Some have called astronomy religion’s mother. From England’s Stonehenge to New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, many of religion’s ancient artifacts turn out to be observatories marking important sky events. The Bible begins with creation stories and Matthew’s Gospel leads with a genealogy, then the story of a star directing Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus.
Smoke pouring out from under the hood of your car is never a good thing.
In this case, it turned out to be steam, not smoke, but combined with a temperature gauge that kept pushing past “H,” we knew we had a problem. To make things worse, we were returning from an out-of-state Thanksgiving trip and were a good three hours from home.
In his introduction to this yearly anthology of the world’s best spiritual writing, Pico Iyer offers us essential reading about how spirituality is expressed in words.
Spiritual writing, he points out, cannot be mere writing about religion, but rather should be something that comes from, and goes, to the spirit, “which is to say, the human being (or that part of us that communes with what’s beyond us).”
BOUNCE: LIVING THE RESILIENT LIFE
By Robert J. Wicks
Published by Oxford University Press, $21.95
As more and more of us face financial insecurity, longer work hours and the increasingly complex personal and social demands of our fast-paced, multitasking, high-tech lifestyle, finding healthy ways to handle stress is more important than ever.
Robert Wicks is a leading expert on stress. His prescription for handling it is to become more resilient. A professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola University in Maryland, his most recent book is Bounce: Living the Resilient Life (Oxford University Press). His other books include Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times and Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life (Sorin Books).
THE NAKED NOW: LEARNING TO SEE AS THE MYSTICS SEE
By Richard Rohr
Published by Crossroad Publishing Company, $19.95
Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr’s new book, subtitled “Learning to See as the Mystics See,” extols the spiritual benefits of learning to live comfortably with paradox, with the process of conversion, with learning to change our minds as life comes at us with its messiness and disorder.
He claims that if your religious practice is nothing more than to remain sincerely open to the ongoing challenges of life and love, then you will find God -- and also yourself.
It’s a bold claim, but Rohr offers sound reasoning to support it. Great people, he says, keep adjusting to what life offers and demands of them.
She walks her route at night across the campus, up this stair, down that, always alone, like a ghost retracing its path for the thousandth time. She is tall, gaunt and plain. Rumor has it that her husband divorced her many years ago and she never got over it.
His resentful senior colleagues devise a plan to oust him. They prevail on a junior female teacher to claim that he is prowling around her and represents a physical threat. The administration falls for the ploy, and the man is exiled to the farthest reaches of the campus with instructions not to talk to any of his colleagues.
She is a bubbly nonstop talker. She comes home for a visit, but her relatives make excuses not to see her. She sponges off an old friend and talks incessantly about herself, uninterested in anything else, never offering a hand at the cooking or cleaning up. Her friend can’t get rid of her soon enough.
THE CASE FOR GOD
By Karen Armstrong
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95
Acclaimed British writer Karen Armstrong has been described as one of the most provocative and original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world.
Her first book, Through the Narrow Gate, chronicled her seven years as a nun in a Roman Catholic religious order, which she quit in 1969. She has authored biographies of the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, and the best-sellers A History of God and The Battle for God.
Growing up in the 1960s, I worshiped at two parishes. Both were Roman Catholic. However, the celebration of Mass was very different as I went back and forth from summers in metropolitan Virginia to school in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The basics of pre- and post-Vatican II liturgical celebrations were identical. Nevertheless, at one parish I often found myself daydreaming, planning the upcoming week’s calendar. The celebrant’s voice was monotone; his liturgical presence was lifeless; it was as if a vampire had drained every ounce of his blood. Hymns were the same selections over and over again, performed in a musical key not even the youngest Vienna choirboy could reach.
I live in Kansas City, Mo., but recently celebrated Sunday liturgy with a church community in another area of the country. It was a Sunday in ordinary time with no special celebrations, religious or secular. The parish must have been in the middle of a stewardship or fundraising drive because the homilist, while touching on the scriptures, spoke a lot about the need for parishioners to share time, treasure and talent. That may be a catchy phrase, but it seems somewhat stale without being connected and anchored to any deeper images. Unfortunately I found my mind wandering. I don’t believe the homilist was unconvinced about his message, but he seemed not to know how to express it so it caught fire and came alive.
Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province. He founded the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in 1971, and the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque in 1986, where he presently serves as its founding director. He is a regular contributor to Sojourners and Tikkun magazines, and the author of books such as Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality and Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation.
He is a sought-after speaker and retreat giver. Themes he addresses include the integration of action and contemplation, community-building, peace and justice issues, male spirituality, eco-spirituality, and the cosmic Christ. In this section, NCR’s Rich Heffern talks with Rohr about this last subject, how Jesus fits into the new universe story.