Friday, April 17, 2009

Review: There is a Season

Wow! That's what I said when I first picked up this book. Wow! is what I said after almost every chapter, and Wow! is what I'm still saying as I try to bring my senses back to earth after wallowing in this book for almost a week. This work, a meditation on the famous words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, "To everything there is a season..." is also a series of reflections on the art of John August Swanson's incredibly sumptuous serigraph Ecclesiastes which provides the cover art and illustrations for each chapter. Chittister begins with reflections on the Seasons of Life and the Dimensions of Time and studies each element of the zodiac in the center of the picture and on the cover off the book. I seldom quote from books when I do reviews, but Joan Chittister had me gasping with some of her insights: Speaking of the scriptural verses she says: "...I saw...Swanson's painting...and suddenly, in the struggle to understand the print, everything came together. The words took on a timbre I had not heard before; the ideas sprang to meaning in a new way, a new form.The painting with all its complexity made it very clear....Life is the citadel of time in which we find ourselves and which we ourselves build...." pg. 1. She goes on to examine each element of the picture matched to its appropriate "a time to...." One of my favorites is "A Time for Peace". The picture shows a young person standing in front of lambs lying down with a huge lion, with figures above sharing a meal of bread and probably wine, stars, sunbursts, a figure of what is obviously a dove meant to portray the Holy spirit, peacocks, birds, all in drenching colors. Chittister begins by quoting Kazantzakis "I fear nothing. I hope for nothing. I am free." then she posits that "...we are too enslaved to ourselves to be at peace."(pg. 107). She talks about how noisy the world is today, blocking out our ability to be quiet, to listen, to THINK.
She says "..Quiet has become a phantom memory in this culture. Some generations among us have had no experience of it at all....In New York City, in Small Town USA, (noice pollution) is blaring every hour of the day....Muzak in elevators, ...people standing next to you on cellphones, ...the ubiquitous television spewing talk devoid of thought... we don't think anymore. We simply listen."
She discusses how we are afraid of silence, how different societies in the past dealt with thinking and silence. She quotes the desert monastics, and ends this section by saying that "Peace will come when we stretch our minds to listen to the noise within us that needs quieting and the wisdom from outside...that needs to be learned." (pg.109). Each section is just as deep and thought provoking. Each provides enough food for the soul to last an entire season of seasons. The final chapter, "A Time for Every Purpose under Heaven" shows dancers, musicians, a panoply of colors and banners and joy. She uses this to recap everything and ties it together:
"No doubt about it, the cycle of time shapes and reshapes our misshapen selves until we have the opportunity to become what we can." "There is a time to kill whatever it is within us that fetters our souls from flying free... There is a time... sow the seeds that will be reaped by the next generation... weep tears of pain and ...loss to dignify the going of those...people in life who have brought us to where we are... embrace the goods of our life with great, thumping hugs.... reap, to work without that what must be done in life can be done... find ourselves in someone else so that we can find ourselves at all. let go of whatever has become our captor... be born fresh and begin again... laugh, to let go of the propriety and ...pomposities die, to put things to an end... heal ourselves from the hurts that weigh us down... build up, to construct the new world.... (pp.113-118)
This book is not readily available in libraries or used book stores. I don't think too many people will want to part with it. I gave my original copy to my son and his wife for a first anniversary
present (paper gifts!!), and had to get another one online. It's that good. It's every adjective you can think of and then some. The words are almost poetry. The artwork is breathtaking. All I can say is Wow!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a tremendous book, though not something I normally would read, you have me searching the Maryland Library system for it. It's a good thing that I will never die because I'll need eternity to read all the books I want to!


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