I adore Paula Huston's work and wise spirit. She is a fellow monastic oblate and writer of several books on spiritual practice, including one of my favorites The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life. I had the gift of participating in a writing workshop with her several years ago in New Mexico.
Her new book Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life is a part of the current Patheos book club. She again weaves together personal narrative along with riches from Christian mysticism to invite us gently into practices which are "antidotes to the afflictions of older age," of which she includes fear of change, obsessing about comfort and security, and denial.
She describes ten practices, all of which are verbs and so convey a sense of movement when reading through them: listening, delighting, lightening, settling, confronting, accepting, appreciating, generating, befriending, blessing. These are active practices which engage us fully in body and heart.
Spiritual Director Paula Huston invites us to approach the second half of life as an "ordinary mystic," instead of succumbing to the world's false ideas about aging. In A Season of Mystery, 60-year-old Paula Huston—a grandmother, and also a caretaker for her own mother and for her in-laws—shares with readers a far more fulfilling way to approach how we live and how we think about the second half of life. Each chapter offers a spiritual practice that is particularly suited to nurturing us in ways we would never have recognized in our younger lives.
Weaving Faith and Experience: A Woman's Perspective
by Patricia Cooney-Hathaway
Review by Mary Ann Flanagan, IHM, PhD
It is a special joy to present a book review/summation of Patricia-Cooney Hathaway’s recent publication Weaving Faith and Experience: A Woman’s Perspective published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010.Dr. Cooney-Hathaway is an full professor of spirituality and systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI. She has been a frequent presenter at Visitation North Spirituality Center and her offerings in the field of spirituality have been favorites over the years.She offers in her speaking and writing what Elizabeth A. Dreyer describes as “not just important-but pressing, crucial, urgent-that all women of faith own the title ‘theologian’ and shape this role in light of each woman’s unique set of characteristics, context, relationships and spiritualities.” (p.xi)Dr. Cooney-Hathaway assists her readers to engage in this task by developing her deeply held insight that all spiritual and psychological issues are inextricably interwoven in our lives, an awareness developed over years of theological education and spiritual direction with women across the age spectrum.
She turns to a long-time mentor, the late Gerald G. May, M.D to underscore this inter-relation of psychology and spirituality as one of the most pressing challenges we face today:
Many of us expect science to provide us with the whys and what-fors, with some sense of meaning or belonging.Science cannot do this for us.While it can lead up to the ultimate questions, it cannot answer them. That has been and continues to be the domain of religion... It does no good to blur the boundaries that exist between the two in the name of wholeness or integration.Better to walk their rugged interfaces. (Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology, 1982)
So walk the rugged interfaces she does.In her own words, she “puts psychology in the service of spirituality”, using a theory of human development in which God’s presence can be discovered at work within the landscape of psychological growth.She references Daniel J. Levinson’s contribution in his landmark work, Season’s of a Woman’s Life, 1996 as an important source for her choice of turning to “seasons” as a helpful theory to shed light on the dynamic and mysterious world of adulthood, especially mid-life, preferring this image to other familiar ones of“ladder” or “journey’’. (p. x) With helpful charts, and inviting questions and prayersaccompanying each chapter, she encourages the reader to do the work of personalizing the theory with one’s own life experience with God.
Foundational reflections on the Spring and Summer of Life recall the “waking up” time of life when the consolidation of an identity and the shaping of a life dream are formulated.Relationships and career are center stage priorities for the development of one’s self in the adult world.This interweaves with the formation and development of one’s own personal relationship with God, notably one’s discipleship with Jesus.The spring season of Interpersonal Faith (17-28 yrs), matures into the summer season of Reflective Faith (28-40 yrs). Now both “light and darkness” are experienced and the challenge of reappraisal appears. Dr. Cooney-Hathaway makes use of vignettes from her conference questionnaires and educational work in a most effective way.They illustrate powerfully the text she is developing.For example, a mosaic of women in their thirties:
A woman religious writes, ‘The challenge of this stage of my life was to let go of the fantasies I had about religious life and the church and integrate the reality that even the world of religion is composed of both darkness and light. A married woman notes, ‘I face the challenge of balancing family and aging parents. My children are at an impressionable age, and I want to be a good role model.” A single woman sighs, ‘I’m getting bored with mycareer.I want to move on to the next stage of my life: that is, kids, marriage,family.I want more meaningful friendships with other people. I’m thinking about my parents all the time-healing painful memories.’ (p.13)
“Since the middle of the twentieth century there has been a renaissance of new insights into God in the Christian tradition.On different continents, under pressure from historical events and social conditions, people of faith have glimpsed the living God in fresh ways.” (Intro p.1).With this framework, Elizabeth A. Johnson sets out to give us a map of the frontiers of this development.She does this not simply as a task of theological inquiry, but also as a work of love which expresses her grasp of the Living Mystery so as to enrich our own.The author has given us several other works that attest to her skill as theologian: She Who Is, Friends of God and Prophets, and Truly Our Sister.
Johnson begins with a chapter devoted to the work of Karl Rahner. Within a wintry season of European atheism and woeful cries,” Is God dead?”Rahner sets out to “uncover truth about the living God that would provide warmth and sustenance in winter… His method engaged people not by pouring solutions from above into bewildered souls but by inviting them to take a journey of discovery into the virtually unchartered territory of their own lives.” (p. 31).
I cannot recall any Scriptural paper I have written that in someway does not reference or contain something of the influence of the scholarship of Walter Brueggemann. He has indicated that Psalm 119: 105 is his life text: Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.He truly lives and studies attuned to this this text. He reveals himself to be so much more than an exegete of the holy Word.As a professor of the Older Testament he taught his classes with the tradition of beginning ever class with prayer.Happily some of these prayers and others have been gathered together for our own prayer and reflecting. ”These prayers have become increasingly interested in the concrete practice of the Bible in the faith and life of the Church and with questions of public justice.” (Book Cover)
Brueggemann himself tells us:
Well, all prayer is context specific, whether recognized as such or not.We pray
as bodied selves in bodied communities, and we cannot pray otherwise, for
most of the secrets we do not hide from God arise with context specificity.
In such an imagined environment, it is inescapable that hard issues like
privilege and entitlement, injustice and violence would be on the table. (xiii)
Addressing the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI emphasised the need for Jesuits to continue to work at the frontiers of faith and culture. For those of us engaged in pastoral work, one of the most challenging frontiers is that which is encountered in the scorching grief of bereavement, particularly when the death is of a young person or in other tragic circumstances. On a more general level, in the face of crises in New Zealand, Japan and the turmoil in North Africa, how does one respond with integrity and wisdom to such appalling suffering and sense of loss? Father Richard Leonard’s book is a courageous attempt to tackle these challenges head on. Drawing on his experience of a tragedy which resulted in the paralysis of his sister, he assesses the variety of responses that religious people give at these moments of crisis. According to Fr Leonard, the majority of these responses appear to be based on myths about God and bad theology, and lead to a spiritual insanity. It is Fr Leonard’s aim to expose these myths whilst offering us a version of spiritual sanity.
An excellent communicator, Fr Leonard presents us with a small book – 66 pages long – which is easy to read and offers engaging examples. His intention is to be accessible and in this he succeeds. He makes important distinctions between God causing and permitting evil. Also particularly helpful is the distinction he makes between judging and condemning, with the former being acceptable and the latter, not. It is perhaps on the back of this distinction, and the insistence on the necessity of judgment in order to make an assessment, that the tone of the book itself comes across as judgmental. This seems slightly incongruous, as it is clear that Fr Leonard’s experience of suffering has made him more empathetic as a priest. It is also a weakness of the book that in attempting to challenge false images of God, its relentlessly critical tone is in danger of alienating many ordinary Christians who are just struggling to make sense of life and who don’t have the eloquence of the author.
A Practical Guide to the Spiritual Care of the Dying Person
by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Catholic Truth Society, 2010 44 pages ISBN: 9781860826665
A Practical Guide to the Spiritual Care of the Dying Person, published in June by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is a very helpful tool for all those engaged on the frontlines of medicine. Having worked myself as a geriatric consultant in Dutch nursing homes for many years, I can testify from my own experience that the care for the elderly, including, and perhaps especially, palliative care for the old (and the not-so-very-old, for that matter), is indeed cutting edge medicine, albeit with, and perhaps because of, a certain lack of fancy technology and high profile proof of success.
For how does one measure the success of care for the dying? One of the nurses I worked with in my first job, a very experienced and wise woman, told me, a newly appointed, inexperienced and insecure doctor who had just treated his first terminal patient and spoken to the grieving family, that one has to get it right. People die only once; you cannot make it up to them if you get the caring part wrong. Of course, as we both realised, mistakes are made, in people’s work (particularly as they work together) and also in medicine and those branches of healthcare where not every patient’s treatment involves complicated technology and endless procedure. But that was not the point she was trying to make. What she was teaching me, as I came to realise only gradually (necessarily so), is that the first steps on the final part of life’s journey are crucial ones. Whether it is the doctor giving the patient the ‘bad news’, the receptionist or nurse receiving and admitting the patient and his/her family into the hospital ward or hospice, or the chaplaincy team member coming into the room for the first time – no one will get a second chance to make a first impression. For even in this last period of a person’s life – and for most of us ‘dying’ is indeed a process that will take some time rather than just a passing moment – new relationships will be established and have to be maintained. It is up to the professional member of the caring team, whatever his/her role, to make sure that the person to be cared for is approached as just that – a human being to be cared for. Download this book from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales web site
Ever since Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, the 1993 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality, I have been longing for another book on the Holy Spirit.I am delighted to tell you of an excellent book on this theme.Donald Goergen, OP gives us Fire of Love: Encountering the Holy Spirit.This book “invites us to recognize the power and ever-expanding presence of the Spirit in our own lives, in the life of the church, in the religious traditions of the word, in our world itself, and in God’s evolving creation.” (book cover)
This is a very readable book, and its beauty is that it offers us a portrait of the Spirit’s presence in the most intimate depths of the self to the most expansive presence within our world and universe.Goergen, a Dominican priest, theologian, teacher and author, offers a multi-faceted perspective on the Spirit: biblical, theological, and historical.You immediately catch his eagerness to link his discussions of Spirit with vital topics of contemporary interest: Spirit presence in Jesus, church, word and sacrament, our world and historical events themselves. It is a perfect read for the integration efforts between the Christian, Universe and Earth Charter stories.
Fire of Love challenges the Christian reader to look deeply within and about. The Spirit’s presence is one that requires attentive discernment. “Spiritual” eyes must be sensitized to recognize the Holy presence that blows where it will. The Holy Spirit is there, deep within the human heart, within the diversity of world religions or within the complex evolutionary process of the universe’s “blazing fire and deep inner energy.” (p.101)
This is a theology book that enriches one’s spiritual life in a variety of ways. Each chapter concludes with a beautiful prayer by the author.Here are a couple of examples of small sections from concluding prayers that are so helpful in uniting the learnings of mind and heart, treasured assets to a new language of prayer!
FromThe Diversity of Religions
… Most Holy Spirit, source of unity, source of diversity ( I Cor 12:4, 11, 13), Help us appreciate what is distinctive About each human person, about each species, about each faith, And to recognize what we all have in common, That though many, we are one. (p.70)
FromThe Spirit in an Evolving Universe
… energizer, evolver, holy breath, blazing fire Fill us with your life, Re-create us as your people, Pour yourself out upon our world, Renew the face of the earth.” (p. 101)
Wrestling with our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness
Review by Mary Ann Flanagan, IHM, PhD
In this remarkable book, Nancy Kehoe, a Religious of the Sacred Heart and a Harvard psychologist, has broken the taboo on talking about religious beliefs in the treatment of mental illness.As Thomas Gutheil, M,D states:“Dr. Kehoe shines a bright, warm light into a dark area of current mental health practice and demonstrates how spirituality and faith can represent sources of strength for the mentally ill, rather than symptoms of illnesss.In this work she challenges the contemporary guidelines that restrict the importance of any religious history as part of the patient’s assessment in psychiatric treatment.”(cover)
In the 1990’s she begins to offer the opportunity for weekly group meetings that were named Spiritual Beliefs and Values.For the first time, Charlotte is able to share: “I’m a Catholic.I pray, but I don’t know if God hears my prayers, because I have a mental illness. “Susan joins in: “I was a Catholic, but I’m angry with God because I had cancer and a mental illness.That’s not fair-one’s enough.”Dr. Kehoe asks:“Have any of you ever talked about your beliefs with your therapists?”And Netta says incredulously: “Are you kidding?...All those doctors would have thought we were crazy.I keep my beliefs to myself.”
As a response to these courageous statements, for the next few years, Dr. Kehoe just showed up and let the discussions and sharing begin.The group grew, the group flourished and the importance of religious believing became an active part of the participants ongoing healing and support. Not only the participants grew, as Kehoe remarks: “I too became an honorary mental patient...
With a track record of 3, 224 group sessions, I can attest to the fact
that no client has ever become delusional because of the group, no client
has tried to convert others in the community, and client has resisted working
with atherapist of a different belief.Clients with different religious beliefs
have not split the community.These twenty seven years have uncovered
a rich inner terrain, one that had been hidden from mental health providers
but has been a source of strength and resilience for the clients.”(p.18)
In succeeding chapters we meet individuals who have much to share and teach us as they struggle and encounter the presence of God and the spiritual in their daily lives.Dr. Kehoe ends each chapter with insights that have come to her in these relationships of care. Beverly, Russell, and Buddy become her teachers and companions.
These men and women have been a gift to me, as I have been to them.
They have held up a mirror and allowed me to see a different image of
myself, and I, in turn, have done the same for them.
They illumine the reader’s life as well!Dr. Kehoe deserves our gratitude.Richard Hauser, S.J., in his fine review of this book concludes:
Kehoe’s purposefulness should energize mental health professionals to
join in asserting the centrality of the religious-spiritual dimension of care.
Can there be any human wholeness with the integration of the Transcendent?
Readers may also find of interest the well reviewed book, Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet, by Barbara C. Crafton; Jossey-Bass, 2009. In his review, Parker Palmer1, states:
“This book offers truth about the devastating darkness of this disease and about the hope that makes it possible to find one’s way back to the light. Barbara Crafton offers up her truth with humor and gritty stories as well as candor and care...May the many who suffer and those who care for them, read this book, shed the shame, and find the new life that awaits them on the other side.”
Published by Jossey-Bass, 2009
1 Parker Palmer, author, A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your life Speak, and The Courage to teach.
Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint by John Cornwell
He even prayed 'with a pen in his hand'
Reviewed by Peter L’Estrange
Published by Continuum, $24.95
John Henry Newman, an English Catholic cardinal and former Anglican renowned for his scholarship and writing, is to be beatified in Birmingham, England, on Sept. 19 by Pope Benedict XVI.
The pope is a keen student of Newman’s writing. Pope Paul VI had said that the Second Vatican Council was “Newman’s Council,” because the majority of council fathers and their theologians had imbibed Newman’s views on historicity, the use of patristics and scripture, development, conscience, the role of the laity in the intellectual life of the church, the desire for the unity of the church, and a sober and constrained devotion to Mary.
Cardinal John Henry Newman is seen in a portrait in a church in Rome. (CNS/Crosiers)When Newman died at 89 he had spent exactly half his life in the Anglican Communion and half in the Roman Catholic church. His close friend, Richard Church, the Anglican dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, wrote, “Great as his services have been to the communion in which he died, they are as nothing by the side of those he rendered to the communion in which the most eventful years of his life were spent.”
The dean referred to Newman’s role between 1833 and 1841 in the “Tractarian Movement,” an attempt by Oxford-based high church Anglicans, through widely circulated and influential tracts, or pamphlets, to bring the Church of England to conformity with its Catholic past. This changed the face of the Anglican church.
With Newman’s Unquiet Grave, first published in Britain earlier this year, John Cornwell, an English writer unafraid to address controversial issues (he is the author of Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII and The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II), has again stirred up passions. But first, Newman.