Whether you made the journey to the Lighthouse this summer or buried your nose in a beach read, we have much to discuss about our summer reading.
I’m a fan of summer reading. When I was a child, my mother, Polly, provided us with Beatrix Potter, The Flower Fairies, The Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles—anything imaginative and colorful she could find on the shelves of her library or at the local bookstore. Our neighbor, Jane, on the other hand, took us to the library, where she introduced us to Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, and all those orange biographies of the childhood of every man or woman a 1960s view of American history deemed important—earnest, realistic books which we read as quickly as possible so that the thermometer we had drawn on manila paper to measure our books-toward-goal could rise as quickly as the Texas heat.
My mother never worried whether we finished our books or not. If we wanted to stop midway and get out watercolors to copy the beautiful botanical outfits of the flower fairies, or make chamomile tea like Mrs. Rabbit did for naughty Peter, we were engaging with our books, and that was all that mattered. Sometimes she would interrupt our reading to recite Winnie Ille Pu— Ecce Eduardus Ursus Scolis Nunc Tump Tump–to us, or encourage us to memorize a poem—Annabel Lee anyone?
My mother and Jane loved and respected each other, but both would make comments over the short hurricane fence that separated our yards about what children really needed—in more areas than just summer reading. And lucky me that I was exposed, saturated in fact, in both of their approaches. I love to read. I have a college degree in reading. And I am always ready for a book adventure.
This summer, I went on a literary trip that I had already experienced. The Cathedral Reads summer reading program featured Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. The last time I read this renowned novel was when I was getting that degree, when the idea was just dawning on me that books were not just for a summer afternoon’s pleasure, but instead could make sense of the widening world.
When I first read To the Lighthouse, I was floored. There was neither a clear excursion to pick blueberries nor talking teddy bears. There was no plot, and who was speaking anyway? Several lectures later, I calmed down enough to understand that Virginia Woolf was x-raying the thoughts of her characters. I could finally see what other people were thinking! These characters were having thoughts about each other that not only made perfect sense, they made the world seem more sensible. It was amazing: a new type of book, not Polly or Jane, but Virginia. Something completely different.
Time passed. As Mrs. Ramsay did in To the Lighthouse, my mother died. Jane died. When I returned to the novel this summer, everything was different. This time, I thought I knew what the journey to the lighthouse would be like. I knew that when I lost track of who was speaking, I could double back and pick up their voice again. I knew that I would be hit with wave after wave of revelation about life, explanation after explanation about what makes different types of people tick, and how those people can simultaneously endear themselves to us and drive us away. And I knew that sometimes those waves of words would threaten to capsize me.
If I were a diary keeper, I would go back and read what had most impacted me about Virginia Woolf in my college days. But I don’t have that option. My few distinct recollections of literary revelations were shattered when I re-read the book this summer. Mr. Ramsey’s pursuit of knowledge—he had gotten to Q!—seemed so important back when I had not even rounded the bend on D myself. But this summer, it struck me how literal he was, how judgemental to think his way of thinking was the only path to success, his alphabet the only one that mattered.
I would give anything to talk with my mother or Jane about my return to the Lighthouse. Those conversations would be very different: my mother and I would talk about hospitality, family, Boeuf en Daube, and the inability to ever completely manage a husband; while Jane and I would discuss the importance of bringing woolens to lighthouse children, how many revolutions per hour the lighthouse makes, and Virginia Woolf’s relationship with her father.
In Woolf’s vision of the world, I can have those conversations. She shows me how to telescope the passage of time so that those conversations exist in the same space as my readings of Winnie the Pooh and all the little orange biographies. While my mother and Jane are alive to me in so many memories, habits, and book selections, I still can’t sit down with them and chat.
But I can sit down with you. Are you a Polly reader? A Jane reader? Do you measure your intellectual progress on a linear scale like Mr. Ramsay, or do you make sense of your thoughts through images like Lily Briscoe? Who were you before you read this book, and who are you now? Or did Woolf’s journey to the Lighthouse make you so seasick so you jettisoned your copy off the starboard bow?
No matter. Whether you made the journey this summer, got halfway to the Lighthouse, or held tight to a collegiate animosity towards Woolf and chose not to crack the covers, we have much to discuss. The next time any of us engages with this book, we will be different. Marking our experience with it today will provide an artifact for the future that will show us the path of our reading journey and perhaps offer a few little epiphanies. About our past. About our neighbors. About ourselves.
What did you read, or not read, this summer? Did you mark your thermometer, paint a picture, or flee headlong into beach reading? Whatever your experience, I hope you’ll join us to talk about our summer reading. Canon Zartman will offer us some enlightenment, and we can compare notes. While we can’t promise Boeuf en Daube, there will be snacks. And mostly, there will be good fellowship between the Rite I and Rite II services—a telescoping experience of the past, the present, and the future—a moment in time that Woolf might even consider a religious experience.
For more information on the Cathedral Reads Wrap Up or to view UCLA scholar Emma Ridder’s insightful lectures on Virginia Woolf and To the Lighthouse, click here.
To communicate is our chief business; society and friendship our chief delights; and reading, not to acquire knowledge, not to earn a living, but to extend our intercourse beyond our own time and province.
The Rev. Becky Zartman, Christ Church Cathedral’s Canon for Evangelism and Formation, invites us to spend the summer contemplating a literary masterpiece and bringing fresh perspective into our own lives.
Thought lingers, love plays
I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing, when I read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. I didn’t quite understand what was happening at first, because it was clear that although Mrs Dalloway was about preparing for a party, this book was actually not at all about preparing for a party. Somehow, I was invited into a world of different perspectives, illuminations, and striking observations of human existence. I read the entire book in one sitting.
I didn’t understand Woolf (or Mrs Dalloway, for that matter) but I knew that I loved her. She came at the truth sideways, which is perhaps the only way to tell these sort of truths (perhaps this explains Jesus’ fondness for parable?) What I learned was to let myself be in each moment as Woolf presented it; and in doing that, I learned how to better let myself be in each moment of my own life. She gave me license to see, really see, right now, how the light drifts through the live oak, revealing the dust mites in the air, a moment in time. Woolf showed me that even when the right now is hard-edged, it is only the right now that holds wonder and joy.
So this summer, I am inviting you to your own summer, to your own life. To experience a book (one does not exactly read Virginia Woolf) as practice for experiencing the wonder and joy of the present. Our theme is “Thought lingers, and love plays.” This is my hope for you, that you might linger with your thoughts, and experience the love in your life.
I know this isn’t an easy book, and I know it generates deep and meaningful questions and discussion. So we’ve created a “you can do the thing!” Cathedral Reads this summer.
We will have two lectures with Emma Ridder, a twentieth-century literature scholar. Emma is passionate about helping non-academics interact with “challenging fictions.” She will introduce us to the modernist movement, talking us through why these works are written as they are. For instance, if you’ve ever tried to read T.S. Eliot’s The Wastelandyou were probably left disoriented… which means, that piece of art worked the way it was supposed to. Emma will orient us to To the Lighthouse so that we can be with the work fully. She will be with us on Zoom on June 12th at 2:00pm and June 23rd and 6:30pm.
We will be hosting online small groups, a weekly “Loose Canons” discussion, and of course Dean Thompson’s Cathedral Reads Dean’s Hour on August 7th. One other thing worth noting – since the book is so experiential, we’ve planned a “Lily Briscoe Painting Party” at the Art Cellar in River Oaks; we will be painting a piece inspired by Woolf and To the Lighthouse. That event will be July 21st at 7:00pm
I very much hope you can join me and others in talking about this extraordinary book. You can do the thing! we can do the thing! and more than that, we can experience the thing.
~The Rev. Becky Zartman
For more information on programs and small group discussions, click here.
Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ~Virginia Woolf
At the bookstore, we believe that there are meaningful rewards to a good chat.
The Underrated Art of Chatting
Until recently, everyone was in a hurry. There were important things to do, deadlines and commitments to meet, brands to be built. Books and puzzles were nice in theory: though some people—older, more traditional, or perhaps wiser—remained dedicated to them, the modern world went on and on about podcasts, video games, cable series, and other electronic entertainment that could be consumed in the nooks and crannies of time—on the elliptical, while walking the dog, or in lieu of talking with the old ball and chain over supper. We were, after all, important and in a hurry.
Not so much anymore. For a while we tried to stay in a hurry, on Zoom, with masks on, until we were slammed so repeatedly by the waves of Covid restrictions that we fell back—into our natural introversion, into sour dough starter, into closet cleaning, into news-obsessing, and sometimes into lethargy and despair. The filler articles that surrounded the news tried to prove their relevancy by casting everything in units—units of education lost, units of weight gained, alcohol consumed, and many other darker, sadder measurements.
Beached by the waves and exhausted by opinions, we began to have time to think about something beyond our important projects. We remembered that no matter how fast we hurry, we can’t out-organize, out-run, out-schedule or even out-vaccinate what we fear the most. Kate Bowler reminds us beautifully, there is No Cure for Being Human. But, slowed down by our current reality, we can see that there are perks. Chatting, following the winding rabbit holes of small talk, is surely one.
People come in and out of our bookstore at the Cathedral. Some are regulars, some are visitors, and there are even a few long-time parishioners who have just discovered that we have a bookstore. Some are looking for a book, others want to work peacefully at our puzzle table, but some just want to chat. And we are happy to oblige. We believe that taking the time to share a story with another human being—friend or stranger—is one of the most rewarding and soothing ways to pass the time we have, however limited it may be.
As stories are shared in the store, we begin to notice connections. “That’s your favorite book? Why, it’s mine, too!” “Your cornbread/coleslaw/carrot soup recipe is just like the one my grandmother/mother-in-law/uncle used to make.” “You lived in Ireland/Iceland/Indonesia? I’m going this summer. Please tell me all about it.” It goes on and on. We are all so different, and the more we talk with each other about nothing important, the more we discover the myriad things, small and big, that we share. Chatting is like placer mining. You never know what gems it will reveal.
On Sunday, chatting provided two notable discoveries, among others. First, at the puzzle table, struggling with a thousand pieces of a picture of multi-colored teacups that has been cursed more than once for its difficulty, an older gentleman and a young woman discovered that their families are both from the same tiny town in East Texas. In fact, they were cousins. That discovery led to conversation about Teaching a Stone to Talk, Outlander, cherries soaked in moonshine, and Mormon traditions.
Later, a chance inquiry about a Christmas trip to New Mexico led to a discussion of how beautiful the Cathedral’s live-streamed services are, what a gift they are when you can’t make it downtown, because you have Covid, or are in New Mexico, or perhaps just want to keep your pjs on and connect via Facebook chat. The conversation wound around to the dean’s Christmas Eve sermon, which included a wonderful story about a pilot in New England, in the days before radar, being led by lighthouses through a raging storm on Christmas Eve. The message had been perfect for all of us stumbling around in the dark, running up against Covid restrictions and the pain reflected in the news, and unable to find many units of joy to measure. Just recalling that sermon would have been a rewarding result of our chat.
Today, I received the rest of the story in my email. It turns out, the goodness and strength of that one pilot featured in the Christmas Eve sermon went on to spark goodness far and wide, for decades. The details made me cry, in a happy way, for a nice change.
If you’re looking for a good way to pass the time, come see us. We’ve got shelves loaded with books we’d be glad to recommend. We’re also delighted to just sit and visit. If you’re in a more contemplative mood, you can commune with the stacks or help the new cousins with those teacups.
If you can’t make it in—because you’re under a flood watch, you’re in New Mexico, or you want to stay in your pjs today—you can still connect. Here’s the sermon, and here’s the longer story that chatting unearthed. Enjoy them both.
Live, printed, or electronic, stories weave a wonderful net that connects us. Or perhaps sharing them just brings to light the connections that are already there. Take a few minutes today to chat with someone. You might find a new cousin or discover that you still have some tears of joy left in your tired eyes.
The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic ‘right-brain’ thinkers. ~Daniel Pink
Since before the Flood (or at least before the Pandemic), the Cathedral Bookstore has published an annual Advent Newsletter. While it has traditionally been found in your service leaflets in the past, we discovered last year that publishing it online is more than a silver lining in a dark cloud, it is a bright new day for sharing our selections with friends far and wide.
Please take a minute to look through our list, and perhaps add some of them to your list. All are available in the bookstore, where we are happy to wrap them in pretty paper and satin bows. Come by during the week, make your selections, and we’ll wrap while you grab a tasty lunch at Treebeards. Or join us on Sundays, and we’ll wrap while you sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and gaze at the beautiful stained glass windows. We are delighted by these titles, and we hope you will be, too!
Wishing you a peaceful Advent season!
THE ADVENT NEWSLETTER 2021
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald
Books for Adults:
Atomic Love Jennie Fields Set in Chicago in 1950, this is a novel of science, love, and espionage. Five years after the Manhattan Project, physicist Rosalind Porter finds herself heartbroken and filled with guilt over the bomb. She desperately misses her work in the lab, but she’s almost resigned herself to a conventional life. When her old love reconnects with her, so does the FBI, who suspect him of passing nuclear secrets to Russia. She knows the devastating power of this knowledge, but she is unsure if she can spy on the man she loves. When she becomes drawn to the FBI agent, she finds herself in both physical and emotional danger.
Borges and Me Jay Parini In what the author calls a novelistic memoir, he takes readers back fifty years, when he fled the United States for Scotland to avoiding the Vietnam War. Through unlikely circumstances, he meets the famed Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges who is in his seventies, blind and frail. Borges shares his long-held wish to find a man in Inverness who is interested in Anglo-Saxon riddles. As they travel, stopping at various sites of historical interest, Borges takes Parini on a grand tour of Western literature and ideas, while promising to teach him about love and poetry. Borges’s world of labyrinths, mirrors, and doubles shimmers into being, and their journey becomes a magical mystery tour.
Around the World in 80 Books David Damrosch Inspired by Jules Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg, David Damrosch, founder of the Institute for World Literature, set out to counter the pandemic’s restrictions on travel by exploring eighty exceptional books from around the globe. Following a literary itinerary from London to Venice, Tehran and points beyond, he explores how these works have shaped our idea of the world. He includes contemporary works as well as classics, crime fiction, fantasy, and formative children’s literature. Taken together, these eighty titles offer us fresh perspective on enduring problems and an invitation to look beyond ourselves and see our world in new ways.
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper A weekend roaming narrow old lanes, touring the faded glories of a country manor, and quaffing pints in the pub sounds charming, but danger lurks around each picturesque cobblestone corner and every sip of tea may be your last. Brought to life with Gorey-esque drawings and peppered with allusions to classic crime series and British lore, this illustrated guide gives you the tools you need to avoid the same fate, should you find yourself in a suspiciously cozy English village.
Diary of a Young Naturalist Dara McAnulty This lyrical, startling debut, winner of multiple UK book awards, explores the natural world through the eyes of Dara McAnulty, an autistic teenager coping with the uprooting of home, school, and his mental health, while pursuing his life as a conservationist and environmental activist. Recalling his sensory encounters in the wild – with blackbirds, whooper swans, red kites, hen harriers, frogs, dandelions, Irish hares and more – McAnulty reveals worlds we have neglected to see. It is a story of the binding love of family and home, and how we can help each other through the most difficult of times.
The Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood Featuring a new foreword by Margaret Atwood Novelist and avid birdwatcher Graeme Gibson offers an extraordinary tribute to the venerable relationship between humans and birds. From the Aztec plumed serpent to the Christian dove to Plato’s vision of the human soul growing wings, religion and philosophy use birds to represent our aspirational selves. Winged creatures appear in mythology and folk tales, and in literature by writers as diverse as Ovid, Thoreau, and T. S. Eliot. They’ve been omens, allegories, and guides; they’ve been worshipped, eaten, and feared. Gibson spent years collecting this gorgeously illustrated celebration of centuries of human response to the delights of the feathered tribes.
People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People: And Other Wisdom Julia Child This nicely bound collection of Child’s best quotes, including some of her best lines about eating and food is a compact, meaningful gift for the cooks in your life. Brimming with words of wisdom, life lessons and, of course, food — it’s a delightful treat.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Universe Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson As a species, we may not agree on much, but one thing brings us all together: a need to know. We all wonder, and deep down we all have the same big questions. Why can’t I travel back in time? Where did the universe come from? What’s inside a black hole? Can I rearrange the particles in my cat and turn it into a dog? Researcher-turned-cartoonist Jorge Cham and physics professor Daniel Whiteson are experts at explaining science in ways we can all understand, Here are short, accessible, and lighthearted answers to some of the most common, most outrageous, and most profound questions about the universe in an essential troubleshooting guide for the perplexing aspects of reality, big and small. If the universe came with an FAQ, this would be it.
All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told Daniel Wolk Here is the first-ever full reckoning with Marvel Comics’ interconnected, half-million-page story, a revelatory guide to the “epic of epics”—and to the past sixty years of American culture—from an authority on the subject who read all 27,000+ Marvel superhero comics and then made sense of it. Wolk presents the Marvel universe as a prism through which to view American culture the past sixty years, from the terrors of the Cold War to the technocracy and political division of the present day—an epic about power and ethics, set in a world transformed by wonders.
Books for Young People:
WingFeatherSaga Boxed Set Andrew Petersen This collection of Andrew Peterson’s beloved Wingfeather Saga includes all four novels in hardcover: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness,North! Or Be Eaten,The Monster in the Hollows, and The Warden and the Wolf King. This sweeping saga is full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage. Children of all ages will cherish it, families can read it aloud, and readers’ groups can discuss its many layers of meaning. Each book features illustrations by Joe Sutphin, funny footnotes, a map of the fantastical world, inventive appendices, and fanciful line art. Age: 8-12
The Beatryce Prophecy Kate DiCamillo Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall join forces to present a story with timeless themes, an unforgettable cast, and a magical medieval setting—a meditation on fate, love, and the power of words. A girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her. Age: 8-12
I Don’t Want to Read This Book Max Greenfield and Mike Lowery Words, sentences, and even worse, paragraphs fill up books. So what’s a reluctant reader to do? For every child (and parent) who thinks they don’t want to read a book, as well as those who love reading, this playful read-aloud is a book to be shared again and again. Age: 4-8
Words to Make a Friend: A Story in Japanese and English Donna Jo Napoli and Naoko Stoop When a young Japanese girl moves into her new house, she is happy to see a girl her age playing in the snow just outside her window. But she doesn’t speak English and her new neighbor doesn’t speak Japanese. How will they have any fun? What starts with a simple “hello” and “konnichiwa” becomes a day filled with fun in the snow. This innovative bilingual English/Japanese picture book proves you don’t need to speak the same language to understand each other. Age: 4-8
My Heart Corinna Luyken Here is a simple and gorgeous picture book about caring for your own heart and living with kindness and empathy. My heart is a window. My heart is a slide. My heart can be closed…or opened up wide. Some days your heart is a puddle or a fence to keep the world out. But some days it is wide open to the love that surrounds you. My Heart is an ode to love and listening to your heart. Age: 3-8
Jan Brett’s Nutcracker Jan Brett Jan Brett makes this classic her own by setting it in snowy Russia and adding whimsical touches to the favorite elements of the traditional ballet. Families who love the ballet and those new to the story will both find it a wonderful addition to Christmas traditions. And Jan Brett fans will need to add it to their collection. Age: 4 – 8
Andersen’s Fairy Tales Anthea Bell, ed. Illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger Introduce the next generation to the beloved fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen in this beautifully illustrated little volume. This handsome and easy-to-read mini edition features eight tales from beloved storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and pairs old favorites, including “Thumbelina” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” with lesser-known tales, such as “The Sandman” and “The Jumper.” Age: 5-7
From the Cathedral
In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Politics Barkley S. Thompson Foreword by the Honorable Linnet Deily Dean Thompsonmakes an elegant, profound connection between religion and politics. He argues that Christian faith and politics are inseparable, and though the Gospel is inherently political, it is not partisan. To embody God’s politics, we must first steep ourselves in God’s vision for the world embodied in the Gospels, and only then can we act politically. This collection of essays and sermons addresses hot-button social issues by putting this principle into practice, challenging the reader to live God’s politics and to be the vanguard of God’s kingdom in the world.
Belovedness: Finding God (and Self) on Campus edited by Becky Zartman and James Franklin
Thought-provoking essays by Canon Zartman and college chaplains from several denominations address issues of faith, identity, making choices, success and failure, relationships, sexuality, partying, and mental health, through the concept of belovedness. Belovedness gives students a framework for living their lives set free by the love of God and teaches them how to find the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.
Cathedral Aprons Whether you’re serving on the Altar Guild or at your own table at home, a beautiful blue apron emblazoned with the Cathedral logo will make every moment holy, as well as a little tidier and a little easier.
The Resurrection Angel Stained Glass
This replica of the angel in the Resurrection window over the altar was created by artisans in a traditional enamel glazing process. The piece comes packaged with a copy of Dean Thompson’s sermon “Clipped Wings,” a contemplation of this angel. The package includes a chain for display.
Wooden Christmas Trees Dieter Ufer Each year, Dieter Ufer has created exquisite wooden Christmas Trees for sale in the Bookstore. A Cathedral parishioner since1960, he has provided such extraordinary service to the Cathedral that he received the Dean’s Cross in 2016. His father, a talented metalsmith, crafted the cover of the baptismal font and many other pieces integral to the worship experience at the Cathedral, but Dieter has always been drawn to working with wood. His heirloom-quality trees, available in three sizes — tiny, small, and tall — consist of two interlocking pieces designed to be easily packed away for many Christmases to come. Now, since Dieter has moved to Dallas, this is the last batch of his beautiful trees that we will be able to offer.
Gifts and Seasonal Surprises
In addition, we have a variety of gift books, including the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries and Christmas Poems. You’ll find Christmas cards, calendars, gifts for book lovers, colorful Kei & Molly tea towels, beautiful J. Peace jewelry, clever Common Prayer upcycled and embroidered scripture scrunchies, and other seasonal surprises. If you’re looking for something contemplative, we have beautiful editions of the Book of Common Prayer and The Prayer Book/Hymnal combination, Anglican prayer beads, and great books that every Episcopalian should have on hand. We’re here to help you find something meaningful for everyone on your list and wrap it up with a bow so you can have a peaceful Advent and a very merry Christmas!
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. ~Jorge Luis Borges
The Cathedral Bookstore is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays 8:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.The Bookstore will close for Christmas on Thursday, December 23 at 2 p.m. and reopen on Sunday, January 2, 2021.
For more information, contact Lucy Chambers, Bookstore Manager:
I used to be scared of skeletons. They were good branding for pirates, and it was reasonable that doctors might keep them in their offices for reference purposes, but otherwise, they gave me the creeps. Day of the Dead calaveras? No thank you. Biker chic tatoos? Not my vibe. Skeletons took me to dark places where I didn’t want to go.
Death. Darkness. Who wants to go there when they don’t have to? Let’s stay focused on the present, I would say. Live in the light.
When Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) came out in 2018, there was enough buzz about it that I carried it in the bookstore. But I didn’t want to read it. She had Stage IV cancer. She had a baby. You can’t make lemonade out of that, even with all the pretty words in the dictionary. An unacknowledged part of me also feared that if I read about something so heartbreaking, it might somehow manifest in my own life.
Then she wrote another book: No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Know). I wouldn’t have read this one either, but I was asked to review it. And, as it does every time, diverging from my comfort-zone as a reader has made all the difference.
The premise of No Cure for Being Human is that Kate Bowler, a history professor at Duke Divinity school and now famous author, has to figure out what to do with the time she has left. And it turns out she may have more time than she expected when she got her original diagnosis. She weaves stories about her days—the body her treatment has left her living in, her hopes and fears for her son, her challenges in continuing her professional life, and many more exquisitely drawn intimate moments—with the story of her father’s pursuit of his doctorate, a long journey that seems digressive but eventually adds another rich layer to the story.
The effect is that of a mosaic made of beautiful fragments, each interesting and detailed. But in the end, rather than leaving us with one more anecdote in this moving journey, she pulls the whole thing together with a meaningful anecdote about a cathedral that makes Kate Bowler’s journey make sense, no matter how imperfect and unfinished it may feel.
Reading No Cure is like stepping back from an impressionist painting and seeing something more real and more comprehensive than an actual photo would have been. The little scenes that she paints each offer their own small truths—a chiaroscuro of dark and light moments—but viewed as a whole, they are deeply satisfying.
As I read, chastising myself for having avoided her previous memoir and promising to read it next, it occurred to me that her story was a memento mori, reminding us you must die, and therefore encouraging us to note the preciousness of our days. But once I finished, I realized that this bittersweet, resonant book is more than just another literary skeleton shaking a warning finger at us. It is a memento vivere, reminding us to remember to live.
By fully preparing to meet her Maker, soon, Kate Bowler came to terms with death. Rather than being scared, she has been able to embrace the fullness of life as it is actually lived, not as we wish it might be. Despite my initial fears, No Cure for Being Human isn’t scary, or maudlin, or self-congratulatory. It’s honest and alive, and it provides a very real hope and peace about how to pursue a real life without denying the reality of death. Or skeletons. So let’s go there, and stay focused on being as whole and fully present as our circumstances allow. Death, darkness, light, shadows, love.
If you haven’t already, read No Cure for Being Human. And remember to live.
To purchase No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear) from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.
To register to hear Kate Bowler (and see her fabulous smile) in conversation with The Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN in the EBA Authors Series on Zoom on November 11 at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here.
It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Join Cameron Dezen Hammon, award-winning spiritual memoirist and writing instructor for a Spiritual Writing Workshop, Sunday, October 24, 6 -8 p.m.
When I say, “Spiritual writing,” what do you imagine? Does the image of a darkly clad Victorian lady transcribing messages from the great beyond pop into your head? Or do you think of St. Augustine, pouring out his Confessions? A medieval monk prayerfully copying the Gospel by candlelight in a high tower?
Or do you picture yourself in more modern settings with contemporary tools: a Moleskine prayer journal, where you transcribe prayers and respond to them, or where your original prayers flow freely onto the page? A blog where you click and share your devotional thoughts with others in real time?
Spiritual writing has taken many forms over the ages, but its purpose has always been to answer the same question: How do we connect with the divine? How do we capture the concept of infinite Love with a few nouns and verbs? How do we convey our feelings and questions about God to other mortals? Words fail.
But words are often all we have. And they are a powerful starting place. Henri Nouwen said, “Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories.” By writing, he said, we claim what we have lived, and we can integrate it more fully into our journeys. In this way, writing can become lifesaving, for us, and for others. It can connect us, to ourselves, to each other, and to God.
We’re all on a spiritual journey, and we can benefit from writing our stories. Whether you want to write your experiences to process them for yourself or to share them with other travelers, the first step is to take pen to paper to capture the details.
It’s interesting that the Old French root for both journey and journal is journée: a day’s length, a day’s work or travel. We experience our spiritual journey one day at a time. If we are going to write a spiritual memoir, we need to begin capturing our experiences one day at a time, journaling until we can begin to see pattern or direction emerge. At that point, we can begin telling the stories of our journey in ways that provide even deeper meaning for us and for our fellow travelers.
Join us this Sunday evening, October 24, 6 p.m. til 8 p.m. when Cameron Dezen Hammon, who teaches Creative Nonfiction and Spiritual Writing in the English Department at Rice University, leads us in a Spiritual Writing Workshop. She will delve into the ways we take part in a spiritual story that connects us to one another, to the Divine as we understand it, and to the natural world in which we live. We will investigate our own spiritual experiences through writing prompts, conversation, and a short reading from her award-winning spiritual memoir, This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession.
Take the first step on the writing journey, or find companionship along the path you are already following. Whatever your experience with writing, this evening promises to be centering, enlightening, and encouraging.
Join us before the workshop at The Well, a contemplative Celtic Eucharist, and for Tea & Toast by the bookstore in Latham Hall.
The cost of the workshop is $20, and it includes a copy of This Is My Body, as well as a journal. Register to attend by clicking here. For more information, click here. And, if cost is a hardship, please contact the Rev. Becky Zartman by clicking here.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. ~Flannery O’Connor
Spiritual Writing with Cameron Dezen Hammon is presented in partnership with Brazos Bookstore.
When you ask two powerful women if they’ll start a bookstore for you, don’t be surprised if they are still an integral part of it four decades later.
The Cathedral Bookstore begins its 39th year this month. On October 12, the Dean of the Cathedral honored two retiring founders, Wendy Bentlif and Cynthia Pyle, with a Celebration Tea in the Mellinger Room. The following is an article that appeared in the October 2021 edition of the Cathedral Bulletin and provides some insight on the dedication of these two remarkable volunteers.
The Cathedral Bookstore thrives because of its volunteers
Christ Church Cathedral Bookstore Manager Lucy Chambers thinks of the store as the front porch of the Cathedral.
“It is a part of the Cathedral with a long tradition,” Chambers said. “The Bookstore helps to create a welcome and a feeling of family.”
A large part of the Bookstore’s success is due to its volunteers, two of whom are being honored with a champagne tea on October 12. Cynthia Pyle and Wendy Bentlif, who both recently retired from their duties, had been there since the Bookstore opened on October 16, 1983.
Bentlif remembers her reaction when former Dean J. Pittman McGehee talked to them about staffing the store.
“I turned to [Cynthia] and said, do you think we can do it?” Bentlif said.
The answer was a resounding yes.
To understand what a community jewel the Bookstore is now, you must consider what downtown Houston was like in the early 80s.
“It was vacant,” McGehee said of the area when he ar- rived in 1980. “I was a young ambitious priest, and my charge was to bring it back to life.”
As he told Chambers for a 2017 blog, he followed Henry Ford’s advice: “The greatest wisdom is in doing the obvious.” For McGehee, the obvious was taking an “old-fashioned church parlor” known as the Red Room and repurposing it as a center of intellectual curiosity. Opening a restaurant in The Cloisters was an additional community-building move. “People started coming,” McGehee said. “It became its own presence.” Pyle, who also was the store’s first manager, was on board with a Bookstore from the start.
“I had asked to volunteer,” Pyle said. “I’d always been involved in books, schools, and libraries. I told Dean Mc- Gehee and Canon Logan that I thought we could do it. I was sure the volunteers – with me included – would make a great team.”
After Alberta Jones, the former manager of Episcopal Bookstore in River Oaks, helped get the store going, Pyle managed the Bookstore until Kathy Jackson became manager around 2003. After Jackson started as assis- tant manager beginning in 1993. Pyle stayed on as a dedicated volunteer leader until the end of 2020.
“I loved creating something,” Pyle said.
Over the years, the Bookstore has come to hold a special place in the hearts of staff, volunteers, and patrons.
“The Bookstore is special because it provides a welcoming space for members of the church, the com- munity and the Diocese,” Kathy Jackson said. “Sharing stories and experiences in such a beautiful setting draws many repeat customers who are often surprised at the variety of books and gift options this small store offers. The volunteers are absolutely the key element to the longevity of this ministry.”
Author, retired priest and 19-year volunteer Earle Martin said he’d always wanted to work in a bookstore.
“I was the only man back in 2002,” he said.
Earle was a widower when met his second wife Kristi there. After Kristi passed away, Earle became acquainted with his current wife Nancy through her patronage of the store.
“We just knew each other over the counter at first,” he said.
Earle was pleased to do the signing for his second book, The Boy Who Saved My Life, there.
“The thing that makes [the bookstore] special is the people,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful place.”
Long-time volunteer Jan Fitzhugh loves that there is a place to see her friends, check out books and gather on Sunday morning.
“My favorite memories revolve around children sitting on the floor in their section and discovering reading is fun,” she said.
Frequent patron the Rev. Ed Stein said it’s important to remember that the Bookstore doesn’t just serve the Cathedral community.
“[Tourists] come into the Cathedral to find something to look at, and then discover the store and the people who are working there that day and leave having had a personal welcome to the city with maybe a purchase or two – and more importantly leave with a really positive experience of the Episcopal church as a place of friendliness and welcome,” Stein said.
“It’s so rare to find an independent bookstore nowadays and I think we are a hidden gem in down- town Houston,” adds volunteer Roxanne Dolen.
Chambers, who took over for Jackson in 2017, said that the volunteers are the ones who carry the store’s history. They also start new traditions, like the 1,000-piece puzzle that Truitt Hallmark, husband of longtime volunteer Pat, oversees.
“I love being in a community of book lovers,” Chambers said.
Chambers gives Pyle all the credit for the institutional procedures and sound practices she instituted in the beginning .
“We still use them today,” she said.
Chambers also praised Bentlif ’s convivial nature. “Wendy was always right there with you,” Chambers said. “She made me feel at home.”
Pyle and Bentlif say that the Bookstore will always be special to them.
“We all always got on so well together,” Bentlif said. “The store was such a big part of my life all these 40 years,” added Pyle.
Volunteer Catherine Lippincott sums up nicely the magic of the Bookstore, which goes beyond books. “It’s a feeling that is experienced when you walk in the door,” she said. “It is rooted in the history, time and tide of the shop. The books ground the space, but the fairy dust comes from the happy spirits who enter and who work there—past and present.”
If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman. ~Margaret Thatcher
pictured above: (left) Cynthia Pyle and (right) Wendy Bentlif at a Bookstore Christmas party in the 1980s
Feeling literary? Looking for inspiration? Tune in to the EBA’s conversation with Marilynne Robinson on Thursday, October 14, 6 p.m. Central, as this Great Author discusses her latest novel, Jack.
Have you read Moby Dick?
It’s not a trick question. I just wonder sometimes how many people have really read it, versus how many just read the CliffsNotes for a high school English test, or how many just say they’ve read it because everyone has. Or thinks they should have.
When I was younger and trying to be literary, when faced with the have-you-read question regarding a popular, controversial, or classic book, I would make a non-committal Mmmm or Hmmm—not an untruth, but a sound that could be interpreted as yes, or as I’m pondering what I might say to you about this significant work.
The world is different now, and no one is expected to have read anyone else’s booklist. There is no longer a canon, a list of classics that render you uneducated if you have not read them to the point of quotability. Yet somehow, when recently faced with the question “Have you read Marilynne Robinson? Would you review Jack?” I found myself wishing I had steeped myself in her previous novels, wanting to be a person who had, and tempted to make a vague, disingenuous noise.
I, too, am different now, so I admitted that I had not, in fact, read the previous ones. Many people whose taste in books resonates with mine have loved these books and recommended them, but I missed the boat when Gilead was published; over the intervening years, I got busy reading newer, shinier titles. But considering Jack, I thought taking the plunge into the fourth of the four would at least get me started with this esteemed collection. If I sank with my lack of perspective and needed to get on more solid footing, I could revert to old bad habits from my days of literary pretension and save myself by reading reviews, (or, God forbid, Cliffs Notes) to fill the gaps in my understanding.
To my delight, I discovered that Jack is so deftly constructed that no knowledge of the previous novels was necessary. Elements of the back story that readers need to make sense of the eponymous main character emerge naturally, the way we might recall part of our own story as new experiences cause us to reminisce or fret about encounters in the past.
Jack, the prodigal son of Reverend Robert Boughton, was born in Gilead, Iowa, with clouds from a dark realm surrounding him. To polite, too talented, and too difficult to pin down with rules or mores or even minimal expectations as a child, when this novel opens, he has become a vagrant in post WWII St. Louis. He’s out of jail for a crime he didn’t commit, but admits he could have, and he’s trying to deal with just being Jack without hurting — or connecting with — anyone else. That’s a big challenge, as trouble manifests around him even when he is most desperately trying to be harmless. Jack is a gifted man: literary, philosophical, musically inclined, well-mannered. He seems only able to use these talents sardonically, which has earned him the nickname Slick.
When Slick meets Della, the warm, intelligent, and upright daughter of an A.M.E. bishop, his carefully constructed world of avoidance and non-connection is radically changed. Recognizing that the persona he has created (or that Fate has created for him) is destructive to Della’s respectable life, he tries to stay away from her. But she has seen through his dark façade and has recognized a soul mate.
Being a soul mate has no bearing in pre-Civil Rights America, where all that the heartbreaking majority of people on both sides of the racial divide can see is that there is no place, physically, legally, or morally, for a white man and a black woman to have a committed relationship.
The book is told completely from Jack’s point of view. Della materializes for the reader though extensive dialogue. Both characters, as well as her family, who appear in the narrative, and his, who do not, still come clearly to life. Page after page contains wisdom about the human condition, and in the end, though it is difficult to see it coming after every hard thing that happens, there is room for grace. A nuanced, real, and surprisingly fresh grace. Much like grace appears in our broken world, even today.
Have I read Marilynne Robinson? I’m working on it. After reading Jack, I am eager to read the previous Gilead books. Do I regret reading them out of order? No more than I regret hearing my family stories in overlapping, circuitous ways, where the same story can have a different moral depending on the times, the teller, or the circumstances. No more than I regret having read the Gospel in a piecemeal fashion over the years. Robinson has created a profound world, and wherever we choose to enter it, it makes sense, or it doesn’t, in just the way our real lives—on earth, in the mind, and of the spirit—do.
If you have read Robinson’s previous books, of course you must read Jack to discover how this bittersweet character spent his prodigal years. And if you haven’t read them, still read Jack. It’s a timely story from the Gilead universe, and it resonates with the racial reconciliation work we are doing now. Though it seems like there is no hope for Della and Jack, there is grace. And though we see ourselves mired in unresolvable tensions now, seeing how far we have come since the time in which their story is set provides hope that perhaps further progress can be made, and further grace experienced.
And Moby Dick? As for me and my reading list, it may never surface.
To register for the EBA Author Series Conversation with Marilynne Robinson, click here.
To purchase Jack from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~Martin Luther King Jr.
On Thursday, September 9, at 6:00 p.m. Central, The Rev. James Martin, SJ, discusses his latest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Author Series.
When I was a little girl, I thought that praying meant asking God that I not die in my sleep, then commending everyone in my inner circle to him: Now I lay me down to sleep…if I die before I wake…and, of course, God bless Mommy and Daddy and Nanny and all the relatives, named at extensive length until I fell asleep. I also had a poster on my wall that asked the Good Lord to deliver me from ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggitie beasties, and other fairly horrific creatures that could have been drawn by Hieronymus Bosch. Needless to say, praying was a little fraught.
Sunday School didn’t focus much on prayer, but it did assure me that because I was a little child Jesus loved me. There wasn’t a lot of how-to involved. He just did. Later on, I was informed by numerous camp counselors that prayer had the quality of a miraculous incantation. You ask, and you receive. Sort of like a genie lamp, with far more wishes. When my very specific and mundane requests didn’t get answered, I had the option of believing that I was asking for the wrong things, or that prayer just didn’t work. I took the latter approach, to the point that if I really wanted a certain outcome, I would pray for the opposite, because I had such a bad record of answered prayers.
It would be many years before I came to understand how much I didn’t understand about prayer: that the Lord’s Prayer isn’t something to be recited without error to prove that one is not a witch; that the “telephone to Jesus” really does create a connection, but not in a Ma Bell sort of way; that the Book of Common Prayer contains some of the most beautiful sentences ever written.
Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow provided the perspective that since God knows everything already, one word prayers will often suffice. But even with that insight, there’s much more to prayer than my early life as a Christmas and Easter Only Episcopalian ever prepared me to understand. More ways to do it. More history behind it. More moving language in it. And, perhaps most importantly, more connection created by it—not just to God, but to the world, to each other. Now that I know a little more than I used to, it makes me want to understand even more.
Do you, too, want to know more about how to pray? On Thursday, September 9, at 6:00 p.m. Central, The Rev. James Martin, SJ, will discuss his latest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Author Series. Father Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America magazine, and bestselling author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth. He has written for many publications, including the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and he is a regular commentator in the national and international media. He has appeared on all the major radio and television networks, as well as in venues ranging from NPR’s Fresh Air, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, and PBS’s NewsHour to Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Before entering the Jesuits in 1988, He graduated from the Wharton School of Business and worked for General Electric for six years. In 2017, Pope Francis appointed him to be a Consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication. He knows how to communicate, with God, and with others here on Earth.
It seems to me that learning how to pray better from an expert like Father Martin would be a very timely practice. For everyone.
If you want to know more about Learning to Pray, you’ll find a review from St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, FL, below.
If you would like to register for the EBA Authors Series conversation with Father Martin, click here.
If you would like to purchase the book from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.
Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. ~St. Teresa of Avila
Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin, SJ (386 pages, HarperOne, 2021)
A good resource to consider as we are encouraged to devote ourselves to prayer during Lent 2021 is a new book by James Martin, SJ. Martin, a well-known author of over 20 books, has written Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone to encourage everyone to engage in prayer. He starts by noting that for many, prayer is “foreign, daunting, even frightening…” (3), and then lists why so many find prayer difficult — they weren’t taught; they think it’s only for holy people; they think or have been told they’re praying “wrong”; they don’t realize that they already pray; they think they have “failed” at prayer; they see no point in praying; they’re too busy or lazy; or they fear change. (3-9) He tells his readers that prayer is all about a relationship with God, and that God plants in us the desire for a relationship with God—God doesn’t pick some of us for a relationship, but makes the opportunity available to all. After a thorough discussion of why everyone should pray, how to pray without even knowing you’re praying, what is prayer, various types and methods of prayer, descriptions of what happens when we pray and how do we discern God’s presence in our prayers, he concludes Learning to Pray by affirming that, when we pray, we can expect that:
–God will show up. –You will encounter God. –You will experience God’s love. –God will invite you into further conversation and deeper relationship, (354), and –You will be moved to act. (355-364)
So, what is prayer? Martin reviews a number of traditional definitions, including “a raising of one’s mind and heart to God” (from St. John Damascene, an 8th Century Syrian monk), and “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven” (by St. Therese of Lisieux, a 19th Century nun), among others. But Martin is most taken with that “prayer is a conscious conversation with God” because he believes that God desires a personal relationship with each one of us. He analogizes that what works well for the development and nurture of human friendships would also apply to a relationship with God. That, for Martin, means that the prayer should spend time with God, learn about God, be honest with God, listen and be silent at least some time, and be willing to change. All of the prayer practices he discusses are how one develops and deepens a relationship with God.
Martin notes that both petitionary prayers (asking God for something for oneself or others) and rote prayers (prayers that have been written down, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, among many) are sometimes pooh-poohed by writers about prayer. He notes that other spiritual writers suggest that petitionary and rote prayers can too often be recited without meaningful thought or intention by the one who prays. Martin, however, entertains the idea that a substantial part of one’s prayer life can and will consist of these types prayer. After all, such prayers are natural and appear often in the Bible or throughout history. They are often written on our hearts. Such prayers unite us with those who have prayed the same prayers over time. He does suggest some useful ways to use such prayers, and also suggests that other forms of prayer should supplement petitionary and rote prayers.
As a good Jesuit, he recommends using the daily Examen as a way to become more aware of God’s presence in everyday life. He also promotes using lectio divina, or sacred reading, as a form for praying with scripture. Centering prayer and praying with nature are other methods to deepen one’s relationship with God. When he discusses each different form or method of prayer, he suggests how the method has been used by others, and shares personal and other stories to illustrate how the prayer is used and experienced.
Many books on prayer discuss types and methods of prayer, but don’t help the reader understand what happens when they pray, nor do they address how we know that it is God that is present with us in prayer rather than an evil spirit or just our own selves – Martin includes a chapter to address each of these concerns.
Wherever you are in your relationship with God, this book will likely have something beneficial for you to consider.
Reviewed by Joe O’Shields, St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida
Increase your peace, joy, and love with more books for less money! One amazing day only. This is truly your lucky day.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” and we agree.
We would add that finding peace, joy, love and all the good things in life always requires more books.
And the number of books that one needs is n+1: “n” being the number of books currently owned.
In light of these truths, the Cathedral Bookstore announces the first ever
C.S. Lewis n+ 1 Book Sale
One day only, August 22, 2021
20% off everything in stock in the store
May your peace, joy, and love increase.
And your bedside book stack.
Because book love.
For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. ~Anne Lamott