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APC Forum Resource Reviews June 2017


APC Forum, June 2017, Vol. 19 No. 4


Between the Dark and the Light: Embracing the Contradictions of Life

Joan Chittister (New York: Image, 2015, 176 pages, hardcover, audio CD)

“This book,” Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes, “is meant to shine light on the inner confusions of our own age. It is written for all our sakes. For now—for this time and place, where we live our lives at the epicenter of chaos and crises from all directions. We are weary and worn out from its petty problems and daily stress, are in search of the quiet that calms confusion and clarifies insights and firms the path” (14). Between the Dark and the Light is a clear-eyed, everyday practical manual chock full of spiritual exercises and advice to persons who are curious about life’s paradoxes. Perhaps more urgently for persons struggling with the meaning and purpose of everyday life, the author offers access to the hidden potential of a life-renewing, spiritual path.

Drawing on the treasured wisdom of her contemplative tradition, Sr. Chittister has created a work intended to empower spiritual growth. The book is also a cultural tool offering a religiously-grounded approach to social consciousness. Using the daybreak metaphor, the hour between the night’s darkness and the light of day, Chittister speaks directly to the reader who may feel the darkness of a spiritual confusion and who may be waiting for an in-breaking of spiritual illumination. Each chapter takes up a paradoxical theme: “The Light Found in Darkness,” “The Mirage of Security,” and “The Benevolence of the Unknown.” The book begins with several chapters that orient the reader to Chittister’s approach, introducing the philosophy, language, and symbolism that will convey the book’s deeper message. Next, she offers spiritually-informed ways to perceive and experience the outer world. Two chapters address the perceived dualities of the masculine and feminine in culture. Another seven chapters address the nature of other external relationships. The final seven chapters bring the contemplative journey inward, focusing on the maturation of reader’s inner spiritual life and, with it, some resolution of the oft-experienced confusion between the reader’s inner and outer life. Throughout the book, Chittister’s first-person style keeps her present to the reader as a companion and guide accompanying the reader on the spiritual journey.

Written from within the Roman Catholic Benedictine tradition, Between the Dark and the Daylight offers an easily-accessible exploration of Catholic spirituality. Professionally, chaplains may deepen their competency in PPS 6 (providing appropriate care resources for persons) especially when the chaplain is providing care to persons whose religious worldviews resonate with the author’s orientation.  Similarly, the skill of attending to persons experiencing loss or grief (PPS 5), especially persons struggling with a spiritual paradox, can be enhanced as the chaplain can readily identify and provide appropriate, patient-centered spiritual care.

Personally, chaplains and other spiritual care providers may find this book useful in developing competency PIC 3 (cultivate spiritual and emotional well-being). The chapters are brief and self-contained. They can be read sequentially as a daily or weekly spiritual exercise. Small groups could utilize chapters as discussion topics.
 
More information can be found at: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/237757/between-the-dark-and-the-daylight-by-joan-chittister/
Reviewed by Keith Goheen MDiv BCC, Chaplain, Beebe Healthcare, Lewes, DE..



Furry Farewell Grief Handbook:  Life and Pet Loss Coaching Growing from Grief to Greatness

Dan C. Crenshaw (Bloomington, IN:  Xlibris publishing, June 2012, 199 pages, softcover, hardcover, Kindle)
 
Dan C. Crenshaw is a licensed therapist and an ordained minister with extensive counseling experience.  As a former acquaintance, I have followed his career, and I admire his ability to write so that the reader is changed, challenged, and enlightened during the process.  This book, Furry Farewell Grief Handbook, is about two topics:  pet loss and life skills to help one overcome loss, grief, and heartache.  His goal in the book is to help readers accept the reality of the pet loss in their own lives and to assist people with grieving, evolving, and following a new vision for living. 
 
The book focuses on pet loss, which creates real pain and real grief, and gives ways to work through the pain of losing one’s best furry friend.  But the book also deals extensively with larger relationship and personal growth concerns not directly tied to pet loss, such as accepting difficult feelings and moving through them without ignoring them.  Certainly the material in the latter two thirds of the book help the reader learn new coping skills that are general enough to apply to anyone needing emotional and spiritual affirmation and ideas for growth.  Overall, Crenshaw describes cognitive/thinking pattern changes in order to find peace, healing, and vision from painful losses.  This book is all about helping the reader to move toward a better life.
 
A chaplain could find this book both instructional and inspirational, instructional because it gives Crenshaw’s own theory of grief and healing, and inspirational because he shares his “Poetic Prose” through almost the entire book.  
 
Crenshaw’s writing style is highly unique and simply amazing.  Incredibly, he can create poetic therapeutic prose on just about any topic, including shame, perfectionism, vision, and relationships, to name a few.    This book will feed the soul of the reader.  I personally incorporated new concepts or felt affirmed in past known truths around healing and relationships through reading this book and therefore highly recommend it.
 
Finally, let me end with a sample of Crenshaw’s poetry:
 
Prevent messing with stressing.
Calming thoughts can help your mind to begin resting.
Contemplate a fresh stream
Reflecting the rays of a sunbeam.
Envision being splashed all over by a waterfall,
Breathtakingly giving you a comforting shawl.
Envision a rose garden in full bloom.
You will be relaxed very soon.
Every color of roses that you can imagine is there.
You are engulfed by roses that are everywhere.
The sweet smell of roses radiates a savoring scent.
You are enraptured as your five senses are without a dent.
Envision a meadow full of beautiful flowers.
And how you would feel lying there for hours.
Envision a smooth lake with no wind
And sitting on a bench relaxing with a close friend. (128)
 
Reviewed by George M. Rossi MA MDiv BCC, Chaplain, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.



Living Faith While Holding Doubts
Martin B. Copenhaver (Cleveland:  Pilgrim Press, 2013, softcover, 128 pages)
 
The struggles with doubt are deep and real and impact many systems.  In many religious circles and faith groups, doubts are looked at as lack of faith, and people can be shunned or ostracized because they voice their doubts. This leads to a sense of alienation from one’s family and faith community.  In Living Faith While Holding Doubts, Martin B. Copenhaver affirms that doubt is part of the journey of faith, an integral part of spiritual growth. 
 
The author’s approach to normalize doubts and affirm doubters is refreshing.  When the faith journey is taken on an individual basis and consideration is given to each person’s personality and life experiences, doubting can be framed in an affirming manner.  After reading this book, a doubter walks away feeling blessed and encouraged.  All readers will feel a level of empathy with their own experiences and hear the voice of their struggles.  Doubters are not the oddballs they are made out to be sometimes.
 
The later chapters of this book encourage walking with one’s doubts, but also striving to affirm faith.  Doubts can affect faith deeply if allowed to run wild. A person of faith can wind up in a spiritual “no man’s land.” The deep struggle is to affirm faith while in such a deep conflict.
 
The chapters at the end for preachers and church leaders are particularly valuable.  Not many churches create an environment that welcomes doubters.  Copenhaver shows a deep concern for doubters and the need for creating a welcoming, hospitable environment within the church as a part of authentic ministry.  The book gives those in the preaching and education ministries seeds for thoughts about organizing and providing help to those who struggle with doubt.  Churches need a plan and agenda for this particular ministry, which is often neglected or intentionally absent.
 
Even though this book focuses on doubt in a church context, there is value for those of us who provide pastoral care in other contexts.  Part of our ministry as chaplains is to create sacred space for people to voice their concerns, emotions and doubts.  Many times in the process of making meaning during illness, people struggle with their theology and faith.  They find themselves in dark places trying to find light for their physical and spiritual journey. Many are experiencing doubt on a new level, and they express guilt about their doubts because of long-held beliefs.
 
One of the suggestions for chaplain ministry taken from this book is to normalize feelings of doubts as part of a process.  Doubts are part of the deep existential struggle during crisis or illness.  Even though doubts present struggle and conflict, they can be framed as a helpful dynamic for a patient’s particular journey.  Doubts about faith and God show that at the deepest level we are all searchers.  A chaplain who accepts patients’ doubts as a fellow searcher and walks with them through the wilderness can be very cathartic and helpful. 
 
Reviewed by Allan Jenkins MDiv BCC, Staff Chaplain, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Houston, Texas.



Religious Ways of Experiencing Life: A Global and Narrative Approach
Carl Olson (New York:  Routledge [Taylor and Francis], 2016, 548 pages, soft cover, Kindle)
   
This book provides a unique survey exploring fourteen religious traditions across the globe and through time, using the definition of religion as a quest for spiritual experience, meaning, and power.    Olson gives us the stories and their ongoing development within these religions, providing an extensive introduction of the assumptions and history of the threads of “religion” within the web of culture.    The focus is on the history and the content of the traditions, as well as some reflections on particular topics.   Most chapters begin with a historical timeline from the early known beginnings of the tradition to more recent times; for example, Christianity ends at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
 
The thirty-eight page introduction sets the context of the book in terms of “religion" as an elusive and complex subject whose study is fraught with difficulties. Olson lists the interrelated aspects of religion as narrative, power, violence, performance and play.  The weakest part of the introduction was the brief summary of how psychology has contributed to the social science framing of religion.
 
In each chapter reviewing the fourteen religions, Olson includes a brief description of the role of women to address the reality that women have been neglected.  Also he includes rituals, material culture and concerns about the end of time, death and the afterlife. 
 
This book is intended for people who want to reflect deeply on different religions, both formally and informally.  These people may be teaching, learning, doing research or providing service.
 
As related to pastoral care, the book offers a thorough, complex and open-minded reflection on many religions, giving suggestions for further reading at the end of each section.  This book would be an interesting journal club for a group of chaplains.  We can appreciate the complexity of our profession.  We can examine preconceived ideas, beliefs and convictions through the stories of other religions and through one person’s analysis of our religion.   While grounded in our tradition, we are invited to see beyond our narrow perspective.
 
This book is complex and challenging reading and lacks some vibrancy about the personal experience.   Some of our assumptions may be challenged in the process. 
 
There are additional resources that could complement the work such as work from people of color and from women, for example, Women and World Religions by Lucinda Joy Peach PhD  or Race, Religion, and Resilience in the Neoliberal Age (Black Religion/Womanist  Thought/Social Justice) 1st ed. 2016 Edition  by Cedric C. Johnson.
 
Reviewed by Cathy Hasty MDiv ThM, ACPE Supervisor, AAPC Diplomate, BCC, LPCS, Director, Health Ministry and Pastoral Education, Novant Health: Presbyterian Medical Center, Charlotte, NC.  Comments welcome at mchasty@novanthealth.org.
   
 
 

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