All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

Chattering, reading and resisting sleep.

“I liked thinking about people reading books in the Paris metro, since they are underground, in the earth’s dark shadow, in the artificial light of electric bulbs, with the mute, graffiti-covered walls of corridors and tunnels rushing by their windows….”

“Above us, in the airplanes, someone is also reading a book — most often one with shiny covers, devoid of mystery, constructed on simple premises and the sincere desire for abundant royalties, but it may also be that someone up in those expanses is studying a Sufi epic or Dante and will experience illumination.

“And if this reader looks out the little window, he or she will see not black walls, as in the metro’s labyrinths, but the white gleam of clouds, a splendid, perpetually sunlit landscape, and below the threads of rivers quivering like children’s thermometers, strips of highways streaked by cars, like nervous insects, the yellow strips of sand along the sea, the dark smears of forests, sometimes snow-topped mountains, profoundly motionless, self-absorbed, autistic, and also cities chattering in different languages, resisting sleep, glowing even at midnight with feverish neon lights. Above the earth and below the earth, in metro cars and airplanes, someone is always reading books.”

-Adam Zagajewski, in Slight Exaggeration, © 2011

Nowadays most people I see on public transit or airplanes, if they are not chatting with their seatmate or sleeping, are looking at their phones or laptops. You can’t tell if they are reading an e-book or playing a game, or just working.

(I know, I know, it’s the era of masks and distancing, but please humor me. It may be temporarily necessary to do without some beloved activities, but I can still remember, and muse.)

Whenever I see anyone with an actual print book, I find it hard not to stare, to strain my neck and eyes in an effort to see just what author he is interacting with, revealing this private activity so publicly. It’s not voyeurism that motivates me, but a feeling of kinship with other readers, in an era when our numbers are diminishing. Of course, the statistics on reading trends show that a huge number of people continue to read, and I notice a few of them at the library. What’s different about the readers the plane is that I might watch them over the course of an hours-long journey; they are specific examples, and encouraging in a way that statistics can never be.

Zagajewski’s musings made me think about how we readers sometimes look outwardly like the “profoundly motionless, self-absorbed” mountain, when inside we are actually engaged in intense conversation that makes us more like the cities that “resist sleep.” I have a lot of experience with that lately, without going anywhere!

On my solo travels, twice that I remember clearly I was able to talk to perfect strangers about our reading, and I think in both cases the other person spoke to me first. The last time this happened I was looking at my Kindle Paperwhite while in line at Mumbai’s airport security, when a well dressed man next to me interrupted to ask what I was reading. Always honest in the instant, as soon as I answered I felt embarrassed and wished that I had thought to name some other, less boring recent read.

But his question was just an icebreaker, so he could find out why I was in India; talking with him, I forgot to notice how slowly the line was moving. I wonder if I will get the chance again to practice his kind of boldness and make the acquaintance of commuting or traveling readers. I would like to convey somehow my happiness to meet on my journey another lover of the printed word, who might just then be on her way to experiencing illumination.

(All photos found online.)

A Prayer for the Will of God

Lord, uphold my soul, and deliver it from confusion, doubt, and wavering, and strengthen it in faith. Drive all attacks away from me and cut off my sinful and blind self-will. Grant me the strength to commend my self, my soul and body, my obstacles, the present, the future, those near to my heart, and all my neighbors unto thine all-holy and all-wise will. And therefore may thy will ever be announced unto me. Amen.

(From this prayer book)

What appears to be harsh.

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.

“For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

-St. Anthony the Great, 251-356

We are commemorating St. Anthony today, which prompted me to read a little about him. I learned about this book that looks like basic reading:

“The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.”

And one sentence from the story of his life jumped out at me:

“Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation
and constant struggle with the demons,
and he finally achieved perfect calm.”

Pray for us, Holy Father Anthony!

Farm Wife

FARM WIFE

Hers is the clean apron, good for fire
Or lamp to embroider, as we talk slowly
In the long kitchen, while the white dough
Turns to pastry in the great oven,
Sweetly and surely as hay making
In a June meadow; hers are the hands,
Humble with milking, but still now
In her wide lap as though they heard
A quiet music, hers being the voice
That coaxes time back to the shadows
In the room’s corners. O, hers is all
this strong body, the safe island
Where men may come, sons and lovers,
Daring the cold seas of her eyes.

-R.S. Thomas