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Winter Books



Fall has fallen, students and teachers are back in school and all good readers are back to the books in earnest: one more proof that God is good.

Satan and the Saint: Chronicles of the Life of Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, by Alex LaPerchia (Sterling House, 40 Friday Rd., Pittsburgh PA 15209; 149 pages, $17.95 paperback), examines the life of the curé of Ars, the patron saint of parish priests, and uses as source materials the official church records used in the process of his canonization.

The author sees Vianney as intimately bound to the church’s life and mission today. The saintly pastor is said to have received directions to Ars from a boy on the road to whom he said, “You have shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to heaven.” I sent my copy off to a young man in a seminary named for the saint with hopes that he will listen to the saintly voice on his own journey.

A Taste of Silence: A Guide to the Fundamentals of Centering Prayer (Continuum, 197 pages, $14.95 paperback), by Fr. Carl Arico of the Newark archdiocese, was written to show that the unitive or contemplative way is not reserved for a select few, but is a normal development in the life of sincere followers of Christ. Arico is a fine writer, and his text is both inviting and helpful.

Monastic Journey to India (Beacon Point Press, P.O. 460, Junction City OR 97448; 178 pages, $13.95 paperback) is Trappist Fr. M. Basil Pennington’s experience of communion among Christians, Buddhists and Hindus as he made a pilgrimage in India some 18 years ago. Fans who missed it the first time will be glad to read his journal in this second edition.

Here All Dwell Free: Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine, by Gertrud Mueller Nelson (Paulist, 364 pages, $23.95 paperback), with illustrations by the author, is an extended unfolding of the truth told in fairy tales. Nelson writes that mythic language “for us complicated adults (never for children) may need translation and pondering if its wisdom is to soak through our guarded hearts and hand up nourishment to our outer lives.” That sentence is an example, I think, of her wise intent and her lovely style.

Changing Lives Through Literature, edited by Robert P. Waxler and Jean R. Trounstine (University of Notre Dame Press, 342 pages, paperback), is an anthology that includes work by James Baldwin, Alice Walker, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Raymond Carver and others. The purpose is to demonstrate the healing power of literature and its ability to transform lives.

The book was designed to be used in a program in which criminal offenders examine the work of contemporary authors and, through discussion, gain insight on how their lives might be changed. Good idea, good book, good selections and discussion starters that might be of interest to those who believe that stories can save us.

At Home with Dying: A Zen Hospice Approach (Shambhala Publications, 240 pages, $15 paperback) is by Merrill Collett, who lived four years at the San Francisco Zen center while working as a volunteer caregiver at the Zen Hospice Project. His practical compassion in the presence of death may be just the ticket for those who wish to learn better to be present to those who are dying.

The Human Couple in the Fathers (Pauline, Patristic Series 1, 361 pages, $24.95 paperback), with an introduction and notes by Giulia Sfameni Gasparro, Cesare Magazzù and Concetta Aloe Spada, translated by Thomas Halton, examines patristic texts about the human couple and the matrimonial structure of the first centuries of Christianity. The authors include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Paulinus of Nola and John Chrysostom. This is sure to be a text welcomed by any number of scholars and other interested persons.

Also of interest will be The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries [100-800], by Gerard Vallé (Paulist, 265 pages, $21.95 paperback), which guides readers to a better understanding of the patristic era and illuminates how developments of the past give insight unto current Christian life and practice. This volume is an introductory text and will surely be welcomed in classrooms and by others who seek an introduction to the formative centuries of Christianity.

Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, by Arthur C. Jones (Orbis, 182 pages, $14 paperback), considers both the African roots of the spirituals and their significance as an art form and a unique, powerful expression of culture. Those who know and love the tradition as well as those with little knowledge but some curiosity will find here an invitation to deeper understanding and spiritual transformation of self and society.

Ours, oddly, is a world in which people fight wars and slaughter others because of battles fought by their ancestors four hundred years ago. So I invited Tom Klonoski, probably the most prodigious reader in all of Cooper City, Fla., to take a look at How Children Understand War and Peace: A Call For International Peace Education (Jossey Bass, Inc., April 1999, 342 pages $44.95 hardcover) in which Amiram Raviv, Louis Oppenheimer and Daniel Bar-Tal edit scholarly essays by an international panel of experts in the field of psychology.

The essayists address questions of how children and adolescents develop, and how they understand war. This is, writes Klonoski, an important book, tracing a child’s movement from fear and horror of war to acceptance and, finally, willing participation.

The second part of the book offers an international perspective on how the teaching of conflict resolution and peacemaking skills in schools can create a more peaceful world. Klonoski notes that this is all very good, although this scholarly text seems to present skills as ends for self-preservation only. The essays’ authors offer no spirituality in calling for reform, thus seeming to promote the idea that war is not so much evil as extremely naughty conduct that can be corrected through proper enlightenment.

The Klonoski caveat aside, this book, addressed to psychologists and educators, presents ideas that can be distilled for profitable discussion by larger audience.

I gave a copy of The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns, by Robert A. Emmons (The Guilford Press, 72 Spring St., New York N.Y.10012; 230 pages, $30 hardbound), to a colleague, Dominican Sr. Catherine C. Waters, who coordinates the master of arts degree program in counseling psychology at Caldwell College.

She writes that in recent years many have observed or lamented the absence of spirituality in the study of psychology. Meanwhile, some studies suggest that 90 to 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a higher power. Popular literature mirrors the second phenomenon more than the first. Bestseller lists regularly reflect the appeal of works on spiritual issues. Why this gap? Psychology has, with few exceptions, historically eschewed the inclusion of what cannot be demonstrated scientifically. This may have been its search for credibility as a legitimate science. Only in the last decade have we begun to see spirituality come out of the psychological closet.

Emmons offers a new and valuable contribution to fill the void, a text well researched in more than one area of psychology as well as theology. He draws upon the works of such giants as Paul Tillich, Gordon Allport and Henry Murray, along with his own vast research to examine spirituality as reflected in the notion of transcendence. The learned reader will hear echoes of Erik Erickson, Abraham Maslow and Victor Frankl as well.

Emmons comfortably weaves theology and spirituality with research on goal development and achievement, religiosity and well-being. Case material and reports of his earlier research (in particular in Chapter Five, “Spiritual Strivings”) alert the reader to his care and precision, and thus of the worth of the present book.

Although he allows for religion’s role in creating conflict, even fragmentation in one’s spiritual development, the skeptic may find the somewhat limited mention to suggest bias. Yet the research is quite comprehensive, and the author has ably achieved his goal of creating a robust case for the role of spiritual strivings in the development of a healthy personality and a good life.

This is not a book, Waters concludes, for bedtime reading. Rather, it is a highly readable resource for the seeker, the academician and the psychology practitioner interested in the role of spirituality in personal development. In this work, Emmons joins others who exhort psychologists to become increasingly aware that spiritually motivated people have a particular view of themselves, the future and their world. This book can be a valuable tool in understanding.

Ann Rieck is a bright and engaging adult student at Caldwell College currently in Jerusalem, enrolled in the Tantur Ecumenical Center’s scholar-in-residence program until March 2000. Before her departure for her second stay there, I invited her to look at Ecumenism: Present Realities and Future Prospects, Papers Read at the Tantur Ecumenical Center, Jerusalem, 1997, edited by Lawrence S. Cunningham (University of Notre Dame Press, 183 pages).

Rieck notes that this slim volume consists of papers presented at Tantur in 1997 on the 25th anniversary of its founding by Pope Paul VI. The book is a valuable and rewarding collection of presentations that assess the current state of the ecumenical movement. The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds each having extensive experience in the ecumenical movement and each bringing a wealth of understanding and sensitivity to the subject.

By addressing the issues surrounding the progress, or in some cases the lack of progress, these scholars discuss whether we have moved toward greater unity or are still quibbling over language and bogged down by divides that prevent the Christian community from being a sign of God’s presence in the world. These and other issues are addressed as the reader is given a synthesis of church history and the schisms that have resulted in the splintering of a once united church.

Anyone interested in a quick analysis of how we got into this divided state would be greatly rewarded and enlightened by this collection that also gives an excellent overview and analysis of where the ecumenical movement is going and the challenges it faces for the future. Cardinal Edward Cassidy makes the best case for continuing an ecumenical dialogue when he states, “For the churches to come divided to a broken world is to undermine their credibility when they claim to have a ministry of unity and reconciliation.”

Fr. William Graham’s Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study has been published by University Press of America. His e-mail address is ncrbkshelf@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999