Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Handbook for the Soul," edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield

This book is “a magnificent gathering of warmth and wisdom to nourish your soul.”  It consists of thirty essays written by highly educated persons, the majority of them physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists or educators.  Included among them are Angeles Arrien, Matthew Fox, Robert Fulghum, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and a Jewish Rabbi.  They all share spiritual insights according to their understanding of the soul.  With some of them, their concept of “the soul” is quite different from what I have learned: for example, speaking of “soul music”.  

Here are some of their reflections:  “I believe that each of us was put on this earth to fulfill the potential for humanity, and the soul is the part of us that makes us human.”  -  “It is amazing that our souls, our eternal essences, are contained within these temporal bodies.”  -  “Another way I nurture my soul is to keep a daily journal.”  - “To nourish the soul means to be kinder, more compassionate and more loving.”  -  “There is nothing to do but to be.  To nourish the soul is to rest in being.” -  “A relationship with God – or a higher power – is vital to nourishing and tending the soul.”  -  “Our task here is to become more God-like, to realize the divine and spiritual nature of our soul.”  -  “I believe we are a part of a universal soul…we are all connected.  We all have God within us.”  -  “When our channel to the soul is open, we live in a more harmonious reality.”  -    “Nourishing my soul makes a difference.”  -  “Through suffering and pain, I’ve learned more about my soul and heart than I ever dreamed possible.”  -  “For anyone trying to get in touch with the soul … it’s an alive journey.”

Reading this book left me with some questions:  Can we really nourish our soul as we do our body? -  Is the soul of a saint somehow “grander” than the soul of a sinner?  - Does the soul develop and grow along with the body?  On reading it, you may have other or similar questions.  I think you will find the book very enriching and thought-provoking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Walking With God in a Fragile World," edited by James Langford and LeRoy Rouner

In 13 essays written by renowned persons and authors, reflections are shared on how we might walk with God in a world that seems more fragile and shattered since the tragedy of September 11, 2001. They all agree that indeed the world and human life, especially here in the U.S., now seems more precarious and fragile than ever before. Several of the authors had friends or family members who lost their lives that day, and they spoke of the horror and grief they experienced. Each story is unique, and some compare the tragedy to the Passion of Christ. Some Moslems living in New York also grieved, both for the loss of friends and family members, but also for fear that such an attack would cast a reflection on the Islam faith, which they love and see as basically one of peace and brotherhood.

Kathleen McManus, a Dominican theologian, pointed out that the Twin towers and the Pentagon were symbols of U.S. power; and from her experience as a missionary in Central America, she cited the misuse of that power in our supporting the military regime that caused fear, poverty and death for thousands of vulnerable people there; and other U.S. foreign policies that have at times also been tainted with injustice. We are not universally loved. But she sees that Ground Zero can become a symbol of hope because of the heroism and concern for humanity that was shown that day in efforts to rescue survivors. She also admired the great reverence in the months-long process of sifting through the rubble and finding memorabilia and even human body parts and respectfully attempting to restore them to those who loved the victims. She sees the hope that future American interaction with our world neighbors will follow a similar path of respect and reverence, especially for the most vulnerable.

This small book is well worth reading.

"Oneness, Great Principles Shared by All Religions," by Jeffrey Moses

In this small but precious book, the author presents 64 religious principles that he claims are held to by most world religions, showing the unity there is among those who believe in God. In the introduction the Dalai Lama says that all the major world religions have a similar aim and the same potential to be a great help to humankind. Each of them contains such qualities as generosity, love, compassion and respect for others. The book consists of 64 small segments, each of them beginning with a religious principle such as "The Golden Rule", "Love Thy Neighbor," "There is One God," "The World is Our Family", "Preserve the Earth", "Speak Truth", "Be Slow to Anger"...and 57 others.

Following each religious principle there are several sayings, taken from the sacred scriptures of the different world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Confusianism, Sikhism, Taoism, Bahai and others, even from "African Wisdom" and several tribes of Native Americans. It is interesting to see how similar, and in some cases almost identical, these sayings are. Jeffrey Moses spent over twenty years in researchng them all, and in the Annotations at the end of the book he gives the specific source for the sayings.

Oneness is both an inspiration and an eye-opener. It is short and easy to read. Try it and see!

Merton: A Biography, by Monica Furlong

Thomas Merton was born in France in 1915. His parents, Owen and Ruth, were well-educated and talented, especially in music and art. "Tom", to his family and friends, was intelligent, active and unusually observant, even at two years, and from the beginning he loved books. There was no religion in the family, nor stability, as they moved several times between France, the U.S. and England. Tom’s mother was devoted but severe. She died when Tom was six. His father was often away from home, and he died when Tom was l5. Tom and his younger brother lived with grandparents and foster parents. A few years later, his beloved grandfather also died, leaving Tom feeling abandoned, lonely and sad...feelings that plagued him the rest of his life. The boys’ early education was in France and England.

At age 18 Tom moved to the U.S and eventually studied at Cambridge and Columbia. Besides learning, he and his friends spent time in drunken parties, with girls; and Tom fathered a child. He met a good friend at Columbia, a Catholic, and Tom was drawn to that faith. He was baptized a Catholic at age 27, and reformed his life. He decided that he wanted to be a priest, and to enter a religious order. He chose the Franciscans, but after he confessed his unruly past life, he was not accepted. This was a bitter blow, and he assumed that neither could he ever become a priest. He worked in Harlem and other needy areas, and eventually decided that he would be a Trappist monk. After a retreat at Gethsemani, he was convinced that this was his calling. He promptly sold all his goods except several books, and asked to enter the Trappists. He was accepted, but he found the strict silence, long hours of manual work and short hours of sleep...and no time to write... almost unbearable. But somehow he continued to write, poetry and even a few books. Due to his attempts to reconcile his need to write with the rigorous life of a Trappist, he suffered several breakdowns, physical and spiritual.

To have more solitude and time for himself he asked to be a hermit, while continuing the life at Gethsemani. His request was granted, and he then lived in a small hermitage near the abbey. He knew he was a writer, had to write, and when he published his famous autobiograpghy, The Seven Storey Mountain, he became almost immediately famous, as was Gethsemani itself. Tons of correspondence came to him from all over the world, plus invitations to speak, and a steady stream of visitors including his college friends and people from all over the world. The Abott realized that he was a remarkable man and a gifted writer, so Merton was given more time to pursue his passion. He was also allowed to attend meetings and conferences on his many interests...and he continued to write a prodigious amount of books, essays on Peace and Justice and eastern religions, and also letters to his friends around the world. In 1968 he was asked to speak at a conference in Bangkok, on Marxism and the monastic life, and again he was allowed to do so.

His journey to the east began that fall, and on the way he visited famous places and people, including the Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and many other friends. He arrived in Bangkok on December 7, and gave his address on Dec.10. As he left the podium he said something about now disappearing, and went to his room. Shortly after, a loud cry was heard, and those who went to investigate, found him lying on his back with an electric fan on his chest, still running, He was dead. His sudden death was a terrific shock to those who had just heard him speak, to his fellow monks at Gethsemani, and to his beloved novices who had been in his care for several years. He was 53 years old. Had he lived longer, he would no doubt have written much more, but what he already had done was far more than most people could have done in a hundred years! Also, his longing to be a monk and hermit, plus the continuation of the monastic life at Gethsemani, would have been an insurmountable problem. To condense a lengthy biography, especially that of such an extraordinary person as was Thomas Merton, is next to impossible. I invite you to read the book. You will not regret it.