Archives For Contemplation

 

The Power of Identity

 

A Review of

The Sacred Gaze: Contemplation and the Healing of the Self

Susan Pitchford

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2014
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

 

Reviewed by Scott E. Schul

 

Every April 12 I relive the horror of my daughter’s concussion. The head trauma happened the day before, during a seemingly harmless gym class volleyball match, but it was on the 12th when the symptoms fully manifested. That morning in school she began passing out and slurring her words.  She was unable to balance herself and, most terrifyingly, lost a significant amount of her memory. Her brain tried to address the trauma it had suffered by retreating to a safe place in her past. Her voice, tone, and vocabulary took the shape of young girl rather than the high school student she was. In the hospital we reunited her with her beloved cell phone, hoping the many photos and texts would jog her memory. But instead, she looked at me in a mixture of fear and confusion and said in her now-childlike voice, “Daddy, who are all these people in my phone?” In losing her memory, my daughter had lost more than just the identity of her closest friends. She had lost her own identity as well.

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C.D.C. Reeve - Action, Contemplation, HappinessQuestioning the Divide between Contemplation and Action

A Review of

Action, Contemplation, and Happiness: An Essay on Aristotle

C.D.C. Reeve

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Daniel Greeson.

Professor C.D.C. Reeve is the Delta Kappa Epsilon Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina and is one of the preeminent contemporary interpreters of ancient Greek philosophy. He has not only published new and updated translations of Plato and Aristotle but has also contributed many important interpretative works that continue to break new light upon well-trod texts essential to the western intellectual tradition. His most recent contribution, Action, Contemplation, and Happiness: An Essay on Aristotle, is a welcome addition to his already burgeoning corpus.

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Brief Review of

Prayers for Today:

A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer

by Kurt Bjorklund

Paperback: Moody Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Douglas Connelly

Kurt Bjorklund, the pastor of Orchard Hill Church, outside of Pittsburgh, has done a masterful job of putting together a book of daily prayers.  If you use one page a day, five days a week, it will carry you through a calendar year (260 days).  I used it for a couple months, but chose to read two or three pages a day on a particular theme.  The beauty of the book is that the reader can use it in several different ways and any way brings spiritual direction and depth to the time we spend in quiet meditation and prayer.

Ten themes of prayer are rotated systematically through the pages: Prayers of Thanksgiving, Prayers of Confession, Prayers of Affirmation, Prayers of Petition, and so on.  I spent several days reading just the Prayers of Renewal because I sensed the need in my own life for a renewal of passion and love for God.  I found each page and even each prayer speaking to me in the area of my need.

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“Single-minded Devotion to God’s Kingdom”

A review of
??Sanctuary of the Soul:
Journey into Meditative Prayer

by Richard J. Foster

Review by Craig D. Katzenmiller.


SANCTUARY OF THE SOUL - Richard FosterSanctuary of the Soul:
Journey into Meditative Prayer

Richard J. Foster
Hardback: IVP Books, 2011.
Buy now:
[ ChristianBook.com ] [ Amazon – Kindle ]

“Sometimes I wish these stinking monks would get out in the world and do something!” My friend’s outburst caught me off guard. Kyle and I had visited the Abbey of Gethsemani together two times prior to this trip, and the experience had always been refreshing. On this day, Kyle, who has been accepted to work with a peace organization in Palestine, was trying to understand what good monks offered to the real world. “I don’t think I could live that way,” Kyle confided to me. The cloistered paradise of rural Kentucky just didn’t jive with his desire to “be the change.” I tried to defend the monks’ vocation by saying that they offered prayers for the world and offered the world a place to pray, but Kyle wasn’t buying it. He barked in frustration, “They’re just running away from real life.” Thus was the subject of conversation on our third pilgrimage to Gethsemani. But the vocation of prayer should not be considered as flight away from the things of this world, and many authors have affirmed this claim.

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“A Renewed Appreciation
of God’s Love for his People

A Review of
Julian of Norwich:
A Contemplative Biography.

By Amy Frykholm
.

Reviewed by Mary Bowling.

Julian of Norwich:
A Contemplative Biography.

Amy Frykholm
.
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Julian of Norwich by Amy FrykhomWhy a “contemplative biography” instead of just a biography? Maybe just a biography of Julian of Norwich isn’t enough.  For one thing, so little of the actual person is known that to make a biography based only on the facts we have about Julian’s life would be a very short book indeed.  It would also, if it contained only facts about this woman‘s life, be somewhat of a lie in itself. Julian never intended her writing to be about herself or to point back to her in any way. She didn’t seek fame or recognition — quite the opposite. She spent the last many years of her life secluded in an anchorage essentially dead to the world.

So why then any biography at all, if she was an unknown, and such a recluse as to be dead to the world?  That we know almost nothing about her, is certainly as she wished, but we do know one thing. She received a series of revelations from God which she, despite many limitations, managed to write down in words and which became the first book written in the English language by a woman. It was a notable accomplishment, but not one that she sought.
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“Overwhelmed by a sense
of  God’s presence
and breathtaking beauty

A Review of
Present Perfect:
Finding God in the Now
.
By Greg Boyd.

Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown.

Present Perfect:
Finding God in the Now
.
Greg Boyd.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Greg Boyd - Present PerfectIn his new book, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd advocates what he calls, “the most important discipline that you could ever practice” (10).  Drawing upon two monks from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Brother Lawrence and Jean-Pierre de Caussade, as well as a twentieth century evangelical missionary and literacy advocate, Frank Laubach, Boyd defends the need for Christians to practice the presence of God.

To illustrate the need of Christians to be aware of God’s presence, Boyd tells a story of a time he went on a run through the woods to train for an ultra-marathon.  While Boyd ran, his mind focused on the upcoming race and his performance in it.  A few hours into his run, he noticed a cricket chirping.  Boyd then noticed more and more crickets, and then some frogs, bees, and birds.  Boyd then noticed the beauty of the scenery around him and the fragrances.  Boyd says:

The moment felt sacred.  I felt I was waking up to God’s presence permeating all things and reflecting in all things.  It seemed I was, for the first time, waking up to the way the world is supposed to be experienced—the way it really is.  Overwhelmed by this sense of  God’s presence and breathtaking beauty, I began to weep (13).

Boyd uses this story to illustrate how many Christians go through life seemingly unaware of God’s presence around them.  Boyd calls on them to awaken to the “reality . . . that God is present in . . . every moment” (15).

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A Brief Review of

Haiku–The Sacred Art:
A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines
.
Margaret D. McGee.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Haiku has long been one of my favorite forms of poetry: short and simple enough to be written in one sitting, and yet spare; its brevity offering gentle discipline when I often am tempted to wax verbose.  So, I was delighted to find out about Margaret McGee’s recent book Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines, a superb exploration of this poetic form for both beginners and experts alike.  In the book’s introduction, McGee notes that haiku is intended to depict a single image, “a picture in the mind’s eye.”  She describes “the haiku moment” as “a moment when the mind stops and the heart moves.”  Thus, the practice of writing haiku is necessarily a practice of slowing down and of attentiveness, of focusing on a single object and the feelings that it stirs up inside of us.  McGee also emphasizes that haiku is more about the experience than about the final written product.  Drawing on these themes throughout, McGee explores how haiku can become a spiritual, contemplative practice.  Specifically, she focuses on how the experience of haiku captures “the heart of a moment,” how haiku can be a form of prayer, and the ways in which writing and sharing haiku with others can be a rich community-building experience.  The most engaging chapter in the book, however, was McGee’s reflection on combining the practices of haiku and Lectio Divina (a meditative way of reading and reflecting upon scripture; for those unfamiliar, I would highly recommend Tony Jones’s book, Divine Intervention)  Lectio Divina combined with haiku can help us to internalize passages of scripture that we might take them out into the world with us.   “When you carry the words of sacred texts out into the world with you,” she says, “and look with attention, you may see the words reflected back to you in the common events and objects of daily life” (92).  Practices of internalizing scripture have been well-known among monastics (and other faithful ones) for centuries – and especially in the era before the printing press made texts widely available – but McGee’s thought to combine haiku with reflection upon scripture is one that will undoubtedly be kicking around my head for a long while.  One of the book’s final chapters reflects the “presentation” aspect of how haiku are written, specifically how they can be incorporated with pictures or prose.

Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines is a rich little book, calling us into practices of attention and reflection that are lost arts in most corners of mainstream American culture.  I have no doubt that, if we would attend seriously to the ideas set forth here, we would be better prepared to hear that “still small voice” that seeks to transform us (and all creation) from the inside out.

 

A Brief Review of

Water, Wind, Earth and Fire:
The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements
.
Christine Valters Paintner.
Paperback:  Sorin Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Angela Adams.

First, a confession. I did not read this book as Christine Valters Paintner intended. In the midst of two extremely difficult and hurried weeks, I read it when I could – flying to a business meeting, sitting in an airport, using the elliptical machine. Paintner had something else entirely in mind: “this book is designed to be an accompaniment and guide for ongoing prayer and times of retreat” (7). Insert audible sigh here. Knowing Paintner’s intent, reading the book in my way I felt, well, like I was eavesdropping on a conversation that I wasn’t meant to hear – at least not yet, not in this way.

I expected Water, Wind, Earth And Fire to include scientific data about the elements and a broad historical survey of the elements in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Frankly, I fully expected a defense for making room for nature and the elements in Christian practices at all. Coming from a conservative background, part of me just assumed Paintner would find a defense of such ideas necessary. And while her introduction includes some of this, Paintner doesn’t waste much time. She quickly establishes praying the elements as a worthwhile Christian practice through Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” a quote from Merton declaring the elements to be “our spiritual directors” (2), and her own bold declarations that “Christian tradition tells us that we have received two books of divine revelation: the book of scripture and the book of nature. Creation itself is a sacred text. . .” (2).

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“Toward Careful Listening”

A Review of
Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

by Frank Gohlke.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich,
ERB Art Editor.

Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

Frank Gohlke.

Paperback: Hol Art Books,  2009.
Buy now: [ From the Publisher ]

[ Read a two-chapter excerpt from the book! ]

Frank Gohlke - THOUGHTS ON LANDSCAPEPhotographer Frank Gohlke has been making pictures for over thirty years, and accompanying those images is a large number of essays, artist statements, and interviews. His new book Thoughts on Landscape: Collected Writings and Interviews compiles these texts chronologically, as they developed alongside Gohlke’s photographic practice, and in some ways they serve to clarify it. But like any successful writing about art, this book drew me back to look at Gohlke’s photographs again, more closely than before.

So to begin, looking at an image might be helpful, such as a complicated photograph (which recently served as the cover for Gohlke’s Accommodating Nature) in which a woman points a hose, watering rows of crops planted in red clay, late afternoon sun illuminating the fields spread before her, and the water making shadows on the soil. But what exactly is going on here? What is really the scope of the care this woman can give to this wide open space with that one hose? Seemingly, it can’t stretch any further, and the woman’s finger creates a jet on the nozzle to extend the spray further, but it’s nowhere near that field of young corn. Meanwhile, the roof of the shack continues to melt off, and the tractor may or may not ever run again. Either way, there’s work to be done to maintain this landscape ‘Near Kirkville, Mississippi,’ and both the woman with her hose, and Gohlke with his camera are doing just that work.

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A Brief Review of

In God’s Womb: A Spiritual Memoir.
Edwina Gateley.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

I have written several book reviews over the past couple of years for the Englewood Review, and  I must confess this one has been the most difficult.  My thoughts after reading this book seem to range from one extreme to the other.  I had to remind myself more than once during my time of reading that this book is meant to be a memoir, which inherently brings with it a particular perspective and way of writing.

After reading Edwina Gateley’s memoirs, I was more than interested in what some of the “fruit of her life” might look like.   I took the time to research the Volunteer Missionary Movement, the organization she founded in 1969.   She devotes a full chapter to its formation and beginnings (chapter 3). The organization’s purpose was “to call Christian men and women to respond to the Vatican II’s call for full and active involvement in the Church’s life and mission.”  The Volunteer Missionary Movement is still in existence today and, according to its website, has had more than 2000 people serving in 26 different countries over the course of its history.  The organization has brought together teachers, engineers, agricultural and healthcare experts as well as many others to work in various different areas of community development and support.   I was also able to find and read (online) Spirit and Lifestyle, her foundational treatise for the Volunteer Missionary Movement organization.   Her writing there touches on many of the things that continue to be on our minds here at Englewood – issues like justice, compassion and faithfulness to God’s call.

I have always greatly appreciated the reflective and contemplative writings of many of God’s people through the years – which is what much of Edwina’s memoirs seem to be as she shares her story.  The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, has always been one of my favorites.  In my mind, the purpose of those kinds of writings are to draw us out of ourselves and into the life and work of God.

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