Showing 241 - 250 of 273 annotations tagged with the keyword "Spirituality"

Neverland

Kinnell, Galway

Last Updated: Mar-20-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The scene is a sickroom in which the narrator stands at his dying sister's bed. He wishes that she could be "snatched up / to die by surprise" without ever knowing about death. The sister speaks, "I am in three parts." One is red for pain, one is yellow for exhaustion, and the other is white: "I don't know yet what white is."

The narrator stews for a while in his fears of dying, but his sister speaks again, saying that she is not afraid, but, "I just wish it didn't take so long." "Let's go home," she suddenly says, and he recalls images of their youth, and these images shuttle back and forth into the sickroom until at the end of the poem, "they ratchet the box holding / her body into the earth . . . " [79 lines]

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Lives of Moral Leadership

Coles, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-20-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In this book Robert Coles elucidates the nature of moral leadership by presenting a series of narratives about moral leaders. These are individuals who have made significant contributions to the author's moral development, mostly through personal interaction, but in some cases through their writings or their influence on other people.

The subjects include public personages like Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Day (of the Catholic Worker), Danilo Dolci (a Sicilian community organizer), Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Erik Erikson; writers who have influenced Coles, such as Joseph Conrad and Ralph Waldo Emerson; and "ordinary" persons whom he encountered over the years in his studies of the moral lives of children.

The "ordinary" person category is most extraordinary. Coles draws heavily on personal interviews that reconstruct the courageous narratives of people like Andrew Thomas, a young Mississippian who worked on the voter registration project during the summer of 1964; Donita Gaines, one of the first black teenagers to "integrate" an all-white high school in Atlanta in 1961; and Albert Jones, a parent who volunteered to drive the school bus that carried black children in 1967 from Roxbury to a previously all-white school in South Boston.

However, the clearest and most powerful narrative that emerges from this book is that of the author himself, as he develops from young, socially conscious child psychiatrist to a middle-aged man seeking to understand what it means to be a moral leader in today's world.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

Anna, the "I" of this journal, suffered the pain of emotional abuse in her childhood. As an adult, she works in a hospice and cares for patients consumed by physical pain. She begins to "hunger for storylessness," wishing to find a way to separate pain from the experience of pain; yet without a narrative frame she cannot recognize pain in its original and pure state--the pain that occurs before language or thought. And so she enters into a meditation practice in order to see pain "uncompounded."

The book is divided into three sections, each reflecting a part of Anna's meditation practice and each containing sections of dreams, meditation notes, and musings on three friends who have died. As her meditations deepen, Anna begins to see pain in more detail, and in so doing begins to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, she concludes, is inevitable. But suffering can be dismantled, carefully, like a house might be. The goal is to keep the house "whole enough" so it doesn't collapse and crush the individual living within.

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Lying Awake

Salzman, Mark

Last Updated: Dec-06-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sister John of the Cross is a Carmelite nun who has lived in a California monastery for 28 years. She writes poetry and essays. In some ways, writing is nearly equivalent to prayer for her. Sister John is revered for her spirituality and visions. What she has long assumed to be special blessings from God turn out to be manifestations of temporal lobe epilepsy due to a small meningioma.

The nun is forced to confront the scientific explanation that her headaches, altered perception, and hypergraphia are secondary to a seizure disorder and not a gift of divine favor and spiritual ecstasy. Sister John agrees to undergo surgery to remove the tumor aware of the likelihood that a surgical cure will also eliminate her unique visions and insight. Postoperatively, she admits that life without epilepsy seems dull but realizes that "only in complete darkness do we learn that faith gives off light." [p. 178]

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This collection of 20 essays continues and expands upon the theme--how we living care for our dead and incorporate them into memory--that Thomas Lynch, a poet and undertaker, introduced in his first book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).

In this new book, Lynch writes rambling pieces that begin with some observation about his funereal trade then blaze off into musings about religion ("The Dead Priest"), love and divorce ("The Blindness of Love," "Y2Cat"), poetry ("Reno," "Notes on 'A Note on the Rapture to His True Love'"), and the interplay of mortality and morality ("Wombs," "The Bang & Whimper and the Boom"). In his first book, Lynch wrote scathingly of abortion and mercy killing, and here he continues his thought provoking considerations of both.

In what might be the most interesting and radical essay in this collection, "Wombs," Lynch walks a precarious line between pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric; ultimately, he asserts a woman's right to abhor decisions about her body that "leave her out." At the same time, he asks if the reproductive choices available to women, "when considered for men," might not seem "irresponsible, overly indulgent, and selfish." What if, he writes, men could declare (without stating their reasons) their interest in their unborn children "null and void, ceased and aborted?" Lynch, who spends most of his time in the contemplation of the deceased, seems to find in death a spark of life; then he fans it into flame with language.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

This memoir of a clinical psychologist (also a professor of psychology) chronicles her own depression over a period of a year and a half, from early symptoms, through near despair, electroconvulsive therapy, and hospitalization to recovery. The journey is detailed, not only in its treatment of her emotional states, but of her struggle to maintain family and professional life, keep her house and office organized, and attend to a dying friend.

As her bouts of panic and disorientation grow more apparent, first to herself and finally to others, she seeks refuge in spiritual retreats and in conversation with colleagues, ultimately submitting to treatment. She names the emotional "undercurrents" suggested in the book's title with moving precision: panic over sudden disorientation, anxiety about what to keep secret, frustration with her own unreliability, dread of small duties and ordinary appointments, heartache over her faltering efforts to be a good and present mother.

The consent to hospitalization costs a great deal in humility, in risking a controversial treatment, and in letting go of a professional persona she doesn't know whether she'll be able to retrieve. But clearly the book is written by a woman whose clarity is a testimony to regained mental health and exceptional intellectual clarity. It is not a professional record, but an intensely personal memoir of what was both an encounter with serious mental illness and a spiritual journey.

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A Prayer for Owen Meany

Irving, John

Last Updated: Oct-16-2000
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel, set in the 1950s in the prep school town of Gravesend, is an extraordinary account of friendship, coming of age, families, "normalcy," politics, faith, and doubt. The title character is an unusually small child--as an adult barely five feet tall--with a strange and striking voice that makes many people uneasy.

The only son of a New Hampshire granite quarrier and his odd and reclusive wife, Owen is best friends with Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of the book and grandson of one of the town's most distinguished families. The friendship is sealed by a freak accident when Owen hits a baseball that kills Johnny's mother, Tabitha, who is just arriving at the game.

The remainder of the novel is a back-and-forth between past and present as Johnny searches for his identity--his mother is unmarried and never reveals the father's name--and Owen searches for his destiny--he believes that he is an instrument of God. Both searches have amazing resolutions.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A 199-page collection of twelve essays by undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, superficially about his mortuary trade, but actually about much more--life and death; the process of mourning; how we human beings pass though our common lives with grace or desperation; how the graveside ritual serves memory, family, and society. In the preface, Lynch says that early on he came to understand that the undertaking trade he would inherit from his father had little to do with what was done to the dead, but everything to do with how the living responded to the deaths of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.

Particularly outstanding essays include "The Undertaking," in which Lynch divulges the practical and emotional secrets of his trade as he buries Milo, a man who owned a Laundromat; "Crapper," a humorous, rollicking essay that demonstrates our modern society's inability to deal either with the thought of dying or the actual dead body; "The Gulfatorium," a flight of fancy about building a graveyard in a golf course, but really about the nature of suffering and the afterlife; "Mary & Wilbur," about neighbors, about our fear of death and our impulse to memorialize; "Uncle Eddie, Inc.," about an uncle's "clean-up service" that sanitized rooms after messy suicides and about the natural order of life and death and the moral implications of our manipulation of that order through assisted suicide, abortion, and genetic manipulation. My personal favorite is the final essay, "Tract," in which Lynch says how he wants his own death and burial to be managed, how he, a witness to our final rituals, wants to be witnessed.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Peppered with a plethora of black and white stills, this book is a compilation of a physician's film reviews and reflections on how movies have mirrored the changes in medical care and in society's attitudes towards doctors and medicine over the last sixty years. Ten chapters blend a chronological approach with a thematic perspective: Hollywood Goes to Medical School; The Kindly Savior:

From Doctor Bull to Doc Hollywood; Benevolent Institutions; The Temple of Science; "Where are All the Women Doctors?"; Blacks, the Invisible Doctors; The Dark Side of Doctors; The Institutions Turn Evil; The Temple of Healing; More Good Movie Doctors and Other Personal Favorites.

The appendices (my favorite) briefly note recurring medical themes and stereotypes ("You have two months to live," "Boil the Water!"). Formatted as a filmography, the appendices reference the chapter number in which the film is discussed, the sources of the photographs, and a limited index.

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Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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