On My Nighstand

Here’s what’s on my nightstand right now:

The Little Black Book: Six-minute reflections on the Weekly Gospels of Lent 2009
The Little Books were created by The Rev. Ken Untener (1937-2004), a bishop from the Diocese of Saginaw. A friend from our parish has made it his own personal mission to distribute Little Books to others. Each year during Lent, Advent, and Easter, a Little Book appears as if from nowhere, on my doorstep, or is passed to me through a chain of friends.

With a Little Book on your nightstand, you can take part in the ancient practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina is a way of praying the scriptures by reading a short passage each day (usually a progression through one book of scripture) slowly and carefully, and meditating on the words; then paying attention to the words, images, or ideas that capture your imagination. There is one Little Book each year for the seasons of Advent (blue cover), Lent (black cover) and Easter (white cover). If you want to know more about Little Books, visit www.littlebooks.org.

I don’t know about you, but I am waiting for the Not So Little Book for Ordinary Time (green cover).

Sappho was an ancient greek lyric poet born between 630 and 612 BCE. She is one of the first, if not the first, women poets whose work is extant; most of work exists in the form of fragments of manuscripts. Look at one here.

Sappho’s work is all full of love, longing, passion, and (famously) jealousy. Here are a couple of my favorite Sappho passages:

From Fragment 16:
Some say mounted warriors, some a fleet of
Ships, and some say foot-soldiers are the finest
Sight upon the black earth, but I believe it’s
Who you desire.

From Fragment 102:
Sweetest mother, I cannot work the loom -
Slender Aprodite fills me with longing for a boy.

(Ooh - she’s got it bad, wouldn’t you say?)

Blue notebook
This I purchased at the White Sale (sale on all paper and notebooks) at Wet Paint. That’s my kind of White Sale. Keep your sheets and towels - give me paper!

I keep it by my bedside so that I don’t lose little snatches of poems that come to me in that boundary-crossing time between sleeping and waking. Here’s an example of what’s inside:

And in case you're wondering: Yes, making poetry *is* like making sausage.

Partakers of the Divine Nature by Archimandrite Christoforos Stavropoulos, translated by the Rev. Dr. Stanley Harakas
This book explores the concept of theosis, “the union of the human with the divine (p.18),” also referred to as deification. This concept, while also embraced in the Roman tradition, is particularly important in Orthodox Christianity. I have to admit that this book is not an easy read. I usually get about two sentences into a paragraph and throw in the towel. Maybe with time I will get through it. Otherwise, I guess I will just have to stay here in the human realm, beating my breast and gnashing my teeth.

100 Poems from the Chinese translated by Kenneth Rexroth
A collection of work by ancient Chinese poets who wrote between about 700 CE and 1200 CE. One of my favorite things about this collection is the easy come/easy go approach of the translator: “I make no claim for the book as a piece of Oriental scholarship. Just some poems.”

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorites by the poetess Li Ch’ing Chao:

From “Autumn Evening Beside the Lake”:

The herons and seagulls sleep
On the sand with their
Heads tucked away, as though
They did not wish to see
The men who pass by on the river.

Iowa Review
A literary journal published at the University of Iowa. This issue contains a wonderful series of poems on the Annunciation; also an article exploring the judgements we make about parents whose children are found wandering the streets at 3 a.m. (I have lain awake many nights praying that a certain one of my children would never do this, even though he figured out the locks at age 18 months).

The Alchemy of Illness by Kat Duff.
Subtitle: “A woman explores the transforming - and, paradoxically healing - experience of being ill.”

This has been sitting on my nightstand staring at me. I stare back. Apparently, not only is it difficult for me to write about illness; it’s also hard for me to read about it.

My Journal
I use the Infinity Journal by Levenger. It has a leather cover, with refillable inserts available lined or unlined. Mine now also features “cover art” by Sister.  Available at www.levenger.com (the journal, not the cover art).

The History of God by Karen Armstrong
This is a re-read of a book that I think should be required reading for everyone who claims one of the three monotheistic religions. This book traces the development of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism from antiquity to modern times. It is striking to examine the similarities amongst these religions; and for that matter, to understand the interplay of the monotheistic faiths with paganism. Armstrong raises the issue of theology of election (the idea of a chosen people) vs. a religion of tolerance and compassion. She guides us through Church history looking both at the development of sacred texts, and at the social and political influences on the development of Church doctrine and practice. Armstrong also examines how people's conception of God has changed throughout history so that the idea of God could continue to "work" in each new age.

This is a thought-provoking exploration of how we leave our human fingerprints all over our concept of God, and what that means for history (think the Crusades, the Inquisition, or even the influence of religion on American electoral politics in recent years).

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter
Robert Alter has made it his life’s work to render the Hebrew scriptures in English more faithfully than previous translators have done. In Alter’s translations of what is known to us as the Pentateuch, gone are the flowery renderings of the King James, and the salvific foreshadowings found in most (all?) English translations of the holy book (ancient Israelites had no concept of an afterlife, let alone of salvation or eternal life).

An example taken from Genesis 1:1-2:

The KJV has,

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light...”

Alter’s translation:

When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.”

It really is a treat to read these foundational stories in the direct, concrete, and vivid language used by Alter. He manages to make them beautiful in English despite his primary focus on faithful translation of the Hebrew. I also recommend his translation of the book of Psalms.

Well, it has now taken me longer to write this post than it used to take me to write a five-page paper back in my grad school days.  I'm going to go take a nap now.  What's on your nightstand?


Jill Spencer said...

Today, a box of kleenex, my glasses, my bible, a boring book to be read in the middle of the night when I can't get back to sleep, a novel by Mary Higgins Clark, and the next TC Reads selection.

Mom (as if you didn't know)

Anonymous said...

An alarm clock which never gets used because we have two human alarm clocks (one 10 months, the other 3 years), a pen, two notebooks in which I record things about the boys' lives, and a book about feeding your children which I have renewed three times and probably will never finish.

ljchicago said...

An alarm clock which never gets used because we have two human alarm clocks (one 10 months, the other 3 years), a pen, two notebooks in which I record things about the boys' lives, and a book about feeding your children which I have renewed three times and probably will never finish.