Three New Books

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.)

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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

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8 years 8 months ago
Thanks for letting us know about Abbot Jamison's book "Finding Happiness". I believe that Benedictine spirituality can help people be happier. I want to mention St. Romuald. Romuald was a Benedictine monk and a monastic reformer who lived a thousand years ago. Romuald left monks his Little Rule about contemplative prayer. Like the desert fathers and mothers, St. Romuald emphasized prayer, simplicity, the use of the Psalms and attitude before God. This is St. Romuald's Brief Rule: "Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish, The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, Like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him."

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