Monday, November 12, 2012

Chapter One: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

The front cover (1)
As some of you may know, I'm reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood right now. Written by Rachel Held Evans, it's a masterpiece of humor and serious information all blended into a paper binding. It has brought me to fits of laughter so many times my family is beginning to doubt my sanity.

The first chapter about the project is entitled Domesticity, and covers some of the basic ideals behind Biblical womanhood: cooking, cleaning, and being a sensible hostess. If you have any thoughts that these subjects are boring, set them aside now. Do NOT drink anything while you are reading this book. I'm serious. If you use a Kindle, like me, doubly so, because liquid and electronics do NOT mix.

Yes, they are cipollini onions! (2)
Today I went shopping with my sister. While we were there, we stopped in the produce department. I was browsing the more exotic fruits (well, at least for November in New England) when my eye fell upon a little plastic package: cipollini onions. I bust out in a belly laugh, which made my sister come over from the bananas to find out what was so funny. She, too, started laughing. We stood there, holding this package of cipollini onions and sniggering hysterically until I managed to take a photograph. You see, in her first chapter, Ms. Evans discusses working her way through one of Martha Stewart's cook books, and how difficult it was to find certain things in her area. She lives in a rural area and going shopping for her was more of a "meat and potatoes" thing until she countered Martha. She comments that her grocery list, " . . . came to three pages, typed and single-spaced, whose contents included unfamiliar items like cipollini onions, cremini mushrooms, slab bacon, and horseradish root, three of which proved wholly unavailable to residents of Rhea County."

Her sense of humor makes the book readable. The dry voice of most Biblical scholars is wonderful for research assistants and other scholars, but not necessarily the right way to educate the masses. Ms. Evans manages to inject enough humor into her subject matter that  you don't want to put the book down, even when it's late at night and you know you have to get up in the morning.

Rachel at home (3)
Her descriptions of cooking stuffed shells for Italian friends was hilarious, and the debacle concerning her home-made apple pie had me in stitches. My sister was snorting Diet Coke out her nose (hence the previous warning) because she's a baker and has a vivid imagination. If you want anyone in our family to laugh, now, simply mention "butter-bleeding pie."

All this humor does not bury her message, though. Ms. Evans skillfully brings us around to the main point: that God (or for my less Christian readers, God/dess(es) is the same force behind miracles and portents, and behind pots and pans and failed apple pies. The power of Deity follows us whether we're in temple or kitchen, synagogue or dining room. Even dirty dishes are not below (or above) the powers of Deity.

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You may also be interested in:

Rachel Held Evans, Author
Velveteen Rabbi: Cheering for Anat Hoffman
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy

1) Image by Maki Garcia Evans
2) Image by Rev. M. Allyson Szabo
3) Image by Dan Evans

Friday, November 2, 2012

Plant Whatever Brings You Joy by Kathryn Hall

Kathryn Hall
"Kathryn Hall is known worldwide for Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, her successful gardening blog, rated consistently as one fo the top ten gardening blogs in the world..." She currently lives in Northern California with her cats and dogs, and enjoys all things gardening. She's also a well known publicist, having spent over 30 years bringing books to the world. Her abilities on the page and in the garden are obvious as you read through her latest book, named after her website: Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden.

A few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to review her book. I had found a quote from the book that touched me, and was quite pleased to be allowed to read the entire book.

While the book is easy to read, with personal stories and anecdotes, it takes a long time to digest. Each of the 52 chapters contains a short story and a bit of insight from the author's life, paired with garden practices. It is the type of book which lends itself to bathtub reading and late night sifting for gems of wisdom.

An example that truly touched me was in Chapter 39: Test and amend your soil. Ms. Hall says, "Yet how aware are we of our core beliefs and the very thoughts we feed ourselves on a daily basis that are determining the culture in which we live and grow?" This is one of those statements which is so true that it almost slaps you in the face. Our culture, our religion, our faith communities, our families all help amend the soil in which our soul grows. Ms. Hall asks us to take the time to evaluate just what we're putting into that metaphorical soil, and to use that knowledge to help determine whether we need to add more to it or if we're over-doing it.

Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is a meaty book, one that asks you to evaluate yourself over and over again. In a later chapter, Trim unwieldy branches, the reader is asked to examine her life and wonder where all the time and energy goes. Ms. Hall points out that the myriad of undone things each day saps our energy and steals our time from us. By putting ourselves in order, like trimming the unneeded branches from a sprawling tree or grape arbor, we make more time. There is less confusion, more understanding of where our energies need to be flowing. There are less dead ends, so to speak.

Each life lesson is matched to a gardening metaphor which helps highlight the important parts and illustrate what needs to be done. Whether she's raving over her gardeners and the lessons she learned from them, or laughing with you about the number of birds she ended up owning at one point in her life, Ms. Hall brings a comfortable humor to the situation. When she likens problems to weeds or blessings to fruits from the cultivated portions of the garden, she gives the reader something to grasp, to hold onto while trying to understand some very deep issues.

I truly like this book. It kept me engaged, and gave me a lot of things to mull over late at night. The electronic edition which I got for review has a few spelling and grammar errors, but not enough that it is distracting from the message. Being able to turn to my garden for spiritual ideas is a great thing, and Kathryn Hall does an excellent job in drawing it out clearly for us all.

Images by Estrella Catarina