A vivid image I have of Paula Huston is her standing on a stage in a full auditorium. It was during the last time slot of Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in 2012. She was delivering a talk on spiritual disciplines for writers, and she was doing so in a whisper. Paula was sick and her voice had left. She could have cancelled.; she could have complained; she could have cut her talk short. But she did none of those things, and her audience was too enthralled with what she was saying to let it interfere with ending the conference on a high note. No one fidgeted, no one left early. She whispered her way through justice and humility, hope and prudence, love and fortitude.
Paula Huston is a writer of both nonfiction and fiction – her latest book is a novel, A Land Without Sin – but she is perhaps best known for her large body of work on spiritual practice. The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life came out in 2003, and on its pages Huston leads the reader into the practices of solitude, silence, awareness, purity, devotion, right livelihood, confidence, integrity, generosity, and tranquility. If you decide to take this journey with her, you can be assured she won't lead you on any path she herself hasn't already traveled. That she has assimilated these practices in her own life makes her a reliable guide; that she is honest and vulnerable about her experiences makes her a safe and welcoming guide. A friend of mine recently told me that this single book changed her life.
A book of Paula's that I have newly appreciated now that I'm more than midway through my 50s is A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life. What a joy it was to read that Delighting, Generating, and Blessing are practices particularly suited to this stage of life! And earlier on this blog, I wrote that I've been using her Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for Lent this year. Even though I've missed a few days, I can see that it hits its mark as a kind of spiritual recalibration.
I first met Paula at a Glen workshop; I was there for my first MFA residency and she was there leading a Glen writing group. I bought The Holy Way that summer and she signed it, "with my best wishes for your work," and I am so thrilled that years later the cover of Finding Livelihood carries her blurb. Paula now teaches in the Seattle Pacific MFA program. There is a graciousness and peace that seems to travel with her as she moves and interacts with people. It's easy to observe.
Here's a video of Paula talking about the act of writing. It's a revealing look inside what happens at her writing desk. You can find all her books on her website or here on her Amazon page. Enjoy!
Finally, here's what Paula wrote about Finding Livelihood:
"Written with a rare wit and elegance, Finding Livelihood offers a profound, often surprising reflection on the necessity of earning our daily bread. This fine new collection by Nancy Nordenson, which gathers under one cover such unlikely bedfellows as venipuncture, a flute-playing cabbie, and the prudent way to unpack Russian icons, includes some of the best essays I’ve read in years."
You can now pre-order Finding Livelihood from: 1) the publisher, Kalos Press; 2) Amazon; or 3) me (ask if you want it signed). Ordered books will be mailed on release date of April 15, 2015 - tax day!
[Photo: Paula Huston, used with permission.]