When we refocused our reviewing on spiritual books in the early 1990s, we became very fond of books published by Bell Tower, an imprint edited by Toinette Lippe. We soon learned that Lippe was one of those rare editors who not only commissioned books but also helped to shape them with skilled editing, superb art direction of the look of each volume, and personally persuasive marketing. We loved hearing from her about each of her new books. She introduced us to Rami Shapiro, Kat Duff, Stephen Levine, Bernie Glassman, Joseph Telushkin, and many others. We still turn to One Hundred Graces when we offer a prayer at our community's noon meal.
Among our very favorites from the Bell Tower collection are books by Gunilla Norris, including Becoming Bread: Meditations on Loving and Transformation and Journeying in Place: Reflections from a Country Garden. Norris is a psychotherapist in private practice who also teaches meditation and leads contemplative workshops. She has published six books on what she calls "household spirituality" or the practice of spiritual awareness in the most mundane and simple of circumstances. Her focus is often on the beauties and bounties she discovers in nature. Her website is gunillanorris.com.
Imagine our delight, then, when we received a new book by Gunilla Norris and Toinette Lippe revealing the same attention to beauty and artistic design that we've seen in their prior collaborations. On the Wings is a gorgeous daybook featuring writing by Norris and illustrations by Lippe. After retiring from publishing, Lippe took up the art of East Asian brush painting and now teaches classes in New York City, painting flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables, insects, and birds. You can see more of her paintings and cards at toinettelippe.com.
Most of the illustrations in On the Wing are hummingbirds. Norris explains: "I can't think of a better metaphor for the lyrical moment than a hummingbird in stationary flight. When we sense something to be of beauty, of necessity, or surprise and meaning, it vibrates with aliveness for us. It hums. Our attention grows wings."
It is these lyrical moments that this book points us to. Each two-page spread -- one for each week in the year -- opens with a poem, haiku, or quote by Norris keyed to the season.
For the beginning of the year:
"On the winter branch
a dry leaf turns and turns
Dervish in the wind"
At the end of March:
into the steaming cup
We drink the light of day"
"A flood tide of praise
The kirtan of cicadas
soaks the humid night"
A reminder in the fall:
we become ourselves
the way apples ripen into red."
At year's end:
"Our days are garlands –
strung berries in life's tree
Smell, taste, touch, and see
There are many ways you could use this book (besides admiring it). We've already given copies as gifts, knowing our friends will find their own uses for them. Perhaps we'll use one as a gratitude journal. Or as a place to record a "wonder a day." It would make a good birthday and ritual book, to remind us of special people and events to celebrate. It reminds us of a quote from the movie A Thousand Clowns, which inspired the "Naming the Days" section of this website:
"You gotta own your own days and name 'em, each one of 'em, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you."
A daybook to name our days – that's perfect.