Category Archives: Book Reviews

Love and last words – a book review and giveway

PrintWhen I was newly returned to the Catholic church, I bought a book on the seven last words of Christ during Lent. I’m not sure what book it was, the title now long forgotten, but I read it and struggled with it, finally bringing to to my priest, who was also my spiritual director. The look on his face when it handed to him was quite clear, something was wrong. As it happened, it was a reprint of a much older book, and the essence of the volume in my hands was harsh. Let’s face it, the Crucifixion is harsh, but the book offered a theology that was focused on nothing but suffering. The priest then gave me a much better book on the topic and my reading continued.

Needless to say, I cautiously approached all other books with the words “last words of Jesus” on the cover, rarely finding one that fully fed me. When I saw that Dan Horan OFM, had written a book about Jesus’ last words, I was instantly curious. The Last Words of Jesus, A Meditation on Love and Suffering from Franciscan Media, is an updated look offering us a fresh way of seeing the Cross.

In conversation with someone recently, I said precisely that, that this book is “updated” and “offers us a chance to see the Cross in a fresh way.” Those comments were met with a rebuttal about how there is no Continue reading

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Jesus, A Pilgrimage – Book review and giveaway

970992_10152306293894233_290989403_n In November 2004, I had a chance to visit Israel, a place that I had longed to see. At the time, the Second Intifada was in full swing, the Carmel market in Tel Aviv had been hit with by a suicide bomb two weeks before I was to go, and Yasser Arafat died two days my prior to my arrival. It was an uncertain time, but I was not afraid. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime, and one that truly impacted my faith. Before going, I read so many books about the Holy Land and about faith, although no book at that time could have prepared me for my journey.

In his new book, Jesus, A Pilgrimage, (Harper Collins, 510 pp, $27.95) Jesuit priest, author, and commentator, James Martin SJ writes about his own journey to Israel, his life of faith, and about Jesus. My initial reaction? Where was this book when I went on my pilgrimage?

Whether you are about to go to Israel or not, this book is a journey of mind, body, and spirit. With his deft writing skills well honed from years of working his craft, Fr. Martin leads us on a pilgrimage like no other. Weaving stories and anecdotes from his own recent visit to Israel, along with a remarkable breadth and depth of scriptural reflections and insights, he takes us on a journey to know Jesus.

It is the rare gift that someone can take scholarly material and make it accessible and easy to understand, without dumbing it down. Fr. Martin possesses this gift in abundance! Whether examining scripture, historical context, or a spiritual kernel of wisdom, the author takes us higher and deeper at the same time, satisfying the intellect and the heart at once. He cleverly uses anecdotes from his own travel experiences and often in humorous ways, to illustrate a point, and Martin’s scholarly references provide a solid foundation for the conversation.

Whether or not you have ever been – or ever want to go to the Holy Land is not important. If you have an interest in Jesus, from any perspective, this book has something to offer you. For those of us who follow Jesus, we will find an invitation to deepen that knowledge through not only what we read, but because of the ways that this book invites one into prayer and reflection.

Smart, funny, inviting, engaging, wise, and deep, Jesus by James Martin is a pilgrimage like no other. You don’t have to leave your chair, but you must open your mind and heart, your transformation is optional, but it would be hard to imagine reading this book, and not being transformed in some way.

Jesus, A Pilgrimage. The journey awaits you- are you ready?

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Would you like to win a copy of this book? Here’s how… Please leave a comment on the blog; it needs to be a full sentence, not just a word. This post will appear on multiple blog platforms, but there is only one drawing. Multiple comments does not mean multiple entries. Deadline for leaving comments that will be entered into a random drawing is Friday, April 4, 2014, 11:59pm. Winner will be informed via email no later than Monday, April 7, 2014.

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Faith and Doubt

Living+by+Faith,+Dwelling+in+DoubtThis is no doubt in my mind that Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle Cupp, (Loyola Press, 120pp, #13.95) is an excellent book. This however, is not a book review – just a warning. The review will come soon.

In full disclosure, I have known Kyle online for a number of years. First from his posts at Vox Nova, which caught my eye and engaged my heart and mind. Later, we became Facebook friends and I began to follow his other blog. He’s a pretty smart guy; I can’t claim to always understand him, but I always want to read what he posts.

Back to the book. I get lots of books, which I am deeply grateful for. There are piles of them in the spare room, on tables in various other rooms of the house. Some live in my car for awhile, or I bring them to work. Publishers often send me a review copy, asking me to host a blog tour stop. This book did come to me in advance, in the form of a gift, but not as a review copy. (Most of the books I receive are never reviewed.Sorry!)

But – this is not a book review!

So what the heck is this post about? I am planning my unsolicited review of Kyle’s book, which will be pretty glowing. I just want to give you some advance warning! Plus I have not finished the book yet, so I can’t review it.

Fine, but why write this post today? Forget the advance warning, I really just want to tell you that this book about faith and doubt is, *ahem-clears throat*, no doubt one of the best books I have read about my favorite co-existing topics of faith and doubt.

It’s a slim volume, why haven’t you finished it yet? Good question! I am reading Kyle’s book with painstaking slowness. I read a chapter or two, I pick it up a few days later, reread a bit, and then add another chapter. Short does not mean the book should be rushed through.

How do we know the rest of us will like it? There is no certainty that the rest of you will like this book. In fact, there are elements that are going to make some people uncomfortable. It could be because Kyle speaks freely about the depth of his faith, the elements of doubt, and questions of certainty that will cause some to challenge what he writes about faith itself. Others will shrink back from some of the personal stories that Kyle shares, because they have the potential to make one uncomfortable.

Why would we read a book about faith that makes us uncomfortable? Aren’t books about faith, the Bible included, have the potential for discomfort? They should make us uncomfortable; if not, we might have a problem. Shouldn’t our faith journeys cause us discomfort?

Enough questions for today. The only thing that I can add – without a doubt – is that this is a compelling little volume and I hope that you read it.

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Loving Work – a book review and giveway

(I wrote this for my Times Union blog, but I am posting it here as well!)

My own story goes like this… One day I was sitting in my big office in Manhattan. It was not a corner office, but that was fine by me. I had a lot of room, a big desk and credenza, a bookcase, and even a small table where I could hold meetings for a few of us. I was living the dream! Sort of, anyway!

Five years later I sit in a very different office. For starters, it is in the midst of a busy parish rectory, with the phone ringing off the hook, the priest calling out for this or that, people needing mass cards, comfort, solace – or perhaps just a gas card to get to their low wage part time job.

Let me be clear – I did not hate my old job, in fact, I loved many things about it, especially the people the people that I worked with. However, in my new job, despite the lack of prestige, pay and privacy, I could not be happier. I am loving work. And loving work is also what I do, because the work of the church is to love. This makes me one very lucky person!

Spiritual director, campus minister, and author Mike Hayes explores this kind of transformation – and how others might set about doing the same thing, in his latest book, Loving Work, A spiritual guide to finding the work we love and bringing love to the work we do. (Orbis, $16.00, 120 pp.) For Hayes, it is not just about loving what you do, but it is about being who you are – and that includes bringing loving into the work that you choose to do.

In full disclosure, Mike is a friend, and I was asked to provide a cover blurb, which I will restate here. After reading the book I said, “Some books are kept for a long time, because they nourish the soul or they are practical guides… Mike Hayes offers us both things with great wisdom in a book that you will want to keep.

Infused with sound Ignatian spirituality, warmth, wisdom, humor and a tremendous amount of insight, this book offers a way forward to better work – and a much better life. Whether pointing to practical details and planning, or focusing on our relationship with God, we are shown the value of the importance of seeking work that feeds the soul, as well as work that creates our living. What struck me most is the no-nonsense approach that Hayes’ employs, which is direct, yet incredibly human at the same time. His experiences in business, spiritual direction, and campus ministry are all pressed into excellent use in this book.

One of my favorite chapters is called, “If You Could Be Anything.” Sparing no details, Hayes discusses his own crisis of the heart with clarity. Despite his successful (and longed for) career in radio broadcasting, something is just missing. No stranger to the world of faith, his two worlds begin to align as he explores his own “anything.” The results have led him to where he is today.

These are tough times, and getting a new job is not all that easy. And perhaps that is what makes this book more important than ever. If we can’t really achieve what we thought was our dream, perhaps that should truly compel us to discern and claim what our true work might be. Risky? Sure. But if we don’t try, how do we ever know the greatness that we are called to?

This is not some reference book to pick off of a shelf and give to a job seeker. This is a book for seekers who seek not only work, but their hearts desire as well, which is an essential path to wholeness and integrity. It is about work that is more than what you”do” or what you “get” for it, and more about what you give and how you live in the world.

And that is what is at the heart of this fine book. As we come to know God, as we come to know ourselves, we are called to find and to live the very work that will make our hearts sing. It is better for us and infinitely better for the world when we enter the world of loving work. This fine book will make a great gift for yourself or for others as we enter gift buying season – or any time, and I highly recommend it.

Want to win a copy of this book? Please leave a comment on the blog before 11:30pm on Wednesday, November 28, 2012, eastern time. Your name will go into a drawing. Good luck!

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Filed under Book giveway, Book Reviews, Googling God, Mike Hayes

Light and beauty – book reviews and contest!

Saved by Beauty and This Little Light – the November book review and book giveaway series continues!

I’ll begin this review of two books with the end in mind… If you are making a list so that someone may check it twice, I suggest that you ask for both books. Seriously – ask for both books! You will not regret this, even if it feels a bit over the top. Let me tell you why…

There will be pure joy upon giving and receiving such things, there will be no standing in long lines to return things that you don’t want, and no suffering the potential shame of re-gifting the wrong gift to the wrong person. Go ahead, attach this review to your wish list! And if you are looking for gifts for someone else, try using this as your shopping list. (Book giveway contest info at the end of the post, along with info about upcoming appearances by Brother Mickey!)

Today I Continue reading

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Filed under Albany Times Union, Book Reviews, Brother Mickey McGrath, Catholicism, Dominican Retreat and Conference Center, Dorothy Day, Thea Bowman

Book review and giveaway – My Sisters The Saints

How many things attracted me to My Sisters the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir, by Colleen Carroll Campbell (Image Books, $22.99, 212 pp.)? Let’s just say many. That said, I would add that I might have trouble enumerating the many things that made me not want to continue reading this book. In what is an apt metaphor for faith and religious practice, it seems that the ambiguity, the great “both/and-ness” of living a life of faith, that counts in the end. And along those lines, I found myself turning the pages in rapid succession.

I’ll begin with the attraction. My Sisters the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir – the title alone entices me, while inspiring a blush of envy. Can’t that be my book’s name? The topic is as seductive to me as the scent of freshly baked bread. A book filled with saints and memories of a spiritual life. What’s not to love?

The author is a gifted writer who employs a personal and conversational style that I enjoyed. The book is easy to read, and the words flow smoothly, carrying the reader along on a very personal current. That quality, along with carefully crafted prose that has the tone of an intimate conversation made “My Sisters” a pleasure to read.

As someone a bit older than the author, I still find myself in a position not unlike hers, when I recollect the days of my youth, and how those days were spent. (Hint: not always wisely.) My own rearview mirror reveals clear images of days spent in some less than savory ways. That is where Campbell and I begin to part company. Although I enjoyed her story very much, especially the parts when she was challenged to make hard choices, I can’t really relate to her particular trajectory.

For Campbell, the path out of one part of life and into another is a bit too much “either/or” for me, and much less the “both/and” that defines my own experience as a Roman Catholic woman. Yet because of that “both/and” place, I pressed on with this book, and grateful that I did so.

The volume is well crafted, with an interesting story to tell. The temptation to, in social media terms, “unfriend” anyone with a different point of view, is not only ridiculously easy (click!), but it is remarkably sad, if you ask me. So although I found myself uncomfortable at times, I did not put the book down and I was never disappointed in what I read. This reminded me of an important question; when is it a good idea to avoid discomfort? Especially in our conversations about our relationship with God, and the choices that we exercise in life? If it is not uncomfortable, how are we ever challenged and how are we transformed?

Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway in My Sisters The Saints. This is ultimately a book about faith, surrender, choices made, and relationship with God. That relationship also involves the saints that are generously given to us by that same God. In agreement or not, I found Campbell’s interactions, with these “sisters” most satisfying. We hear about Saint Therese, Saint Faustina, Saint Teresa, and Mary the Mother of God, through tales woven with the author’s life. Other saints include women like Edith Stein and Dorothy Day, which were beautiful additions to her great cloud of witnesses.

Perhaps the most moving element of the story for me, and a real reason for my admiration of the book, was Campbell’s family history. The scenes that unfolded, with descriptions of her parents, especially her father, were deeply touching. The deterioration of her father’s life as he struggled with Alzheimer’s, was beautifully chronicled, and emotionally charged. Ultimately that is what it is all about, isn’t it? Our relationships with one another through God, or through the saints, our family, or others are what matter. That point is never missed in this story. And it is in the stories that God works with us, challenges us, changes us, transforms us, a thought that is consistently represented in these pages. How could I not like that?

Sometimes a book shows up, and I am not inclined to read it because of the title, its jacket blurbs, or because of what I know about the author. Just as My Sisters the Saints called to me because of the title, it might have sent me away for other reasons, but I stuck it out. Oddly enough, a book that feels at time too “either/or” for my taste, invited me more deeply into the “both/and” of my own life and faith. As with any good relationship, it is really important to stay with the relationship and with the stories. That may be the very best message of this book in the end, a message worth reading.

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BOOK GIVEAWAY – All those who leave a comment will be entered into a drawing to win a book. Comments from all three of my blogs will be collected and one winner will be chosen at random. You will be contacted via the email that is required (but not listed publicly) to arrange for delivery. Enter as many times as you’d like by 6am Eastern Time on Tuesday, November 6.

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Blog Tour – a book review & book giveway

A long time ago, I was introduced to the words “action and contemplation” through reading the works of Richard Rohr, OFM, as I reluctantly reverted to the Catholicism of my youth. In what was probably the first inkling that my divided brain might do better if integrated, the two words blended in perfect harmony for me. I have tried to live this ever since – and I’m still trying to get that balance right, 22 years on.

It was with great joy that I encountered this path of action and contemplation when I opened “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism by Chris Haw, from Ave Maria Press. Not only did I relate to those terms, but I’m a sucker for a “Catholic revert” story, especially if it does not mean eliminating your prior life or becoming too pious. What’s a Catholic revert, you ask? Well, we can’t be converts if we started out this way, no matter how far we strayed, or for how long, right? And while I have nothing against piety, piety alone may lead to the contemplation more than the action, when both are needed.

Fellow revert or not, I was not sure what to expect from Haw. Willow Creek? I admit it; I was not sure where this was going, although the Sacred Heart in Camden drew me in. I know someone who lives there, and I have been quite moved by the church and the community it serves, in the heart of an impoverished area with violent crime. As the author himself admits, stereotyping church types easily proves us wrong, and any misgivings I had were lost a few pages into the book.

The author is a compelling storyteller, writing with a wisdom that belies his age in years. Without cutting off his past experiences, Haw shows us what it means to truly be transformed in Christ, in a very real and embodied way. His own transformation from being part of a mega-church community, to being part of a Catholic Church community, is a testament to how we are called to be one. Without ever rejecting his past, he lives directly into his present and future in a most powerful way. In fact, he is very clear that his foundations at Willow Creek, Eastern University, and with intentional Christian friends like Shane Claiborne, have made him into who he is.

Well schooled in theology, the easily accessible and conversant discussions of Catholics from Thomas Aquinas to G.K. Chesterton (who is frequently cited) are refreshing. Rather than the heady study of God, this book makes real the many facets of God. And beyond that, just how the theology matters in the flesh and blood world of life in Camden, a place where much blood is spilled.

If I had to call out a favorite chapter, it would be, Chapter Nine: On Becoming Part of a Terrible Organization. With startling clarity, we are lead through Haw’s experience of entering a church at a time when some of the darkest moments of the sex abuse scandal were becoming known. This all happened against the backdrop of post-9/11, and the start of the war in Iraq; a time of terrible bad news. Yet, the clutter is cleared with astounding honesty and I imagine that I will return to the pages of this particular chapter many times.

A compelling argument for becoming part of the Catholic Church is not unfamiliar in the book world. A compelling argument like Chris Haw’s is very different from most others that you will read. With all the headiness of theological rhetoric, with all the heart of the Mystical Body and with all the guts of the sacramental world, this book is one of the best that I have ever read.

WIN A BOOK: Leave a comment, long, short, good or bad (good, we hope) and your name will be entered in a drawing for a book!

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Filed under Ave Maria Press, Blog tour, Book Reviews