Almanac, All Substance
We write about God, death, beauty and love. Communication and design. Wilderness and wonder. Our interests are broad and our quest for truth is relentless.

06 May 2022

The New Walden Is DONE.

This project celebrates two things we hold sacred at Steel Brothers: seeing and appreciating.

And it only took seven years to get this party started.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau offers a master class in paying attention to this wild world that engulfs us, and the endless worlds that grow, die and regenerate within us. He prompts us to interrogate what we’re doing with our lives and why. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he says, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“Look! Look closer!” he seems to say, or whisper, or scream on nearly every page. “A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

How strange and countercultural such slow, careful and deliberate looking is for us today – and how refreshing to those brave enough to try it.

Since 2015, this project has occupied a place in my life. Sometimes engulfing, at other times hardly more than a shadow in the back of my mind – but always insistent. Insistent that I find a way to say, Look! Look what I’ve found! See the shape I’ve given this story. See this object that honors the words within. Read these words for yourself, admire this book when it stands silent on your shelf and give it away to an observant young person who may one day give it to their grandchild.

I (Matt) read Walden for the first time in 2014, and it’s had a profound impact on my life since. I couldn’t find an edition that looked like a genuine reflection of the story. So I made my own. I made the Walden I couldn’t find, and I made it for you.

Get your copy today.

24 Mar 2022

Love Is My Name

A few years ago, I started unpacking what it means to be an Enneagram Four with a dominant 1:1 or “Sexual” instinct – as opposed to Self-Preservation or Social.

(I put the name in quotes because it’s about much more than sexuality or 1:1 connections. I think Attraction is a better name because this instinct focuses on magnetism, risk and immersion.)

I wanted to better understand my blind spots and gifts. And I wanted a clearer picture of the false self I carry around, so I could pray for the right kind of change and get a vision for the man God designed me to be.

I was reading Beatrice Chestnut’s brilliant The Complete Enneagram and saw some things that stopped me in my tracks. Apparently, the early Enneagram teacher Oscar Ichazo simply called Attraction Fours “Hate.” Ouch!

Chestnut says this subtype of Four is “more assertive and angrier than the other [two] subtypes,” because “expression of anger is their way of defending against painful feelings.” And competition is another theme: “These Fours don’t feel consciously envious so much as they feel competitive as a way of muting the pain associated with envy.”

Sounds awful, right?

I resisted some of these descriptions at first. The anger was easy to acknowledge. Competition – well, if we’re talking about how I constantly compete with myself and quietly work to become the very best in my field, then yep – that checks out, too. But hate? Hatred, contempt, loathing? I wasn’t so sure. I never signed up for that newsletter.

Then I heard someone suggest listening to how often I use words like “hate” in my speech. So I started eavesdropping on my conversations. And I heard that dirty word. “Don’t you hate it when so-and-so happens?” “I hate this color.” “I hate being interrupted.” “I hate to tell you this, but…”

I looked even closer. “It takes you a long time to get over things,” Jon told me during those days of deeper-than-usual introspection. That was his tactful way of saying I can hold a grudge like nobody’s business. At my worst, I’m a stiletto’s-breadth away from vendetta.

Nailed again, this time right through the heart.

In Ian Morgan Cron’s new book The Story of You, he describes each Enneagram type as a kind of story – a narrative pattern. There are more than seven billion of us and as many life stories in progress, but we all fall into one of nine sections in the library of humanity.

Each of us grows up with a broken story that’s built on a lie. In order to grow, we have to first understand and then rewrite the script.

Every story needs a name. A true name. So I went in search of mine.

My old story was about a gnawing emptiness that I pushed outward as competition, anger and resentment, even rage. Its name was Hate.

My new story is about the boundless creativity of God that pours through me when I simply let it. Origin is the country where this story takes place. At the heart of all hearts. The name of this story – the only name it could possibly have – is Love.

As Thomas Merton (another Four!) said, “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”

18 Feb 2022

The Upwelling

“We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom, or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love. It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I love these words. They resound of truth. We are lovable – only to the degree that we reflect Him, our Maker. I can rejoice and even boast about everything that is lovable in me because it is pure, unmerited gift from God who is Love itself and who made me. I had no part in that Love-making whatsoever. Before He conceived me, I was nowhere and nothing. Maybe a plan, an idea, an essence – but unformed and, if conscious, unremembered. That I am something, anything, and in some days and certain lights somewhat lovely, has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God.

We draw wonderfully and dangerously close to God when we look in the face of a loved one, see past the flaws, the pain and the entropy, glimpse the light behind their eyes and say, There you are. My God, You are beautiful. We don’t speak to the beloved in those moments. We see and acknowledge them, perhaps more clearly than ever. But we’re really speaking through them, to the Source. We don’t address the well but the upwelling Spring in its depths. Why is this deep looking so dangerous? Because if our eyes were sharp enough, if we could hold the gaze long enough and with enough force to pierce the veils of flesh and shadow, we would be blinded, or, more likely, killed dead by Glory.

05 Feb 2022

Envy is the comparison that kills celebration.

01 Feb 2022

Le Guin and Again

“Words are my matter,” said Ursula K. Le Guin in her eponymous collection of essays. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books was published a year after Le Guin died at age 88. True to her claim, she wrote until the very end. Not because she had anything left to prove, but because it was her way of living – natural as breath. She left a vast body of work, rich in substance, wild in imagination and deep in thought.

I’ve quoted Le Guin here before, and today won’t be the last time. But we keep running into each other, so to speak. A habit of mine when preparing client presentations is to find a quote that captures some essential idea I want the client to understand. Rare is the search that doesn’t surface some gem from Ursula’s hoard. So I felt compelled to gather several quotes that have recently pooled in my lap, along with a few perennial favorites. I’ve read most of the 23 novels she wrote and several books of her collected short stories, novellas and essays. Some of the quotes below echoed warmly off the walls of memory as I reread them. Unlike echoes, these words remain clear, articulate and bright with meaning.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” – The Lathe of Heaven

“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” – The Wave in the Mind

“What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.”

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”

“I never wanted to blog before. I’ve never liked the word blog – I suppose it is meant to stand for bio-log or something like that, but it sounds like a sodden tree trunk in a bog, or maybe an obstruction in the nasal passage (Oh, she talks that way because she has such terrible blogs in her nose).” – From Le Guin’s first blog post, 2010

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.”
A Wizard of Earthsea

“If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.” – The Dispossessed

“I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.” – The Left Hand of Darkness

Want more? Head over to her collected quotes on Goodreads and get lost. And if you’re new to Le Guin and want a good starting point, I’ve got you! For science fiction, I recommend Worlds of Exile and Illusion, a collection of three early works set in her sprawling Hainish galaxy. For fantasy, check out the Earthsea Cycle, a five-book series that only improves with rereading. Start with A Wizard of Earthsea or spring for the Complete Illustrated edition if you’re feeling splashy and want an all-inclusive volume.

08 Jan 2022

“I am sure of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination.” – John Keats

08 Jan 2022

The Symmetry of Grief & Love

“While it is heartbreaking to watch someone in the throes of grief, there is still a beauty in grief. Your grief shows that you have risked opening up your life and giving your heart to someone. Your heart is broken with grief, because you have loved. When you love, you always risk pain. The more deeply you love, the greater the risk that you will be hurt. Yet to live your life without loving is not to have lived at all. As deeply as you open to life, so deeply will life open up to you. So there is a lovely symmetry and proportion between grief and love.” – John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes

03 Jan 2022

“Attention is the beginning of worship.” – Mary Oliver

12 Dec 2021

The joy of God shines brightest at the bookends of life. We see divine joy in the innocence and wonder of childhood and in the textured faces of elders who have learned patience, wisdom and tenderness. Hearing the giggles of children, only the most hardened and shattered hearts remain unmoved. Among the grateful old, you see a calmer yet more durable joy gathered at the corners of eyelids permanently crinkled from smiling. The light you find in such a person is both soft and steady. The fires of ambition have burned low but the glow of appreciation is undying.

11 Dec 2021

Give people the space to not be you.