Friday, November 25, 2011


Being who I am, one of the apps I have on my i pod is the Poetry magazine app. Yesterday I thought it might be enjoyable to take a spin on that app looking for a poem for the day. The Poetry app allows you to spin for poems in certain categories – and you can choose different combinations of categories. So I looked at “gratitude” which could be paired with “youth,” “aging,” “family” etc. I paired it with “life.” To my delight I found this wonderful poem:

Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Under new Facebook policy, this blog will no longer be posted there, so I will also send this poem to my Facebook site with the appropriate copyright information listed there.

I like this poem a great deal. The joy and gratitude are mingled with eyes open to see the harsh winds and the open spaces in the roof of the house. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to give thanks for the good gifts of life: family, friends, home, music, books, movies, eyes to see and ears to hear. For those of us who are theists, we thank the God whose goodness sustains all life’s goodness and who is at work in the world inviting greater goodness. While giving thanks, I cannot forget those who are hurting, suffering, in need. I cannot forget the sorrows I feel sometimes. Still, through the cracks in the world, moonlight shines, and I am grateful for that.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Sunday, November 13, 2011


This afternoon I participated in a panel discussion for book groups organized through the Oreck-Alpern Interreligious Forum at the College of St. Scholastica. I have been the convener of a fiction book group since this effort began in 2006. Here is what I shared.

I would like to offer some reflections on the fiction book group that has been meeting since October 2006. My intention is that these brief remarks will respond to the questions we were invited to consider, but as may be appropriate for a fiction group, the response is rather literary, weaving in the words of others.

In his remarks upon accepting the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism in 1984, John Updike said the following: Whatever art offered the men and women of previous eras, what it offers our own, it seems to me, is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit. (Updike, Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism, 423)

Reading fiction and discussing it together creates space in a too busy world, space for the spirit. It is important space. It is difficult to say which books we have read over the past five years have created the most meaningful discussions. Even the book most found their least favorite, Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, the only Nobel Prize winning author we have read, by the way, even Snow invited good discussion and I, for one, still carry images from that book within. The impact of this group seems cumulative – five years of reading and conversation flowing through us like water shaping stone.

It’s good when your conscience receives big wounds, because that makes it more sensitive to every twinge…. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak, January 27, 1904 (The Basic Kafka, 290)

In a world that often numbs us with reality television which is more surreal than real, or by the sheer pace of modern life, it is good to read books that break our hearts, break them with sadness over the condition of others in the world, break them open to care and to see beauty and tenderness.

Martha Nussbaum, who will be coming to St. Scholastica in February, writes these words that we have used in advertising our fiction group: Through the imagination we are able to develop our ability to see the full humanness of people. (Not For Profit, 107)

Our reading has helped keep our eyes, and imaginations, open in a world that often blinds with the constant flashing lights of the momentary. Our imaginations have been opened to the variety of ways of being human religiously.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. Joan Didion, The White Album

To be human is to live by stories and our lives are richer, more open, more insightful, for having these stories and these conversations woven into our stories. With all the issues facing the human community, a gathering of people reading fiction seems an escape, a luxury. In some ways it is a luxury. Yet, if the human community is to work toward solving its most pressing issues thoughtful, open, insightful people willing to learn even more about themselves, others and the world will be required. We tell ourselves stories in order to live. This is part of the story of our group.

With Faith and With Feathers,