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“Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett

becomingwise

I picked this book up while at the Faith in Literature conference, where I was fortunate enough to attend two conversations with Krista Tippett, as well as a luncheon with her. She was so inspiring that I could not pass on the opportunity to acquire an autographed copy of her book. It was promptly placed at the top of the “to-be-read” pile.

The book is basically a collection of her thoughts along with snippets of conversations with spiritual thought leaders, activists, writers, and poets from her radio show, “On Being.” She divides the book into five main sections: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. There is so much wisdom in this book, that it is impossible for me to do it justice, so I will just share a few passages and my thoughts on them. The first one concerns the power of stories.

They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.

(p. 26)

I had a professor in college who specialized in Irish literature, and I remember him telling me that stories mattered. That has stayed with me throughout my life. There is power in stories and poems. They convey something about the human experience that cannot be expressed in a spreadsheet or a graph. It saddens me when I talk to people who say they never read fiction or poetry, because they don’t have the time or they only want to read “factual” books. These individuals miss out on something unique to the human experience, a communal sharing that our society desperately needs.

Growing up, I connected to the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s and did my best to carry the torch of social change. But after a while, I became disillusioned, and Krista captures what it is that has changed between the 60s and today.

A comparison was made with the 1960s, another moment of social turmoil, including many assassinations. A journalist said that he thought the difference between the 1960s and now was that even though there was incredible tumult and violence, it was at the very same time a period of intense hope. People could see that they were moving toward goals, and that’s missing now.

(p. 156)

It is hard to remain hopeful when we are bombarded with negative stories via social media and network news stations. I really make an effort to stay positive, but sometimes I can’t help feeding in to the hype. One of my short-term goals is to try to be more positive and hopeful.

I have always been fascinated by both science and mysticism, which is why the following quote resonates with me.

Both the scientist and the mystic live boldly with the discoveries they have made, all the while anticipating better discoveries to come.

(p. 186)

What I love about science and mysticism is that they both seek to illuminate the hidden mysteries of existence. There was a time when the mystical arts and the sciences were aligned. That changed for a while and the two were at odds. But lately, I see the paths converging again, and I think that it will ultimately be the unification of the scientific with the spiritual that will usher in the next stage of human evolution and ultimately save us from ourselves.

With all the negativity, divisiveness, and hostility that I have seen this past year, this book was exactly what I needed to shift my perspective back to the positive. Too often my cynicism kicks in, but Krista reminds me that there is always hope and that we should never stop striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. I want to close with one more quote that really captures the importance of this book, which I hope you will read soon.

Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.

(p. 14)

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“11:11 – The Time Prompt Phenomenon” by Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman

1111

My daughter bought this book for me, which was very thoughtful. I am one of those people who always seem to notice 11:11 on clocks, as do people close to me. And the frequency seems to be increasing, which is even weirder. Anyway, I bumped the book to the top of my list, figuring it was a sign that my daughter felt inspired to purchase it for me.

At first, I was skeptic. The writing at the beginning seemed a little new agey, in the hokey sense. On top of that, it is somewhat dated, referring to the coming of the year 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar as possible reasons for the increase in 11:11 time prompts (and we know that 2012 came and went with a big fizzle). But I stuck with the book, and I’m glad I did, because there is some interesting and thought-provoking material within the pages.

Most of the book deals with number mysticism, sacred geometry, vibration, synchronicity, and the like, which are topics that fascinate me. And as a musician, I am very aware of the connection between numbers and music, which is touched on in this book.

This science of number was discovered through the science, or art, of music. Harmony, another concept rife with mystical allusions, maintains a close relationship with resonance and vibration. This established correlation was thought to be quite simply the basis of the hidden order of the immediate, perceivable world, and behind it all were the numbers.

(p. 73)

One of the instruments I have learned is the sitar (although I am no Ravi Shankar). What excites me the most about this instrument and Indian music in general is the use of droning vibrations and resonance. In fact, what gives the sitar its unique sound are the sympathetic strings that lay beneath the main strings. These strings pick up the vibrations and then resonate. And something about that sound triggers a deep spiritual feeling. It is the transcendent power of music.

One thing that is important to remember is that numbers are symbols, and symbols always mean more than what appears on the surface, which is why we need to pay attention when certain number sequences appear with unusual frequency.

In a symbol there is concealment and yet revelation: here therefore, by silence and by speech acting together, comes a double significance. In the symbol proper; what we can call a symbol, there is ever, more or less distinctly and directly, some embodiment and revelation of the Infinite; the Infinite is made to blend itself with the Finite, to stand visible, and as it were, attainable there. By symbols, accordingly, is man guided and commanded, made happy, made wretched.

(p. 91)

In conclusion, the authors assert that the time prompt phenomenon is a wake-up call for people to turn away from their distractions and shift their awareness to something spiritual that is taking place.

Something or someone is trying to get us to look away from the cell phones, “Crack Berries,” iPods, and MP3 players, computers, video games, and awful reality shows where we watch people play out their own lives for the camera, while ignoring the sheer potentiality of our own. It is truly incredible to think that the “someone” or “something” may be an internal influence originating within our own brains, or perhaps it is a subconscious poke in the side from some higher (or lower!) dimensional being. Remember this the next time your cell phone rings or your e-mail beeps.

The “who” or “what” matters not—the fact that we are being prompted in the first place is the truly important facet of the equation.

(pp. 215 – 216)

So I want to conclude this post with a true story about an 11:11 time prompt that happened to me. I was visiting family and my aunt told me that she keeps noticing 11:11 on the clock and she is convinced that it is the spirit of my mother (long deceased) communicating with her. I found this strange, because I had also been experiencing 11:11 time prompts and wondering about them, and my aunt was very conservative and not one I would consider being open to mysticism. Anyway, later that evening, my cell phone rang in my pocket. I answered and there was no one on the line, and the time, 11:11.

If you have any stories about time prompts, particularly 11:11, I would love to hear about them in the comment section below.

Cheers!

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Meaning of Abracadabra in “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie

MidnightsChildren

Not too long ago, I went to a lecture by Salman Rushdie at the University of North Carolina – Asheville. He was so inspiring that I ended up purchasing a copy of Midnight’s Children (click here to read my thoughts on his lecture). Since I was reading Infinite Jest at the time, it took a little while to get around to it, but I finally did so and finished reading it the other day.

Anyway, the book is amazing and rich in imagery and symbolism. I filled several pages of reference notes in my journal as I worked through the novel. So then the question became: What do I write about? I didn’t want to just write a summary, so I decided to focus on the word “abracadabra,” which is also the name of the last chapter in the book, and share my thoughts on how this word ties in to the overall story.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the etymology of the word, it is Aramaic in origin and roughly translates to something like “I create as I speak.” So the mystical power of this word is that magicians and occultists can use it to conjure or create with the use of a word, similar to the power of the Judeo-Christian god who created all existence from a word (see Genesis).

So here is the passage that I feel is key to understanding what Rushdie is doing on a grand scale with the book.

… yes, and Aadam heard it too, with his flapping ears he heard the rhythm of the magic, I saw his eyes light up as I accepted, and then we were in a third-class railway carriage heading south south south, and in the quinquesyllabic monotony of the wheels I heard the secret word: abracadabra abracadabra abracadabra sang on the wheels as they bore us back-to-Bom.

Yes, I had left the colony of the magicians behind me for ever, I was heading abracadabra abracadabra into the heart of nostalgia which would keep me alive long enough to write these pages…

(p. 519)

At this moment, the protagonist of the story, Saleem Sinai, realizes the mystical power of the written word, that words are magical symbols that can create connections between the past and the present and the future, and that through the use of words, he is creating a mythology that is eternal. These connections, or correspondences, are the building blocks of the myth, because mythology uses symbols to explain things on a grand or cosmic scale. And what I find most fascinating is that what we have here can be described as a meta-abracadabra, since we have Rushdie using the magical power of words to create a story that is a mythology of modern India, but within the story is another story about Saleem using words to write his own myth establishing the correspondences between his life and independent India.

Since I wove in the concept of correspondences, I want to add another quote from the book that elaborates on correspondences.

As a people, we are obsessed with correspondences. Similarities between this and that, between apparently unconnected things, make us clap our hands delightedly when we find them out. It is a sort of national longing for form—or perhaps simply an expression of our deep belief that forms lie hidden within reality; that meaning reveals itself only in flashes.

(pp. 343 – 344)

I firmly believe in the concept of correspondence. All things are connected, and sometimes those connections are obvious, and sometimes they are hidden, as in symbolism. But connections exist all around us, and the power of the written word can help us realize those hidden connections. Abracadabra!

Although this book is rich with symbolism, it is very readable, a terrific story, and has some of the most beautiful use of synesthesia I have ever encountered. I highly recommend reading it. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading engaging stuff.

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The X Files: Issue 01

X-files_01

When I went to the comic store the other day to pick up my cache, this one was in my folder. I confess that I hesitated for a minute. A new X-Files arc? The last one I found disappointing, so I was not sure I wanted to bother with it. But being the X-phile that I am, I figured I would give it a read. If nothing else, it would give me something to complain about. But I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by this first installment.

The story is about an active shooter incident in a mall where each of the shooters claims to see holes in the sky. There is a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that is not made clear but implies that there is some sort of experiment taking place. Think “Jacob’s Ladder.”

What I liked the most about this issue is that it works as a stand-alone story, but also ties in with the larger X-Files conspiracies, so you can approach it from different levels depending upon your knowledge of the background. And it seemed well thought-out, the writing was solid, and the artwork was good. Honestly, I couldn’t find a flaw in this, which was encouraging. My interest is definitely piqued and I will certainly continue reading the subsequent issues. I get the feeling that the creative team has gotten their groove back and have some fresh ideas they are ready to explore.

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Salman Rushdie – Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World

Rushdie_UNCA

I have a confession to make: I have not read any of Salman Rushdie’s books… yet. But this will be changing soon. Last night I went to see the author give a public lecture at the University or North Carolina – Asheville, and I have to say, he was one of the more inspiring writers I have had the privilege of hearing speak.

He touched on a lot of current issues regarding politics, social trends, and the role of literature in these changing times. He openly criticized Donald Trump, censorship, and the proliferation of misinformation, or “truthiness,” associated with the internet and the digital age. But there were two themes in his lecture that resonated with me on a deep level: the trend among students to attempt silencing ideas that challenge their established beliefs, and the role of the novel in bringing “news” to readers.

Regarding students silencing ideas, this is something about which I often think, particularly regarding the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) directed against Israel. I have heard horrific stories about professors, speakers, artists, etc., being shouted down, threatened, and silenced on campuses for expressing their support for Israel, all under the guise of support for the oppressed Palestinians. What Rushdie asserted in his lecture is that this is essentially censorship, and it is censorship perpetrated by the group of people who should be most vehemently opposed to the censorship of ideas. Rushdie claims that it is the responsibility of artists and professors to challenge the established beliefs and to open for discussion ideas that are uncomfortable and sometimes contradictory to one’s personal beliefs. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that students who claim they do not feel safe when forced to consider challenging ideas have no place in a university and should instead be in a pizza parlor, where they will be safely sheltered from having to listen to ideas that contradict their way of thinking.

The other part of his lecture I found fascinating concerned the role of the novel in presenting news to the modern reader. This puzzled me at first until Rushdie elaborated. He claimed that with the demise of print newspapers, the reading public no longer has access to legitimate news sources, that digital news sources have yet to be able to fill that gap. Instead, we get opinions as opposed to reporting. I would counter that print newspapers have historically been biased also, but I could accept that news media has become more opinion-centric as of late. Then Rushdie went on to explain how literature and the novel provide a side of the news that is lacking in usual coverage, which is the human side, the internal aspect of living in an increasingly smaller world. The way we can understand what it is like to be in situations is through literature. He used the example of The Kite Runner which provides a deeper insight into life in Afghanistan than any news story showing explosions and statistics of how many were killed. His words resonated with truth. My belief in the power of art and literature was validated and boosted.

I left the lecture excited to read, to write, and to discuss ideas. I also left with a newly bought copy of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children tucked under my arm. And while the book has been temporarily placed on my sagging shelf, I suspect that I will be reading this one before the others that have been patiently waiting for me to open their covers.

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The X-Files Season 11: Issue #03

XFiles_11-03

So I’m not sure where this story is going. Part 1 of Home Again was pretty good and got my hopes up, but this one was a bit of a let-down. I cannot help but feel like the writers are struggling to find their way, and that’s disappointing. I think that I feel even more disappointed with this issue because I just watched a really great X-Files episode with my daughter, one of the classics from Season 2 that features the alien bounty hunter (we’ve been watching the old series in anticipation for the reboot). Anyway, the contrast between the early television show and this issue is particularly stark. Of course, I will continue reading the series, but I feel less and less inclined spending my time reviewing the issues. So, unless the creative team ups their game, I am going to discontinue my regular reviews and only post occasionally when there is something worthwhile, kind of like I am doing with Witchblade (another arc that is struggling, in my opinion).

That’s all for now. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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“Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco2

This is a short essay included in Turning Back the Clock that addresses the question: What is an enlightened thinker? While he lists several traits that are found in the modern enlightened thinker, he asserts that two essential qualities are common sense and skepticism.

While I am in complete agreement regarding Eco’s assertion about common sense, I am somewhat more skeptical when it comes to his claim on skepticism (a pun is intended here). While it is true that healthy skepticism promotes inquiry and testing of claims that are posited as fact, in the information age where a quick Google search can turn up supporting “data” for any claim, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, skepticism has opened the door to the denial of proven information that is crucial to society and humanity. The perfect example is climate change. The theory of biological imperialism asserts that a species will alter its environment to make it more conducive to its survival and comfort. It’s a hard theory to refute. If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that humans, in modifying their surroundings, have changed the environment. When you consider this fact in conjunction with scientific evidence of changes in the climate and their connection with human activity, then our impact on climate change should be evident and not disputed. In spite of this, there is no shortage of “skeptics” who reject scientific findings and bolster their views with supporting data from “experts” in the field (often hired by corporations). And there is the problem with associating skepticism with enlightened thinking.

While I agree with 99% of what Eco asserts, I feel he is off in this area. There is a real danger in skepticism and I feel that common sense is much more important than skepticism. Hence to quote the old adage: Common sense is not all that common.

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