Book Reviews Subscribe Faith-filled Family Links for Learners Ask a Franciscan Editorial Entertainment Watch Saints for Our Lives Contents


Finding Solace in the Peace Prayer


AN INSTRUMENT OF YOUR PEACE: A Tribute to the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, poems by Helen Steiner Rice, paintings by John A. Ruthven, compiled by Virginia J. Ruehlmann (includes music CD). Revell. 96 pp. $16.99.

Reviewed by MARY JO DANGEL, an assistant editor of this publication.

THIS BOOK ARRIVED when I desperately needed an instrument of peace: Last April, race riots broke out in the neighborhood where I work. Then in September, my oldest son, Tim, died unexpectedly 11 days before my country was attacked by terrorists.

The book looks like the illuminated manuscripts of St. Francis' time; this lovely presentation is a gift in itself.

The book jacket notes that a CD is enclosed. Two of the 10 inspirational songs were sung at my son's funeral: "In This Very Room" and "On Eagle's Wings." When I listened to the CD, I was comforted to hear the inclusive "neighbors all are we" sung in "Let There Be Peace on Earth." (As a woman, I always feel excluded when the rest of the congregation sings, "brothers all are we.")

The CD is the perfect accompaniment while reading the book, or it can be listened to independently. Its inclusion makes the $16.99 price for the duo a real bargain.

The music is soothing, as are the poems of Helen Steiner Rice, which follow the themes of St. Francis' prayer—peace, love, pardon, faith, hope and joy. Steiner Rice was known as the poet laureate of the greeting-card industry. Thus, her verses might be too sweet for some, but for those of us longing for some quick comfort food, this book satisfies our cravings. In addition, the short poems fit our rushed lifestyles: We don't need lots of time to read a few poems.

Also soothing are John A. Ruthven's wildlife illustrations. His art has been compared to Audubon's. It is the perfect choice to illustrate a tribute to the saint who loved animals. My desired spot for reading the book would be in the midst of a peaceful forest. But when that isn't possible, Ruthven's artwork brings the outdoors in.

Virginia J. Ruehlmann, who has compiled nearly 50 volumes of the author's inspirational poetry, includes a verse from Scripture and a meditative thought after each poem. Each section of the book is introduced with a line from the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Father James Bok, O.F.M., a friar from St. John the Baptist Province, which publishes this magazine, wrote about St. Francis in the Foreword.

Royalties from the sale of this book go to the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation, which awards grants to programs that assist elderly and needy people. Some of those grants have been awarded to Franciscan-affiliated ministries in the neighborhood where I work.

You can order AN INSTRUMENT OF YOUR PEACE: A Tribute to the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi from St. Francis Bookshop.

A WORLD ON ITS KNEES: Honest Prayers in Uncertain Times, compiled by Madonna Therese Ratliff, F.S.P. (includes music CD). Pauline Books & Media. 151 pp. $12.95.

FROM MOURNING TO MORNING: Healing in America's Time of Crisis, by Leo G. Frangipane, M.D., and Gary Kunkelman, Ph.D. Executive Books (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania). 100 pp., plus appendix material. $11. (Also available as a two-cassette book on tape, $11.)

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a religious education teacher in his 26th year at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

EVENTS LIKE THOSE of September 11, 2001, create the perception that the world has forever changed. In reality, what has changed for now is our perception of the world in which we live.

The flag and the sense of patriotism are unifying Americans rather than dividing us. Now our spending money on anything and everything is deemed an act of political defiance. Shopping after the terrorist attacks was presented as bearing deeper political, social and patriotic overtones. "We Shall Not Be Moved" was all but appropriated by the malls to get our attention and our business.

"God Bless America" seems to be at the heart of a renewed ecumenical movement. Our faith and will as a nation seem stronger than ever. But faith in what? What are we resolved to do? More shopping?

Numerous books have already been published which try to recapture the events of that horrible day. Other books are trying to make sense of the events and help people cope with the tragedy. Here are two books that look at the tragedies of that day from different perspectives.

One takes a transcendent approach—calling out to God to help us heal and make sense of the events. The other takes a more immanent approach in helping people cope with sorrow and loss in the here and now. One puts faith in the divine and the other in the human.

A World on Its Knees is a collection of short prayers and reflections that the author has collected in the last few months. She has combined these with Scripture selections (and music on a CD) to create an atmosphere for healing broken hearts and working to bring healing to a broken and wounded world.

The wounds were always there. But now they have faces and stories with which we Americans can identify more readily. And the gaping hole in the ground is in New York City. We now have a vivid image to live with and a link to what the rest of the world has known for generations.

The prayers and reflections come from all over the world. Interspersed throughout are selections from Scripture. The accompanying music CD has both sung and instrumental music to set a reflective and prayerful mood.

The point of the work is to promote healing and understanding by spending time in prayer, in the presence of God who is Lord of all.

The second book is a collaborative effort, dedicated to the families of those who died in the September 11, 2001, attacks. Leo Frangipane, M.D., is a surgeon, author, health-care consultant and lecturer. Gary Kunkleman, Ph.D., is a writer, university religious studies teacher and historian. They explain that sometimes seemingly disparate views end up with the same conclusions.

The four short chapters emphasize these points. Each person should embrace the grief to gain perspective. Then we should look inward, past the things that clutter our lives, to calm ourselves and gain focus. Through this we can let go of our fears, connect with others and use love's power to heal. This will help us find meaning in the events by helping us to get past the unanswerable "Why did this happen?" to find answers to "What is to become of us?" and "How can we go on?"

These books are suitable for readers who are still caught in the immediacy of the events of September 11 and are struggling to make sense of their grief. They may help people find the words or the direction they need in coping with the attacks.

It seems that both works are general enough that they might help someone deal with the loss of a loved one in some other tragic circumstances. They both can be read piecemeal or as a quick-read whole.

I would suggest that readers keep a journal handy to write down their own response to the prayers and ideas, thereby finding their own voice and their own sense of God's presence.

These are not answer books, but guidebooks. The military response is but one piece of the long-term solution. With God's grace, we can tap our inner resources and find our way together. Frangipane and Kunkelman suggest that this healing will be a living memorial. Perhaps facing the hole in the heart of Manhattan can enable us to fill ourselves up with real meaning and make us better people and a better nation.

You can order A WORLD ON ITS KNEES: Honest Prayers in Uncertain Times and FROM MOURNING TO MORNING: Healing in America's Time of Crisis from St. Francis Bookshop.

INSPIRED LIVES: Exploring the Role of Faith and Spirituality in the Lives of Extraordinary People, by Joanna Laufer and Kenneth S. Lewis. Skylight Paths Publishing. 227 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by MARY LYNNE RAPIEN, wife, mother, grandmother, clinical counselor, bereavement minister, catechist and homily writer for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

ONE OBVIOUS FACT in reading of the inspiration of God shared by the 43 "extraordinary" men and women in Inspired Lives is that the Spirit of God is not limited to one faith tradition. While at least one of the authors is a Catholic, those interviewed come from many religious persuasions: Christians of many denominations, Jews (Orthodox, Reform, Conservative), Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu.

They come from many professions, like writers, artists, musicians, sports figures, rabbis, priests, surgeons and psychiatrists. Authors Joanna Laufer and Kenneth S. Lewis interviewed all 43 persons quoted.

Laufer and Lewis link their interviewees' short sharings to the themes presented. In these introductions, they quote many other famous persons (living and dead) who have spoken on the topic of inspiration. Sacred Scripture is heavily woven into the fabric of the book beginning with the first sentence in Genesis, which ends with "...a mighty wind swept over the waters."

That Hebrew word for "wind" is ruach. It is the same word used for "breath" and "spirit." The wind in Genesis 1:1 is described as the creative breath of God. Inspiration is described as God breathing divine life into us. Jack Polak, a Holocaust survivor, says in the book, "How much life is in our life without the breath of life?" The ways that "breath" is manifested in the lives of the 43 contributors at key points in their lives speak for themselves.

To categorize these "ways," the authors group their sharing under six headings: The Breath of God; Loss, Grief and Healing; Revelation; Creativity; Prayer; and Ritual. The one- or two-page sharings from each contributor focus on one aspect of inspiration as it impacted his or her life. Some of those interviewed, like author Madeleine L'Engle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, are featured in more than one section.

It is always exciting for this reviewer to read soul sharings of people who were awakened to the presence of God in their lives. The "before" and "after" accounts in the lives of those who experienced God's presence with them and in them in dramatic ways is itself inspiring.

The book offers the reader a deeper understanding of inspiration, what it is and what it isn't. At times, there is repetition, but it wasn't bothersome.

Two welcome features come at the end of the book. The first is a brief biography of each contributor. Since their sharings are focused on a thin slice of their lives, it helps to have a broader background. Second, the au-thors provide a detailed index, including contributors, topics and Scriptures.

A bonus is four blank pages for notes. Some may find this too much of a good thing.

You can order INSPIRED LIVES: Exploring the Role of Faith and Spirituality in the Lives of Extraordinary People from St. Francis Bookshop.

HEAVEN: A History, second edition, by Colleen McDannell and Bernard Lang. Yale University Press. 358 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI, Ed.D., a priest of the Diocese of Camden with a broad background in teaching and educational administration. A member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, he presently serves as chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

IN THE AFTERMATH of September 11, there has been a renewed interest in life after death. In particular, the human need for consolation has raised questions about heaven, such as: "What is it like?" "What do people do in heaven?" "Who is going to be there?" In the second edition of Heaven: A History, Colleen McDannell and Bernard Lang provide a timely study on how humans have envisioned heaven in the context of Western civilization.

Using a bottom-up approach that focuses on the interaction of religion and culture, the authors build a case for heaven as a human metaphor in which the best hopes and values of an era have been reflected. They show how earthly ideas and things have shaped the vision of heaven for over two millennia. According to the authors, a perennial tug-of-war between the rational and affective parts of human nature has influenced both the spiritual and physical concepts of heaven found in Judeo-Christian thought.

The book's new Preface contains a moving exchange between the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner and his friend Luise Rinser that demonstrates the ongoing vacillation between the mind and heart that makes a definitive response to the above questions less likely. Their dialogue effectively sets the tone for the major themes and amorphous images of heaven that tell its history in the pages that follow.

The details of heavenly life are at best sketchy, even in the Bible. Although the Old Testament begins to allude to a life after death, the full expression of eternal life comes about only in the New Testament, which presents two conflicting pictures: the spiritual one where Jesus tells the Sadducees that there is no marriage in heaven because we become like angels (Luke 20:27, 34-38) and the material one portrayed by the heavenly court in the Book of Revelation.

Throughout the recorded history of heaven, the authors show how social needs, the perception of good and the prevailing philosophy of an epoch have shifted the human concept of heaven. The theocentric model most familiar to traditional Catholics and Protestants has the saints focusing on God's Beatific Vision, which promises to fulfill every human longing.

The Renaissance's positive vision of man, on the other hand, caused a shift to an anthropocentric heaven that emphasized social relationships and the reuniting of families in perfect cities and gardens. A desire for activity and human progress inherent in the philosophy of the Enlightenment found the ideal expression of heaven in the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg, who envisioned heaven to be a place for the perfection of knowledge which would be unveiled in stages.

Combining the anthropocentric model with the human activity model, the Mormons provide a vision where marriage and procreation continue in order to populate other worlds. A good deal of 20th-century thought, however, moved away from heaven as a place of otherworldly survival; for example, the Social Gospel movement believed humans were called to make heaven on earth, while the liberal Catholic and Protestant symbolists denied a personal survival and simply said that all would merge into God.

Nevertheless, a strong presence of fundamentalism throughout the century continued to paint vivid pictures of heaven and "the Saved" being with God forever in their resurrected bodies.

At the root of these variations of heaven pictured throughout history is the human need for meaning and hope in the face of evil and the threat of extinction. Human spiritual and emotional health depends on optimism, good overcoming evil and life overcoming death. For these basic needs, heaven has always served humans well. During times of crisis, fear and confusion require explanations of death and the consolations of eternity.

Heaven: A History provides a rich opportunity for theological reflection. This book can help in constructing a language for the hereafter that will encourage the best hopes of the living and, heaven knows, perhaps guide the reader to a vision of eternal bliss.

You can order HEAVEN: A History from St. Francis Bookshop.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop at www.StFrancisOnline.com or 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45210, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ask a Franciscan  | The Bible: Light to My Path  | Book Reviews  | Entertainment Watch
Editorial  | Editor’s Message  | Faith-filled Family  | Links for Learners
Saints for Our Lives  | Web Catholic  | Back Issues


Return to AmericanCatholic.org

Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An AmericanCatholic.org Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2014 Copyright



 Find 
 FIND