So what is this blog about?

These are the books I would insist everyone read if I were Queen of the Universe. I am not Queen of the Universe, so you don't have to read them, but hear me out. Most book reviews are about new books, but most books are not new. How else are you going to find out about what's out there? Anyway, aren't you just a bit curious about WHY I think these books should be read by everyone?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Honey From Stone: A Naturalist's Search for God, by Chet Raymo

My copy of this book bears a poignant reminder of impermanence that the author could not have known about, but which is nonetheless fitting. Written just inside the cover in a neat, almost calligraphic hand, is an inscription;

 The title alone makes 
me smile-- but the words of this book speak volumes to 
my soul... 
I know you'll get it--
Happy Winter Solstice

I'm not so sure of the name at the bottom, the first letter of which is stylized with loops and a heart and hard to read. "Amy" is just my best guess. I don't know who these people are; I found the book in a used book store while browsing there with my mother. How did this gift, this speech from one soul to another, end up in a used book store? Did the relationship fade, such that James no longer cared for the gift? Did James die, or fall on hard times such that he had to sell all his books? Was the book simply lost?

James, if you're reading this, contact me; I have your book.

If James (or Amy) does not contact me, there is no way I can ever know what happened. I have only this inscription, this spoor, of Mystery. And mystery, both in the sense of the unknown and the sense of the unknowable, is the thing that stalks and is stalked by Chet Raymo throughout these pages. As he says,

Knowledge is an island. The larger we make the island, the longer becomes the shore where knowledge is lapped about by mystery.

Raymo is a scientist,  and apparently a rather atheistic scientist at that. In many individuals, myself among them, religion in the traditional sense cohabits in the mind quite nicely with scientific ideas. If there is any friction between the two sets of ideas, they have long since called a truce, but not so for Raymo. And yet, he found himself wondering,

What is the relevance of traditional religion in the world described by contemporary science? Is scientific knowledge a satisfactory ground for the religious experience? Can the language of traditional religion constitute an appropriately modern language of praise?

Raymo's answers to these questions, in the form of a serious of essays touching and going from his rambles on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula, are interesting enough for their content, but absolutely captivating for their poetry, a rush and surge of image and language that begs to be read aloud, that begs to be performed. And that is why you should read this book. I would read it aloud to you if I could.

Raymo is an atheistic mystic, an alchemist capable of calling from even unadorned geology and physics, yes, honey. The words are sweet on the tongue. In the end, his insistence on science instead of theology becomes less a closing of the mind upon the rigorous and narrow and more a kind of dedicated openness, a mind held taut by the dedication of not knowing and of seeking to know. As he says,

When I called out for the Absolute, I was answered by the wind. If it was God's voice in the wind, then I heard it.

Raymo, C. (1987).  Honey from stone: A naturalist's search for God. Hungry Mind Press: Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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