Here’s a look at my reading list for the first week of September:
- Opened Ground. Seamus Heaney has been one of my favorite poets since I first read him in college. News of his death last week sent me back to his volume of collected poems, Opened Ground. Drawing on thirty years of his poetic career, these poems show how deeply Irish Heaney was—and how truly human. His poetry is immediately accessible, but not simplistic. His words are plain but perfectly chosen. And more than any other poet I know, Heaney masterfully uses sound to communicate his meaning. One critic writes, “[Heaney’s] words not only mean what they say, they sound like their meaning.”
- Heaney has taught me many things over the last 15 years. Perhaps the most important lesson is the significance of the little details of life. By focusing our attention on what seems unimportant, we can often see into the heart of reality. We can “enter heaven/Through the ear of a raindrop” (“The Rain Stick”). This was why Heaney wrote poetry: “I rhyme/To see myself, to set the darkness echoing” (“Personal Helicon”). And this is why so many people read him.
- When I read Heaney, I can feel myself slowing down. The attention Heaney gives to his subject forces me out of myself, out of my introspective revery. But Heaney is no sentimentalist. He sings of a real world, of blood and suicide, as well as rain and soil.
- This is pitiful praise for a poet who has meant so much to me. But take my word for it. Go to your local bookseller and buy the biggest copy of Heaney you can find. Then read him until it all sinks in.
- Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. It is unfortunate that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is better known these days for trying to blow up Hitler than for his theology. Granted, Bonhoeffer’s prose is dense and tangled in places. But not in this little book on the Psalms. In less than 100 small pages, Bonhoeffer explains how to use the psalms as a prayer book.
- We cannot pray, he argues, without Jesus Christ. And if we want to learn how to pray, we need Christ, the Word of God, to give us the words of prayer. Since Christ prayed the psalter, as all Jews did at the time, then we also need to use the psalms as the text of our prayers.
“Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”
- By praying the psalms, we allow “the richness of the Word of God…to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (15). A great comfort, especially when we have no words to pray. Bonhoeffer goes on to explain the different themes of the psalms and how we modern Christians can pray them as our own. He is short on method, because the method is quite simple. Read the psalms as the text for your prayer. Let their words lead to your words.
Before you dash off to the next big thing, take a moment and leave a comment. What are you reading right now?