Make A List, Marilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.
Summary: An exploration of the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists we might create.
Have you noticed how we like to make lists? From to-do lists to grocery lists to brainstorm lists to lists of favorites to guest lists–these are just some of the everyday lists we create. I know from blogging that we enjoy reading others’ lists. These posts always draw greater numbers of viewers. Perhaps it is the curiosity of how my list might compare to theirs.
Marilyn McEntyre, whose book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, would be on my top ten list of non-fiction works, is the author of this book that should be a delight to any list-maker. For one thing, each of her reflections on lists and their role in our lives includes a list of list ideas. Her first section, on Why Make a List? is a list of reasons for making lists. A few of these: to discover subtle layers of feeling, to name what we want, to clarify your concerns, to decide what to let go of, to get at the questions behind the questions, and to play with possibilities (there are more).
You may be getting the idea that McEntyre sees far more in lists than a practical function of getting things done. She writes:
When you make a list, if you stay with it and take it slowly, take it seriously but playfully, give yourself plenty of permission to put down whatever comes up, you begin to clarify your values, your concerns, the direction your life is taking, your relationship to your inner voice, your humor, your secrets. You discover the larger things that lists can reveal.
She believes lists are mirrors into our interior lives, ways we may learn, ways to listen, perhaps even to the Spirit, ways of loving, letting go, and even praying (after all, as she later observes, what is a litany but a list, usually a long one!). Lists can be a reflective and formative practice leading to greater self-understanding, and when we gift them to others, as she will talk about, a way of expressing love.
The second part of her work is on The Way of the List-maker. She explores how we might refine the kinds of lists we make, particularly along the lines of greater specificity and depth, from the basic to do list, to lists that clarify our values, to lists of words and phrases that have evocative power in our life, to a list of laments. She observes that some of our lists may even turn into a kind of poem. She talks about love lists where we enumerate what we love about another.
The third part is titled “Play Lists” which might be a play on words. She begins with a master list of lists that very well could be a playlist for list-makers. But I also think the aim of this section, as she has mentioned elsewhere is to make list-making playful, a kind of mental play that might take us into undiscovered country. She suggests “why” lists beginning with one of my favorites, why read. An interesting one, autobiographical in character is “What tennis teaches.” Another one is “What’s fun after fifty.” To give you an idea of lists she suggests after each reflection, here are some that follow “What’s fun after fifty”:
- Fun I never thought I’d have
- Slightly guilty pleasures
- Why it’s fun to spend time alone
- “Fun” I don’t have to pretend to have anymore
- Deepening pleasures.
As you can see, this is both fun and serious, in the sense that these lists take us into what matters in our lives.
Finally, an appendix offers a grab-bag of additional lists. One that I think very appropriate for those who speak of “adulting” is a list of “What every adult should be able to do.” “What’s worth waiting for” is worth reading and meditating upon. Some are amusing, especially for those of us who have been there. One of the items on “Times to practice trust” is “When the DMV licenses your daughter.”
What makes this book so good is not only the great list ideas, perfect for a retreat day or other reflection time, but also the insights from McEntyre’s own life of making and reflecting upon lists. She often gives words to realities in our own lives we haven’t yet named. Yet she also gives plenty of space in her list suggestions to name our own realities, to listen for the unique ways we may hear both our own inner voice, our true self, and the invitations of the Spirit. Here’s a book to put at the top of your “to be read” list!