She Was A Voice: A Review of “The Book of Longings”

“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings

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The reclamation and rediscovery of my voice have been the driving throughline of my life since 2011 when my vocal cords were damaged resulting in a year of silence. I already felt pretty invisible in my daily life, as though I was seen and heard only by my husband and kids. Though I regained my voice through the miracle of a silicone implant, the trauma of the muteness has never fully left the deep recesses of my heart and soul. Those who have known me in an up-close way, or who read my work know this truth about me.

In her latest and most audacious work, inspirational author Sue Monk Kidd imagines another invisible and unheard woman, telling a life of her creation, a wife of Jesus during the period of unknowing: the years between his temple conversations with the rabbis and the day he stepped into the river Jordan to be immersed by John the doomed prophet. Only an undiluted curiosity undergirded with a fertile and open mind will be able to read this beautiful fiction unthreatened.

We meet Anna as a teen, full of restless joy and enormous dreams of writing, a voracious reader who had begged her father unrelentingly to be taught how to read and write. Anna is a young woman of expansive ideas trapped in an ancient patriarchal culture. I recognized her heart-cry immediately, I too was once a young bookworm with a passion for justice and a tendency toward the favoring the underdog.

The Hebraic culture of the New Testament era comes vividly alive in the author’s adept hands. Ms. Kidd revealed in an interview with researcher Brene’ Brown that she spent 14 months of eight-hour days immersed in history and religious study, joking that she was smitten by Roman aqueducts in Galilee; her daughter finally intervening with an exhortation to get on with the writing. Her dynamic descriptions of the terrain, the architecture, the food, the daily life are so real I expected to see dust on my sandals and to smell olives on the breeze upon lifting my eyes from the page.

Anna is to be married to an old man in a play for power by her father, a wealthy, landless scribe in the court of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who would eventually see Jesus in his court. Events twist and turn, and Anna is instead married to young Jesus, a man so full of compassion and the spark of joy that he is utterly captivating. I have wondered since I was young enough to watch Sunday School stories be told by puppets and felt board cutouts what the young man Jesus might have been like, and this imagining feels completely credible.

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Ms. Kidd is careful to craft a plot that is fully supportive of the sparse details of Jesus’s life that are written in the Biblical gospels, she doesn’t rewrite or recreate Jesus and his ministry, she simply attempts to create a fictional idea of what might have been, and in doing so, she provides a feminine window into the early Christian world that has not often been seen. Anna is, in truth, a proxy for all the women who have ever felt absent in the Jesus story, who have been unheard in the power plays and overlooked in the histories executed by men. “The deeper we go into our own experience, our own journey, the more likely we are to hit the universal,” says Ms. Kidd.

As a companion read to The Book of Longings, Ms. Kidd’s spiritual memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, is a remarkable deep dive into the fracturing and rebuilding of feminine faith; it too is universal. I have been working through it for some time. I say “working,” because the truth of what Brene’ Brown calls her “mid-life unraveling” is unfolding in my own life, and has been for a period of long years. It was only in the last three that I began to tiptoe from the desert created by church trauma to embark upon newer vistas of grace on my way back to verdant faith. Reading the final chapters of Dissident Daughter simultaneously with Longings scored the truths of both deeply into my heart in the same way that Anna inscribed her prayers into a bowl: women are deeply, tenderly, radically loved by God.

If a reader can access her imagination and be unafraid to ask “What if?” there is abundant grace, wit, and courage in this gorgeous novel. What a bold, yet humble gift is Sue Monk Kidd. I encourage all to read, and to listen to her episode on Unlocking Us. Its radical, gentle message is both balm and benediction.

Brené with Sue Monk Kidd and Jen Hatmaker on Longing, Belonging and Faith

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Clarity, Closeness, and Chihuly

In Seattle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum showcases the Wonderland-worthy creations of master glass artist Dale Chihuly. Glass is my favorite art medium, and so I wandered the halls and gardens like a spellbound Alice, transported and awestruck, photographing nearly every corner of the place.

At my favorite indoor exhibit, the glass, beautifully lit as it seemingly floated in a narrow wooden canoe, its texture a contrast to the slick glass and mirrored floor, called to my heart. The vibrant color juxtaposed against the sea and walls of black, the sparkle and sheen of the glass, I loved it. It felt so clear, so clean.

Glass is heated to a temperature of over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit so that the artist can shape it, whether into orbs, spirals, or vases. Only in extreme heat can the master artisan mold beauty. Here lately, I’ve felt the fire of stress and isolation, inertia and closeness torching the lies I tell myself about who I really am. I’ve endured a couple of rough patches as anxiety and the constant close quarters of seven humans in my formerly serene home do a number on my mental health. I talk a big talk about peace, serenity, and loving one’s self. But circumstances and the people I love, who love me too, are burning away the filters, impurities, the need to self-flagellate, the pattern of lies I tell myself.

It’s impossible, apparently, to be quarantined together for six weeks without some truths floating to the surface.

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So, moving forward, I am going to write my truth. Perhaps poetic, hopefully crafted beautifully, poignant truth about walking the path of restoration from trauma. I’ve come to that place in my journey, that fork-in-the-river where I decide: do I follow the stream I know, the one made clear by my damaged family history, or do I choose the uncharted? I’m ready to climb into my own canoe, surround myself with clarity and reflection, and do the work of making art of my soul.

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Seattle: Smiling Bag Lady

Today, I am having a bit of a blue day, a day in which, by 10:15 in the morning I had already called myself “stupid” and gotten a gentle reprimand and hug from my husband. Anyone else ever have those days, when you feel like nothing you do is going to work, none of the dreams will come to fruition, that you can’t match the success of others? I do. That’s today.

So I went to look at my photos. I do that often, my pictures remind me of good stuff, important stuff. I bumped into this lady in a pocket park in Seattle on a day that my husband and I were wandering around aimlessly, looking for a spot to eat the picnic lunch we’d just bought at the Amazon Go store.

She’s humorous, smiling and a bit wiry, sitting beside her own bag. We enjoyed our lunch with her company. Seattle is a great city.

I think I will go have a good day. Not going to say great- I don’t want to place undue pressure on myself- but good. That’ll do.

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The Value of Art

Marketing Guru Extraordinaire Seth Godin says:

“What it means to make art isn’t always that you get to make a living. It might just be that you get to make a difference.”

As a creative soul who yearns to spend her days writing and photographing, it was a real gift to be relieved of the burden of earning money with it. How many of us artists have been asked, when speaking of our art, “How are you going to earn money with it? What’s the point wasting your time if you can’t make a living?”

Or the ominous: “Major in something practical.” I have heard the dreams of many students crushed with that advice.

The work of art makes the world beautiful, it soothes our collective and individual souls, it creates connection.

Creativity matters. Art matters. Make it.

dandelion 2 Photo above taken by me at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch, where artists of                               all kinds are celebrated at the annual Family Reunion.

Follow Seth Godin, who keeps me motivated and fueled to keep doing the work I am called and created for at:

https://seths.blog/

 

Cathedrals: Fifth of Series

I saved St. Patrick’s in New York City as the finale of the series because it’s the first cathedral I ever saw. I was raised in the suburbs of Dallas, where evangelicals dominate the religious life of the community, and smaller church homes were the norm. Dallas suburbs haven’t really been around long enough to have storied, historic cathedrals. But a visit to the Big Apple opened my eyes to a whole world of diversity and art. I love New York City more than any other in the world.

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One of the things I appreciate about St. Pat’s is how crowded it is, tucked in among the Fifth Avenue crush of skyscrapers and traffic lights, cab horns blaring, tourists gaping, and black-clad New Yorkers hustling to work. It’s not quiet inside, one doesn’t feel an immediate hush inside its walls. Nevertheless, holiness is there.

One might wonder why, if I have left behind organized Christian religion, I have been photographing and visiting cathedrals. What draws me, beyond the intricate gothic architecture, the turrets and gargoyles and limestone? It is simply this: I still love God and Goddess. I know, without a doubt, that the Divine One still loves us. She grieves for us. She waits and watches for us to love.

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Cathedrals: Fourth in a Series

Ah, the Grande Dame of churches, the towering structure that has loomed over the Seine for around 900 years now. 900. As an American, citizen of a country where we’re amazed to find a building still standing from just two centuries ago, a country where we demolish the aged to make room for the new (in architecture, in cars, in people…), this church just rocked my world. It’s crawling with tourists now, I would have loved the opportunity to visit in stillness.

In April, much of the world watched in horror as the cathedral burned, we worried about the safety of people, but also we grieved what seemed to be a complete loss of a monument to faith and architecture that’s been visited and loved by countless children of God for nearly a millenia.

But praise and blessed be! Only her roof was destroyed.

Do I understand that the Catholic Church has some things to answer for? Yes. And rightly so. But I separate the Godly house from the inhabitants who have abused. Instead, I think of the penitents and faithful who have found comfort, wisdom, and fellowship within those stone walls. May we all find our own holy place, be it cathedral, woods, meadow, or home.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

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Cathedrals: Third in a Series

I loved this photo because of the juxtaposition of dark towers on blue sky. It’s the towers of Catedral Metropolitana de Quito in the capital city of Ecuador. My husband and I were wandering the streets of old Quito when we happened upon this enormous edifice, the sun was beginning its descent in the west, and the gates were locked to visitors. What struck me then was how quiet the churchyard was. I had visited St. Patrick’s in New York City, that church is teeming with tourists and congregants, the steps are crowded with families snapping photos. But the Catedral was whisper quiet, the only sign of life the black birds hopping in the courtyard or flying above our heads.

When I visited Notre Dame in Paris, another cathedral of double towers, I remembered Quito and its holy hush, so opposite of the clamor at ND. Both sacred, though. The Divine can be found in both whisper and shout.

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If you’ve never traveled to Ecuador, it’s a beautiful place. Learn more about the Catedral here:

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Short and Sweet: Bright Future!

I am reminding myself today that my life is pretty great, even when I am in the throes of creating a book. Editing is hard, friends, whether omitting unwieldy words, cleaning out a closet, or letting go of unhealthy relationships.

I found this chalk drawing in our neighborhood. It fit my big old mood.

Back to the manuscript!

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Cathedrals: The Second in a Series

“History and beauty lie in the baroque wrinkles of old cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, temples and faces whose stories are told without a single word.”
― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

I left organized religion years ago, but find that cathedrals still speak to me. I believe it’s the vast and varied stories that each cathedral holds that draw me close. Somehow, I sense the histories of those faithful, and the vibrations of their prayers.

When I visit a new place, I make it a point to seek out these edifices, and find a few moments to sit it their peace. This particular cathedral is St. Paul’s in Melbourne, Australia. It’s located just down the block from the National Gallery of Victoria. The day was quite cloudy, mid-winter, and perfect.

I was particularly struck by the large banner hanging on the church building’s side, proclaiming that the church welcomes refugees. Just this morning, my husband observed that so many religious and conservative organizations seem driven by fear, it is comforting to see that this church body is driven by kindness. Like Jesus himself.

https://cathedral.org.au/

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