Reviewed by Glynden Bode
This book is a wonderful, rich collection of short essays from a wide variety of experts, scholars, theologians, faith leaders, and others. The Foreword was written by Desmond Tutu.
The essays address, from different perspectives, the question:
“Do we have a moral obligation to take action to protect the future of a planet in peril?”
Fourteen sections group the essays that are written using a particular lens. Here are a few examples:
Yes, for the survival of humankind.
Yes, for the sake of the children.
Yes, to honor our duties of gratitude and reciprocity.
Yes, for the stewardship of God’s creation.
Yes, because compassion requires it.
Yes, because justice demands it.
Yes, because our moral integrity requires us to do what is right.
Yes, because the world is beautiful.
Every section concludes with an “Ethical Action” section that offers questions for reflection and possible ways individuals can take meaningful action.
Some of the writers are: The Dalai Lama, John Paul II, The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sallie McFague, Marcus J. Borg, … and many others.
Though the book is nearly 500 pages, each essay is about 2 – 8 pages, so it’s easy to read a just little or to pick it up when you have a few minutes.
I encourage you to consider taking a look at this volume that addresses a big issue for our day – through many lenses, including but not solely, science. It could be a good accompaniment for a retreat focused on God’s creation and our care for it.
Even though this book was written 16 years ago, I’ve just recently been introduced to it. What a treasure! It is not only a great read, but I can see using this resource book as a model for both days of prayer and retreats.
Author Vennard is a master of teaching the way of contemplation, but her experience as a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader helps to identify and define the inner movements and energy flow of a contemplative on retreat or even one that is interested in just personal time away. Vennard uses feedback from retreat participants to help make her points about everyday fears of contemplation, silence and the surrender that accompanies of this type of prayer.
Chapter 2 is especially useful for her definition of contemplation and the way she examines the Contemplative Jesus. It also describes the posture of entering silence and those attitudes that can keep one from fully experiencing the holy invitation of simply “being present.” This alone is worth the price of the book!
But that’s not all! It just keeps coming as Chapter 3 provides a design for shaping retreats and the better ways of inviting full participation into both the kataphatic and apophatic way of prayer.
The turning point for me was in Chapter 4 the way she invites discernment to the call of being a retreat leader and the gifts that it requires. She explores the need for attention to the details of leading retreats and the difficulty in being focused on The Holy as others are following your lead. Vennard is never bashful with words but gently provides a nice Examen before embracing the role of retreat leader.
You’ll find an amazing and fairly complete resource of themes, activities and spiritual practices and their process In Chapter 6. Her understanding of silence and how to talk honestly about roadblocks and challenges is very helpful. Along with those thoughts, she explores and provides a model for guided meditation, physical activity, Bible study, spiritual direction, prayer forms and “doing nothing.”
Her personal experiences and encounters of leading retreats are both delightful and descriptive of the call. I would certainly recommend Be Still as it is beneficial in all aspects of planning and facilitating contemplative practices for a group of any size. There are more pearls of wisdom found in this book that can be explored in any commentary or review.
Becky Oates is a seasoned spiritual director who lives with her husband in the country outside of College Station, Texas. She is currently the Program Coordinator for Charis, the 3-year United Methodist spiritual director training program for the Texas Annual Conference.
A few times in your life a book comes along that touches your soul.
Practicing Compassion by Frank Rogers, Jr is one of those books for me. When I finished the book, I wrote to the person who had recommended the book. My message was one word, “WOW.” As a Christian and a spiritual director I continue to search for ways to become more attuned to my own internal preferences and emotions. Knowing who I am helps me be more present with my spiritual direction clients. Practicing Compassion provided me the framework and tools to take another step forward in that self-discovery.
Sometimes we might think of compassion as a sympathetic feeling. Frank Rogers offers a deep understanding of compassion as a framework for a way of living. Through heartfelt stories and practical steps, Frank Rogers leads the readers through a process of learning how to be compassionate in our everyday lives. There are exercises to learn experientially how to develop compassion.
The opening premise is that every person (and I mean every person) is caring and compassionate in the core of their being. However, because of the violent world we live in and our own experiences in life, we get off the track of treating others with compassion. Frank Rogers offers four steps to the practice of being compassionate. Thus, one of the values of the book is learning the how to of being compassionate.
Catch your breath and getting grounded is becoming centered so you can think rationally and recognize your own feelings. Once you are grounded, then you take your own pulse (PULSE is an acronym to examine and reflect what is going on in your interior.) Taking your own PULSE is followed by taking the other’s PULSE, and finally deciding what compassion action to take.
Practicing Compassion is an easy read, however, to really learn about the practice of compassion in your life, the book takes time to reflect on the information and then work through the exercises. Now, I grew up in a dysfunctional household, and this book helped me reflect on having compassion for myself. I hadn’t ever given too much thought to being compassionate to myself, and working through the exercise for having compassion for myself gave me several new insights.
I not only read the book and worked through the exercises; I tried to put some of the practices into my life (as a pastor at a church). There were a few situations that came up almost immediately upon finishing the book, and instead of reacting immediately, I tried the four step process, and ended up saying things or sending emails that looked very different than my initial response would have been. In every case, other people responded in a more positive manner than I would have expected.
I would like to tell you that after a few months I almost always look at people and situations with compassion. But there are still times when I forget to have compassion for myself and/or compassion for others. The results are always different than when I use the steps of being compassionate.
If you are looking for continued spiritual growth, I highly recommend Practicing Compassion. It has made a big difference in my life and I believe it can make a difference in your life. Practicing Compassion is a book to add to your library.
Review by Glynden Bode
This book is not about spiritual direction or retreat leadership. It is the encyclical letter from Pope Francis on our “common home” – and has much to say about living in community, and the intrinsic worth of each created being, regardless of purpose or personal benefit to another.
Here are a few quotes:
It’s a short book, and well worth taking time to read and ponder.
Brookville Books, Sea Cliff, New York
Sister Janice Edwards states in her introduction that Wild Dancing is “not a how-to book” about contemplative prayer nor is it an attempt to define contemplation. Rather, she tells stories and relates experiences of encounters with God’s “Untamed Love” with the hope that the reader will be aroused to greater awareness of Love’s wild dancing within and around us. The experiences she relates include her own journey through destructive and debilitating brain surgery and healing from childhood sexual abuse. In addition, she shares the experiences of survivors of 9-11 and some of her spiritual directees. With these stories, she weaves a cosmic theological understanding of the oneness of God’s Untamed Love that informs and energizes a sense of justice and peace.
Sister Janice’s style is down to earth as she invites us to celebrate and join the Wild Dancing with Untamed Love. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection about our own experiences so that we might know deeply and expansively that “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in contemplating God’s incredible love.
-Karen Covey Moore
Reviewed by William E. Thiele, Ph.D., spiritual director, The School for Contemplative Living
p. 56 “Centering prayer, with its emphasis not on clarity of the mind but on surrender of the heart, leads straight down into the heart’s depths, straight toward the point vierge [virgin point where our life issues forth from God]. It becomes a direct encounter with the Mercy.” What an invitation to stay with daily practices of entering the sanctuary of the soul!
p. 70 Thomas Merton notes “The real freedom is the freedom to come and go from that center, and to be able to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center.” Modern contemplative authors like Thomas Merton, Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr, and Thomas Keating call us toward the practice of surrender as a sign of deep inner freedom and a means of finding that freedom. The next phrase does the same.
p. 87 “Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It is entered always and only through surrender; that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to. And yet, when we enter it, it enters us and fills us with its own life — a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.”
p. 95 Here is a calling straight out of our unfolding primary mission for The School for Contemplative Living: Frere Roger Schutz, founder of The Taize’ Community in southeastern France, says every year the brothers “spend some time away from the monastery living among the world’s radically poor. They do not go to engage in work projects or even to teach, but simply to be among the poor ‘as a sign of hope.’ The gift they bring is merely the gift of presence.” This brings an image of the emerging church as a body of followers of the Way of Christ who bring Presence with them wherever they go because they have lived deep into that Presence in daily life. When Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you,” he was not belittling the importance of ministry with the poor but highlighting the preeminence of Presence over any specific act of “doing good.”
Reviewed by Len Delony
This book just recently arrived here in the mail because of my membership with FUMSDRL… and what a wonderful surprise it is! (One of the editors, Jerry Haas, has been instrumental in the beginnings of our Fellowship.)
It is a delightful collection, through poetry and prose, of powerful ways people have experienced God’s transforming Presence in and through the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Each of these contributions is a unique and powerful expression of an individual’s experience of the Holy.
For those who have experienced the depth of community in the Academy for Spiritual Formation, this is like a homecoming (for all the contributors have participated in or served as faculty for one or more of the Two Year Academies.) For those who are not familiar with “the Academy”, this book is a wonderful invitation to move closer and feel some of the warmth for the soul in this flaming movement of Holy Hospitality.
Reviewed by William E. Thiele, Ph.D., spiritual director, The School for Contemplative Living
“Mystics are irresistibly drawn to become one with God and God’s purposes in the world.”
For the mystic, “the immediate presence of God and the drawing of God toward union are lived, fundamental realities,” (pp. 18-19).
I believe many drawn into the work of spiritual direction and retreat leadership are people who sense the wooing of Spirit deep in their own souls, and cannot be satisfied with anything less than regular Presence.
Dr. Heath is the first person I have heard announcing the fall of the post-modern church into a dark night of the soul. Because the church in the West is undergoing its own dark night of the soul right now, and is becoming fundamentally lost to its purpose and disoriented in its direction, it needs the “severe mercy” of great loss (p. 27).
And yet, Dr. Heath notes the potential hope when the cycle moves forward: “On the margins of society the church will once again find its God-given voice to speak to the dominant culture in subversive ways, resisting the powers and principalities, standing against the seduction of the status quo,” (p. 26).
Here I believe Dr. Heath is issuing a hopeful call to people like us to be preparing right now for the growing darkness ahead, when the institution of the church will dissolve into two misguided concerns of “doctrinal correctness and institutional loyalty,” (Cynthia Bourgeault’s phrase). We may need to surrender more than ever everything we are clinging to for the sake of the “one thing that matters” – the very presence of God/Christ in our midst.
May we deepen our practice and commitment to be present to The Way of Christ for the dark days ahead, and learn from the mystics and contemplatives of this century and the past to be one with the One no matter what else we lose/surrender in the process.
Reviewed by Rev. Len Delony
Last spring at General Conference, Bishop Rueben Job talked about his new book at one of a series of luncheons sponsored by the UM Publishing House entitled, “Ideas to Live By.” Bishop Job pointed back over 200 years to simple guidelines that John Wesley found crucial, and Job stated the General Rules as:
This book, which draws from our roots in the Wesleyan tradition, is especially pertinent in our current, complex world. As Job points out, the way forward in these overwhelming and complicated times can be discerned best through following such simple, basic rules – rules that open us to the Presence and transforming power of God’s love.
If we are to grow in our spiritual journey as individuals and as a people called Methodists, we need to return to the basics that unite us in the common ground of grace. It is from these simple roots that we can best find our way through all our differences and the devilish details of the day. With words that are accessible to all and rooted in our tradition, Job invites us simply to be present to God’s call in the moment. It takes courage, but through that depth of presence we might live in a way that is more open and responsive to God’s transforming power in the world.
Also, with this simple, 77 page book, we are given opportunities to join with others and “be on the same page” in a growing community committed to the basics (leading us to a life-long adventure of fresh beginnings in God’s grace.) Many have already used this book for study and reflection (over 100,000 copies have been sold in English, plus it has been translated into several other languages.) Lenten studies are being developed for children, youth and adults, and should be available by the end of the 2008. In this book we are reminded of
a simple, ancient wisdom that rings true for the ages, especially ours.
(SAVE THE DATE)
July 30-August 2, 2018 at Trinity Retreat Center
Speaker: Jane Vennard
Topic: Tending the Soul: Spiritual Practices for Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders