A Reading Life: Books that shaped me (part 1)

My room, lovingly called “the Cave,” in Havana, Cuba. Complete with vintage sewing machine-turned-writing desk.

By Joe LaGuardia

This is the first part in a multi-part article series on my “reading life”.  Enjoy!

On a recent mission trip to Cuba, I spent some time reading C. S. Lewis’ memoir Surprised by Joy.  Like other books by Lewis I’ve read, I found it hard to follow his line of argument, narration, British idioms, and the writing in general.  I am accustomed to reading dated literature–most of my favorite books come from the early 20th-century–but it is just that I have never been a fan of Lewis in the first place.  Don’t judge me.

The one thing I did enjoy about Surprised by Joy (and I’m glad there was one thing, since, in Cuba, I had nothing else to read) was how the rhythm of Lewis’s upbringing can be measured according to the books he read.  Every season of his life was marked by tragedy and triumph, as well as an exposure to literature that came his way.

Lewis speaks of his father’s personal book collection, his favorite reading in school, the tutor who introduced him to Homer, and his on-going love affair with mythology and poetry.  Every coming-of-age tale he tells accompanies a movement towards a new genre of literature.  When he eventually gets to his Christian conversion, it comes by way of the joy that literature brings to his life.

I am a reader too.  When I look back on my life — (again, something I had a lot of time to do while awaiting sleep in my room, lovingly called “the Cave”, in Cuba, sans television and internet) — I can easily see how literature also acted as a thread throughout my life.  From The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree to everything written by Barbara Brown Taylor, I remember most of the books that have shaped my life and accompanied me through good times and bad.  Why not, like Lewis, try to record it for the ages?

So over the next few months, that’s precisely what I intend to do — narrate the seasons of my life through books, a “reading life,” as it were.  I love reading, and I love reading articles about reading, so I hope that these little chestnuts along the way will encourage you, bolster your love for books, and invoke some great conversations of the central place books play in the lives of bibliophiles across the globe.

 

 

The sacredness of space, and the writing life

sacredspaceBy Joe LaGuardia

It has been some time since I last wrote an article.  I no longer write a weekly column for the newspaper, so that has not helped my cause.

I also moved to a new state, started pastoring a larger church, tried to figure out how to get around town, and sold one house only to purchase another.  Life has not been easy; writing has been harder still.

My hectic schedule and lack of routine is no excuse.  I was just as busy in my old life in Georgia, but still managed to write two or three articles on a good week.

What is an excuse, however, has to do more with preferences than priorities: I don’t have a sacred space in which to write.

I believe it was Anne Lamott who once said that every writer has a talisman that helps inspire the muses.  Some have a special pen or brand of pencil; others use a particular sized notepad.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes everything in longhand; movie director Quentin Tarantino types scripts with a 30-year old Smith Corona; Annie Dillard locks herself in cells and cellars.

For me, spaces have always served as talismans.  One space was in my old house, a writing desk across from the foot of my bed.  I’d wake up early in the morning before the children arose and started typing away.

Another space consisted of the second to the back booth at my favorite chicken wings eatery, where I often read The Christian Century or innumerable books that provided fodder for article and sermon alike.

Moving to a strange land and living in a strange place (we are privileged to stay in a furnished condo until we close on our new home), I have not had a dedicated writing desk set up yet.  I have not found a local restaurant to call home.  I am still waiting for the good folks at The Christian Century magazines to change my mailing address (thank goodness the secretary at my old church loves me enough to mail me back issues!).  I can hardly write.

I may seem odd, but I am not alone in considering the sacredness and utility of space in the grand scheme of practicing my spiritual disciplines, writing included.   In fact, Christians have always considered the importance of sacred spaces.

The earliest space God in-dwelled was a garden, a very fit environment for a Creator whose greatest contribution to time and, well, space is the very act of calling things into being, some of which put us humans here in the first place.

Next was a tabernacle–God’s “throne room”– that was nothing short of a tent that moved with a nomadic people who escaped Egypt and ventured towards– you guessed it– a “promised land”.

In the person of Christ, God chose to “tabernacle” and live among us, declaring that even humans are sacred enough to call home: “And the word became flesh,” John’s gospel reminds us.

“Churches” grew soon after Christ’s death and resurrection, first in the homes of believers (Acts 20:20 tells us that the early Christian movement grew “from home to home”), and then to meeting places throughout the Roman empire.

Brick-and-mortar Churches resulted from a greater concentration of wealth among Christians.  The earliest edifices started as simple stone structures and then evolved into elaborate cathedrals still celebrated today.

Some Christians, tired of being too wealthy and privileged, chose to abandon their belongings and city life for the deserts of Egypt and Arabia.  These desert mothers and fathers noted that the very wilderness in which they sojourned merely reflected the wilderness of all our hearts–sacred spaces were just as important in the “interior” of the soul as exterior spaces were for gathering believers who longed to worship God.

Perhaps the creepiest spaces that Christians occupied were the catacombs of Europe in the darkest ages of Christian history.  Persecuted Christians took up residence among the buried dead to sing praises and proclaim a hope in the resurrection of the Lord.

Now, Christians have diversified sacred spaces so much that people forget the importance of space altogether.  Christians meet in bars, bookstores, coffee shops, cigar shops, beaches, abandoned banks, and “auditoriums.” Even then, regularly scheduled gatherings of believers only prove how ambiance shapes faith communities.

Spaces, whether we recognize it or not, have a sacredness to them that sometimes go unnoticed.  Just try to move states, sell a home, miss a favorite eatery, or close up a church and you will quickly understand how much space creates a place to belong as well as intimate settings where people meet God, hear from the Spirit, and find hope for a new day filled with ever expanding frontiers begging for the Gospel’s invitation.

I was lucky to write this article–I’m still not in a permanent home yet, and in many ways we are homeless until that time comes (but, lo, my cat still found her way onto my laptop keyboard, trying to get a backrub and leaving a wake of odd letters, numbers and symbols on the computer monitor…).    Yet, it helps to note that when we appreciate the spaces that are special in our lives, we can always make room in our hearts to help us along the way when we find ourselves “in between” those times and places most sacred in our life.

After all, we don’t invite Jesus into our houses.  We invite him into our hearts, for each home is where the heart is.

Where I’m From…

By Emily Holladay

Many of you have likely read or created a “Where I’m From” poem like the one below. “Where I’m From” poems were made famous by Kentucky poet laureate, George Ella Lyon, and they serve to help take us all back to our roots.

I wrote the one you are about to read during our church’s women’s retreat. I hesitated to post it, because it is not perfect, but it turns out that neither am I. And, if you can’t go back to your roots right before Lent begins, when can you, right?

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I am from pen and paper, from composition notebooks and uniball gel rollers.

I am from the big tree beside the house. Full of wonder and hope. My person Narnia.

I am from the strands of ivy, the Easter lily, bringing peace in grief.

I am from horseback riding on the farm and raucous laughter, from Elmo and Frank and Jim.

I am from the stubborn and selfless.

From “this is the day the Lord has made” and “don’t make me look bad.”

I am from “God is good all the time.” And the comfort of a community that assured me, “All the time, God is good.”

I’m from the land of unbridled spirit, sour cream cookies, and Derby Pie.

From the minister’s sons who got drunk on communion wine, the uncle tossed out the bedroom window, and the May Queen, my grandmother.

I am from the attic on Kramer Street, where little Annie sits, protecting the memories, Eager to share the stories of Holladays gone by.

*This article originally ran on Rev on the Edge blog, and is reprinted with permission by the author.