Showing 251 - 260 of 268 annotations tagged with the keyword "Spirituality"

The Mourner's Bench

Dodd, Susan

Last Updated: Dec-21-1999
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leandra lives alone in the backwoods of North Carolina where she makes a small but sufficient living repairing antique dolls for a dealer who sells them to collectors. The broken and ragged dolls occupy an old "mourner's bench" in her one-room cabin. For ten years she has lived in relative contentment, though she carries the pain of a trip to Boston when her sister bore a defective child who died.

The sister committed suicide soon thereafter. During that visit, as Leandra's sister withdrew into late-pregnancy depression and hostility, Leandra and Wim took comfort in one another's presence and finally fell in love. But after the suicide, Leandra returns to North Carolina with no intention of ever seeing Wim again.

Now, ten years later, he shows up on her doorstep, wanting to spend the final months of his life with her; he has inoperable brain cancer. He knows what course it is likely to take. He wants only to see her, but she insists that if he is to reenter her life, she wants to see him through all of it, even the worst parts.

They weather and cherish the days with gentle humor, frankness, careful sharing of memory, and the deepest love either has ever experienced. Leandra's neighbor, a friend from childhood, helps Wim build an extension onto Leandra's little cabin, one of several ways he finds to "provide for her" as he wishes he could have earlier.

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Summary:

Carl Elliott and John Lantos have brought together a collection of 12 essays that explore the complex work and person of Walker Percy. Personal reflections and stories capture the importance of Walker Percy in the lives and work of several of the essayists, while others offer commentaries on various aspects of Percy's life and work. All of the contributors reveal their affection and appreciation of Walker Percy as physician, novelist, and philosopher.

In addition to the editors, the contributors include Robert Coles, who was Percy's friend; Ross McElwee, the documentary filmmaker; Jay Tolson, Percy's biographer; author and historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown; scholars Martha Montello and Laurie Zoloth; and physicians Brock Eide, Richard Martinez, and David Schiedermayer.

The collection covers many topics and themes. Percy's biography is reviewed: the early losses of his father and grandfather by suicide, the early death of his mother, his medical education and subsequent struggle with tuberculosis, his turn from medicine to philosophy and literature, his marriage and conversion to Catholicism, and his long and productive life as a philosophic novelist.

The essays explore Percy as both physician and patient, and how, as diagnostic novelist, he gives us characters and stories that caution about the technologic-scientific worldview that dominates not only medicine but western life. The many wayfarers are discussed, including Binx Bolling from The Moviegoer, Will Barrett from The Last Gentleman, and Dr. Tom Moore from Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome. [These novels have been annotated in this database.]

Percy's spiritual and religious views are reviewed, along with his moral concerns about a post-modern world before anyone had coined the term. The problems of isolation, alienation, and struggle for meaning are apparent in all of his works, and many of the essayists explore the connection between his novels and these existential concerns. The importance of Kierkegaard in his work, his theory of language, and his early essays are discussed.

The contributors give examples of how Walker Percy's life and work are incorporated in medical education and the practice of medicine, both in personal and theoretical terms. Percy's work reminds practitioners of the necessity for human connection in the midst of scientific and technologic paradigms that distance practitioner from patient. Likewise, medicine and medical education shaped Percy the novelist, where keen observation and sustained searching for answers are to be found in all of his fiction.

A feminist critique of Percy's development of women characters, reflections on physician characters in Percy's work, his personal struggle with a family history of depression, and his attitudes about psychiatry and psychoanalysis complete the collection.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Poetry is a natural medicine . . . Poetry helps us feel our lives rather than be numb. So begins John Fox, a Certified Poetry Therapist whose aim in this book is to help the reader see the profound relationship between creativity and healing, and to nudge the reader gently into making his or her own poems.

Fox grounds his work in narrative--stories of suffering persons who were able to transform their experience by writing poems. He illustrates the text with the poems of these persons, as well as those of well-known poets from King David to Lucille Clifton.

Fox carries the reader from the silence that leads to poetry (Chapter 1, "Heart, Who Will You Cry Out To?") through the elements that go into writing (Chapter 3, "Poetic Tools For Your Healing Journey") to writing about specific situations, such as illness, loss, and death (Chapter 6, "When God Sighs"). Each chapter includes a number of suggestions and exercises.

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The Swan

Rilke, Rainer Maria

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The "laboring through what is still undone" is difficult and awkward like a swan's walking. But dying is like the swan leaving dry land. The water "receives him gently" and he moves with grace. The swan appears indifferent as he "condescends to glide." [12 lines]

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This book concerns the care of dying persons. Hospice care provides a multidisciplinary approach to caring for the whole person, including his or her physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Often, however, discussion about hospice or palliative care tends to focus almost exclusively on relieving physical symptoms. Kearney tells us a number of dying patients' stories. Some die at peace, in seeming fulfillment. Others die in great distress, with what Kearney calls "soul pain," a deep existential anguish that is not relieved by symptom control or social support.

Kearney proposes two complimentary models to describe what occurs in dying persons whose "soul pain" is relieved. For the first, he recounts the Greek myth of Chiron. The wise centaur Chiron suffered from an incurable arrow wound inflicted by Hercules. Chiron learned that if he would be willing to sacrifice his immortality on behalf of Prometheus, he would be freed from his suffering. After he did this and descended into the underworld, Zeus raised him to the heavens, where he became a constellation.

Thus, the mythological model has a hero who is wounded, struggles, makes a choice, then descends into the depths, and finally returns transformed. The second, psychological model portrays the mind as having a surface rational part (where the ego resides) and a deep symbolic and intuitive part (where the "deep center" resides). The relief of "soul pain" lies in choosing to reject the ego's resistance and "letting go" to get in touch with the deep center.

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Epidermal Macabre

Roethke, Theodore

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In rhyming couplets, the author describes his loathing for his body--his "fleshy clothes" and his "epidermal dress"--and describes wanting to dispense with "the rags of my anatomy" to become pure sense or spirit. The difficulty, of course, is imagining oneself without a body, so that Roethke is forced to close with his ideal of being "a most / incarnadine and carnal ghost."

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A Whole New Life

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Borgenicht, Louis

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is a personal narrative by one of America's most accomplished authors. For the past thirty years Reynolds Price has written novels, stories, poems, essays. In this memoir Price describes his battle with a spinal tumor detected in 1984 which left him with some neurological impairment. He struggled with his own rehabilitation and eventually recovered with the aid of biofeedback and hypnosis.

The most compelling part of the book is near the end. The author muses about the meaning of his illness, "advice I'd risk conveying to a friend confronted with grave illness or other physical or psychic trauma" (p.182). He puts the travails of life into a philosophical perspective that is almost Zen-like.

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The Cunning Man

Davies, Robertson

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Jonathan Hullah writes a memoir of his life in response to a young reporter who questions him about the death, years ago, of an old Anglican priest during Good Friday services. The tale unfolds of three schoolboy friends in Toronto before the Second World War: Brocky Gilmartin, who becomes a noted professor of literature; Charlie Iredale, who enters the Anglican priesthood; and Hullah himself, who begins as a police surgeon and later becomes a practitioner of his own unusual brand of psychosomatic medicine.

The central image of this story is the sudden death of Father Hobbes, the saintly vicar of St. Aidan's Church. Soon after Hobbes' death, the curate Charlie Iredale leads a movement to declare the elderly priest a saint. This movement is aborted by the bishop and Iredale, his vision crushed, goes on to become an itinerant (and alcoholic) clergyman in rural Ontario.

The central story though is that of Dr. Hullah, the "cunning man" who learns that healing is not just a matter of the body, but also the mind and spirit. He practices a type of "holistic" health care that the Canadian medical authorities find very suspicious. Yet, he is quite successful in his work, serving as physician-of-last-resort for many patients who have not been helped by other doctors.

The "cunning man" is a listener; he seems to stay on the outside, observing carefully, but revealing little of himself. In these memoirs he gradually reveals his rich experience and complex character. Only at the very end, however, does he reveal the true story of Father Hobbes's death.

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The Dawn Appears with Butterflies

Harjo, Joy

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A young husband has died suddenly (has abandoned his wife "to the grace we pursue as wild horses in the wind") and his widow prepares his body for a dawn burial. The widow's friend tells the story in this prose poem, figuring life as a "gradual return to the maker of butterflies." The two women share a joke about burying the husband in "the shirt you always wanted him to wear, a shirt he hated." The speaker affirms that "we are all dying together, though there is nothing like the loneliness of being the first or the last."

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

In July of 1986, author Andre Dubus was assisting some stranded highway motorists when he was struck by a car. After two painful months of hospitalization, one leg had to be amputated at the knee; the other leg, damaged and immobilized in a cast for many months, became virtually useless, but still painful. Dubus was forced to "accept life in a wheelchair." (106)

In meditating on events and people in his life before and after the accident, Dubus leads us to the interior space of his suffering, fear, moodiness, stoicism, and religious faith. Like the Hemingway character he describes in "A Hemingway Story," he has both gotten over and not gotten over the consequences of his accident.

"Sacraments" interweaves the receiving of religious sacraments with the concentration, care, and love associated with making sandwiches for his two young daughters, the emotional pain of carrying on a love relationship by telephone because of his limited mobility, the received sacraments of learning how to drive his specially equipped car, and of getting a bargain from a swimming pool contractor--"the money itself was sacramental: my being alive to receive it and give it for good work." (95) Concluding with the recollection of his father's death; Dubus notes that "I had not lived enough and lost enough" to recognize the grace that accompanied past pain.

Pain and grace continue to compete for his attention: "The memory of having legs that held me upright at this counter and the image of simply turning from the counter and stepping to the drawer are the demons I must keep at bay . . . So I must try to know the spiritual essence of what I am doing." (89) Similarly, mourning--for what he can no longer do-- and gratitude--for what he once was able to do-- go hand in hand as Dubus remembers the joy of running for miles in the countryside (" A Country Road Song").

The body's memory and the losses suffered figure importantly also in "Liv UIlman in Spring." In this powerful piece, Dubus describes his meeting with the actress, how he was moved to tell her "everything," how, bent low, "her eyes looking at mine" she said, 'You cannot compensate.' " (130) For her honesty and understanding Dubus was enormously grateful.

"Witness" relates the uncanny experience of meeting a woman who had witnessed his accident. Wonderment, fear, depression, inspiration, and writing about this incident were the result. As always, Dubus wrote in order to be led to some further understanding. The essay ends, "Today the light came: I'm here."

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