Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Twins

two books. many analogies. various connections.

This is a bit longer review and comparison of two books that I found helpful in my own spiritual journey. Read on if so inspired!

At the beginning of 2014, I vowed to read at least 30 books this year.  Well, here it is September, and I've already made it to 26!   This past July, I read Love and Salt after hearing about it on a favorite blog. I wrote a very short Amazon review of it here.  In August, I read about half of The Seven Storey Mountain, and I have made it my September goal to complete it. (It's a bit of a monster, but worth it.)    Let's just say I'm glad I did!  I really got into these two books.

Reading The Seven Storey Mountain, I had to enter into Thomas Merton’s world, and I found that world - similar to my recent experience with reading Love and Salt- to be both encouraging, enlightening, and at times, very dark. Thomas Merton is first and foremost building a world around the soul.  He is expressing the development of character as he feels his need for a more devoted and dedicated form of faith, and in this way encourages us in our faith journeys. It was also enlightening. We travel with Merton as he moves around and visits other countries. We see unfold the intellectual and spiritual landscape when he moves to America.  Why, then is it dark?  There are themes of spiritual apathy, and each place he visits, he is discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm and even violence that he sees.  Much of this sadness arises from materialism, his scorn for vanity, and his bitterness toward many spiritual communities he happens upon.

Everywhere Merton travels or moves, he faces the same enmity between himself and the world- and the conflict he sees between various members of various communities and God.  He stops at Calvinist school in France, he attends a gentleman’s school in Great Britain. He judges the twilight of faith that he sees, but he never does so in a self-righteous way. He knows, after all- and quite well- that he has darkness in his own soul, as well. In this way it encouraged me. He does not let his judgment of others color his pride, but is humble instead.

And in fact, his spiritual journey is a humiliating one.  He must constantly fail and fall. It is even agonizing at times- when in poetic justice he falls in love with the wrong women, or when he goes to live with his Uncle, finding himself independent as an adolescent, yet meanwhile seeing his father dying. He faces misery with fortitude, but he faces one trial after another. He finally finds happiness and peace in a roundabout way, when he realizes that he wants to be a priest in a cloistered community in NYC. At this time, he finally puts God at the center of his life. The darkness of his parents’ deaths recedes as he finds hope and happiness with this adjustment in his deep down soul. At this time in his life he writes :
“At about three in the afternoon I was in the habit of going to Corpus Christi, or to Our Lady of Lourdes which was even closer, and doing the Stations of the Cross. This meditative and easy prayer provided me with another way, more valuable than I realized, of entering into participation with the merits of Christ’s passion, and of renewing within me the life that had been set alight by that morning’s Communion.” page 292

Love and Salt is a more recent Catholic book, but alike to Merton's work in a few ways.  Like The Seven Storey Mountain, we must face despair and death, for they are woven throughout. Both books kept me up at night, both books had me a little spooked, and both had me a little down. Both books enriched my life, my faith, and my soul, and I know I became a little deeper because of them.  The trials they each face feel close-- and I really can't say too much without giving away the content. It is different because it is a series of letters, written between two females who are friends. 

 One woman is a cradle Catholic, and the other is discerning a conversion to the Catholic faith. Read Love and Salt just for the references. They reference Nick Cave, Madeleine L'Engle, Flannery O'Connor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and the list goes on. Amy Andrews, one of its authors, is a recipient of the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction.  “What began as a Lenten discipline soon became a habit, and we continued to write for years. We wrote to preserve and make sense of our daily lives…. [W]e wrote because it was the only way we knew how to pray.”  Although also Catholic, and deeply intimate faith portrait. It was published by Loyola Press in 2013.  If you are a young adult female audience, go with Love and Salt.   Both books kept me up at night, both books had me a little spooked, and a little down.  Both books feel like an intimate portrait, a journey into a spiritual landscape both dry and lush, alternately. If you have to choose one, I would say— choose Merton. He’ll push you and make you think. Love and Salt certainly will too, but Merton is heavier reading. Even though he is hard to read because of his sensitivity to the darkness of the world, eventually he finds God, and that discovery is what makes this book rare and beautiful as it unfolds. 

Not to detract from my intended purpose of sticking to two books, Merton’s book also reminded me of Frank McCourt’s journey to the United States as described in the book Angela’s Ashes and his perspective on the Protestant world of America. Called “Soupers,” (a common Irish Catholic term, as I understood it- someone please correct me if I am wrong) they do not have the physical reliance on Christ’s body the way he does, and they do not have last rites at their death (among other reasons).  I believe he is making the point that in denying the real presence, the Eucharist does not nourish the soul the same way.  But I could be wrong, of course, so don’t quote me on that.* 

I did not have any bones to pick with Merton's book, but I did have a bone to pick with Love and Salt.  Sorry if I get up on my soapbox for a minute! I find it somewhat dangerous to get too deep into a serious friendship such as the one portrayed in this book.  I pour my heart out to my husband Stephen, and try to leave it at that!   I couldn’t help but wonder if it could become an idol very quickly and easily if this constant flow of letters continued beyond the publishing date of this book. If you are going to take a risk in publishing your secrets, take a risk with your bride or groom.  And while I'm on it, children also need to understand this as a boundary in your home. Your husband or wife is your confidante. To harm this bond is as dangerous as playing with fire. “Love is as strong as death… many waters cannot quench love.” If you have a book twin or a best friend….. the sweetness of being first place belongs to your sweetheart only— not your child, your Mother, your best friend, your sibling, or anyone else.    Perhaps you have a best friend and a husband, and you have chosen that as a reasonable boundary.  Perhaps your sibling is your best friend, and you’re fine with that decision. Some people might be ok with that, but all parties must be ok with it.  Perhaps you have other things you bond over with your husband besides books, or film, or music (or x.y, or z.)  I’ll leave you to decide where and when and how you draw that boundary. But draw it, you must. 

I think what is so important about both of these books is that they are journeying to put God at the center of their lives. The salt is the tears, the salt of the earth is the bond they share because of Christ.  The result is a supernatural life and eternal life in heaven spent with God. I’ll close with this jewel, for as with both books, delving into the spiritual is what makes its authors the salt of the earth, and that unique pursuit is ultimately what ties these two books together. And for me, that's what makes them book twins.

*or any of that, I don’t have bragging rights- Heavenly Days!

Linking up with Jen and What We’re Reading Wednesday!
Also, check out my post today at Real Housekeeping!

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