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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-07-04 22:27
Now Enrolling: Prayer 101
Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to God - Cardinal Donald W Wuerl

Everyone comes from different religious backgrounds. For those of you who have been with me since the start of this blog, you know that my particular religious background is that of a cradle-born Catholic, the daughter of two converts to the Catholic faith (one of whom has a Ph.D in Theology and has taught Theology in Catholic colleges since I was a baby); you know that my educational background has always steered toward the Catholic side, what with using Kolbe Academy as a high school program and having gone to the University of Saint Francis for my B.A.; you know that my life hasn't been a life devoid of guidance and growth in my spirituality.


This book taught me a lot.


Cardinal Donald Wuerl's Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to GOD is a good book for anybody in any walk of spiritual life. Don't be scared by the fact that this book taught a cradle Catholic with a very formative religious upbringing; whether you are like me and have been praying since you could talk, or whether you have never said a prayer in your life (or, at least, have said very few!), this book will offer you a Prayer 101 that meets you where you are.


How? How can a book meet people with very different experiences, in very different places in life and development, right where they are...right where they need to be met?

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review 2014-02-18 12:27
Book 13/100: The Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World - Henri J.M. Nouwen

This is a beautifully written, comforting book. In it, Henri Nouwen answers a challenge posed by a young, secular Jewish friend of his: to write something spiritual that "secularists" could relate to. He set out to explore how we can learn to "live life as the Beloved" (of God) by finding meaning in being beloved, blessed, broken, and taken. The chapter on "Brokenness" was the one that resonated most with me -- about how in allowing ourselves to live in our moments of emotional brokenness we open ourselves up to eventual joy. I've found this to be true in my own life, although it doesn't mean that I welcome those painful experiences!

The book's set up as, essentially, an apologist love letter to his friend, drawing on their shared experiences and points of reference, makes it feel especially intimate. Unfortunately, his friend did not feel like it answered his need and that it was still geared too much toward those who "already spoke the language of spirituality." Luckily, a publisher saw its usefulness to to others and brought it to the rest of the world, an audience not intended but still grateful.

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quote 2014-02-13 12:42
When joy and pain are both opportunities to say 'Yes' to our divine childhood, then they are more alike than they are different.
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quote 2014-02-12 05:41
Living the spiritual life means living life as one unified reality. The forces of darkness are the forces that split, divide and set in opposition. The forces of light unite. Literally, the world 'diabolic' means dividing. The demon divides; the Spirit unites.
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review 2014-01-24 04:34
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

(I wrote this review for Goodreads last year, but since I closed my account I am reposting it here.)

I  read this book out of spiritual curiousity.  What could a woman who had spent years as a leftist feminist lesbian college professor and then become a reformed calvinist wife and home school mother....say to speak to my spiritual journey?       Could she add anything to my current journey for deeper authenticity and wholehearted living? It certainly seemed at least that she knew a lot about drastic changes.
There are two things I really loved about the book.  Rosaria is brave and courageous in owning her story despite the fact that it is very likely to be a cause of rejection by both friends past and present.  I also appreciate that she is far more critical of Christians than others.  (She isn't quite as willing to criticize her particular brand of Christianity.)
But to be honest, this book left me with lots of questions and wonderings. Now I think questions are good, but in this case they are not the kinds of questions that lead you deeper, but the kind that act like barriers to all of the truth.   I don't think these were necessarily intentional barriers, but rather indications that this is a story not yet fully told.
My questions are all connected to one big wondering.  Rosaria states that she felt like an imposter in her life as a professor.  It made me wonder how her self-described identity was developed...how it evolved.  Was she just following along with others or really following her heart?  For example:
1. What was a Rosaria's experience at coming to understand herself as gay?  She doesn't really talk about this in any kind of authentic way.  In fact, the things she does say give a strong impression that she chose being in a lesbian relationship as part of the package of being what she called a leftist, feminist, college professor.  It was more of a political and professional decision than a personal one.  She even mentions that coming back to her office and work after a summer away made her feel like more of a lesbian again. She describes herself as being what is the common stereotype used on the right for academicians....far left, atheist, feminist, hostile to Christianity...and the oft mentioned butch haircut.
2.  What are the influences that led her from being a lapsed Catholic to becoming a self described atheist.?  Again, it felt that her identity as atheist was more connected to her profession than the result of any kind of deeply held beliefs of her own.  
3.  What was the status of her relationship to her partner at the time she started exploring Christianity...or even before?  She does not make it seem as if ending or leaving that relationship was very difficult.  Her struggle is only with her profession.  Her relationship is looked at fairly casually, or as a source of embarrassment.  This would not be the case for most people in a committed relationship.
4.  I also wonder about her relationship with the man that is only called R.  There is a hint that he might have been gay, and that this is why the two of them were introduced.
This is important, because she definitely portrays him as unable to repent from his sin.  It seems an important omission not to tell more of his story.   I realize she is telling her story and not his...but to have included him at all with so little information gives the impression of someone trying to hide something.
5.  Another big wondering is why Rosaria chose to spend as much time me as she did in her book defending her choice of Calvinism over other forms or Christianity, including her defense of the regulative principle of worship.  It just seemed a strange addition to the story.  Her book is not long and so much is left out...yet she takes several pages to defend her belief in this principle.
Because of all the wondering, I am left only with some strong hunches about Rosaria's story. In the end, I think her transformation is not as dramatic as the storyline and details would make it seem.   Rosaria seems to have moved from one very tight box to another. 
She comes across as a follower who needs certainty.  When she was identified as the liberal college professor, she had to take it all the way...no questions or nuance.  Nothing to decide...absolute morals determined by a set ideology.  Not surprisingly this did not feel authentic...because very few people fit into that kind of box.  When a preacher with questions makes it clear to her that she is tired of her box...she climbs out of it and into another one. This transition comes with a lot of assumptions, including that a Christian can't be a liberal, feminist, or lesbian.  Not by accident, both the liberal colleagues of her past and the Calvinists of her present accept these assumptions.  It is an either/or black and white proposition.  In many ways her worldview doesn't change at all.  She just switches sides.  My experience is that in the most powerful conversions, a whole worldview is turned upside down.  I just don't see that in her story.
My biggest concern with this book is not with Rosaria herself, but with the way this story is being used in the narrative about gays and Christianity, This story, while hers, does little to inform people on how to understand and embrace the many Christians who find themselves in conflict over their faith and sexuality.   While she calls her story a train wreck, her packaging is very neat and orderly.  I was an atheist, feminist, liberal, lesbian and now I am a Christian and tossed all of that away.  But life is not really that clear cut.  Those divisions are not so clear.  I know hundreds of gay people, and not one of the fit the clear cut stereotypical way she described herself in the book.  Her story should not be used as any kind of evidence that a person who knows on a deep level that they are gay can change.  She does not make that claim for herself, and no one should make it for her. 
Probably my biggest wonder of all is what story she might want to tell 10 years from now.  Will the box she has climbed into still give her comfort?   If it does, than I am happy for her.  Our faith should be our source of strength and comfort.  If it doesn't, the I hope she will still have the kind of courage she has demonstrated in this book and will bring out her pen and write the rest of her story.   I will be waiting and wondering.
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