Home, by Marilynne Robinson

This 2008 work is a difficult novel for me to evaluate. It is about the Boughton family introduced in the writer’s previous work, Gilead, named for the town in which the family lives. But it is particularly about Glory Boughton and her estranged brother Jack. Glory has returned home to Gilead to care for her widowed father, Robert Boughton, a retired minister who is in ill health, when Jack unexpectedly arrives home as well, to be greeted warmly by Gloria but less so by his father, who resents his son’s twenty-year absence.

This novel has received favorable reviews, but it was difficult for me to identify with this family early in the work, when it is simply introducing its three main characters. But once it begins to develop their relationships, especially between Glory and Jack, my interest grew. For growing up in her father’s faith has instilled in Glory a sense of kindness and generosity, and one can easily identify with her. And, besides, she still loves her brother, who regrets abandoning his family and yet seems programmed to remain the black sheep among what were eight children. Glory’s relationship with her brother grows more and more complex for us, but it is through their conversations, their constant give and take, rather than through any physical actions. Indeed, their honest interactions represent the novel’s only plot, and one reads simply to learn where their relationship is headed.

Having been raised by their father, a minister, and having spent considerable time with John Ames, their father’s best friend and also a minister, we find that underpinning the complex family relationships is the idea of faith, a faith that obliges love and yet also carries its own obligations. Jack was the favorite of his father’s eight children, but the father both resents the boy’s abandonment of his family for twenty years and feels guilty with the realization that their alienation is partly his own fault. Whereas, Jack now has guilt feelings about his troubled youth before he left home. Glory, on the other hand, loves her brother despite his youthful indiscretions, and yet distrusts all males after having been abandoned by a fiancée whom she believed loved her. Having been raised by a minister, “faith for her,” she thinks, “was habit and family loyalty.”

The neighboring minister, John Ames, the main character in Gilead, is also a kind of father figure, and adds to the spiritual underpinning of these characters. As Robinson has Glory think, “Ames and her father had quarreled over [predestination] any number of times, her father asserting the perfect sufficiency of grace with something like ferocity, while Ames maintained, with a mildness his friend found irksome, that the gravity of sin could not be gainsaid.”

  1. O. Scott in The New York Times suggest one explanation of these family relationships when he writes that “nothing in the novel rules out the possibility that Jack might exist outside the grace of God, and that this…might explain his loneliness and estrangement in the bosom of such a warm and generous family. Indeed, he also writes that “Home and Gilead are marvelous novels about family, friendship and aging…they are great novels.”

I myself would not go that far. But Robinson has certainly taken an intriguing approach to this family. That is, their continuous conversations bring out their innermost thoughts, as they cook for each other, clean the house, and tidy up the yard, all the while helping us to understand them as they strive to understand each other.

Michiko Kakatani, on the other hand, writes in the Times that “Home gives us scene after scene of Jack and Glory—and sometimes their father—talking to each other about their doubts and regrets and failed dreams. The result is a static and even suffocating narrative in which very little is dramatized…and it makes the characters, especially Jack, seem terribly self-absorbed.” Which also describes my reaction to the early sections of the novel. But then I began to relate to these same characters, began to see the pain, the restraint, their reaching out to one another, all of which enriched their mutual portraits.

The title “Home” is well chosen, for it focuses the reader on the essence of this novel, just as the title of “Gilead” focused one on the relationships in their town. Here, Glory and Jack have both returned home, having fled a sense of failure, of unfulfillment, of empty relationships and a resulting loneliness. What they seek from their father and their home’s familiar rooms is a return to their comfortable past, to an acceptance that will bring forgiveness, love, and self-worth.

There is also a sense of irony at the end. Jack misses out on a connection that might have answered certain needs. The scene is too underwritten, however, to carry the emotion it appears to strive for. And while Jack has returned home for some kind of acceptance, his father’s resentment reaches out through the love that he has long preached; and it is his refusal to pain his father further that prompts the boy’s departure. And so, while Jack does not want to remind his father of their past, his leaving further stokes his father’s bitterness.

This novel moves too quietly to prompt me to seek out further novels by Robinson. I write this, even though such a decision may be my loss. For this author certainly probes the subtle family relationships that so often appeal to me. And she underscores this probing through characters who retain their spiritual faith as they contend with guilt, forgiveness, and the reality of human emotions. (November, 2019)

The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott

This tender novel works on two levels. It is the story of a Catholic family, of mother Annie and daughter Sally, as they each seek happiness after the loss of husband and father. It is also the story of an order of Catholic nuns, featuring Sister Lucy and Sister Jeanne as they take over from the elderly Sister St. Saviour. And within both stories is an awareness of death, along with a striving for happiness in one’s life.

The emotions that carry this novel belong to the family story, as wife and daughter seek to overcome the disgrace of a suicide. The richness that fills this novel comes from the spiritual life of the nuns, and the sacrifices they make to care for others. These literary qualities join when both the family and the nuns confront death as the inevitable human destiny.

And yet the telling of these two stories does lack cohesion. The action does not flow from one chapter into the next. Instead, each chapter isolates a separate stage in the family story. After a harrowing opening scene of suicide, the narrative settles on the funeral arrangements, with the issue of whether a suicide can be buried in hallowed ground and the reaction of these nuns who are more open-minded then doctrinaire.

Then follow separate chapters that introduce a widow’s love affair, life in the nuns’ laundry room, the pain of a sick and dying woman, then a disillusioning train ride, followed by the funeral of a figure from the past, then a return to the sick invalid. Each chapter is beautifully written, but each is self-contained and could stand on its own as a short story. (One does appear in The New Yorker.) The continuity stems from daughter Sally’s thinking: whether or not she should join these sisters whose dedication to the unfortunate she has been exposed to.

Contributing also to the lack of cohesion are interruptions in the narrative, which suggest we are being told this family story by a character who does not exist in the novel. Every so often, that is, this narrator jumps into the third person narrative, and refers to “my mother, or “my father.” And we realize that this narrator is a child of the daughter Sally. A child who, as I said, never appears. Why is this person present? What is his or her purpose? It is conceivable that Sally, as mother, may have told this figure much of her own thinking, but certainly not that of the nuns or the other characters.

The ending also may be problematic for some. It introduces a death, a death which may be natural, but there is a suggestion that it has been triggered by one of the characters. The author does not say this, but she does leave us with the strong possibility. And it is also in keeping with the human motivations of these characters. The closest the author comes to stating this is when one character talks of heaven. “Out of love, I lost it. Which sounds funny, doesn’t it. You’d think you could only lose heaven out of hate.” And later: “But you’ll pray for me, won’t you…You’ll pray for this lost soul.”

It is the presence of life’s spiritual frame of reference that provides the strength of this novel. The actions of all these characters, even of the nuns, are human actions, but there are consequences to those actions, consequences that originate in the religious convictions that govern the Irish society to which these characters belong. The primary conviction is that the meaning of human life is not limited to the physical world, but is found, more significantly, in the spiritual world. And the conflict between these two worlds is introduced from the start of the novel, when a nun and a bishop debate whether a suicide can be buried in consecrated ground. It is also reflected in the novel’s title, for the ninth hour becomes the time for both the nun’s mid-afternoon prayers and the love affair of a lonely woman.

But what lends this novel its substance is that all its nuns realize that their daily lives are circumscribed by a physical, humanistic world. And that they must adjust their spiritual decisions accordingly. Which means that they lean toward practical considerations. And lean quite far, if one woman’s confession is to be believed.

The order these nuns belong to is The Little Sisters off the Sick Poor. So the richness of the novel also stems from the lives of the poor victims that these nuns encounter. Which highlights both the physical needs the nuns fulfill and the spiritual motives that inspire them. That is, they serve both worlds. And yet there is also that tension between these worlds, illustrated when Sally rejects a spiritual vocation after being confronted by the world of reality on her train ride. As well as, later, when both she and a nun conclude that enabling love, enabling a physical affair, is justified, even though it would deny them their spiritual destiny.

It is this coexistence between the physical world and the spiritual world that characterizes much of McDermott’s work. But with this probing of the nun’s world, perhaps an inevitable extension of the Irish culture, she has raised her explorations to a new level. She has kept the family environment, with its Irish culture, and here the Irish shame of suicide, but also made a family’s spiritual considerations more tangible by introducing the nun’s worldly perspective.

If only she had offered smoother transitions between the two worlds. Had told the story through a decade or two of one generation (Sally’s), instead of through two generations, with the suggestion of a third. Had made her witness of her mother’s love affair even more central to the conflict between the two worlds. (Or would that have veered too much toward melodrama?) Because I see a richness in the many considerations that Sally was faced with, especially the wall of innocence both the nuns and her mother had built around this young girl.

Overall, this does not reach the heights of McDermott’s better novels. But I do give her credit for exploring more deeply its spiritual dimension, not always an easy assignment. (March, 2018)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

This 1974 work is marvelous nature writing. And even if I am not a student of such writing, I cannot imagine, even in Thoreau, such deep observations of all forms of life, from spiders and salamanders, to dragon flies and starlings, to snakes and frogs, to even rivers and mountains and trees. And underlining all these elements of nature is the act of creation. With the primary question not being why these creatures exist, but why they have all been created so beautiful.

One can infer the direction in which Dillard is going from those who have inspired some of her thinking. They include Thomas Merton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Blaise Pascal, Martin Buber, Julius of Norwich, William Blake, and, oh yes, Edwin Way Teale, Albert Einstein, John Cowper Powys, Werner Heisenberg, and even W. C. Fields.

But even more, one comes across sentences like these, full of wit:

“It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize separating us from our creator—our very self-consciousness—is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures.”

“If God is in one sense the igniter, a fireball that spins over the ground of continents, God is also in another sense the destroyer, lightning, blind power, impartial as the atmosphere.”

“I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ ‘No,’ said the priest, ‘not if you did not know.’ ‘Then why,’ asked the Eskimo, ‘did you tell me?’”

“The lone ping of being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.”

“Look, in short, at practically anything…and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing.”

“A dot appears. A fresh-flake. It swells like a balloon; it moves, circles, slows, and vanishes. This is your life.”

And she also asks: “What if I fell in a forest. Would a tree hear me?”

As one moves deeper into this book, it is clear that Dillard loves nature—nature at all levels from tiny molecules to distant stars. And finds more than enough to contemplate in every stroll down to the creek near her Virginia home.

But I am not taken by nature myself. If I am tempted to skim this book at times, it is because I have little interest in the details that fascinate Dillard, the details of birth, struggle, and survival for so many living things: muskrats, praying mantises, frogs, butterflies, sycamores, grubs, beetles, snakes, amoebae, caterpillars, salamanders, plankton, and parasites, etc., etc. What I am interested in, however, are her thoughts that follow these observations.

“Just think: in all the clean beautiful reaches of the solar system, our planet alone is a blot; our planet alone has death.”

“The faster death goes, the faster evolution goes.”

“But wait, you say, there is no right and wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept. Precisely, we are moral creatures, then, in an amoral world. The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die.”

“It is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go and have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can…go back to the creek lobotomized, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.”

“The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. It is a covenant to which every thing, even every hydrogen atom, is bound. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die.”

Dillard has organized her description of nature to encompass a calendar year, and after beginning with winter scenes, she closes with the passing of autumn, as the birds and the monarch butterflies fly south, and the first winter frost arrives. She sums up her appreciation of nature, of the gift of life with: “I think the dying pray at the last not ‘please’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his host at the door.”

To sum up, this marvelous evocation of nature, nature in the earth, in the water, and in the air, nature in sunshine and rain, nature in darkness and light, nature in heat and cold. But I am just not into the nature that comprises eighty percent of this book. Instead, I am into the conclusions, the meanings that Dillard extrapolates from her observations of nature.

They are: that nature had a creator. That nature acts without an awareness of mankind. That mankind must accept that nature without complaint. And that both nature and life are a gift from the creator, and all beings who accept this gift of life must also accept the death that goes with it. (March, 2015)

The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong

Armstrong subtitles this probing, thoughtful work, My Climb out of Darkness. For me, this 2004 work is both a reminder and a mirror image of The Seven Story Mountain. Merton’s book was about his disenchantment with the secular world and his search for spiritual fulfillment in a monastery. Armstrong’s book is about her disenchantment with the spiritual life of nuns and her search for fulfillment in the secular world.

Both of these works have their immediate appeal to me because they are personal stories. The emphasis here is on Armstrong’s struggle to discover a career and her relationship to the people around her, all within the psychological strait jacket she is trying to escape from. Yes, both stories are told within a spiritual context, but it is not about their spiritual life itself, but about how their spiritual life intersects with their secular life—granted, the two authors are going in the opposite direction.

Armstrong enters the convent at age seventeen on a spiritual quest to find God. She leaves seven years later “having suffered a mild break-down, obscurely broken and damaged,” which is “nobody’s fault.” She says nobody’s fault because, although it was the time of Vatican II, the sisters at her nunnery resisted many of the Council’s changes, training her to be strictly obedient, to keep her eyes downcast, and never to think for herself.

So when she re-enters the secular world, she finds it to be a changed world of war, youthful rebellion, and sexual revolution, often expressed in loud music and energetic dancing—in short, a world difficult to adjust to, a world of culture shock. She confronts it as a shy, reserved woman who cannot think creatively. But she does discover T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, and it is from this poem that comes the title, The Spiral Staircase, a metaphor, as Jane Lampman says, for “spiritual progress that seems to go in circles while, in fact, moving upward into the light.”

Highly intelligent, Armstrong continues as a student of literature at Oxford, after she is released from her vows; but she finds no one, even Catholics, who understand her difficulty in adjusting to this new world. Moreover, she still draws her literary insights from others, meaning she cannot evaluate literary works on her own. The nuns had trained her to seek deeper insights only in terms of higher states of prayer—and she had always failed.

As a nun, perhaps in rebellion, Armstrong began having fainting spells, and these continue after she leaves the order. Finally, confronted by abnormal visions that fill her with horror, she is sent to a psychiatrist. But such visions of an abnormal reality also start her thinking about God and wondering if He were real. After all, she had never got close to Him in the nunnery.

As a doctoral candidate, Armstrong takes a room with an atheist couple, the Harts, who have a teenage autistic son, Jacob. She cares for him in exchange for her room, and they quickly relate to one another. And yet, she cannot relate to others. She even cuts down on eating, telling herself it is to save money; but her psychiatrist insists the panic attacks she has are a symptom of repression, that she has built an ivory tower around herself, and he believes the source to be in her upbringing.

Meanwhile, that tower had also locked her away from a belief in God. And yet one day she is asked by the atheistic parents to take Jacob to mass, thinking he will take to its ritual and be comforted by the community worship. And Jacob does love it, and insists she take him there regularly.

But Armstrong’s life is suddenly turned upside down. She swallows sleeping pills and ends up in a hospital. She is 27, and it is a cry for help. Rescued by he Harts from a psychiatric ward, she recovers. And then, inspired by a lecture on Ash Wednesday, she realizes that she cannot undo the past, that she must now find her own way. That way, however, unlike Eliot’s, is to move further and further away from God.

Armstrong is telling many stories here. There are her relationships with the Harts, including Jacob; with fellow students, like Jane and Charlotte, and the faculty at Oxford; and with a sickly nun, Rebeca, from her past life. There are also her mental issues, including her sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Piet. And there is her inability to relate to God. She weaves all of these elements into a rich and fascinating self-portrait.

Now, Armstrong’s life changes. She moves to London and takes a job at London University while she finishes her thesis. But that thesis is rejected because her Oxford examiner is biased against her close reading of literature. There is a scandal, but nothing can be done.

And yet, Armstrang feels suddenly liberated. With nothing to prove, she begins to think on her own. And then two remarkable events become quite moving. First, she collapses again, and is diagnosed, finally, with having epilepsy. This fills her with joy, for she now knows her mental issues are physical, not emotional or a threat to her sanity. And it liberates her further, for she no longer needs to avoid people for fear she may have a seizure in front of them. She can live a normal life. She has a future.

Second, Armstrong becomes godmother to Jacob at his baptism, and this unbeliever sees the son of atheists receiving the sacrament with joy. She sees the irony, too, but the reader wonders if it heralds more. For she also rooms with a Jewish girlfriend, who introduces her to the relaxed rituals of Jewish worship.

At this point, Armstrong refers briefly to a love life that this reader had wondered about. She calls herself a “failed heterosexual,” because she has had a number of affairs, all brief, she says, and all unsatisfactory, not worthy of mention. One has to agree with her that they do not belong in this book that is a memoir of her internal life. But the brief reference is necessary.

During six years of teaching at a wealthy girls’ school in London, Armstrong’s life takes a new turn. A teacher friend Sally persuades her to keep a diary, and the result is the author’s first book, Through the Narrow Gate, about studying to be a nun and then leaving the convent. The book is a critical success, and when a paper edition is issued, she is invited to give a talk for a proposed Channel 4 series, and urged to treat any subject that is “punchy and controversial.” She gives a spontaneous and striking talk on women in the Church that resonates with me. “This is my body,” she quotes and then remarks how little the Church has valued the body, especially the female body, and so failed “to integrate the sexual with the divine.”

This, in turn, leads to a six-part television series on St. Paul, for which she travels to Israel, to the holy sites that she has heard so much about. It is a remarkably evocative visit that leads to an emotional connection to her former faith. In addition, Paul becomes to her not a typical male figure from the New Testament but a human being. She comes to like this man whom she originally intended to expose as a founder of the Church she now despises.

But even more significant, she grasps the heart of the Jewish faith, and its being a precursor to Christianity. After the television series succeeds, she is asked to write a series on the Crusades. But as she studies the Moslem faith, the television money runs out. And then she is suddenly inspired. ”For three years, I had steeped myself in the deadly hostility that had separated Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Why not study something they held in common? The Abrahamic faiths worshiped the same God, for instance. Why not study the way they all had seen this God over the centuries?”

And so, she begins her next major book, The History of God. Now able to see the other’s viewpoint, as well as to bring her own original thinking to the subject, she focuses on her own inner life. And concludes that religion does not bring us the meaning of life but is the means “to discover how to be fully human.” That: “Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realize it within themselves.”

But in the middle of writing this book, she is struck by the negative reaction of people to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and their claim that the Islamic faith is a faith of violence. And so she writes a corrective life of Mohammed, revealing that he preached, like the Jews, a faith not of belief but of action, a faith of physical prostration and human compassion.

Back with The History of God, she revels in being alone with her books—and falls in love with her subject. Studying literature has helped her see that “theology, like religion itself, was really an art form…Like all art, theology is an attempt to express the inexpressible.” This is be her vocation.

Her book concludes that the theologians of all three faiths reached similar conclusions. “None of them had a monopoly of truth.” And the basis for that truth was to have compassion for others, “to feel with” the other, to understand why they felt or thought as they did.

And then the author reaches the most profound truth of her book. Does this mean I believe in God, she asks. And she both ducks the question and answers it. God is not a being, she says, not an unseen reality, because God is beyond our world, is on an entirely different level of existence. As Cantwell Smith showed her, she says, “faith was the cultivation of a conviction that life had some meaning and value…an attitude also evoked by great art.”

And: “The one and only test of a valid religion,” she writes, “is that it leads to practical compassion.” And again, “Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Mohammed, not to mention Confusius, Lao-tzu, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads.”

God cannot be reached through reason, she concludes. He transcends either personality or objective fact. Whereas, the practice of compassion can “bring us directly into the presence of God….It dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of selfishness that holds us back from the experience of the sacred. And it gives us ecstasy…”

“The inner dynamic of all these great religious convictions can work effectively,’ she continues, “only if you do not close your mind and heart to other human beings.” And a friend tells her, “You are constantly living in the dimension of the sacred. You are absorbed in holiness all the time.”

To sum up, this is a personal book and a profound book. It works, first, because the author takes us through a series of defeats, first the convent, then her health problems, then the failed thesis, then the dissatisfaction as a high school teacher, then her solitariness and her inability to relate to others, then the failed television series. This is a confused and struggling human being we are reading about.

But the memoir works primarily because it is a story of the author’s search to find God. It is about her internal life, along with her external life. And it is unique because she finds a different God than most of us seek, a transcendent God beyond our level of existence, a God that is revealed through her compassionate relations with those around her as well as in the aspirations within her. She learns the organized spiritual life where she first sought Him actually closed down her brilliant mind rather than opened it up.

This is not a work that the orthodox of any religion would be comfortable with. But it forces us to see the real world around us, the world we share, a world of searching, and of personal failure and frustration; and through it, we become aware of our own often superficial reaction to that world, a reaction that focuses on us rather than on others. And on our relationship to what we call a personal God that, she says, conceals the truth of a relationship that is beyond our power to conceive.

Every reader should be grateful that Karen Armstrong has bared her soul to them, for she crystallizes our frequent inability to understand the meaning of this life we live. What she has done here is to show us the spiritual world beyond religion, a view that will not please everyone but does show that that spiritual world is out there, even if it may be difficult for some to find that elusive being called God. (February, 2015)

the thorny grace of it, by Brian Doyle

Because I am acquainted with the author, I feel a certain trepidation in commenting on this new (2013) interesting collections of essays, essays in which each one carries a small spiritual or family message. The emphasis is on the smallness, for these essays run only three or four pages. But each makes a pithy statement that crosses our spiritual heritage with our common humanity.

In fact, I would not ordinarily write a comment about a book like this. But I do so, because I relate to it. The author has a spiritual perspective that I share. And I have long realized that making a comment helps me to think further about a book—and appreciate it more.

In retrospect, what strikes me first is that, in this era of Church factions, it is impossible here to assign Doyle within the Catholic political spectrum. He comes closest when he evaluates Pope John Paul II, both his strengths  (“a man of stunning presence and charisma, a corporate leader of wonderful creativity, a figure of light and hope for many millions”) and his weaknesses (“ a man who choked off liberation theology…a man who presided over a church riven with the rapes of children…a man who…dismissed women from any serious role”).

And one senses that this political reticence is deliberate. That neither he nor the publications he wrote for wish to make a political statement regarding Church doctrine. Instead, he explores the common elements in our daily human experience, an experience that often but not always arises out of our spiritual life.

He subtitles this book Essays for Imperfect Catholics. For he is often exploring the human weaknesses in our family life and our spiritual life. That we do not always live up to our idea of spiritual perfection. Or human perfection. And what Doyle does here is recognize this—and in doing so acknowledges his past naïveté, his current regret, or his often belated understanding.

Most of his essays reveal something of his own inner life, but a few also touch the reader’s own sensibility. For me, these include: exaggerated speculation on Jesus’ life in his missing teenage years; a humorous evaluation of Catholic writers by the imaginary Saint Francis de Sales Parish Book Club; an archbishops letter of resignation at age 75; a brother’s advice on how to keep a priest off-balance when in confession (keep bringing up lust); and the memory of hauling storm windows up from the cellar each winter.

Some essays are humorous, some are touching, some strike a cord of memory. An example of the humor: “From the age of thirteen when a boy in Jewish tradition enters manhood, to the age of thirty, when a boy in Irish-American tradition enters manhood.” An example of both empathy and self-awareness: “On the way home, I thought about…how these sweet honest funny moments [a baptism] are so holy I cannot easily find words for them, which is why we share these stories, which is what we just did.”

Other essays range from a regret at the life Osama bid Laden chose; to an essay on his father, his own fatherhood, and the Father; to the story of a star basketball guard who turns down scholarships to enter the marines—and loses his left hand in battle.

The range of these essays portrays a man who understands that a full life includes a spiritual life. He is a man who understands the meaning of family, of community, and of our eternal destiny. But he is also a writer who understands the power of a revelation to be found in a single moment, a moment we may all have experienced but most likely have never thought of again.

This is a modest book. It is for a very special audience. An audience which acknowledge its spiritual life and makes it a part of its daily living. It is more a book to be dipped into as a reminder of that life than a book to be read in one sitting. It is a book that enriches the reader who pauses and thinks for a moment after reading each essay. And in offering a special opportunity for reflection, each of these essays opens to ourselves an opportunity to review our own experience with our family and our church in a timeline of eternity. (January, 2014)