For Harry and J.K.

We purchased our tickets days in advance then met up at my house sometime after 10pm. We gathered in the van and drove down to the “good theatre” (as opposed to the “bad theatre” where no one went unless that was the only showing in town). By 11 the lines were quite long. By 11:30 the entire north end of the mall was packed with people, many in costume. At 11:40 management opened the doors and the throng of people funneled in, all vying for a good seat. The excitement in the air was palpable, electric. As the lights went dark a collective hush washed through the crowd. The giant orchestral chord struck and out of nowhere, big yellow letters appeared on screen. The crowd erupted in whoops and cheers. For the first time older Millennials and young Gen-X-ers everywhere finally got to experience the film out of the confines of tv and on the massive landscape of the big screen. I’m talking of course of the 1997 re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope.

From Top L: Rebecca, Me, Melissa and Harry. Halloween 2003

That same year J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book and a new cultural
phenomenon was born. For an entire decade children, teenagers and adults all around the globe were captivated by the wizarding world. Youth literacy rose at a staggering rate as children (and adults) not prone to reading suddenly became so engaged that they’d read the increasingly thick books in two or three days. Midnight book releases matched the excitement generally reserved for midnight cult movies and rock concerts.

For the launch of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, my mother’s bookstore held a midnight book party complete with costumes, treats, a reading of the first chapter and me dressed as Professor Trelawny telling fortunes. The final two installments, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince  and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, were released in the US in late July of 2005 and 2007, days before my families’ annual trip to Kanuga Conference Center for a week long summer retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Kanuga is a very special place and families have been attending the same week of summer guest period for generations. People do a lot of reading during their week at Kanuga, and in the summers of 2005 and 2007 the campus was sprinkled with folks reading the same book. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone with the latest Potter novel in hand. An unstated rule not to spoil the plot was adhered to and conversations ofter started with, “What page are you on?” Or you’d walk past someone absorbed in the magic and a simple “raise of the book” was enough to make a connection to last a lifetime.

This is the thing about the Potter novels, they created a deep and powerful feeling of connection and community. Mention Olivander’s, Quidditch, or horcrux, and suddenly you are engaged in the shared imagination of millions. The release of the movies which began in 2001 was eagerly anticipated with excitement and trepidation. Could such beloved books be accurately translated to screen? For my part, I think Warner Brother’s has done a remarkable job morphing the books into film. Sure, a good bit had to be cut, but they have captured the spirit, if not the letter, of the series. From Chris Columbus’ sparkling telling of Sorcerer’s Stone  and the vastly underrated Chamber of Secrets, to David Yates’ heart stealing interpretations of the final three books, the varying directors and their styles matched each novel well. The world watched the characters grow up in the pages of the books and the perfectly cast actors grow in height, acting ability, and depth on screen. The fervor of the movies only increased loyalty and readership of the books; a remarkable feat.

Still, for me the most captivating thing about Potter Nation is that it centers not just around a series of books, but a series of books about death. In our culture, at least in our American culture, death is treated as “unnatural,” something to be avoided, or worse treated with gross irreverence. In the Potter books children are not shielded from the reality that all life ends (and not always peacefully) and that we all react to this awareness of mortality in different ways. The “Death Eaters,” the minions of Voldermort, the super villain, react to this knowledge by seeking power over others. They disregard the sanctity of life to abate their fear of death. The Aurors and people of light recognize death as a natural, albeit painful, event and embrace life as a time to engage fully in the gifts of love and relationship. They recognize the dark war they are thrust into as a necessary evil to prevent genocide and preserve life so that when death does happen, it does so reverently.

The most stunning example of this play is between Harry and Voldermort. “Neither can live while the other survives.” 17 year old Harry’s life has been defined by death and over the course of the books he comes to the difficult realization that he must either die, or kill. In the end, he is killed, but because of a deep and powerful magic, does not die. Nor does he kill. It is his attempt to disarm Voldermort that links their wands, inadvertently casting Voldermort’s killing spell back on himself. Voldermort finally faces death by his own hand. This and the other potent themes in the Potter novels are a glaring perspective for a culture that has a tendency to tell children that their beloved pet has just moved to a farm upstate where she can enjoy wide open spaces, rather than letting them meet the reality of death and the pain of loss.

And so it is, that as the last movie is released excitement fills the air. The costumed millions turn our for midnight launch parties and flock to the weekend release. Facebook and Twitter are brimming with posts and opinions and the language of the wizarding world. A global party is under way.

Thank you J.K. Rowling for enlivening the world with a book about death.

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Check Out Melissa Howard Grantham’s  “Ten Signs You Might Be Addicted to Harry Potter.”

It's the Little Things

While unloading the dishes I was struck by an accidental arrangement of my friend Stephanie’s pottery*. Three lovely teacups and saucers, a bowl and a mug smiling from the top rack. Art in the dishwasher.

There is so much beauty in the world, so much vibrant life, and yet, the quiet splendor of the world can so easily go unnoticed. We may marvel at a particularly glorious sunset, or be filled with awe at a geography not our own, but what about the little majesties? What about the small daily delights? Like pottery in the dishwasher.

Inside of Bowl by Stephanie Rozene

My brother says “It is because God is so constant that we forget.**” When something is always there it is so easy not to notice, or take it for granted. Correction, when something good is always there we forget. It’s easy to take detailed notes on the persistently irritating things in life.

But what would happen if we were to turn all of that nit-picky energy and refocus it on the small, really small, beauties in life? We would become true disciples of the householder’s path, not to mention, much happier people. John Friend tells a story of watching his spiritual teacher wash dishes. “Have you ever seen a master wash a plate? The way she dips it and out of the water, it’s like an exquisite dance, because she knows that dish, the water, her hand, all of it is Shakti, all of it Divine.***”

While these tiny displays of beauty are individually fleeting, they are born from a Constant, like those lightening shows you see on field trips to the science museum. Out of the darkness bright bits of light burst here, there and everywhere. “Look at me, here I am!” The fingerlings of electricity are so enchanting it’s easy to miss the brilliant orb in the middle of the room creating the sparks.

Appreciating the small joys in life is actually the work of remembering the bigger picture.  These dazzling little displays of Grace are complete in and of themselves but they also point to a greater wholeness. They point to the constant presence of God. Through seeing the small things we begin to awaken to the vision the Infinite that surrounds us and is in us. Seeing God’s continuous presence in the world is fairly easy. Connecting to such inner Constancy is decidedly harder. That’s what meditation is for. In meditation you get to internalize all those outer cues and follow them on the path to the heart.

Take a moment to look around you. Really look. What strikes you as beautiful, delightful, perhaps even humorous? Notice the smile that plays across your lips when you become aware of this little darling of a moment. Notice how for even just a second, you soften. Then in meditation, asana, prayer, or other centering practice come back to the memory of this tiny beauty. Feel the expansion as you appreciate the smallness of life. Breathe into the fullness that is already there and savor those little beauties as expressions of God’s grandeur; as reminders of the ever affirming presence of Grace “in you, as you and all around you.”****

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http://blog.stephanierozene.com/
** Adam Thomas. From his book, “Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World.”
*** John Friend is the founder and head of Anusara Yoga. This is not an exact quote, but an interpretation of the story he tells.
**** Attributed to Baba Muktananda of the Siddha Yoga tradition. www.siddhayoga.org

It’s the Little Things

While unloading the dishes I was struck by an accidental arrangement of my friend Stephanie’s pottery*. Three lovely teacups and saucers, a bowl and a mug smiling from the top rack. Art in the dishwasher.

There is so much beauty in the world, so much vibrant life, and yet, the quiet splendor of the world can so easily go unnoticed. We may marvel at a particularly glorious sunset, or be filled with awe at a geography not our own, but what about the little majesties? What about the small daily delights? Like pottery in the dishwasher.

Inside of Bowl by Stephanie Rozene

My brother says “It is because God is so constant that we forget.**” When something is always there it is so easy not to notice, or take it for granted. Correction, when something good is always there we forget. It’s easy to take detailed notes on the persistently irritating things in life.

But what would happen if we were to turn all of that nit-picky energy and refocus it on the small, really small, beauties in life? We would become true disciples of the householder’s path, not to mention, much happier people. John Friend tells a story of watching his spiritual teacher wash dishes. “Have you ever seen a master wash a plate? The way she dips it and out of the water, it’s like an exquisite dance, because she knows that dish, the water, her hand, all of it is Shakti, all of it Divine.***”

While these tiny displays of beauty are individually fleeting, they are born from a Constant, like those lightening shows you see on field trips to the science museum. Out of the darkness bright bits of light burst here, there and everywhere. “Look at me, here I am!” The fingerlings of electricity are so enchanting it’s easy to miss the brilliant orb in the middle of the room creating the sparks.

Appreciating the small joys in life is actually the work of remembering the bigger picture.  These dazzling little displays of Grace are complete in and of themselves but they also point to a greater wholeness. They point to the constant presence of God. Through seeing the small things we begin to awaken to the vision the Infinite that surrounds us and is in us. Seeing God’s continuous presence in the world is fairly easy. Connecting to such inner Constancy is decidedly harder. That’s what meditation is for. In meditation you get to internalize all those outer cues and follow them on the path to the heart.

Take a moment to look around you. Really look. What strikes you as beautiful, delightful, perhaps even humorous? Notice the smile that plays across your lips when you become aware of this little darling of a moment. Notice how for even just a second, you soften. Then in meditation, asana, prayer, or other centering practice come back to the memory of this tiny beauty. Feel the expansion as you appreciate the smallness of life. Breathe into the fullness that is already there and savor those little beauties as expressions of God’s grandeur; as reminders of the ever affirming presence of Grace “in you, as you and all around you.”****

_____________________________________________________________________

http://blog.stephanierozene.com/
** Adam Thomas. From his book, “Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World.”
*** John Friend is the founder and head of Anusara Yoga. This is not an exact quote, but an interpretation of the story he tells.
**** Attributed to Baba Muktananda of the Siddha Yoga tradition. www.siddhayoga.org

The Vanishing Stamp

Upon the recommendation of a friend I recently visited my local library to pick up a copy of Margaret Maron’s Shooting at Loons, volume three of the Deborah Knott mystery series. (Which was delightful.) Book in hand, I walked up to the check out desk and gave the librarian my card which she scanned along with the book. Then she handed them back.

“Don’t I get a stamp?”
“Oh, we don’t do that anymore. All books are now due two weeks after check-out. Would you like a receipt or an email reminder?”

Crestfallen I said, “Thank you, but no” and left.

There’s a sense of rightness to the world in a library, a feeling of abundance that comes from being surrounded by rows upon rows of books just itching to be read. You can have one dollar in your bank account and still return from the library with a large stack of books. A library is a place of respect. As a group we keep quiet so as not to disturb one another in our common bond of love for the written word. People generally seem nice in libraries.

So when the librarian told me they no longer date-stamp books, a little piece of my heart broke. It’s just one more sensory imprint being replaced by “the tech*.” I like “the tech” but as crisp and sexy as an iBook is, I prefer the sensuality of words printed on paper and bound between two covers. I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.

As physical creatures our senses trigger memories, emotions, states of consciousness. The stamp rolling on the ink pad then landing on the labeled book, the crinkle-crackle of smooth plastic protecting the hardcovers, the scattered due dates that offer a brief glimpse into the lives of persons unknown, these things are part of the library. They awaken an ease and simplicity of living just as do the sounds of children playing outside, water running from the kitchen faucet, the feeling of a spring breeze floating through the window. It’s Life loving life in all its playful bounty.

I didn’t have this kind of reaction when card catalogues were replaced by computerized databases. Sure I was a little sad, I have fond memories of leafing through drawers of index cards in varying states of decay to find the call number of a book, but the change made good sense. It certainly made finding information a lot easier.

A week later I returned for the next installment in the series and asked why they stopped date-stamping. “Well, they’re convinced they’re going to save thousands of dollars a year by not buying all those labels. But I know what you mean, the stamps are just part of what a library is.” I suppose saving thousands of dollars a year is a good enough reason if it means they can buy more books, hire more folks, or just keep the lights on. But I will miss the faint smell of ink, the heavy fall of the date stamp on the cover, the thread of connection to those who read the very same book.  And, without a librarian date-stamping, how is Indiana Jones going to find the Holy Grail?

*”The tech” is a term my brother, Adam Thomas, uses in his new book, Digital Disciple:Real Christianity in a Virtual World, to refer to things such as computers, internet, phone, texting, etc. He borrowed it from Joss Whedon’s  show Dollhouse and now uses it for his own purposes. You can buy a copy of his book at www.amazon.com
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