Of Many Things

"One a of the lessons we all must learn if we are to survive spiritually and psychologically is how to leave behind what is unnecessary and travel light. Wise counsel, this, from Robert J. Wicks, a professor at Loyola College of Maryland and the author of some 40 general and professional books. His latest, Crossing the Desert: Learning to Let Go, See Clearly and Live Simply (published in March by Sorin Books) was part of my profitable Lenten reading.

Drawing on the wisdom of the fourth-century desert abbas and ammas, the book brims with welcome reminders of the need for perspective and balance in both our material and spiritual lives, and steps we might take to correct any imbalance. Interestingly, the very day I finished the book, The New York Times ran a piece by Alina Tugend entitled Too Busy to Notice You’re Too Busy, which wound up at the top of the most-read list for the following 24-hour period.

So what does that suggest? How could we live without all the electronic gizmos available at every turn? How can we possibly take a vacation this year? The writer is dead on, I think, in asserting that we just do not know how to be unoccupied. It’s essentially about control: having it, or taking it back. She quotes Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., (the author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap), whose sage and simple, if obvious advice is, Decide what matters. Robert Wicks’s book provides readers who are serious about change with a path to followfrom abundance to emptyingnot an easy one, for sure, but worth an effort.


Crossing the Desert is one among spring’s many new blooms, a handful of which you can read about in this issue of America and others in coming issues. Predictably, they span the gamut of categories. Even though our focus each publishing season is on the new, it is good to remember, recognize and perhaps revisit past works that can indeed be described as landmarks. This month, for example, marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Mariner Books), whose shocking revelation about ecological devastation wrought by DDT raised public awareness and has shaped environmental discourse and influenced initiatives for decades. And many communities of religious sisters across North America have come front and center, also taking up the cause. Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, by Sarah McFarland Taylor (Harvard Univ. Press), casts the spotlight on several communities and chronicles the creative, courageous and beneficial environmental work they have been doingin some cases for many yearsboth on and off the land.

These so-called green sisters include Dominicans, Sisters of Charity, I.H.M.’s, Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, Sisters of the Holy Cross and Sisters of the Presentation. It (still) isn’t easy being green, livingin their casecountercultural lifestyles. Blending activism and engagement with contemplation, many have renovated their motherhouses and live simply in energy-efficient hermitages with minimal resources.

The photos in the book speak volumes by themselves. The author did most of her research onsite, visiting and interviewing many sisters in the course of writing the book. A helpful appendix lists ecological learning centers, eco-spiritual retreat centers, organic farms and other earth ministries in the United States and Canada.

Although we have yet to read a word of it (the English-language translation was not available at this writing), we await Doubleday’s May release of the English edition of Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI, which he describes as my personal search for the face of the Lord.’ Expect to read a review in America in the not too distant future.

Finally, a publishing category we do not cover in these pages, but one that I bet will never go out of styledespite our P.D.A.’s and other such gizmosis the traditional wall calendar. Abundant new offerings appear each year in mid- or late June. Gardeners, wildlife specialists/aficionados, sports enthusiasts, travelerstake your pickcan find what is just right (although right is not always politically correct). New for 2008, from the environmentally conscious Amber Lotus Publishers of Portland, Ore., look for Environmental Art or Hidden Messages in Water. Listen up, youngsters (or your parents). College Board is issuing The Official SAT Question of the Day Calendar to take away some of the pain and angst in preparing for the big test. And political observers may want to check out G. W. Bush: The End Is Near Countdown calendar to be released by Chronicle Books of San Francisco.

My favorite? The I Don’t Have Time to Be This Busy calendar, starring Garfield. Now there’s a step toward the simpler life.

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