Nature and Grace: Book briefs

My First Summer in the Sierra, 100th Anniversary Illustrated Edition, by John Muir, with photography by Scot Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). This treasured classic chronicles the first lengthy trip made by the renowned naturalist John Muir to the Sierra Nevada (now Yosemite National Park) in 1911. The author of a dozen books and considered the father of national parks, Muir has bequeathed a rich legacy, engendering a better appreciation of the natural world, raising consciousness and capturing in word and image the riches of God’s creation and the crucial need for conservation. As the journal entries in this book reflect, nothing escaped his gaze. He went on to connect the nation to a “beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever.”

In addition to Muir’s original illustrations, this anniversary edition features stunning photographs by Scot Miller, whose other work includes the 150th anniversary edition of Walden. The reader travels along, as it were, from encampment to encampment exploring natural wonders and terrains and a host of animal and plant life forms. Rivers and trails, ridges and creeks, cliffs and mountains, boundless landscapes of beauty: Muir delights the reader with palpable details of his day-to-day experiences over a three-and-a-half-month sojourn. Among his memorable observations are these: “…in the face of Yosemite scenery cautious remonstrance is vain; under its spell one’s body seems to go where it likes with a will over which we seem to have scarce any control.” “How rich our inheritance in these blessed mountains, the tree pastures into which our eyes are turned!”

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Miller’s stunning photos are equally evocative. The book is printed on a heavy, glossy stock, and it has a lay-flat binding. Truly a classic has been re-born—if indeed it ever died.

Moments of Grace: Days of a Faith-Filled Dreamer, by the distinguished and award-winning essayist Christopher DeVinck (Paulist Press, $19.95), is an uplifting book to help readers find (or restore) needed balance in their hectic and media-driven world. The essays are grouped under the four seasons—autumn through summer. In a brief foreword, Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., sees in DeVinck “a craftsman [whose] every word is cut and polished.” In Moments he writes about ordinary life experiences—the good, the bad, the frightening, the unexpected, the unforgettable, the teachable and everything in between. “We live our lives,” he notes, “in the rhythms of drama, between ordinary routines and sudden jolts.”

Faith, family and friends; the simple and complex parts of God’s creation; the celebration of holidays and momentous events; acute and insightful observations of places and things too numerous to mention—such is the stuff of DeVinck’s book, providing the reader with opportunities to savor her own physical and spiritual experiences. As the author concludes, “I hope this little book helped to stimulate the fields of your soul at midnight as you continue to make the conscious decision to breathe.” In this he has succeeded with characteristic grace and style.

The Homeless Bishop: A Novel, by Joseph Girzone (Orbis Books, $25), marks a departure—and an interesting one at that—from the author’s long-running and popular Joshua series. Those books have reportedly captivated a readership of 40 million people. His new novel’s main character shares a (but loose) thread with the author Barbara Ehrenreich, who went undercover and assumed various jobs in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America to reveal the plight of low-wage workers. Girzone’s hero is a young archbishop, Carlo Brunini, whose diocese is Taranto, Italy. Deeply spiritual, Jesus-centered, pastoral to a fault, he yearned to reach out to the poor and presented a plan to the Holy Father (with whom he shared a close relationship), who approved. And so Carlo came to the United States as “Charlie,” a homeless man who walked the walk, lived the life, joined other homeless street dwellers, and who was spurned by the pastor of a Catholic church. His homeless “family” taught him many lessons, and readers will likewise experience vicariously what rewards are given those who embrace the poor and neglected in our midst. After a lengthy sojourn (that includes an interlude in Mexico), Carlo returns to Italy and begins to implement outreach programs in all the dioceses. Though some of the plotline struck me as over the top and straining credulity (I won’t give any of it away), the book works well as a Christian fable and is an affecting read.

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