Showing 141 - 150 of 276 annotations tagged with the keyword "Spirituality"

A Lesson Before Dying

Gaines, Ernest

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's a poorly educated young black man, Jefferson, is in the wrong place at the wrong time: he is in a liquor store with two friends when they murder the white storekeeper. Jefferson is unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair by a white judge and jury.

His defense lawyer, in trying to stave off the death sentence, labels him a "hog"--and it is this label that Jefferson's godmother wants disproved. She enlists the help of the narrator of the novel, Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher.

Wiggins agrees to talk with Jefferson only out of a sense of duty--he is an unhappy, angry man who dreamt of escape from his impoverished youth yet returned to his hometown after a university education to teach in the same one-room parish school he attended. Despite humiliation at the hands of the white sheriff, Jefferson's lack of cooperation, and his own sense of futility and uncertain faith, Wiggins forges a bond with Jefferson that leads to wisdom and courage.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Brown, anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, describes the life, religion and healing practices of Marie Therese Alourdes Macena Margaux Kowalski, also known as Alourdes or Moma Lola, a priestess of Voodou, who emigrated to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince in Haiti at the age of 24. What began as an ethnographic research project on immigrant Haitians, turned into a deep personal friendship between Moma Lola and Brown, and a privileged look at the practices and patients of a priestess, and at the socio-cultural lifeworlds of the Haitian community in Brooklyn and in Haiti between 1978 and 1986.

The book presents an intimate description of an alternative healing tradition through a number of perspectives. Brown alternates between a personal, an analytical, and a descriptive narrative of Moma Lola’s own history and her encounters with patients. In some chapters, Brown fictionally reconstructs the patient’s stories, so that the book is part traditional ethnography, and part fiction.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

David Rosen and Joel Weishaus are long-time friends, the former a psychiatrist, the latter a poet, teacher, and literary critic. Both authors have lived and traveled in Japan, and both are enamored of the haiku form. In this book, Rosen and Weishaus carry on the "renga" tradition of writing haiku as part of an on-going conversation, a call and response of commentary and haiku. Grouped into 53 two-page chapters, such as "Feeling Death," "Learning to Bow," "Eating," "Mother Ill, Mother Dead," "Tuscany," and "Turtle Wisdom," this conversation is enriched by the black and white illustrations of Arthur Okamura.

The comments and haiku range widely and deeply, reflecting the authors’ recognition of the possibility and need for healing, not only in human relationships but also with Nature. In part, this conversation is the authors’ quest to understand the "psychology, meaning, and healing value" of haiku (1), and to explore how poems might lead not necessarily to cure but to "becoming whole" (5).

The commentaries are open and transparent, interwoven as one poet picks up a word or image in his friend’s haiku and extends it, turning it over both in commentary and verse-for example, see the chapter "In the Flow" where the last line of Rosen’s haiku, "A river streaming back toward the sun," is used as the first line of Weishaus’s responsive commentary, one that transports the discussion from Japan to Africa (82-83). Often movingly honest, the poets discuss loneliness and death, their insights reflected in artist Okamura’s stark ink swirls (8-15). They examine their relationships with their fathers ("making Peace with One’s Father," 44-45), and they don’t shrink from humor ("Learning to bow," 34-35) or from sensuality ("Anima," 86-87). Their spiritual references range widely, from the Hebrew God to the Buddhist’s tribute to Nature (70-71).

The haiku are lovely, both strong and delicate, our appreciation of them enhanced by a review of haiku’s traditions in the Preface (1-5). Rather than try to describe the haiku (because, like all good haiku, these cannot be captured or retold and remain the same), I’ll present one haiku from each poet and hope readers will be compelled to seek out the book and read further.

David Rosen, on walking near his apartment in Mukaijima (40): Shimmering paddy-- / The slap of small feet nearing / Where dragonflies hover. Joel Weishaus, on September 11, 2002 (103): Sluggish creek-- / A shadow dips / And drinks.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Gilbert begins her narrative with the event that inspired her to write: her husband's death in 1991 after a routine prostatectomy. "Though he was in robust health apart from the tumor for which he was being treated, Elliot died some six hours after my children and I were told that his surgeon had successfully removed the malignancy. And for the first six months after he died, death suddenly seemed plausible ... "(1).

But whereas her book Wrongful Death (annotated in this database) deals with Elliot Gilbert's death, the present work takes the author through death's door into personal reflection and research across a vast area, including personal, cultural, and literary aspects of death. Larger than a memoir, her work universalizes her personal experience with dying and death. And writing is what she does and what she has to do: "THIS is the curse. Write" (92).

Gilbert divides her material into three main sections, each containing several subsections: 1. Arranging my mourning: five meditations on the psychology of grief; 2. History makes death: how the twentieth century reshaped dying and mourning; and 3. The handbook of heartbreak: contemporary elegy and lamentation. The 27 illustrations she has selected range from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald to recent photographs by Dan Jury, to Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial. In these symbolic representations, Gilbert finds our universal fear of the process of dying, "If this is what it is, GrŸnewald seems to be telling the viewer, for Our Lord to die the death, what must it be for those of us less staunch, less noble - in short, less divine?" (115).

Traditional elegy, by John Milton and Percy Bysshe Shelley, on the other hand, seeks to comfort the poet and reader with the hope of a life hereafter, but modern secular poets like William Carlos Williams and Samuel Beckett offer no solace at all. The older term "expiration" gives hope that our spirit may survive our death. But "termination," the twentieth-century word for death, describes how humans and animals die, in our post-Darwinian world. Her word for this is nada. The holocaust stands as the ultimate ex-termination, or death by technology.

Seeking to understand Sylvia Plath's disease- and death-filled poetry, Gilbert travels literally to Berck-Plage, France, and figuratively, through the notorious "Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," and "Getting There." As a woman and a writer, Gilbert is fascinated by Plath: "For perhaps more than anyone else - more even than her much-admired Wallace Stevens himself - she really did articulate not just the vision but the 'mythology of modern death' that Stevens tentatively proposed" (310). The author contrasts Plath with nineteenth-century Walt Whitman who said, "... to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier" (332). Whitman seems to be ambivalent or even positive towards death; Emily Dickinson, of his same century, finds death terrifying.

Ultimately, modern death is embarrassing; death avoidance prevails, notably among doctors. This despite the fact that the first patient a medical student sees is a cadaver. Death is a doctor's failure and it is easier to blame the patient than to accept the death. Death in an American hospital is a "humanectomy", or physical removal of the individual's humanity as she/he is attached to IVs, monitors, feedings tubes, and other mechanical devices.

Modern hospital death is demeaning, because patients are granted little privacy, their TV sets are set to blaring; all personnel, including doctors, enter their rooms unannounced: "Whereas the patient is emotional - fearful, angry, needy - the doctor is detached, abstract, 'objective' " (189). Clearly, the author still lovingly mourns her dead husband bleeding to death alone in a hospital room. Energized by lost love, she writes and documents and works her way toward death.

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Baptism by Fire

Davis, Heather

Last Updated: Oct-16-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At seven months, Remy, daughter and second child of Heather and Lon Davis, is hospitalized with a seizure that, after several days of agonizing uncertainty, is traced to a brain tumor. This narrative of her diagnosis and treatment, told by her mother and very much from her mother’s perspective, is not only a chronicle of a medical event, but, perhaps more centrally, of a spiritual awakening in the mother’s life. From a person uncertain about and largely indifferent to prayer, faith, and spirituality, Ms. Davis becomes, over the course of her daughter’s treatment, convinced of the presence of God, the power of prayer, and the availability of grace in precisely those circumstances that threaten life and lifestyle and bring individuals face to face with their deepest fears and deepest needs.

A series of “coincidences” makes her more and more aware of how little she controls in the grueling process, and how much of comfort, relief, and unexpected aid comes as unsolicited gift from un expected places. The child recovers, unlike several others the mother encounters during her weeks of witnessing hospital life. The mother emerges profoundly different for the experience, and clearer in her purposes as a writer and, eventually, a teacher.

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Robert Coles, Teacher

Goodman, Barak

Last Updated: Sep-07-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This video depicts Robert Coles, noted author, psychiatrist, documentator and humanist, teaching his popular undergraduate course, "The Literature of Social Reflection," at Harvard University in 1990. The film begins with a bell tolling in a steeple and students entering the lecture hall. Excerpts from his lectures are presented in 4 parts: I: Ruby; II: Seeing--The Paintings of Edward Hopper and The Stories of Raymond Carver; III: Praying; and IV: Potato Chips and Tolstoy.

Some additional documentary clips are shown, such as footage of six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a previously all-white New Orleans school amidst a screaming mob during forced integration of schools. In between segments, brief interviews of Coles’ students let the viewer know that his message is getting through: it matters how you live your life--it matters a great deal.

Coles teaches with stories and these stories are riveting. In 1960, while in the Air Force and assigned to a psychiatric detail, he befriends young Ruby after he witnesses her courage in entering the school building. He comes to know her family and teacher.

Several months later, during the morning escort, Ruby stops in front of the school and says something which makes the mob even more frenzied. Coles is asked by the teacher to tell Ruby not to do that again. Upon gentle questioning, it turns out that Ruby was not talking to the mob, but to God: "Please God, try to forgive those people because they don’t know what they’re doing."

It was a prayer she said every morning, usually a couple of blocks away from the school, but that morning she had forgotten to do it earlier. Coles discusses the remarkable gift of forgiveness instilled in this brave child by her parents, who despite poverty and lack of opportunity to advance in life, were able to love and teach their children values and grace.

In Part II, Coles uses paintings by Edward Hopper, a poem by Raymond Carver ("What the Doctor Said" (annotated by Felice Aull and Irene Chen, also annotated by James Terry) and Carver short story (Cathedral) to illustrate how difficult it can be to truly communicate with and know another person. And how magical the moments are when we do.

In Part III, Coles shows some of the children’s drawings that he has collected during his documentary work. Coles delights in describing what the children said about their drawings at the time they created them. He clearly respects them and their ideas.

The last part ends with the story of the death of Coles’s mother at Massachusetts General Hospital. In her dying days she befriended an African-American woman, whose job was at the bottom of the hierarchy of the hospital: an orderly. After Coles’s mother died, it was this woman--not any doctor or nurse--who taught Coles how to take the time and be with his mother, rather than rush off as he was preparing to do. Coles asks, "Who was the doctor, the healer, the wise person?"

He notes that these twists are characteristic of many stories, such as those by Flannery O’Connor. He then concludes before a standing ovation: "Let us be good to one another, live on behalf of one another . . . . We are lucky to have these writers . . . and to have the lives that can include them."

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

Anne Lamott, a writer, recovered alcoholic, former addict and impassioned Republican-hater, finds herself pregnant in her mid-thirties, and decides to have the baby. This journal is a chronicle of her son Sam’s first year. She is fiercely self-deprecatory and funny and unafraid to talk about the dark side of parenting an infant: the fear, exhaustion, anger, emotional swings; that 4 a.m. inability to cope with the crying neediness of the baby.

She is a single parent barely able to pay the bills, but she has a tremendous support network of family, friends, and the people of her church--all of whom clearly love Sam and love her. And then, when Sam is 7 months old, crawling "like a Komodo dragon," the author’s best friend Pammy is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The author, who discovers the depth and resonance of love because of the gift of Sam, must now learn loss. She questions her faith, which she cannot justify on a cerebral level, but still hopes that God loves and guides her the way a parent loves and guides a child.

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On Easter Eve

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Sep-05-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

On the night before Easter, a traveler waits to cross the river to a monastery. Finally, a lay brother named Jerome brings the ferry across. As the ferry moves slowly to the other bank, Jerome reveals his sadness over the death of Nicholas, a fellow monk who wrote beautiful prayers for saints’ days. "Can you tell me, kind master," Jerome asks, "why it is that even in the presence of great happiness a man cannot forget his grief?"

Jerome loved Nicholas who was very quiet, kind and tender, not at all like the other monks, who are loud and harsh. At the monastery the traveler participates in services throughout the night, then returns to the ferry after sunrise on Easter morning. Jerome is still working the ferry. His promised relief has not arrived.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Editor Chip Spann created this anthology as part of his Ph.D. dissertation in creative writing. The poems were selected because Spann hopes they "can be a comfort to the sick and a rabble-rouser for those who work at getting well" (5). The book’s 234 poems have been organized into seven sections, each section named with a phrase from one of the poems contained therein. Each section is prefaced by an introduction that focuses on Spann’s own journey from a difficult childhood and unanchored young adulthood to his current life in which he is able to combine a love of reading and writing poetry with his background of working with patients in a variety of settings -- he leads a writing group of patients, caregivers, and health professionals at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, California.

The seven sections concern: the body; illness and life’s journey as quest; "feelings that are screaming to get out"; looking inward at dark truths; reflecting on "early wounds"; finding creative inspiration from unexpected and small things; and "perspectives on death and aging." I counted approximately 80 poets who are represented in this anthology; those with the greatest representation (number of poems) are Raymond Carver, Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, May Sarton, William Stafford, and May Swenson.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The spirit of St. Francis of Assisi presides over the garden in spring. Hyacinths bloom, and abandoned bird nests are tucked away in the nooks and crannies. Young couples embrace: "St. Francis forgive them / and all lovers / whoever they may be." The scene then fast forwards to summer, when the lovers find themselves bewildered and "incredulous / of their own cure / and half minded / to escape . . . "

The idyllic garden has turned menacing, yet St. Francis continues to have compassion for the lovers who "resemble children / roused from a long sleep." One lover stands up unafraid in the sunlight "as her heart / beats wildly / and her mind / drinks up / the full meaning / of it." [139 lines]

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