Learning to Love

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That is a title of the book where five of my poems were published last summer. I did not have my personal paperback copy of the book until recently. I ordered it in April and it arrived in May. It was like I ordered a treasure and when it was delivered to my doorstep and I was finally able to hold it, it felt like a gift. While I’m writing I have it in my lap, as if it’s going to help me with writing; and the book itself still feels like a gift.

The book is a collection of poetry written by ordinary people from around the world. Chris Goan, the book’s editor and initiator of the project put out a request on social media for people to submit poems on a range of topics.

In his introduction Chris put’s it like this:
“What I was looking for was a new kind of Christian poetry – using language set free from the narrow clichés; an honest kind of poetry that arose from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that did not shrink from pain, from ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asked questions more than it answered them. Poetry that held us to account for our actions – particularly those of us who have any kind of power. Poetry that was skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these were the preoccupations of Jesus).”

I dipped into it and read some of the other poems, though they are more for savouring than for a quick consumption. Yet I must say what I most love about this book is its title. “Learning to love”. It is so realistic, for we are all learning how to love.

When thinking of who I would like to attract as the audience for my blog, I think it would be any one of you who is willing to learn from and about love, anyone who loves beauty and is open to growth, who wants to explore deeper truths in life. I actually never thought about my audience until I was asked this question. Is it really necessary to narrow it down? I wish to welcome everyone who is willing to come and read my writing.

Naturally, I always hoped that people who know me will read my posts, and that hopefully at least some of it will inspire them. Of the people who don’t (yet) know me, I am always honoured when they, when you appreciate my thoughts and when I hear that what I have written has resonated in some way. I especially value the readers who don’t agree with me (on everything) but still choose to come here, and when they comment they do so lovingly and with great respect. A few of you will recognise yourself in this and just know that I truly appreciate it.

The best books I have read were not necessarily those that were well written, or that thought me much. One of the most profound experiences of reading was when I noticed that not only was I enjoying the book I was reading, but that the book was in fact simultaneously reading me; as if the writer understood me. How did he know what I was going through? His profound words were unlocking something deep inside me and whatever he was saying made sense. That writer was Thomas Merton. Poetry has a way of unlocking those depths. And while I don’t envisage that my writing can always do the same, I do hope that I can at least encourage, inspire and point towards what is beautiful in this life. At least from time to time.

Eventually, when my written word progresses further from “Learning to Love” towards my own published book, I hope that perhaps through this blog and other means there will be a small community of people who will already be pleased to read my creative writing ‘offline’. Whether you are new to my blog, or you have been coming regularly, it is my privilege to welcome you to my site. I hope your time here can be like a walk in the garden, admiring the flowers, taking rest, and that my words, images and themes I address, will sip into your soul as if you were reading a book at the far end of the garden. Tell me your thoughts as you read and we can imagine that we are chatting over coffee or afternoon tea, reading poetry together and talking about life, in order to learn together how to live well and how to truly love.

(To order “Learning to love” go here)
© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 19th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek


When the book wants you to keep reading

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I wonder if you have similar experience with books as I do. Sometimes the book appeals to me immediately, from the cover, the title, through the first page, it grabs my attention almost instantly and I am hooked till I close the book after reading the finishing line. Those kind of books become part of my life, for a short period of time.

Yet, there are books that need to persuade me that they are books I should really read. I take this kind of a book, I start with the first few pages and somehow cannot get into it, not fully. These books especially need to work on me a little harder if they come after the first category of books that I mentioned above. If I have just read a book that captivated me from beginning to the end, and then I come across a book that fails to do the same, I will soon give up on the second book. I will leave it, for now. If I come back to it a few days or a few months later and it manages to captivate my attention then, it merely meant that earlier wasn’t the right time for me to read it. Some books that initially fail to satisfy my needs as a reader, occasionally manage to allure me at a later date and persuade me that they in fact belong into the first category of books; those that you would list as your favourites. I think that some books are appropriate for different seasons of life, and they certainly won’t satisfy our thirst for words before their time has come.

Yet at times that doesn’t happen. I either don’t come back to the book or it fails to satisfy my curiosity the next time as well. In this case I will most likely leave the book aside and forget it was ever even written. Those books leave me totally unimpressed, and I doubt they can convince me to give them a try the third time. I do not recall coming across many such books, but I am sure they do exist. And the fact I don’t remember many of them may as well be due to the fact that they lend themselves to oblivion. Why clatter your memory with something that was utterly unimpressive? Naturally, in this category are books that are simply not meant for me, or for you, due to either their topic, or the genre, or any other number of reasons. Are they bad books, I mean badly written? Not necessarily. But they won’t do anything for me so I don’t need to force myself to engage with them.

Now, there is another type of a book, the one that is ‘unique’. This kind of a book is outside of any category merely because it would not be fair towards other books to be compared with it. Recently I came across one such book. It was a book I heard about only by the title, knowing it was famous, loved, but I knew nothing of what it had hidden among its pages. That book intrigued me. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, and I made sure not to ask too much about it in order to let the book show me what it’s got on its own, without external influences. I went into the bookstore and bought the book. I even got the title slightly wrong, that’s how little I knew about it. “50th Anniversary Edition”, it said on the cover. There was another edition with a different cover, without that ‘celebratory sticker’, but I went for the edition that had it. I started reading the book, and I must confess I cannot recall its initial effect on me. I think I was too amazed that I was finally reading it, that I failed to notice how the first pages allured me. I was already captivated, even before reading the first few pages, so there was not much effort needed on the book’s part to make me want to read more. Somehow the book has already done that work from the distance. How? I have no idea, but whatever skill it used, it was a good one.

I took this book into my hands now, as I am writing this, and read the first few pages again. I think I read them in a new light, and now they do allure me. Almost as if the book is inviting to read it again. But let me get back to reading it the first time. See, I even call it the first time. I did’t really know what to expect but when I got into it, the experience was like drinking one of the best cups of coffee. Or even better, reading one of the best books ever while drinking the best cup of coffee (one doesn’t need to exclude the other!). The characters become so familiar, almost like friends. It was as if I moved into their neighbourhood, uninvited, and rather invisible too. I observed their lives, their behaviour, I loved every word, every sentence and every twist in the story. One of the main characters is among the most exciting persons I met in the last few months, surely if reading about someone in a book counts for a ‘meeting’. The problem was that the book wanted me to keep reading even after the last page was over. And I wanted to oblige. I missed reading the book in the same way that you would miss a person whom you got to love. No other book has managed to persuade me to keep reading it after this one, and I tried. Which book was it? I will tell you only if you promise to treat it with reverence should you ever come across it. If this book does not produce such reaction in you as it did in me, if it does not allure you in the same way, do not dispute my experience. It is between me and To kill a mockingbird, after which my reading will never be the same.

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© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 29th April 2015)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

“Courage, dear heart”

Fairytale tree by Iva B.

I love books that influence your thinking in such a way that your life is enriched in the process. Though true would be just to say a much simpler statement, one that is already included in the previous one: I love books. Don’t you? Inside their pages books carry so much mystery, creativity, inspiration, knowledge, and brilliance of the human spirit.

If I journey to my childhood, in memory obviously as that is the only means of travelling to the past that I can access at the moment, I recall books I read, songs I listened to as I was growing up. As a teenager I remember reading “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” by Sue Townsend, and its sequels, while I listened to the Swedish band “Roxette”. Did you ever experience remembering events from your past and they seem like someone else’s memories in your head? Merely because you have moved on, changed, and hopefully grown, so remembering certain things you did or loved long ago no longer represent who you are now. Yet, those events may have been like small stepping stones that carved your path. Some of them will have a lasting influence and their wisdom may linger for a while and even emerge inside your heart many times throughout your life, whereas some memories simply are lived through once and then they stay in the past. They no longer express who you are, they are but a part of your story, of chapters that are now left behind in the years that have gone by. Maybe that’s what it means to ‘grow up’. Like in a book, you live through chapter after chapter after chapter, some intertwine, others are done and over with in order that new chapter, part 2 or 3 or 4 may come, each representing different seasons in your life.

Now, if I am honest I would admit I have no idea what I am trying to write about here.
The inspiration came from an image with the quote that I saw and then I let my thoughts carry me like waves of an uncharted sea. What I saw said: “Courage, dear heart, and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s.” This spoke to my heart.

Courage, Dear heart - from Narnia

This quote is from “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis, which happens to be one of my favourite books of all times. Over the course of a lifetime some books, same as some experiences we go through, will stick out. Those books nurture your life long after you’ve read them. Perhaps the nature of their creativity is a reason for their long-lasting influence, though I would also say that they probably express (at least) snippets of truth that touch our hearts and nurture us in depths whenever we remember the sentiments from their pages. Perhaps their words shed light on our lives, like lanterns that bring light onto our path. Aldous Huxley said that “words can be like rays. When they are used properly, they are able to get through anything”.

Can you recall when someone’s words, in real life or from books, got through to your heart? (take time to ponder on it, it may be worth it)

“Courage, dear heart”, said God. Like droplets of soft rain falling on a fertile ground, my soul took in these words and smiled. Yes, courage indeed. Let us go and explore the beauty that is hidden in this life. After all, even the beauty and wisdom that come out of a fairytale, are rooted in the real world. In our world too, same as in Narnia, God hides, with many doors leading towards the depth of life that He offers us.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 13th March 2015)
Photo by © Iv a Beranek