Books and Book Reviews: July 2008 Archives

I often tire of hearing how businesses should be left alone to regulate as they see fit--that governmental interference in the workplace is disruptive to economic progress.


But then there's this:

from In Praise of Slowness
Carl Honoré

One British manager put it bluntly: "We're in a cut-throat business, and if our rivals are getting seventy hours per week out of their staff, then we have to get at least that to stay in the game."

This is the attitude that infuses laissez-faire economics--people are capital, people are commodities, people are resources to be used and disposed of at will. It is dehumanizing and it is a distinctly anti-Christian view of the person. And if it is not actively protested by those who experience it--if we countenance it, then we are contributing to its continuation. The form of protest, the one I use most often and which offends nearly no one is to refuse to say "We don't have the resources for that." I always say, "There are not enough people for that" or "We do not have enough staff to manage that." It's a small way of continuing to point out that people are people and staplers and paper are resources.

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Nature and Humanity


from In Praise of Slowness
Carl Honoré

A recent study at Texas A&M University found that having a view of green spaces from the bedside window helped patients recover from surgery more quickly and with fewer painkillers. So hospitals are installing outdoor gardens, revamping wards to provide more sunlight, plants and green views and broadcasting footage of dolphins swimming in the sea or streams gurgling through sun-dappled forests on in-house TV channels.

Why should it come as a surprise or need any research to discover that humans respond well to their natural environment? We have made such a ritual of our divorce from nature in everything from the food we eat to the places we live to the ways we move about the face of the Earth, that we have forgotten that we are bound inextricably with nature. Indeed, St. Paul tells us that with the fall of humanity all of nature fell as well, descending with the fallen race to support and aid us in our miserable fallen existence. It is God's mercy that we are part of this wonderful natural world, and through our own ignorance we constantly try to deny it.

Later (and please note I can neither comment upon nor do I endorse the therapy mentioned):

Caleta combines reiki with other techniques to heal and ralx. She starts off by steering the patient through a deep-breathing exercise, and then uses guided meditation to help them visualize a peaceful scene in nature. "People who live in cities respond especially well to making that connection with nature,"she says. "It really calms them down."

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I continue to read through Soul in the City and while there is nothing astonishing here, there are a great many insights that are thought-provoking and even, as my protestant friends would have it "convicting."

fromSoul in the City
Marcy Heidish

"There are some peoplewho, in order not to pray, use as an excuse the fact that life is so hectic that it prevents them from praying. This cannot be," wrote Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "Prayer does not demand that we interrupt our work, but that we continue working as if it were a prayer" Everything we do, then, can be offered to God in a prayerful way.

If you don't feel comfortable with concepts such as breath prayer, try speaking directly to God. Just speak. Tell Him everything; talk to Him. "He is our father," Mother Teresa said. "He is father to us all whatever religion we are."

Add insights from Saints and holy people of all faiths, to outright challenges at the end of each chapter:

[source as cited above]

5. Begin to see God in each person you pass in a crowd. Practice this slowly for one block, then two block, then more.

6. Pray silently in a crowd. Deliberately note when you're intent on holding your own in an urban setting.

10. When you're walking downtonw or in an urban settings, try this mental exercise: imagine being part of a crowd swarming around Jesus. Do you behave differently? Is your attitude different? Note these times in a journal.

Ms. Heidish write's particularly for the urban dweller, but her advice holds for anyone who feels hard-pressed by the tensions, anxieties, and heartaches that come with living in a world that is moving far too quickly for us. The warm and beautiful insights of this book can help us to focus once again on the presence of God wherever we happen to be.

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Robert de Boron's Prose Merlin


There was a time when a scholar had to order through ILL and wait for weeks or months before he or she could set eyes on such works as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini or Robert de Boron's Prose Merlin. No more.

from Prose Merlin
Robert de Boron

Full wrothe and angry was the Devell, whan that oure Lorde hadde ben in helle
and had take oute Adam and Eve and other at his plesier. And whan the fendes
sien that, they hadden right grete feer and gret merveile. Thei assembleden togedir
and seiden: "What is he this thus us supprisith and distroyeth, in so moche that
oure strengthes ne nought ellis that we have may nought withholde hym, nor again
hym stonde in no diffence but that he doth all that hym lyketh? We ne trowed not
that eny man myght be bore of woman but that he sholde ben oures; and he that
thus us distroyeth, how is he born in whom we knewe non erthely delyte?"
Than ansuerde anothir fende and seide, "He this hath distroyed, that which we
wende sholde have be mooste oure availe. Remembre ye not how the prophetes
seiden how that God shulde come into erthe for to save the synners of Adam and
Eve, and we yeden bysily aboute theym that so seiden, and dide them moste turment
of eny othir pepill; and it semed by their semblant that it greved hem but litill or
nought, but they comforted hem that weren synners, and seide that oon sholde
come which sholde delyver hem out of tharldome and disese?

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Gandhi's Gita


from The Gita According to Gandhi

No knowledge is to be found without seeking, no tranquility without travail, no happiness except through tribulation. Every seeker has, at one time or another, to pass through a conflict of duties, a heart-churning.

Dhritarashtra Said:

1. Tell me, O Sanjaya, what my sons and Pandu's assembled, on battle intent, did on the field of Kuru, the field of duty.

The human body is the battlefield where the eternal duel between right and wrong goes on. Therefore it is capable of being turned into a gateway to Freedom. It is born in sin and becomes the seed-bed of sin. Hence it is also called the field of Kuru. The Kuravas represent the forces of Evil, the Pandavas the forces of Good. Who is there that has not experienced the daily conflict within himself between the forces of Evil and the forces of Good?

This, apparently is Gandhi's translation into Gujarati, then translated into English, of one of India's great sacred books. For those interested, the entirety is available here.

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I suppose it is odd to put these two writers together, and I do so for only one reason--so I'll start with that and move on to tpleasures one derives from Henry James alone.

While there are a great many things delightful about reading both Georgette Heyer and Henry James, one thing the two have in common is a sensibility that seems to have long since fled the world. They come from a world and a time that was not completely genitally obsessed. In Henry James, marriage, infidelity, and the like make up the fabric of the story, but we are not invited into the intimacy of the physical marital union--it is not germane to his point--as it is not germane to most of what we read. It is an add-on that has long since lost its shock-value, novelty, and, frankly, its interest. It's one thing to read Lawrence Durrell trying to turn the literary world upside down (a little late considering he came in the wake of Henry Miller), and quite another to read the tawdriness of most modern novels wherein sex is interjected because there seems to be nothing else to keep the reader's interest for pages on end.

As with Henry James, so too with Georgette Heyer. In most cases her virginal heroines are married or about to be married on the last page. There is always some kiss or another misinterpreted, unasked for, or otherwise "transgressive," but nothing that would offend the sensibilities of my grandmother. And that's exactly as I like it. I have read, at the recommendation of another, some modern romances and have, in some cases, been delighted with the writing, but nearly always disappointed by the perceived necessity to make the stories "hot."

While Henry James and Georgette Heyer both share in this delight, there is another pleasure in James's writing that cannot be said to be a characteristic of Ms. Heyer's. Henry James forces us to slow down. It is nearly impossible to get anything out of reading Henry James rapidly, except perhaps a sense of vertigo and a headache that threatens to split your skull. Henry James, particularly in the later period, specializes in periodic sentences that require slowing down and reading with great care. To wit:

"She hadn't pretended this, as she had pretended on the other hand, to have divined Waymarsh's wish to extend to her an independent protection homeward; but Strether nevertheless found how, after he had Chad opposite to him at a small table in the brilliant halls that his companion straightaway selected, sharply and easily discriminated from others, it was quite, to his mind, as if she heard him speak; as if, sitting up, a mile away, in the little apartment he knew, she would listen hard enough to catch."

Now THAT is a sentence. And The Ambassadors as well as The Golden Bowl is a book of such sentences and more. (I cannot yet speak to The Wings of the Dove, but hope to do so soon.) It was one of my great plesures when the reading group I belong to expressed delight and great pleasure with reading The Portrait of a Lady. There is a sense of accomplishment in just getting through the books; however, there is a lingering element--a kind of spirit of the book that stays long after the last page has been finished and the last word said that provides a sustained pleasure--that gives one a true sense of why Henry James is rightfully called "The Master." There is none other like him, not remotely, and I have to say that it came as a woeful surprise to me that I was unable to pick up much of anything in the way of modern literature after having taken in the real and solid pleasures of The Portrait of a Lady. The modern sensibility palls in comparison. Henry James turns pleasure, leisure reading into an edifying and strengthening activity that delights both heart and mind in the recollection of it. There is no modern writer of whom I would say the same.

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I recently started reading this book, finding the concept intriguing--city spirituality. I'm intrigued not because I live in a city, I don't--but because the concept has larger applicability. I can think of it as the spirituality of those who do not appreciate the crowd, as it were.

A real delight upon opening the book was to find an index, a bibliography, and end-notes, like a real books. So few books on spirituality bother to share the sources from which they derive much of their insight. And with this books the sources range from magazine articles to Holy Scripture itself.

I'm not attempting at this point to review the entire work, just to share some of my enjoyment and the high-point of today's reading.

from Soul and the City
Marcy Heidish

I learned a great deal about praying in crowds from homeless women, especially Nell. She practiced prayer on the street by holding a phrase from a humn, a song, or Scripture with her throughout the day and repeating it to herself--and to God. Sometimes, she said, the phrase was short. For example, "Lord, have mercy on me." Sometimes she would vary this phrase by praying it as intercession, "Lord, have mercy on her/him/them." Other times the phrase was longer.

There is nothing astounding in this--nothing to take the breath away. And yet there is a down-to-earth solid practicality that I find inspiring. To read this is to be reminded that prayer is only a thought away--prayer is a choice, an act of love, and act of will that each person can make his or her own through the true prayer and exertion of the Holy Spirit whose inward work is both inward and upward, translating us into the realm of the Father even as we remain ignorant of it.

I'll share more as I continue to read.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from July 2008.

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