Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Back Porch Ponderings: The Jesus Prayer, J.D. Salinger, and Introverts

Yesterday I basked in a beautiful spring day in Indiana out on my mom's back porch, doing one of my favorite things:  reading!  During my visit, while my mom recovers from her second hip-replacement surgery (she's doing GREAT!), I'm determined to finish up The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World  by Marti Olsen Laney.  I'm also re-reading Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

According to Laney's helpful assessment of introversion, "The strongest distinguishing characteristic of introverts is their energy source:  Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions  They are energy conservers.  They can be easily over stimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of 'too much'." Ahem.  That's me.

An introvert of celebrity status, New York native J.D. Salinger was famous for not wanting literary fame.  Beyond mere introversion, he fiercely guarded his privacy, ultimately choosing seclusion for more than a half century.

In 1953, two years after the publication of Catcher in the Rye, he withdrew from the outside world for over half a century in the small New Hampshire town of Cornish. You can see his home here (I have to admit, it looks very tempting! I can see why he loved it.)  And you can read his neighbors' defense of his seclusion as being more of an attempt of a quiet man needing privacy, than that of a reclusive man wanting isolation, in this article from the NY Times.

J.D. Salinger
January 1, 1919 - January 27, 2010

Back to my mom's back porch. I enjoyed a quiet spring afternoon Salinger would have relished: solitary time with my books, a mug of coffee, a view of the stark leafless trees in the woods against a pale blue sky, with music from a CD of Puccini's opera arias floating on the breeze through the open (not bolted) sliding glass door out to where I was sitting!

My attempt at Salinger's brooding stare!

J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey (1961) reads almost like a script for a play, complete with stage setting, props, and characters' movements noted in detail.  The intellectually charged "lines" of dialogue between the characters is full of italicized staccatos.

The narrative is in two parts.  The short story, Franny (originally published in The New Yorker, 1955), takes place in a college town and involves an undergraduate girl who has become disenchanted with - and lost respect for - those in the academic environment around her. Franny is seeking answers from a book, The Way of a Pilgrim, that one of her professors has recommended to her. The novella, Zooey (published in The New Yorker, 1957), refers to Zooey Glass, Franny's brother and the second-youngest member of the Glass family (the Glass siblings, all rather brilliant, had each, as children, participated in a radio quiz program "It's a Wise Child".) In this second half of the book, Zooey confronts his younger sister, Franny, as she suffers a near mental and spiritual breakdown in their parents' Manhattan living room apartment - leaving their mother, "Bessie", worried and concerned.  He offers Franny rather sage advice, along with brotherly love and understanding.

I decided to re-read Franny and Zooey this year during Lent because of the spiritual lesson Franny learns in the story. She has become obsessed with saying "The Jesus Prayer", Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, which she has learned from the Pilgrim book.  But she has been praying it as a religious mantra, as opposed to a loving request, and without understanding the point of it.

Zooey helps her understand that the Jesus Prayer is about finding unity with God, and that all humankind deserves our love and respect.  He tells her:

We're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside...I swear to you, you're missing the whole point of the Jesus Prayer.  The Jesus Prayer has one aim, and one aim only.  To endow the person who says it with Christ-Consciousness.  Not to set up some cozy, holier-than-thou trysting place with some sticky, adorable divine personage who'll take you in his arms and relieve you of all your duties and make all your nasty Weltschmerzen ["evils of the world"] and Professor Tuppers go away and never come back...

And isn't this the point of Lent?  We strive to come back to God and the mercy that He offers to us through His Son Jesus, who will "trample down death by death" on Pascha!

Last night I attended the beautiful Orthodox Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts, a mid-week Lenten Eucharistic service.  My ears perked up as my brother - the priest at my mom's parish - quietly spoke the barely-audible words, "Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us," over and over, while he solemnly transferred the pre-sanctified gifts to the holy altar table, his head covered in reverence.  The congregation quietly knelt in prostration, then rose, as the choir intoned: 

Now the powers of heaven do serve invisibly with us. 
Lo, the King of Glory enters. 
Lo, the mystical sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled. 
Let us draw near in faith and love, and become communicants of life eternal. 
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

You can read my past post about the children's book The Jesus Prayer and Me, here.


  1. I'm the same way--- I find that after I really interact with people I need to go home and rest. Its not uncommon for me to nearly lose my voice after a craft show because I have to talk much more than usual!
    Im so glad that spring is coming and its possible to go outside and enjoy the weather now--- love reading on the porch!

    1. The daffodils are out in force - but more rain today!!! Loved the couple of sunny, warm days we got. More to come soon. :)

  2. Great post! love that kids book; there's so many great ones now, thank God for that! we are so blessed! I love nature and quiet too!