Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Year with Thomas Merton (A Book Reaction)

I’ve been reading this day book off and on for a couple months now, enjoying each 4-5 paragraph reading. My hope in reading has been to see what made Merton who he was in the ordinary. I’ve read and been captivated by several of Merton’s books now and each book has a handful of sentences that extend beyond a normal person’s spiritual experience. As I read, I feel myself pulled into something new, something living.

In A Year with Thomas Merton I have the privelge to see the “normal” Thomas Merton. The days are journal entries, small pictures and captured moments of an ordinary, lived spiritual life.

Of course, where else it is supposed to be lived? …and that’s the point, that’s the gift this book offers. It pulls us down from the esoteric spirituality philosopies and into the back yard garden soil. As I read these daily journal entries (compiled into this day book many years later by some other person), there’s a permission that’s given to re-enter the ordinary and there discover the Presence of Christ.

Hospitality and *Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps* by Richard Rohr (A Book Reaction)

Hospitality and *Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps* by Richard Rohr (A Book Reaction)

I learned of the Twelve Steps and Bill W through my father’s journey. Mondays and Thursdays were A.A. meeting nights; Monday at the local monastery, Thursday at his home. It was the Thursday meeting that captured my interest. I experienced it a few times as a participant and what I saw, what I experienced was nothing short of formational.

Those experiences were years ago now and upon reflection, Continue reading

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (Book Reaction)

Reading about the life of writing is a search for a muse, a hunt for some artistic stimulation that sends you to your own writing. The Writing Life is like following Dillard around, watching her discover new muses and fight through droughts of non-writing. She keeps you around as a conversation partner, though you don’t have much to say. But this doesn’t bother her.

In a way: A muse igniter is what this book is. You’re brought into the writing lab (wherever that may be) and allowed to read a master’s process. As she works, you feel something within yourself turning over. Like being in the presence of someone quite creative and seeing their creativity create something ex nihilo within your soul, this book is your chance to be the fly on the wall.

Add to this, Dillard is just fun to read – a genius at expressing the uninhibited, real human experience.

The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

It is through struggle and question that we’re grown; it is God’s presence in the wrestling that we find as our greatest consolation.

This gift is only discovered when the old desire to win, to stand out, or make a name for ourselves fades away. The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

The early desires are a part of the human experience, a natural lean. They’re the foundational, security building hierarchy of needs sorts of things; we’ll scratch and dig all night for them.

But then the dawn comes and we realize that getting to the gold of China is futile with our fingernails, so we sit up, look across the rim of the hole we’re in, and see the first rays of the Morning Sun.

We pause and watch. This moment has a restful, simple eternal feel to it.

With each inclining degree of light, our questions and our strivings shift. Personal security and personal name no longer preoccupy; instead, we feel a simple warmth to pour into the lives of others, and a freedom to fade, as the sun will also do later in the day, across the western horizon. There to go, there to go.

It’s this awakening of time that Rohr is speaks about, this coming to, or being awakened, to a life that has questions and pursuits (these have been worked at for years). Answers have come but then their paradox follows; a volley like this bats across the years.

More than a question is suffering and struggle. As we carry the scars that come along in our time, our demand for answers fades, replaced by the soul’s desire to just be with God who becomes our consolation more than any gift he could send. It is God alone we come to desire; it is God alone we desire to share.


[Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Book Reaction)]


The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser by Mary Stillwell [Book Reaction]

I enjoyed Stillwell’s telling of Kooser’s story. As one who delights in Kooser’s work, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more. I was most eager to discover his creative processes. What experiences propelled him to write? What kind of pen and paper does he use? Does he use a computer? These simple, silly questions are what I was mining answers for.

And I found them. Buried in all the simple, entertaining story of Kooser’s life, I felt propelled into my own practice of writing (and other arts).

Stillwell’s research and writing was well done. She takes pauses from the story of Kooser’s life and dives head first into analysis of Kooser’s writing. I was more interested in the life sketch than the writing analysis, but appreciated latter as well.

All in all, this is a wonderful read and has me itching to get back to the Bohemian Alps myself, there to spend time with my wife’s family.

Can C.S. Lewis’ voice point out simple, helpful wisdom for the life of prayer?

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis (Book Reaction)

Can C.S. Lewis’ voice point out simple, helpful wisdom for the life of prayer?

Letters to Malcolm is a great conversation starter. Far from a theological essay, Letters is a collection of letters Lewis wrote to a friend, whose replies we have to guess at through context. Lewis writes his opinions and experiences in the life of prayer in these pages, speaking from a subjective rather than objective angle.

I think this is what most readers might desire. Many have heard all kinds of theology of prayer, enjoying much of what we’ve read. But, instead of delight and ease with prayer, we feel what Lewis wrote in Letters:

“Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a cross-word puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. (Loc. 1228)

“…the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. (Loc. 1232)

“For we believe that we were created “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And if the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then? If I were a Calvinist this symptom would fill me with despair. What can be done for—or what should be done with—a rose-tree that dislikes producing roses? Surely it ought to want to? (Loc. 1234)

“If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. (Loc. 1247)”

Letters included intermittent guidance, moments when Lewis wrote about his practice. He didn’t write long on it, just a sentence here and there, but enough to set bearings by, not so much to imitate Lewis (I think shirking imitation is part of why he writes so slim on his rhythms) but to discover a resonance and feel a permission to step into prayer. Once the grandeur of prayer funnels down into a simple posture, we can feel permission to actually step into the act of praying instead of continuing a dumbfounded stare into the void.

Here are some of Lewis’ personal steps and inclinations:

“…the prayer without words is the best—if one can really achieve it. – Loc. 107

“…words are in any case secondary. They are only an anchor. – Loc. 113

“…find it best to make “my own words” the staple but introduce a modicum of the ready-made. – Loc. 117

“Begin where you are.” – Loc. 967

“…we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are. – Loc. 241

“We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us. – Loc. 243

“…we may sometimes be deterred from small prayers by a sense of our own dignity rather than of God’s. – Loc. 257

The Letters best section was right in the beginning. Here, he wrote about worship; this section would surely cause some good conversation:

“Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. – Loc. 33

“…they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. – Loc. 33

“…it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. – Loc. 35

“…The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. – Loc. 38

“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. – Loc. 41

“I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” – Loc. 43″

May your read and life of prayer be blessed!