Partly because I have spent 10 days in Israel and then on a long weekend trip to Georgia, I'm way behind in introducing you to new books with religious or spiritual themes.
I'll be doing mini-reviews on a few of them and then micro-mini mentions of some others. But I'll give you links to each so you may check them out further if just their titles sound interesting to you.
* The Sign: The Shroud of Turn and the Secret of the Resurrection, by Thomas de Wesselow. I have been fascinated by the Shroud of Turin -- believed by some to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus -- at least since I read Ian Wilson's 1978 book on the subject. Thus I followed the story of the 1988 carbon dating, on the basis of which some researchers declared the cloth to have been of medieval origin and not from the 1st Century. And since then I've followed further research that cast grave doubts on that 1988 conclusion.
Now comes an art historian who believes not only that the shroud is the true burial cloth of Jesus and, thus, bears the image of the crucified Christ, but that it also explains the resurrection.
How? What he proposes is that the disciples and followers of Jesus who are described in the gospels as seeing the resurrected Jesus really were simply seeing the shroud. This may strike you as absurd, and I'm mostly with you on that. But the author makes the case as best he can for his conclusion, and it's certainly worth reading about.
". . .the Shroud," he writes, "would have been perceived by its discoverers as a celestial messenger -- as an angel." In premodern terms, he argues, the shroud would have been seen "as a living person. . . .In other words, if the Shroud originated in first-century Judaea, it would have been interpreted as a kind of resurrection."
Well, this breaking-new-ground conclusion is a lot to swallow, especially when the promoter of it begins with the assumption (against the evidence in the gospels) that no one ever saw the resurrected Jesus. But the book nonetheless does make a persuasive case for the authenticity of the shroud as the burial cloth of Jesus. And the possibility that it was, indeed, exactly that has added richness to my recent experience of being in Jerusalem and seeing the two sites said to be where Jesus was crucified and buried.
Whether you will find the author's theory about shroud-as-resurrected-person credible I will leave to you.
* India: A Sacred Geography, by Diana L. Eck. The author, a Harvard professor and director of the Pluralism Project, has written a sprawling masterpiece. And as someone who lived in India for two years as a boy, I will be keeping this book around to delve into again and again as I prepare to return to India for a visit next year (I hope).
What makes this subject both fascinating and difficult is that essentially all of India, given its long and rich history, is sacred landscape. So it's hard to leave out much of the country and do even an adequate job of describing why this or that location is important to the story of religion on the sub-continent.
Eck understands that and thus offers (with notes) more than 500 pages of engaging material. For people who haven't quite kept up with the many name changes for Indian locations that have occurred since independence in 1947 -- but especially in more recent years -- there will be a few bumps in the road because Eck uses the most recent names or at least the names associated with some sacred story attached to the location.
For instance, Allahabad, where my family lived for two years, is found in the index, but readers are directed to look, instead, under "Prayaga." Allahabad, by the way, is the location of the confluence of the Jumna and Ganges (now Yamuna and Ganga) rivers and those two, in turn, join at Allahabad with a mystical river in Hindu tradition, the Sarasvati.
Anyone seeking to understand not just Hinduism but the sacred heart of India itself will want to read Eck's book. And, just for the record, understanding Hinduism is increasingly important for Americans because Hindus make up a growing (though still small) percentage of the American population. But if you've been following the important work of the Pluralism Project, you already know that.
* Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy, by Joan Chittister. Fans of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister -- and they are, for good reason, legion -- will not be disappointed in her latest offering. This is a guide for people struggling either to find their passion in life or to give themselves permission to follow that passion. As she writes, ". . .every one of us has a life to live that is right for us and a light to others at the same time." It's the latter part of that observation that has been Chittister's passion, and this book offers ways to find that path for ourselves and, more, stay on that path because, as she notes, "We are all called, in some form and fashion, to give ourselves away so that tomorrow can be better than yesterday for many." (Like me, Chittister is a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter. You can read her NCR work here and mine here.)
* God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by Mirabai Starr. Emerging from a secular Jewish family that condemned the many misuses of religion, the author struggled to make sense of the call she felt to the loving center of the three Abrahamic faiths. Eventually, she writes, she discovered that for all the differences between and among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, "each faith tradition was singing the same song in a deliciously different voice: God is love." This book, then, is an exploration of how those faiths offer that message and how that message might help to bridge the often-serious gaps between and among them -- not to create a syncretistic puree of the three but to lift up their different insights about what matters most to all of them.
* The Cup of Our Life: A Guide to Spiritual Growth, by Joyce Rupp. Not unlike Sister Joan Chittister, Joyce Rupp, a Christian spiritual guide, has many admirers and followers -- some of them because they first read this book when it came out 20 years ago. It now has a new preface and design. Rupp, in harmony with the Celtic approach to spirituality, finds deep meaning in the everyday things of life, including a simple cup. And she turns that cup into a broad metaphor for humanity's search for meaning as she offers daily meditations and prayers for the seeker-readers.
* Club Modernity for Reluctant Christians, by Leonard Swidler. The author, a Temple University teacher, rightly suggests that the characteristics of modernity -- including a love of freedom and critical thinking -- can seem to clash with a commitment to Christianity. So in this book he helps readers to understand ways in which the reality of living within the demands and constraints of modernity need not prevent one from being a committed disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, you might ask, but aren't we now in the post-modern era, having left modernity behind? Well, Swidler says he finds the term post-modern to be "vacuous." Any movement, he says, that "cannot articulate what it is about, but can only say what it is not about strikes me as intellectually adolescent. . ." Take that, post-modernity.
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And now I'm just going to list some new books that might interest you while giving you a link to a page where you can explore them more deeply and order them.
* Athanasius: The Life of Antony of Egypt, a paraphrase by Albert Haase. This is a new effort to tell Athanasius' story of the desert father St. Antony. The book is part of the Classics in Spiritual Formation series from Intervarsity Press.
* A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Fr. James Kubicki. The author, a Jesuit, is national director of the Apostleship of Prayer ministry.
* God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God's Help, by Fr. Jonathan Morris. This one has a foreward by Rick Warren and blurb endorsements from Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly.
* Love Has Wings: Free Yourself from Limiting Beliefs and Fall in Love with Life, by Isha Judd. You can read about this woman's spiritual teachings at www.IshaJudd.com.
* The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life, by Thomas M. Sterner. The author is a musician (and more) who draws on that experience to guide readers.
* The Fire Starer Sessions: A Soulful and Practice Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms, by Danielle LaPorte. She's into getting you to rethink your assumptions so you can free yourself.
* Clutter Busting Your Life: Clering Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect with Yourself and Others, by Brooks Palmer. Among other things, the author is a stand-up comedian (who probably doesn't want you to think of this book as clutter in your house).
* The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity: by Bruce Hood. The author is director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the Univeristy of Bristol, and he aruges that the "solf" is an illusion. Rather, he argues in this Oxford University Press book, we are a story of our self.
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B-16 ON ECONOMIC MATTERS
There's a big debate about whether Eurozone countries can solve their economic problems with an approach that emphasizes austerity. Maybe what that idea misses is the related idea of sharing. If so, Pope Benedict XVI may have got it right in what he said over the weekend about economic matters. But sharing is such an un-capitalistic idea that it may have no future.