Elizabeth Cobbs in her The Tubman Command kept me reading nonstop for a day. I don’t often read outside nonfiction but my long attraction to Harriet Tubman lured me to explore this work of love. Tubman’s use of her vulnerabilities for the good of others has been like a flame to my moth instincts. Cobb shows signs of using whatever data on Tubman exists and carefully wraps her story around those facts in a way that makes the struggle for freedom intimate. In these days where people are being told to “go back to where you come from” this book is very timely. A quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says it all: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Harriet “Moses” Tubman lived this truth. Elizabeth Cobbs invites us to reflect on how each of us is called (and enabled) to do the same.
Grace: On the Journey to God
Michael Casey once again is a faithful guide for the journey we all are on to God. On the last page Casey writes; “There is a grace and energy; at work carrying us upward that does not stem from our own limited resources.” This energy/grace can be explored chapter by chapter. He reflects on discontinuity, desire, humanity, alternation, temptation, self-knowledge, petition, dedication, contemplation, faith, revelation, leisure, silence, community and communion. Reflecting deeply in the ways God engages us in all these aspects of our lives in order to guide us to our destiny in God.
The Universal Christ
This is Richard Rohr’s latest and greatest book. I have found him a mentor for many years and it seems like he is offering us the fruits of his mature tree in this work. Few can reflect on their experiences with the insights and clarity that this dear Franciscan friar does. His subtitle: How a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. On pages 212-3 you will find: “Authentic Christianity is not so much a belief system as a life-and-death system that shows you how to give away your life, how to give away your love, and eventually how to give away your death. Basically, how to give away-and in doing so, to connect with the world, with all other creatures, and with God.” I think this sums up how and why Richard wrote this book now. He is giving away all he has to us here. The paradox comes when we discover in giving away we create the space to receive. I have received much in this gift. So will you.
Oh how I wish Dr. Sunita Puri has written That Good Night when I was a resident at the Univ. of IA Hosp. & Clinics back in 1979. It grew out of my need to answer a question. When returning to the hospital after a weekend often patients with life limiting conditions had been discharged and I wondered what would happen to them. That led me to wonder with others and ensued our effort to create a home care hospice in the early 1980’s when hospice was a new idea in this country. As I immersed myself in her memories, my own memories came flooding back. When I read that the American Board of Medical Specialties didn’t recognize hospice and palliative medicine as s distinct medical sub-specialty until 2006 a lot of my questions began to make sense. Seeing from behind her eyes helped me to see how difficult modern medicine is for people whose whole identity is to fix things. At some level I knew this, but at another level it seemed unreal. On my first night as a resident chaplain I distinctly remember the terror I felt as my pager went off and I headed down the long darkened hall toward what I hoped was the right direction. At the end of the hall I could see the shape of someone and I imagined it to be the Spirit and found myself mentally shouting “I will had you what I can reach.” This moment of truth, for someone short enough to spend a lot of time asking people to reach things for me, freed me to enter into the chaos that awaited me. As long as I truly handed to those in need whatever I could reach, I could fail and still come out OK. Dr. Puri says this in so many eloquent ways there would be no way to list them all. As medical options become ever more complex, the questions of what should be done become ever more difficult. I hope that all people walking the paths with patients might find this book and bring her wisdom into their lives. It is interesting that her whole lifetime is the very length of time I have been invited to share the struggles of patients and their families. In a way I feel like Simeon in Luke’s gospel saying “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word: for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence on all people, a light for revelation to the (caregivers) Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2: 29-32.
A Disarming Spirit by Frank Fromherz is a very timely book. It is a study of one person and his ongoing struggle to live his truth and how it can make a difference. If you were to want a biography written about your life, you would hope it would be with the care and attention to detail that Frank gives to Bp. Hunthausen. He walks us through how one person accepts their truth with integrity and courage. Like any of us who starts out in life discovering our path step by step, often finding the way after many trials and errors, “Dutch” accepts each step with prayerful attention. We would hope that we too would be remembered for the quiet and sometimes heroic choices we make in the name of love. Love for the truth, a healthy self-love, resulting in love for others. “Dutch’s” details are unique to him, as are each of ours. Reading this book will give anyone encountering it a model of how to do it too. In these chaotic times it is becoming ever more important to give each other our best, even if we like “Dutch” won’t live to see our hopes materialize. But if someone writes our story someday, let us hope that someone cares enough to tell it as comprehensively at Frank, so we can add our truth to the world story.
Philip Freeman has given us “a modern retelling of Greek and Roman myths” in Oh My Gods. I have had a lifelong fascination with Greek and Roman history so this book was a natural for me to read. But I must admit I had in on my shelves for a long time before taking the time to pursue it. It was only after listening to the 48 lectures on Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn S. Holland (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/religion-in-the-ancient-mediterranean-world.html) coupled with a record cold calling off even the Post Office deliveries that I made it through the book. The ancients were a blood thirsty promiscuous teller of tales. I tried in vain the get beneath the surface of these various tales to find a theme, or a sense of purpose that these many stories were attempting to share, but most portrayed the gods and humans displaying the extreme range of emotions. Most were ugly ones, with only a passing glance to the heroic or honorable ones. If you chose to read this you will harvest some interesting tidbits on how places are named, gods and humans interbreed, and get a sense of how our for-bearers tried to make sense of their experiences.
Albert Nolan revised his 1976 version of Jesus Before Christianity in 1992. I read it originally in 1998 but was lured back into its pages now 20 years later for a review. This is a timeless book. For years I have felt our times where pre-Christian. Like many in Jesus’ day we are attracted to his words and example, and as soon as everyone is on board we will jump on too. But for now the ‘world’ isn’t like that yet and we are afraid to go the whole way. Nolan says on page 171 “Jesus can help us to understand the voice of Truth but, in the last analysis, it is we who must decide and act.” He goes on to say in page 151 that “Jesus did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority.” Later on page 102 we find: People’s compassion for one another releases God power in the world, the only power than can bring about the miracle of the “kingdom”. And then on page 39 he gets to the core: “Faith is a good and true conviction. It is the conviction that something can and will happen because it is good and because it is true that goodness can and will triumph over evil.”
In these troubled time when humanity has tried all the alternatives to compassion to see if that would be enough to solve our problems, we might be getting ready to try Jesus’ way. I hope so. Now I ask everyone “where do you see the hope?” I invite you to find a copy of this timeless examination of the times before Christianity to appreciate what was going on then. I think you will find the parallels to this time uncanny and see why I think we are still pre-Christian.
The Universe Story Calendar by Thomas R. Spiritbringer is a mind bending read that can expand your consciousness even as the universe itself is expanding. In the attempt to tell the story AS OF TODAY this book with its companion calendar reaches to include all times, places, and peoples. Unlike previous stories whose focus on the recurring events, such as the seasons, phases of the moon and planets, this book and calendar highlights that there is never a recurring anything. All is ever new. Nothing stays the same. This is especially significant in the human who is the most recent event in the cosmic story. We reach to tell the story to our young that excites their imaginations while emphasizing how significant each of them are to the story. This is a reference book. One that you will want to have at hand as you try to explain to yourself and others how we came to what we know AS OF TODAY. All previous attempts to talk about time are explained and the reasons they were changed listed. We are now invited to once again change with what we know AS OF TODAY. In this graceful and humble acknowledgement that this is all we know we will reverence the creative process and our ability to know our place in that process.
Less than Fully Catholic is written by a friend of mine Trisha Day. She warned me that I might be offended by some of what she wrote, but I can assure you I not only was not offended by more importantly challenged. We share the ‘cradle Catholic’ experience which entailed swallowing many gizzard stones.
In my Dominican training we were introduced to what is called “gizzard” preaching. Preaching that reveals that what we have to share is put through the process that the gizzard does to food a creature ingests that needs grinding up in order to be assimilated. Then it is passed on to the rest of the digestive system to nourish the entire system. Trisha had done this for us.
She has taken those things she ingested as a child of faith and processed them in the gizzard of her life experiences. Like many today she finds that those things that sustained her grandparents were not nurturing her. Those same things became her gizzard stones. Her vast reservoir of reading and reflecting on the meaning of life have been run through her gizzard and she produces a ‘gizzard homily’ that will nourish all honest seekers.
We live in times that challenge most of what we think we know. Be it how everything came to be to what everything is destined to become. No generation before us has had to deal with the paradigm shifts we in one generation confront. Unless we like Trisha deal honestly with these questions we could drop the ball that literally “keeps the game going”.
So potential reader, if you define Catholic as an Adjective which the dictionary includes:
all-around (also all-round), all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized you might join me and put Trisha at the heart of what it truly means to be catholic for our troubled times. She has given us a truly nourishing meal. Enjoy.
Race and Cosmos by Barbara A. Holmes
In reviewing this powerful book I let the author speak for herself. On page172 she says:
It is nothing short of a miracle to be situated in a cosmos that keeps its secrets but reveals just enough to keep us intrigued. Each day that dawns is a celebration of the fact that we have been invited to consider how our lives are spent; how we embrace and recoil from the creative genesis of darkness, which is also light; and how we relate to others. One thing is certain: Our conflicts seem insignificant from the perspective of an expanding universe. As we struggle for justice, the universe invites us toward expanded options. We can incorporate the wonder of science in our liturgy and in our politics. We can strengthen and challenge theological precepts with information about the intricacies of a cosmos that defies our inclinations toward control. Finally, we can regard our differences as an intrinsic manifestation of a complex order.
The quantum world is all expectancy and potential, and it includes us whether we know it or not. In such a dynamic life space, we dare not weary of well doing. Although we continue to harm one another with our measurements of worth and assessments of shortcomings, we are peering into a glass darkly. For what we know and what we see are only shadows that cannot reflect the fullness of the cosmos or our place in it. “
I had to double check the copyright 2002 date a couple of times as it seemed as if she was writing for today’s challenges. This only goes to prove that her powerful insights are timeless.
I consumed Mark Plaiss’ book No End to the Search in two days. Since I am a lay associate of New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississpi Abbey’s I was eager to see how his experience of monasticism and mine compared. Mark writes as if he has a Go Pro on and he is just narrating what he is seeing and experiencing. If you want to explore this unique calling you will be rewarded in this book. The monks and nuns of these two monasteries have welcomed me into their worlds as best as anyone can welcome someone into their homes. Down through almost 40 years I have soaked up their wisdom and basked in their love. My goal continues to be to take the best of this experience into my life and let that season my relationships. Years ago Abbot General Dom Bernardo encouraged all Abbots and Abbesses to enter more deeply into dialogue with people like Mark and me. Out of this request grew a formal recognition by the Cistercian order to people attached to monasteries the world over. If you want to taste why we do this Mark will serve up a delightful menu, along with reflections on how this penetrates his daily life (and mine), so carve out some quiet time and sink into the quiet with No End to the Search.
Every now and then it is good to read a book like The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. Richard McBrien is a reliable source for a comprehensive overview of catholic (with both a big C and little c) perspective. Even though published in 2008 it is a timely resource. In times of turmoil and rapid changes in so many areas of life the world over, I needed to reground myself in the big picture so as to see the ongoing process of growth that is being made in the hope of bringing into being the kingdom of God Jesus came to reveal. If you need to refresh your hope in the future this book might be for you.
The Exodus: How it happened and why it matters by Richard Elliott Friedman gives the reader an in-depth exploration of the pivotal moment in creation history as told by the bible. Friedman locates this experience as the one that sets humanity on the course of loving the alien or the other. This unique moment in history now clamors for attention when all over the world the struggle to recognize the humanity of the “other” is in desperate straits. Never before has the human race faced this choice in the way we do now. We ignore it at our peril.
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World is an effort by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu mediated by Douglas Abrams. We are admitted into the inner worlds of these two experts on how to live with joy amidst a lifetime of suffering. The Dali Lama teaches that “The ultimate source of happiness is within us”. The Archbishop shares that “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.” They have walked the walk and now share this wisdom with all of us.
The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton.
Some of the pearls found in this work of Merton written just before he left for Asia where he died. The best estimation of when that was seems to be sometime in September 1959.
One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Pg.2 The contemplative life is primarily a life of unity. A contemplative is one who has transcended divisions to teach a unity beyond division. Pg. 147 The contemplative is not one who directs a magic spiritual intuition upon other objects, but one who, being perfectly unified in himself and recollected in the center of his own humility, enters into contact with reality by an immediacy that forgets the division between subject and object. Pg. 151.
It seem fitting that I finished it around 3:15, this Good Friday afternoon. Thank you Thomas
A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber will stretch and challenge anyone willing to persevere in following his path. I just finished it tonight and got online to find this wonderful example of his thesis on my Facebook page. It is called: Join the Conversation https://youtu.be/HyiVhrPz2o8 Some people in Dubuque, IA are coming together to make tangible the wisdom of the emergent energy in all creation.
Many are following in the footsteps of others who are responding to the ‘within’ (e.g. Teilhard) of reality after having plunged into the (e.g. Teilhard) ‘without’ dimension and found it necessary but incomplete. Examples like John Haught’s “A New Cosmic Story” and Fr. Robert Beck’s “Jesus and his Enemies” are plowing this some of same ground. I encourage those attracted to this emergent energy in all creation to take the pilgrimage with Wilber. You won’t be disappointed.
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.