Friday, September 30, 2016

My Review of "Walking on Water"

Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art brings together spiritual and theological reflections on the craft of creating art from one of the most contemplative writers of evangelical fiction.  L'Engle is perhaps most remembered for her Wrinkle in Time, but it's Walking on Water that offers a gift of grace to artists of all types.

Walking on Water, though, will probably be a frustration if readers approach it as any usual theological text.  That's because Walking on Water reads more like a journal than a theological argument.  Here, L'Engle weaves together biblical reflections with the depth of creative mystery -- so you're more apt to find self-contradictory passages than to find a richly textured argument.

But, as L'Engle maintains from the start, "Faith" and "Art" properly belong together, and together reflect something of the image of God.  To her, creating is a faithful process in which the artist must step aside and let inspiration flow for an honest work to be created.  She illustrates this point by referencing a character in a novel she wrote that she didn't intend to write about before she began.  The character, Joshua from her book The Arm of the Starfish, came to her suddenly after a majority of the plotline had been preconceived.  Having faith to her creative impulse she followed through with the character acknowledging that she had no choice to include this character or not.  She writes, "I cannot now imagine the book without Joshua, and I know that it is a much better book because of him.  But where he came from I cannot say.  He was a sheer gift of grace".

Those gifts of grace come to artists through deep spiritual practices -- like prayer.  "The disciplines of the creative process and Christian contemplation are almost identical."  It's only through those practices throughout life that artists learn to surrender their ego to God, and in that surrender receive the gifts of grace that become the creative product.

For L'Engle, art is at its very nature incarnational.  That is, art is borne through the artist giving birth to something that God calls into existence in the good world of created matter.  And that incarnation takes place in ways that Christians cannot control or manipulate.  This is why L'Engle insists that finding "Christian" art ("true art") is nothing other than a response to this question:  "Do we want our children to see it?"  Though L'Engle tries to make the point clear, this doesn't necessarily mean that something does not handle difficult subject matter.  She actually encourages the artist to employ all facets of life, whether they be violence, sex, etc…  Her criterion is therefore more an observance not of a child's capacity to handle a given subject, as she believes they are capable of far more than adults give them credit for, but a of love that seeks not to be destructive to those who take part.  One may discover upon more reflection of her work that she does not intend this to be used as an excuse to censor art or remove the rough edges, but as a way to communicate those parts in ways that build up and not break down.

Walking on Water is, then, a collection of anecdotes, quotes, stories, and perceptive tangents that encourage the reader to ponder things that just might become applicable in that quiet moment of creating.  Her voice as a well-respected writer and theologian makes this book an indispensable resource for thinking Christianly about art.

This is a classic book that I'm glad to see gaining new audiences, and the reader's guide at the end will go a long way to making this book useful for a new generation.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Review of "Love, Henri"

Love, Henri:  Letters on the Spiritual Life is an amazing collection of over 200 letters by the late Nouwen (whose The Wounded Healer is quite probably the best book for understanding the ministry to which we are all called), a beloved author and Roman Catholic priest.  Love, Henri provides insight into his personal struggles, insecurities and faith and offers the heartfelt guidance Nouwen shared so generously with individuals to a wide audience.

Each letter has a brief introduction in order to give historical context in Nouwen's own life.  The letters are addressed to a rich variety of friends -- colleagues, students, clergy, scholars, critics, readers of his books, grieving parents and even politicians.  The courage and kindness with which Nouwen writes pervades all his books, and are even more visible in these letters.  Here, Nouwen provides direction, advice, companionship and affection -- and these letters will ensure that Nouwen's spiritual legacy as a Christian spiritual father reaches a new generation.  While Nouwen died in 1996, his sincere desire to live with gratitude, faith, and love will speak fresh through these letters for years to come.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My Review of "Starting Over"

Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson's Starting Over: Your Life Beyond Regrets explores how not only to recognize our life's regrets, but, more importantly, how to move beyond them by releasing those regrets to God and finding the grace to start over.

They deal with regrets that most of us deal with -- in relationships, health, purpose, finances, and spirituality.  And they offer specific tools to redeem our mistakes in those areas.  From escaping the "Sorry Cycle" to experiencing the "Starting Over Loop", Starting Over is an important guide.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.