Volume > Issue > Briefly: November 1991

November 1991

The Lord of the Journey

By Roger Pooley and Philip Seddon

Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco

Pages: 431

Price: $15.95

Review Author: Janice Daurio

The title of this book evokes one of the oldest and most pervasive of metaphors: life as a journey. With people of other creeds and no creeds, Christians share this insight about our true existential condition. With Christians of all denominations, a Christian of any denomination acknowledges the unseen companion, the Lord, on the journey of life. This collection of readings in Christian spirituality, compiled by two evangelicals and pitched to an evangelical audience, is, for any Christian, a good roadmap for the journey.

There is another metaphor that has been used by Christians to describe their relationships with other kinds of Christians: doing battle. But tensions have been easing. For, as Pooley and Seddon point out, “The great change that has come about in the last twenty years or so is that Evangelicalism, along with other Christian groupings, has left its island fortress isolation on the field of religious warfare, and begun to parley with its allies.” Now, more and more, other Christians are not the enemy but fellow companions along the way with whom one is in dialogue. Attendant on this new understanding is the well-taken presumption that we can share our treasures with each other along the way. And there are great treasures here!

Signs of easing tensions are apparent on a number of fronts. For example, Protestants take Catholics for spiritual directors. It is not uncommon for non-Catholics to read Catholic spiritual classics. Catholics sing some Protestant hymns.

The editors of this collection wish to demonstrate to their evangelical audience that their tradition goes back further than the 16th century. So, within each section of this topically divided book, chronologically arranged selections reach from the earliest beginnings of Christianity to the present.

There are authors here whom one should not be surprised to find. C.S. Lewis, for instance, is claimed by virtually every Christian tradition. And it is not surprising to find, in addition to Augustine, Anselm and Athanasius. But the following are strange bedfellows, especially in an evangelical collection: Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ernesto Cardenal, Ignatius of Loyola, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Henri Nouwen, and Edward Schillebeeckx.

Nonetheless, most of the quotations are from evangelical authors. What can they say to other Christians? For any Christian, these selections are a bulwark against soupiness and false optimism. But for Catholics in particular, the evangelical construct of our disobedience and God’s majesty, our inclination to stray and God’s inclination to seek, our unholiness and God’s holiness is just what’s needed at this time, prone as some Catholics are to pop religiosity. We are well served to be reminded, by our evangelical brothers and sisters along the way, of God’s otherness and our unworthiness without God.

If I understand my own Catholic tradition and the evangelical tradition adequately, then Catholics need to hear what evangelicals affirm, even if we are disappointed by what they omit. (Of the main section headings, for instance, there is none on Church or community.) It is instructive to note which authors are included (lots of Augustine) and which are left out (no Aquinas). Although the analogy of being as an explicit philosophical premise — so central to Catholic theology and spirituality — is still a difference between us, many of the passages reveal an amazing sensitivity to our incarnational condition, and the grace-filled goodness of ordinary life. Interestingly enough, the book’s structure parallels the traditional Catholic order of investigation; like the Summa of Aquinas, this book starts with God and not (as some modern Catholic theology does) with human experience as such.

All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927

By Walter Hooper

Publisher: Harcourt Bruce Jovanovich

Pages: 508

Price: $24.95

Review Author: Peter F. Ford

The steady stream of books relating to C.S. Lewis since his death in 1963 is helping us add details and correctives to the portrait of this “greatest of lay theologians,” as Josef Pieper called him. This beautifully edited and produced book is a fine contribution to that project.

When Lewis was 23 years old, he began keeping a diary, to which he was largely faithful for the next six years. There are three things to keep in mind as one considers whether to read All My Road Before Me. First, it is by Lewis, in whose life and writings there continues to be a highly justifiable interest: The diary is replete with references to his reading and thinking. Secondly, he wrote it in his 20s, the pivotal time of life when he was trying to find his voice as a writer, his way as a thinker, his trade as a teacher; I found myself hearing more and more of the familiar Lewis as I read along.

Thirdly, if one can insist on the distinction between a journal and a diary, this book began as a journal and then became a diary. In the first year he read from it to his friend Mrs. Moore, and one may get the impression that he censored himself from time to time as he wrote it or at least as he read it aloud to her. But after December 1922 it appears that Lewis kept the diary for himself.

To get as full a picture of Lewis as we will have this side of heaven, one needs to read this diary alongside his 1914-1963 correspondence with his friend Arthur Greeves (They Stand Together), Lewis’s brother Warren’s collection (Letters of C.S. Lewis), and the forthcoming, multi-volume collected letters being prepared by the ever-competent Walter Hooper, editor of the diary under review here. This book’s pages shed much light on Chapters XIII and XIV of Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and they help to fill in the blanks left by Warren Lewis in his editing of his brother’s journals for the biography that became Letters of C.S. Lewis, with a Memoir.

What impressed me throughout my reading of All My Road Before Me is Lewis’s sheer industry. In spite of the normal interruptions (domestic duties of all kinds and bothersome relatives and friends) and normal distresses (headaches, sleeplessness, anxiety) and the abnormal (among them, living on very reduced means, and the two harrowing weeks of assisting Mrs. Moore in the care of her brother who went mad in their home), Lewis achieved academic success, read and wrote steadily, and had time left over for friends and solitary walks. The diary is particularly helpful in describing the early years of the domestic relationship Lewis had with Mrs. Moore and her daughter with whom he lived from the winter of l919 to the spring of 1950 (Maureen, eight years younger than Lewis, married in the summer of 1940). Lewis met them through her son, Paddy, his roommate in officer’s training corps in May 1917, who was killed 10 months later in France. Even with Mrs. Moore’s destruction of all Lewis’s letters to her and Arthur Greeves’s destruction of the letters he received from Lewis between August 4, and October 18, 1917, I am forced to confine any possible sexual intimacy between her and him to that period only and give that possibility the same evaluation George Sayer does in his Lewis biography, JACK: “Were they lovers? Owen Barfield, who knew Jack well in the 1920s, once said that he thought the likelihood was ‘fifty-fifty.’ Although she was twenty-six years older than Jack, she was still a handsome woman, and he was certainly infatuated with her. But it seems very odd, if they were lovers, that he would call her ‘mother.’ We know, too, that they did not share the same bedroom. It seems most likely that he was bound to her by the promise he had given to his Paddy and that his promise was reinforced by his love for her as a second mother.”

Owen Barfield ends his Foreword to this volume: “interspersed with the humdrum reportage, the reader will find in the ensuing pages plenty of writing where, if it is not ‘vintage Lewis,’ we can already discern through the abundant foliage the glimmer of ripening clusters.” Indeed.

Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism

By Donna Stichen

Publisher: Ignatius

Pages: 420

Price: $15.95

Review Author:

When you’ve got a fat target, it’s hard to miss. Donna Steichen takes aim at the octopus of radical feminism in the Catholic Church — whose tentacles include goddess worship, gnosticism, New Age ritualism, witchcraft, support for priestesses, homosexuality, and abortion, and hostility to anything identifiably masculine. Even if she isn’t a sharpshooter, Steichen hits her target.

And in spite of her proclivity for overkill, it’s impossible to sympathize with the wounded target. It is especially interesting to see that much of radical Catholic feminism connects with the fashionable “creation spirituality” of Fr. Matthew Fox. Steichen tells us that Fox “lauds committed homosexual relationships — including genital acts…” and “finds the Mass less ‘boring’ when it incorporates witchcraft chants and dances.” Fox urges us to be protective of rocks and trees, and see them as “tree people” and “rock people,” but he cannot find the wherewithal to demand the protection of human people in their mothers’ wombs. Indeed, according to Steichen, Fox finds merit in homosexuality since it doesn’t produce people: “There’s no better birth control,” yaps Fox.

Fox asks: If “the Christ became incarnate in Jesus,” must that “exclude the Christ’s becoming incarnate in others — Lao-tze or Buddha or Moses or Sarah or Sojourner Truth or Gandhi or me or you?” Amazingly, there are still people who can’t figure out why Fox got in trouble with the Vatican. Why, not only isn’t this Catholic, it isn’t Christian. It’s just theological slop — not to mention an invitation to vanity and self-worship and self-delusion.

To put the matter in gentle, Quakerly terms: One can’t shake the conviction that Fox and his ilk would be much happier in some other church — or sect or cult.

In Good Conscience: Reason and Emotion in Moral Decision Making

By Sidney Callahan

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 250

Price: $22.95

Review Author:

“In the end, one must follow one’s conscience.” Perhaps — or, at least, the sentiment is familiar. But why is conscience authoritative, supposing it is? And what is conscience, supposing we are to honor its lead?

A start on answering such questions is to define conscience as one’s last, best exercise of practical reason, that is, one’s best judgment about how to act. On this view, not to follow the authority of conscience is to act against one’s own (admittedly fallible) moral reasoning.

Sidney Callahan offers a more capacious definition. Conscience is “a personal self-conscious activity, integrating reason, emotion, and will in self-committed decisions about right and wrong, good and evil.” There’s a potential for murkiness here, but her account gives Callahan an analytic agenda with decided strengths.

Certainly her discussion shows balance. She orchestrates both philosophical and psychological sources. And, characteristically, she sees critical intelligence and human emotions as allies rather than antagonists. Her “rehabilitation” of the emotions is especially attractive. They are, after all, central to the nature God’s given us.

Slow down, says the skeptic. Do we share a human nature? Calahan’s sense of moral direction is clear in her affirming of a shared human — and moral — nature as a foundation for ethics. Against the skeptic, she quotes the psychologist Jerome Kagan: Humans are “driven to” morality “as newly hatched turtles move toward water and moths toward light.”

Callahan’s sense of moral direction rings true, as well, in her recognition that the living out of moral criteria, and the parallel construction of one’s moral integrity, is a matter of daily commitment. She speaks of “the little way — one day at a time, or for the more dedicated or desperate, one moment at a time.”

And how might one translate both intellectual balance and moral direction into the curriculum? Callahan the educator makes an excellent suggestion. No education suffices unless it confronts students with “the moral actions of the recognized exemplars of Western culture,” with “the study of real moral decisions.” This “conscience curriculum” should range over literature and Scripture, as well as, say, the liberating figures of recent history.

To be sure, Callahan has her lapses. The effort to find balance sometimes drifts into largely academic bobbing and weaving. There’s a hint of reductionism, too, in her identifying a common source for the concepts of karma, reincarnation, and original sin. But despite the occasional lapse and footnoted tangent, Callahan’s new study is a welcome sourcebook for thinking through the nature of conscience and taking the true measure of its authority.

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