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November 28, 2004

Christmas gifts on the contemplative/spiritual side

I alluded to the fact that my life has been in a more spiritual/contemplative place over the course of this year.

Here are a few things that I've received as gifts that have meant a great deal to me.


Journaling is something lots of people recommend, but not something I've done much of. My handwriting is atrocious. (I used to think that my horrid writing was just from lack of practice, but my wife noticed the slightly tortured way I hold a pen - right-handed - and she claims that the way I hold the pen shows signs of left- handedness. According to her, handedness occurs along a spectrum. She's the PhD in psychology, so I'll trust her ...)

Still, even though I’m not thought of hand-writing a journal, I have been looking for something to keep track of insights, quotation, questions, that sort of thing. Not to-do items; I already have ways of keeping track of that stuff. Anything electronic really doesn't do it for me; there is indeed something about the act of putting pen or pencil to paper that goes well with these types of thoughts.

Back in June I was down at Artlite looking for cheap pens, and I came across Clairfontaine notebooks. The 6×9" size both had paper that felt nice, felt a little sturdy, but was also relatively thin. The thinness is important to me. With my cramped handwriting style, thicker notebooks give me fits.

I started carrying the notebook around to church and other places. In the Fall, my wife Jen started journaling and found herself a leather journal. For my birthday, she got me a beautiful Celtic-knot journal cover from "Oberon Designs": http://www.oberondesign.com. Though you can order hardbound books to put inside the journal covers from Oberon, I was delighted to find that my Clairefontaine notebook fit perfectly into the flaps on the notebook cover. I like my solution better than the hardbound journals that Jen favors; the combination is thinner, which again works better for my writing style. (Jen, by the way, got the Grandmother Oak design for her journal.) The covers are not cheap; they run just under $60, but they seem worth it.

And I like the combination so much that I actually have started journaling a bit. Or perhaps journaling implies more discipline that I’ve shown, but I have used the journal when I need to reflect on something.

Spiritual aids

This year has been more spiritual to me. I've spent much more time praying this year than perhaps anytime in the past.

I'd say it's also been more tactile, if that makes any sense. One of the things my time in Pasadena did to or for me was to make me realize the value of place, the feel of familiar things.

So another thing Jen got me for my birthday fit in perfectly with these themes: it was a holding cross. A holding cross is what it sounds like - a wooden cross meant to be held in the hand. She found a wonderful site called HoldingCross.com run by a couple in Texas who make and sell these crosses. The crosses are asymmetric, smooth, and just the right size for holding in either the left or the right hand. Each cross is hand-made; HoldingCross carries over 40 kinds of wood so you can find what suits you best. Jen got a cross for herself, for me, and for a couple of friends. The couple who run this business are very helpful; when Jen did her first order, she emailed them, gave them a general idea of the kinds of crosses she was looking for, and they helped pick some based on her needs. The crosses run between $15 and $25 each with a $5 shipping charge.

Along the same lines, I’d been looking a cross that I could wear around my neck. Jen found a site called CrossesOnTheWeb.com ; I looked through their site and found a simple silver cross that I’ve been very happy with. The particular style I bought doesn’t seem to be available right now, but it’s smooth silver, and like the holding cross, it’s very tactile. With a silver chain and shipping, my cross ran around $40.