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PHYSICAL BODIES, SPIRITUAL BEINGS

Q U I C K S C A N

RECLAIMING THE BODY IN CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
REMAINING CATHOLIC: Six Good Reasons for Staying in an Imperfect Church
PADRE: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano
MAY CROWNING, MASS, AND MERTON: And Other Reasons I Love Being Catholic
SUSTAINING HEART IN THE HEARTLAND: Exploring Rural Spirituality
STRENGTH IN SICKNESS


RECLAIMING THE BODY IN CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, edited by Thomas Ryan. Paulist Press. 179 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a librarian and writer who lives in Boston.

THE EDITOR of this volume, Father Thomas Ryan, is a practitioner and teacher of the Prayer of Heart and Body. He poses a direct, blunt question to readers: “We have a body. Will we give it its due place in our spiritual lives?”

This book, and in particular his two fine essays (“Toward a Positive Spirituality of the Body” and “The Body Language of Faith”), offers a solid foundation for anyone interested in practicing a holistic spirituality.

A relatively short book, Reclaiming the Body can seem, at first, to attempt too much in too few pages, ranging from the experience of the feminine in yoga to the integration of personal spiritual discipline with social justice to the need to “include and celebrate” all of creation in our spirituality so as to reverse “our present estrangement from the earth.”

Though its themes and five authors (men and women, lay and ordained, Protestant and Catholic) are diverse, it becomes apparent that the book is really about one subject, the Incarnation. Its wide-ranging, thoughtful essays explore the implications of this central, distinctive theological statement. “God’s earthy, fleshly embodiment,” Jim Dickerson argues, “radically challenges the Church’s destructive practice of compartmentalizing and separating the spiritual life from the physical life.”

Dickerson’s essay, “The Political and Social Dimensions of Embodied Christian Contemplative Prayer,” is prophetically critical of “mainstream, institutionalized Christianity [that] is currently living in and through an age of accommodation and complicity with the culture and government...and the spirituality it promotes and practices is a reflection of this compromised state of affairs.”

Dickerson offers this critique from 31 years of involvement with Washington, D.C.’s ecumenical Church of the Saviour and Manna, Inc., a nonprofit committed to affordable housing and community development, which he describes as an “imperfect attempt” to understand and imitate “the politics of Jesus’ spirituality.”

There is a spirit of prayerful receptivity in Reclaiming the Body that encourages readers to reflect on their own experiences of body and spirituality. Casey Rock, a certified yoga teacher with a master of divinity degree, models this in her essay “Voices From the Mat,” a reflection of how yoga “fosters tranquility, cultivates forgiveness, and promotes the feminine.” Writing about a conference on yoga and Christianity, she notes that men have a “propensity... for making a formula out of their experience,” whereas women “learn and share from each person’s story.”

It is appropriate, therefore, that the book’s tone is set, early on, by a story Father Ryan tells about a family he met while lecturing in Nova Scotia. The husband had retired early because of a cardiac condition; the wife had multiple sclerosis. They lived with their son and, temporarily, her unmarried brother, a carpenter who was recovering from a fractured leg. “As I sat and talked with them, what came out was that they were all experiencing renewal in their relationships with one another... occasioned by what each one was living in their bodies.”

Now that he was home, the husband was able to help his wife. The woman and her brother had had limited contact for some years, and she was delighted to be with him and have her son get to know his uncle. “Others might look at their situation from outside... and say, ‘How sad!’ But they looked at it from inside of it and said, ‘How wonderful!’”

Just so, this book invites the reader to enter bodily experience—their own physical bodies, the body that is the Church and the body that is the earth—and to praise the “master craftsman” who “could make such a marvel as the human body.”

You can order RECLAIMING THE BODY IN CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

REMAINING CATHOLIC: Six Good Reasons for Staying in an Imperfect Church, by the Rev. Martin Pable, O.F.M.Cap. ACTA Publications. 128 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. A licensed psychotherapist and longtime religion writer for The Detroit News, he is founding director of Care of the Soul (www.careofthesoul.org).

“IMPERFECT PEOPLE, imperfect Church” could sum up Martin Pable’s book that lists six reasons for remaining Catholic. With a preface, six chapters and a conclusion, the author, a Capuchin priest and retreat director at St. Anthony’s Retreat Center in Marathon, Wisconsin, presents readers with reasons to remain Catholic or consider returning to the Church.

Listed are the benefits: finding happiness and union with God in partnership with others rather than in isolation (community); connecting to the original community of Jesus (tradition and history); encountering Christ in the world through the seven sacraments (sacraments); assurance that the Church has a solid tradition of teaching and developing doctrine down through the ages (Scripture); collaboration of leaders and the faithful in building and bonding a community with a mission worthy of living out (stewardship and mission); and reconciling voices among people who are imperfect members comprising the Church (saints and sinners).

From the Church’s own history and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pable pulls points that buttress his six reasons for remaining Catholic. These are coupled with his own personal stories, along with tales of converts from other denominations, including Protestant pastors and teachers like former Presbyterian seminary teacher Scott Hahn (Rome Sweet Home, Ignatius, 1993) and Jeff Cavins (My Life on the Rock: A Rebel Returns to His Faith (Ascension Press, 2000, revised 2002). The conversion of Alex Jones and his African-American Pentecostal parishioners is also told to demonstrate the long history of Catholicism’s roots.

The Catholic Church has encountered severe scrutiny from the media this past decade, and some Catholics have left the Church and others are thinking about leaving. Like the good pastor he is, Pable asks Catholics to consider again before departing this imperfect Church and to remember this: “The Church is made up of human, sinful persons: therefore, it is always in need of purification, renewal and even reform. Until the end of time, the Church will never be fully what Christ intended it to be. It will always be a ‘pilgrim Church,’ traveling along on the road to holiness but often veering off course and then returning to the road.”

While giving good reasons for remaining Catholic, the author provides a primer on Catholicism as he traces the Church’s history, outlines each of the sacraments and reminds readers of a Church that is human and sinful.

Pable concludes with a quotation from Sahara Desert contemplative Carlo Carretto, a critic of the Church’s complacency and clericalism, who still maintained his love and loyalty toward the Church: “I shall never leave this Church, founded on so frail a rock; because I would be founding another on an even frailer rock: myself.”

Although I started the book unsure if there were convincing reasons why Catholics should remain in the Church, in the end Pable sold me on his six reasons.

You can order REMAINING CATHOLIC: Six Good Reasons for Staying in an Imperfect Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

PADRE: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano, by Mario T. García. Capra Press (155 Canon View Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108, phone 805-969-0203, www.capra press.com). 233 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.

THIS ENGAGING and well-written biography of an 87-year-old Friar Minor in California touches on most of the key issues affecting the Catholic Church and American society today.

Mario García, professor of history and Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has known Father Virgil for many years and eventually coaxed him into 40 hours of audiotaped interviews, the basis for this biography.

In the Acknowledgments section, Father Virgil writes, “I pray that you, the reader, as you read my story may also reflect upon the meaning of your own journey and discover, as I have, why we should be grateful for our past, how to be aware of the meaning of the present, and reasons to be hopeful for the future.”

García describes Cordano as “a shining example of everything that is good about the Catholic Church.”

Except for six and a half years (mostly for graduate studies), Cordano has lived since 1934 at Mission Santa Barbara as a student, professor of Scripture, head of its Mission Theological Seminary, guardian of the friary, pastor of the mission’s parish for 18 years and now head of its public relations office.

A Father Virgil Cordano Chair in Catholic Studies was recently established at UC Santa Barbara, where he has taught courses over the years. In recent years he has been very active in adult education classes, plus many civic, ecumenical and interfaith initiatives.

“If I could go back and re-do my novitiate,” says Cordano, “and for that matter my entire seminary training, especially in light of the changes of Vatican II, I would stress a better comprehension of the God who loves us.”

Many will resonate with his later observations: “I grew spiritually thanks to some very painful changes” and “Nothing is more important than spiritual growth. That’s the whole purpose of life.”

The book concludes with 19 pages of selected writings—reflections and prayers for various occasions within Father Virgil’s very rich and fruitful life.

You can order PADRE: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

MAY CROWNING, MASS, AND MERTON: And Other Reasons I Love Being Catholic, by Liz Kelly. Loyola Press. 192 pp. $13.95.

Reviewed by STEVEN R. McEVOY, a part-time student in religious studies and theology at St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. A Catholic, Steven used to be on the staff of The Navigators of Canada, a nondenominational campus ministry, and was responsible for student and staff development.

THIS IS A fascinating little volume, part meditation, part biography and part theology. Liz Kelly opens up to us her life and her faith, which can help us understand our own faith and tradition better. She examines the things, traditions, places and people that are a source of encouragement, challenge and trial to her faith, and allows us to see Catholicism in a new light.

As she states in her prologue: “One: It’s hard. Being Catholic has taught me about balance and prudence and the deep joys of daily discipline and commitment....Two: It’s hard. Sometimes it is painful to be Catholic, not because rules and regulations so often associated with being Catholic are so restrictive, but because the love of heaven leads us to fearless expansiveness....”

Yes, being Catholic can be hard but, as Kelly shows us, it has much in the way of consolation and rewards to make the hardships worth the effort.

Kelly has separated her book into five roughly equal parts that examine different aspects of the Catholic tradition: Objects With Meaning, Those Who Journey With Us, Devotion in Practice, Truths That Bring Grace and Rhythms of the Faith.

In each of these areas she examines different elements and examples of people, places, things, beliefs and practices that are means of grace in our lives.

In the first section, as she examines such elements as the crucifix, holy water, incense, the rosary and kneelers, she helps us to focus our faith on what matters most. She states: “I don’t think heaven needs my burning candle any more than it needs holy water or incense. Sacramentals are for us, because we are sensory beings, and symbolism and sacramentals help infuse the spiritual into other planes of our experience—physical, emotional, mental.”

In exploring these items she points to the grace inherent in each to draw us closer to God. They are not as ends in themselves, but means to an end.

Looking at the lives of some of those who journey with us in this quest for faith and a life in God, Kelly shares examples of saints and people of faith whose stories can be a source of challenge, inspiration and encouragement in our own journey with God. In writing about Pope John Paul II, Kelly says: “This picture is famous now, Pope John Paul II and his would-be assassin, sitting together in intimate conversation two years after the incident. The Holy Father leaning toward the man with gentle attention.... He was unafraid of the vulnerability created by living in forgiveness, of sitting in total love with the enemy.”

Later, while reflecting on the communion of saints, Kelly reminds us of our own call to be saints: “Most saints did not have easy lives. Many were persecuted and martyred. They were an odd lot, many of them outcasts who experienced every kind of human suffering and weakness. And many of them began as ordinary folks like you and me.”

She also reminds us that our service is to be done for God: “Like many of the saints of the church, [Blessed] Pier Giorgio [Frassati] seemed to lead two lives, not contradictory lives, but one that people observed and one that was hidden.” So too our lives should bear silent witness to the work of God in and through us.

Through these examples and many more that Kelly presents, she shows a faith that is rich, vibrant and challenging. This book’s greatest strength is the devotion in which it was written and its aim of finding peace in the journey of life. Peace ultimately can come only from God, but we have a gracious God who has given us many tools to help us along our path. This book is one such tool, for it reveals to us many other tools that God has provided.

You can order MAY CROWNING, MASS, AND MERTON: And Other Reasons I Love Being Catholic from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

SUSTAINING HEART IN THE HEARTLAND: Exploring Rural Spirituality, edited by Miriam Brown, O.P. Paulist Press. 183 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by MARION AMBERG, a freelance writer for this publication and many others.

WHEN I FINISHED reading this book, I was ready to move back to the farm—not because I longed to pick rock or walk the bean fields of my youth, but because of the ingenuity and fortitude of the farmers and rural ministers profiled. The Spirit is blowing—both on the land and in people’s hearts.

Edited by Sister Miriam Brown, O.P., this book was written by an ecumenical team of six—a Catholic sister, two Presbyterian ministers, one United Methodist minister, a farmer who is a Catholic lay minister and a rural Extension agent. It is the culmination of many years of dialogue on rural spirituality. The project was initiated by the Churches’ Center for Land and People in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin.

The book, which is divided into three parts, examines the soul of rural spirituality, explores the intricate network of rural and small-town relationships, and prods rural churches to “fight the good fight” for family farms.

Written for people involved in rural ministry (a must-read for any city-slicker pastor who gets assigned to a rural parish), the book’s most informative and inspiring chapters are on alternative farm movements and grassroots organizations, such as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and Beginning Farmers programs.

Biblical stewardship of the land (dominion, not domination) is a recurring theme. More and more farmers are choosing life—not only for the land but also for us—and are producing food that is chemical-free. Deciding to respect the earth as “holy ground” isn’t always easy. One farmer, afraid of what neighbors might say if he went organic, pulled his empty herbicide and pesticide tanks behind the tractor for several years. He eventually came clean when he saw that nature’s way really worked!

Said a farmer’s wife about their stewardship conversion: “It’s become common to say ‘farming is a business,’ but...we look at things spiritually. We need to take care of what we have for future generations.”

Rural ministry isn’t just urban ministry with cows and crops added. Conflict often arises among people who know each other personally, and it takes guts to take a stand. When one Nebraska pastor learned that “big pork” (mega-hog facilities) was coming to his area, he took to the pulpit, boldly declaring morality and solidarity. He lost both parishioners and financial support. But farmers organized and learned that corporate farming doesn’t own the power. Then they began speaking to other communities faced with a similar threat.

While I found some of the suggestions for rural pastors and lay clergy a bit fluffy and elementary (but then I’m farm-raised and often travel to rural areas on magazine assignments), the book is loaded with resources and Web sites. For example, the Rev. Karl Goodfellow, a United Methodist minister, founded Safety Net Prayer Ministry, an organization that recruits people to pray for individual farmers during the hazardous harvest season. A “Lectionary of the Seasons” and “Prayers and Rituals for Sustaining Heart” round out the book.

Sustaining Heart in the Heartland does just that. Rural clergy of all faiths, people new to rural or small-town life and even former farm kids will find this book good food for thought.

You can order SUSTAINING HEART IN THE HEARTLAND: Exploring Rural Spirituality from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Strength in Sickness

Cancer, chronic pain and illness challenge our belief in a good God. These three inspiring books come from Christians who have been through this refining fire. Their short chapters are the perfect length.

PEACE IN THE STORM: Meditations on Chronic Pain and Illness, by Maureen Pratt (Galilee/Doubleday, 323 pp., $12.95). Pratt suffers from lupus, vasculitis and fibromyalgia, among other illnesses, but has managed to keep her spirit from being crushed. She discusses ways to keep spirituality in health care and shows how to use doubt, fear, anger and denial positively.

HOLY VULNERABILITY: A Spiritual Path for Those with Cancer, by the Rev. Donna Schaper (ACTA Publications, 92 pp., $9.95). This pastor of a Congregational Church in Massachusetts and frequent book reviewer for this magazine is a survivor of breast cancer. She stresses how facing the reality of cancer head-on can bring unexpected blessings. She includes spiritual exercises, 20 prayers for those with cancer and a comprehensive bibliography.

GRACE FOR EACH HOUR: Through the Breast Cancer Journey, by Mary J. Nelson (Bethany House, 266 pp., $12.99). The diagnosis of breast cancer posed this Lutheran woman two choices: face it on her own or trust the Lord. She chose a path of spiritual awakening. Now in 120 devotions, she reassures women that they are not alone, that “the God who made you will never fail you.”


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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