Category Archives: Must Reads

The Wisdom of Wilderness…a review

Last year I read over sixty books and of all those books, my favorite was read near the end of February.  Of course, I then read several others by the same author and enjoyed each of them.   In January of this year, I finished reading what will probably be my best read of 2019: The Wisdom of Wilderness, and I now have another book by the same author, Will and Spirit, on my “currently reading” pile.

Having read a couple of other books by Gerald May, I wanted to test the waters again, and again found a deep well of refreshing water.  The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature, is the last book he wrote before his death in 2004.  In this compilation of his journals and synopsis of his encounters with nature, this gifted writer, invites you to join him on his journey as he explores nature and the nature of his inner world.  It isn’t just what he sees while he is spending some time outdoors…it is a courageous sharing of the depth of his fears, his grief, and his delight in the experiences he has as he is with/in nature.

He is a master story teller and shares his thoughts with humor and honesty, and from the perspective that he would soon die.  I highly recommend the book and the author.

Embrace the Mess

I have been a Christian, follower of Christ, for going on many years and the faith of my youth is very different from that of my current state. I appreciate the world I grew up in, but it was very much a bubble. A conservative, rosy bubble that hasn’t been popped from the reality of the outside coming in, but from my own finger poking the boundaries of my traditional teachings. Questions, so many questions have been asked by my brain when I see so many inconsistencies which has led to so much searching and quiet frustration, but it is that frustration and through that searching that I find the Christ that draws my spirit to his.

I found hope… help in a spiritual memoir that I just finished called, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Webber. At first I read it as a way to check off one of my quarterly bucket list items, but then I realized that at the heart of this book is what I have believed for several years now: faith is messy and rarely lived honestly. That means me.

One of the things I wrestle with most, is the idea of God sitting on his holy throne waiting to forgive me for the sin I am obviously going to commit. It always feels like he is waiting for me to sin. Which, hello, human here! I do. But Nadia paints a picture that is not of a God far away on his throne, but of one that is right here redefining my identity.

“I need to clarify something, however. God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all… instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace– like saying “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.” pg. 50

Life is hard. Life is messy. But I don’t think life is about staying clean– not spiritually speaking. I feel like I have been taught over and over again to stay clean, resist sin, don’t associate with the unclean unless you are going to save their eternally damned souls (not in those words per se, but you know…), and a step more, I have said/taught those things (but you know, not with those words per se). But that is so Us Vs. Them. Right vs. Wrong. You Vs. Me. But it does nothing for the soul. No transformation, no change takes place when we seperate ourselves from whoever “They” are. Because, I am them! We are they! It isn’t about you or them, my faith deals with Jesus, my poop, and my belief in ressurection.

“Ressurection never feels like being made clean and nice and pious in those Easter pictures. I would have never agreed to work for God if I had believed God was interested in trying to make me nice or even good. Instead, what I subconsiously knew, even back then, was that God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new.” pg. 174

Maybe faith is like sex, you know it is good if it is messy and honest.

Now, on to my next book, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), by Betty White.

Henri Nouwen and The Prodigal

About a year ago, my friend Mary Newkirk and I went through Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming, together.  It is one of those books that I think is an essential read for everyone, whether you consider yourself a person of faith or not.  As a result of some of our discussion together, I wrote a poem (Forgiveness) and she wrote this review.  She is such a good writer, check out her blog: http://becominggodsbestme.blogspot.com/

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Ahhh, I have done it again. I have forgotten how to be “the father” in my relationships; I have forgotten how to “step over” the landmines of silly offenses that come my way…daily, it seems. Will I ever really become like the father in the familiar story that has grabbed my heart and attention anew? The millennia-old story that Jesus told of the prodigal son, the lost son…or sons, as Henri Nouwen determines, and we may overlook.  The story is in Luke, chapter 15. But for Henri Nouwen this parable came alive through the masterpiece of Rembrandt, named “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. And he wrote a book about how studying the painting and the artist impacted his life.

My friend Mary recommended this book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming, a few years ago. (It seems much of what I read is a result of Mary’s recommendations, I’m so grateful!) This book seems to be one that, much like the Bible, whenever you read it, you find different “gems” that fit the circumstance of your life at that moment. I’ve read it at least three times, and each time I must underline different sections. I guess that’s how you know when you’ve found a valuable work.

On my most recent journey into this book, I was particularly impacted by the idea of the compassionate love of the father and what Nouwen thinks are the three components of this fatherly love: Grief, Forgiveness and Generosity. 

Grief in that it asks us to shed tears over the sins of the world, that they pierce our hearts as we realize the waywardness of God’s children. Nouwen says much of our praying is really grieving, over the sins of the world, but even more-so because of our innate recognition of the boundless divine love of our Father.

Forgiveness is the second characteristic of the compassionate love of the Father, the second quality we must strive for in becoming the father in our own story. It is the father in the parable of the lost son who shows us how to not only say we forgive, but to actually “step over” the offenses that come our way. The offenses especially hurt when they are lobbed at us by our closest loved ones. They are bound to hurt the worst, to linger the longest, to burn into our hearts and memories. I wonder if I will ever become the father in this respect? That “stepping over” is so difficult…because after all, it is all about me! How could they? Why would they? Why does no one appreciate me and treat me with the care and attention I deserve? Becoming the father in my relationships necessitates that I step over, climb over, those walls of offenses that potentially kill a compassionate heart, that call my loved ones home with unconditional love. Yes, this is the most difficult for me, to climb over and not keep looking back.

Generosity is the third component of the compassionate heart. It calls for giving without reserve…giving energy, time, money, attention…all of the things that really cost me something. It is giving as they go out, and giving as they come back “home”. I wonder if I will ever consistently, authentically be “the father”?

For Henri Nouwen, it was about a painting. For me it is about his book by the same name. For you it may be something else entirely. But I recommend this book as you journey through the stages, as we all do, of being the younger son, the elder son and hopefully on to the true calling of being the father of your story. We are all of these at different stages in our life and each time you pick up this book, you will recognize yourself, I guarantee it!

Mary Newkirk

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Thank you, Mary!