One of the great things about working at the magazine is that you’re among the first to see newly published books. Let me share with you three that are currently on my nightstand, and which I’ve just started. The first we received through the mail; the second two I stumbled upon at the L.A. Religious Education Congress. By the way, each have beautiful covers, but I haven’t yet figured out the "Image" function on our new blogging software.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s book Fingerprints of God has the best lede (or lead, depending on which journalist you trust) of the year. She begins her book, about the search for “proof” of spiritual experiences (of the physiological, neurological and biological kind) with the story of her first aspirin—at age 34. Hagerty, an NPR religion correspondent, had been raised as a Christian Scientist, and was suffering from an awful flu, opened her medicine cabinet, where a friend had left a Tylenol, and popped it. “Wow,” she thought, “I feel terrific!” She chose, she said, “the ease and reliability of Tylenol over the hard-won healings of Christian Science. Her book, which takes that incident as its theological starting point, is an investigative journalist’s look at whether parts of our bodies and minds are hard-wired to God. Is there a “God spot” in the brain? Is spirituality biological? (And if it is, I would ask, does it matter: Could God not work through this, too? Mark Salzman’s novel Lying Awake looked at the same questions through the experiences of a female mystic who finds that her mystical experiences are the result of a brain lesion.) I look forward to seeing what Hagerty found out. (The book is to be released in May.)
William A. Barry, S.J., the Jesuit spiritual writer, is asking different kinds of questions about spirituality in his new collection Here’s My Heart, Here’s My Hand. It looks at Barry’s favorite topic—friendship with God—and develops it from several angles. I picked up this book at the L.A. Religious Education Congress, and have already started to enjoy it. Some of the essays America readers will recognize since they appeared in our mag over the years. Two of my favorites, “How Do I Know It’s God?” And “Does God Communicate with Me?” are in this beautiful new volume, which I’m already enjoying.
On the way out to L.A., I saw a distinguished-looking man reach into the overhead luggage bin and pull out what looked like a breviary. But was it? Maybe it was some other book with blue, red, green and yellow ribbons. Next he pulled out a copy of "Living with Christ." Well, that settled it. A pleasant conversation confirmed that this was Abbot Christopher Jamison, the abbot of Worth Abbey in England, and best known in his country as the head of the locale for the monster BBC hit “The Monastery.” His new book is Finding Happiness, which shows how monastic practices (and Benedictine spirituality) can help everyone be happier. We shared a ride from the airport to the L.A. Congress with a friend and I was happy to see that Abbot Jamison was, indeed, happy!
Anyway, I’ve not finished any of these books, so don’t count this as a review. More like a fellow diner saying about an entrée that a waiter carries past your table, “That looks good!”
James Martin, SJ