Magazine article The Catholic World

Some Notes on Summer Reading

Magazine article The Catholic World

Some Notes on Summer Reading

Article excerpt

As spring lurches into summer many journals tell their readers what books are most attractive as companions for those putative lazy days ahead of us. The presumption is, of course, that summer brings leisure and people will want to do more than turn the pages of those old National Geographics left in rental units by the ghosts of summers past.

Most people would like to t that they will use that extra time in summer to read those serious books which they just cannot get to during the rest of the year. Sad experience teaches us, however, that most of us never do get through Proust as we so often vow to do. However, if there are some rigorously disciplined theological readers who do like a little heft during the heat of July, I would suggest - for those theologically inclined - that they get at Jaroslav Pelikan's Gifford Lectures, recently published by Yale University Press under the title of Christianity and Classical Culture.

Pelikan is, arguably, the greatest living authority on the history of Christian thought. In the Gifford Lectures he looks at the fourth century Cappadocian writers like Gregory of Nyssa to assess their relationship to the classical culture of the world in which they had been born and educated. That subject has been at the heart of an intellectual debate for a century or more: to what degree did the early church absorb Greek learning and to what degree did they modify it or merely use it instrumentally for their own needs and purposes? Pelikan's answer is that they were indebted to their pagan forebears but not overwhelmed by them. Pelikan's profoundly learned scholarship, felicitous prose style, and deep commitment to the Christian tradition is on every page of this difficult but rewarding work. It is not for the faint of heart, but for the seriously inclined it will be a theological feast of learning and discrimination.

Three other choices, all written by women are, in quite different ways, profoundly wise and deeply spiritual,

Diana Eck's Encountering God: From Bozeman to Banaras (Beacon, 1993) is part autobiography and part ecumenical dialogue. Eck, a distinguished scholar of Indian religion at Harvard and a committed Christian lay person and theologian, details her own commitment to her Methodist tradition as it becomes intertwined with the Hindu tradition which is the subject of her scholarly inquiry. Avoiding any temptation to be reductionistic (e.g. all religions are the same), she "crosses over" sympathetically to the Hindu world, which she knows intimately, to explain how a grasp of that tradition has helped her purify and expand her own Christian faith. Written in an engagingly autobiographical style, this is a book which is ecumenical both in the breadth of its learning and the generosity of its openness. I found it to be one of the more satisfying books I have read over the past year.

Kathleen Norris's Dakota (Ticknor & Fields, 1993) has gone through nine printings and is fast becoming a word of mouth best seller. And for good reason. Norris lives and thrives in the austere world of the Dakotas. She is a Presbyterian lay person with close ties to the Benedictine tradition of monasticism. From that tradition she has learned much about living in small communities, how to read the bible sapientially, how to live close to the rhythms of both the day and the seasons, and, most importantly of all, how to find sustenance and creativity from solitude in community.

Norris's book is a happy combination of spirituality, nature writing, sociology, and poetic reflection. …

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