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.
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.
Every now and then I come across a book that seems to be written just for me. Mellissa Schilling’s book Quirky was one of those books. I first came across her when listening to Book TV. As she described her interest in what she calls ‘quirky’ people it became clear that she has opened up a new and very productive vein of riches in studying these people down through recent history. I especially valued her insights about the common traits that identify such ‘quirky’ persons.
They challenge norms and paradigms and need time alone. Building self-efficacy seems inherent from early on and they often are inspired by grand ambitions. They excel in finding the ‘flow’ and are supported by having access to technological and intellectual resources often from unusual places and people. From experience I can affirm that living with quirky people can be very demanding. It isn’t for the faint of heart. But we are all the beneficiaries of such gifted ones.
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.
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.
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.
I was attracted to the premise of this book because I wondered why we reason the way we do. A sentence on the last page sums it up for me. “Group discussion is typically beneficial when participants have different ideas and a common goal.” In our times of polarization where we haven’t agreed upon the common goal of survival of the environment or humanity itself it is no wonder why we struggle. Hopefully insight into the ways we do and do not reason will help us discover a common goal. It only takes a serious illness to impress upon a person that individualism is an illusion. We will move forward together or not at all. Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have dug deep and given us the benefit of their exhaustive examination of the enigma of reason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
If Teilhard were alive today he would appreciate Kathleen Duffy’s Teilhard’s Mysticism as she engages the latest discoveries in science with his powerful quest to bridge the gap between science and faith. More and more people from all disciplines are recognizing their debt to his life long effort to find what holds all things together and gives everything its meaning. Duffy subtitles her work “Seeing the inner face of evolution”, and that she does. For all of us who have treasured the fruits of Teilhard’s life and work, we thank her for this contribution that builds on his.
From Big Bang to Big Mystery: One reviewer states: “In a fascinating, accessible and thorough study, renowned priest Brendan Purcell explores the question of human origins. Covering a phenomenal range of material, Purcell moves easily between analysis of the various scientific perspectives on how humans are unique (emerging from a perhaps seven million year hominid sequence) and his suggestion that what is really needed is a look at why humans are unique. This pushes the zoological/paleontological discussion into the realm of philosophy and theology and gives new life to considerations of human emergence suggesting, even, that humans are better understood as an unprecedented cultural and spiritual event.”
Over 9 years ago Tom Friedman wrote his book The World is Flat. It aroused a lot of attention then and much was written about his thesis. Now all these years later, I have read his work and mused on how these 9 years have confirmed/challenged this thesis. This is a good book for a discussion group. I found myself in dialogue with him as I turned the pages of this important study of how our interconnected world has developed.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a page turner. Every person who has had the benefits of medical research should read this gripping tale of the family of Henrietts Lacks. It will cause you to thank Rebecca for her hard work and faithful care of her subjects. No one is an island to themself, and we all can contribute to the common good of all.
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”.
The God of Evolution by Denis Edwards. The dialogue between science and religion is maturing. In this age of rapidly developing information, coming at us at such a pace as to cause vertigo for some, this book is a gift of clarity. Fr. Edwards, a priest of the Archdiocese of Adeliade, Australia, brings science and theology together. His insights on the Trinitarian understanding of God and the scientific understanding of evolution are a gift to all. This is a good book to engage you with the mysteries of the universe and the mystery of God.