Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Book Review: River of Fire My Spiritual Journey by Sister Helen Prejean - Memoir

River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey, by Sister Helen Prejean is a mesmerizing description of Prejean's path of life. From the very beginning, the reader meets this honest to goodness young woman who joins the convent to become a nun.  She is an extrovert and faces everything that comes her way with impulse and zest for becoming spiritual by loving God every inch of the way. 

Prejean lives in Louisiana in a white suburb and does not encounter the African Americans who live in poverty not too far from her suburb where the two groups do not interact with each other. Hence Prejean is oblivion to the plight of the African Americans living near her. The reader becomes aware that Prejean is an academic, goes to university, becomes a teacher and loves literature. She believes her role in life is to become spiritual and enable the young students to be aware of Jesus and live like He did while on earth all within the confines of her white neighbourhood.

Over time, Prejean is enlightened by another nun's quest to work for social justice right in Louisiana among the African American group. Prejean follows suit and moves from being apolitical to political as she engages in working with the African Americans in her neighbourhood. The author aptly describes her transformation with wit and humour as the reader observes this change. There are episodes of her more than friendly relationship with a priest and its evolvement.

Towards the end the reader gets insights into Prejean's activism in social justice issues that culminate to her writing Dead Man Walking and how that was an inspiration for a movie of the same name.

River of Fire is a captivating read about one woman's transformative life.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book Review: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P. D. James - Fiction

P. D. James in Sleep No More unravels six murderous tales. Each tale captivates the mystery surrounding the act of murder; the unsuspecting murderer or the person who knows but does not divulge the information that is crucial to solving the murder case. These tales are set in the backdrop of Britain as James gracefully brings in the landscape and culture entwined in what are horrible cases of murder.

There is a gentleness in the narratives that keeps the reader wanting more. James cleverly sets out the plot with suspense and surprise that incorporates the chilling effect, typical in any murder case. The tales involve going down memory lane that describes traditions of days gone by. This creates a sense of nostalgia for the readers who are familiar with these traditions. There are secrets and lies that add to the conundrum of each tale.

Sleep No More, in its short story format, is an excellent read that gives the whole essence to the murder mystery case for each tale.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Book Review: Wanderlust: A History of Walking - Non-fiction

Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking, traces the activity of walking from the past to the contemporary era. It delves into how philosophers regarded the act of walking as part of their thinking process. From their walking experiences, writers and poets were inspired to create their literary works. For instance, the author cites William Wordsworth walking through the English countryside that formulated many of his poetic works. Historically, women were not allowed to walk; and over time and with the evolving change of dress, women began going on walks as a leisurely activity.

As more and more people engaged in this walking activity, they were trespassing private property in England, but this activity eventually resulted in creating walking pathways. Walking in demonstrations and protest movements empowered political change. Over time, with the increase of suburbanization and the rise of the use of the car, walking was frowned upon and became an activity done by the poor as described by Solnit.

Solnit addresses the cultural nuances of walking and aptly describes the social impact of walking, but peripherally refers the era of walking on a treadmill and driving to shops to purchase gear for walking and mountaineering without much depth to its importance on health and well-being.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking gives the reader a glimpse into the activity of walking that dates  back to a different era and how this activity evolved over time. It is an interesting read.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Book Review: Measure Yourself Against the Earth by Mark Kingwell - A Series of Essays

Wide-ranging essays on contemporary life.

In 24 shrewd, witty, insightful essays, cultural critic Kingwell (Philosophy/Univ. of Toronto; Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination, 2012, etc.) returns to many of his favorite themes: fly-fishing, the cityscape, art, and literature. Several consider the gifts of a city, particularly Toronto, where the author revels in walking, “the greatest unpriced pleasure there is,” a “modern art form.” Walking affords encounters with “our fellow citizens. If you live in a large city, learning how to walk the streets is something you must master as a physical expression of belonging.” With equal enthusiasm, Kingwell extols the virtues of bars (“crucibles of human behavior”), the novels of Carl Van Vechten and Michael Arlen, and the “peculiar vitality and personality” of punctuation marks, especially the indispensable serial comma. Some essays, such as a long, annotated piece on Kierkegaard and procrastination, seem addressed more to academic than general—though sophisticated—readers. But most consider contemporary issues, such as the infiltration of robots into the workplace, the meaning of leisure, the difficulty of social mobility (which seems, he believes, “decisively obliterated”), and the future of the book in the digital age. Optimistic about “the endurance of long-form reading,” Kingwell worries less about the death of the printed book than about the possibility of increasing worldwide literacy. Reading fiction, he believes, may not be a means to becoming a better person, but he admits that novels inspire a “contemplative mode of being...which underwrites everything else.” Self-awareness, though, can be achieved through fly-fishing, which involves “dynamic tension” and a “loose-muscled happy feeling in the body….The day acquires clarity, and that feeling of purpose we seek even when engaged in something pointless—beautiful and pointless.”

An engaging collection from an urbane, observant writer of admirably lucid prose.

My Comments:  These essays are informative and enlightening. The humour makes it an easy read. Kingwell's portrayal of walking is well-founded and relatable.   It is an excellent read that covers a variety of topics that would appeal to a diverse group of readers.  Well done!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Travel News: Lake Simcoe, Ontario - Silent Retreat, July 9 - July 18, 2019

On the evening of July 9, 2019, I arrived at the Loretto Maryholme Retreat Centre overlooking Lake Simcoe   The sun glistened on the waters of the Lake as seven of us sat in a circle listening to our orientation of what was to come the next seven days of the Silent Retreat.  Each one of us registered for a private retreat. Our time was our own. We could read, write, journal, do puzzles, colour from a variety of colouring books available, and explore the grounds. Meal times were set and were served in buffet style.

From Day 2 onwards there was to be silence as we were to engage in listening by being aware of our surroundings and focus on what each wanted to achieve during this Silent Retreat. We were given a handout with options to choose one area that we felt spoke to us and that area would be our exploration during our private retreat. Some of us signed up for daily evening sessions with a Spiritual Director, I was one of them. Since this was my first Silent Retreat I needed guidance to take me through these seven days of silence.

July 10, 2019: It was a bright sun shining day.  Being an early riser I was up and about in the dining area for breakfast. It felt strange seeing a few early risers tackling breakfast without saying a word, just smiling at each other in acknowledgement of each other’s presence.  We could eat our meals in any space we wanted—indoors or outdoors.  Since the weather was beautifully warm I would have my meals outside on the patio table that gave me a full view of the Lake.  It was a reflective time taking in the breadth and beauty of nature.

Labyrinth Walk
By 9 a.m. I was walking towards the Labyrinth.  It is made of stones organized in a circular manner with one entrance to the pathway. As I followed the pathway, the environment was graced with birds singing non-stop and quite loudly.  I reflected during this walk taking in the music from the birds that led me to the Centre. I picked up a piece of bark and laid it in the Centre as I engaged in deep thought of the obstacles I passed and wondered if I would go back a different way.  No, it turned out that I was going back the same pathway.  It was a wonderful 40-minute experience.

Sisters in Spirit Mound

As I left the Labyrinth, I stopped to read the plaque about the Sisters in Spirit.  In this area there is a mound of stones that comes to a peak in remembrance of the missing and murdered indigenous women.  It was a reflective time to feel sad in honour of these women.

In the afternoon I availed myself of browsing through the Library, picked up a book of poetry and read through some thoughtful poetic verses on silence and contemplation. I read through the brochures that described the various walks within the grounds; the Cosmic Walk, the Genesis Walk, the Sensory Gardens, the Meadow Walk, the Stations of Light, and Cathedral Grove. By the end of the seven days I visited and walked through each of these areas. It was a remarkable experience.

Peace Pole
After dinner, I had my first meeting with the Spiritual Director. I wanted to know where each of these walks started and ended. We went outdoors where she showed me each walk and took me to the Lake for the views.

During the next six days I chose to do whatever felt good for that day.  I elected to work on the North Direction, taken from the Four Directions of the Medicine Wheel. This is a phase in life where one is seeking inner growth, grounding and inner strength—to go beyond the act of daily living and reinforce the spirituality within.

The Cosmic Walk is superbly laid out in a sort of linear shape around the grounds. There are 19 markers, each one depicts evolution beginning 13.7 billion years ago. This walk presented the opportunity to reflect at each marker on how our earth and human ancestors evolved over time.

2nd Marker along the Cosmic Walk
End of Cosmic Walk leading to the Lake
The last three markers lead to the dock where I would relax and ponder about the different stages of the evolution of the earth.

The warm breeze enveloped me as I gazed onto the waters of Lake Simcoe.

A Sample of the beautiful short trails on the property

Since I was drawn to the Labyrinth, I strolled it every morning. Other times I would do the Cosmic Walk interspersed with reading, writing and taking in the views of the Lake or simply being immersed into the beauty of the gardens by engaging in the Seven Movements of the Genesis Walk. It was awe-inspiring.

The Medicine Wheel

It was a time of peaceful contemplation. Each day I felt more grounded as I became attuned to the beautiful gardens and natural surroundings of this property. On one of my walks and much to my surprise, my favourite birds, the mourning doves appeared and walked with me for a bit and then flew away. The evening sessions with my Spiritual Director were excellent; they added to my growth and strength that paved the way to the light shining forth in my new solo lifestyle.

The Earth Puzzle

On July 18th, we re-entered the world of talk as we shared our experiences and bade farewell to a time well spent.

The Earth Puzzle, on the right, as done by some of our group. Probably, a couple more days would have completed the Puzzle.

Source: Jan Phillips, Artist

Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review: The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy - Fiction

Barbara Gowdy in her novel, The White Bone, takes the reader into the mind of the elephant. She imagines the emotions, thoughts and actions of the elephants in their daily routines of surviving in the wilderness of the sub-Sahara. 

The vibrant characters of the elephants in the herd are humanized in a manner that seems different and yet realistically portrays the lifestyle of the elephants. The nuances of each elephant are captured in their interactions that brings out the sense of humour as well as the likes and dislikes of each other that includes name-calling.

It is a matriarchal herd that stays close to each other as they move in the environs. They are in search of a safe place to stay as they pursue their quest to find that White Bone. The stunning descriptions of their movement through draught conditions highlight the endurance of the elephant. They pass by mutilated bodies of elephants killed by poachers or they pass by their relatives who appeared to have died of natural causes from dehydration. In this journey they sometimes lose track of one of their herd; they gather together and determine what could have happened to the lost one. But they move on. They fend off predators as they stop to have a drink and bathe in the rare find of water pools.

The White Bone is a remarkable representation of the elephant that illustrates the imagined mind of this majestic animal on her home turf. It brings a new sense of awareness of the wild life who live in their surroundings as we do in our surroundings. Brilliantly written!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean Pendziwol - Fiction

The Light Keeper’s Daughters is a captivating novel that is set on a remote island in Lake Superior. The story not only takes the reader into the lives of the Light Keeper and his family, but poignantly illustrates the duties of the Light Keeper and the isolation of this kind of lifestyle. And yet Pendziwol deftly describes the rich natural environs that become part of this family’s way of living.

Gradually the reader is faced with the beautiful relationship between the twins, Elizabeth and Emily—the latter being the silent one. There is a deep sense of family commitment and love. There are twists and turns that illustrate the history of the time period and the cultural nuances. In addition, there are family secrets that slowly unravel throughout the novel. 

But many years later, Elizabeth who is in a care home on the shores of Lake Superior discovers more family secrets with the aid of Morgan—a teenager sent to do community work at the care home. There are coincidences between Morgan’s life and the twins’ lives on this remote Porphyry Island. The Light Keeper’s logbooks reveal some of the family’s secrets that ultimately uncovers Morgan’s connections to this family. 

The author skilfully portrays suspense, love, loss, duty, and even murder in this engrossing yet touching tale of family and commitment to each other and the work of being a Light Keeper.