Showing 211 - 220 of 273 annotations tagged with the keyword "Spirituality"

The Student

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

On Good Friday a clerical student is walking home when he encounters two widows warming themselves around a fire. As the cold evening descends, he joins them and tells the story of the Apostle Peter, who the night before Jesus died was so afraid for his own skin that he denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Afterwards, the Gospels say, he was filled with remorse and "went out and wept bitterly."

The two women are deeply moved by this tale; one of them starts to cry. The student suddenly experiences a connection between the story of Peter, 1900 years old, and the women and himself. He is filled with "the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness . . . and life seemed to him enchanting, marvelous, and full of lofty meaning."

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Summary:

This thorough and fascinating treatment of the politics of anatomy studies in 19th-century America provides a variety of perspectives on the vexed question of how appropriately to study human anatomy while also maintaining respect for the human body and honoring the various, deeply held community beliefs, and attitudes toward treatment of the dead. Sappol seeks, as he puts it, to "complicate the cultural history of medicine in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. . . by telling it from an anatomical perspective."

That statement of his objectives hardly suggests the startling range of approaches to the topic he takes in the book's nine chapters. These cover such issues as the legacies of belief about the "personhood" of the dead human body; the status of anatomy as both a legitimate and valuable study and also as an "icon of science"; the relationship of dissection and anatomy study to medical status and professionalization; the political tensions engendered by the "traffic in dead bodies" that most often expropriated corpses from marginalized communities; and the relationship of anatomy studies to sexual commerce and sensationalist fiction.

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In Strange Places

Cogan, Nancy Adams

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The author of this chapbook of poems is the chaplain of a large geriatric outpatient unit in Iowa City. Her In Strange Places is a series of 23 "poem portraits," each one of them a short narrative that speaks for one of the patients who is "not to be defined by illness and years and deserve(s) to be free of the condescending devaluing attitudes" that the elderly often encounter." (p. 3)

The poems are particularly eloquent in speaking of the progressive losses of aging. For example, there is "At Ninety: Embers of a World," which depicts two elderly persons as they "decompensate in sorrow." (pp. 8-9); and "Of Late I Have Taken to Falling," in which a patient describes her recent falls, but concludes, "I shall not / fall again." (p. 16-17).

Other portraits deal lovingly with an "impressively calm" dying matriarch ("CHF and the Matriarch, p. 6) and "The Good Storyteller" (pp. 18-19), who "wants her life / to begin again / to call her out / to play her part / once more with / cleaner closets / open doors." In "Funeral Plan" (p. 22), we meet an elderly woman carefully considering the magnificent array of flowers she plans to have at her funeral, "no hot house roses please," but great expanses of seasonal flowers: "ditch lilies / apple blossoms / naked ladies . . . " and so forth.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This small collection opens with a quotation from Mary Oliver's poem, "The Journey": "And there was a new voice / which you slowly / recognized as your own . . . " These poems reveal a new voice, which in John Wright's case, is perhaps heard best in his pastoral retreat on Decatur Island, one of the smaller San Juan Islands of Puget Sound.

Most of the poems depict scenes from Decatur; for example, the annual community sheep shearing ("The Shepherds"); a glimpse of a young girl crossing a field toward the poet's house carrying "cherry plums" (crab apples, "The Gift"); and a morning spent picking blackberries with his wife in the hills ("The Right Moves").

Other poems arise more purely from the geography of the heart. One of these is called "Praise," in which the poet confesses, "This quiet elation that comes, finally, / At seventy-one . . .

It's something akin to a leaf-bare maple, / Its upraised limbs."

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As I Lay Dying

Neuhaus, Richard John

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The subtitle of this memoir is "Meditations upon Returning." Richard John Neuhaus is a Catholic priest and scholar, director of the Institute on Religion in Contemporary Life in New York City and described on the book cover as "one of the foremost authorities on religion in the contemporary world." The book is a meditation on his near-brush with death as a result of colon cancer.

As Fr. Neuhaus describes it, he underwent two colonoscopies to ascertain the cause of persistent abdominal symptoms, but in both cases his colon was pronounced completely normal. However, shortly thereafter, he developed extreme abdominal pain and was taken to the hospital, where emergency surgery was performed and a colon cancer the size of a "big apple" was removed. During the first procedure, the surgeon nicked his patient’s spleen, so a second emergent procedure was required to control hemorrhaging.

The two procedures left Fr. Neuhaus very near death, but he gradually recovered over a period of several months. When introducing the story of his illness, the author comments, "several lawyers have told me my case would make a terrific malpractice suit." (p. 79) But he says he won’t sue, because it would "somehow sully my gratitude for being returned from the jaws of death." (p. 80) In fact, he has considerable praise for his surgeon.

The narrative of Fr. Neuhaus’s illness occupies a relatively small proportion of this memoir. The first three of seven chapters consist of the author’s reflections on the meaning of suffering and death, and especially the existential question of "Why me, now?" (His answer is "Why not?) In chapter five Fr. Neuhaus describes a near-death experience that changed his life, a scene in which he heard two "presences" tell him, "Everything is ready now." In much of the rest of the book, the author examines and rejects the possibility that the experience was a dream or an hallucination. He is convinced that he witnessed the "door" to a more glorious life after death, and this has, in some sense, profoundly changed his present life.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Beginning with an informative introduction on the form of lyric poetry known as elegy, this comprehensive anthology of English-language poems from the late middle ages to the present represents both what endures and what varies in modes of lamentation. The first section (pp. 35-147) is divided into four parts: watching the dying, viewing the dead, ceremonies of separation, and imagining the afterlife. The second, and much longer section (pp. 151-444), is composed of subsections lamenting the gamut of specific losses: dead family members, children, spouses and lovers, friends, those dead by violence, the great and beautiful, poets mourning other poets, self-elegies, and meditations on mortality.

Within each section poems are chronologically arranged "to show how historical and cultural differences have produced aesthetic changes" and to illuminate "the often strikingly transformed procedures for mourning devised by so many poets in our own era of mounting theological and social confusion." (p. 26) An index listing authors, poem titles, and first lines is another way of navigating this voluminous collection.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book's title is from a Goethe poem, "The Holy Longing," translated from German in its entirety by Robert Bly: "And so long as you haven't experienced / this: to die and so to grow, / you are only a troubled guest / on the dark earth." Ten intensely personal essays tell of the suffering and everyday presence of pain of a severely disabled writer who has advancing multiple sclerosis, and of how, "in a very real sense, and entirely without design, death has become [her] life's work." (p. 13)

Beginning with her father's sudden death when she was a child, the essays describe her aging mother's expected death and the family's decision to take her off life support; her caretaker husband's diagnosis of metastatic cancer with uncertain prognosis; her own attempted suicide; death of friends, pets, including her beloved dog; and a young pen-pal executed on death row. If that weren't enough, a coda, her foster son's murder and again the decision to remove life-support, provides "[t]he end. For now." (p. 191)

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

David Slavitt has written his own response [Part I, "Meditation" (pp. 1-58)] to the five poems (chapters) that comprise the Old Testament's "Book of Lamentations," which he has translated here from the Hebrew [Part II, "Lamentations" (pp. 59-85)]. The poems appear in Hebrew and in English, on opposite pages. In addition there is a "Note on Translation" (pp. xiii-xiv) and a "Bibliographical Note" (pp. 87-88).

Five poems--The Book of Lamentations--express Israel's brokenness, bewilderment before God, and sorrow at the catastrophes that have beset the Jewish people through the ages. Slavitt's meditation and notes on translation prepare the reader for far more than a prosaic historical account of the destruction and biblical plights of the Jews. "A translator wants to be faithful to the original work but then discovers how fidelity to the word can mean a betrayal of the sentence." (p. xiii)

"As a boy, I knew next to nothing of Tish'a b'Av," begins the author's meditation. We learn, as he did, about "[this] worst day of the year"(p. 6)--the day in 587 B.C. that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and six centuries later on the same day, when the second temple was destroyed. Annually Tish'a b'Av is devoted to grieving "every terrible thing that happened in this world "(p. 6): Zion, Jerusalem, the Holocaust. Except for The Book of Job (see annotation in this database) and Lamentations, reading even the Torah, the most sacred text in all Judaism, is forbidden on this solemn day.

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Sloan-Kettering

Kovner, Abba

Last Updated: Jan-28-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Abba Kovner wrote these poems during and after his hospitalization at Sloan Kettering for throat cancer. His exile into the world of illness begins as he enters the hospital. "He fell asleep under strange skies" (p. 7) and in the hospital "the silence astounds on all / its many floors."(p. 11) [Throughout the book, Kovner refers to himself in the 3rd person.] He tries to pray: "Is there a prayer for one who prays like him / seething . . . " (p. 15) He decries "the infuriating confidence of the doctors." (p. 21) He celebrates the beauty and magnificence of New York. But then the bad news arrives: "When they told him they were going to cut away his vocal cords / entirely it was merely / a confirmation of what he already knew."(p. 31)

To the brisk, young hospital staff, he is just another patient, nothing but an "ancient shard”: "They could not imagine that this was a man / who had fought the world."(p. 36) Only Norma, the Puerto Rican night nurse, connects with him at a different, more human level. "He blushes / when Norma says: What a lovely / head of hair you have, sir!" (p. 88) As he prepares for the laryngectomy, images from the past invade his consciousness--Christmas Eve, 1941; the Vilna ghetto, where "the lice / got under your skin" (p. 68); and "a shoemaker, his name forgotten" (p. 74). The Holy Guests--the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David--also visit the sick room.

After the surgery, the conspiracy of optimism brings him along, carries him forward: "What a healthy recovery, / they said. And patted him on the shoulder / with admiration: You’re doing fine. Wow!" (p. 85) But this is at best a voiceless recovery: "From the wreckage of his voice / there arose a bubble / a tiny bubble . . . " (p. 101) Eventually, the patient leaves the hospital, leaves New York, and arrives home: "Fearful from the moment of arrival: he / watches the landing that cannot / be avoided, into / the arms / of people who love him . . . " (p. 111) He settles into a routine, lives his life as if there is nothing new, but ends at "An Ending, Unfinished" (p. 126), back at Sloan Kettering. "Where now? He asked himself . . . " What next?

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

This is a rich and diverse anthology of poetry and of prose extracts, both fictional and non-fictional, about becoming a parent. It is organized into three chronological sections: "First Stirrings," about becoming and being pregnant (or of having a pregnant partner: the father’s perspective is refreshingly well-represented throughout), "The Welcoming," about labor and birth, and bringing home the newborn, and "Now That I am Forever With Child," about being the parent of an infant.

Each section contains a cross-section of views, from, for instance, Elizabeth Spires’s languid letter to the fetus inside her to Rosemary Bray’s candid account of her ambivalence about being pregnant; from Julianna Baggott’s thoughts on the Madonna and child, and A. S. (Antonia Susan) Byatt ’s rather frightening description of giving birth in a British hospital in the 1960s, to Hunt Hawkins’s sad poem about holding his dying newborn daughter; and from Jesse Green’s memoir as a gay parent adopting a son to Kate Daniels’s prayer for her children.

The anthology ends with the powerful poem by Audre Lorde that gives its title to the book’s last section. Lorde encapsulates the astonishing change of focus and identity at the heart of becoming a parent.

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