The first book that I recall making me cry was Charlotte’s Web. The love and need of that relationship unlike any outside that with my mother. I thought all friendships would be that of Charlotte and Wilber, but spinning is required of all of us in every relationship, and I had little temperament to commit.
The last book to illuminate the little understanding I have of myself was The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes novel of life sometimes ending before one’s physical manifestation disappears. Barnes’ novel came at a time when I acted as if life were over.
Today I finished a novel, that in 337 pages illuminated my greatest fear and deepest faults. In those same pages, I also found courage and guidance to recognize that I am evolving but moving little.
George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is an unexpected, imaginary, uplifting tome of humanity; I surrendered to his words and floated through the story simultaneously sobbing in both anguish and relief, my sadness morphing into hope.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a crystal ball into what holds up back when the mind can only focus on our own sorrows. My wish is to walk a little lighter before leaving this world.
This reflection is not about “what might have been” or even “what is not.” Riding the El while visiting Chicago, I found myself behind a gentleman whose black topcoat sat beside his black attaché and moving around in his hand, the brightest red apple I have ever seen.
He was wrapped in wool from the rust-colored socks to the gray/brown tweed slacks and huge-hooked, high-collared gray sweater. His brown-rimmed spectacles sat on his high, angular nose further solidifying his sophisticated countenance.
I traced his neckline, examining the boundary between flesh and hair, which was classically quaffed and brown, his reddish, well-manicured facial hair lending age and masculinity to his lean frame. The only words I heard were solid, heavy, and sure.
He was the urban man who I thought I would become when I move to Chicago. I am not disappointed that my metamorphosis did not occur, but for a solid 20 minutes, I floated with the man of my inspiration.
The Book of Joy is a discussion between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama on what creates joy. How do we obtain and keep joy while enveloped by a “me, me, me” world? Beyond being spiritual leaders, both men share personal suffering experienced on a global scale (apartheid in South Africa and Chinese occupation/exile of Tibet).
Their stories and many others illustrate joy being obtained through forgiveness, compassion, and generosity. Offering concepts of joy from both a religious perspective and a secular, more human interpretation, the dialogue is complimentary yet stark. It matters not what religion or spirituality governs one’s actions, to both men, and the science provided, humans are innately generous and compassionate when the material, the competitiveness, and the fear of this world is overcome.
“People are seeking joy in the wrong places.”
They are generous in their estimation of today’s world, more so than I, but I am just discovering the power of letting go of self and seeing outwards. Experiencing the respect and kindness between the other’s words illustrates that a world connected by a universal desire to heal can overcome many obstacles.
It is a grand book to mark a new year and a new way of looking at our place and purpose in the world.
I was introduced to James Martin, SJ when interviewed by Krista Tippett on her wonderful source of light, On Being. “Finding God in All Things” was the tile and during the interview, Martin detailed his calling, “while watching TV,” to the Jesuit priesthood. He was moved by Thomas Merton – a voice of light – and Merton’s journey of coming to God and ultimately vocation.
He is assured that God meets everyone where they are. He builds up the potential in all of us to be holy, and not in the ridge, technical, ‘religious,’ one-way only holy, but the possibility of holy that exists in our everyday lives and our everyday callings.
“The primary difficulty in grasping the universal call to holiness is that many people feel that they have to be something else or someone else in order to be holy. A generous young mother who spends most of her waking moments caring for her children, for example, may say to herself, sadly, ‘I’ll never be like Mother Teresa.’ “
He is humble in his discernment of scripture and the church and his ease finds its way to us in a religion that is joyful and accessible to all. Martin encourages us to joyfully explore our individual relationship with God. To get a taste, read his Twitter, it may open your senses and light all the ways that God finds us.