Engaging the Traditions
Chokoisky, Simon. Five Dharma Types: Vedic Wisdom for Discovering Your Purpose and Destiny. Inner Traditions. May 2014. 416p. ISBN 9781620552834. pap. $19.95. rel
Chokoisky (Ayurvedic Inst., Albuquerque, NM) teaches Sanskrit and “medical astrology,” and this ambitious volume attempts to map ancient Vedic conceptions of human capacities to the realities of today’s Western world. While we can, according to the author, be divided into five Dharma types: educators, warriors, merchants, laborers, and outsiders, we are all constrained to live in an age most congenial to merchants. Chokoisky’s task, in addition to convincing readers of the types to which they belong, is in part to help them adjust to the times. The success of this book for most readers will depend on their acceptance of the validity of the ancient Indian model, which at times has been seen as a set of confining hierarchies: Chokoisky’s attempts to visualize them as complementary personalities is intriguing. VERDICT The author’s purpose—to allow each of us to find a right profession and way of living—is appealing, but his ideas may be a tough sell in America, where we tend to believe in an infinite ability to choose. Still, this book is enthralling, and should appeal to many students of Vedic tradition and yoga.
Friedman, Hershey H. & Linda Weiser Friedman. God Laughed. TCU. 2014. 360p. ISBN 9781412853767. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9781412854276. REL
The authors—Hershey, a professor of business at Brooklyn College, City University New York, and Linda, a professor of statistics at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business—are not professional historians but have written a book that is academic in its ambitions and scope and largely succeeds. Their contention is that humor, hard though it may be to define, has been a key component not only of Jewish religious life and its writings, but of Jews’ survival of centuries of exile and persecution. Certainly, while the Torah and the Talmud have their share of paradox and sarcasm, the slightly sour and pragmatic qualities now associated with Jewish humor flowered later, as by-products of exile and change. VERDICT Peppered with humorous anecdotes and stories, this rich and thought-provoking book is an education in Jewish spirituality as well as a study in the meaning of the comic essence itself and deserves a wide audience.
Memoirs & Biographies
Boyett, Micha. Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer. Worthy. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781617952166. pap. $14.99. rel
Boyett comes to spiritual writing with words of encouragement and praise from the likes of Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) and Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club; Lit). Hers is in certain ways an unremarkable story—finding a reconciliation between the stress and busyness of a wife and mother’s life and the focus and peace of a committed spirituality. What is striking and perhaps indicative of broader trends, however, is that in order to find her center, Boyett reaches across the aisle from the Baptist faith of her background to the worship practices of Benedictine monks. Their prayer cycle, including vigils, lauds, prime, terce, etc., is the structuring principle of the book, as the author moves from a perceived loss of faith after the birth of her first child to something richer and stronger. VERDICT Boyett’s easy-to-read narrative should appeal to a range of Christian seekers as well as to church study groups; pastors and priests will find use for her openness to the spirituality of the monastic life.
Courtney, Vicki. Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess. Thomas Nelson. Aug. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780849964916. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718022419. REL
Courtney (5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter; Ever After; TeenVirtue) has been a busy writer in the field of Christian self-help and advice, focusing her attention on women, especially as mothers, children, and teens. The author’s approach is sufficiently biblical to satisfy Christian conservatives is endearingly unassuming enough to please other readers as well. This work, part memoir and part counsel, embraces life’s imperfections, including, most notably for Courtney, the pregnancy of her son’s fiancée. For the author, God’s mercy can be found in our “messes.” VERDICT Many readers, especially Christian women, will appreciate this book of digestible sermons full of life stories and biblical touches.
DeRusha, Michelle. Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. Crown. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781601425324. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781601425331. REL
DeRusha is not a familiar figure on the landscape of spiritual writing, but the merit of her prose may lie in her very typicality. Married with two children in Nebraska, a columnist (Lincoln Journal Star) and occasional author, she writes with an unassuming verve and charm reminiscent of Anne Lamott; her frequent admissions of her own shortcomings, doubts, and fears are presented with humor, wit, and intelligence. Her journey and struggle—to accommodate uncertainties within faith—resonate with the experience of many Christians today. VERDICT One of the most appealing spiritual memoirs of the last several years, this book deserves readers well beyond church reading groups. It will speak to the lives of many individual seekers within Christianity and without.
Kravitz, Lee. Pilgrim: Risking the Life I Have To Find the Faith I Seek. Hudson Street. May 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781594631252. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698156913. rel
Kravitz (Unfinished Business) has an impressive professional résumé as former editor-in-chief of Parade magazine, editorial director of Scholastic, Inc., and founder of React magazine. However, he has attracted more public attention since being dismissed from Parade and becoming a memoirist. This book continues Kravitz’s post-Parade ventures and focuses on the author’s spiritual journey through Quaker meetings, classes in Buddhist meditation, Catholic masses, and more, only to end at peace in his own (Jewish) tradition. His simple, direct style effortlessly conveys his journey. VERDICT Kravitz’s approach has an appealing transparency that should engage many seekers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
Christi, Nicolya. Contemporary Spirituality for an Evolving World: A Handbook for Conscious Evolution. Inner Traditions. 2013. 304p. bibliog. ISBN 9781591431664. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781591438434. rel
Christi (2012: A Clarion Call) feels the urgency of the need for widespread change in our existence; this extensive study and manual for such alteration, both personal and cultural, is organized rather loosely around Native American–inspired conceptions of “arrows”: Seven Dark, Seven Light, and Seven Rainbow. Christi’s prior work—and to a lesser extent this book—is anchored in the rather dubious elevation of 2012 as either the end of the world or a prompt for transformation, depending on your outlook (that “Mayan calendar”), but the principles she espouses are hard to contest: peace, justice, self-discovery. VERDICT Christi’s goal—to turn “emergency into emergence”—is laudable and many readers, especially those interested in alternative religious perspectives, will find value in her book.
McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler. What’s in a Phrase? Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause. Eerdmans. 2014. 144p. bibliog. ISBN 9780802871145. pap. $14. rel
McEntyre (medical humanities, Univ. of California, Davis) is by no means the first or only poet to care deeply about matters of faith, but her history as a writer (Patient Poets; Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies) suggests an unusual, subtle, and touching concern for the words in which faith is conveyed, carried, and treasured. Structured around the broad categories of “assurance,” “invitation and admonition,” and “mystery and surprise,” these brief reflections—really miniessays—respond to a variety of different syncopes from the Bible; they are a kind of close reading of text, but from a spiritual as much as a literary point of view. VERDICT McEntyre’s elegant writing and sensitive awareness of nuance make this brief book a pleasure as well as a source of instruction and insight, excellent for poets and general readers as much as for Christian and spiritual ones.
McGrath, Alister. If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life. Tyndale House. 2014. 219p. ISBN 9781414383781. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781414390949. REL
McGrath (A Life of John Calvin; The Dawkins Delusion) is a busy and prolific writer on Christianity and a number of important Christian thinkers, including scholar and Narnia author C.S. Lewis (1898–1963). McGrath’s most notable claim to public attention has perhaps come from his unashamed confrontation with the champions of the “New Atheism,” particularly Richard Dawkins. This unassuming book is a very straightforward introduction to the Christian thought of the perennially popular Lewis. The author’s rich familiarity with Lewis’s work is beyond question; his expositions are most effective where Lewis’s arguments are weak or inconsistent. VERDICT Lewis is such an effective writer that it is a challenge to come in his wake, but McGrath’s affectionate treatment helps to set his subject in a contemporary context and should appeal to both reading groups and individuals going beyond the Narnia novels and into Lewis’s apologetics.
Moo, Jonathan A. & Robert S. White. Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis. IVP. Jun. 2014. 192p. notes. ISBN 9780830840526. pap. $20. REL
White (geophysics, Univ. of Cambridge; Royal Society) and Moo (biblical studies, Whitworth Univ.) match the approaches of the scientist and the theologian in this discussion of the condition of the world and its environment in the light of Christian faith. They, like most responsible scientists, view the condition of the earth as dire, but see every reason for hope and joy, even in the face of the necessity for immediate and radical change. The mix of environmental awareness and activism with a Christian sense of mission is by no means new, but these authors bring Cambridge credentials, brevity, and an unusually buoyant feeling of faith to their task. VERDICT While not as rich in theology or indeed as thorough in its science as a number of recent accounts, this work is written with deftness and care and should exert an appeal to many church groups and individual seekers.
Weber, Joseph. Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa. Univ. of Iowa. May 2014. 240p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781609382353. pap. $18.95. REL
Weber (Businessweek) has written a scattered but fascinating and balanced account of the community in Fairfield, IA, that grew up around the presence and charisma of the famed and controversial Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008). He follows the story of this unusual group as it rises, and, in the wake of its founder’s death, slowly declines despite the members’ efforts to keep a university going and run for public office. Weber looks frankly at both the joy Transcendental Meditation (TM) has brought to its members and the folly and debate that have surrounded it as well; he shrewdly compares its likely future to that of the nearby Amana community, a semiseparate group of utopian dreamers. VERDICT An honest look at the very mixed success of TM in the Midwest, this book should be of keen interest to academics and general readers alike.