Until recently I have only opened one book at a time. Well, when I was in college I suffered through several texts at once. Then there was a long stretch of my life when I enjoyed a novel interspersed with a chapter or two of non-fiction. Now, with no kids, animals or visitors in the house, I have the luxury of reading several books at a time. I’m still working full-time though so I find myself only finishing a couple per month. I fantasize mightily about when I retire, and hop on a train with a stack of the print companions—no e-reader for me, thank you—while I travel across the country and back. Sounds like bliss.
For professional development this year I’m focused on Race and Equity. The material is definitely evocative; that’s an understatement. I’m glad that part of the HR requirement is to assemble a small group of colleagues to read together, discuss and apply our learning. We started with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. So far in 2017, I’ve finished The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Hunger of Memory, The Education of Richard Rodriguez, An Autobiography. Waterlily, a novel about the Dakota people by Ella Cara Deloria and Negroland, the new memoir by Margo Jefferson are on my nightstand now, both half-digested.
I’ve also read several books of The Hebrew Bible as part of Education for Ministry (EfM), Year One. EfM is a four-year course developed by University of the South School of Theology in Sewanee,Tennessee. Each week I meet with 11 others to discuss these ancient scriptures and the commentary. I find myself more and more fond of my co-readers half of whom are men and half women; half younger/half older; some gay some straight; and one native Spanish speaker. I think we’d all call ourselves Christians but I’m not sure about that. We Episcopalians welcome diversity of all kinds, including differing beliefs so this hasn’t been an issue. As my son said about another group at the cathedral, “This is the most diverse group of white people I’ve ever met.”
But the best current combination of books has been my morning practice jewels: The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell and Awakening Joy, 10 Steps to Happiness by James Baraz and Shoshona Alexander. Most mornings for the past ten weeks I’ve read several sections of each book. Dance was an easy choice because I really appreciate Franciscan Rohr’s perspective on theology. This is his latest about the pervasive relationship of Trinity. My friend Jeanne introduced me to Joy, a Buddhist guide to becoming deeply content and embracing well-being. Both books are laced with real life stories. Both reference literature as well as spiritual leaders from around the globe and across time. With its frequent footnotes, Dance is slightly more academic and theoretical while Joy offers practical how-to advice.
Remarkably, as I absorb these works simultaneously I find no more room for the religion compartments I’ve heretofore established in my mind. When I think back, I can’t remember which pearl of wisdom came from which book. The overall philosophies of Dance and Joy are that similar. James Finley said it this way, “When we seek what is truest in our own tradition we discover we are one with those who seek what is truest in their tradition.” Nurturing these blossoms in the rich fomenting soil of my equity and scripture readings takes me right over the top—practically orgasmic. I can hardly describe it in words but I know this is what I was born for and what I will die for eventually.