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Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a ife of Spiritual Disciplines

Maybe a memoir, maybe a book review of Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner

Honoring my body, it is safe to say, is something at which I have failed. Gratitude for this conglomeration of blood, bones, organs, skin, tissues that God bestowed upon me has not been high on my priorities. Indeed, it would be also safe to say that I was taught to use it but not pay too much attention to it. Mom taught me to call certain body parts by made-up words. No doubt she was continuing a tradition her mother taught her and who knows who taught grandmom? Thing is, I thought those words were the correct ones which led to an embarrassing incident in fifth grade when we girls were locked in the auditorium with black paper over the glass so the boys couldn’t see in. We were to watch The Movie, you see, and I was astounded to find the narrator using other words for Down There.

Up until fifth grade, I don’t recall actually thinking about my body too much though. I have one memory as I sat on the toilet to defecate, I leaned over to peer in between the rim of the toilet and the seat to watch my poop descend. Maybe I was six. But as I said, I never paid too much attention to it as long as my body did what I wanted it to do: run; walk; play; master the bicycle (what a challenge that was); leap over the hopscotch chalk; hide during hide and seek; seek during hide and seek; chase balls; chase the dog; chase the cat; attempt to climb the maple tree in the backyard until the All-Seeing Mom stopped me.

All this carelessness changed in fifth grade. My younger brother and I were transferred from the Roman Catholic private school to public school. In public school, we had gym class. We girls had to change our clothes in the auditorium with black paper over the glass so the boys couldn’t see in. Where the boys changed, I no longer recall. From thence we were lead to the playground upon which lay a bunch of sticks, mostly straight but with a foot on them. The other girls ran to grab a stick and the teacher had to tell me what to do. We are going to play field hockey, you see, which I had never played. Those girls knew how to play, knew the rules, and I just stood there. For the first time, my body didn’t know what to do.

I was a complete failure in gym class until freshman year in high school when we learned to play basketball. None of the other girls knew how to do that either and for the first time in gym class, I was equal to them. In fact, I excelled at basketball and despite being the second shortest kid in the school, I played center forward because I was really good at basketball and had an extremely reliable layup shot. The teacher, who was once our gym teacher for fifth and sixth grades until she was promoted to the high school wanted me on the school’s basketball team but by that time, I despised all sports. I had been miserable at them all until basketball and by then the habit of being failed by my body and me failing to respect my body was entrenched.

So it went for a number of decades. Oh, there were exceptions when I enjoyed having a body and enjoyed the body of another, but on the whole, the purpose of my body was to contain my brain and that I valued.

However, this habit of failing to honor my body has caught up with me and the end result of is a lymphedema issue which requires, among other treatments, that I take a diuretic. I am sure we all know what the natural result of that is and to tell you the truth, I resent having to interrupt my intellectual pursuits to honor my body and deal with the logical consequences of taking a diuretic.

One morning, though, I thought to do something different. Since I had to sit there, why not read? I have no idea what Ms. Lauren F. Winner would think, but I have been reading her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, during these moments. Ms. Winner is a convert from Orthodox Judaism to The Episcopal Church. Well, I betray my Episcopalian chauvinism. She is a convert to Christianity, of course, who chooses to be one within TEC.

In this book, she talks about various rituals and observances of Judaism, compares them to the teachings of Jesus and the early church, as she reflects upon their meaning on her life today. It is riveting. It grabs my attention, fascinating me while at the same time increasing my admiration and understanding of certain rituals and practices of Christianity, particularly within The Episcopal Church.

It happens to be Lent as I experience both the effects of failing to honor my body and as I read this book. Reading this book, perhaps more especially because of when I am reading it and what my body is doing as I read it, tells me I have been wrong to live ignoring my body. Christianity is, after all, an in-the-body religion. It is all about God being in a human body. God honored the human body enough to be born into one so who am I to simply inhabit and use mine? Christianity is such an in-and-of-the-body religion that we in spiritual form eat God’s body and drink God’s blood. Hard to beat that for honoring and respecting the body.

In every chapter, Ms. Winner discusses how in-the-body is Judaism and Christianity. The body is a part of every Jewish spiritual practice. The body becomes something much freer than the sum of those individual parts of blood, bones, organs, skin, tissues that God bestowed upon each of us. We use it not only when we eat but when we worship, mourn, are hospitable, pray, fast, age, celebrate weddings, and pass through doorways. Body, mind, soul, and spirit are a unified whole and I have been very wrong to think of mine only as a vehicle for hauling my brain from point A to B.

Thank you, Ms. Winner, for writing so deftly, in a manner that not only challenges me but unashamedly shares your own challenges. I’ve had a Salami Sandwich moment of my own.

What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell

My internet crashed yesterday and so I picked up a book I had purchased a few months ago and has been sitting on the To Be Read Pile.

The Bible lives in more ways than one.

As someone with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and a master’s in Theological Studies from a seminary north of Boston, MA, I was blown away by how much Rob Bell taught me in this book. I opened it. I read the first sentence. Then I devoured it in one sitting, my heart leaping with excitement and joy the entire way through it.

Having come to think that was not the best way to read it, I am now going to reread it, one chapter a day, in prayerful meditation.

Every person who picks this book up is going to get something out of it. If you are a person who has questions about the Bible, this book is for you. If you have a friend who is into the Bible, and you can’t figure out why this book will tell you. If you have been reading and faithfully studying the Bible for a long time, I think this book has something to offer you.

Book Review of a Sort: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

Two great spiritual masters share their own hard-won wisdom about living with joy even in the face of adversity.
 
“The occasion was a big birthday. And it inspired two close friends to get together in Dharamsala for a talk about something very important to them. The friends were His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The subject was joy. Both winners of the Nobel Prize, both great spiritual masters and moral leaders of our time, they are also known for being among the most infectiously happy people on the planet.

“From the beginning the book was envisioned as a three-layer birthday cake: their own stories and teachings about joy, the most recent findings in the science of deep happiness, and the daily practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have been tested by great personal and national adversity, and here they share their personal stories of struggle and renewal. Now that they are both in their eighties, they especially want to spread the core message that to have joy yourself, you must bring joy to others.

“Most of all, during that landmark week in Dharamsala, they demonstrated by their own exuberance, compassion, and humor how joy can be transformed from a fleeting emotion into an enduring way of life.

This book has changed my life.  I need to re-read it, study it, ponder it, absorb it, journal about it.  It convicted me in all sorts of ways about how I do not assume the agency for my own life.  It challenged me to become a better person.  Motivated me to make compassion the central focus of my life.

Book Review of a Sort: Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

“For many of us, feelings of deficiency are right around the corner. It doesn’t take much–just hearing of someone else’s accomplishments, being criticized, getting into an argument, making a mistake at work–to make us feel that we are not okay. Beginning to understand how our lives have become ensnared in this trance of unworthiness is our first step toward reconnecting with who we really are and what it means to live fully.
from Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance

“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,” says Tara Brach at the start of this illuminating book. This suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork–all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. Radical Acceptance offers a path to freedom, including the day-to-day practical guidance developed over Dr. Brach’s twenty years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students.

“Writing with great warmth and clarity, Tara Brach brings her teachings alive through personal stories and case histories, fresh interpretations of Buddhist tales, and guided meditations. Step by step, she leads us to trust our innate goodness, showing how we can develop the balance of clear-sightedness and compassion that is the essence of Radical Acceptance. Radical Acceptance does not mean self-indulgence or passivity. Instead it empowers genuine change: healing fear and shame and helping to build loving, authentic relationships. When we stop being at war with ourselves, we are free to live fully every precious moment of our lives.”

 

A brilliant, thought-provoking book about the concept of radical acceptance. I read this as part of my on-going commitment to master the various skills of Dialectical Behavior Therapy which has been so very effective in helping me manage my symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. Between these skills and the Positive Psychology taught to me by my present psychologist, I am actually symptom-free.

Radical Acceptance is a skill taught as part of the Distress Tolerance module of DBT. There are four modules: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance.

Radical Acceptance and Mindfulness are similar as both require one to accept the present moment for what it is, without judgment or criticism. Mindfulness is more of a meditative skill while Radical Acceptance is to say “It is what it is” and to go from there.

I would have given this book five stars except the author’s prejudice against Christianity is fairly blatant and she has a serious misunderstanding of some of Christian theology. On the other hand, she is a practising Buddhist and Radical Acceptance does have its roots in that philosophy.

Book Review of a Sort: A Good Life: Benedict’s Guide to Everyday Joy by Robert Benson

“There is no shortage of good days,” writes Annie Dillard. “It is good lives that are hard to come by.” Reflecting on what makes a “good life,” Robert Benson offers a warmhearted, humorous guide to enriching our lives with the wisdom of Benedict, a 6th century monk. Each chapter is shaped around a Benedictine principle: prayer, rest, community, and work, and reveals the brilliant and infinitely practical ways that Benedictine spirituality can shape our lives today. Benson is honest and wise, sharing his own failings and the constant tension that he feels between the demands of the temporal and the spiritual. For anyone who feels caught in a web of conflicting priorities, or who finds the pace of modern life more draining than fulfilling, A Good Life will come as a welcome treat for the soul.”

If one has never read anything about the Rule of St. Benedict, this is a great place to start. I strongly recommend that you have a copy of the Rule also. In fact, I recommend you read the Rule of St. Benedict and then read this book.

If you are well acquainted with the Rule, as I am, you may still from joy reading it because the author shares his own personal stuff with us and illumines the RB through his experiences. I’ve been living a Benedictinesque (I made that word up) since Feb,1982 and I had much enjoyment reading it.