I have an unfettered imagination. I know this because when I tell my husband I don’t believe in zero, he says, “Neither did the Neanderthals.” “Show me,” I say. “Show me one place anywhere in the universe where zero can be found.” He turns up the car radio. At that point, I stop trying to engage him. He has that slide rule look about him and has his feet firmly planted in reality. But that is not where I live. I live most of the day in my imagination’s garage. Just last week, I considered ditching reality and zero altogether, packing a lunch, jumping into the air and letting the earth spin beneath me until I re-gravitated somewhere over Kew Garden.
Imagination is the organizing venue for all thinkers and writers — fiction or non-fiction — lyricists or poets. Charles Darwin imagined a tree when he was puzzling through his theory of evolution; Albert Einstein rode a beam of light all the way to E = MC 2. Unfortunately for writers and readers, alike, imagination expands and contracts under its own power. Frequently, imagination is on vacation, leaving the body it once occupied limp and grey in front of a blue-glowing computer screen; but when it returns, it engages neurons, dendrites and digits to produce the most amazing human insights.
God did this for us. By His grace, we are the beneficiaries of language. We all have, to a greater or lesser extent, the ability to describe, communicate, sooth, interdict, instruct, forecast, report, lecture, warn and imagine stunningly complex sets of ideas through the building blocks of words agreed upon by convention and organized by syntax.
At St. Michael’s, we are blessed with an abundance of wordsmiths, but moreover, we are blessed with an abundance of discerning readers. I had an inkling that this was true within a few weeks after joining St. Michaels when Greg Jones, almost giddy with anticipation, told us that he just picked up a copy of Dan Jones’ # 1 international bestseller, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who Made England and admonished us to read it. I ordered a copy that day. Many of our members can remember being guided through C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters by Christopher Hogin at Lee and David Hayden’s house during several frosty winter evenings; and many will think back to the time Jeff Hensley brought us together to discuss the quality of mercy and forgiveness while reading The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal during three adult Sunday school sessions. More recently, I spent a flu-soddened afternoon hallucinating with Robitussin, St. Julian of Norwich and Robert Fruehwirth’s book about her spiritual life titled The Drawing of this Love. This is a sipping book — intimate and profound.
St. Michael’s book group, Words & Wisdom, catches the overflow of individuals who want more of those experiences — individuals who admire authors, love words and want to share ideas about books they have read with others. Our selections are usually a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. We intentionally select books that provide a moral dilemma or ethical challenge which we, then, try to sort out during our meetings. This past year, for example, we read two non-fiction books, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Garwande concerning issues of aging and dying, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. A month of poetry reading came in April with a collection titled Ten Poems to Change Your Life by Roger Housden. Two novels, Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian author, Per Petterson prompted discussion about how childhood trauma shapes adulthood; and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman encouraged us to be aware that even the “pests” in our lives may nudge us toward a better understanding of our sometimes remote selves.
There are currently about 15 readers in the Words & Wisdom group. Not everyone reads every book or comes to every meeting, but the men and women who do are the most interesting people on the planet. We meet in each other’s homes (on a volunteer basis) because it provides a more intimate setting for members to get to know each other. Our meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month September through May. At the May meeting, we generally adopt a reading list for the following year. The books we selected this past May to read during the 2017-2018 year are listed below and notice is given in the church bulletin for the upcoming month. Look for the first announcement in August for the September book, When Breath Becomes Air.
Language has to be one of the most useful gifts God has given us. In life, we never really know how our story will end, but our lives are ever so much richer when we turn the pages together. Join us!
— Anne Crawford
Words & Wisdom Reading List for 2017-2018
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty (1982)
Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline (2013)
Formed by Love by Scott Bader Saye (2017)
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (2017)
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010)
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)
The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist by Richard Feynman (2005 edition)
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance (2016)