Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Notes: "Mudhouse Sabbath", by Lauren Winner

I know it sounds strange that one of my requirements for recognizing good writing is "It's easy to read", but what I mean by that is not "it's simple" or "it's mindless", but rather that "the author has done her work."

It is hard to explain concepts clearly and hard to write clearly enough that the reader can follow after you without misconception. But good authors do that work. Good authors do the work for the reader.

And Lauren Winner is one of those writers.

"Mudhouse Sabbath", by Lauren Winner, is about the Orthodox Jewish customs that she learned in her youth, reinterpreted through her newfound Christianity. She says that Christians have a lot to learn from their Jewish neighbors and she managed to convince me.

She examines customs surrounding the Sabbath, hospitality, mourning and many others, telling stories and elucidating traditions along the way. It's really written for Christians, I think, but anyone interested in religious traditions would find richness here, I think.

Each chapter examines a different custom. I especially loved her take on mourning, which is something we either address badly in the modern Western world or (worse still) fail to address at all. I think she is right in saying that the Jewish traditions here, which involve a LOT of communal support of the bereaved, have a lot to teach us.

Here are a few quotations that I really loved. In the chapter on prayer, Winner says:

"What I say to Meg is this: Sure, sometimes it is great when, in prayer, we can express to God just what we feels; but better still is when, in the act of praying, our feelings change. Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims.  It repoints the person praying, taking him somewhere else." (pg. 61)

And in the chapter on aging, she says:
"I do not look after Mom because it is consistently easy and delightful. I do it because I am obligated. I do it because of all the years she looked after me. This is a sort of holy looking-after. It is not always fun, but it is always sanctifying.  And in this way, perhaps, caretaking is something of a synechdoche of the spiritual life. Most good and holy work (like praying and being attentive and even marching for justice or serving up chili at the soup kitchen) is sometimes tedious, but these tasks are burning away our old selves and ushering in the persons God has created us to be." (pg. 97)
Emphasis mine in both cases.

I read this quickly because it was so well-written, and it's stayed with me because it actually has a lot of substance.  Recommended.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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MomCO3 said...

I really enjoyed this one, too.

jen said...

I actually reference some it on a weekly basis -- it's THAT good.

hopeinbrazil said...

Lovely review! I agree totally with your words about good authors. If the wording is too ornate/too complicated then the words draw attention to themselves and not to the story. Yet I love gorgeous writing. How hard to balance the two!