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Posts Tagged ‘Lauren Winner’

trying to pay attention

I’m writing this post, as I write many posts, with a candle burning on the table beside me. Today it’s a tall vanilla column, which gives off more light than scent, but I like the cheery flicker and the sense of peace it creates. I lit it against the grey day outside, with cold sleet-rain dashing up against the windowpanes. And I lit it because of what Lauren Winner says, in her wise little book Mudhouse Sabbath:

You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses; you find them lit in houses where people are trying to pay attention.

It’s true, and it makes me wonder: what am I paying attention to when I light a candle?

Just now, of course, it’s my writing; I often light candles when I sit at our blond wood dining table, laptop in front of me, to blog or write articles or work on other projects (like my NaNoWriMo novel). Sometimes I light a candle, for scent or ambiance or just for fun, when J and I eat dinner together, sharing tidbits about our days. Each week at the beginning of our church service, we light the Christ candle to remind us of the true Light coming into the world. And sometimes I simply light a candle because I’ve had a hectic day or am feeling frantic in my spirit, and I need to calm down.

I’ll be lighting more candles as the days grow darker, and as the holidays approach – you can bet I’m stocking up on festive scents, from Leaves and Autumn to Cinnamon Stick and Spice. I’ll light them to make me smile, to fill the air with a delicious aroma, to combat the long grey days of winter that will last far longer than I want them to. But I’ll also light them to make me draw a deep breath – and remind me to pay attention to the work and the people I love.

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Today’s quote from Lauren Winner, distinguished author and speaker:

“If you want a neighbor to love, get married. If you want to welcome a stranger, have a kid.”

This actually came in the middle of a fascinating and very insightful discussion of marriage as a way to love one’s neighbor, and how to create community (other than with one’s spouse) as a married person. Lauren Winner has been on campus at ACU for the past two days, and I’ve heard her speak four times in the past thirty-six hours: at chapel on Thursday, in a forum Thursday night, in a class this morning (where the above comment came from), and at a luncheon for female faculty/staff members today. According to my roommate, Bethany, I’m becoming an addict – though I think I already qualified as one, since I’ve read all three of Lauren’s books and have been talking them up to people for the past year.

Lauren has a fascinating story – in terms of faith, sexuality, personhood and social consciousness. She was raised by divorced parents, a Jewish father and a “lapsed” (her word) Baptist mother, and became an Orthodox Jew in college when she was attending Columbia University in New York. She became a Christian when she moved to Cambridge, England, for graduate school, and has since written three books. Girl Meets God is her first book, a memoir of her personal and spiritual journey; Mudhouse Sabbath is a meditation on eleven spiritual practices that Jews “do better” than Christians, as she says, although both Jews and Christians practice the discplines described, such as Sabbath, prayer, candle-lighting, fasting and mourning. Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity is a deeply insightful, thought-provoking work on sexuality and how we (as Christians and as people) should think more intentionally about being embodied and sexual people. In it, she dissects lies the church and our culture tell about sexuality and chastity, and shares some of her own sexual struggles and mistakes (she had a lot of premarital sex before she married her husband, Griff, and is candid about the realities and consequences thereof).

Lauren is striking to me in that she is never only thinking about the issue at hand. She’s never just thinking about sex, or just talking about spiritual practices, or just telling her life story. There’s always a larger aim, a bigger story, a deeper context behind her words. She is interested in how people are formed spiritually and how we form our children, our spouses, the people in our churches, and generally each other – by the ways we think about sex and money and spirituality and all those things.

Hearing an author speak in person is also a quite different experience from reading his or her books. Now that I’ve heard Lauren’s voice, seen her constant, almost nervous hand gestures (though she’s very collected onstage) and her ornately decorated cat’s-eye glasses (which somehow work on her), and laughed at her dry, hilarious humor, I will see her books in a different light. I’ll still respect them and learn from them, no doubt – but it will be richer because I now know a little more of the person she is.

More about her books may come later. For now, you can read about them on her website here.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Back in Abilene (and the world of computers) after a three-week hiatus at home (and a long family weekend in Las Vegas)…True to form, ACU Creative Services is behind on the current issue of ACU Today. We never can seem to get things done on time around here. But that means there’s plenty of proofreading work for me to do. And I’m not complaining about that.

Over the break I’ve been reading a LOT – catching up on some of the books I wanted to read during the year, but never did, and discovering some new, delightful ones. Like all avid readers, I love to share my discoveries, so here’s a smattering of the authors I’ve discovered (and the places I’ve been) during this Christmas break:

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, brought back the quiet beauty of the English countryside. And Cassandra Mortmain, its spunky author who lives with her family in a ramshackle castle, is quite a kindred spirit. She hides her journal in the castle’s empty tower, and writes sitting in the kitchen sink if she has to. I’d like to meet her.

Crime de Cocoa, a delightful three-in-one novel set by JoAnna Carl, took me to the small resort town of Warner Pier, Michigan, where Lee McKinney works as business manager for her aunt’s gourmet chocolate shop. Besides motivating me to sneak lots of chocolate drops via its luscious descriptions, this series provides good mystery stories and a cast of endearing small-town characters.

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, took me through the stages of grief, as Lewis quietly recorded the painful months after his wife died. Some of his thoughts were so familiar (I had thought them myself the past year) that I had to read them again, just to make sure. He charts grief honestly, and doesn’t try to reduce it to a neat set of theological observations.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, by Lauren F. Winner, ends my frenzy of reading everything she has written up to this point. (But only because she hasn’t published anything else after it – yet.) She treats chastity more honestly and (I think) more practically than anyone I have yet read. Speaking as one who has been there, she takes readers on a journey of honest reflection. After reading this and her two other books, I feel as if I know her.

Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller, gave me more to chew on than its predecessor, Blue Like Jazz. Miller goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden to make his point about “lifeboat theory” and how living for Jesus can mean we don’t have to compare ourselves to everyone else all the time.

The Town in Bloom, also by Dodie Smith, took me to London and the world of theatre work in the 1920s. Mouse, the main character, is a a little more worldly than Cassandra, but still likable, and I enjoyed her story, though it was sad. This was a happenstance find in a used bookstore, and I read it in just one day, but will definitely visit it again.

Finally, An Embarrassment of Mangoes, by Ann Vanderhoof, took me from Toronto to Port of Spain, Grenada, and back again, on a 42-foot sailboat christened Receta. Ann and her husband Steve took two years to make this trip, and it’s one of the most delicious travel books I’ve ever read. (Not to mention the yummy-sounding recipes at the end of each chapter.)

I recommend any and all of these books to fellow readers in my blogosphere. Happy New Year, and happy reading!

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lighting candles

Some thoughts from Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath, a little jewel of a book about Christian and Jewish spiritual practices, on candle-lighting:

“Even though – or perhaps because – literal illumination is as easy as, well, the flip of a switch, there’s something remarkable about a candle. There seems to be no surer way to sacralize time or space than lighting a candle, and no quieter quiet than the silence of candlelight.”

“Candles seem to create peace. You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses; you find them lit in houses where people are trying to pay attention.”

“I like to keep [candles] lit whenever I am home. Even when I am just lighting two thin tapers over dinner, I like to think about the light of Christ rectifying the sin by which came death to the world. The Light of Christ, I sometimes say to myself. Thanks be to God.

Thought-provoking and beautiful. And true in the very best sense.

I think I’ll light a candle when I get home tonight.

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