Presence and Process:
A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community
Daniel P. Coleman
Paperback: Barclay Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Josina Guess
First Confession: I did not know that Process Theology was a thing until I read this book. In an interview with Tripp York on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast, Daniel Coleman said that he was looking for “Process Theology for Dummies” when he set out to write this book. Presence and Process does a concise job of introducing and distilling thoughts and concepts that are usually confined to academic circles. Coleman’s thorough research and careful gleaning of a wide variety of quotes from monks, nuns and masters throughout the ages offer lay readers lots of helpful nuggets of truth and could whet a reader’s appetite for deeper exploration. I still got a bit bogged down by the jargon, but appreciated that there were practical suggestions rooted in Christian teaching.
Second Confession: I went through a phase when I wanted to distance myself from people, like the author, that called themselves “Buddhist Quakers.” In my intention to be an honest-to-God-pure Christian I feared that I might slip down that oh so slippery slope. I’m glad Daniel Coleman, (who incidentally studied religion at the Earlham School of Religion on the same campus where I was an undergrad at Earlham College) wrote this book and shared how he and many people who have left mainstream churches have found that Buddhism has been a path that has led them closer to Jesus and deeper into contemplative Christian practice. Jesus reminds us that perfect love casts out all fear. Practices that can lead individuals and communities into deeper serenity, acceptance, love and kindness may be a healthy antidote to the judgement, polarization and rigidity that too often characterize modern Christianity.
Third Confession: I did not read this entire book cover to cover, but I am going to hold on to it and return to it in small doses. Over the past few months it has remained on my bedside table as a gentle encouragement to stay open and present through a move, a work transition, some health troubles and the holiday hubbub; it has come into some conversations with friends, encouraged me to re-establish an intentional practice of silent prayer and reminded me to look with thankfulness and deeper acceptance of my own Quaker heritage. One could say that it was the Holy Spirit that did all of that, but I think that books are helpful instruments to keep us listening and aware.
I hope readers will accept these humble confessions and also take the time to receive the gift that Coleman offers to the world through this new and timely book. As mindfulness and meditation have become ubiquitous buzzwords in our culture Presence and Process offers a brief history of the rise of Buddhist practice in the west and the centuries of contemplative practice in Christianity going all the way back to the words of Jesus himself. Readers will see that mindfulness is not new, new age-y or non-Christian. As he says at the end of the book an embrace of individual and corporate meditative practice may bring the spiritual renewal, wholeness “existential grounding…transformative faith and inclusive community that [we] have long been seeking.”
Josina Guess has written for several print and online publications. She and her family lived for six and half years at Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian service community. They just moved into an old farmhouse down the road and she is still a worship leader at Jubilee. She blogs every now and then about things like parenting, chickens, race, and faith at http://josinaskitchentable.blogspot.com/