Saints such as Josemaria Escriva and Therese of Lisieux have encouraged us to remember the simple principles of joy through work, everyday tasks, self-denial and offering our sufferings to Jesus. Similarly, Brother Lawrence’s book, “Practicing the Presence of God” is a spiritual exercise challenging us to remain focused on God during everyday activities or chores.
In, I Soap and Pray, an essay in Edwin Block’s recently published book, “Lamps of the Tradition,” the retired Marquette English Professor suggests that paying attention to the present is one way to realizing the spirit in everyday activities.
I have my favorite cleaning “tools”: a handheld sponge, a brush, a Teflon scraper, and a lowly cotton cloth. The rhythm of my washing lead me to a place of peace, a sense of labor fitted to an order that I’d call the “ordinary sublime.” As each dish, utensil, pot or Tupperware is cleaned and placed to dry, I lapse into a state of peace and clean reflectiveness. – excerpt from Washing Dishes and the Spirit chapter
“Lamps of the Tradition” will take the reader on a lively, personal journey through Catholicism with a look at liturgical music, prayer networks, reading the Psalms and popular feasts like Ash Wednesday and lesser-known prayers like the “Te Deum” and “Anima Christi.”
“I have found that paying attention to the riches of everyday has been a way of focusing myself,” Block said. “A plug for a favorite poet, whom I knew, and whose spirit informs much of my writing, is Denise Levertov. Her poem on Brother Lawrence was a high point of the course I taught (four times) on her work while I was at MU.”
Block’s essays have appeared in publications such as U.S. Catholic, Pastoral and Homiletic Review and Catholic Yearbook. He has published several other religious poetry and reflective essays on practical spirituality for more than 20 years. In addition to “Lamps of the Tradition,” a collection of reflections, he has published “Voice of the Heartland,” “Seasons of Change” and “Anno Domini.”
“At Marquette University, where I taught for 35 years before retiring in 2012, I participated in various Jesuit spiritual practices and deepened my long-developed interest in contemplative reading and prayer,” he said. “Two of my first essays are the chapters on the Liturgical Hours and Gregorian Chant, which I sang both in high school and, years later, when I was at Stanford University and was part of a plain chant ‘schola.’”
When Block worked on his book, he knew he wanted the words tradition or Catholic Tradition in the title and when he began searching images for his book cover, he said he was captivated by images of lamps. A cloister is depicted on the cover illuminated by lamps.
When writing his reflections, Block said he thinks of his audience as friends, parishioners and fellow Catholics seeking a deeper sense of their Catholic Faith and spirituality.
“I hope these essays might get people to slow down, pay attention to the opportunities for a deeper spiritual life in everyday experiences,” he said. “‘Lamps of the Tradition’ is the fruit of a life lived in ever deeper awareness and appreciation of my Catholic tradition. I’m hesitant to say it, but it is a kind of spiritual autobiography, one which continues to evolve and grow.”
A parishioner of St. Alphonsus in Greendale for the past 30 years, Block edited the parish newsletter for many years and serves as a lector and cross bearer. He also facilitates a book discussion twice a year.
Block’s wife of 48 years, Mary Helen, died in August after managing diabetes and congestive heart failure for seven years.
“It warms my heart to know I was able to take her to Sanibel Island, Florida, for five Februarys, including 2020,” he said. “She especially loved the island lifestyle. I guess it was, in her way, paying attention to the everyday.”
The couple has three daughters and three grandchildren. All three daughters graduated from Marquette and work in health care in Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Block enjoys sharing his faith with others and will be presenting a talk on “Sharing Our Catholic Tradition,” at St. Alphonsus the evening of Feb. 23.
To order an inscribed copy of “Lamps of the Tradition,” send a check for $10 plus $2 shipping to Ed Block, 5336 Orchard Lane, Greendale, WI 53129. Order by credit card at his web site, www.Greendalebrushandquill.com, or through his Facebook Page, GreendaleBrushAndQuill.