Living the life you want to lead means actually doing it, no matter how tired you are or with whatever else you have going on. This year I've made a more conscious commitment to myself to do something that is part of the life I say I want to live, and begin the day with a devotional. This has come up in conversation twice in the last three days, in different circumstances. It makes sense to record it here.
What is a daily devotional? Following the lifelong example of my mother, it is sitting at one end of the sofa with a cup of coffee and reading literature that inspires or feeds one's soul.* In the dark of winter, candlelight helps.
I have a small rack of books to choose from, but I always begin with:
- The King James Bible (this is a very small copy the Christian Scientists gave my uncle when he was drafted in WWII; he ended up declared 4F and didn't serve). The last three weeks I've taken a chapter of the Gospel of John each day on the recommendation of a friend.
- Baltasar Gracián's The Art of Worldly Wisdom, a deeply subtle book of aphorisms by a Spanish Jesuit of the 15th (?) century.
- A Year with C.S. Lewis, a book of daily readings from his works. Mother uses this, and gave me a copy a few years ago.
- Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, which I got in New York last month.
Sometimes I stop with just these; other times I select two or three others from the rack to continue:
- Walt Whitman's The Calamus Poems
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayaam (my grandmother's copy)
- Henry Beston's Herbs and the Earth
- The Secret Language of Flowers: Notes on the Hidden Meanings of Flowers in Art, by Jean-Michel Othoniel (created while artist-in-residence at the Gardner Museum and featuring its collections)
- Manage Your Day-to-Day, from 99U.
- Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet
These books are on the rack, but I turn to them rarely (or in some cases, never):
- The Jefferson Bible. TJ snipped the Bible apart and rearranged it according to his own beliefs.
- The Complete Jesus, by Ricky Alan Mayotte, a compilation of all the words spoken by Jesus (including from the Gnostic gospels).
- The Sins of Scripture, by Shelby Spong. (I confess I've hardly gotten anywhere in this.)
- A Book of Courtesy: The Art of Living With Yourself and Others, by Sister Mary Mercedes, O.P. (as revised and updated by the Class of 1950 of Sister Mary's Dominican school for girls, for their 50th reunion in 2000 - I just love that they did that! I found this at Brattle Book Shop last year.)
- Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke (recommended to me by a young friend in 2015 and purchased by me at City Lights in San Francisco that summer)
- Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero, by Charles Sprawson (a very influential book for me in the early 1990s, it examines the importance of water and swimming at different points in civilization while the author returns to swim a famous spots from antiquity, like the Hellespont.)
- As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen (bound in gold and given to me by my grandmother for Christmas 1981).
- Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy. The companion book to my uncle's KJV, I don't think I've opened it once.
To do this and not feel rushed or inattentive (because remember, I want to do this), I need to be up no later than 6 AM weekdays. Sometimes that's easy, and in the last month I've decided that if I'm awake after 5 and before 6, just to get up and start the day. There have been a couple days, however, when I lift my arm like lead to reset the alarm to 7 AM. But only a couple days.
I remember the story (I must have heard it in Sunday School as a child) about the boy who complained to his grandfather about having to read the Bible every day. The grandfather set him a task, to fill a large tub with water from a creek a short distance away using the coal basket. "But it leaks!" the boy said. "It leaks, but just you go ahead and fill that tub with it," answered his grandfather. So back and forth the boy ran, from creek to tub with a powerfully leaking basket. After awhile, the weary boy flopped down in the grass and said "Grampa, I just can't fill that tub with this basket." His grandfather then asked him to look at the basket. The boy saw that it was bright clean, not black with coal dust as at the start. "You are the basket," his grandfather said, "and the water is the Word. You need it to pass through you more than once to clean yourself."
To which I can only add the words of Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon: "When you're young you simply don't appreciate these matters." I know I didn't.
*I find the term "inspirational literature," um, uninspirational. I would give it the Veda Pierce Distinctly MIddle Class Award.