Fall
 2006

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Storycatcher:
Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story
by Christina Baldwin
New World Library, 2005 

Christina Baldwin, one of the visionaries who started the personal writing movement, has contributed at least two other classics to the emerging field of personal writing: One to One: Self Understanding through Journal Writing (1977) and Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest (1990), Since the mid-1970s, she has also conducted seminars nationally and internationally. She now lives on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, where she and her business partner operate PeerSpirit, a company they founded to educate organizations and individuals in a process of communication inspired by the council (or circle) used in traditional cultures to facilitate communication and wise decision-making.

The Last Adventure of Life:
Sacred Resources for Living and Dying

by Maria (Dancing Heart) Hoaglund

Bridge to Dreams, 2005

Maria (Dancing Heart) Hoaglund is a life-long spiritual seeker interested in helping others identify and trust the spiritual within themselves. The daughter of Lutheran missionaries to Japan, she grew up there and developed a unique, cross-cultural perspective on life. She graduated from Yale College, attended seminary at Pacific School of Religion, and obtained her Master of Divinity Degree from Chicago Theological Seminary. Dancing Heart served as a parish minister with the United Church of Christ before becoming a hospice chaplain more than 10 years ago. Her book is a reflection of her own spiritual journey and work with hospice and may be ordered directly from the author's website, www.bridgetodreams.org.


All sorrows can be borne if you can put them into a story.
Isak Dinesen

Last July, at Second Journey’s Visioning Council on Whidbey Island, I met several women whose lives and work had been inspired by Christina Baldwin. However, in spite of their witness to her wisdom, I was not prepared for the beauty and power of Storycatcher. As I read the pages, my mind wondered, “Does this power come from the stories she has captured? Or, was it her strength and purpose that captured the stories and wove them into a significant book?” Her own words answer the question by pointing to the power of story, not just the stories she weaves, but also those of others, just as powerful as her own, which she includes. Even so, some of the magic must come from Christina Baldwin herself.

This award-winning book is a reflection of Baldwin’s belief in the ability of story to renew how we are in the world. “Individually”, she said, “we first put our lives into language and then we act upon what we have said and how we have defined ourselves.”

Storycatcher is a book about story—its history, value, and usefulness, full of compelling stories that illustrate the central message of each chapter. Baldwin devoted her professional life to personal writing; she is an expert on the subject. But, more than that, she is a master story catcher. It was, no doubt, her compelling stories that made Storycatcher the winner of the 2005 Books for Better Life Award in the Motivational Category and played a role in its becoming a selection of the Writers Digest Book Guild.

Each chapter has its own theme or message stated in one or two sentences. However, it is the magical stories that elaborate on the theme and give meaning to the reader. Baldwin’s prose from her own journals carries the message in the first half of the book. In the second half, other voices provide the narrative.

Examples of themes from the various chapters are:

“Learning to listen with the ear in the heart enhances our ability to become a Storycatcher”.

“Tending the story is a privilege bestowed on Storycatchers by their willingness to receive, report and protect the world’s stories.”

“Significant events become woven into our ongoing stories as we decide how to gauge their impact on our lives”.

“We each create a story of the self that begins with our birth story and then continues with what we remember, speak and write about our own lives. We decide throughout this process what we want our lives to include…and then we are challenged to act on this story—to become who we say we are.”

“Religion is a story. Not just one story, but many stories brought forth to explain the world and our place in it.”

“Story is a search for community that allows us to share, build, and learn from each other.”

Each chapter also has its own prompts—questions and ideas for self-reflection that could help the writer catch her own story.

Storycatcher will be most appreciated by those interested in personal growth through writing, or by those who wonder about it. It could be particularly helpful to those of us into life’s “Second Journey”. The task of harvesting the wisdom of a lifetime and making sense of it becomes easier and more interesting if approached through story.


Denial of death and dying is one of the most profound issues we face as we undertake life’s Second Journey. At the same time that our own mortality begins to assert its existence, many of us confront final goodbyes to our parents. Having lived 60+ years in a culture that encourages ignoring (and even denying) death, we have few tools to deal with it effectively — either for ourselves or others. Maria Dancing Heart has found a way to transcend this cultural liability, develop an understanding of the dying process, and share her insights with the rest of us. She does so in her self-published book, The Last Adventure of Life, (Clinton,Washington: Bridge to Dreams, 2005).

In spite of its apparent brevity — 318 pages) — The Last Adventure of Life can be viewed as two books: a practical resource for those caring for a dying loved one, and a realistic introduction to the spiritual aspects of the dying process for those just wanting to explore the issue.

The book is a combination of Dancing Heart’s own words and carefully selected writings from others. The Zen-like quality of what she herself writes is a reflection of her practical, no-nonsense approach to looking death in the eye and not blinking. In fact, the reader gets the idea that Dancing Heart’s life-long spiritual search has brought her to such a comfortable relationship with death that sharing these insights with others is easy for her. The evocative, emotional tones in the book come from her generous selection of the prose and poetry of others. There are carefully chosen passages from well-known authors such as Joan Borysenko, Gerald Jampolsky, and Lao Tsu as well as the not so well known wisdom of her own hospice patients and their loved ones. The reflections by hospice clients, written during that magical moment just before Death, are often poetic and guide the reader to an intimate understanding of one of the most private moments we must all face.

The poetic passages seem to have been chosen with a very practical purpose: to convince the reader to drop his carefully defended denial of death and see enough beauty in the completion of a journey to have an open heart. Many have experienced and described the magical moments leading up to and at the time of death. It is not possible to read these sacred accounts and, at the same time, pretend that death does not exist. For a brief moment, the reader is brought face to face with a fearful, yet mystical, beautiful truth.

For those seeking practical advice and wisdom, Dancing Heart includes a chapter of resources and a detailed explanation of hospice care. She also answers many questions: How can we ‘start the conversation’ with our loved one who is sick and perhaps dying? What are some of the signs that death is approaching? How can I be with someone through this time as death nears? How do I say goodbye? What do I do immediately after my loved one dies at home? What are some alternatives, besides more medication, to cope with the pain? What is hospice, and how does it work? What is a near death experience?

Her answer to the question about saying goodbye is typical of her brevity and pointed directness:

These are probably the most basic thoughts that you’ll want to convey to your beloved ones before you leave them, or before your beloved leaves you. Don’t wait until the last minute to share your deepest feelings, like why and how you appreciate and love them. (1) Thank you. (2) I love you. (3) Please forgive me. (4) I forgive you. (5) Goodbye. God be with you.

When Dancing Heart tries to convey the sacredness and mystery of the moment of death, she makes one short statement herself: “It is a time… filled with awe and unexplainable mystery”. Then, she completes the chapter with a generous collection of journal entries and poetry eliciting an emotional tone reflective of the special experiences that happen at the time of a loved one’s passing. This short quotation from Kahlil Gibran is an example of the beauty and mystery that fills the rest of the chapter:

Know, therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return….
Forget not that I shall come back to you… A little while, a moment
Of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.