Review, Reflect, Respond
You need to be fed by other people's creativity
I love when books blow my mind. Sue Monk Kidd writes from the point of view of Ana, who she imagines could have been the wife of Jesus. Before his ministry, and after his birth in Bethlehem, we know very little about the historical Jesus. Kidd researches the times, and finds that it was unlikely that Jesus was not married, that there was a lot of pressure in his community to do so. One thread leads to another and the author imagines a Jesus who would have loved a strong, interesting woman. Ana is that. She is a rebel and longs for more than to be married off to a rich man for a political alliance. She has "longings" and she expresses those longings as a writer recording stories of women. Her need to write is like needing to breathe. Monk's storytelling is compelling, the weaving together of Jesus's ministry with the difficult life that Ana had. It is Ana's story though that is the backbone of the book.
This is Louise Erdich's latest. If you know her work, you know she is a Native American novelist of Chippewa and Ojibwe descent. I have only read one other book of hers, Love Medicine. She is now on my list of authors I need to read more of. This one was rapturous. The characters are so compelling and through their stories, you learn about the unique struggles of Native people. Though this is a work of fiction, it is based on real events. The Night Watchman is based on her grandfather, Chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Advisory Committee at the time (set in the 50s). He organized testimony against an actual bill proposed to terminate the treaties, a legal document that affords Native people some measure of protection. There are other really great characters that give you a sense of the richness of their culture, especially Patrice, a young gifted woman who can perpetuate her culture, but can also go into the world to get the credentials she will need to become a leader. The tragedy of missing Native women is also included in one of the storylines. There are all these different strands woven together to draw you in to the pattern of the story.
I am a huge BK fan. I have read every one of her books, and was looking forward to this one. But reading the blurbs (not the reviews, but the descriptions) was not compelling to me. Yet, going into the quarantine, wanting to support my local independent book store, I thought I would buy it. It is not my favorite, I had a hard time connecting to the characters although the main character is of my generation. The second plot line, set in the time of Darwin, was also not compelling to me. I couldn't identify with this main character at all. At first. It took a while, but I finally was drawn into the web of both stories, but more than halfway through. The conflict in the 19th century story was one that is still played out in today's time, science vs. religion, never the twain shall meet, as well as materialism vs. authenticity. In the modern story, the adult children of the main character Willa play out potential futures for where this generation will take us - will it be a rejection of capitalism and materialism (daughter), will it be continuing exploitation and chasing wealth (son). A touchy mother-daughter conflict is also part of the story. Perhaps the intent is to seek to understand our offspring. I did come to really love the daughter, Tig, who proved herself to me the most admirable of all the characters (oh and her boyfriend was pretty cool too). An argumentative, opinionated rebel who went to Occupy Wall Street and spent time in Cuba, she wasn't a sympathetic character in the beginning.
Sometimes, I wander book stores, and wait for a book to call to me. Such was the case with Creativity (2002) at Kona Bay Books, our used book store. This topic of Creativity has been part of my psyche for a long time, and Fox spoke to me in this book. The complete title is - Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet. In Fox's view, creativity is not about making stuff "frosting on a cake" (p.31), but put in the context of spiritual practice, it is our true nature, our connection to the divine, a way to connect our humanness to our divinity (as in the subtitle). Since I read his work (still reading as his body of work is HUGE), this has been my approach to creativity. It is fantastic for creativity to flourish but that is not the end. The end is to be an expression of the Divine.
After I read the Creativity book, I realized that I had borrowed a book from a good friend years before, called Original Blessing. I went into my collection, and found it, and sure enough, same author! I did not get very far with it back then. This was an earlier work (first published in 1983), and I guess I wasn't ready for it then. Now that I was primed, I was interested in going deeper into his perspective. The idea of Original Blessing is to counter the idea of original sin, which Fox and other Creation Spirituality practitioners reject. Traditional Christianity, with Catholics and Protestsants, hold that we are born with original sin (because of Eve). Jesus came to give us a way to be "saved" from this horrible fate, and unless we are "saved" by Jesus, we still are sinners, and doomed. This frame has dominated Christianity for hundreds of years, though, as he points out, it is not a concept that comes from Christ's teachings. Fox writes that instead of sin being the true nature of humans, it is goodness. Doesn't this change everything? "This goodness is inherent in the beauty, wisdom, and wonder of creation." (p.7) Here is the connection to creativity, not just exaltation of creation in the natural world, but acknowledging that exercising creativity is how we relate to God, how we express God. I admit, this book is not an easy read, but it provides a nice blueprint for how and why to practice this type of spirituality, based on goodness rather than sin. I appreciate this blueprint, but what I appreciate more than that is the articulation of original blessing. I never did get the logic of original sin, although I did wallow in self-hatred for many years, and even now, there are remnants of it. Mea culpa, mea culpa. I also see that this traditional view of sin is related to hatred and self-aggrandizing righteousness that is seen in evangelical Christianity today, such as in the ones who defy the orders to quarantine and say horrible things like: “The church is the last force resisting the Antichrist, let us assemble regardless of what anyone says,” This dualism in which you have assigned yourself to Christ, and anyone who disagrees with you is the AntiChrist, is a symptom of the system of belief that starts with original sin. Instead of rejecting Christianity altogether, I am glad I found Fox, and am studying his work and others of his ilk more deeply.
Wrestling with the Prophets
So after finishing Original Blessing, I wanted to continue in my study of Creation Spirituality. I went to Kona Bay Books, and chose this one (1995). It is a compilation of "Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life." As in Original Blessing, I am contantly underlining and writing in margins. Wrestling refers to the idea of wrestling with "the Godself" - to wrestle with ideas about God and what it means to be human. When I saw that there were themes having to do with environmental as well as social justice, I had to choose this one, out of many other books that were on the shelf. Every time I read this book, I feel like I am wrestling with these ideas, and developing spiritual muscles. Phrases such as ecological spirituality, native teachings, artistic journey, liberation theology, eco justice are addressed in this collection. In recent times, I have been shocked that evangelicals see environmentalism as evil. I see nothing more sacred that care of our planet, except for care of each other. I need to develop spiritual muscle and rhetoric to advocate for the environment, nature, climate change, Mother Earth!!!!
"The sky god alone cannot awaken the deep levels of creativity and eros for which the modern era has left humanity starving." (p.13)
The Netflix movie, Come Sunday, is my kind of religious movie, one that explores the human journey of questioning accepted beliefs ahout God. It is a common enough conflict - an individual has a crisis of conscience and he or she must decide whether to follow through with a newfound truth that conflicts with traditional mores, or submit to the status quo. This is a journey we ALL should undertake in our lives. In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Pearson says: "I just want them (people) to ask themselves: What do I believe and why do I believe it?" So this is what I am doing in this post.
One of the things I love about my Guam friends and the walks and times at the Tavern together, is that we talk about books. This one sounded like one I would like. It goes back and forth in time, as the main character, in his old age, puts the pieces of his life together, and remembers his first love. It is intertwined with the historical era of WWII and the persecution of Japanese-Americans and their internment. The main character is Chinese and when he was a teenager was made to wear an I am Chinese badge so as not to be mistaken for the "enemy." But he befriends a Japanese girl, and yes, the story is bittersweet.
I asked my friend in Singapore, June, an English major, for a book recommendation. Both she and her husband Ed, suggested this one. I told them my favorite genre was historical fiction because you learn about history but your attention is kept because it is told in a story of people and their struggles. The character in this one, a survivor of imprisonment by Japanese in Malaysia during WWII - she did have struggles. Very interesting character, and there is a bit of a mystery in this too, as she tries to learn the location of the prison camp where she was held and where her sister was killed. It also has a poetic element to it as she tries to learn the art of the Japanese garden from a man who was once the Emperor's gardener. So many interesting details, even Japanese tatoo art.
Both 1984 and this one has had renewed popularity because of the "times" we live in. 1984 because of what seems to be thought control, and this one because of the attempt to control women and their bodies. It strangely doesn't seem so unbelievable when you know that there are those who believe in the "higher good" prevailing over individual rights. That women should not have control of their own bodies is a major source of conflict in today's world. Of course, in this book, babies are treasured, and so the idea of abortion is not even "conceived," in that era of infertility. Yet, it is such an inhumane world, even if they think of themselves as righteous. I cannot help but relate it to anti-abortion activists. Are they as heartless and inhumane as the people in power in this book? Hmmm.
Had to get this book. It is such a cultural phenomenon but I don't think I ever read it. The idea that the forces that be want control of its citizens, that independent thought is forbidden, seems not so unreal. The most telling evidence of this in today's world is how our current president and his cronies disparage the free press and claim that it is "fake news" because they are so critical of him. The scarier part is that there are millions of Americans who support him, some of them my friends. They think we are brainwashed, we think the same of them. Don't know how to resolve this. Just hope that the truth reveals itself.
Trying to read more in 2017. I cancelled my netflix and put the time I spent on Netflix (1-2 hours a day) into reading instead. I had this book, a Border's sale book, and packed it up to read. I have always liked William Blake and he is like a supporting actor in this story, which is more centered around a family who become his neighbors. My main impression of this book, though there are other aspects, is that William Blake was an artist who had politically leftist leanings. In the climax of the story, royalist zealots had been pressuring everyone in the town to sign a loyalty oath. The father of the family had refused, not for any political reasons, but that he didn't see the point. When the mob came to get Blake, the father instead spoke up to say he refuses, which diverted attention away from Blake. Blake's response to the turmoil of the time (parallel to the French revolution) was to be an artist.