in my kitchen – labeled Bread. Atop it, I keep two bread plates, shaped like bread. Yes, literally in the shape of a slice of bread. And I always have a few varieties on hand: Challah, Irish Soda Bread, and maybe sourdough.

I am very good at making toast. It’s one of my very best recipes. (I will share it, if you like.) I am partial to real butter and whole fruit preserves.

Ciabatta.

Focaccia.

Baguette or Boule (which is just a fancy word for loaf.)

 I don’t bake bread myself, but I love the idea of it. Kneading it. Rolling it. Punching it down and watching it rise and grow in the oven.

Now everyone who has ever gotten a Christmas card knows that Jesus was born in a manger – in a corn crib. Born in a town called Bethlehem, which you may not know means the House of Bread.

 Alan Copeland writes:

Was little baby Jesus actually laid in a manger? It seems like a very strange and dirty place to put a newborn. Mary and Joseph would have to be crazy tired or plain silly to put a newborn in a feeding trough!

 But the manger (manger – which means ‘to eat’) – is a reminder that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Little baby Jesus in the food trough points to big guy Jesus feeding the 5000.”

 Such a well-worn story, it is easy to miss Jesus humoring his cranky disciples:

“Six months wages cannot buy enough for these people to get even a little!” His friends  whine as they throw up their hands.

So, Jesus asks a little boy to help him – a little boy who opens his lunchbox and shares his bread and his fish.

(Maybe like you even did as kid, sharing your tuna fish sandwich.)

Five thousand people sat down in the grass.

Jesus said the blessing, broke the  bread, the pieces put into baskets. And the disciples passed them all around.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus gave them that and more.

Jesus – who the gospel-writer John calls the Bread of Life.

 Grace Church in Georgetown (at Wisconsin & M), was my field work parish in seminary. Every Sunday they acted out the loaves and fishes – in a very down to earth way.

Grace was a house of bread in a hungry city. A half-time social worker worked there every weekday helping those in need with rent and food and medicine.

But the homeless came to church for more than bread.

The fiercely proud families who camped out on the C&O canal, resisted shelters because to go there they had to split up. These families also worshiped with us on Sunday mornings.

In Grace’s nave there were no communion rails, no kneeling and no wafers.

Instead the little congregation encircled the altar, as David Bird the rector blessed a yeasty loaf of bread. He would break it into pieces and place it into a basket that was then passed round. Shared hand-to-hand, with each crusty piece, the worshipper would say: The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

 And there was always some left over, not twelve baskets full, but there was always extra. So, we would pass it around again until all were full.

At Emmanuel, we do use wafers. Though less messy and not as apparent, Emmanuel equally  loves to feed people. It’s a ministry we hardily embrace.

Collecting staples and canned goods for the ALIVE Food Pantry.

Making sandwiches with the Bag Lunch Program at Meade for the homeless.

Delivering food to the elderly with Meals on Wheels.

Serving a Saturday breakfast and a Tuesday dinner at Carpenter’s Shelter.

The Loaves and Fishes is much more than a sweet little bible story. Loaves and Fishes is the way to live a Christian life.

It’s a hungry world out there full of hungry people. Our lunch boxes are overflowing. Let’s feed one another and share as we are fed,  here at Emmanuel, God’s House of Bread.

JoaniSign


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Not So Old Woman & The Pool

I am no Hemingway…

But like the Old Man of his Pulitzer winning novel, I have long had a problematic relationship with large bodies of water.

Sea water and pool water.

As a child – by the sea, by the beautiful sea – my fair, freckled skin would fry to a crisp. Bright red and hot to the touch – it took just 15 minutes splashing around in the waves – until I was thoroughly cooked.

Slathered with Solarcaine I was waylaid on the sand.   To shield me from the sun, I had to wear my father’s t-shirt and my mother’s floppy hat – while my siblings boogie-boarded and had  a grand old time.

The sea was not my friend —  but neither was the neighborhood pool.

My older sister, Maureen, once she reached driving age, chauffeured us in a fish-tailed Plymouth station wagon to our swimming lessons.

I flunked.

I flunked swimming lessons three times.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Terrified of heights, I never learned to dive. The best I managed to do was doggy paddle the length of the pool. By the time I finally passed, I was at least a head taller than all of the other pollywogs in my class.

Yes, I have long had a problematic relationship with water.

Water won. I lost.

So water and I made a deal.

“I’ll wear my swim suit, Water, but I will never get it wet.”

Be it by the pool or by the sea, I would find a comfortable chair, slather my fair and freckled skin with SPF 100, sit under an umbrella and read a book – or two – or three.

Slather, rinse, repeat.

And that is how  I thought it was going to be –for all eternity —  with water and me…

Until.

Cross training for my first half marathon, I signed up for twice weekly water aerobics at the local rec center.

Now most people think water aerobics is just a bunch of old ladies splashing around in the pool.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Barbara, the instructor, works us like a drill sergeant. The routine is demanding and never boring. Armed with noodles and styrofoam barbells, water shoes and swimming gloves:

Like frogs we skim  the surface.

Like divers we explore the depths.

Like cyclists we pedal the length, the breadth.

Like bells in a belfry we swing both to and fro.

Like flying fish we shoot out of the water.

Like dancers we pivot and turn.

Like soldiers we march.

Like taskmasters we kick our butts.

Like yogis we stretch.

Like runners we run.

Like rowers we row ourselves ashore.

Like dolphins we submerge and rise again.

Water is buoyant – it bolsters my spirit and lifts my mood.

Water is a solvent – solving and dissolving my daily cares.

Water is a liquid –it pools my soul.

Water crashes in waves – washing over me and making me clean.

Water ebbs and flows  – its moods and mine obeying the moon.

And now these summer days, you will find me likewise swimming like a fish in my neighborhood pool.

Water. Baptismal water.

Thank you, Lord God of the Universe, for the gift of water. Over it the Spirit moved at the dawn of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

And in these baptismal waters — twice weekly — and on the weekends — I  die and rise again.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


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Let the World Turn Without You

My dad, Dr. Peacock was a healer and I was in awe of him.

When I was a child, I remember him pulling wondrous things out of his little black bag – the things he would use to prod and poke me, if I claimed I was too sick to go to school. A stethoscope to listen to my chest.  Tongue depressors to look down my throat. A little flashlight to peer into my ears.  A little hammer to knock my knees which, mysteriously made me kick somehow.

Invariably he would pronounce me well, prescribe two aspirin and send me off to school.

(I won the perfect attendance ribbon – seven years running at Holy Family School!)

Being a doctor, of course, he worked doctor’s hours: weekends, holidays, Holy Days, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter – no exceptions. As a child, it seemed to me he was always making rounds. And on very rare occasions, I got to go around with him and troop behind him at the hospital – like an acolyte.

He was forever coming home late. After dinner was over. After we had already gone to bed.

Healing is exhausting work.

Just ask Jesus.

Jesus’ reputation followed him from town to town. Who is this wonderworker that restores sight to the blind and makes the lame to walk? Wherever he went, crowds pressed upon just to touch the hem of his cloak.

Just say the word, Jesus, and I shall be healed.

He cared for all who came to him — the sick whether in body or soul. But Jesus, just like us, had only 24 hours in his day. Just like us, he needs to eat, to sleep, gather his thoughts, recharge his spirit.

The Lord’s prescription? Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. That includes him. That includes everybody.

He needs a solid 8 hours, like the Jesus Christ in the Superstar song:

Let the world turn without you tonight. Close your eyes and relax and think of nothing tonight.

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Sunday is the Christian Sabbath (which we swapped out for Saturday, the seventh day of the week.)  God rested from hanging the stars and stocking the oceans. God rested on the Sabbath and made it sacred.

The old Blue Laws, once upon a time, helped us to keep it holy.

On Sundays, we went to Mass, slid into the back pew, squirmed in our seats, and tried to look pious. We listened to the lessons, snoozed through the sermon, rattled off a few Hail Mary’s and nodded our heads in prayer.

Sunday afternoons after church were lazy and uneventful. Even my workaholic dad, Doctor Peacock put on a pair of jeans and puttered around his workbench. We read the Sunday comics, played board games, and took cat naps.

It was not all  Let all mortal flesh keep silence. There were nine of us, after all. But we slowed WAY down. We stopped doing and just started being.

Not so true anymore, right? On Sundays we shop ‘til we drop. We’re glued to our devices: our smart phones and our MACS.  We answer email, we return calls, slip in meetings. All stuff that could wait.

Sunday blurs into Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. You know what I mean.

Being summer, sabbatical time, we are a little better at this.  But even our vacations are often over scheduled out the wazoo.

This Sunday, give it a try and see if you can keep it holy. Put down the newspaper. Leave the dishes in the sink. Leave the beds unmade. Go no further than your backyard. Swing in a hammock. Listen to music. Read a good book. Soak up a little silence along with the sun.

Close your eyes and listen. To the birds in the trees. The airplane overhead. The occasional breeze. Water gushing from a hose. Kids kicking soccer balls in the yard next door.

Tune in to the sound of your breath. The rhythm of your beating heart.

Be grateful for the life that surrounds you.

Be grateful for the life within you.

And for 24 hours, just like Jesus, let the world spin without you.

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

It’s God prescription for a hurting world.

JoaniSign


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Dancing with the Stars

The definitive scholar of liturgical dance ( of the divine kind) is none other than Kevin Bacon. Memorialized in the film Footloose, he makes his argument before the court:

People have danced since the beginning of time. People have danced in prayer. People have danced to bring down the rains and bring in the harvest. People danced before the hunt to bag big game for their tables.

Dance is the most ancient form of Jazzersize.

Dance is an expression of  the human spirit.

A full body celebration of the soul.

Everywhere.  Everyone. Dances.

Professor Bacon pulls out his Bible and turns to Psalm 149:

Hallelujah!

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.

Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

And King David, the musical king (who supposedly wrote the psalms) dances his heart out before the ark – the prophet Samuel tells us  – before the golden throne of the Lord of Lords.

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… David danced before the Lord with all his might…And David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, with the sound of the trumpet…King David leaping and dancing before the Lord.

Michal, his wife was not too happy about all this dancing. She thought it unseemly. But thirty thousand of God’s chosen people tossed aside their inhibitions and threw themselves into it and danced with their king before the Lord.

A full body expression of unbounded joy, praising the Lord not just with your head but with your feet can make a body hungry.

After the dancing, they were famished.  They feasted on bread and meat and raisins. (Don’t forget the raisins.)

Now we Episcopalians are not prone to dancing in the aisles. We are known as the frozen chosen. In church we sit still. We are quiet. We speak only when we are spoken to. In the. beauty of the call-and-response liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. (All the parts printed in BOLD.)

And I myself am not much of  a fan of modern liturgical dance. It can be done well but often it is baby boomer ladies like myself performing in tights. A sight better unseen. A performance not meant for audience participation.

David, on the other hand, gets EVERYONE up on their feet.

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So when was the last time you felt like dancing? When was the last time you actually danced? Weddings, of course, are one of the only places, grownups can still let it rip on the dance floor.

But where else?

What are those favorite tunes that set your toes to tapping?

(Click and take a listen.)

For those a decade or so ahead of me, maybe the classic crooner Frank Sinatra?

Come Dance with Me.

My very first dance record was a 45 – the Beatles Twist and ShoutThe dance for people who did not know how to dance. The dance for people with two left feet — but nonetheless pure silly joy on the dance floor.  No date. No problem. You could dance alone.  Or with a crowd.

But sometimes, I’m happy just to dance with YOUA friend, a partner. A budding relationship that blossoms into romance tete a tete. Maybe.

And even when hearts break, even when spirits crash, we can stretch our limbs and slow dance the sadness away. Like Emmy Lou Harris in A Tennessee Waltz.

And after working for our daily bread, exhausted from dancing through our day — two steps forward, three steps back, like Burt and Ernie we can Dance Ourselves to Sleep.

 (No need for Ambien!)

And you can dance because you’re good at it. Ballet. Tap. Modern. And you can dance because you’re proud of where you’re from. Salsa. Hula. Irish Step.

Sometimes your feet are just happy. Happy for any reason at all. And you can dance like it’s 1999. You can dance like no one is looking to songs with almost no words. Just Dance and Hum Along.

Because isn’t that what the world needs now – deep, authentic, unbridled joy?

Not to escape or bury our heads in the sand. We will not ignore the needs of a hurting world. Our prayers attest to the tenuous nature of the planet, the world, the nation, our neighborhood. All in need of healing.

But….

My Christian brothers and sisters, we are in the reconciliation business, the love your neighbor as yourself business.  We are in the faith, hope, and love business. The resurrection business.

And so that everybody may dance this dance of life — the dance of love — let’s let it rip and dance like Jesus, the Lord of the Dance.

I danced in the morning, when the world was begun.

And I danced in the moon, and the stars, and the sun,

And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth.

At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance then wherever you may be.

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

JoaniSign

 


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“The Novel Cure” : We Are What We Read

Read books more. Read the news less.

This is my new mental health mantra.

Because of the number nine.

Nine. I have nine news apps on my phone. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Guardian. NPR. Politico. Buzz Feed. HuffPost. The New Yorker. The Wall Street Journal.

Ten. If you count National Geographic.

Never has it been more important to keep up with the world. It’s head spinning the headlines a single week brings. And it’s an essential part of my work to keep up — or at least endeavor to keep up.

Each week I edit our Sunday prayers so that they speak to this hurting world we share. This past week alone I added intercessions for the Group of Seven talks in Quebec, the Korean summit in Singapore, volcano victims in Hawaii and Guatemala, the LGBTQ community for Pride Month, refugees and asylum seekers.

It’s a moving target.  It matters deeply. But I know as soon as they are printed they are also incomplete and possibly obsolete.

And that’s okay. Even in the best of times it’s not humanly possible to digest it all. Habitually surfing the headlines is not good for your mental health. Not good for my mental health, for sure!

So I have resolved to read books more and to read the news less.

To retreat, to refresh, to restore the soul, to recover perspective.

And yes, simply to escape into the world of a good book.

Call it biblio-therapy. Not a word I made up but a real thing. Biblio-therapy was pioneered by the authors of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

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So, here I present my own little version, a diversionary reading list of my own making. Fifteen books that I have recently read, am currently reading, and are in my reading pipeline — the stack of books beside my bed.

Fiction. Memoir. History. Science. Spirituality. Cats. Dogs. Here I list them all in no particular bibliographic order. Reviewers’ quotes shamelessly lifted from dust jackets.

IMG_4860Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Mauier: The 1930’s classic tale of romantic suspense by the acclaimed author of Rebecca. This is the perfect book to read on a dark and stormy night.

IMG_4871Vinegar Girl: A Novel, Anne Tyler. William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold. “… a knockabout comedy at its best, genuinely laugh out loud funny, and indeed, Tyler’s funniest book to date.” One of my favorite authors, she’s written a lot!

IMG_4872The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr. I read this because I want to write a book — a book still in my head. This one is “full of Karr’s usual wit, compassion, and perhaps most reassuringly self-doubt.”

IMG_4861Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. “As loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got punk and spirit and makes an earthy and American sound,” A remarkable debut for a first time author.

IMG_4863When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi is the author who died in 2015:  “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality had changed nothing and everything.” “This is an unforgettable, life affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death, and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.”

IMG_4873The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Norton. The title pretty much explains this one! “A power hungry and charming courtier. An impressionable and trusting princess. The Tudor court in the wake of Henry VIII’s death… where rumors had the power to determine fate.”

IMG_4862Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christopher De Hamel. A big fat, nerdy book about about books that changed the world with lots of fabulous pictures. “Reading is my life, but only about once a decade do I find a book that seems to tilt the world, so afterwards it appears different.”  My world was tilted!

IMG_4874The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Kathryn Joyce. An investigative journalist’s deep dive into the world of the for-profit adoption business, misguided evangelical theology, and the lost voices of adoptees and first families. Being in reunion with my daughter Rebecca, this is a powerful and eye opening read.

IMG_4865Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, Alan Lightman. Even though my summer trip to Great Cranberry Isle got cancelled, I am still reading this astrophysicist’s beautiful book. “Deeply brilliant. Alan Lightman’s prose is so simple and graceful that it can be easy to miss the quiet, deep sophistication of his approach to the topic of science and religion.”

IMG_4869Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, Amir Alexander. Okay, yes, very nerdy I know. But fascinating. This brief history takes us into the lives of “Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Hobbes, and from the Papal Palace in to Rome to the halls of the Royal Society of London to show how a disagreement over a mathematical concept became a contest over the heavens and the earth.”

IMG_4870After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Jack Kornfield. This one I love for the title alone. It draws on the “experiences and insights within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions… Filled with ‘the laughter of the wise,’ alive with compassion.”

IMG_4868Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis. The great Christian apologist of the 20th century, this is his last book. An engaging retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from antiquity written “with new meaning, new depths, new terrors.” Lewis reminds us of “our own fallibility and the role of a higher power in our lives.”

IMG_4866Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty Things They Do, Celia Haddon. Having become a crazy cat lady not quite a year ago, this was a must read. I refer to it often.

IMG_4867Dog Crazy, Meg Donohue. A gift from my canine loving friend Chuck, this little novel is “a big-hearted and entertaining story that skillfully captures the bonds of love, the pain of separation, and the power of dogs to heal us.” A great beach or backyard read.

IMG_4876French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mireille Guiliano. Self- explanatory!

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Reading has the power to enlarge us and inspire us and entertain us and enlighten us. And dare I say, even heal us.

Reading, Lectio Divina, is a spiritual discipline, no matter what kind of books you read!

So dear readers, tell me. What books do you have stacked up in that pile on your bedside table?

JoaniSign

And check out my favorite book store in D.C! East City Bookshop on Pennsylvania Avenue SE!