Reading the Greats—or not

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.

Do you know how to pray?

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 PilgrimageThe 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

C.S. Lewis n+ 1 Book Sale

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.

Badge Heart with solid fill

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

photo:Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

No Toxic Fish

Giving shouldn’t just feel good; it should do good. Dr. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It explains the difference in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on Thursday, August 12 at 6:00 p.m. Central.

We’ve all heard the adage “Buy a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” It’s good common sense: give skills rather than gifts. But until Bob Lupton published his book Toxic Charity in 2011, the good works and generosity of churches, schools, and charities often didn’t connect with this concept. How many of us have been involved in Christmas Drives that gathered bicycles and new dolls for underprivileged children, or bought presents off a list for everyone in a family? How many parties have we been to where the price of admission was a toy for a needy child? And what makes us feel better than a day spent working with colleagues at a food bank, processing meals for hungry families? It feels good to care for others; it feels good to be generous. How could that be toxic?

When I first heard the title of this book, I found myself getting irritated: What’s the problem with being generous? People can make an issue out of anything these days. But after that initial knee-jerk, I read further. And I realized the connection between the old fish-saying and Lupton’s message. Toxic Charity isn’t about suppressing the urge to help those in need in our communities, it is about how to actually help them.

He begins by describing what he calls “The Scandal,” which is the situation where charitable giving is being wasted or is harming the people it is intended to help. At the time of writing this book, Lupton had worked over forty years in inner-city Atlanta and around the world trying to create models of urban renewal that actually served the poor. He worked with every type of helping organization that exists—churches, corporate volunteers, entrepreneurs, government agencies and individuals. There is no shortage of people desiring to help: according to Lupton, almost 90% of American adults are involved either personally or financially in the charity industry.  The upside of helping is well-established.

But the outcomes are unexamined. “The food we ship to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit—all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground—on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity—quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping.” While that seems surprising, Lupton goes on to explain that the heart of the scandal is that this type of giving creates dependency. It destroys personal initiative. And he gives many examples of charity that has caused communities to stagnate or even regress. The aid received becomes “the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.”

On the surface, it’s a very sad thought. But the strength of Lupton’s message is that it takes us beneath the surface. He details the difference between the type of aid a community needs when it is in crisis—after a storm, an earthquake, or another tragedy—versus the type of support it needs to face chronic problems. He explains how human nature affects both ends of the charitable spectrum. It is easier to collect old clothes and drop them off than it is to work with people to create a thrift store that they can run and that allows them to regain their dignity. It is easier to give people food than it is to work with them to create a food co-op where they have responsibility and ownership for the care of their own community. Aid agencies often aren’t able to shift their actions from “crisis relief to the more complex work of long-term development.” And when that transition is not made in a timely way, “compassion becomes toxic.”

In his experience, Lupton has seen example after example of charitable relationships that soured because the basic formula of giving and taking creates imbalance. His book provides a mission statement for healthy compassionate service, in the form of an oath, and he explores the principles outlined to create redemptive rather than toxic interactions between those with resources and those who need them. His examples are sometimes shocking—mission churches that have been painted ten times in one summer; demanding “vacationaries” who pay exorbitant sums to “help” by doing work that has to be undone once they leave; churches that spend tens of thousands of dollars on mission trips for their members to lay tile that will need to be ripped out when the community they mean to serve has real needs the money could address; and many, many more examples of both groups and individuals who suffer from the outcomes of toxic charity. But as he explains the power dynamics of the giver and the receiver, and reiterates the difference between crisis and development, it is clear how situations like these would evolve time and again if we don’t change the model.

Once we recognize what healthy helping can look like, we need to recognize that it can be challenging to move beyond what he calls “us-based giving.” People on both ends of the formula will push back. It’s harder to get someone to come and work than it is to get them to come in and get a handout. It is harder to form relationships with people whose situations are different than ours than it is to write a check. We need to focus our efforts and move from betterment to development. It is obvious that it is harder to teach someone to fish than it is to go to the store and buy a box of fish sticks, but the book goes into the nuances of very specific types of charitable giving and service, outlining both pitfalls and solutions.  

Lupton paints a clear picture of what will happen if we don’t realign our charitable impulses with actual outcomes.  When I finished, I realized that my initial irritation was defensive: It’s scary to enter into relationships with people who are needy, but it is what we are called to do. If our intention is to truly help people, we need to do it in a way that helps them, rather than provides a quick fix for them and a helping-high for us. To modify another old expression, the road to hell is badly paved by well-intended, unskilled volunteers who didn’t take the time to understand or work with the people they were trying to help. Lupton reminds us that our intentions can be used for good. There will always be need, and we are always called to help. But we need to be honest about the situation and about ourselves before we decide how to proceed. Although it’s not a new book, it has new relevance now as we reconsider many of the relationships and attitudes in our communities. Reading Toxic Charity would be time well-spent before beginning or continuing any outreach program. Everyone deserves the opportunity to catch their own fish.

Dr. Lupton will be in conversation with the Rev. Dr. David Barr, Associate Rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN, as part of the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on Thursday, August 12 at 6:00 p.m. Central time on Zoom.

For the link to the conversation, click here.

To purchase the book from The Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Anne Lamott Always Shows Up for Us

The prolific author’s latest book provides a booster shot of spiritual courage. She’ll be discussing it with us on April 8, 2021.

The flaps of Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn: on revival and courage, ask, “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? How can we cope as bad news pile up around us? Where, Anne Lamott asks, ‘do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back…with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?’” These are big, good questions.

I have more questions: How do you review an Anne Lamott book? How do you explain this verbal life-force to someone who may not already be familiar with her? How do you catch a cloud and hold it down?

The New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, WowSmall VictoriesStitchesSome Assembly RequiredGrace (Eventually)Plan BTraveling MerciesBird by BirdOperating InstructionsHallelujah Anyway and many other fiction and non-fiction books, Anne Lamott is a successful writer by anyone’s definition. Words pour out of her. While a large proportion of these words are about herself, her stories of single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity have resonated with readers for over three decades. 

When asked why she writes, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”

Anne Lamott is nothing if not self-aware. With dead-eye accuracy, she writes the books she wants to read. They are good medicine, but they are difficult to describe individually. They even dress alike. Her latest book, Dusk Night Dawn, is packaged like all her books since Help Thanks Wow: It’s a slim volume with two color printing, gift-book binding, pretty endpapers and a single excerpt on the back cover. She does not need to be endorsed by other writers; rather, what she writes just needs to be packaged beautifully and presented to her adoring audience.

Despite the sameness and the foregone conclusion of success that this formula suggests, I’m part of that audience. I love Anne Lamott’s writing. I have all her books, and I’ve gone to hear her speak every time she’s come to town. But it’s tricky trying to individuate this latest book. In many ways, Dusk Night Dawn is just like Help Thanks Wow, or Hallelujah Anyway, or any of her other books in this vein. They’re each a stream-of-consciousness recounting of episodes from throughout her life, with a few images and individuals anchoring her thoughts. This one, written after her recent marriage to Neal Allen and during the last presidential term adds these topics, polar opposites that both lead her to deep rumination, and still covers single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity.

If you haven’t read any of her previous books, I have no idea how you might respond if you jumped into this massive oeuvre with Dusk Night Dawn. If you have read Anne Lamott before, of course you need to read this latest. While you’ll be interested to hear about how her online dating worked out, you’ll have the same reaction to her writing that you’ve had before: you might think she needs more editing; you might think she’s prophetic; you might wonder where she’s going with some of her anecdotes, only to find yourself pondering them like a good parable several days later. Or you might skip the literary judgement and declare this new book just perfect. Because, more than anything, her constant message to readers is how deeply we are loved by our Creator, even in the darkest night of our unedited, rambling imperfection. Even, and especially, when the world seems like it’s falling apart. Nobody’s looking for perfection; we just need to show up for each other.

The Anne Lamott quote on the back of the book says, “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet the center may just hold.” Dusk Night Dawn is sub-titled on revival and courage. But isn’t all her writing about revival and courage? While she struggles every day to show up for her life, her center has clearly held. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s held well enough for her to create a multitude of books about her journey, books that help us better understand where the center of our own lives should be and help us show up, for ourselves and our dear ones.

So, yes, we are older. Yes, our joints are stiff, and we’ve been stumbling through a heartbreaking year, even if we were lucky enough to find or hold love in it. And yes, this book looks and reads a lot like her books that have come before it. But don’t let that keep you from reading it. It’s the same, but it’s different. The parables stay the same, but we change. There’s still more to understand.

As always, she’s tangential, irreverent, charming, opinionated, and brutally honest. Reading her, book after book, is like sitting down with a thoroughly modern Maria (When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus, and bemused, and I never know exactly where I am. Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather. She’s a darling; she’s a demon; she’s a lamb. She’d out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest. She can throw a twirling dervish out of whirl. She is gentle; she is wild; she’s a riddle; she’s a child; she’s a headache; she’s an angel…she’s Anne Lamott.) How do you explain her remarkable verbal magic?

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Read Dusk Night Dawn. Or, if you’re not already familiar with her work, go back to Operating Instructions or Bird by Bird and get to know her and her people from the beginning. Each book layers richness on the last. You can’t read about Anne Lamott: you have to experience her books for yourself. You might not be able to explain just why, but chances are you’ll feel revived and more courageous afterward. And isn’t that what the sub-title promised?

Anne Lamott will be featured in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on April 8 at 6 p.m. Central. Join us to experience her irrepressible wisdom by registering at the link here.

To purchase Dusk Night Dawn from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.
~ Henri Nouwen

The Advent Newsletter goes all mod

Though we’re publishing it electronically this year, the Bookstore’s traditional Advent Newsletter still provides our suggestions for books with heart—for gifts or for your own shelf!

Every year, since practically the beginning of time, the Cathedral Bookstore has published an Advent Newsletter. The newsletter has traditionally been an elegant, cream-colored affair, inserted into the service leaflet during the four Sundays in Advent. It consisted of a selection of books that the bookstore deemed interesting to the congregation for giving to loved ones, or for reading over the twelve days of Christmas.*

The books were not meant to be the latest hot titles (you can read the New York Times or tune into NPR for that), but rather a list of books that might really appeal to the sensibilities of our readers, books that they could give to a friend or grandchild without worrying that they might somehow be inappropriate or uninspiring, or books that would perfectly suit a cozy cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon. We have tried to find books with heart, on a variety of topics, that literate, spiritual, open-hearted people would gladly welcome to their shelves.

The hope was that over the course of Advent, a large number of congregants would receive the newsletter and stop by after the service to do a little elf work, have a cookie with us, and visit for a bit.

The cookies and the visiting weren’t an option this year, but elf work and reading seemed more necessary than ever. We decided to forgo the traditional printed newsletter and publish our suggestions on-line. The Advent Newsletter made its electronic debut in the Cathedral Bulletin’s December edition.

Though we are quite hi-tech now, we remain committed to the traditional pairings of real books and tea, cookies and friends, correspondence and paper, and all the other lovely things that make life a bit nicer. Perhaps next year, we’ll be able to print a traditional cream Advent Newsletter and insert it into the service leaflets. In the meantime, despite the very modern delivery of our list, we hope that at some point in the future you’ll have the chance to read some—or all!—of the titles we’ve suggested. They spoke to us, and we’d like to share them.

Here they are. All are available on our site, for pick up or shipping.

Books for Adults

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson: This engrossing true adventure takes readers into the underground world of fly-tiers and feather thieves. A heist from the British Museum of Natural History’s ornithological collection catapults the author into a world-wide, years-long quest to understand how far the deeply obsessive pursuit of rare feathers can take fly-tiers.

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think 
by Jennifer Ackerman
: Not only do birds have more in common with us than previously thought, there is also no one way of being a bird. Drawing from recent scientific research that dramatically shifts our understanding of how birds live and think, itreveals that a remarkable intelligence gives them abilities, both positive and negative, that we once considered uniquely human.  

The Lost Book of the Grail   
Charlie Lovett
: A technophobic bibliophile goes on a quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail.  Combining literary and historical research with elements of cozy mysteries, classic love stories, and adventure tales, this genre-blending tale will delight both book lovers and church history buffs.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:Though Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, she tried to write the story of Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher accused of murder in the 1970s. Cep’s masterful research and insight bring every aspect of this remarkable story to life: Maxwell’s crimes, courtroom drama, racial politics of the Deep South, and a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers. 

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear: The author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs mysteries shares her post-War English childhood in a memoir rich in history and humanity. Revealing her artistic inspirations and capturing nuances of working-class strengths and family secrets, she includes her grandfather’s shellshock; her mother’s evacuation from London during the Blitz; her father’s work on a WWII explosives team; her parents’ years living with Romany Gypsies; and her own experiences picking hops and fruit in rural Kent. 

Every Moment Holy: Pocket Edition, volume 1 by Douglas McKelvey and Dan Bustard: This beautiful illustrated book of liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life — such as “A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends” or “A Liturgy for Laundering” or “A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season,” remind us that our lives are filled with sacred purpose even when we are too busy to notice.

Books for Children

Love Can Come in Many Ways by Terry Pierce: Lift a swan’s felt wing to discover a baby cuddled underneath, then lift a felt speech bubble to discover the words “You are loved!” Beneath each flap, little ones will find a wealth of loving engagement, from the songs a mama frog sings to a warm hug from a papa elephant’s trunk. Grade: Birth-Pre-K.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas Collection: Stories, songs, and reflections for the Advent season by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This interactive story, sound, and song experience prepares families for Christmas. In addition to the timeless story, the book features recordings of classic Christmas music, a map that traces Jesus through the Old Testament, and devotional readings. Rather than ending on Christmas morning with Jesus’s birth, it provides a complete celebration of the holiday season. Grades: PreK-2

Birdsong by Julie Flett: A young girl moves from the country to a small town, and she feels lonely until she meets an elderly woman who shares her love of arts and crafts. Can the girl navigate the changing seasons and failing health of her new friend? Textured images of birds, flowers, art, and landscapes bring vibrancy and warmth to this story that features Cree traditions and highlights the fulfillment of intergenerational relationships and shared passions. Grades: PK-3rd

Dinosaur Feathers by Dennis Nolan: Poetic nonfiction with glorious illustrations explains how dinosaurs evolved into birds. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the shores of Mesozoic seas. Large and fearsome, they ruled the earth, until gradually, there were no dinosaurs left. But they didn’t disappear completely. Some dinosaurs had feathers, which grew and grew…until all through the skies were hundreds of species of birds, which flew and flew. Grades: 1-4

The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share by Emma Bland Smith and Alison Jay: This true story tells how America and England almost went to war in 1859 over a pig. On the small island of San Juan in the Pacific Northwest, the British and the Americans are on fairly good terms until one fateful morning when an innocent British hog eats some American potatoes. Tensions flare, armies gather, cannons are rolled out . . . all because of a pig! With humorous text and folksy illustrations the story models peaceful conflict resolution. Grades: 2-4

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr: Astrid spends her days racing down the hillside on her sled, singing loudly, and visiting Gunnvald, her grumpy, septuagenarian best friend and godfather. Two startling arrivals to the village of Glimmerdal reveal that Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret that will test their friendship. Astrid — Pippi Longstocking meets Heidi meets Anne Shirley — navigates the unexpected changes with warmth and humor. Grades: 2-5

Letters from Father Christmas  by J.R.R. Tolkien: Every December from 1920 to 1943, an envelope would arrive at the Tolkien household bearing a stamp from the North Pole. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting, along with a beautiful colored drawing or painting. These fanciful, heartwarming stories of Father Christmas are now reissued in a centenary edition. Grades: 3-6

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte: This well-researched historical fiction by a Deaf librarian is set in a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century. Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected, but now she faces family turmoil and rising tensions between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. A cunning young scientist arrives hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness, and she must struggle to save herself from his experiment. Her story asks readers to reconsider what normal means. Grades: 3-7

Philosophy by DK: For thousands of years, philosophers have asked questions like “What is right and what is wrong?”, “Am I real?”, or “What is the point of existence?” These questions have sparked passionate debates about how we understand the world around us. This engaging book introduces philosophy through the teachings of Plato, Confucius, Simone de Beauvoir, and many more. Including biographies of influential philosophers, it explores questions that have been fundamental to the development of scientific study, logical thinking, religious beliefs, laws and governance. Grades: 5 and up

From the Cathedral

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry: Bishop Curry expands his message of hope in this inspirational road map for living the way of love, illuminated with moving lessons from his own life. Through the prism of his faith, ancestry, and personal journey, he shows how America came this far and, more important, how we can discover the gifts we need to live the way of love: deep reservoirs of hope and resilience, simple wisdom, the discipline of nonviolence, and unshakable regard for human dignity.

In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Politics by Barkley S. Thompson
Foreword 
by the Honorable Linnet Deily: Dean Thompson makes 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 Campusedited 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.

And, of course, we should mention two very special gifts:

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 by Dieter Ufer: Each year, Dieter Ufer creates 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. A beautiful Cathedral tradition, the trees can be displayed singly or in groves on your table, mantel, or shelf.

Wishing you a peaceful Advent, a joyous Christmas, good health, and happy reading!

*NB: No Advent Newsletters were ever read during the sermon, no matter the length or subject. Any reading that happened to take place during the service occurred solely during the prelude or the announcements.

It seems like everything sleeps in winter, but it’s really a time of renewal and reflection.
~Elizabeth Camden

Can’t Keep a Good Bookstore Down

When the pandemic shut our doors, we found a window. And it’s open for business!

For thirty-seven years, the Cathedral Bookstore has been a welcoming corner of Latham Hall, a place to see friends on Sundays, and a resource for the literary needs of parishioners and downtowners. When the pandemic led the Cathedral to move to on-line worship and forced Treebeards to shutter, the Bookstore had to do some quick adjusting, too.

We began exploring new service options, starting with delivering books to homes. It was a great way to see people when we were feeling isolated, but we soon learned that Cathedral parishioners come from all over Greater Houston’s 9,444 square miles, (that’s larger than New Jersey)—and some from even further. Hand delivery was not sustainable for all the books people needed. Over the summer, we expanded our website, explored drop-ship options with our vendors, and set up direct invoicing. We’re getting to be very familiar with the kind folks at the local USPS. We still deliver by hand when that’s the best way to get the job done, and since the Cathedral offices opened, we provide lobby pick-up Monday through Friday. It was quite a summer, but readers need to read, and we had to find ways to get them their books.

We’re grateful to all the supportive booklovers who continued to order from us when supply chains were slow, and we weren’t just sure just when books might arrive. We’re thankful for all the recommendations of great titles that customers have shared with us. And we so appreciate the customers who have sent us their book club lists and said please order all of these for me. All of these purchases directly support the operating fund of the Cathedral, so buying a book from the Bookstore provides manifold blessings!

We can’t wait for the day when we’ll be able to open our doors and welcome everyone back for cookies, puzzles, and browsing. In the meantime, look on our website, Facebook, and Instagram for information on new titles, books for Cathedral programs, and other items of interest. 

We continue to expand the website as fast as we can, but with the hundreds of books and gifts we carry, and the untold number that are available, we’ll never be able to list everything.  Whether we meet in person or on-line, our goal is to provide you all the books and gifts you need, delivered with love, so don’t hesitate to let us know how we can be of service.

Contact the Bookstore:

Website: https://thecathedralbookstore.com

Email: bookstore@christchurchcathedral.org

Phone: 713-222-0286

Facebook: @christchurchcathedralbookstore

Instagram: cathedralbookstore


When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
~Helen Keller

Mystic Wisdom for Modern Times

As demands piled up, a battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led my introverted friend and me to contemplate Julian of Norwich.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend. “No way,” I replied. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.” Not long after that, we found ourselves at home all the time. What better time to read a new novella about Dame Julian?

Before the virus, daily life was busy. Phones were ringing, emails flying. There were coffee dates, yoga classes, meetings, and dinners; between them all, texting, Instagramming, and sometimes — when I could stand the acrimony — Facebooking. There were also many lovely hours at the Cathedral Bookstore engaging with volunteers and customers, discovering and selling books, searching for delightful gifts, and decorating for the seasons of the church year. When everything rolled along smoothly, it was wonderful, but the smallest stick in the wheel could quickly turn busy to overwhelming.

A friend who volunteers at the Bookstore calls herself a recluse, but she’s actually very social—on her own terms. The term “friendly introvert” comes up frequently in our conversations. One day as demands piled up, we were therapeutically sorting used books. A battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led us to contemplate Julian of Norwich, and the lives of anchorites in general.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend.

The cloistered existence sounded peaceful. Not ready to deal with the world? Draw the curtain. Hungry? Eat the food that appears at regular intervals. Inspired? Pray, write, sing, knit.  Have visitors when you open the curtain, and a front row seat for every service in the cathedral. Mainly, exist at a safe remove from the messy demands of daily life. But in modern times? “No way,” I told her. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.”

Not long after that conversation, we found ourselves at home all the time. We still have virtual ways of connecting; but we are not busy the way we were. Aside from work, we can draw the curtain and log off when we want. Rather than peaceful, though, it feels more stressful than the busyness did. I thought of Dame Julian again, this time wondering how she had the strength to live all those years sealed in a small room.

When I found a recently published novella about Julian, I was quick to buy it. Lady at the Window: The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich by Robert Waldron tells the story of a Holy Week late in Julian’s life. With God’s “shewings” many years in the past, she must draw on the deepest well of her faith to remind herself that God is still with her.

Each section presents a day in Holy Week and incorporates Julian’s own words from Revelations. She shares her wisdom about God’s omnipresent love with a homeless wounded soldier, a frightened unwed mother, and several others who fear not only their situation, but also the church’s condemnation. Each visitor leaves Julian’s window feeling uplifted and beloved, even as she herself struggles to re-enter the divine light that she once experienced. The book details her daily routine, a grueling regimen of prayer, fasting, secret writing, and opening herself in complete vulnerability to the pain of her community—not at all the stress-free existence my friend and I had romanticized. Julian expresses her gratitude and deep love for the God she refers to as “My courteous Lord” and “Mother Jesus,” as she beseeches this loving entity to end her spiritual darkness.

The novella is spare but richly referential.  It weaves medieval spellings into the text in a way that feels compelling rather than gimmicky. By the end, I had to remind myself that it was not based on a real journal of Julian’s. Waldron’s text combines the interior life of the notable mystic with her larger historical context, presenting her in a way that made me want to delve more deeply into her actual writings.

Waldron presents the mystic experience thoughtfully. His twenty books include six on Thomas Merton and two on Henri Nouwen. He has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and multiple awards for his writing on modern spirituality. In the afterword, he says Julian of Norwich’s writings serve as “a window, though which we can at any time gaze, and see the great beauty, wisdom, and counsel she has to offer for the twenty-first century.” His novella provides an accessible entry to her world.

Reading it reminded me that while the virus cloisters me away from the daily joys — and pains — of busily interacting with the world, there are still many ways to engage with my own life, with my community, and with God. In Julian’s darkest week, she remains fully present to all three. Reading about the profound mix of light and darkness in her Holy Week provided the centering thought that if we focus on the presence and love of God in everything — even in our modern plague — all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Lady at the Window
The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich
a novella
978-1-64060-534-3
$16.99
Paraclete Press
To purchase, click here.

 

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.

~T.S. Eliot

Our Beloved Becky Has Written a Book!

Cathedral Canon Becky Zartman’s new book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.

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Before the pandemic, college students lived in dorms and struggled to make sense of classes, friendships, themselves and God. Chaplains were there to walk with them on their journeys and serve as experienced, loving companions. Though the current college experience may be in flux, Belovedness: finding God (and Self) on Campus reveals the vital role chaplains can play in helping students understand their relationship with God, their communities and themselves, virtually or in person.

This collection of essays by the Rev. Becky Zartman, the Cathedral’s Canon for Welcome and Evangelism; the Rev. James Franklin, her dear friend who serves as Campus and Young Adult Missioner in Winston Salem, North Carolina, primarily at Wake Forest University; and eight other college chaplains from a variety of denominational backgrounds, begins by explaining the concept of belovedness, something those we honor as saints have understood. What made them saints, the introduction explains, was “their fidelity to who they are and whose they are. The love of God set them free and enabled them to change the world.” College, with all its “questions of vocation, relationships, and navigating young adulthood” is fundamentally about the question, ‘Who am I?’” The editors and authors in this collection want college students “to believe wholeheartedly that belovedness is the innermost ‘I am’” of their identity in God.

Each chapter asks “How would you [fill in the blank] if you knew you were loved beyond all measure? How are you going to choose to live into your belovedness?” and fills in the blank with a full range of collegiate experiences: making choices, success and failure, relationships, worship, sex, sexuality, partying, and mental health. For each topic, a particular chaplain shares anecdotes, scripture, and empathic understanding to help students understand how they might handle this aspect of college if they lived into their belovedness. Each chapter also includes further resources regarding that topic.

The book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college. Each chaplain seems carefully chosen for the subject of the chapter, and each shares their understanding in clear and specific detail, with an open and warm heart.

The last chapter, “Holy Sh*t,” written by Becky with all the energy and intellect that have made her so beloved by Cathedral members, begins by extolling the virtues of compost. She goes on to reassure students that even when they face such traumatic experiences as grief, eating disorders, sexual assault, controlled substance abuse, burnout, failure, or academic probation, “our God takes garbage and makes compost. God is working, even right now, to redeem all things. Even though you can’t see it or even imagine it. Redemption is happening; death is being turned into life.”

Finally the conclusion, “What Now?” sends students out to face their college years with the understanding that, like Jacob, their role is to wrestle with God. Only they can do the struggling necessary to grow into themselves.

Belovedness includes an appendix which explains how to find a campus ministry that will truly allow students to live into their belovedness, instructions on the prayer practice the Observatio,and step-by-step instructions for creating a small group to discuss the book.

Whether on campus or in a virtual setting, beginning or returning to college, any student who wants to find balance and peace while experiencing all that the college years have to offer will feel that they have found trusted friends and mentors in this group of chaplains and will benefit from their collaborative wisdom.  Belovedness would make a meaningful gift for graduation or back-to-school and will remind readers even long past the college years “who they are and whose they are” and how important it is to live with this understanding.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
~Nelson Mandela

 

In Praise of Summer Reading

The shared experience of reading books in the cool of the air-conditioning will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

On the first day of summer when I was a little girl, my next-door neighbor would gather all the kids from our block and take us to the library. She’d sign us up for the summer reading program—charts and suggestions and prizes, and mostly all the wonder of books. For the rest of the summer, she would take us back once a week to get new books and check in with the librarian about our progress. The dusty cool shelves provided respite from the hot Houston humidity, and the new friends we met between the book covers became permanent additions to the language of our neighborhood group—Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alexander with his terrible horrible no good very bad day, and so many other memorable characters.

Last summer, many decades later, when the Cathedral began Cathedral Reads, it brought back all that summer reading joy. Our dean, Barkley Thompson, chose Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as the book for kids and adults. We set dates at the end of the summer for a congregation-wide conversation, a movie night, and a deeper dive into the book with the dean.

On a hot August morning, well-over two-hundred people gathered between services to discuss the book. The dean gave an overview, and then at tables of ten with a facilitator and five questions, over coffee and cake, we brought our widely different perspectives on the book to the table. The following week, we ate popcorn and pizza as we watched Gregory Peck’s 1962 Academy Award-winning version of the movie. Afterward, the dean lead popcorn theology, and we compared the messages of the book and the film. The program wrapped up at a special version of the Dean’s Book Club.

The shared experience of the book created new friends, engaged old friends, and gave everyone an entry to conversation. Differing viewpoints were presented and heard respectfully, and we all came away understanding ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

Throughout this past year, people kept coming into the bookstore asking what the next Cathedral Reads book would be. The dean took suggestions, considered many titles, and finally chose two books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for adults, and Wonder, by R.J. Palacio for kids, youth and adults who may not have read it yet. The books are linked by the concept “What Does Brave Look Like” and the discussions will focus on identity, courage, and faith. Both books will have Zoom reading groups throughout the summer to discuss questions regarding the reading to date, and the Dean will facilitate two larger Zoom conversations on Owen Meany. Then, circumstances permitting, we’ll meet up for a larger discussion and to watch the movie Wonder together, before the program wraps up again with the Dean’s Book Club.

We’re none of us sure when we’ll be able to gather, but we are finding creative ways to connect. And having the shared experience of books to read in the cool of the air-conditioning will introduce us to people different than ourselves, and show us their hearts. It will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better. It will give us new friends and make us more thoughtful people.  Just like the library’s summer reading program used to do way back when.

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 
~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie