A New Favorite Book! (Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper)

Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted WorldRecapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite possibly the most necessary book I’ve read all year. It met me directly where I am–a little cynical, a little skeptical, too easily distracted & entranced by the shiny and shallow, and sometimes too quick to dismiss ordinary gestures. I can’t count the number of times his words echoed things I’ve been reading, saying, writing, and thinking already. It was eery how often I read a paragraph and realized I’d had that exact thought or conversation with my husband. Then I’d watch as Cosper wove each of these familiar strands of thought into his greater thesis, which is that the way to warm your heart back up to experience wonder and beauty again is nothing new. In fact, it’s through practices that are very, very old.

I’ve read a decent amount about attention spans (mostly because I feel so keenly the tug of our distracting world) and this was by far the best book on that subject that I’ve read. Cosper doesn’t just acknowledge the problem (as Tim Wu does so thoroughly in The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads and Matthew B. Crawford does so well in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction), he actually charts a course out of the land of disenchanted boredom and constant distraction. His solution? The ancient disciplines of the Christian faith. Prayer. Communion. Fasting, yes, but also feasting. And his solutions are so simple and generous that you find them irresistible. He describes fasting in a way that makes you want to fast–he’s not showy or extreme, not promising anything more than a simple reorientation of your hungers that points you towards the kinds of desires that really need satisfying. Then he describes feasting in a way that makes you want to throw a dinner party. Tomorrow, if possible.

This is very much a book for my generation. We grew up on spectacle-based youth programs and grew to love the church in spite of it, but perhaps we’ve all grown a little cynical in the process, which leaves us cold to even the possibility of real surprises. We don’t want to be emotionally manipulated, so we won’t fall for anything. But this leaves us immune even to the moving power of beauty and simple acts of grace.Cosper can quote 30 Rock and Robert Capon and David Foster Wallace and G.K. Chesterton, moving seamlessly between pop-culture references and ancient wisdom.

Not only that, he ends the book with such a gracious acknowledgment that the disciplines in and of themselves are not a means to an end. I don’t want to spoil the ending (even though it’s not really a story you can spoil) because it is such a lovely, kind, generous way to end the book.

If you’re interested in reading more about the changes occurring in this generation, consider:

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

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Why Poetry (a short review + quotes)

Why PoetryWhy Poetry by Matthew Zapruder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were a hundred bright spots in this eloquent book: beautiful, essential quotes about poetry from the greatest poets themselves. These were a shortcut straight to the heart of poetry. There were other bright spots of Zapruder’s own clear explanations of the mysterious power of poetry. It’s just that as a whole, it failed to carry the reader along with elegance and enthusiasm, and failed to provide much in the way of a conclusion at the end.

For a truly elegant book on poetry that is as poetic, moving, and inspired as the poem it contains, read Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination. It is the best book defending and explaining poetry that I have ever read (and, what’s more, it includes poems from all eras, not just contemporary poetry.)

Nonetheless, I flagged a hundred bright spots to keep as treasured quotes from Zapruder’s work and I truly benefitted from my time in his company. He gave a lot of courage to an aspiring amateur poet, and for that I am grateful. I loved how he embraced the mysterious machinery of poetry but still took care to explain to those who are less wise to its ways. But to claim that your books explains “why poetry” exists and is useful, then to end with such a nihilistic understanding of the universe was a real let-down, and the book didn’t carry me with its own momentum so much as I forced myself to keep trudging through it in the hopes of encountering more bright spots of insight from Zapruder and his many favorite thinkers.

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Paul Valery: “A poem is really a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words…If the term machine shocks you, if my mechanical comparison seems crude, please notice that while the composition of even a very short poem may absorb years, the action of the poem on the reader will take only a few minutes. IN a few minutes, the reader will receive his shock from discoveries, connections, glimmers of expression that have been accumulating during months of research, waiting, patience, and impatience” (11).

 

“Saying it more conventionally would take the shimmering multiplicity out of the line” (34).

 

“What is the poem ‘about’? This question inevitably carries within in the implicit message that the poem is beautiful (at best) container for something more essential than the experience of reading it. Really, when a poem is functioning, it could best be said to be ‘about’ ‘aboutness’–that is, ‘about’ the wordless moment we can only be brought to through words, when we perceive the contradictory yet harmonious significance of everything” (113).

 

Yeats “We make out of the quarrels with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrels with ourselves, poetry” (121).

 

Frost: “Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere….You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history” (151).

 

Wallace Stevens: “Reality is a cliche from which we escape by metaphor” (154).

 

“Without clarity, it is not possible to have true mystery” (190).

 

“One of the things readers truly love about poetry, this ability to hear wisdom that feels truly wise and yet also disembodied, as though it comes from the world itself” (194).

 

“But I think we would be better off to think of ‘understanding’ a poem as an ongoing process of attention” (199).

 

“(A poet’s job) is, in a way, to refuse to do what others find useful, in order to leave a space for other things to happen. Poets are alchemists of nothingness. They aspire to turn silence, nothingness, absence, into something palpable” (208).

The Worthiness of Imitation

I’ve had a literary crush on Fathom magazine for over a year and this summer I decided to do something about it.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 2.00.11 PMFirst, I made it a goal to get something published on the internet before my birthday (which is tomorrow, Sep. 12). I pitched an article to a website where an online acquaintance had published a few pieces, which gave me confidence to give it a shot. They accepted, edited, and published that piece about a month ago.

But my true literary crush was on a magazine called Fathom. Listen to the way they describe themselves:

“We believe indulging our curiosity acts like a weight to pull us beyond the surface of our faith. More than just knowledge waits for us when we forsake the shallows. In fact, we will find out how little we know as we plunge deeper. In the depths we are shaped into Christians who embrace empathy, honor humility, desire intellectual integrity, laugh a lot, and believe in beauty. At least that’s the kind of Christian we hope to help cultivate with Fathom.”

Curiosity acts like a weight to pull us beyond the surface? I loved that image, I instantly loved the writing, and I loved the nautical imagery that informed the aesthetic and the language of the magazine (I mean, I am a Navigator for life, after all.) They publish everything I love–thoughtful essays, reviews, and commentary from a Christian perspective, as well as poetry, short stories, and really excellent interviews with Christian visual artists. I’ve been reading it for about a year and have spent some time online getting to know some of the people who write for it. I am hooked. (Fishing pun very much intended.)

Eventually–in honor of my birthday goal–I worked up my courage and pitched them an article for their issue on Image that came out today. I typed the pitch quickly, submitted it, and tried not to overthink it. It was out of my hands.

They wanted a full article but I was about to leave the land of the internet for a trip up north. Again, I wrote quickly, trying to get my draft in by the deadline, submitted it and tried to walk away without obsessing over it.

Then, just when I was about to give up on the piece thinking that my draft hadn’t lived up to my pitch or my own standards for myself, I got an email back from the editor saying they loved my piece AND wanted it to be the feature article for this month’s online magazine! I can’t for the life of me *fathom* why they chose my article as the feature, because the magazine is seriously packed with intelligent, creative, and deeply moving content by writers with far higher qualifications. I’m honored to be in such company. (Seriously, read the whole thing. You won’t be disappointed. Quality writing and important insights abound.)

In case you’re wondering, the thesis of my piece is that imitation doesn’t stifle our imagination but feeds it. We need images of people doing what we want to do, and we are endowed by our creator with the gift of imitation when we learn to imitate in love. It’s a natural process of discipleship that applies to the way babies learn to be adults, the way young Christians learn to mature in the faith, and I propose it also applies to aspiring creatives learning to produce original works of art.

What’s more, they were also willing to publish my latest poem, too, which actually means almost more to me. There is really no way to know if you’re actually achieving your goal of writing poetry until someone else reads it and recognizes it as poetry. Otherwise, you sort of feel like you’re just scribbling nonsense. To have a poem filed under the Poetry section of such a publication is a dream come true for me.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with a couple different editors and to watch my ideas be polished, improved, and given a place among good company. Thanks for reading and for cheering on this amateur. It means the world to me!

 

 

Showing up Empty-Handed

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Would you miss the party just because you didn’t bring a dish to pass?

I’ve been meditating on how hard it is to truly understand grace when you can’t even accept acts of helpful kindness and generosity from others. I was honored to share my thoughts over at Gospel Taboo today. Take a look! (And let me know if you have the guts to take my challenge… I haven’t even done it myself yet!)

Peanut Butter

I’ve been working on writing more poetry lately. Perhaps I’ve grown tired of the self-assuredness it takes to write blog posts. I just don’t feel like drawing easy conclusions or simplifying things. Plus, I find myself wanting to write about the same subjects over and over until I get it right, which doesn’t make for very fascinating blog writing.

Right now it takes me about a month to get a poem right-ish. It usually start with an idea that strikes me while I’m busy. I mull it over, write a rough draft that is usually a) far too self-serious and b) not completely honest about how I truly feel. I hack away at it, mostly in my thoughts while I’m doing other things, and then type it out in bursts on rare moments where my enthusiasm for writing and my free time coincide.

My attention has been drawn to small things lately. Here’s a poem about peanut butter and motherhood that’s been bugging me for weeks. I think it is finally starting to accomplish some of what I want it to accomplish, so I’m calling it “done” for now because I am at the stage where I want other people to see it and tell me what they think.

I’d love to hear what you think! Tell me what makes sense or what sticks out as strange. Or ask me questions about what I was going for. Every comment can help me move closer to getting it right. Or “crushing” it, as my daughter would say. (Pun intended.)

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Peanut Butter

by Laura Lundgren

She feels no less for having been crushed

into a simple, shelf-stable cylinder.

The mother I imagine is serene as peanut butter.

A thousand possibilities

Have been suspended

Beneath a foiled paper lid.

Preserved and cupboarded

In patient anticipation,

She waits to be useful.

 

I am a mother half-used up.

Peaks and canyons from hasty knife-work

are a sign as sure as footprints and flags

That someone has already claimed this jar.

I grow hollow.

 

I find it hard to swallow

disappearing into the bodies of my children.

Though I give myself over to being spread

Across raw-edged celery or softer bread,

I still cling to the corners of a rounded life.

I tell myself I am no less for having been gouged.

I am never so empty

That a small hand twisting

Would not find a mouth already forming the word

“okay.”

Investing Influence

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Let’s pretend you get a quarter every day.

Let’s say this quarter represents the amount of influence you can have over other people each day.

Maybe you’re at work where you see the same people every day. You influence them simply by being with them every day. You add a quarter’s worth of influence every day you’re there, either by complaining or by joking or working hard or hardly working or whatever. Doesn’t matter, really. You’re influencing them, either convincing them to like you or resent you, agree with you or distrust you. I’m not saying it’s always good, but at the end of the day, you can see you’ve invested your quarter’s worth of influence.

Maybe you’re connected to the internet so you invest your quarter not in the people you know but in trying to convince people online to think more like you. You cash in your quarter, turn it into 25 pennies, and spend the day trying to influence others on a bunch of topics around the internet. Who knows if anyone reads it, responds to it, is changed by it. You rarely find out. But you feel like you’ve done your part to spend your quarter’s worth of influence. You’re keep a more diverse portfolio, maybe hoping one of these little investments turns into something significant. But most of the time you never get to see whether or not your ideas made any impact at all.

Maybe you’re like me, at home with the same gang of kids each day. And you’re trying to decide how to use your influence. Do you keep trying to influence your kids (even though most days it seems like your influence may not be making any difference!) or do you escape to the world wide web of Big Ideas and scatter a little influence there? Try to make a difference with likes and retweets and words and all the like? Do you cash in your quarter and try to do a little of both?

This is the question I’ve been living with, more or less, for the last few months. I love that I get to stay home with my kids, I really do, but it is hard to see the payoff of my investment in them each day. It was hard quitting my job. When I was a teacher, I was scattering my pennies of influence widely each day. Now I’m just stacking up quarter after quarter in the same account. Sometimes I’m tempted to diversify my portfolio, maybe give my 2 cents’ worth in a few places online. I don’t think a few pennies here and there will shortchange my kids, but I do have to recognize that every decision to pour my energy elsewhere costs me at least a little.

From my perspective, it feels like our culture values having a wide influence over many people, rather than having a deep influence on a few people. We admire people who spread their pennies far and wide. We assume anyone who has good name-recognition must be doing something right.

To decide to stay home is to decide not to break your quarter. Instead of having a name everyone knows, you have a name that only a few people know, but for those few people, it is the only name they know and the only name they need to know.  It is to keep investing in the same account, keep betting on the same horse. It’s a tough choice to make–some days I miss the feeling of having a wider influence. But it is a choice I don’t regret and I have determined that I won’t allow myself to regret.

Some days it feels like a small job, no more than a janitorial job. I see my former students around town working as nannies for kids the same ages as my kids. Four years ago, I held a little piece of these girls’ fate in my hands. I was the authority in the front of the room and they were the students eager for my approval (or at least that’s how I saw it.) Now we are essentially peers doing the same job. Except they are getting paid better!

It seemed like a small job when I first took it on, but I’ve learned that stay at home mothering is an enormous job. Instead of needing to know a LOT about one thing, I now have to know a little about LOTS of things. This is because I am, as G.K. Chesterton describes it, “shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t.”

I get to be the first and most trusted source of answers for these four kids. I get to introduce the world to young imaginations and then see where that takes them. I get to see the spark of wonder come on as each of my children recognizes the world for what it is. I have immense influence. It only looks like a small job if you measure it in pennies a day. It is a big job if you think of how all the pennies add up.

Today I needed to remember that. I needed to write this so I could lay out the meaning of it all.

I don’t know if I’m doing it “right.” I’m not even sure I know how to measure motherhood’s success. But at least I am starting to see my influence on my kids. As they grow, I can start to see some of the results of my own good intentions for them. Were my intentions good enough? Did I live up to them? I don’t know yet. There are thousand ways to measure yourself as a mother which is why it is always possible to feel like you don’t measure up.

I’m trying not to measure myself as often anymore, trying to just keep my head down and do my job with grace and humility. I’m trying to treat each day like it counts because I know eventually it all adds up.

 

 

Welcome to our World

I wrote this a long time ago. Christmas of 2010, to be exact. This was my first attempt at taking myself seriously as a writer. I still love it and have always wanted to share it on my blog. It has been on my mind more recently, of course, because I am watching my LAST baby turn a year old pretty soon. This has been my last chance to introduce one of my own babies to the world and it makes me remember how much I treasured this experience with each of my babies.

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Claire (my first baby)

The One who knit Claire together and lent her the breath of life has spent this year introducing the wonder-filled world to her. Watching her discover it all has made me appreciate the intricacy and beauty of this world with fresh eyes. For her, everything is new!

Of course, nothing here is actually new. It all goes on like it has from the very beginning. Every child is born into a world already filled with more wonders than he or she could ever witness in a lifetime. It is a world varied beyond imagining, connected beyond coincidence, beautiful beyond comprehension. Every child must discover these wonders one at a time. Nonetheless, the world is new to Claire, and as we’ve watched her discover the wonders of the world, I have often felt like I was watching the creation story found in Genesis unfold before my eyes.

When we brought Claire home, we marveled at the way she would stare intently at the dark and the light. At first, she would blink and sneeze and close her eyes against the brightness. When she would open those bright big brown eyes, she would stare—not at us, not at the complex and perplexing faces of the people who continually looked at her. Her eyes flickered between light and dark, simply sorting out the difference. There was light and there was darkness (Genesis 1:3).

Claire learned the difference between the wet—the diapers that constantly needed changing, the baths that shocked her out of her sleepy daze, the milk that she drank eagerly (and occasionally spit back onto her clothes)—and the dry. Outside, there was snow; inside, there were blankets. There was wet and there was dry.

She learned to distinguish the sun from the moon. The sun watched over her days, days she spent lying on her back, then on her tummy, then rolling, then lurching, then crawling, and now walking. The moon watched over her long, sleepy nights. There was the sun and the moon.

Spring changed the picture outside her window just in time. Claire’s eyes learned to focus on far away objects and her mind made sense of complex shapes and movements just as the leaves on the trees budded and unfurled and began to flip in the wind. We removed the fuzzy layers that had kept her warm but had obstructed her view on our walks. We watched. Suddenly, she looked up to notice all that was alive and moving and colorful. There was vegetation to cover the earth.

Then changes came rapidly. It had taken her weeks to figure out dark and light, but now, suddenly, there were millions of things to see! There were creatures filling her world—those that crawl along the ground, those that walk on four legs, those that swim in the sea, those that fly in the air. She reached out to touch the dogs and the bugs and the birds. She recoiled from the fish, which were, perhaps, still too other-worldly for her. There were creatures, great and small.

Gradually, slowly, Claire became aware of her own body. At first, she surprised herself with her own flailing hands. Her hands learned to reach and to hold on. Her feet learned to kick, to propel, and now, to balance and to walk. Her world grew from two dimensions to three. In the mirror, Claire encountered her whole self. First from a distance and later leaning close, she would examine her own face. There she was, a human, made in the image of her creator.

The world is replete with good and wonderful things. Everything, Claire is realizing, has a name. It has been her habit of late to point to new things and christen them. “Da.” she says, or “Daaa!” or “Da?” or “Dat.” She is naming her world like Adam did, recognizing the usefulness of giving a label to each and every living thing. Soon, we know, she will use these names to request and refuse, to assert her own preferences. I do not want to take for granted that even this stubborn willfulness is a miracle!

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Caleb (my last baby)