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women and their experience of the life and times we get a glimpse from the female perspective that is lacking in our historical documents.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.
Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus. Harper Collins. NY. 2014. This is yet another book by Rabbi Levine that causes us to ponder and reassess what we thought we knew. By positioning ourselves in the crowds that listened to Jesus we see from their angle and come away challenged to think again. We people of the “second testament” will profit much from our “first testament” brothers and sisters. It will open us to new insights and new appreciation for the challenges of the parables. It will also make us aware of how we unwittingly sometimes perpetuate anti-Jewish stereotypes. This is a profitable read.
In these quiet winter days I reread a book of meditations by Henri Nouwen titled Here and Now. Any time spent with this gifted spiritual guide is sure to delight. I remember a chaplain convention where he was our plenary speaker. He had his friend Adam seated on stage with him. This will always affect the way that I encounter his writings. He put skin on his witness just as he says Jesus did that for God for us. It is a small but mighty book to read and reread.
This novel, Escape from Ephesus, written in 1991 by Lance Webb, attempts in story form to give us a readers experience of the trials and tribulations of our faith as shared by Onesimus (means useful). It is indeed useful as it hews closely to what we know from those days and years of the beginnings of our faith. Long before we had our gospels and structures, many gave their lives rather than settle for the futility of life without hope and love. You could read many other scholarly books, such as “And Man Created God” and get the facts/details of this same time period, but this novel catches you as surely as any lure of a great fisher could.
In her book, Fresh Bread, Sr. Joyce Rupp takes you through the year with scriptures recommended for daily reflection. Each month has a theme that can awaken a quiet time of meditation and is designed for those whose lives are busy but need a method to integrate their experiences with their faith. Written in 1985, but timeless in content, I recommend this to those wanting to bring a focus to their days.
Radical Hospitality, invites you into the heart of reality. In many ways, by way of reflection gained from deep listening and the sharing of stories, the authors Homan & Collins have created a book that deserves “a deep read”. They rediscover the ancient art of welcoming the stranger as a bearer of gifts, not a source of danger. It will awaken you to a new way of being in the world.
If you only have time for one book this year please consider Richard Rohr’s newest book Immortal Diamond. This is a work that is so approachable you will find yourself saying “yes, yes” on almost every page. As the back cover says “This book is the ripe ftuit of a life couragously and honestly lived. Such profound wisdom conveyed with such elegant simplicity!” It will also make a wonder filled gift for some special in your life.
Gerald G. May has pondered the mystery of The Dark Night of the Soul leaning on John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Using his skills as a gifted phychiatrist he explores the connection between darkness and spiritual growth. This is a well grounded look at this profound question.
Once again, Sr. Joan Chittister, give us a gift in The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. This is a book for many audiences. If you want to understand what the elders in your life are standing under – this book is for you. If you are entering into that period called the “golden years” it is a treasure chest of insights. This is the fruit of a life fully reflected on and now cherished.
If you are interested in the interface between Christianity and Buddhism in the dialogue between science and religion, this may be the book for you. Mind in the Balance examines the history of meditation in both these traditions of belief. B. Alan Wallace explores the subject of mind, intelligence, spirit and reason. His insights from modern science helps to engage those who feel that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”.
This book is a dialogue between Christoph Quarch and Willigis Jager. In a question and answer format they explore the timeless reality of experiencing the transcendent in human life. This dialogue will be useful for all those who say that they are spiritual but not religious. It will also help you live in the NOW with a new appreciation of each moment as containing the presence of God in your life.
If you ever have that “something missing” feeling, and a longing for what that missing reality might be, you will profit from reading The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser. The simple and straightforward language of this book invites a cup of something and a quiet corner to appreciate its great gifts.
The Ethiopian Tattoo Shop by Edward Hays Stories supposedly told by a tattoo artist to distract the client from the discomfort of the process of getting a tattoo. These parables have meanings for those on a spiritual quest.
Journeys on the Edge: The Celtic Tradition By Thomas O’Loughlin brings us a look at what has been called Celtic spirituality. He looks at original sources of the first millennium, which can help us understand much of what we inherited from these early Irish ancestors in faith.
Gold in your Memories by Macrina Wiederkehr, Ave Maria Press in Notre Dame, IN. 1998, will be a deep mine for those who want to dig for the gold in their own memories. Macrina is someone who can put you in touch with the spiritual energy that resides within you to empower you to make new memories every day you live. She shares my belief that we are all a work in process and our lives are a tapestry of memories. I invite you to taste one of her haiku poems: “A tiny gold leaf / offers a silent sermon / from a barren branch.”
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris. NY. Riverhead Books. 1998.
Words that have the potential to evoke strong responses, are subjects of short chapters that make for reflective reading. This is a good example of the practice of “holy reading” or lectio divina. You will find yourself meditating on your own power filled words for the revelation they hold. Norris helps by modeling this ancient process of probing her experiences for the graces they hold. Simply amazing.
The Road Less Traveled & Beyond by M. Scott Peck. NY. Simon & Schuster. 1997.
As anxiety becomes more intense, it is an opportunity for spiritual growth. “Scotty” lets us in on his spiritual growth in this book. I recommend reading the last chapter first, as it will give you the fruit of this authors reflection on his growth experiences. For those who have read other books by Peck, this one will tie all the earlier books together. In times like ours today, where we feel disoriented by so many rapid changes, a book like this will encourage you to go with God’s process of bringing you into your maturing as well.
For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann If the challenge of today is seen as secularism, Schmemann sees the answer in a renewal of the sense of worship. Worship calls us to the awesomeness of creation and leads us naturally to the sense of wonder at what or who caused all this to be and holds it in being. He comes to this through his Eastern Orthodox appreciation of the sacraments, which he sees as a ritual expression of this wonder and awe. If secularism is the belief that our space and time holds the answers to all our needs and questions, than worship expresses the opposite. Thomas Merton called this work, “a powerful, articulate, and indeed, creative essay in sacramental theology”. It is all this, and more.