there is a choreography to birthing a book, an unseen one, one that’s becoming familiar to me, a familiarity so far beyond the dreams i cast out my long-ago childhood window, into the leaves of the oaks that arbored and harbored me, onto the heavens far, far beyond.
first, you feel an idea wriggling around deep in your soul, then it rises up to your brain, and the only way to scratch the itch is to begin to breathe possibility into it. what if? you percolate that inkling for a while, front burner to back to front again. and then you begin to read, to see if sinew comes to the bones. and, if you find that the deeper you read, the more curious you become, then you know you’re onto something worth chasing.
i chased the idea that all of creation––the cadenza of birdsong, the golden slant of the setting sun, the comfort of even the chirring cicadas in the waning weeks of summer––held the pulse of the sacred. all of it was of the God i’ve long held close to my heart, the God daring to brush up against us, to draw us into the dance, to unfurl timeless truths in an alphabet of moonbeam and monarch, the veeing of geese or the hard crack of lightning scything the sky.
i’d long known that when i step into the dawn or the woods, plant my bum on a log by the lakeshore or the rickety rock in my own back plot, i’m keen to a sense that an ineffable presence is there, right there, with something to teach, to offer, to whisper. but until i knew of this so-named Book of Nature, an ancient theology rooted in the notion that long before there were words, God spoke through the murmurings, the convulsions, and the unfurlings of the natural world, i hadn’t sensed it so perceptibly. hadn’t realized there were millennia of thinkers who’d been reading that book.
it’s imperative, and more urgent than ever, that as this great holy earth is pummeled and poisoned and burned, we realize that maybe what’s most at stake is a tie to the sacred.
for the better part of eight or nine months, i read everything under the sun––poets and prophets, mystics and saints, believers and non-believers, all of whom had something to say on the subject of all creation, its wonders, its heartbreaks, and lately its cavernous losses. i combed my readings for notes upon notes. then, equipped with voluminous cross-referenced pages, i started to write. within a couple months, i’d written some 200 pages. and then i waited a very long time.
but now, those pages edited and copy edited, typeset and proofed, the cover designed and posted online in most of those places where booksellers peddle these days (it had been on amazon, and now–except for U.K. amazon––it seems gone! but now it’s back––like magic!), i’m at the part of the book-birthing dance where you pull back the cover on the book’s actual cover so the ones to whom you most emphatically write can be the first to officially peek.
so, here’s the cover. (you are, i hope you know, all the ones to whom i most emphatically write, the ones who faithfully wander by and pull up a chair whene’er the spirit so moves you….)
the pages inside, 204 of them, will have to wait to be read till the next vernal equinox, the day the book is “official,” marked with its very own pub date––March 21, 2023––and whirling into the world.
of all the books i’ve written, this is the one that counts as the most intensive. it started from scratch (unlike the others, all collections of essays), and came in layers and layers.
i had a brilliant editor, lauren winner, an american historian, scholar of religion, professor at duke divinity school, episcopal priest, formerly an orthodox jew, an endlessly curious mind, a voracious reader, and a best-selling author on multiple spiritual subjects––Mudhouse Sabbath, her journey from orthodox judaism to anglican priest, Wearing God, the many metaphors for God found in the bible (these are but two of her many published words)––who now teaches the craft and art of spiritual writing at workshops, universities, and seminars from coast to coast. i can and will attest to her brilliance, to the way she evoked from me layers i hadn’t known were there, the way she lifted the prose off the page, insisted i weave in an airiness that might make a critical difference.
there’s a whole team behind the making of the book, though only one of us gets our name on the cover. there’s a meticulous and exceedingly kind copy editor, there’s a cover designer and another designer for the interior pages (this book is a beauty inside). there’s a production editor, and a typesetter and a page proofer. and there’s the editor who believed in the idea in the first place, and nurtured it along. i am forever indebted to each one of them. and there will soon be a team whose job is to do what’s hardest for me: peddle the darn thing, get it onto and off of bookshelves. in bookshops and libraries. and into the hands and the nooks of readers.
there is an essential and indispensable triangle in the world of letters: the writer, the idea, and the reader. it’s a conversation unspoken. a conversation in pages. and without the reader, the writer is whispering into an abyss. and the only sound is the author’s own echo.
so this is the book. and if you ever choose to pluck it off a shelf, you will find my whispered whole truths deep inside.
if writers write to say this is what i believe, this is where i find the beautiful and the sacred, and maybe i can show you just where i’m seeing and sensing, maybe just maybe one little writer can filter onto the world just one little mote of starlight or sunlight or moonlight where before there had only been the murkiest shadow.
The Book of Nature is my one mote of filtering light.
you can find it on Broadleaf Books here.
you can find it on amazon here.
and, very excitingly, you can find it on the indie booksellers’s bookshop.org
here’s how my publisher, Broadleaf Books, is describing the book:
We live inside a nautilus of prayer—if only we open our senses and perceive what is infused all around.
Throughout millennia and across the monotheistic religions, the natural was often revered as a sacred text. By the Middle Ages, this text was given a name, “The Book of Nature,” the first, best entry point for encounter with the divine. The very act of “reading” the world, of focusing our attention on each twinkling star and unfurling blossom, humbles us and draws us into sacred encounter.
As we grapple to make sense of today’s tumultuous world, one where nature is at once a damaged and damaging source of disaster, as well as a place of refuge and retreat, we are called again to examine how generously it awaits our attention and devotion, standing ready to be read by all.
Weaving together the astonishments of science; the profound wisdom and literary gems of thinkers, poets, and observers who have come before us; and her own spiritual practice and gentle observation, Barbara Mahany reintroduces us to The Book of Nature, an experiential framework of the divine. God’s first revelation came to us through an ongoing creation, one that—through stillness and attentiveness to the rumblings of the heavens, the seasonal eruptions of earth, the invisible pull of migration, of tide, and of celestial shiftings—draws us into sacred encounter. We needn’t look farther for the divine.
and that, dear friends, is the news of the week. be careful out there, this latest covid bugger (BA5) seems more determined than ever to muscle its way in. i’m going back into semi-hiding given that i am still dizzy from my first covid round….
what’s stirring you this week?