Resource Reviews for Continuing Education and Reference
Books, films, recorded webinars, journal articles and other media provide continuing education opportunities and reference material. To help you use your time most efficiently, our review section will evaluate media for professional or personal usefulness. If you would like to join our resource review panel, please contact our Resource Reviews editor, Tamara R. Flinchum BCC. Reviewers may select from a list of potential resources, receive a free copy of the publication or media to review, prepare the review according to guidelines, and submit reviews for editing and inclusion in APCTM Forum. Serving as a reviewer provides you with continuing education hours and the satisfaction of serving APCTM. Feedback, questions and suggestions are welcome.
December 2015, Vol. 17 No. 8
Tamara R. Flinchum BCC serves as the APCTM Forum Resource Reviews editor. She is a chaplain at AnMed Health in Anderson, SC and may be contacted at Tamara.Flinchum@anmedhealth.org.
Increasing Wholeness: Jewish Wisdom & Guided Meditations to Strengthen & Calm Body, Heart, Mind & Spirit
Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015, 177 pages, softcover)
This is a book for all chaplains, pastoral counselors and their patients, families and groups. Rabbi Spitz, a Conservative congregational rabbi in California, has written a helpful and often eloquent interactive guide to accessing the generations of Jewish practice in mindfulness. Each chapter (“Seeking Greater Wisdom,” “Body,” “Heart,” “Mind,” “Spirit,” “Hand,” “Inner Peace”) offers a combination of meditation, prayer, selected sacred texts from the Jewish tradition, and personal observations. Each chapter also contains several videos in which the author takes the reader through an aural version of the written meditations. The videos are available using a QR code reader app downloaded to a smartphone and are a welcome novel use of technology as well as an excellent method to use for study purposes. The detailed endnotes section and an index organized by the practices discussed make this slim volume an easy to use reference, teaching, and practice book. Spitz writes, “The central message of this book is that we live in a world of many demands, conflicts, and unmet expectations that produce an undertow of anxiety. Yet with the help of resources that have come down to us across the ages…we can develop our capacity to pause and reflect.” (123)
Linda S. Golding MA BCC, Staff Chaplain, Coordinator of Pastoral Services for Milstein Hospital, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY.
Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation
(Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014, 80 pages, softcover)
Richard Rohr's Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation is a meditative reflection on the “Perennial Tradition,” which affirms there are fundamental themes and truths within all world religions. These truths, Rohr asserts, become most apparent in the practice of silence, contemplation, and mindful compassion.
Rohr speaks from his Catholic contemplative tradition, while weaving insight from Sufism, Buddhism, Eastern Christianity, and other traditions with long histories of mysticism. Rohr encourages the reader to delve authentically into the mystical practices of one's own tradition, so as to enter into a broader appreciation of the streams of mysticism of the world.
Rather than a comprehensive guide or practical manual about contemplation, Rohr's book reads like a grateful poem, an eclectic homage to the great mystics of the world's religions. He draws on the wisdom of St. Francis, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Rumi, and other practitioners of contemplative prayer and action. Rohr also offers a “time line of mysticism” as a guide for further study. He critiques the dualistic thinking and individualistic mindset of our culture, while remaining hopeful about the possibility of multi-faith unity and understanding facilitated by silence and stillness.
For the chaplain in need of nourishment and self-care, this book is a breath of spiritual fresh air, with its reflections on love, thoughtful speech, being present, and non-dual thinking. It is an encouragement to re-center one's heart within the seemingly simple practice of silence. Rohr reminds the reader that if you can “see silence as the ground of all words and the birth of all words, then you will find that when you speak, your words will be more well-chosen and calm” (8).
Silence is the means with which we may connect more deeply and conscientiously with others. It the way we learn to say, as Rohr calls it, the “foundational yes,” which is the heart of contemplation.
Reviewed by Sarah Byrne-Martelli, MDiv BCC, Chaplain, Beacon Hospice, Beverly, MA.
Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, 335 pages, softcover)
In Poverty and the Quest for Life, Bhrigupati Singh offers a rich anthropological analysis of the Sanhariyan people of Shahabad. He asks complex political and theological questions about power and powerlessness, welfare and punishment, intimacy and conflict, and the life cycle of Hindu gods. Singh's book requires careful reading. His detailed and often poetic writing is challenging and sometimes convoluted. My Western brain struggled to understand details of caste and tribe, remember place names, comprehend the political culture, and make sense of the deities, concepts and terms he introduced. Nonetheless, Singh's delightful storytelling carried me along, and I appreciated his insights.
He invites us to think about poverty by focusing not just on physical and material sustenance, but also on “how ordinary life may be intensified and regenerated to create moments of fullness, even in a milieu of scarcity” (262). To help us comprehend the complex personal and political relationships he describes, Singh offers the term agonistic intimacy to explain public and private interactions that take into account the fullness of human behavior, both our hostility and our “mutual affirmation” (151). With great compassion, he folds these concepts into an ethics derived not from platonic, scriptural, or other ideals, but from real life. Chaplains working in institutions, where decision-making is messy, may appreciate Singh's method of creating ethics “out of the actualities we encounter” (165).
Singh also offers theological and spiritual challenges. Through the stories of Thakur Baba and Tejaji, folk gods whose popularity has waxed and waned, he explores “a crucial, although easily forgotten and understudied aspect of Hinduism: the rise and fall of divinities, and the emergence of new gods” (165). Were the gods ever stable? Will the major Hindu gods also fade away, as ancient Greek ones did? If so, what does that say about our Western gods?
Then there's Bansi, a trickster and holy man, irreverent and unconcerned with caste. He “brings sacred words to life,” but also infuses ordinary words with “vitality, not through an elevation into poetry or ritual incantation, but in relation to life itself” (244). Bansi mediates between the social and spiritual, renewing life as he does so. Isn't part our job as chaplains and counselors to make the sacred ordinary, the ordinary sacred, and to renew life?
Yet renewing life is not all we do. The chaplain will appreciate that Singh acknowledges our mortality. He defines a quality life not just through quantifiable measures, “but as the interrelation between varying human and nonhuman thresholds” (61). These thresholds include the worlds of the gods and the reality of our “finitude” (see 116-117).
The Pastoral Caregiver’s Casebook
Volume 1: Ministry in Relationships
John J. Gleason, Editor (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2015, 127 pages, softcover)
Volume 2: Ministry in Crises
John J. Gleason, Editor (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2015, 117 pages, softcover)
The Pastoral Caregiver’s Casebook is a four-volume collection of case studies described as “an essential collection of best practices and lessons learned… invaluable for personal enrichment, as well as for training and education of the next generation of pastoral caregivers” (back cover). The audience includes professional chaplains, clinical pastoral education students, seminary students and laity – anyone who has the opportunity to minister to patients and others in the role of a chaplain. The four volumes include Ministry in Relationships (Vol. 1), Ministry in Crises (Vol. 2), Ministry in Health (Vol. 3), and Ministry in Specialized Settings (Vol. 4).
The format of the books makes them beneficial for group discussion, self-reflection, and education beyond chaplaincy. Each case offers a title that names the central issue as identified by the practitioner, a simple content analysis describing effectiveness of ministry, and, where possible, suggested resources considered useful to further knowledge and skills in the areas of the case. Key words are often italicized to highlight how the recipient of care responded, helping to identify what can become best practice in spiritual care.
The first volume is divided into three sections, helping the practitioner quickly discover cases that may apply to their own: “Interpersonal Relationships,” “Intrapersonal Relationships,” and “Ultimate Relationships.” Using the Table of Contents along with the Index narrows the focus of quick searches even further.
Volume 2 is divided into two major sections: “Ministry in Physical Crises” and “Ministry in Psycho-Spiritual Crises.”
The shortness of the cases is both a strength and, at times, a weakness. As strength, the length of each allows for a quick read enabling the reader to catch a glimpse into the important aspects of the case. As a weakness, the length can leave the reader wanting more information to fully assess the situation. As such, discussing the case with others, journaling one’s understanding and insight, which includes ways in which the reader may have approached the situation, and reading the suggested resources becomes indispensable.
For the beginning chaplain, the order of the volumes is wonderful. Beginning with a focus on relationships and moving through crises toward ministry in a variety of settings is insightful. These books wonderfully illustrate the “Action-Reflection” model of CPE. These books have offered insights for my own cases as a seasoned chaplain,.
I recommend these books for all chaplains and anyone wanting to improve spiritual and emotional care in a variety of settings and situations.
Reviewed by Jeff Uhler MDiv BCC, Neuro Chaplain, Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Milwaukee, WI.