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For forty years, my friend Pat and I have been enjoying succulent fare at St. Louis restaurants, as well as sharing fresh insights into relationships, trends, the geopolitical scene, and the Sacred. Life has worked its rigors upon us, left us wiser, more compassionate. The tone of our voices manifests this transformation.

And so this afternoon we stopped at Pan d’Olive Restaurant—a Bite of Mediterranean: my first time using portable oxygen. Tables of four buzzed with animation: two birthday celebrations of seniors, hearty laughter, and juicy aromas evoking appetites—a slice of vibrant living that warmed me as I took a seat next to the shaded window.

In no time, an aproned waiter with black hair brought us plates of grilled salmon served upon cabbage stew in a garlic lemon sauce with capers, reminiscent of my 1998 tour of the Greek islands.

Indeed, a bittersweet tone underscored our sharing that touched on families, wellness, aging issues, the D.C. and global scenes, and significant books. Absent was our usual repartee. Solicitude for my circumstances tensed her forehead. She had said to her family, “Just you watch—Liz’ll be around next Thanksgiving.” Yet the little blue pill, still maintaining my functioning, did relieve some of her concern.

I welcomed her hand steadying my arm as we walked to her car, the afternoon sun casting long shadows ahead of us: within the shadow, deeper acceptance of the unacceptable.

 

Evil demoralizes, kills spirit, renders its victims helpless, seemingly abandoned by their God or gods.

A chilling instance of this scenario is found in the historical novel, The Dovekeepers (2012) written by the prolific author, Alice Hoffman. Gripped by her visit to the ruins of Masada, the 1,300-foot mesa in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea and the narration of what happened there by the historian, Josephus in The Jewish Wars, she creates a story shimmering with the Numinous. Centuries-old ritual and practice evolving from desert spirituality and mystic glimpses into nature infuse every page. The year is 71 AD.

Into this world come four refugees from Alexandria and Jerusalem: Yael, the red-haired daughter of a Sicarii; Revka, the baker’s wife; Aziza, a warrior’s daughter raised as a boy; and Shireh, versed in medicine, spells, and incantations. All are fleeing for their lives and find sanctuary with the Jewish Zealots and their families on the summit of Masada. Camped beneath them are General Silva and the Roman Tenth Legion, intent on slaughtering them.

Through the eyes of these women, intrepid, fiercely independent, and spirit-filled, the grim story unfolds; in the telling, each reflects archetypes of the Sacred Feminine, lover, mother, warrior, and healer, warring against insurmountable odds. Each resorts to violence tempered by justice and passion to survive.

A suitable template for our times, also fraught with subtle and in-your-face violence, this historical novel behooves us to arm ourselves in ultimate truth and remain vigilant.

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Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (2001), an historical novel by Harriet Scott Chessman, ushers us into the poignant world of the Cassatts: Mary (1844–1926), the Impressionist painter and printmaker and Lydia, her older sister ill with Bright’s disease. Within the author’s writerly process, marked by stillness and a deep sense of the feminine, emerges the central image of attentive waiting: Mary, for the nudge from her unconscious for her next portrait; Lydia, for the significance of her simple life to surface from the ravages of her terminal disease.

It is through Lydia’s voice, spoken and imaginal, between 1878 and 1881, that we follow the artistic rendering of five portraits for which she poses for Mary’s brushstrokes, nuancing her substance in tingling oils: a contemplative woman dressed in floral pinks reading, embroidering, crocheting, smiling over her tea cup, and driving their carriage. The insertion of glossy plates further enhances this creative process.

From the sisters’ shared stillness, though, comes the quickening, the ultimate spark of meaning coloring their imaginations and deepening their unique gifts: the extroverted Mary and her vigorous engagement with the nineteenth-century art world in Paris, France; and the introverted Lydia and her touching life review with its acceptance of mortality.

Beneath the painterly words of this imaginative story exudes the numinous for those still enough to glean its beauty. We are refreshed.

 

 

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