Hold It All

Category: Reading

What Is Vaster

In the early 1980s Harold Bloom noted about his experience of decades at Yale University that “[t]here is a profound falling away from what I would call ‘text-centeredness” among the current generation of American undergraduates, Gentile and Jewish alike. I can detect still some difference between Gentile and Jewish students in this regard, but it is not a substantial difference, and it seems to be diminishing.”

Bloom was on my mind  after having read the stirring memoir by Aaron Lansky, Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. The subtitle is negated by Lansky’s own accounts of the many people—his own generation and those much older—who contributed to this undaunted retrieval of books. About text-centeredness, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the only Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature,  once  imagined, “I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, ‘Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?’” Read the rest of this entry »

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Share the Wealth with Maggie Needham: From Treating Harry Potter as Sacred to Treating Each Other as Sacred

Last January, I started a discussion group based on one of my favorite podcasts, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. This January, I was hired on by the podcast to help manage dozens of local reading groups similarly inspired by the show. (The world is weird.)

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text aims to treat a secular book series as if it were sacred, using traditional religious reading practices and applying them not to the Bible or the Torah, but to J. K. Rowling’s fantasy series. The hosts, Harvard Divinity School grads, say that treating a text as sacred requires three things: trusting the text, rigor and ritual, and reading in community. I loved the podcast, but listening to others do sacred reading wasn’t the same thing as doing it in community, so I gathered other listeners and we began using the podcast’s methodology ourselves.

The weekly discussion group has bridged so much for me: the sacred and secular, my love for fantasy novels and my love for justice, inner spirituality and community growth. In this Share the Wealth, I’ll share what I’ve learned from a year and a half of intentional, rigorous sacred reading, connect some dots between Harry Potter and religion, and maybe try out some spiritual practices with you all.

Me, second from the left, with friends from my discussion group and the hosts of the podcast.

I’m a SLU grad (‘15) currently working at a literacy nonprofit in Chicago and working for Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on the side. I drink lots of earl grey tea and bake sourdough bread.

Join us
Sunday 28 April
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Maggie begins sharing at 6:45 p.m.
At the home of Chris Wallach
5 E. Lake Road
Fenton, MO
63026

From Chris: Directions from Google will take you to the mailbox at the end of my gravel road. Follow the gravel. When you see a three car garage (my mother’s house) look to the right for a right turn. Follow that down to the bottom of the hill and you will arrive at my house.

Text me if you get lost–314-807-8769 (Mark)

Neither Conformism Nor Eccentricity

John Armstrong, Love, Life, Goethe:
Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007

Almost twelve years ago I read this book, and the themes of Bildung and mastery were most striking. I recall theologian Matthew Fox’s distinction between religion and spirituality—religion is what you believe because of what someone else experienced; spirituality is what you believe because of what you’ve experienced. The following passages give a taste of Armstrong’s investigations into Goethe’s spirituality…

__________________

In his writings, Goethe was trying to understand his own life. Goethe was not primarily ‘confessing’ his private failings; he wanted to do something more risky and more valuable: confess his strengths and grasp what had gone well: how he had been happy and successful. He thought, as most writers secretly do, that we could learn from him how to lead better our own lives. 4

The moral is simple: don’t just stare at my life as if it were a puppet show: create your own life, and feel free to take your plots from me. 20

Goethe set himself to conquer this fear [of heights] and gradually, by repeated attempts, completely overcame his fear and was able to enjoy the wonderful prospect without anxiety. 44

The point of self-mastery isn’t to keep oneself good or pure or to resist temptation; we may need to overcome our fears to do some of the things we most want. Self-mastery, here, is the means to pleasure, not the mechanism for resisting its allure. 44

Goethe’s underlying ambition was concerned with personal growth, with the mutual exchange of inner and outer. He did not long to write more and more successful novels, but to become a particular kind of person. Weimar was to offer him a great opportunity. It was his chance to ‘get real.’ The imaginative and expressive powers so evident in the writing of Werther might be raised to even high worth if they could somehow be integrated with a deep appreciation of everyday life. 102 Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/10

111.  Sin is not a distance, it is a turning of our gaze in the wrong direction.
–Simone Weil

222.  When [Arthur Waley] was at work, all else was eliminated.
–Ivan Morris

333.  Whenever I was in love I always felt there was a telegraphic esprit between the person and me.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer Read the rest of this entry »

Her Vivacity Gladdened Life

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Knopf: Everyman’s Library,  1992 

I’ve acknowledged previously the importance of Reinaldo Arenas and Eduardo Galeano  during the late 1990s into 2000 as I was trying to figure out how to write what became The Book of Mev.  Also, during that period I read with relish James Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  That biography proved a fecund  encounter, as  some of my marginalia became a “To Do” for my project…

  1. Include a letter to make the point [get another voice in there]
  1. Include some of her more creative pieces [journal or no]
  1. Force, vivacity, and perspicuity [vigor]
  1. Long footnotes of clarification at the bottom of the page
  1. Spend six hours writing, one after the other, all the topics and fragments in my Mev log

Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Sheth, How Many Poems Do You Prescribe Each Day?

Sometimes the world is too much with me—
The Trump world
The I-Me-Mine world
The seemingly gleaming samsara world—

But then I remember I need a dose of poems
Like the following from Ko Un’s book This Side of Time
Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg…

The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I’ll dance my way out too
when it’s time to leave this world. 26

Do I have a love
to wash away people’s hate?
I opened an umbrella
then closed it, and
let the rain fall down on me. 27

I love August.
I love the August sun.
I remember ten billion years ago.

Ah, my body is smeared with primeval light. 52 Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/9

400.  If a man reads a book because it interests him and reads in all directions for the same reason, his reading is pure and interests me.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

500.  The poor play a crucial role in the world. They are the ones who really tell us what the world is.
–Pedro Casaldáliga and Jose-Maria Vigil

600. Military occupation is taken as an acceptable given and is scarcely mentioned; Palestinian terrorism becomes the cause, not the effect, of violence, even though one side possesses a modern military arsenal (unconditionally supplied by the United States), the other is stateless, virtually defenseless, savagely persecuted at will, and herded inside 160 little cantons, schools closed, life made impossible.
–Edward Said Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/8

51.  Neal looks older, Jewish, very serious and on powerful integrity drive.
–Allen Ginsberg, letter to Jack Kerouac

151.  In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen-zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.
–Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

251.  No one is new to me. All are always familial.
–Sri Anandamayi Ma, quoted in Swami Mangalananda, A Goddess among Us Read the rest of this entry »

This Week

What I’m Reading This Week
Raul Hilberg, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian
Aharon Shabtai, War & Love, Love & War: New and Selected Poems
Nathan A. Scott, Mirrors of Man in Existentialism
Pierre Hadot, N’oubile pas de vivre: Goethe et la tradition des exercices spirituels

What I’m Listening To
Talking Heads, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II
Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler, Symphony #8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)

A Page of Mev’s Notes on Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”

Patricia Geier and I are reading and discussing Nathan A. Scott’s book, Mirrors of Man in Existentialism. This morning after having read the chapter on Buber, I went to my shelves and pulled off I and Thou. Inside Mev’s copy from the 80s, I found the following page of notes on the classic text.