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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Spirituality of the Christian East, A Systematic Handbook, Volume One by Tomás Spidlík SJ; translated by Anthony P. Gythiel (Cistercian Publications) Prayer: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2 by Tomás Spidlík SJ, translated by Anthony P. Gythiel Cistercian Publications) Professor-emeritus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute at Rome, Tomas Spidlík dedicated his scholarly life to studying and teaching the theology and spirituality of the Christian East in the hope of reconciling Eastern and Western Christian traditions. In this encyclopaedic overview of Eastern spiritual teaching he has created a bridge by which Western Christians may pass over centuries of misunderstanding and obliviousness. This second volume on Eastern Christian spirituality amplifies in depth the final two chapters of the earlier The Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook. Like Cassian in writing his Conferences, Cardinal Spidlík does not advocate any particular pattern of prayer, but sets out faithfully to collect and share the teachings of generations of eastern monks and spiritual writers. More

Loving Jesus by Mark Allan Powell (Augsburg Fortress Publishers) In this biblical spirituality for today, Powell's earnest plea is for Christians to revisit their faith not by blazing in religious enthusiasm but by harboring a steadier flame and deeper commitment. Living at the poetic heart of faith, he argues, entails seeing the coordinates of religious life—love, under-standing, truth, hope, and especially devotion—in a new way. Powell espouses the old-fashioned idea of piety. Drawing on his wide knowledge of the Bible and Christian tradition, as well as insights from his own journey, he shows how simple religious practices move us beyond the old certitudes of a naïve and youthful faith into the less certain but more bracing terrain of a second naïveté, a closer walk with Jesus.

T he essence of spirituality is loving God. The Bible, the Talmud, and the Qur'an all direct their followers not merely to believe in God, to trust God, to obey God, or to serve God . . . but to love God. Spirituality may be more than this, but it can be nothing apart from this.

Many people today seem to be interested in becoming "more spiritual," and there is an abundance of spiritual advisors who help people with their inner lives. Oprah Winfrey has featured a regular segment on her television program called "Caring for Your Spirit." As near as I can tell, she and others like her offer good tips for pursuing the spiritual life (for becoming "more spiritual"). Yet I want to say this: when caring for the spirit, do not neglect the heart. 'What your spirit needs most is to love. Our spirits, our innermost beings, our true selves, yearn to love the God who made them. Satisfying spirituality, I believe, is found when the spirit and the heart come together as one and our innermost being is imbued with the capacity for adoration and ardor that the heart is so adept at providing.

When people say that they want to be "more spiritual," what exactly do they mean? They probably have some idea regarding how spiritual people talk or act or think and they want to be more like that themselves—but there's more. They want to be changed within. They don't just want to copy the way

spiritual people act or talk or think; they want to be spiritual people them-selves, transformed from the inside out. What they want, I think, is to love God. Richard Foster says that true spirituality "comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love."' The reason spiritual people act and talk and think the way they do is that they love God. Becoming people who love God is the only reliable path to being more spiritual. Loving God transforms people from within and connects them to something eternal and ultimate.

People also say that they want inner peace. They feel disconnected from a world where so much seems to be superficial. The routines and rituals of daily life become ways of passing time while something deep within yearns for life to be more meaningful. There is an element of fear. The most meaningful aspects of our lives are often our relationships, and these are fragile. Friendships sour, marriages end. People move away and lose touch. And people die. Even people we care about and depend upon. They die, and someday we will die. So how can our hearts find peace? The Bible speaks of a peace that "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) and of a joy that yields contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13). Such joy and peace are the result of loving God, a consequence of being in a relationship with a God whom we have come to know as a real being who inspires our devotion and affection.

For Christians, such devotion is often directed to Jesus Christ, through whom God is made known. Christians may describe themselves as people who "follow Jesus" or who "believe in Jesus"; such expressions, however, can be euphemisms for what they really mean but avoid saying because the language is so intimate. Christians are people who love Jesus. Indeed, the Bible practically defines Christians as people "who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 6:24).

The Christian faith is not just a religion (a system of rituals and beliefs), but a relationship—a relationship of love with Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead. When this basic point is missed, the Christian religion becomes hollow and staid. Jesus warned against a day when the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:12) and, in a memorable passage from the book of Revelation, he told a church, "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance . . . but I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first" (Revelation 2:2, 4). When Christianity is not, first and fore-most, a relationship of love, it becomes a matter of works and toil and patient endurance—all worthwhile, perhaps, but a far cry from the spiritual experience of joy and peace that it is supposed to be.

But how do we do it? Love God? Love Jesus? How do we even know whether we are doing it or not? Can we direct the ways of our heart? Can we learn to love? There are many good books by Christians that deal with faith as a relationship with Jesus, books written from many different perspectives (liberal/conservative, Protestant/Catholic, and so on). Billy Graham talks about accepting Jesus, Marcus Borg about meeting him (again, for the first time). I am more concerned with loving him. How do we do that?

People who love God claim that they are in a spiritual relationship with the Lord and Creator of the universe. People who love Jesus say that they are in a spiritual relationship with the Son of God who lived, died, and rose from the dead. Such daims may strike many people as odd or even as fanatical, and sometimes the people who make such daims are not ideal role models, not the sort of people we would want to be. Still, there is something undeniably appealing about it—the notion of being in a relationship with God or Jesus. We should at least note what the Bible says about those who love Jesus and the God whom Jesus makes known: they are loved back (John 14:21; 16:27); indeed, they inevitably come to discover that God has loved them first (1 John 4:19).

Testimony: The Word Made Fresh by Daniel Berrigan, John Dear (Orbis Books) From Publishers Weekly: Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who has spent his life preaching non-violence and care for the poor, offers more than 40 short essays and excerpts from his writings on peace and justice. Highlights include chapters on the peacemaking activities of fellow workers Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton, Archbishop Romero and the author’s brother, Philip Berrigan. This last essay includes hard-hitting criticism of the media’s non-coverage of pacifists; Berrigan condemns "the studied silence of those who purportedly exist to inform the public." The book’s final section discusses how Christians can remain Christians in a war-making state, and includes a moving poem that Berrigan penned in 2001 when U.S. Catholic bishops approved Bush’s war in Afghanistan. Although the book’s foreword by fellow Jesuit John Dear gives a fine introduction to Berrigan’s life and mission, there is no introduction explaining the goal of this book or the origins of these sermons and essays. The book simply jumps right in with Berrigan’s rumination on the "swords and plowshares" passage from Isaiah 2. Readers who are already familiar with Berrigan’s work will not consider this a problem, but beginners will wish for more context. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West by Gordon Mursell (Fortress) major, fully illustrated book, the great riches of the Christian spiritual tradition are revealed to both the general reader and the student.

Drawing from East and West, the authors present a full and fascinating picture of humanity’s desire for the divine—across the centuries. Highlighting the contribution of key individuals, this volume explores the ways in which Christians from the earliest times to the present day have sought to express and live out the deepest truths of their faith.

--Introduction --The Early Church Fathers --Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Spirituality --Saints and Mystics of the Medieval West --The Eastern Christian Tradition --The Russian Spirit --The Protestant Tradition in Europe --Catholic Saints and Reformers --The Anglican Spirit --The Protestant Tradition in America --Spiritualities of the Twentieth Century –Epilogue --Further Reading

Beautifully illustrated throughout, The Story of Christian Spirituality is a readable and vivid guide to the spiritual riches of one of the world’s most influential religions. This beautiful and highly informative book provides the historical development of Christianity to both the student and serious religious reader.  Designed as an introductory textbook it has production properties that makes it also a fine gift book too.


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