Tag Archives: reading

Lists, letters, and taking leave.

During a 20-minute phone call with a friend last week, I mentioned all of the books pictured above, only one of which I have read, long ago. After he asked me about a couple of them, “Did you finish ____ ?” I blurted, “I don’t read books, I only buy them!”

It’s partly true; three of the books pictured I am in the middle of reading. I think I will take The Cross of Loneliness with me on my travels this week, because it is little and is likely to be encouraging to my spirit, without demanding too much of my analytical abilities. It sets down the correspondence of Saint Sophrony and Archpriest George Florovsky from 1954 to 1963. These illustrations from the book of their kind faces make me eager to peek in on their friendship.

I’ll be flying to Colorado to visit my son Soldier’s family, and from there to Idaho to see friends Jacob and Rosemary, before heading back to California. Both of these families are in new towns since I last visited them! The excitement of navigating airports, riding in airplanes, being in strange places and beds; playing with grandchildren and chatting  with everyone will keep my mind plenty busy. It’s already buzzing with the challenges of getting myself ready for the big day, and incrementally taking leave, in my heart, of my home, and my garden with all the plants I have been nursing along; like the first golden zucchinis that will ripen while I am far away. I will say farewell to my stack of To-Read books, which if it actually were just one stack would be higher than my house.

But I know that I will like to read on the plane, and read in my room before going to sleep at night, so I must choose what to take along. This book that I discovered in my Kindle, Make a List, looks appealing for a few summery reasons.

(List of) Reasons why it’s a good book for this summer:

1 – Only a couple hundred pages.

2 – Not demanding content:

2a – No long list of fictional characters to keep straight.

2b – No complex-thinking philosophers to follow.

3 – It will help me keep engaged with my philosophical self and my life back home by simply jotting down a list here and there.

4 – It will prompt me to keep writing without my always having to make quality whole sentences, which are a lot of work. I might even compose travelogues entirely of short lists!

It occurs to me that my attempt at Bullet Journaling was kind of list-y. Unfortunately I always felt the need to elaborate and my bullet points swelled into paragraphs. It will be necessary to keep these lists in a different category from journaling altogether. I haven’t written one thing in my journal for a month or two, which feels scary. Maybe I’ve already made the break?

My college roommate Ann has been an inspiring list-maker all her life. She makes lists of the lists she needs to make. You might say is the idea that Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has elaborated on; you can hear her talking for three minutes on the subject here.

Now I need to get back to the lists I have recently been working from, like:

1 – To-Do Before I Depart, and
2 – Carry With Me On the Plane.

Once I add “Kindle Reader” and “Notebook for Writing Lists” to that second list, I’ll be good to go! …. or will I…? One more very important list must be completed, before I shut the door on my tottering stacks:

Books I Really Want to Read Soon But Must Sadly Leave at Home.

But I’ll come back, Dear Friends!

 

A monk learns a lesson.

A story I found in my files:

The Importance of Reading
the Gospels Every Day

A Monk’s Story

During my initial monastic service at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, there was a period when I stopped reading the Gospel. At that time I had a lot of work, and there was not enough time to concentrate, open the Holy Scriptures, plunge into the meaning of words. I did not attach much importance to this, but simply continued to perform obediences, working from four in the morning until late at night. There were no external changes, but I gradually began to notice that I was more and more burdened by a feeling of strong spiritual and bodily fatigue, which I could not “throw off” neither with sleep, nor food, nor rest. I fell asleep and woke up, went to services, worked, but the feeling that someone seemed to be digging into my neck and sucking all the strength out of me did not leave. I walk – my legs buckle, I sit behind the wheel – my hands are shaking. Body and soul were exhausted every day, and I still could not understand the reason.

Once, in this state, I came to the office of the abbot, father Agaphodor, to discuss some labor issues. He, as an insightful person, as soon as I started a conversation, asks me: “What is happening to you?” In an almost exhausted voice, I quietly answer: “I don’t know … Something is wrong with me, it’s hard.” He fixed his gaze on me, as if in a couple of seconds he could see my soul and find the source of the disease, and suddenly asked the question: “Have you been reading the Gospel?” I began to think: indeed, I had stopped reading the Gospel. How could this have happened? How long have I been living without the main spiritual food? I began to remember and with horror discovered that I did not remember the last time I took the Bible in my hands.

With the strongest inner excitement, I ran to my cell, grabbed the Gospel and began to read. I opened it and, like a man dying of thirst, I read and read, read and read… An amazing impression: the more I read, the more acutely I felt that I was getting better. The teeth, which dug into my neck and sucked my strength, gradually unclenched, I breathed more freely. With each new chapter (and I read about ten at once) it became easier and easier. I turned page after page until I realized that I was completely free of the disease. The feeling of depression is gone. The enslavement that I was in all that time was a great lesson for me, which does not need to be repeated twice. Since then, I read 365 chapters a year – that is, I read one chapter every morning.

Man consists of two parts – soul and body. We saturate our flesh, but the soul remains hungry. The main food for the soul is the Gospel. We do not forget to charge our cell phone in the evening, but we forget about the soul. When we read the Gospel, we receive grace. In the morning we read the chapter – grace for the whole day. And the day will go in a completely different way – with grace. We will also reflect on what we have read, and some of this will come true, although the Gospel is not a fortune-telling book. This is the book of life that every Christian should live by.

We sometimes do not even think about what great power is hidden in this book. If we ever saw how the devil shies away, like from fire, when we take the Gospel in our hands, we would hug it and never let it go. For my confessor, Father Kirill (Pavlov), the Gospel has always been in the first place: he found it in the ruins of Stalingrad during the Great Patriotic War and went through the whole war with it. So I too, but much later, had to visit my battlefield to understand: without the Gospel you cannot win.

An eleven-book day.

Later in the spring, 2019.

The bookishness of today was out of the ordinary in my recent life; shall we say, the last 20 years of it? And it only slightly resembled former days when going to the library was a regular thing, and between the several children and me we’d I bring home bagfuls of books every few weeks, after browsing the shelves as long as we could manage.

This morning I visited our church library, looking for a specific book on the Psalms, but couldn’t find it. I did borrow two related books, though, and three more on other subjects.

On the way home I stopped at my town’s public library to pick up what I had placed on hold via the library’s website. They email you when your holds are ready, you drive to the library and phone them, and they bring your books out in a bag and put them on a table. I have formed a habit of going to the library every Friday, so that I can return books too; currently you can only do that on Fridays and Saturdays. I had four books ready to pick up, as it turned out.

When I pulled into my driveway a few minutes later, it was pleasantly warm in  my car, and I knew the house was chilly, so I sat there and looked over those four books, which were all children’s books. The three that were by the same author I left in the car, because I will just take them back; I didn’t like the particular theme that the author seemed to be stuck on.

The fourth book I had borrowed because I noticed this week that two Orthodox priests I follow on Goodreads had given it five stars, and it was a book I wasn’t familiar with. I began to read it and didn’t stop, just sat there behind the wheel for the next hour being charmed, by The 13 Clocks. I have over my life enjoyed many things James Thurber has written, so I’m not surprised. It was really fun, and I’d have liked to read it through again right then.

But I was getting ready to go back to church, this time for a service. My priest wrote me that he was sure he’d seen that book I wanted in a box of titles that hadn’t been shelved yet (lacking enough shelves), so I went back early and looked through not one but four boxes. There was a book with a similar title by the same author, Fr. Patrick Reardon, not about the Psalms, and which I already own. But I found two more books in those boxes that called to me, to take them home, one of them being Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, which I read a long time ago but don’t remember much of. So eleven books came home with me, and three stayed in the car. Here are the eight books that remain.

What is strange is to bring so many books into the house in one day, and not one of them did I buy! I can take them back to their places whenever I want, no remorse. These days there isn’t such pressure even with the public library system to return books promptly; they stopped charging overdue fines even before covid, and the books take a long time in process once you do drop them in the return slot, so they have to be lenient about everything.

Maybe I won’t have any of these very long, but for now, I have happily filled more crannies and nooks with more delicious books!

To gather all the elements.

“Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically ‘meaningful,’ while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the ‘meaningless.’ Positivism has simply accepted the fractured being of modern man and erected a philosophy to intensify it.

“Existentialism, whether successfully or not, has attempted instead to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture of man. Positivist man and Existentialist man are no doubt offspring of the same parent epoch, but, somewhat as Cain and Abel were, the brothers are divided unalterably by temperament and the initial choice they make of their own being.”

-William Barrett, Irrational Man

These paragraphs are from a book I’ve had on my shelf for a couple of years, since it was highly recommended to me by one of my most philosophical Christian friends. The subtitle is A Study in Existential Philosophy. I bought a paperback copy, but probably was unconsciously put off by the size of the print and the absence of white space on the pages.

Recently I discovered that the book is on Audible, so I began yesterday on my drive  to the beach to listen to it, though I wasn’t very hopeful about being able to attend to the subject matter that way, having an “ear gate” that is extra narrow or full of obstacles or something… It’s particularly hard for me to read non-fiction when I can’t underline or take notes.

It’s a testimony to the clarity and beauty of Barrett’s writing that I was swept up into the story, as he tells it so engagingly, of the context and development of Modern Existentialism. As, in his words above, the need is for true philosophy “to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture,” so also Barrett shows us a holistic picture by describing the interplay of cultural and historical roots of existentialism and of its effects.

Since high school I’ve had an inkling, or an awareness, that I needed to understand existentialism, but I feel that I’ve made little progress toward that goal. This book and I came into the world in the same decade, but I’ve been waiting for it my whole life!