Though there is a little more speculation here for my taste, and there are times the prose is a bit dry (read: academic), this is a really fine combinThough there is a little more speculation here for my taste, and there are times the prose is a bit dry (read: academic), this is a really fine combination of history, archeology, geography, and meditation on the story of Jesus' birth and the events leading up to it. ...more
John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions is difficult to read for a number of reasons. First is the language of the 1600s. That would be littleJohn Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions is difficult to read for a number of reasons. First is the language of the 1600s. That would be little problem for good readers if not for the second reason: Donne's penchant for extended metaphors. A third problem concerns references to a Bible few Christians are familiar with. The fourth is the combination of subject matter and the sense that Donne did not seem to be writing for a particular audience. Despite these issues, or perhaps in part because of them, this is a book worth reading.
Of course, what makes the Devotions most valuable is its painful and moving rumination on sickness and death. Donne contemplates mortality, but also the similarities between physical and spiritual disease. It is difficult to read statements like, “I must be poor and want before I can exercise the virtue of gratitude; miserable, and in torment, before I can exercise the virtue of patience” on their own, but they lead to, “To hear thy steps coming towards me is the same comfort as to see thy face present with me; whether thou do the work of a thousand years in a day, or extend the work of a day to a thousand years, as long as thou workest, it is light and comfort.” There is a good deal of learning in these passages, but not all of that education came from books.
One doesn't have to be a Christian to find hope and comfort in Donne's prose. Though I'm a Christian (and Episcopalian) I must point out there are moments where the author’s theology is suspect. These instances are minor, however, and do not overshadow the power of these meditations.
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions is often paired with “Death’s Duel,” Donne's final sermon, which addresses similar themes. I wish it wasn't. While there is some to recommend it, the piece is the kind of rambling, cut and paste hodgepodge of scripture and long winded jabbering that reminds me of many of the reasons I don't go to academic conferences. One can pass on it, and not miss much....more
Mr. Yancey's personable style is one element of this book that is makes The Bible Jesus Read a winner for me. Don't expect cold exegesis or hellfire rMr. Yancey's personable style is one element of this book that is makes The Bible Jesus Read a winner for me. Don't expect cold exegesis or hellfire ranting, but a friendly, honest exploration of a few of the (for him) troublesome books of the Hebrew Scriptures, a la Kathleen Norris (whom he quotes a few times). One should not expect theological ramblings, though the theology seems pretty solid to me. One of the cornerstones of Yancey's argument is that these books of the Bible are about different aspects of God's relationship with Creation. To that end, this book is about Philip Yancey's evolving relationship with these powerful, but baffling works. After an introductory chapter outlining why the author felt led to explore these books and his approach, he tackles Job. Probably my favorite part of The Bible Jesus Read, it reorients the reader concerning the legendary suffering of the title character, demonstrating that the story is more about faith than about pain. Then comes a look at Deuteronomy, where Yancey imagines the thoughts and feelings of the soon to die Moses as he makes his last speech to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. While an interesting exercise, I felt this was too speculative. I kept wondering, "How would he (Yancey) know this?" The fourth chapter is about my favorite book of the Bible: Psalms. Here Mr. Yancey does a masterful job looking at these poems as much from a literary point of view (without being academic) as from a religious perspective. He reminds the reader that these verses, though part of the canon of Jewish public worship, are very personal words from people of varying socio-economic and political perspectives, and even those that make us uncomfortable portray a people with faith in a God who can take their bitterest complaints. Next, the author covers Ecclesiastes. For me, this is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Ecclesiastes is a tough, depressing part of the Bible, and other than repetition of the statement "Everything is meaningless!" I couldn't think of why. But Yancey helps the reader see the theme in its context. Written probably after Solomon's death but certainly during a time when the people were still reaping the benefits of his reign, the book explores the emptiness of having it all. The sixth chapter is about the prophetic books, and though I would have like a more detailed look at a single prophet, I realize that it would be disingenuous to pick one, and to get at them all would take another book. Besides, the chapter seems rambling and repetitive to me. It does have an important idea that should help readers of this part of the Bible. Readers are encouraged to look at these writers less as men who foretold the future, and more as seers, people with the ability to observe the world (past, present, and sometimes future) more deeply than most. The final chapter of The Bible Jesus Read works to make the point that what Christians call the Old Testament does more than foretell Jesus as Messiah, but has particular resonance for Christians. It should not be segmented so we can find lessons for daily living, but seen as a more complete picture of our relationship to God than the New Testament alone provides. I suspect that non-Christian readers may find this ending a bit tedious, but his story about attending a performance of Handel's Messiah does make for a fascinating connection. The Bible Jesus Read was first published in 1999, but is not at all dated. And despite a couple of missteps, at least for me, the book is overall quite edifying. ...more
This is a magnificent book. Well, parts of it. Augustine's actual account of his life is beautiful and stirring. I was particularly struck by his loveThis is a magnificent book. Well, parts of it. Augustine's actual account of his life is beautiful and stirring. I was particularly struck by his love of his mother and his friends. But when he gets into his ruminations about time and all that, I kept thinking, "What does this have to do with his conversion or his spiritual and intellectual growth? Shouldn't this be in another book." Maybe that is modern impatience creeping in on my part. Yet it is all worth it to see not only his devotion, but honesty. More Christian writers, especially memoirists, would do well to read this before thinking their journey is all that special. And even those who are not Christian could benefit from Augustine's story and reasoning. His faith comes not from backwoods ignorance, but from careful thought and an open search for the truth....more
I should not complain about how little there is here in terms of what this journal covers, especially since what is here in terms of content is so wonI should not complain about how little there is here in terms of what this journal covers, especially since what is here in terms of content is so wonderful. But I cannot help feeling there is and should be more. Written during O'Connor's time at Yaddo, her journal does cover an important time in her writing life (and thus in American literary history), but also her development as a spiritual person, the part many modern readers would like to do without. But we see raw emotion and desire for God as it is not seen in her other writings (including her brilliant letters). We also see a Keats-like passion to be a significant writer and for that writing to do something good in the world. A Prayer Journal is beautifully written and moving. ...more
Enter with caution. If you must read this book -- and I don't recommend you do -- please do so with an open heart and mind. Read critically, thoughtfuEnter with caution. If you must read this book -- and I don't recommend you do -- please do so with an open heart and mind. Read critically, thoughtfully, and dare I say it, prayerfully. Because while there bits of genuine wisdom and sound practical advice, this book is also filled gross oversimplifications, logical quagmires, poor analogies, and at times lazy writing (or perhaps lazy editorship). The book is clearly rendered, but the reader will need quite a bit of discernment to keep the infuriating passages from obscuring the good ideas found within. ...more
I generally hesitate to write about books on spiritual matters for a number of reasons. I won't outline them all here, but suffice it to say that I doI generally hesitate to write about books on spiritual matters for a number of reasons. I won't outline them all here, but suffice it to say that I don't pretend to have expertise in theology and don't have the desire to argue with those who know even less and wish to engage me in their futile battles. As Timothy wisely instructed, "Have nothing to do with foolish controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." And too many people love quarrels.
But this book has struck a couple of nerves in me, so against my better judgment, I'm offering a few thoughts.
Idleman's book is dangerous for a few reasons. One of those is good. It's main message, that following Jesus is much more than putting a bumper sticker on a car or heading to church on Sunday is absolutely right, and if people who claim to be Christians actually followed Jesus, they and the world would be radically changed. That's the good news.
The book also sets up an either/or dichotomy that may not be healthy for many people either emotionally or spiritually. Idleman does not acknowledge that spiritual life is a journey, not a one time decision made, and once made makes one the exact same person as everyone else who has made that decision. Further, while there are a number of inspiring examples of how people have recognized the difference between being a fan and being a follower of Christ, much of the book implies that a true follower sees everything as Idleman does. He leaves no room for people in various stages of spiritual development or from different cultural backgrounds or with different modes of support for spiritual growth.
All that said, I do want to get back to the main message of the book: that following Jesus requires real commitment and that this commitment is what Jesus expects, not just lip service or a t-shirt. As I went through the book, despite my misgivings, I felt that this basic truth was not only solid, but what the world needs to hear. The world needs the real Gospel, not a watered-down, or politicized version of it. And the book, on the whole, encourages this. I felt I might be on the verge of a modern version of The Cost of Discipleship. (I was surprised that Bonhoffer's great book was never mentioned in not a fan.)
The book is well organized, and while it doesn't really offer a "how-to," it does give quite a few "reasons why." The chapter on the Holy Spirit was probably the most important part of this book. I wish the author had spent more time on this aspect of spiritual commitment. Nevertheless, I do recommend reading this book, even though one may want to keep a few grains of salt handy. It opened an important dialogue for me....more
Even the anonymous author of this book says that it should be read more than once, and that it isn't for everyone. I found myself often going betweenEven the anonymous author of this book says that it should be read more than once, and that it isn't for everyone. I found myself often going between wonder and wandering of mind as I worked my way through.
I must confess that I did not read A Cloud of Unknowing correctly. First, I looked for something to enhance or encourage my prayer life. The book, I'm certain, can do this, but it seems to be about more. Second, I after reading a few chapters and getting used to the difficult Middle Ages vocabulary, I began to read a chapter at a time at bedtime. Instead I should have either read as much as I could straight through, highlighting significant passages, or read a chapter a day in the mornings, when my reading mind is at its best.
The message of this treatise seems to be that God is not completely knowable, but that with prayer and meditation (and God's grace), one can get closer to knowing what God, in His wisdom, will reveal. Then the author, a leader of some sort in spiritual formation, outlines how to work at penetrating this cloud between God and humanity, and provides wisdom about the dangers and trials and benefits in such an important journey of faith. I recognize my reading is an oversimplification that may not be accurate. So be it.
I will need to read this important book again. Perhaps I was not as ready for it as I thought I was....more
After spending several hours of my life reading about the subject, I have come to the conclusion that Prayer is something better discussed than taughtAfter spending several hours of my life reading about the subject, I have come to the conclusion that Prayer is something better discussed than taught. In fact, I will go so far as to say that most "instructional" books on the topic may do the reader more harm than good. They either box the reader in with formulas, often on only one type of prayer, so that when the prayer is successful (whatever that means) a cult member is created, and when unsuccessful (which usually means they didn't get something they didn't need), the reader is left frustrated and lost, thinking she/he didn't have enough faith or wasn't doing it right or is cursed by God.
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is the kind of book that could and should be read by people faith (even non-christians). I found it quite edifying to read this half-dialogue between two intelligent individuals which covered topics as diverse as whether God is changed by prayer, why pray when God knows our thoughts, and our mental images of God during prayer. Instead of directions and dogma, I found open conversation (Lewis does a good job of letting us know Malcolm's thoughts), that left me in an encouraging state of awe.
We get Lewis' trademark insights into human thought and foibles. On The Lord's Prayer, he writes, "It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good." I loved the humor and openness of his remarks on Communion: "The command, after all, was Take, eat; not Take, understand....All this is autobiography, not theology." And I found it comforting to read, "One of the purposes for which God instilled prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work of art to which every being makes its contribution."
I probably learned more about Prayer from Letters to Malcolm than I have from dozens of books on the subject (some of the best of which have quoted it). I gave my personal reactions to a handful of passages because I'm sure not everyone will respond to this little volume as I have. Maybe that is the beauty of the book. I think it has something for everyone. Like Prayer....more
Love's Immensity is a wonderful collection of sayings, encouragement, wisdom, and observations from many of Christianity's most influential mystics, aLove's Immensity is a wonderful collection of sayings, encouragement, wisdom, and observations from many of Christianity's most influential mystics, all put into accessible and often time powerful verse by Scott Cairns. While some of the poems are a bit prosy for me, the overall collection is delightfully edifying.
Making poems of these wonderful words is certainly more than putting line in breaks in, and Cairns handles the task with the aplomb he puts into crafting his own marvelous verse. These poems are not only quite readable, but they seem to take into account the need to be aware of ones breathing and focus, as they not only discuss, but become part of the noetic prayer of the reader who is open to it. For those outside of religious tradition, I think the poems offer unique insight into the world of the mind and spirit.
I believe I will return to this book several times. For anyone on a spiritual journey, this volume is a fine companion....more
This is an excellent work on contemporary monasticism, providing insight into basic principles, history and the place of this spirituality in the modeThis is an excellent work on contemporary monasticism, providing insight into basic principles, history and the place of this spirituality in the modern world. ...more