ONE NATION UNDER GOD: The History of Prayer in America, by James
P. Moore, Jr. Doubleday. 520 pp.
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG,
a retired public librarian who lives in
IF ASKED to describe the United States,
would the first adjective to jump into
your head be “prayerful”? After perusal
of James P. Moore, Jr.’s book, it would
seem that no other description is as
From the Native American inhabitants
to the modern era of immigrants
practicing myriad religions, we Americans
have been a praying people.
Moore is neither a historian nor a
clergyman but a professor at the
McDonough School of Business
at Georgetown University.
He has produced an
impressive study of the effects
of prayer on virtually
all facets of American life.
In 16 chapters, Moore
thoroughly documents his
text with excerpts from the
writings of the individuals
chronicled or those of firsthand
necessitates 34 pages of
Notes and a 15-page Index.
Readers will find no legends here.
Early explorers were deeply religious
and mandated how their crews would
pray daily. Christopher Columbus
was a member of the Secular Franciscan
Order, as were his sponsors, King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In
Jamestown, Virginia, in 1610 a law was
passed that all residents should attend
morning and evening prayer services,
enumerating the punishments to be
leveled for absence.
The Founding Fathers, Moore writes,
used prayer as “a coalescing tool to
bring together widely disparate colonies,
communities, and churches.” At
the First Continental Convention, after
the report of a British incursion in
Boston, the delegates prayed “for America,
for Congress, for the Province of
Massachusetts Bay, and especially for
the town of Boston.” John Adams
wrote in his diary that the prayer and
emotions expressed were “as permanent,
as affectionate, as sublime, as
devout, as I have ever heard offered up
Every president has acknowledged
the existence of a higher power in his
inaugural address; admittedly with
varying degrees of belief and, possibly,
for ulterior motives. But all presidents,
sooner or later, would call upon and
acknowledge this power to aid in carrying
the heavy burden of office.
John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic
bishop in the United
States, inaugurated prayers
for the country’s leaders to
be recited after Mass on
Sundays to allay suspicions
that Catholics were loyal
only to the pope. Carroll
composed a special prayer
on the occasion of President
Washington’s birthday in
1794. Carroll was foresighted
enough to request
permission of the Holy See
to use English for all Mass
prayers to help integrate Catholic immigrants.
Publishing in the United States
began with The Bay Psalm Book; a hymnal
was the first songbook. These
overtly religious writings were followed
by uniquely American poetry, prose,
drama, art, dance and architecture executed
by talented people using their
expertise to praise the Almighty.
The Jazz Singer, the story of a Jewish
cantor, was the first talking movie. The
first American opera to be written and
staged was George Gershwin’s Porgy
and Bess, which has songs like “Oh
Doctor Jesus” and “Oh Lawd, I’m on
The chapter entitled “The Dreamers:
The Legacy of Slavery” alone is
worth the price of the book. Dealing
largely with Frederick Douglass, a slave
who was able to buy his freedom and
work for the release of other slaves, the
narrative is spellbinding in detailing
the role that prayer played individually
and communally in the life of a slave.
Many unique spirituals were introduced
to the country and the world in
1871 by the touring Jubilee Singers of
Fisk University, and the response was
overwhelming. Andrew Ward, music
biographer, has said the spirituals “not
only declared faith but carried news,
raised protests, expressed grief, asked
questions, made jokes, lubricated a
slave’s never-ending toil.”
Many industrialists felt called upon
to aid the religious cause: Andrew
Carnegie purchasing 7,000 organs for
churches and schools, the J.C. Penney
Foundation providing funds for care
of retired ministers and Church workers.
Military leaders encouraged prayer
and often led by personal example.
Most of us will have lived through
the events recounted in the last five
chapters, culminating in the second
inauguration of George W. Bush, but
there are still personal and often touching
new insights here into the personalities
behind the media reports.
Yes, Moore exhibits some political
favoritism, but seven years of research
utilizing and reproducing primary
resources on prayer from virtually every
religious sect is a blockbuster publishing
event. This historical compilation
is as readable and accessible as a novel.
You can order ONE NATION UNDER GOD: The History of Prayer in America from St.
THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: A Pyschiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth, by Gerald G. May, M.D.
HarperSanFrancisco. 199 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M.
VENTLINE, D.Min., a Catholic priest and
licensed psychotherapist, who is currently
on special assignment for the Archdiocese
of Detroit. His latest book is Securing
Serenity in Troubling Times: Living a
Day at a Time (Xulon Press).
ONE’S DARKEST MOMENTS
lead to the freedom and joy
that come from authentic
spiritual growth, finds this
director. A psychiatrist from
Shalem Institute for Spiritual
Formation in Bethesda,
Maryland, May explores in
seven chapters the connection
between darkness and
Dr. May shows how the drive for
perfection leaves little room for one’s
dark side (shadow, to use Jung’s term) as
a key ingredient in the spiritual life. A
cancer survivor himself and now a candidate
for a heart transplant, May finds
consolation in his own desolation in
the thoughts of John of the Cross and
Teresa of Avila. Both saints knew psychology
well, long before it became a
formal field of study.
“With amazing accuracy they
described psychological phenomena
that would later be called defense
mechanism, behavioral conditioning,
addictive and affective disorders, and
psychosis.” May admits that, in his
opinion, “they had clearer insights into
the dynamics of consciousness and
attention than most modern neuroscientists
Without a doubt, these two mystics
were on a quest to find God; psychology
was merely a tool to appreciate
and understand the struggle.
In converting trials into graced
events, these 16th-century Spanish
mystics discovered that “in the dark
night” there was a letting go of addictive
control, powerlessness and freedom.
One’s dark night, May concludes,
gives way to depth, dimension and fullness
in the spiritual life.
Out of the “night” comes the dawn,
and love is born from the experience of
dawn, May suggests.
Spiritual guide and Thomas Merton
specialist Joann Loria of Detroit said, “This book was the best commentary I
have ever read on the Dark Night experience.”
May’s comparisons of Teresa of Avila
and John of the Cross are gripping.
Where John is analytical,
Teresa is gentle, earthy, even
sensuous in her writings.
A brief example of quest
is in John’s Spiritual Canticle,
where the bride (soul)
screams to her lover (God):
“You fled like a deer after
wounding me, and I went
out, calling for you, and
you were gone.” In their
frustration, John calls this
episode “God’s games,”
while Teresa of Avila calls
it “war.” It is the “wound of love” for
both of them, however. Affirming life
as “neither cruel nor antagonistic,” love
is about liberating, enlivening, longing
and seeking, they conclude.
May’s own journey of despair and
hope—against the backdrop of mystics
who pointed a way to depth and meaning—leads the reader to experience
deepening trust in the face of pain and
You can order THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: A Pyschiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth from St.
JOURNEY IN A HOLY LAND: A Spiritual Journal, by M. Basil Pennington,
O.C.S.O. Preface by Thomas Keating,
O.C.S.O. Paraclete Press. 177 pp.
Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M.,
editor of Homily Helps, published by St.
Anthony Messenger Press.
A QUESTION pops up as soon as one
reads the title: Why call the book Journey
in “a” Holy Land rather than Journey
in “the” Holy Land? After all, the substance
of the book deals with the
author’s spiritual adventures in the Holy
Land. My take on the title is this:
Granted the importance of the material
locations, more important are the prayerful experiences of the author
about the holy land of his inner life
We learn a good bit about Pennington
from the Preface by his former abbot,
Thomas Keating, and from the
author’s own statements. The Preface
by Keating is the homily he delivered
funeral. From this homily
and from the author’s own
statements, we gather that
Pennington was larger than
life, exuberant, adventuresome,
a man ready for any
challenge, an initiator of
action. He was also prayerful,
introspective, aware of
his limitations and his need
for God’s grace and forgiveness.
In the course of his journey,
the author refers frequently to centering
prayer, for which he had become
famous through his books and lectures.
But in this book he is more concerned
about the events that took place in various
locations of Palestine and the New
Testament passages that describe these
events. He provides his own translations
of the New Testament texts and
appends his prayerful reflections.
His reflections are insightful and
practical. Here are some examples:
In Nazareth he quotes and meditates
on Luke 1:26-38, the Annunciation.
He spent a long time in silence. He
then engaged in centering prayer, losing
himself in God’s presence. He has
a sense of the Word being made flesh
anew in his own life. He observes that
we can do nothing better in our lives
than to provide another life for the
Word in our world today.
After this, he quotes Luke 4:16-30.
Though the scene begins and remains
a beautiful and marvelous narrative of
Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of
Isaiah 61:1-3 (“The spirit of the Lord
GOD is upon me...”), Pennington reflects
on the rejection of
Jesus by his townspeople.
He concentrates on the terrible
experience it had to
be for Mary. At that time
and in the future, Mary
must have suffered from
the snide remarks of the
people of Nazareth.
that there is something
about Nazareth he does not
like. Yes, he does revere it as
the place where the Son of
God became flesh. Mary’s sufferings,
however, remind him how religious-minded
people can sometimes be nasty.
At Calvary, Pennington notices the
strange mingling of languages, activities,
groups moving about or resting. He
wonders whether Calvary should be
like this. Maybe so. Maybe it is a
reminder that Jesus’ passion, even
though the greatest act of love, played
itself out in mayhem. It points to the
fact that Jesus did not hesitate to
immerse himself in a world that was far
from perfect in order to permeate it
with the grace and love of God.
These examples indicate, I think, the
flavor of Pennington’s reflections in
the Holy Land. They also suggest the
simplicity of his style. He does not seem
to make any special effort
to tickle the ears with fancy
language. This leads to a
feeling of immediacy: He is
in direct contact with whoever
is willing to listen.
The book has a map of
main sites in the Holy Land
visited by the author.
In general, this is a fine
book. Those who read it
with prayerful care will
come to a deeper appreciation
of the Gospels and a
closer walk with God in the holy land
of their spirituality.
You can order JOURNEY IN A HOLY LAND: A Spiritual Journal from St. Francis Bookshop.
CARYLL HOUSELANDER: Essential Writings, by Wendy M. Wright. Orbis
Books. 223 pp. $16.
Reviewed by JULIE DONATI, a freelance
writer and teacher of theology at St. Agnes
Academy in Houston, Texas.
WHAT A PERFECT MATCH: spiritual
writer Wendy Wright penning the latest
entry in the Orbis Modern Spiritual
Masters Series and Caryll Houselander,
the subject of that book and a British
mystic who enjoyed a wide audience
among English Catholics during the
World War II era. When Houselander
died in 1954, she left a prodigious
legacy of spiritual and other writings,
numbering over 700 pieces.
Houselander pursued a life of active
service to others, working and writing
with a passion that was distinctive. She
was an unusual woman: an artist, a
wood-carver, a children’s book illustrator,
a social activist, an innovative
healer of war-traumatized children, a
prolific author and a visionary.
At first blush, Houselander’s writing
might seem dated and overly devotional.
Wright, however, presents a compelling
portrait by selecting some rare
texts, interviews and unpublished personal
letters archived at the University
of Notre Dame to give an amazingly
comprehensive picture of Houselander.
Organized thematically, chapters
begin with a brief Preamble by Wright
followed by selected writings covering
a wide range of social, political and
religious topics, in a broadly chronological
order. Wright starts by describing
elements of Houselander’s
life: her Baptism at age six,
her solitary childhood and
a series of visions that
caused her dramatic conversion
and formed the
basis of her spirituality.
these visions to mean that
Christ was present in everyone:
the rich and the powerful,
the poor and the
oppressed, the loved and
the hated. Our duty, as empty vessels,
was to allow the “flowering of Christ” inside by having complete trust and
dying to self, as Christ did by becoming
This theme of complete openness to
God’s will is omnipresent in her work.
In a private notebook she wrote, “The
train is an image of God’s will, first of
all we must be sure we are on the right
train, then just let ourselves be carried
on, all the way is lovely, but all must be
Wright, who has written extensively
on the contemplative dimension
of the ordinary, highlights that in
Houselander’s writings. One chapter is
dedicated to work as a contemplative
experience, an act of creative love. She
wrote, “Work was to be a way of entering
into and sharing the experience of
Not a theologian, she touched people
with her simple, loving words—not unlike Thérèse of Lisieux. Yet
Houselander calls us to a radical commitment,
to be “heroic Christians,” “empty reeds” for God, to throw away
“all the trifling unnecessary things in
Wright includes a wide variety of
selections: illustrations, children’s stories,
private journal entries, interviews
and poetry. I have yet to read a book
about Houselander that gives so comprehensive
and faithful a portrait of
her as this one does. I highly recommend it!
You can order CARYLL HOUSELANDER: Essential Writings from St. Francis Bookshop.
WELCOME TO THE BANGKOK
SLAUGHTERHOUSE: The Battle for
Human Dignity in Bangkok’s Bleakest
Slums, written by Father Joe
Maier, C.Ss.R. Foreword by Jerry
Hopkins. Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd.
Distributed by Tuttle Publishing. 158
Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON,
an assistant editor of this publication.
THE PHRASE “Home Sweet Home” usually
conjures images of happy families
sitting around a fire in the living room.
But for children who grow up in the
Thai slums of Klong Toey, that kind of
Norman Rockwell utopia is foreign,
even absurd. The people of this forgotten
place live with a much darker
reality. Hazards like AIDS, pedophilia,
child prostitution and drug use are
commonplace. Welcome to the slums.
In a series of short, shocking and
poignant stories, Redemptorist
Father Joe Maier,
C.Ss.R., writes of Bangkok’s
most forgotten citizens and
the brave men and women
who have given their lives
to saving others. (This is the
same heroic priest that St.
Anthony Messenger featured
in a September 2005 article.)
Father Joe came to Thailand
in 1967 as a missionary.
In 1972, he founded the
Human Development Foundation in
the Klong Toey slums to combat the
barrage of miseries that infects the area
and its beleaguered people.
As the title of the book suggests,
those looking for a leisurely read would
be wise to look elsewhere: One must
have a strong heart to navigate the devastating
stories that Father Joe provides.
Meet Malee, a nine-year-old girl
abandoned by her parents and left
in the care of her uncle, an alcoholic
and pedophile; or Master Nong, an 11-
year-old with AIDS whose junkie parents
both died young; or
Miss Noina, a third-grader
who went to school and
then cooked, cleaned and
cared for her AIDS-infected
mother. Noina had to cut
her own mother down
from the rafters after she
Welcome to the Bangkok
Slaughterhouse is filled with
similar stories: Some end
well, others don’t. What’s
remarkable about Maier’s
book is that there is a pulse of hope that
pounds heartily through its pages. That
hope is the saving grace of the book.
Maier’s stories are far from vignettes
of victims’ voices. Everyday heroes are
also featured within: people who live
and work in the slums, who risk life
and limb to ensure survival for the
poor. Maier writes of these people with such charm that a reader can sometimes
forget the gravity behind his
words, as is the case with one Bangkok
heroine, a teacher whose students call
her Miss Teacher Froggy.
“They think of her only as a hero. I
don’t mean that she’s the Rambo type.
She’s pretty and svelte. Her eyes sparkle
and dance, and her students think she
is Wendy and Tinker Bell, plus Kanga,
Pooh and Tigger, and even Hermione
from the Harry Potter books all rolled
into one lovely teacher.”
For the author, documenting such
stories of Bangkok and its people—some villainous, some virtuous—is a
risky juggling act, yet Maier manages to
weave an accessible, memorable tapestry
of heartbreak and hope, a testament
to God’s grace.
As is often the case, for the youngest
and poorest of Klong Toey, AIDS, prostitution
and poverty have robbed many
of them of their childhoods. Thanks
to Maier and the safe haven that he
has established through his foundation
in Klong Toey, there is transcendent
truth to the saying, “If you lived
here, you’d be home now.”
You can order WELCOME TO THE BANGKOK
SLAUGHTERHOUSE: The Battle for
Human Dignity in Bangkok’s Bleakest
Slums from St. Francis Bookshop.
LETTERS FROM ROME DURING VATICAN
II, by Bishop Aloysius J.
Wycislo. Paisa Publishing Company.
246 pp. $15.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. He was a freshman
in high school when Vatican II began.
BETWEEN 1961 AND 1965, parishioners
at Immaculate Heart of Mary
Parish in Chicago, Illinois, were probably
the best informed U.S. parishioners
regarding Vatican II—if they read their
parish bulletin regularly.
Their pastor, then also an auxiliary
bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago,
wrote these 56 letters to explain the
Council to them.
The letters were written on the ship
to Italy in 1962, in Rome
during the sessions and in
Chicago during the “intersessions,”
were studying revisions of
the 16 official Council documents.
These accounts have a
very popular tone. After the
opening Mass on October
11, 1962, Bishop Wycislo
wrote, “Pope John asked us
to come together to break
down the wall of isolation
between the Church and the world, of
eradicating distrust among us who
would believe and serve our God in
unity of mind and heart, of bringing
our Church and each of us to an aggiornamento,
a renewal of our faith and to
a dissipation of the fog of ignorance
that divides those whom Christ prayed
should be one.”
Less than three weeks later, he wrote, “Most of us here in Rome feel that the
use of English in the Mass and in the
sacraments would make our liturgical
rites more understandable and meaningful
to the faithful laity at home.”
Later he recalls that on December 8,
1962, Pope John XXIII (now Blessed)
told all the bishops, “The sometimes
sharply divergent views of the Council
Fathers manifested during the first session
were a healthy demonstration to
the world of the holy liberty that exists
within the Church.”
On October 6, 1963, Bishop Wycislo
wrote, “We bishops will have to grapple
with Pope John’s pastoral and ecumenical
vision of the Church’s mission,
make real that vision in such definite
and concrete realities as
reform of the Roman curial
offices which sought to
impede that vision and
make of us bishops passive
This volume emphasizes
the significant role Cardinal
Albert Meyer of Chicago
played during the first
three sessions; he died
before the fourth one.
Wycislo also describes several
speeches that Meyer
gave in Chicago about the Council’s
Bishop Wycislo notes that Pope John
XXIII’s original vision for the Council
“had not only been fulfilled, but fulfilled
In 1968, Wycislo was appointed
bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and
served there until his retirement in
1983. He died 22 years later. His book
Vatican II Revisited was published by
Alba House in 1987.
The present volume reproduces five
black-and-white photos, but has no
index, unfortunately. A few Italian and
English words are misspelled. A one-page
chronology of Bishop Wycislo’s
life would have been helpful, especially
because of frequent references to his
work for what later became Catholic
This book is a great read for anyone
interested in Vatican II.
You can order LETTERS FROM ROME DURING VATICAN II from St. Francis Bookshop.