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Monday, September 19, 2022


Christine Paintner’s Birthing the Holy, is an exquisite little book of Marian devotions that opens the door to understanding of the sacred feminine writ large. Moving through thirty-one different names of Mary covering preparation, calling, incubation and birthing, Paintner invites us to consider Mary much as in the way we might turn a diamond in the sunlight to admire its manifold facets and brilliantly hued refractions of light. The format suggested is that of a month-long retreat, in which each reflection is used as the day’s theme.

Help with that retreat can be found at the website Paintner and her husband, John, run called the Abbey of the Arts ( It’s mission is to “…offer programs and resources to nourish contemplative practice and creative expression. We are rooted in the Christian mystical and prophetic tradition but welcome any seekers who are hungry for nourishment with ancient roots.” Readers interested in delving deeper are encouraged to take a look.

Rooted in feminist theology yet drawing from masters of contemplative prayer both ancient and new, Paintner weaves a tapestry of reflection that can take a thoughtful reader deep into the experience of life and love. She admires Carl Jung and makes use of his structure of archetypes to illuminate the many titles of Mary. Each title is used thematically in the book as the locus of a meditation upon some dimension of the human experience and of a particular set of theological insights.

Some of Paintner’s favorite authors, e.g., Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Meister Eckhart and Denise Levertov happen to be favorites of mine as well. The book resonated harmoniously with me as I saw some of my favorite quotations and themes appear. I was introduced to a number of other voices too, like feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, with whom I was not familiar.

A certain amount of the material in the book is elegiac in nature. In the book’s introduction, Paintner describes the excruciating loss of her mother. Someone had at that time asked her to reimagine her relationship with her mother in terms of feminine Jungian archetypes, using Mary as a touchstone, and she did.

In the reflection upon Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Paintner writes: “We do not live in a culture that supports healthy mourning. We are most often encouraged to get over it and pull ourselves back together. Mary is here to remind us that the river of grief must flow freely through us; otherwise it becomes stuck and we may experience depression or illness.” Encouraging us to allow the tears to come Paintner invites us to write in our journals about “…the moments or seasons when your heart has been utterly broken? When you lost a loved one, a promise, a dream, a job, or an ability?” (p.107). Having worked as a hospital chaplain who did encourage healthy mourning, I found these words very poignant. I wish I’d been able to be there for here at the time of her mother’s passing.

I found analogies to Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Therapy framework when Paintner described addressing the “voices within.” The overlap and influence of Jungian archetypes is clear in these sections.

Each chapter is concluded with a short poem, or “blessing,” as Paintner would have it. Each says in poetic terms what was expressed in the prose text. I loved the blessing in the Queen of the Holy Rosary chapter:

“…as we pray with the Mysteries

of your life and touch

your joy, your luminosity, your sorrow, your glory,

help us to know our own

deep joys and sorrows

as the very place where grace enters into our lives,

bringing all that feels broken

together into a mosaic of wholeness

like the circle we pray with…” (p.8).


This chapter also helped me consider the rosary anew when it suggested that I ponder and then ask for the gifts and qualities of Mary and Jesus that are being manifested in each mystery of the rosary.


Paintner and I share admiration for Denise Levertov and Thomas Merton. Levertov’s poem The Annunciation might actually be recommended as prefatory reading for this book. Likewise, Merton’s observation that “the gate of Heaven is everywhere” from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander serves as a key to understanding Paintner’s appreciation of the world without and the world within.


This short review is intended only to whet the reader’s curiosity. For anyone who would enjoy deepening his or her appreciation of the sacred feminine to be found par excellence in Mary. This is the book for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.




Wednesday, July 13, 2022


Practicing the Monastic Disciplines: Finding Deep Spirituality in a Shallow World, by Sam Hamstra, Jr., and Samuel Cocar was an interesting and intriguing experience for me. It’s a practical approach to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity, written by two members of the Evangelical Christian community. The authors’ goal is that the book will help the reader along the path to becoming a more conscious pilgrim, a more fruitful servant, and a fiercer soldier” (p.15).

The book begins with something of a sales pitch to the evangelical church to take the desert abbas and ammas seriously. The authors view the spirituality of these people as a corrective to the undisciplined life of many Christians they observe. The authors see life on earth as a spiritual battleground. Indeed, the metaphor of spiritual combat pervades the book. Spiritual formation is described as being joined at the hip with spiritual warfare itself. Those who do not confront the current culture with Christian virtues will end up being conformed to it.

Anyone who doesn’t like weaponized Scripture may have difficulty with some parts, as might those expecting a journey into the life of quiet contemplation along with the monks. A homiletic tone pervades much of the book’s narrative.

The book’s is structured around consideration of eight logismoi (early descriptions by Christians of temptations that eventually morphed into the Seven Deadly Sins) and how Christians today might deal with them as the desert monks did. Scripture-based techniques combatting their influence are described in some detail. The goal of any Christ-follower in doing this is to become more and more like Jesus, “developing the very character of Christ…and approximating the sinless life of Christ” (p. 11). Those who view their experience of the Risen Christ as being in a very personal and intimate, trusting way with him in whom we live and move and have our being might find this to be too much of a DIY project.

The authors place orthopraxy above mere orthodoxy. For them, “spiritual correctness” is not enough. It certainly doesn’t ensure godliness; mere acquisition of information is not superior to actual transformation. It’s also important to recognize the real enemy. That spiritual warfare of which we spoke is to be directed against the Devil and his ilk, not against flesh-and-blood people. That's a message that needs constant reinforcement in some circles it seems to me.

Early in the book, discussing Old Testament prophets’ roles as diagnosticians of the people’s moral ills, the authors present the threefold requirements of God’s people: true obedience to moral and covenantal obligations more than emphasis on ritual observance, love of God and love of neighbor, and fidelity to belief in the singular transcendence of God (pp. 25-27). No card-carrying Christian would argue with these requirements, though some might order them differently. The devil, however, is in the details, and the existence of ~33,000 different Christian denominations in the world speaks volumes about just how well these requirements are met.

Moving on to New Testament ethics and the notion of sin, the authors find a continuation of the prophets’ warning about focusing on ritual to the exclusion of observing God’s law in one’s heart. A general perversity in this regard seems to permeate our culture. There is a danger in such discussions, of rendering the notion of sin entirely too abstract, a mere legalistic exercise in indiscretion, and worse. The quote from Angela Tilby is an example of how sin can end up as something discussed and studied rather than as something constitutive to the fallen human condition that requires a divine remedy. The cartoonish nature of this viewpoint is not helped by misspelling “Origen” as “Origin.”

Using Mark 7 as a basis, they assert that it’s a person’s thoughts that make that person unclean. Using James in a similar manner, the case is built that “…we must first control, redirect and reorder our wayward and disordered affections. We must reorient the interior economy of our desires” (p. 35).

Peter, Paul, and the non-canonical Didache are used in a similar manner, and a catalog of sins is developed that would be familiar to even casual readers of the Bible. In the authors’ view, this catalog should not be construed as a legal template for judgment, but as a portrait of the unregenerate culture in which Scripture was written. Using an evocative phrase from Marguerite Wilkinson, sin is described as “unattempted loveliness.” This overview of sin and our blindness to it sets the stage for the inward-facing excursion that follows, whose goal is to identify the sources of temptation and nip evil thoughts in the bud.

This leads logically into consideration of the logismoi, or eight thought patterns of temptation, and the notion of “talking back” as a palliative measure. The progression of temptation’s influence as described by Father Maximos of Mt. Athos sounds to my MBA ears like today’s marketing cone. My cynical side always thought the Devil was involved in marketing somehow!

The ”talking back” that the book suggests involves having Scriptural weapons at hand when temptation strikes. Deep familiarity with Scripture is therefore a sine qua non for applying monastic disciplines. One wonders what non-Christians are supposed to do.

At any rate, in a manner similar to what Jesus did during his own temptation, we are encouraged to use Scripture to combat the assault of temptation.

I’d urge practitioners to be mindful of how much energy they put into countering temptation. St. Theresa of Avila remarked that the worst way to attack temptation was head-on, full bore. That simply transferred energy to the temptation itself and got thrown back in one’s face. The harder she pushed, the more firmly entrenched the temptation became. A firm yet gentle preference for Scripture might work much better.

A series of quotes form the desert monastics comes at the end of the book which some may find more helpful than others. In my own work, I’ve chosen others, but the ones in the book are well-chosen with regard to their support for the book’s main themes.

It might’ve been a helpful for the book to have included inspection of other dimension of monastic discipline as well as the desert. The Benedictine practice of Ora et Labora might be helpful news to many people. Labora has a way of reducing the intensity of temptations, when properly done. Likewise, familiarity with The Cloud of Unknowing could introduce our Evangelical brothers and sisters to the deep joy of contemplative prayer. Those might work as themes for follow-on books, should the authors so choose.

This book is a useful introduction to the desert fathers and mothers for all those of that part of the Christian spectrum that might wonder of what use these people and their practices might be in today's world. It connects Evangelical practice to monastic discipline very well, it seems to me. Hopefully it will serve to introduce people to a way of life that deepens their relationship with our loving God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


Thursday, December 9, 2021


Vern Walker’s Beyond Language led me to a variety of interesting places. Walker and I share much in common by way of background. He is a Vietnam combat vet. So am I. He has been an author, a poet and a teacher. So have I. I am familiar with the red rock of Sedona and what it is like to be in a desert. The differences are informative, too. He is a lawyer and a philosopher. I am neither, at least not in any formal sense. One different thing I am that matters deeply is that I’m a chaplain. The language spoken in that world makes “beyond language” an understatement.

Language is so much more than vocabulary and grammar. It matters who’s doing the talking and what they construe language to be. The language of a lawyer is quite different than the language of a philosopher or a poet, or a storyteller, or an engineer. Each seeks communication with elegance and precision in ways unique to the purpose at hand. It is a glorious gift to be able to read in the manner intended by an author, and a severe impediment either not to be able to do that, or worse, to refuse to do so. A special poignancy is added to the mix when reader and author are one and the same person.

Beyond Language alternates between prose and poetry as each of the five themes that make up the structure of the book is presented. I got the sense that the poetry was to there to demonstrate the poverty of the prose as well as, curiously, the poverty of the poetry. I got the sense in the early chapters about sensation and emotion that Walker, seeking the precision of philosophy and law, was uncomfortable with paradox, ambiguity and inability to control (or at least predict) the responses of others.

His discussion of “inside” and “outside,” subjective and objective experience reflects the Biblical proverb: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and in its joy no one else shares.” Prv 12:10 NAB). Language bridges that gap but imperfectly. I’m not sure I understand what he means by “Our talks of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ makes it possible for billions of people and worlds to exist at the same time.” (p.12).

Stories serve as connective tissue in Walker’s model of space, time and memory. Although he seems to me to be a convinced materialist, I found a special poignancy in his question about the story we tell ourselves about the sun eventually burning out. Why indeed would we tell ourselves such a story? What would it mean? I suppose he could read Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture to find out. I don’t think he’d like the answer, though he’d likely have to agree with it. I wondered what he might make of Peter Kreeft’s notion of “place-time” as a way of combining meaning with physics. It is your presence and mine, and our encounters that carry meaning, and turns the “space-time” we occupy into “place-time.”

In his discussion of predicting, Walker expresses a meta-narrative about the world that I found utterly depressing: “Because life is deadly and the future uncertain, because we desire good things and strive to attain them, many of our thoughts and discussions, concepts and practices, are devoted to predicting the future and recording stories of success and failure form the past.” (p. 36). I’m put in mind of Rousseau’s characterization of life in the state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  What follows is then a paean to science and enhanced powers of predictability that, having taught statistics at the graduate level, I found as attractive as flat beer.

The section on "explaining" fares the same fate. Walker’s world seems to be decidedly Newtonian and deterministic, even though we live in an age of quantum indeterminacy. His ruminations might be significantly different if informed by quantum effects.

After reading the following sections, I was about to give up on exasperation, but I’m glad I did not. I found Walker’s description of “God” to be nearly identical to his attempted description of who he was himself. That explained a lot.

It got better. His description of himself mirrored Thomas Merton’s expression that “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness, which is beyond sin and illusion, a point of pure truth…which is never at our disposable, from which God disposes of our life, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind and the brutalities of our own will.” Having read this, I repented of my bad attitude about the book and found joy in the last words of the last poem, which read:

“I am

This time and place

Where these words flow,

Obtaining my meaning

From somewhere

Beyond language.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.




Friday, October 15, 2021


Stephen Burnhope’s How to Read the Bible Well is a wonderful resource for anyone who is either newly becoming acquainted with the Bible, or who wishes to learn more about the best way to read, interpret and extract meaning from the Bible. The book might have been aptly named How to Read the Bible Rationally, or Honestly just as well, for it describes several ways in which the Bible has been and still is, misunderstood. It is aimed more towards the general reader than trained clergy, it seems to me. That said, there are several important discussions of modernity, post-modernity and meta-narrative and other themes that are well worth a professional’s attention.

The book begins by asking us to consider what we mean when we say that the Bible is the “Word of God.” Is it to be understood as direct communication from God or is it always going to be the interpreted Word of God? If it’s the latter, then it’s appropriate to ask who’s doing the interpretation and what the ground rules might that help us to get it right. Burnhope seems to be quite familiar with ways in which the Bible is misused, citing proof-texting, confirmation bias and imposition of our own worldviews as interpretative filters. The Bible, he explains, doesn’t answer our questions, but rather only those of the original authors.

Burnhope explains the structure of the Bible the way one might have it explained in formation, which is important for new readers. Different Christian denominations might take issue with his count of the number of books in the received canon, but he does devote a chapter to the different translations of the Bible and what implications are associated with that. His discussion of the King James Version is helpful, but those brought up with it might find it uncomfortable to hear. Likewise, Burnhope’s description of what the Bible is not might offend the sensibilities of fundamentalists, but he doesn’t apologize for that. Instead, he spends considerable effort on explaining how context and the assumptions of both the original authors and current readers must be appreciated to get our interpretations right.

I found his metaphor for the “box set” based on the letter “C” (Season 1: Crisis, Commitment, Commandments, Conversations; Season 2: Christ; Season 3: Cast; Finale – Completion) both intriguing and likely to be of considerable help to new readers who want to have a way of expressing the overall trajectory of the Biblical story cogently and succinctly. The metaphor also serves to introduce Burnhope’s main interpretative filter for the entire Bible, which is (not surprisingly) Jesus (see p.76). This is different that the usual literal, allegorical, anagogical and tropological approach that characterizes other interpretative schemata.

If the interpretive scheme for the Bible is Jesus, it’s necessary to spend some time examining just who he was.  Burnhope’s discussion of Jesus’ two natures is a bit slim, but it gets the job of explaining that Jesus wasn’t Superman done quite well. In doing so, he has chosen to emphasize Jesus’ humanity, not explicitly at the expense of his divinity, but rather to express the immediate relevance of Jesus to us. God is indeed involved in the human condition.

I would’ve liked to have seen some discussion of Arianism along with the treatment of Docetism, linked expressly to the theme of prevailing metanarratives that appears elsewhere in the book. Along with quotes from Max Lucado, reference to the medieval Cursor Mundi and earlier texts that attempt to fill in the blanks in Jesus’ life might have been useful, to point out that such speculation has been going on for a long time.

Burnhope’s discussion of fallacious approaches to the Bible, his treatment of ancient versus current notions of what’s “obvious” (p. 92), modernity and post-modernity (e.g., p. 88-89) as well as his discussion of metanarrative (p. 103 ff) provide a useful backdrop not only to the study of the Bible, but for understanding the field upon which evangelism plays nowadays. They will surely challenge the approach some people take to the Bible concerning what’s “obvious.”

A person new to Biblical exegesis will likely find the discussions about the Old Testament and early Judaism edifying. Identifying Jesus as a halachic Jew might come as a surprise to some, who have operated under the assumption that Jesus was very simply just the first Christian. Importantly, it clarifies the distinction between who we think of as Jews today with who the Jews of so many stripes really were at the time of Jesus. This is a critical insight that readers of the Bible do well to take to heart, to prevent the kind of anti-Semitism that has plagued the history of Christianity. A reference somewhere to the principles of interreligious engagement articulated in the papal encyclical Nostra Aetate would have been of use somewhere along the line, especially since at various point he discusses Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and pagan notions of what the Word of God is.

I found the chapter on Heaven and Hell a bit weak. Interested readers might prefer something along the line of Peter Kreeft’s Everything You Wanted to Know about Heaven, but Never Asked, Bart Ehrman’s Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, W.H. Auden’s poem Hell, and YouTube NDE videos from IANDS, particularly Dr. Mary Neal’s account of her experience.

I was intrigued by the distinction that Burnhope drew between meaning and significance (p.207 ff). Although it’s critically important to understand as best we can what the original context of the writings was, it’s also important to be sensitive to how Biblical texts affect us in meaningful ways in our own contexts. Burnhope calls this “Biblical theology,” and as long as one is clear and honest about the difference between what the Bible means and what I mean there’s nothing not to like about it. Indeed, it may be the way the Holy Spirit speaks to us, even though the official canon of Scripture is closed.

I would recommend this book to anyone, particularly of a Protestant denomination, who wishes to become more intimate with the Word of God. Burnhope has done a creditable job, with flair, intelligence and humor.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


Saturday, May 8, 2021


Jim Antal’s Climate Church, Climate World is an interesting resource for all those concerned about the climate change crisis. He certainly feels strongly about it. I found it to be a book with great strengths and unfortunate flaws.

The book is organized into nine chapters dealing with various dimensions of the climate change issue in church context, an appendix containing preaching suggestions, and an epilogue that contains a retrospective letter imaginatively written by a teenager in the year 2100, describing her reaction to what the people in our own time did about climate change and the “bending of the moral arc” that was occurring in her lifetime. Each chapter ends with a series of questions that can be used by groups or individuals to provoke deeper thought about the issues raised in the chapter.

Antal’s worldview is driven by love and expressed right at the beginning of the book: “The world – each fragment as well as the whole – is a window into the love of God.” (p. 1, also cf. p. 112, p. 129 and especially p. 144 ff.). This emphasis on love found a home in my soul.

A new moral era needs to be proclaimed, Antal argues, that stands in opposition to the hedonistic positivism that is the mainstream worldview these days. As one might expect, there is considerable resistance to the emergence of such a new moral era by entrenched interests and the perennially greedy. He observes that “…when truth is compromised, only power prevails.” (p. 4).

He recognizes that it is a dangerous enterprise to propose fighting climate change. Antal had served as a teaching assistant to Henri Nouwen at Yale and quotes him in an arresting fashion, when he shares a letter Nouwen had written to him from Nicaragua: “You can only risk your life when you are in love” (p. 129). I suspect Jesus would’ve agreed.

Continuing to frame the problem in a way that vividly grabs our imagination, Antal quotes from Pope Fracis' encyclical Laudato si' and Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who echoes Francis' thought:

“We have profaned the Word of God, and we have given the wealth of our land, the ingenuity of our minds and the dear lives of our youth to tragedy and perdition. There has never been more reason for man to be ashamed than now.

We have bartered holiness for convenience, loyalty for success, love for power, wisdom for information, tradition for fashion.

Let the blasphemy of our time not become an eternal scandal. Let future generations not loathe us for having failed to preserve what prophets and saints, martyrs and scholars have created in thousands of years” (p.51).

Antal’s claims that the climate crisis that began in the Industrial Revolution is unique: “Never has the earth and the climate changed so quickly” (p. 5). Unfortunately, this statement overlooks the major mass extinctions that have occurred in the earth’s history such as the K-Pg event, which destroyed three quarters of plant and animal species on Earth. Humans weren’t even around. Although he likely meant to refer only to man-made climate change events, such phrases diminish the credibility of his vision and witness.

Similar dilution occurs in statements such as “Let us begin a new story – a story that is not dependent on fossil fuel or on wealth for the few and misery for the many” (p. 7). The phrase needed to end after “fossil fuel.” The rest of it is polemical, it seems to me. Addressing climate change indeed grapples with the problems of human greed and narcissism, but the scope of those problems far exceeds what’s confronting us with climate change.

The quote from Gus Speth reflects my unease with Antal’s approach: “I used to think that if we threw enough good science at the environmental problems, we could solve them. I was wrong. The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change, as I once thought. They are selfishness and greed and pride. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation” (p. 9).

Speth’s thoughts demonstrate why churches need to be prophetic voices involved in bringing about climate change. That said, it’s one thing to sound the tocsin and another altogether to attempt to make people do something by shaming them into it.  

Antal asserts that all the solutions we need to accomplish our goals with respect to climate change are already at hand (p. 28). All that stands in the way are the short-term profit mentality, fear of change, ideology and vested interests.

Not everyone would agree that the solutions are at hand, and the roadblocks, write large, are roadblocks to much more than just climate change. They are part of human nature and need to be addressed as such, in situ. It’s one thing to ask God (or of each other) to turn us magically into something we’re not and quite another to pray for the grace of metanoia and the energy to do God’s will which, as Antal himself observed is love. Jim actually knows this and asks us to “imagine religious people the world over embracing a call that resides in every faith tradition – a moral call to resist greed in favor of sharing and even sacrifice” (p.33). The problem, many would assert, is that the folks who need to embrace this call are not “religious” in any meaningful sense of the word.

That being said, there’s value in keeping up the drumbeat. Any activist worth his salt knows, as I know from my own activist activities and as Antal does too, that “the single most important ingredient in social change is persistence” (p. 37). It’s all too easy to ignore what’s not continually in your face. What doesn’t help when you’re doing that is asking people to heed God’s call to “conscientization,” (p. 55). The term belongs to Karl Marx, not God, and is guaranteed to put off an enormous number of people who have no use for the communist lie. I wish he hadn’t used the term, for it’s all too easy to connect that dot to others in the book to other dots to which it was not intended to be connected.

Although Antal adverts to the expansion of horizons from quarterly profits to generations of human lives that many corporate leaders are taking (p. 40), additional profitable time could be spent by honest climate change activists studying ISO 14000, the environmental standard for manufacturing. Many of the problems we face are due to incomplete system thinking. Oversimplifying dramatically, we might assert that “Dig-build-sell-discard” systems need to be replaced by “dig and restore-build and keep clean-sell only what’s needed and recycle” systems in our industries and at home. Antal either doesn’t know about this or chooses to ignore it.

The book is weakened a bit by anachronisms and incomplete information. The suit by Our Children’s Trust (pp. 60-61) has been dismissed. Other important develoments in environmental law go unmentioned, such as efforts to declare natual resources as "persons." Rush Limbaugh is criticized, but he is dead and no longer (presumably) influences public opinion. What more can be demanded of him?

I would recommend this book for groups that wish to engage in climate change activism, with the caution that they not read it uncritically. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.



Thursday, February 11, 2021


Alon Goshen-Gottstein's Coronaspection is a reflection upon interviews between the author and forty different religious leaders of all stripes in which they were asked what effects COVID-19 pandemic has had on the apprehension and practice of their religions by themselves and by their coreligionists.

The author is the founder of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, headquartered in Jerusalem. The organization's purpose is to further interreligious harmony. I did not look at all of the interviews, which can be found on YouTube, preferring instead just to sample a few. As a summary, the book does well.

Seven questions were addressed in each interview. They served to focus people's responses while allowing considerable liberty of expression. Readers might find them helpful in organizing their own personal thoughts. The questions, quoted from pp. 4-5, were:

  1. What have been your greatest challenges in dealing with the present Corona crisis?
  2. Corona is bringing out a lot of rear in people. How does one deal with fear? What spiritual advice could you offer to people struggling with fear?
  3. Corona has forced people into solitude. How should time be spent in solitude?. Many people do not have experience and habits that would allow them to make the most of this opportunity. What advice could they be given?
  4. Corona brings about deprivation. We are deprived of our freedom, our habits. We lose things, and even more so – people we love. How does one deal with all forms of separation?
  5. What does Corona teach us about our interconnectivity? What are spiritual applications that people can practice consciously?
  6. Corona forces us onto our own protective space, but it also calls us to solidarity. How can we practice solidarity? What are teachings that support solidarity? What actions express solidarity? What can one do to express solidarity, even from the confines of one’s home and protection?
  7. Many people say the world will be different after this Corona crisis. What blessings do you see Corona bringing to the world? How can the world be different, for the better, following this crisis?

The main section of the book was comprised of “Coronaspections,” or the author’s introspective ruminations about what he’d heard in the interviews, arranged thematically. It was intriguing to see how, for all the differences in religious content, there was considerable agreement about what the coronavirus crisis has brought to our experience.

Interestingly, no one thought that the pandemic was being visited upon humankind as a punishment. There was more of a sense that God (as theistic people would term it) was suffering along with us, rather than tormenting us with a well-deserved affliction. I was reminded of Elie Wiesel’s stories from the Holocaust in which God’s presence was questioned. 

The observation about co-suffering led to realizations of deep interconnectedness and the desirability of compassion and service among most, if not all the religions represented in the book. A  vivid phrase describing the depth of our interconnectedness that captured my attention was one person’s belief that the inner being of another person is myself. (p.61). Beyond human interconnectivity, upon which the Abrahamic religions notions of community focused, Eastern religions saw interconnectivity as embracing all of Nature as well.

Christians, and almost all other religions, tended to interpret the challenges and lessons being taught by the pandemic through the lens of love. Muslim people additionally perceived a warning about deviation from the will of God, and viewed the pandemic itself as a test.

The challenges for religious leaders were to manifold, centering around how to help people cope with loss, fear and anxiety. In general, the advice was to pray, using each religion’s respective traditional practices. Eastern religions tended to focus more on wisdom and interior practice than the discursive prayer of other religions.

In cases where common worship was a requirement, the restrictions imposed by the pandemic presented severe challenges. Individual and family practice needed to be thought through carefully. The hope was expressed that this eventuality would result in greater participation by women in traditionally paternalistic religions.

The imposed solitude of pandemic countermeasures causes anxiety for some, loneliness for all, and an opportunity to draw closer to interior experience of God, or existence in the non-theist paradigm. One Sufi religious leader spoke of learning to die before one dies, so that when one dies, one does not die. Sufi’s speak of a kalwah or interior retreat, which sounds to me similar to St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle and even Jesus’ advice about prayer – that one should go into one’s own room, close the door, and pray with God in private. For those whose religions encompass an eschatological dimension, the implications are clear. For those whose religions do not, the phrase might simply be rephrased “Live so that when you die, you will have lived.”

No matter how one chooses to look at it, the pandemic is offering everyone something to think about. It simply isn’t possible not to have a response of some kind. This book can help readers sort out the different threads of thought that can emerge in human consciousness when responding, consciously or otherwise and create a matrix of meaning that can lead to a constructive, loving response.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


Saturday, August 8, 2020


As I was reading Kevin McClone’s elegiac The Road to Joy, I was struck by how similar the author’s background and mine were. He worked in a hospice. So did I. He was a chaplain. So was I. He is a Christian. So am I. He likes to tell stories and write. So do I. It should come as no surprise then, that his book found a sympathetic and enthusiastic audience in me. Our shared vision is well expressed on pp. 70-80 where he writes: “Many become ‘wounded healers’ where they share with others who experience similar wounds their own experience, strength and hope. How can my experience help others?”

The book is organized into eight chapter that describe eight paths (not the Buddhist Eightfold Way) to joy:

  • Discover Your Calling
  • Discovering the True Self
  • Embracing Healthy Intimacy
  • Integrity
  • Grace Comes through the Wound
  • Simplify, Simplify
  • Embrace Solitude
  • Joy: Coming Home to Fullness of Life

Each chapter concludes with an Action Plan that can help readers move down the path just described. Some of this advice repeats familiar bromides, e.g., “Take care of yourself,” and some seem superficial, e.g., authenticity as embracing who we really are. These are indeed good things but actually to do them requires more than passing mention if they are to be part of a realistic action plan. Having read many if the texts McClone quotes, I was able to fill in the blanks and would encourage other readers to do likewise.

At the outset McClone writes: “Reflecting on my own life, those moments of deepest clarity, meaning and transcendence have happened when I am truly present in the here and now to what is most real and when I seek to respond in love.” (p.6). This expression sets the reader’s expectation that the book is about clarity, meaning, transcendence and love, he does not disappoint us.

McClone shares his alcohol addiction with us early on. As a chaplain for our local chapter of Calix (a group of Catholic alcoholics in the 12-step AA program, who identify their Higher Power as Jesus Christ) I could easily sense the resonance between the wisdom of the 12 Steps and that of which McClone writes. I learned some new phrases that I will likely share with my folks and discovered some new resources that sound like they will be very helpful.

McClone introduces us to his late wife, Grace almost immediately. She loved life, lived it to the full, and was a source of great love and encouragement to him. Among the many things his wife did was to accompany him through the discovery and healing process of AA. Many a recovering alcoholic would tell you that it doesn’t always turn out that way. Grace had to have been a person of great faith, who loved her husband very much. As the book progresses and we hear more about her, it dawned on me that writing this book was quite likely an integral part of the author’s grieving process. As a hospice chaplain, I could see someone recommending that he do exactly that. The book in its entirety is nothing less than a testament to his wife’s love, his own deep faith and the hard work of forging a new life in the face of staggering loss.

McClone describes the alcoholism in his family in some detail. At one point he and his siblings planned, with considerable trepidation, an intervention targeting his father. Apparently it worked, yet the wounds inflicted by alcohol are sown early and run deep. McClone himself needed help to get free of his own addiction. The chapters on discovering our true self, integrity and the grace accorded to wounded healers will ring true with anyone who has ever struggled with recovery from an addiction.

I was struck by the triad McClone quote from the work of Claudia Black, who is an expert on children of alcoholics: “Don’t Talk. Don’t Trust. Don’t Feel.” This triad characterizes family life for alcoholics, leading to a “…’closed family system’ where silence, denial, rigidity, and isolation become the norm.” (p. 22). The dimensions of the problem in society writ large become alarmingly apparent in light of the observation of Trappist monk and abbot, Fr. Thomas Keating, who said in his book Intimacy with God that he estimated that this “anyone” represented 98-100% of the American population! Once again, McClone describes his debt to Grace, who saw right through his family’s issues and provided the prayer, encouragement and direction he needed.

In his chapter on discovering the true self, McClone relates the experience of another alcoholic who described his thoughts of suicide, and later said that if he had followed through, he would’ve killed the wrong person. I had to put the book down for a moment just then, for as I read it, I recalled having spoken with people who had either contemplated suicide or actually attempted it. How I wished I’d had that expression on hand when speaking with some of them! An alcoholic will try to kill the real person whose trauma appears to be too much to bear, while the one who really needs to die is the false self, created with the assistance of alcohol, who stands in the way of achieving the Identity, Integrity and Intimacy that constitute a joyful life (p. 28)

In Chapter 4, McClone refers to Erik Erikson’s Life Cycle Completed when describing the integrity that allows one to enter the end stage of one’s life with a sense of peace, gratitude and accomplishment. I got the impression that he believed this to be the rule rather than the exception. I may be mistaken about that impression, but my own experience tells me that very few get to the end of their lives without expressing regrets or wishing things had been otherwise. Even J.R.R Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) wrote an apology to his children about having been a dilatory father. It took them completely aback, and they remonstrated with their father, but that's indeed the way many see their lives in retrospect. 

The chapter on simplification draws heavily upon Thoreau, for reasons that are clear to those who have read Walden. I found his dual claim that both consumerism and minimalism were on the rise a bit confusing. Perhaps it’s six of one or a half dozen of the other, but you can’t have it both ways! Readers would we well-directed to Vance Packard’s classic The Hidden Persuaders to learn hos insidious the temptations to materialism actually are and how they’re implemented.

I agreed wholeheartedly that one must get to know the poor up front and personally to get to know them as persons and learn from them. Arm’s-length or drive-by Christianity is really not enough, as good as it may be at some level. Memorizing Mt 7:21 is a good way to keep the reason for the necessary distinction in mind.

As McCone wrote about solitude and detachment, I was reminded of an old saying that silence is not about the absence of noise; it’s about the absence of ego – specifically of the false self variety. We may all be alone together in life, but solitude invites discovery, both of what’s in me and what’s in you.

The final chapter concerns joy, and the action plan summarizes much of what has been said in the rest of the book. Each plan item merits rich elucidation, and fortunately many resources are at hand to help with that. I found it useful to have read many of them beforehand.

In his concluding remarks, McClone writes:

“Following the pathways of solitude and simplicity allow for letting go of what is not essential and focusing on what matters most in life. In the stillness, I connect to the God within and I discover that less is more and through emptying myself, I become full. In letting go, I receive in full (p. 115).

It is indeed as St. Peter Chrysologos remarked – we will not be allowed to keep what we do not give away.

I heartily recommend this short book to absolutely everyone. The extensive bibliography contains many more treasures that will prove invaluable to those who pursue McClone's action plans.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.