Recommended Reading – Winter 2006

Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit

by Herman A. Middleton

Protecting Veil Press, 2004

The Precious Vessels are eight 20th-century Greek elders, each presented in a short biographical essay followed by a collection of sayings. Modern-day elders are not all tucked away in caves. Several lived in the world, and one, Elder Epiphanios, was a parish priest in Athens.

Their counsels are rich, deep and varied: slow and prayerful reading of each of them might be a Lenten reading program. Some might easily be taken for extracts from the Philokalia; others are recognizably of our own time, though timeless in their origins: Elder Paisios says There are no people more blessed than those who have made contact with the heavenly television station and who are piously connected to God.

The interplay between monastic separation from the world and love for the world runs as a motif through the book. Consider this from Elder Amphilochios of Patmos: My children, I don't want Paradise without you. Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, peace, and love and has the blessings of God.

A foreword by Geogios Mantzaridis stresses that a transformed world comes about through transformed people, and that the monk plays a pivotal role in the world's re-unification: Universality as a qualitative category is not realized through the agreement of people, not even of all the people in the world, but through their inclusion and union in every particular human person... Divided people are not able to form a unified world... The center of... division is found in the heart of man, in the inner man... Universal humanity is the result of the appearance of universal people...

Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos continues the theme: The monk flees far from the world, not because he detests the world, but because he loves the world, and in this way he is better able to help the world through his prayer, in things that don't happen humanly but only through divine intervention. In this way God saves the world.

-- John Brady

Listening to Islam

by John H. Watson

Sussex Academic Press, $25, 109 pages

In a quartet of essays, Fr. John Watson of the Royal Asiatic Society, writes about Christian-Muslim dialogue. The first two essays are on Christians, Thomas Merton and Kenneth Cragg.

Mertons point of entry to Islam was his interest in the mystical tradition of the Sufis. Cragg, a translator and analyst of the Quran, is a scholar who has devoted much of his life to the Arabic language and its people.

Watson then focuses on two Muslim writers, Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian radical ideologue of the Moslem Brotherhood, and Ziauddin Sardar, a contemporary Islamist philosopher. Qutb, who claimed, Islam is the solution that should be imposed by force, is contrasted with Ziauddin Sardar, who describes himself as a skeptical Muslim in search of Paradise.

War and the Christian Conscience

by Joseph J. Fahey

Orbis, $15, 205 pp.

This primer on war and the Christian conscience begins in an imaginary college classroom as students react to news that the draft has been reinstated. Why cant I finish college? asks one student. Why do I have to go? These urgent and personal questions offer the entry to a clear and comprehensive outline of the basic Christian responses to the problem of war. As Fahey shows, the Christian tradition has supplied a variety of answers: pacifism, just war teaching, the ethic of total war, and the vision of a world community. How do we decide which one is right? How does one go about forming his personal conscience? Fahey offers a well-constructed, concise and practical guide.

Blessed Among All Women

by Robert Ellsberg

Crossroad, $20, 316 pp.

In All Saints, Robert Ellsberg gave us a portrait of a holy man or woman for each day of the year. In The Saints Guide to Happiness, he dug deeply into the holy life -- the tools of sanctity, the struggles, questions, the ways in which people have lived a godly life. Now Blessed Among All Women takes us into the personalities, the lives and accomplishments of a wide range of holy women, many of whom have been overlooked. Using the Beatitudes as a framework, Ellsberg presents such women of valor as Etty Hillesum, Adrienne von Speyer, Cornelia Connelly, Mother Maria Skobtsova, Dorothy Day, Xenia of St. Petersburg, Brigit of Ireland, and dozens more martyrs, prophets, teachers, and reformers. His descriptions of their conversions are among the most moving passages in the book. For some, transformation comes after long prayer, while others are changed by their work with the poor, a transforming friendship, a reckoning with illness, or an encounter with Christ after an experience of loss. In finely crafted short biographies, Ellsberg provides us with many inspiring models of holiness, each providing a challenge to the reader.

-- Fr. Michael Plekon

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality As a Christian Tradition

by Christine D. Pohl

Eerdmans, $18. 205 pp.

Although hospitality was once central to Christian identity and practice, Christians in the West today tend to know little about its life-giving and sacramental character. Making Room revisits the Christian foundations of welcoming strangers and explores the necessity, difficulties, and blessings of hospitality. Pohl traces the eclipse of this Christian practice, showing the centrality of hospitality for Christians in the early Church, then turning to such contemporary models of hospitality as the Catholic Worker, LAbri, and LArche. Pohl shows how understanding the key features of hospitality can better equip us to faithfully carry out the practical call of the Gospel. Pohl does not gloss over the cost in providing hospitality. She discusses the question of boundaries and limits in the practice of hospitality. Hospitality, she writes, is the hallmark of sanctity in the modern world. The books cover is most appropriate: an icon of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to their angelic visitors under the oak of Mamre.

War and the Iliad

by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff

121 pp, $14.95, New York Review Press

Two essays by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, both written during World War II and long out of print, are brought together in this small book, both profound responses to Homers poem about the disaster of war.

Rachel Bespaloffs essay, written partly in response to Weil, illuminates the complexities of Homers characters, with a focus on the existential drama of choice and a difficult awareness that at times, war is the only option.

Simone Weils essay is one of the uncompromising mystic moralists most famous and powerful works, a reading of Homer which is also a nightmare vision of war as a machine in which all humanity is lost. It has served as a manifesto of pacifism.

Force, as defined by Weil, is that x which turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing.

Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Consequences of Killing

by Rachel M. MacNair

Praeger, $55, 198 pp.

Very few studies of posttraumatic stress disorder have focused on people who have killed others. Psychologist Rachel McNair, a researcher into connections between various social issues of violence, has taken a giant step in filling the gap.

Sufferers of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress may be soldiers, executioners, abortionists, or police officers -- men and women in roles in which it is socially acceptable or even required for them to injure or kill other human beings. Scattered evidence of PITS is consolidated, its implications are explored, and potentials for future research are suggested.

Compared to the more widely understood Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, there appears to be greater severity and different symptom patterns for those affected by PITS. Obvious differences to be explored for those who kill include questions of context, guilt, meaning, content of dreams, and sociological questions, leading to special implications for therapy and violence prevention efforts. This is a groundbreaking study.

The author is director of the Institute for Integrated Social Analysis, a research organization specializing in the connections between various social issues of violence. She was also editor of the journal, Studies in Prolife Feminism, published by Feminists for Life.