Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Holy Longing, The Search for a Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I.

Fr. Rolheiser begins by saying that the word spirituality is greatly misunderstood. Many of us think of it only as related to praying, reading spiritual books or going to church. But he says that it has a much broader meaning. It channels our basic desire, longing, “eros.”  We all have a spirituality, and it dictates the way we live.

Christian spirituality must include private prayer;  private morality;  mellowness of heart and spirit;  and involvement with a faith community (church). The Incarnation must be central, with Christ as the basis, the heart. It requires that we harness our desire. Rolheiser says we never attain perfect peace in this life, as desire is always stronger than satisfaction.

The author lists some spiritualities within the Christian category:  that of Church; the Paschal Mystery; Justice and Peace-Making; and Sexuality.  He explains everything by using stories and real-life experiences.  His definitions, explanations and interpretations are at times surprising and unique.  The book ends with a chapter on the necessity of sustaining ourselves in the spiritual life.  It is meant for all who have an interest in the life of the spirit.  It is not easy reading, but is worth the effort.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards

This stunning and heart-rending novel begins on a winter’s night in 1964.  David and Norah, married barely a year and very deeply in love are expecting their first child.  Because of a blizzard, David is forced to take charge of the delivery, and immediately after the birth of a baby boy, he is shocked to see a twin sister.  On seeing her, he tells his wife that the twin was very tiny and was dead at birth.

Norah, although pleased with their first-born son and loves and trusts her husband, somehow suspects that he has not told her the truth, as she was not allowed to see the tiny twin..  She lavishes all her love and attention on their son, but throughout the years she is haunted and saddened by the thought of the missing daughter and of a possible deception. Her trust in the husband she still loves has been badly shaken.

Gradually both Norah and David become totally absorbed in their own careers and hobbies and friends, and they slowly drift apart.  Their family secrets and mutual coldness also affects their son, who shares in their pain.  The story has a bitter-sweet ending, with a touch of redemptive love.  It is masterfully written, and I know you would enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Care for Creation, A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, by Ilia Delio, Keith Douglas Warner and Pamela Wood.

The book begins with a quote from Thomas Berry:  “The human community and the natural world will go into the future as a single sacred community or we will both perish in the desert.”  It is a very recent book, published in 2008.  It is small, but powerful, composed of Four basic parts:  Creation and the Incarnation; Creation as a Family;  Creation and Contemplation and Creation and Conversion.  Each part has three short chapters, and it also includes Methods of Reflective Action, Guided Prayer Experiences, and directions for Calculating Your Individual Carbon Emissions.

Unlike most of the newer books, it does not include the stipulation that no part of it may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the publisher.  Therefore I presume that direct quotes are allowed.  So I will use some in this review.

The very first page begins with, “Earth, with all its creatures, is in crisis, and responding to this crisis will require every possible resource of our human community.” --“Life is amazing.  All life is utterly dependent upon our planet for everything it needs.”  -“In our solar system, only Earth provides the conditions necessary for life.” -  “In Earth’s ecosystem, plants are the primary producers.  Members of the animal kingdom are consumers.”  -   “Today we are changing creation as never before through various technologies.”  - “Francis of Assisi was at home in the cosmos.”  -  “The life of Francis shows us that right relation in creation is not easy.”  -  “Francis teaches us that God is incarnate in all of creation…”  -  “Do unto the earth as you would want done unto you.” – “Francis recognized the Incarnate Word of God in all creatures.” -  “To love God we must also love what God loves.”  -   “Francis came to realize that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and  transforms it into the sacrament of God.  The intimate link between creation and Incarnation revealed to Francis that the whole of creation is the place to encounter God.  He discovered himself to be a member of the large diverse family of creation.”  -  “To Francis’ approach to life, is the recognition that we are not separate, isolated entities, but are inter-related to all of creation.”  (With these quotes you can see something of the Franciscan spirituality of the earth.)

Grim statements to consider:  “It would take five earths full of resources to supply the entire human family with an American lifestyle. (!)  -  “Roughly 1.2 billion people could be sustained at our standard of living.  But…we share the planet with more than six billion other humans.   We…are taking more than our share of the earth’s goods, and throwing away too much waste.”  -  “Consuming resources beyond the earth’s capacity to regenerate them is a form of stealing from future generations or other places.

These are all the quotes I will offer.  But I will mention that the final chapter of this book is entitled “The Spirituality of Conversion.”  It does appear that some conversion is in order.  (If you think I have quoted out of context, perhaps I have.    To have an accurate view of this book, it would be best to read it in full. It’s only 216 pages.)

Evening Thoughts, “Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community” by Thomas Berry, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker

“Among the contemporary voices for the earth, none resonates like that of the noted cultural historian Thomas Berry.” (book jacket)  In these essays and countless earlier writings, he shares with us his wisdom gained from years of study of the universe, the earth, and of the creatures that called it their home for billions of years.  He claims that after the arrival of the humans, “the newcomers” he calls us, peace and harmony on the planet continued for many more billions of years.  But beginning with the technological era of the 1900’s and accelerating rapidly to the present, the greed and over-consumption of the human community, especially in the western parts of the world, Europe and the Americas, the riches of the earth are gradually becoming depleted.

The title of this book (Evening Thoughts,) could very well refer to the possible end of the earth as we know it, unless a concerted global effort is made by the human race to save our planet, and also to the evening of his own life.  Born in 1915, he would have been in his late 90’s by the time the book was published, in 2006. During his long life he made an amazing contribution to society, telling us repeatedly and most eloquently of the beauty and riches of nature, and the crisis the earth is now in, the gravest in the history of the world.  Fr. Barry died recently, and despite his valiant efforts to speak the truth of the earth’s precarious situation, the devastation of our planet continues. It is true that a growing number of people all over the world are beginning to recognize the crisis we are in, but unless drastic measures are made to bring the earth back to health, it may be too late.  (Thomas Berry still hoped something will be done.  Read his earlier book, The Great Work.) He is by no means the only ecologist with the message that it was primarily humankind that caused the earth crisis, and it is up to all of us to correct it.  Most of his  books end with a lengthy bibliography and list of other resources.