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An Eternal Amen
A Review of
Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World
Paperback: Oxford University, 2018
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Reviewed by June Mears Driedger
Popular Catholic writer and psychologist Robert J. Wicks offers a map for persons in healing professions (clergy, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers) to be resilient in their work or ministry. In the prologue Wicks shares an anecdote that sets the book title and the nature of his work:
During a presentation to ministers, a lecturer asked an intended rhetorical question, “What do you think is the core of your work?” But before he could proceed, surprisingly, one of the clerics in the audience yelled out, “Helping people through the night.”
He then defines resiliency psychology which undergirds the entire book:
Resiliency psychology: The process of not only assisting people to bounce back from adversity but also setting the stage for them, as well as the helpers themselves, to become deeper persons as a result of the very challenges they are facing. (Prologue)
Wicks has written more than 50 books for both professionals and the general public, including, Bounce: Living the Resilient Life; Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm; and Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times. He encourages readers to engage in healthy self-care, maintaining a healthy perspective on life and oneself, and expanding one’s resiliency range. This book moves beyond his previous works with an explicit invitation for readers to employ specific practices which ultimately create a more meaningful life. These practices are not limited to helping professionals but for anyone who desires to live a good life. He writes from his life as a psychologist but also as a spouse, father, grandfather, and friend.
The book is divided into chapters that Wicks describes as “quiet lessons.” These lessons range from “mining the fruits of personal failure” (chapter 2) to “profile of a future mentor” (chapter 5). Each chapter includes Wicks ruminations on the lesson topic, several reflection questions, and how-to integrate this lesson into ordinary life. He concludes the book with a lengthy appendix outlining a five-day self-directed resiliency retreat. However, if a weeklong retreat isn’t possible, each chapter could be the basis for a day retreat or evening reflection time.
Wicks suggests that the reader not feel compelled to read the book from beginning to end but to skim the table of contents and if a particular topic captures the reader to begin with that chapter. He describes the chapters—or, lessons—to
…be like a series of teachings from a mentor sitting across from you with whom you are meeting as a way of enhancing the experience of your own life. How the lessons are adopted and integrated will be up to you. (Prologue)
His invitation indicates a trust in the reader to read what they need at the appropriate time.
Throughout the book Wicks encourages readers to take time for solitude and silence even if it as a solo walk after work but before reconnecting with loved ones in the evening. During these times of silence and solitude the reader is invited to “take the space to reflect and decompress … to let the ‘psychological dust’ to settle.” According to Wicks, these periods of silence and solitude help cultivate an inner spaciousness and creates a healthy detachment from those who are in pain clamoring for attention. He writes, “… having taken time to have space within myself, allowed me to open up a space for [others] to vent their feelings of helplessness and anger at their terrible situations.” (56)
Wicks reminds readers that pacing oneself in one’s professional and personal life is not a form of running away, rather it is a way of respecting the fact that the self is limited and can only manage a certain level of pain in others around them.
Another practice, or lesson, Wicks encourages throughout the book is mediation. He draws on the experiences of Buddhist teachers and teachers of contemplative prayer like Henri Nouwen. The activity of the meditation is two-fold according to Wicks: 1) to empty ourselves of our ego (or false self), and, 2) to develop a heart of gratitude. Doing so builds resilience to be available to others in pain. As we engage in these disciplines—solitude and silence, meditation and centering prayer—we are able to be both open and to let go. These practices enable the reader to release the compulsion to “grasp” material possessions, our identities, and our ways of interacting with others that might include trying to rescue everyone.
He reminds readers that, “Inner freedom is an ongoing process, not a once-and-for-all accomplishment.” The ultimate purpose of engaging in these lessons is to live a good life. Wicks quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
What I look for is not how to gain a firm hold on myself and on life, but primarily how to live a life that would deserve and evoke an eternal Amen. (132, quoting from The Wisdom of Heschel)
Wicks is a warm, thoughtful writer with practical examples and suggestions for the reader to integrate the practices in one’s life. He speaks plainly and never flaunts his education and experience but gently and humbly invites readers to join him in living a life that evokes an eternal Amen.
June Mears Driedger is a writer and spiritual director in Lansing, Michigan. She blogs at JuneMearsDriedger.com.