Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Book Review

This little novel, written by a Brazilian author who enjoys world fame, is the story of a shepherd boy from Andalusia, Spain, named Santiago. He leaves from his home in search of a treasure buried in an Egyptian pyramid and on the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a "king", an Englishman and an alchemist. All of them help point the way to Egypt, not knowing what the treasure is, nor whether or not the boy will be able to find it. The journey to find worldly treasure ends up being a search for treasure within, by listening to his dream, his desires of the heart.

The book has been translated into fifty-six languages, sold more than twenty million copies, and has become known throughout the world. Perhaps people are attracted to the theme of being aware of our "personal calling", as was Santiago, and of the courage needed to conquer the obstacles they will meet on the journey. Read the book and see if you agree with the critic who calls it "an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thomas Merton, Essential Writings, Selected with an Introduction by Christine M. Bochen

Book Review - Thomas Merton, Essential Writings, Selected with an Introduction by Christine M. Bochen.

Beginning with a brief overview of Merton's life and work, a listing is given of more than thirty books published during his career as a writer (1946 to 1968), followed by the same number of Posthumous Publications (books, poems, letters, journals and essays) dated from 1969 to 1999 -- showing Thomas Merton to be one of the most prolific writers of our day. He writes with beauty and conviction.

After a lengthy introduction, the main section of the book consists of excerpts (some brief, others much longer) taken from twenty-one sources…journals, poems, letters, books and conferences, all of them listed. They are arranged in three sections: A Call to Contemplation, A Call to Compassion and A Call to Unity.

It is evident that contemplation is at the very core of Merton's spirituality. He invites his readers to experience for themselves the reality of God's very presence, and to discover that life can have an interior dimension of depth and awareness. He speaks of the importance of silence and solitude, and gives simple suggestions for prayer. Contemplation is for everyone.

Merton speaks about the universal longing for love, peace and security, and the existence of hate, violence and war. He says the root of all war is fear, and he claims that the main task of every Christian is to strive for the total abolition of war. The call to compassion is a call to love…everyone.

As for unity, Merton says it is both a reality and a challenge, and that we already are one by the mere fact that we all belong to the human race. Acknowledging that God has ennobled this race by choosing to be a member of it along with us by the Incarnation, we are to love and respect all others as brothers and sisters with God as Father of us all.

I invite you to read the book and see if you agree with Merton's bold statements and commentaries.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Man who Fed the World by Leon Hesser

Book Review - The Man Who Fed the World, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His a Battle to End World Hunger, An authorized biography by Leon Hesser … Foreword by Jimmie Carter

This is a book showing what one man can do to change the world --and it's akin to a miracle!

He was the son of immigrants from Norway.

He began his education in a one-room country school, failed his pre-entrance exam for college, and ended up a PhD!

He developed a new wheat strain that yielded a double crop and revolutionized Mexico's agriculture and saved thousands of its people from starvation!

He nearly singled-handed spread his plant expertise to China, Africa, and many other parts of the world, and saved hundreds of millions more!

He received the Nobel Peace Prize and over 50 other awards (from "all over") for his efforts to save people from death by starvation and was acclaimed as among the 100 most important persons in the 100th century!

Read his story. It's unbelievable!
Sister Ruth Nistler

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

3 Remarkable Books on the Story of the Universe

1. The Universe Is a Green Dragon, A Cosmic Creation Story, by Brian Swimm
In this book the author tells the cosmic creation story in conversational style. He calls the two speakers THOMAS and YOUTH. By THOMAS he honors Thomas Berry and his well-known cosmological tradition. It was Berry who suggested that the story of the universe be told "with a feel for its music." The other human is called YOUTH ", to remind us that "the human species is the youngest, freshest, most immature, newest species of all the advanced life forms in the planet. We have only just arrived."

A specialist in mathematical cosmology, Swimm has a doctorate in gravitational dynamics and physics, has taught mathematics, literature and cosmology, and is presently director of the Center for the Story of the Universe in San Francisco. He is also a story teller. Sit back and enjoy the story of the cosmic creation in this unique conversational style,--and Swimm's reason for calling the Universe a Green Dragon.

2. Born With A Bang, Book One of the series "The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story", written by Jennifer Morgan and illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen. It is "A Sharing Nature With Children Book," dedicated to "the consummate original artist who has made all worlds beautiful: That Radiant Divine Intelligence whose center is everywhere, circumference nowhere." - " May our eyes be opened to behold the abounding magnificence of creation, the mysterious majesty of matter, energy and consciousness."

The storyteller is the Universe itself, speaking to its "Dearest Earthlings", with the first book dated about 13 billion years A.B.B. (After Big Bang). The format and simple language of this series, plus the fantastic multicolor illustrations on every page, give the appearance of children's books--which they are--but the information is also very adult, as you will find on reading them..

3. From Lava to Life, Book Two of the same series, with the same author and illustrator, again with the Universe as the storyteller. Along with the other books in the series, it combines "Once upon a time" with science, which "will captivate children on our earth before there were any children at all." Another comment calls them "A primer for children of the 21st century, and a must for all of us."--And another --"The story of life is, quite simply, the greatest story ever told…and here is the greatest telling." So read these marvelous books, and read them to your children, as " they should be heard and not only read."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Journeys of Courage, Remarkable Stories of the Healing Power of Community by Joy Carol

"A superbly crafted collection of moving stories to inspire all of us!" --Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The dramatic stories that illustrate healing through community action are of dedicated people, suffering themselves, who deal with two major world disasters: first, the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001; and second, a huge economic boom in the Irish Republic within the past few decades that had a great impact on the national economy, on the Church and other institutions and on the lives of the people.

Stories during the "9-11" attack in New York and the restoration include the heroism of Firefighters, of whom hundreds died in saving the lives of others, the Bagpipers, who lifted everyone's spirits, the many vendors who provided food for the workers, those who spent endless hours searching for survivors and notifying families of the dead and missing, those who "cleared the sacred ground", who maintained a haven for those who needed it, those who prayed and consoled the grieving …unsung heroes who offered support from around the world.

In Ireland, the impact of the economic boom -- with rampant consumerism, spiraling costs, stress, anxiety, breakdown of family life, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and domestic abuse--wreaked havoc on Irish society and its people. Sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy added to the grief. Bishop Willie Wash, a humble and courageous leader, did much to heal the wounds in the church, and others through community action brought about healing in society.

Prisons were crowded, many of them with pitiful conditions. But a few remarkable penal systems were established, an addiction center and a prison for women called "Dochas Center (Irish for "Hope") .One with the philosophy "based on promoting the good in people, giving them the opportunity to do something positive, "to develop their humanity,." Another man, a Governor," led a crusade to educate the world about treating all people with dignity and respect." These and other attempts by individuals and communities gradually began to heal of Ireland's wounds.

In the 1800's a violent conflict began between "Unionists" and "Nationalists" in Northern Ireland called "The Troubles"(with the deaths of over 3,600; and 25,000 wounded and maimed…of a total number of only 1.6 million.) No one in this small area escaped the violence and trauma of these thirty years. In 1995 a Survivors of Trauma Center was established, and shortly after, the Corrymeela Community, that became a shining light of healing and reconciliation. As members of this community, their stories of family and friends, real-life experiences during the "Troubles", healing happened.

Joy Carol, author of Journeys of Courage, became a member of the Corrymeela Community, and she ends by saying that hearing these stories while doing her research and writing the book has been a great grace for her, as it can be for us, her readers. She ends with a series of questions that can serve as a guide for our own courage, growth and transformation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Blessings Beyond One's Wildest Dreams, Commemorating Sister Elizabeth Ohmann's Sixty Years as A Franciscan Sister, by Ruth K. Meyer

This is truly a remarkable book. But the story itself, with the experiences and the achievements about whom it is written, is even more remarkable --especially Sister Elizabeth's many years as a missionary.

A brief introduction tells of Elizabeth's family and home life in Freeport, central Minnesota, where she was born in 1933 and received her early education through the ninth grade in her home town. She spent the final three years of high school in Little Falls, conducted by Franciscan Sisters, whom she admired and eventually joined as a permanent member. It was there that she felt the call to serve, if possible as a missionary, working with God's poor.

After her preparation as an elementary school teacher, she taught for several years in Minnesota, and in 1967 she finally realized her dream as a missionary. She spent four months in Puerto Rico, studying Spanish and the culture of South America, where the Franciscan Sisters had established a mission in '42. It was in the Altiplano of Peru, high in the Andes at an altitude of 12,000 feet. The living there were Aymara Indians, very poor and living nearly as they had done for centuries. She learned to love them and the indescribable experiences she shared with them. Then came the sad day when she was forced to move to a lower altitude, as she had developed Monje's disease from living at such an altitude for nearly ten years. She returned to the United States in 1976.

In 1999 Sister "Kizzie" (to family and friends) she spent time working in Ecuador, a poor country on the Pacific. This mission was short-lived, for after a few months she was forced to leave again, this time due to her having amoebas. She again returned to the U.S. Her South American missions were over, but there was more to come,-- along the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the U.S. There she worked at first with the Tohono O'odham Indians, and later with Border Links and Humane Borders, from which she received in 2010 an award for her dedicated service in helping Mexican migrants stay alive as they crossed the desert between Mexico and Arizona. (This agency set up many water stations in the desert, where thousands of migrants were dying for lack of water. Through their efforts many lives were saved.)

Whether as a teacher in Minnesota, a missionary in South America and Arizona (and for a short time in Africa with her Maryknoll brother) and in other ministries, Sister "Kizzie" was a dedicated Franciscan with a deep spirituality, grateful to God for the opportunities she had to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and St. Francis. By her life she has inspired and enriched the lives of many. Her unique gifts and selfless generosity have not gone unnoticed.-- Besides the award she was given in 2010 as Volunteer of the Decade 2000-2010, she was included in 2007 in the Silver Anniversary Edition of Who's Who of American Women as "one of the leading achievers from around the country"! In 2001 she took time off from work to study in Chicago, at the Catholic Theological Center. She also spent some time with her family.

Congratulations, "Kizzie", for sharing your unique gifts so generously, and for making a difference in your part of the world. And to Ruth Meyer, the author and Kizzie's niece -- Kudos and Gracias for creating a marvelous book!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Journey of the Universe, by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker

This amazing little book contains a wealth of information -- on the origin of the universe, how it evolved and is still evolving, plus a time-line of significant events from 13.7 billion years ago to the year 2010 and an extensive 45-page bibliography…all within a total of 175 pages!

A concise story of the origin and evolution of the universe and of a vast array of creatures in it (including humans) is told in a fast-moving and easily-read style. The author(s) make the observation that only the humans have not yet found their "place" in creation, that they (we) are restless, always striving. A key could be that humans are the only creatures that have the capability to genuinely empathize, and the implication is that this gift of empathy has not yet been fully developed, that we humans are still in the process of evolving like every other creature. You will find Journey of the Universe a most fascinating read!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger and Impulsiveness, by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Through his work in Psychiatry Dr. Amen found that many patients resisted treatment, and he wondered what could be done to convince them that they needed help. He found the answer through a nuclear medicine physician who used a new kind of brain imaging known as SPECT. It measures blood flow and activity levels in the brain, and shows in a clear image the difference between the defective brain and a normal one.

When patients saw the images they could no longer doubt their problem and the need of treatment, reinforcing the popular saying that “Seeing is believing.” They could see clearly that the physical condition of their brain was the cause of their deviant behavior and accepted the prescribed remedy. The author claims to be one of a very few psychiatrists in the world who are licensed in nuclear brain imaging, and he is convinced of its effectiveness.

Throughout the book there are clear images of the brain taken by SPECT, and studies showing the results of medication given to remedy the faulty brain function. The author shows how the various functions of the brain work together, and the images clearly show the basic problem. Whether his patients are suffering from depression, angry outbursts, marital problems, or whatever malady, they readily accept the prescribed medication after seeing the brain images, and the rate of success in nearly 100%. The language used in the book is highly technical, but convincing.

The Poisonwood Bible, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Acclaimed to be "a powerful new epic" and the author "a gifted magician of words." - Beautifully written." - "Tragic and remarkable" - "Compelling, lyrical and utterly believable - "Abravura performance" - "A novel that brims with excitement and rings with authority."

The story is told by the wife and daughters of Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist who takes his family on a missionary tour to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Dealing with the natives in an over-strict and uncaring manner, Nathan alienates those he came to convert, and by his severity ends up with a wholesale rebellion on his hands, both on the part of his family and those he came to serve. Worsened by a severe drought, an invasion of ants and other natural disasters, the situation finally becomes unbearable, and the mission totally disintegrates.

This ambitious novel is set against the Congo's struggle for independence from Belgium, one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the 20th Century. It is the story of a family's tragic undoing and remarkable recovery in the course of three decades in post-colonial Africa. The novel establishes Kingsolver as one of the most daring of writers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Agnus Dei, An amazing account of the Christ, from the words of Maria Valtorta, by R.W. Schoenecker

This remarkable book is a shortened version in novel form of a five-volume work (15,000 pages of hand-written notes) written by an Italian mystic in the 1940's. She recorded the visions and dictations to obedience to Jesus Christ and His Mother--scenes from the Gospels in stories and teachings of Christ. The original work, entitled The Poem of the Man-God, was painstakingly written from the notes that Maria had taken from 1946 to 1947, into a five-volume work of over 4,000 pages. She checked with the Bible and the Catholic Catechism and other sources for accuracy. The facts of Jesus' and Mary's life are presented in a fascinating form, including many conversations between them and other persons in the Gospel accounts, and also descriptions of New Testament times and places.

Maria's mammoth work has been approved by two Popes and has no need of an imprimatur, as it does not treat of doctrine or morals. The author assures the reader that it cannot replace Scripture, but it is a wonderful source for readers of today. It has had a more powerful impact on those who have read it than any other commentary on the Gospels. It gives a clearer picture of Christ, His Mother, the time and places where they lived, miracles and teachings of Christ and credible descriptions of the growth of the new Church that Jesus founded, and on every person in the biblical account. Besides a thoughtful Forward and Preface, the text is divided into 62 chapters, each of them devoted to a "happening" or teaching of Christ. As we read at the end of John's Gospel, there is more of what Jesus said and did and of His life -- more than could fill many volumes. This single volume gives the essence of Maria's writings, is masterfully written, and gives a deeper insight into the New Testament and can strengthen the faith of the reader. According to Italian publishers, over 100,000 copies of Valtorta's works have been sold. Each of the chapters can be read as a coherent unit for anyone who lacks the time to read the entire book. (But once you start, it's hard to stop!) The difficulty of some in reading the rather fine print is worth solving in some way or another.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Plant Spirit Medicine, The Healing Power of Plants, by Eliot Cowan

Plant Spirit Medicine, The Healing Power of  Plants, by Eliot Cowan. – Although we are well aware of the part that plants play in medicine –such as in quinine and many other remedies originating from plants, this author goes much deeper into the plant/medicine relationship. He has met and worked with healers, “shamans” who are convinced that plants (as everything else in creation) are endowed with a spirit.  It is the spirit of the plants that they contact, by means of dreams and other methods. These healers have learned ancient plant/medicine lore from indigenous tribes in western North America, such as the Raramuri or the Tarahumara and the Lakota, and there is a number of them who are still healing with this method. Cowan has spoken with them, learned about plant spirit medicine, and witnessed dramatic cures, both physical and spiritual.

The first-hand accounts that Cowan gives of speaking with a number of these shamans, witnessing their contacts with the spirits of plants and the unmistakable cures that result are so foreign to our experience that it seems incredible.  But reading the many glowing reviews of doctors and others in the field of medicine praising Cowan’s discovery of the ancient practice of plant spirit medicine as a wonderful and spiritual approach to holistic healing and  referring to Plant Spirit Medicine as “A trailblazing book that explores an old way of healing through the spirit of plants” casts it in a more favorable and authentic light.  Eliot Cowan is even called “the American healer.”  I invite you to read this remarkable book.  

This Blessed Mess, Finding Hope Amid Life’s Chaos, by Patricia H. Livingston

In this small book Ms Livingston gives us ( in the words of Henri J.M. Nouwen) “eyes for the hidden treasures of our lives.” She says she has discovered that life can be chaotic at times, and that it is not true that working hard and doing what we think is right will guarantee a favorable outcome.

As this author is wont to do, she sprinkles into her pages dozens of stories, most of them good-natured and filled with encouragement and hope but also a measure of chaos. She shares how she tames these times of chaos, and she says that they are often filled with energy and power. She calls these chaotic times “messiness”—and she finds that along with the “messy” parts there are blessings, which we too can find if we but look. Among the secrets of transforming chaos into a blessing are to approach it with a good sense of humor, to focus on the concerns and needs of others, to pay attention to the good in every situation; and also to remind ourselves of times when we came through chaos well and unscathed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Persistent Peace, One Man's Struggle for a Non Violent World by John Dear, SJ

A Persistent Peace, One Man’s Struggle For A Non Violent World, by John Dear, SJ.

This powerful autobiography of a nationally known peace activist is the amazing story of what one man is doing to put into action his belief in the power of peace and the possibility of a world where peace and love conquer war and hatred.  John Dear has been arrested more than 75 times, has spent more than a year in prison for his persistent message of peaceful non-violence, and is persevering in this mission despite the anger and indifference he has continually encountered.

As a young man he was an accomplished pianist, and at one time dreamed of becoming a rock star. But when he recognized the call to the priesthood and to the Jesuits, and to a lifetime commitment to peace and justice, he continued this calling with amazing courage,   both moral and physical. Inspired primarily by the example of Mahatma Gandhi, and also by that of   Dr,. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Dan and Phil Berrigan, Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, and many other champions of peace and non-violence, and strengthened by his own deep spirituality and convictions, keep him on the quest for peace.

In time he protested the wars in the Gulf, in Vietnam and Iraq, The U.S. support of brutal regimes in Central America, civil war in North Ireland, the building and use of nuclear arms, and anything anywhere in the world that is contrary to peace. He is author/editor of 20 books on peace and non-violence, speaks to huge crowds, has often participated in acts of civil disobedience, -- and has done an incredible amount of pro-peace actions. He ends his story with acknowledgments of and gratitude to countless friends and supporters and dedicates his life and this book to the non-violent Jesus of Nazareth! He hails the coming of a world without poverty,  war or nuclear weapons. The book is inspiring and has a powerful message.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Ten Evenings With God, by Ilia Delio

Ten Evenings With God, by Ilia Delio, OSF,  This small book is composed of ten essays on life and our relationship with God, entitled Awakening, Prayer, Desire, Choices, Sifting Out of God’s Love, The Gravity of Love, Love’s Sweet Surrender, Tides of Love, Freedom in Faith and Alive in Christ. As a theologian and chair of Spirituality Studies at Washington Theological Studies, she often writes about theology, Franciscan theology, especially the theology of Bonaventure. At times, “pure” theology is difficult to comprehend, but here her  concepts and language are easily understood, even by those without a theological background.

She speaks of God’s will, God’s love for us, and the darkness and confusion we often experience when we are not attuned to God and our mutual relationship and desires. She says that discernment is necessary for understanding God’s will, how we can best relate to God and others, even understand ourselves; and essential to wise discernment are the virtues of humility, charity and courage.  She speaks with much wisdom and gentleness, in a spirit of prayer. She ends each chapter with personal reflection questions to make her message a part of our everyday life.

It is impossible to adequately convey even a small part of her wisdom. For a deeper understanding of God and the divine element in our lives, her book must be read slowly, prayerfully and with care. It will deeply enrich you and your comprehension of God, and also vastly improve your prayer life and your relationship of love with the God who loves us unconditionally.  ( Sister Ruth Nistler, OSF.)            

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Recommended Reading: Jantsen’s Gift, A True Story of Grief, Rescue and Grace, by Pam Cope (with Aimee Molloy).

Recommended Reading:  Jantsen’s Gift, A True Story of Grief, Rescue and Grace, by Pam Cope (with Aimee Molloy). 

An unbelievable story of a woman who changed the world (at least a sizable part of it).  Reading it, you won’t be disappointed!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recommended Reading: Practicing Peace, A Devotional Walk Through the Quaker Tradition by Catherine Whitmore

Recommended Reading:  Practicing Peace, A Devotional Walk Through the Quaker Tradition.. by Catherine Whitmore. Herself a Quaker, the author shares their 350-year peace tradition  through  hundreds of writings done by fellow Friends.  Dated from the 1600’s to the 21st century, they speak of personal peace in our day to day living, with others in society and living and promoting peace on  a global scale. Each section ends with questions for the reader on our own peace beliefs and practices. The book is inspiring and thought-provoking and well worth reading.   

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Island of Hope, Island of Tears by David M. Brownstone, Irene M. Franck and Douglas Brownstone

Island of Hope, Island of Tears, The Story of Those Who entered the New World through Ellis Island – in Their own Words, by David M. Brownstone, Irene M. Franck and Douglas Brownstone.

This book contains a number of first-hand reports from nearly 15 million European immigrants to the U.S. from 1892 to the early 1950’s. The rigors of crossing the Atlantic and adjusting to a New Land are described in detail, and also amazing stories of a number of them who rose from rags to riches, from illiteracy to university degrees,  from unwanted to international fame, from starvation to plenty, from painful confusion to comfortably adapting to a new life.  Read the book and see how immigration has vastly enriched our nation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Death of Josseline, Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands by Margaret Regan

In The Death of Josseline, Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands, Margaret Regan tells incredibly sad stories of  men, women and even children  who attempt to cross illegally from Central-America and Mexico into the U.S. through Arizona –and who die in the desert.  Every year thousands of bodies are reported, of immigrants who had trusted and paid great sums of money to irresponsible coyotes” (guides) on the promise of a safe arrival.

Along with the horror of those who died, Regan also tells of heroic attempts to help the sick and wounded who are reported, to hospitals for proper care. Special mention is made of Catholic and social agencies, volunteers and even some border patrols.  But even these immigrants are sent back to their place of origin.

One reviewer said that this book “should be required reading for everyone --  from President Obama…to migrant rights activists.”