Monday, November 20, 2006

Book Report

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Terry Tempest Williams:

"I want to dare to speak
the language women speak
when there is no one around to correct us."

Williams has been hailed as one of Utne Readers “top 100 visionaries” and she is a frequent speaker at the annual Bioneers conference. She is an American author, naturalist, ecologist and environmental activist. The primary focus of her writing are the deserts of America’s West. She also writes about feminism, breast cancer and Mormon culture. She has also testified twice before the U.S. Congress regarding the environmental links associated with cancer.

“Terry Tempest Williams grew up within sight of the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, Utah. She says simply, "I write through my biases of gender, geography, and culture. I am a woman whose ideas have been shaped by the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau; these ideas are then filtered through the prism of my culture and my culture is Mormon. The tenets of family and community which I see at the heart of that culture are then articulated through story” (

Williams is most famous for her 1991 book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. She also edited the anthology, New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community and her latest book is The Open Space of Democracy.

For the assigned task of reading and sharing a spiritual autobiography I chose Williams, book, Leap!, having read pages 143-146 aloud during my spiritual autobiography presentation.

The focal point of the book is a triptych (three painted or carved panels that are hinged together) by the 15th Century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch entitled El Jardin de las Delicias or The Garden of Earthly Delights.

When Williams was a child her grandmother had two of three sections of the painting over Williams’ bed, minus the erotic panel. Then as an adult Williams discovers the original painting at the Prado Museum in Spain and begins a long-term meditation that she documents in a stream-of-consciousness-style memoir / spiritual autobiography.

Williams examines the painting and its possible symbolism and meaning. Ever the naturalist and skilled and talented observer, Williams actually brings binoculars to her daily visits, much to the surprise of other visitors and employees of the museum! She is eventually able to identify 35 birds!

Using the painting as a lens, even an oracle, Williams reflects upon everything from art history to our relationship with nature, the institutionalization of religion, as well as going in and visiting the symbolically stimulated personal memories that surface. She also includes many wonderful quotes from such diverse sources as St. Theresa, to Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin.

At the end of the book, Williams concludes that painting can be a prayer and ultimately urges us to, “restore our sense of wonder, and recognize that we live in paradise, a garden of earthly delights that deserves our reverence and our love.”

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