The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen is a book I have heard about for years and now have read. It touched me deeply at this point of my life as an octogenarian. I remember experiencing Henri at a conference where he was a plenary speaker. He brought Adam with him and positioned him on stage for all of us to meet. It was obvious how closely bonded they were. Henri’s exploration of the various people in the parable helped me to join him as I look back over my life and the process of spiritual growth it contains. This book is a timeless classic and if you only read one of Henri’s books I advise starting with this one. Published by Image Books in 1992.
Jesus and His Enemies by Fr. Robert Beck.
Every now and then humanity stands on the precipice of making a radical choice. Jesus confronted this dynamic and chose love over violence. Humanity got off to a good start in attempting to follow his lead but got sidetracked along the way once we had to take up our own crosses in order to follow him. We fell back on the old method of scapegoating to get a reprieve from the tensions inherent in the call to love unconditionally. Inch by inch we crawled down that old path only to find ourselves once again at a having to make a radical choice. Whether it be our environment, our politics or our religions, we face existential issues. Like the authors of our gospels we need to find a way to be together in love not violence. Each composed their texts to address the needs of their communities. I find myself wondering how we can harvest from Fr Beck’s treasure trove of insights in order to re-enter the gospels in a way that can help us find the courage to step back from the edge of the cliff we find ourselves on now. Maybe, having exhausted all the shortcuts we could devise, we may need to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Jn. 6 68.
Beck, Robert R. Jesus and His Enemies: Narrative Conflict in the Four Gospels. Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY. 2017
Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love, is a deep look at the Franciscan charism. It is good read for any time of the year but especially for Advent. The subtitle: the alternative way of Francis of Assisi briefly sums up Rohr’s experience of having tried it and found it to work. Even though he would be the first to admit he is still trying it. Nonetheless is a way of being in the world that is very attractive to many. I have long felt that we are still a pre-Christian people. We are attracted to Jesus’ ways, but are waiting for more people to really live the life, before we commit to it fully ourselves. Maybe we now are standing of the threshold of having exhausted the other options and might give it a try. If so, this book will be a good handbook for the adventure. Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love. Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, OH. 2014
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown is a book meant for today’s questions. In the wake of the trauma of Las Vegas it is natural to want answers of why. Maybe the answer to why will never come but I suspect if it ever does it will include a life motivated by fear and shame. Both these sources of energy ultimately explode in one way or another. Ms. Brown reaches in and asks us to have a “strong back, soft front and a wild heart. In a life time of research she has poured out her findings in a very readable book on how to change the dynamic of the polarization we are embedded in throughout the world. It will take a lot of “wild hearts” to make this transformation real, but do we have any other choice if we want to find meaning in our chaos? I think not.
John F. Haught has written The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe which is the most important book this bookaholic has read this year. His prophetic work will come to be seen as the opening to the future that we need. We stand on the threshold of what is becoming known by all who strive toward “rightness”. A rightness that is indestructible which is the universal search for meaning in all the world religions. Our sciences have brought us the awareness of the process, and our subjectivity demands an appropriate outcome in order for us to give ourselves to the unfolding of the not yet. Teilhard de Chardin and others began the process, Dr. Haught has built on their insights and takes us the next step.
I have worked my way through Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. This centuries old form of wisdom brought me the concept of Interdependent Co-Arising that is another way of approaching right mindfulness that frees one from the notion of anything or anyone being separate from everything else. It was a challenge to work through all the various systems that Buddhism entails in coming to this basic truth but I received nuggets of insights that enlarged my understanding of this noble path.
The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault is another treasure trove worth mining. She helps us explore more deeply the impact of recently discovered documents found by archaeologists and others, who then with the aid of many specialists open up new insights on the early believers. It will take many years to unpack the implications that this new source reveals. As many find the current “package” of belief too small, The Wisdom Jesus will help to enlarge the possibilities Cynthia and others are bring forth.
It is a rare book that has me mentally shouting YES almost on every page, but Being Mortal by Atul Gawande has done that for me. After serving people who are trying to make sense out of the modern medical systems for so many years, it was a source of hope and joy to read this book. Taking into consideration the whole person who is trying to make their way through the bewildering options now available is the new frontier and it is the new “wild west”. Never in human history has so many questions of what it means to be human challenge us now. The physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual questions come at us at a pace that overwhelms the best of us. Reading this book and talking with our significant others is a great first step. Dr. Gawande tells the stories in a way that will help us recognize our own stories. He will be an able guide as we each confront Being Mortal.
Since I read this book the author was inter vied on Public radio and said this:
“There are many kinds of studies; the most powerful one, for me, was the study that Jennifer Temel, a Massachusetts General Hospital physician, did — led, which took care of stage four lung cancer patients. They lived only, on average, 11 months. It’s a terminal condition; no one lived past about three years. And what she did was, half of the group were randomized to get the usual oncology care, and the other half were randomized to get the usual oncology care plus a palliative care clinician, physician, to see them early in the course of their illness. And so it was sort of a radical idea — see them from the very beginning.
And what — the group who saw the palliative care clinicians from the very beginning did end up stopping their chemotherapy. They were 50 percent less likely to be on chemotherapy in their last three months of life. They were 90 percent less likely to be on the chemotherapy in their last two weeks of life. They were less likely to get surgery towards the end. They had one-third lower costs. They started hospice sooner. They spent more time out of the hospital. They were less likely to die in the hospital or die in the ICU. And the kicker was that they not only had overall less suffering, they lived 25 percent longer.”
You can listen to or read the entire interview here
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. Shambhala Pub, In. Boulder, Co 2013 by Cynthia Bourgeault. Have you ever been attracted to a new concept and intuited that it was on the right track even though how it developed seemed obscure at the moment? I found myself there with the thoughts of Teilhard de Chardin over 40 years ago. Many, Cynthia among them, were also drawn by his insights and have lent their talents to joining in the flow that all truly creative efforts engender. If you are willing to take the tour of Cynthia’s factory of inspiration you will be rewarded with seeing the nuts and bolts of her inspiration on the Trinity or as she calls it “The Law of Three”. It is a demanding tour, but well worth the effort if you are interested in how she got THERE.
At 80 years of age and surrounded by the woes of the world, I must tell the author Ruy Teixeira I NEEDED THIS BOOK. He carefully outlines the last 100 years and brings together the information I needed to see the sweep of the global struggles and successes. He painted the big picture and reveals that the arc of history is bending toward a more evolved world. I keep a record of all the books I read and they are listed by the author last name. Today when I added this book to that list it came right after Teilhard de Chardin. I see this as an affirmation of Teilhard’s vision. If you need an antidote to the daily news this book is for you.
The subtitle of this book accurately describes its contents. Elie Humbert traces the evolution of this great man’s work. Published first in 1983 this work makes available the origins and the insights gained in his practice of healing those who came to him. It is not for the feint of heart as it is heavy in use of language not too quickly assimilated, but perseverance pays off in the end. I think history will give him a significant thanks for how he moved the ball forward in the integrative process we all are called to engage in as we make sense of life and thereby add to the collective consciousness.
This classic by C.G. Jung is so timely for today. As I reflected on its message I was reminded of Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of union differentiates. This idea teaches that the more we come together, the more we discover our self. In biblical times the individual counted only as a member of a group. Outside the group survival was all but impossible unless you could find another group that would include you. Then centuries later, we rebelled and swung to the opposite pole of individualism. For a time we reveled in this new found sense of the importance of each life. It seems now that we are faced with another important paradigm shift that it isn’t an either/or dilemma, but a both/and reality. Jung invites us to reflect on the good/evil that is inherent in each of us. When we accept and respond in ways that our faith traditions offer, maybe we can evolve from just being attracted to the eternal truths offered by the worlds faith traditions and actually try to live them. It seems like our present worldwide anxiety offers us this invitation. You can go online and download a pdf version of this valuable little book.
Robinson, Marilynne, Lila. Picador Pub. NY. 2014. I rarely read novels but a dear friend handed me this one and because I treasure her wisdom I brought it home to read. It was so different than anything I had encountered it kept me wondering from page to page, just like the woman/child Lila. At first I was reminded of another friend who took home a dog from the shelter that had been abused and his efforts to convince the dog it was safe and loved. He never quite accomplished that goal. The early painful experiences would not let the dog relax into his love. But as I finished the book and thought more deeply about it another image came to me. The story put in words what we all go through in life as we cycle through experiences that consciously or unconsciously affect our choices. In having Lila’s story told in this unique fashion we almost experience her in a lucid dreaming state. Not having read anything else by Robinson I was not influenced by the information that might have changed the way I responded to this creative work. I might now have to pick up some of her earlier books.
Ilia Delio has given us the gift of bringing the thoughts of Teilhard de Chardin into the 21st century. Over 40 years ago I encountered this man’s genius that helped me bridge the chasm between science and religion. Unfortunately back then his ahead of the times thinking was not appreciated but I sensed a truth in his mysticism that kept pulling me forward when others seemed stalled. Now, at last, he is being noticed and appreciated by many. We are catching up to his vision both in science and religion. Delio plunges into the thoughts of others and attempts to move the “ball forward” with their help. It gives me great joy to find companions in this journey. If you want to experience a visual trip into this rich vein of creativity take the time to explore the film strip educational tool offered on this site called Survival. I have used this teaching tool for all these 40+ years. You will be rewarded.
Richard Rohr continues to harvest gold from his life experiences and graciously shares them with others in his books. In these days of angst and anger, to settle down into the naked now of any given day, this wisdom can bring us forward into a sort of peace that the world cannot give. This is a timeless work of love.
Denis Edwards wrote a book back in 1991 that began the effort to bring together the current information on so many fronts. Religion, spirituality, science, eschatology,and the search for meaning in an age that is rapidly expanding just as is the universe itself. This invites the reader to open their minds to possibilities undreamed of before, and at the same time taking us into areas that threaten our footing in ‘accepted’ ways of being in the world.
Many many years ago in an effort to make Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man accessible this film strip was created called Survival. I have used this teaching tool for over 40 years and it makes it easy to introduce the work of this great man to those looking for a God big enough to worship. I invite you to taste and see how marvelous God’s process of creation is.
Alice Hoffman has written a spell binding novel called The Dovekeepers which is built upon the terrible times around 70 CE. The temple has been destroyed, and the people have scattered. Some take refuge in the fortress that King Harold had built and were trying to survive the genocidal advances of the Roman army that wanted to totally destroy any holdouts that might cause them trouble. Narrated by some women and their experience of the life and times we get a glimpse from the female perspective that is lacking in our historical documents. Hoffnam has done her homework and is able to put flesh on the bones of this pivotal time in history. I listened to it on the CD version. It is very well done.
Getting the context of an author is especially important when studying the bible. Archaeologist Robert Cargill of the Univ. of Iowa has given his life to studying and teaching this context for those of us who come to the bible for inspiration. I will be coming back often to ponder this work as I also teach and write. Learning more about the struggles and customs of the people who composed and then saved these works can help us move more profitably into these timeless works of love. Written in 2016 and published by Harper/Collins.
Recently, I read a review of this book and got on the list to borrow it from our library. This book gave its author Paul Kalanithi a way to share his life and death while also letting us in on his search for meaning. Out of the entire book I think this paragraph spoke most powerfully to me. “Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.” Page 98. I think this says it all and I hope it invites you to share his story as I have and be as blessed by it as I am.
Jenkins, Philip. The Many Faces of Christ. Basic Books. NY. 2015. What a read! As one who has a life long interest in the Bible and how it came to be; this book really opens up wide vistas on how the different peoples, in different times and places, made sense out of their experiences of God-ness. The sub-title “The thousand-year story of the survival and influence of the lost gsospels” is a very good summary of its contents. This scholarly, well referenced work will cause me to ponder in new and deeper ways.
A friend gave me this book for Christmas this past year. Moyers assembled a large group of people from all points of view to dig deep into the book of Genesis. He did a grand job of showing how such an approach enriched every person in the discussion. I started this form of engagement thinking it would be a Lenten experience 36 years ago and it has met the needs of 3-4 groups each week ever since. We look at the readings people will pray over on the coming weeks worship services. If you want to see how this process proceeds take a look at this book. You won’t be disappointed.
In an attempt to better understand the struggle that every election involves I chose to read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I admit that this exhaustive treatment of why and how people sort themselves out has helped me in my effort to make sense of what appears most of the time to be nonsense. He helped me see the value of each orientation such as liberal/conservative and how they each have strengths and weaknesses. We need each other to become whole, but have fallen into the either/or trap that the gospels warns us to avoid. Watching the “news” will become a more instructive exercise since reading this book. A current article that expands on this subject. For an interview with the author click on this link
In this new work (2015) Mary Beard shares a lifetime of study and reflection on the period of history hinging on the year of 63 BCE. . You can listen to her share her story on a Fresh Air episode on NPR. The December issue of The Atlantic features an article called The Secret of Rome’s Success on this book. I was attracted to this work because I hoped it would give me a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges of the peoples of those times and enlarge my appreciation of God’s process of creation that ushered in the birth of Christianity. If you want to dig deeply (536 pages) you will not be disappointed.
Shanks, Hershel. Ed. Partings. Biblical Archaeology Society. Washington, DC. 2013. How Judaism and Christianity became two. I just finished this book and can say it won’t finish with me for a long time to come. I kept thinking all the while I probed the works of the 19 contributors to 15 chapters, that we face some of the same issues today that the Jews and Christians did in those years preceding the birth of Jesus up through almost the middle ages. These scholars who have studied and taught for many years have come together to attempt to answer the question of parting. You will find that there is no consensus of when or if such a reality ever existed. Throughout the world the changes brought about by the new realities of our generation are making it necessary to recognize and value truth wherever it can be found. Be it found in science, religion, culture, ecology or economy. The old ways demand new ideas if we are to continue as a viable reality. I highly recommend this work and deeply thank the editor and those who responded to his request for this dialogue.