I bought toilet paper at the supermarket when I lived in NW China. That sounds like a funny thing to say, but it’s a distinction. I did not buy toilet paper at the mom-and-pop store on the corner (except in a pinch), or at the open-air market where I bought my vegetables. No, for such an important purchase, I went to the heights, riding the ascending moving sidewalk – picture an escalator, but without stairs – to the top floor where the toilet paper fraternized with the mops and paper cups and toothpicks.
The English translation of my favorite brand was rendered Mind Act Upon Mind. It entertained every time because I attempted to decipher the original intent of the label. Mind Act Upon Mind. The phrase was a joke among foreigners when we spotted it in another’s home, which was common, because it was a respectable toilet paper. Not only was each square perforated, but it was also fairly soft and decently plyed.
In the same year I bought Mind Act Upon Mind toilet paper, I also taught EFL intensive reading for sophomore college students. I led drills to increase word count read per minute, practiced strategies for getting the gist without a dictionary, and taught how to identify the main idea by skimming. This is reading as a consumer. As native speakers, it’s often how we read the news, or an instruction manual, or this blog post. We consume a text to get more information faster.
Mind Act Upon Mind reading is different. Author David I. Smith calls this kind of reading “charitable.” The “greatest of these” kind of charity – LOVE. It’s reading with soft and vulnerable receptivity.
Nancy M. Malone writes in Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading about the sustained intimate exposure of one mind to another. This clearly counters the dumb dichotomy that an individual is either a people person or a book person. What else could writing and reading be but interpersonal connection? And reading should be anything but inaccessible. We are all both book and people people.
Eugene Peterson calls it spiritual reading in Eat This Book. The goal is “seeking after wisdom, becoming a mature person…true and good.” We’re likely to conclude then that spiritual reading is limited to scripture or at least religious writing, but it isn’t so. Peterson reminds us of this in another descriptive title, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.
Here at the halfway point of 2016, in addition to the above, these are four minds that have acted on my mind.
Sue Monk Kidd in The Invention of Wings. This novel tells the parallel story of a slave and her owner named Sarah Grimke who becomes an instrumental abolitionist and early women’s rights activist. Sarah Grimke is a real-life historical figure, and this story is accurately set in Charleston in the early 1800’s. The book is a breathtaking blend of rigorous research and the height of imaginative story telling.
Forrest Pritchard in Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm. This was the 2016 selection for One Book, One Community: Our Region Reads where I live. It’s as much about becoming as it is about producing food. Mr. Pritchard is like E.B. White’s Charlotte, a true friend and a good writer.
Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. I read this book for the first time in college when it was newly published. Eighteen years later, this vocabulary permits a grown-up conversation about an evolving faith.
Wendell Berry in This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems. Mr. Berry makes my point better than I do when he offers this collection of 34 years of poetic work with the “hope that the reader will read them as they were written: slowly, and with more patience than effort.”
Whose mind has acted on yours so far this year?
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