A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:
"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J.,
The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan
Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.
I'm a voracious reader. You have to read to survive. People who read for pleasure are wasting their time. Reading isn't fun; it's indispensable. --Woody Allen
What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright?...Without moving, you walk through the countries you see in your mind's eye; and your thoughts, caught up in the story, stop at the details or rush through the plot. You pretend you're the characters and feel it's your own heart beating beneath their costumes. --Gustave Flaubert
I'll spend the rest of my life reading, and because I'd rather read than do anything else, I don't look forward to years of hopeless, black despair. Most men who are in for life are filled with bitterness and hatred for the unkind fate that led them to such a horrible fate. --Willie Sutton
I found a real gem at the used book store yesterday: Quiet Places with Jesus by Rev. Isaias Powers, C.P. I've been looking for a prayer book to help me concentrate more on the person of Jesus as I pray. I tend to be a bit too intellectual when I meditate and I wanted something that would help tap my imagination.
Fr. Powers wrote these guided meditations in the 1970s and they're very much in the Jesuit tradition of using the imagination to help one pray. What I've been impressed with most so far, however, is Fr. Powers' summary of how to know if one's prayer is successful. He's captured the essence of effective prayer so beautifully that I want to share it with you:
For prayer to be "successful" (that is, for grace to have "worked") does not depend on an emotional "high," or even on the awareness that "I prayed really well." The only criteria is that which was proclaimed by Christ:
"By their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7: 15-20; 12:33)
If the time spent in prayer endows the person with more kindness, patience, hope, joy, gratitude, love, serenity, faith, thoughtfulness, gentleness, courage, humility, wisdom, compassion, a sense of oneness and purpose with all humanity...then God's grace is most certainly at work.
To me, that is one of the greatest explanations of how to know whether or not one is really praying or simply going through the motions. It's not how good we feel during or immediately after the prayer, it's how our actions slowly begin to change for the better.
Fr. Powers ends his introduction with this beautiful blessing:
May Blessed Mary, the greatest example of prayer--and St. Luke, the foremost evangelist of our Lord's insistence on prayer--guide you to a place of peace, a hold on hope, a capacity for unclutteredness...and to such a habit of constant prayer that you will no longer need any manuals or methods...when God will speak plainly--without parables--to your heart.
I don't often understand Gene Wolfe's books, but I'm always captivated by his characters. Wolfe is one of those authors whose books leave me feeling a bit like an alien abductee who's been returned to his home: I know something important just happened, I just don't quite know what it was.
Fortunately, The Knight seems more accessible to me than other Wolfe novels I've read (which, admittedly, haven't been many). And Wolfe still has the power to create compelling, likeable characters. Like Severian in The Book of the New Sun, I liked Able of the High Heart from the opening paragraph, and I enjoy spending my time reading about him.
The story itself begins like many other fantasy stories: someone from our world somehow finds himself in a fantasy world or fairy land. Most of the time this device doesn't work, but occasionally an author can pull it off brilliantly (Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry, Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, for instance). I have every confidence that Wolfe will be able to make it work in his novel. He's already got Kay and Anderson beat for the best transition from this world to the fantasy world.
I look forward to reading the rest of the The Knight, and I'll post more about the book as I work my way through it.
Get a chance at winning a new copy of Gary Blackwood’s ALA Notable book The Shakespeare Stealer for your classroom library by writing a review of the Teen Literacy Tips blog and linking back to your favorite article. The review must be at least 50 words long, and need not be positive; however, you must link back to a favorite article. Everyone who writes a review will be entered in a drawing to win the book.
I just started Gene Wolfe's novel The Knight, and the first thing I encountered was this epigraph by Lord Dunsany which just happens to mention my favorite knight:
Who treads those level lands of gold, The level fields of mist and air, And rolling mountains manifold And towers of twilight over there? No mortal foot upon them strays, No archer in the towers dwells, But feet too airy for our ways Go up and down their hills and dells. The people out of old romance, And people that have never been, And those that on the border dance Between old history and between Resounding fable, as the king Who held his court at Camelot. There Guinevere is wandering And there the knight Sir Lancelot. And by yon precipice of white, As steep as Roncesvalles, and more, Within an inch of fancy's sight, Roland the peerless rides to war. And just the tip of Quixote's spear, The greatest of them all by far, Is surely visible from here! But no: it is the Evening Star.
And then I came across this quote by George Bernard Shaw:
"Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad."
I finally had to abandon Tim Powers' supernatural spy novel, Declare. I read over 200 pages into it and just couldn't go any further. I really enjoyed Powers' earlier novel, The Anubis Gates, and I had high hopes for Declare after reading reviews. But the book didn't evoke any emotional reaction from me at all. I never really connected with Hale, the main character, and I didn't care for the way Powers' narrator alternated back and forth between the 1940s and the 1960s.
I think part of the problem was my unfamiliarity with many of the historical references in the book. If the characters or the story would have captivated me more, I would have done a little research into the history, but it just wasn't worth the time. As a point of comparison, when I began reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series, I only had a surface knowledge of nautical terms and Napleonic history, but I was so interested in Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin that I bought companion books to help me understand the story better. I had no such desire with Declare.
I was intrigued by the religious elements in the book, but not enough to keep reading. Fans of spy novels may have better luck with it than I did.
A couple of days ago I wrote about Blogorator, a widget that allows visitors to rate your blog. The good news is that as of this writing I'm the highest rated education blog on the Blogorator site (with only 4 ratings, and one of them mine, so I'm not breaking out any champagne).
The bad news? Apparently the widget may be causing an error message to pop up in blog readers and on the page itself. I've only heard one comment about this so far, and I haven't been able to get the message to pop up myself, so if you're experiencing this, would you mind letting me know? If it's causing a pop-up, I will remove the widget immediately.
One in Our Desire for Faith: The World Prayer Project
Sometimes I forget the beauty of other faith traditions. Sometimes I get so narrow in the books I read, the places I visit, the web sites I search for, that I miss out on the presence of God in the wider world.
The World Prayers Project is a collection of adorations, invocations and celebrations from different faiths and faith traditions. It displays humanity's unceasing desire to respond to God's call. As Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. The World Prayers Project shows how universal that restlessness is.
Obviously, many of the prayers at the Project contradict what I believe about God and spirituality. Some sources are even what I would consider outrageous or ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is something beautiful in the endeavor to know and communicate to God, regardless of what a person means by the term God.
The World Prayers Project is a testament to the power of God to elicit responses from his people. The varied nature of our responses as documented in the Project is a testament to our need for revelation and discernment, but is also a reflection of the diversity that God so generously distributes.
We may not all be one in faith yet, but we are one in our desire for faith.
Take a trip to The World Prayers Project and spin the wheel to get a random prayer. Today I came across the Hail Mary, Psalm 51 and Ecclesiates 3:1-8.
But I also came across the following:
How wonderful, O Lord, are the works of your hands! The heavens declare Your glory, the arch of the sky displays Your handiwork In Your love You have given us the power to behold the beauty of Your world robed in all its splendor. The sun and the stars, the valleys and the hills, the rivers and the lakes all disclose Your presence. The roaring breakers of the sea tell of Your awesome might, the beast of the field and the birds of the air bespeak Your wondrous will. In Your goodness You have made us able to hear the music of the world. The voices of the loved ones reveal to us that You are in our midst. A divine voice sings through all creation.
--traditional jewish prayer
It is not so important to love all men today as it is that each day you learn to love one more human being.
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus. Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you. None of it will be ours. It will be you shining on others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words, but by our example; by the catching force - the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. Amen.
-- prayer of Mother Teresa
Oh great and powerful ocean, I fear and respect your beauty. I wish not to take way nor leave anything behind. I only wish to dance with you for a short while.
Michael Kwan at JohnChow.com has a nice sponsored review of Blogorator.com, which provides free rating widgets for blogs. The sign-up is easy, the code-generator works like a charm, and the blog rating widget looks pretty decent (see my Blogorator in the right column).
Rating a blog is similar to rating a product on Amazon.com. You just click the star, and voila! the blog is rated. If you're registered user of Blogorator and you've uploaded an avatar, your avatar gets displayed as well.
Your blog also gets ranked at the Blogorator site, so there's potential for more exposure. As Kwan points out, there are no minimum votes required to be at the top, which needs to be addressed.
One feature I wish it had is the ability for each post to be ranked and factored into the rating. Still, Blogorator seems like a pretty cool idea. I'll try it for a while to see if I really like it.
If you install Blogorator on your blog, leave a comment and I'll visit your site and rate it.
School is rapidly approaching, so my mind is starting to refocus itself on what I need to do to get ready to teach. This is the time of the summer that I start watching movies like Mr. Holland's Opus to re-energize the teacher within.
In that spirit, I want to share with you the official update to the viral video Did You Know? by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod. I like to keep this video in mind as I start thinking about my goals for the new school year. How will I help students prepare to participate in this ever-changing society?