Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch:
‘The Road to Character’ is ‘outstanding call to virtue,’ while Taylor’s latest focuses on message to be found in darkness

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 16, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Barbara Brown Taylor was ordained an Episcopal priest and for several years served a parish in rural Georgia. She left the active ministry and continued her vocation as a professor of religion at Piedmont College. She lives with her husband, Ed, on a working farm near where she teaches. Taylor has written an unusual spiritual book titled Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is published in hardcover by Harper One for a list price of $24.99. The book is unusual because she focuses on the spiritual message that might be found in darkness, rather than the normal Christian emphasis from darkness to light.

In preparing to write this book, she tried to experience some of the basics of life that a blind person would deal with. She looked to Scripture, where God sometimes speaks in the darkest moments of the night. She went into the dark caves of West Virginia to experience total darkness. She also speaks of our dark emotions and the traditional “dark night of the soul.” Taylor walks in darkness with her husband on their farm. She writes passionately about our cultural desire to light everything up, which makes it very difficult to see the stars.

Taylor has a devotion to Mary, even though she is not Catholic. In one chapter she combines a discussion of Mary with a visit to the famed Cathedral of Our Lady in Chartres, France. In the chapel beneath the Gothic cathedral she found a section called “Our Lady of the Underground.” She writes several paragraphs later: “The next morning I stop by the cathedral gift shop to buy the silver medal with Our Lady of the Underground on it. ‘All must come through me in order to live in the light.’ She has been talking to me ever since.”

Learning to Walk in the Dark is not the traditional spiritual book, but it is one person’s walk, appreciation, and struggle with darkness. It enables us to realize that some darkness may be helpful and is not to be feared. It helps us to slow down and to rest. It helps us to see the stars and to see with new eyes in the midst of darkness. Here we have a creative book that breaks new ground for the reader willing to go on for the ride. In a sense, “Darkness is the new light.”

*****

All I can say is that David Brooks’s new book, The Road to Character, really hit me. It is an outstanding call to virtue in a time of an independent “Me” culture. He does not call it a religious book, but it certainly is great for spiritual reading, and I would suggest it creates an openness to prayer. He taught much of what is in the book to students at Yale during the last three years. He says he wrote the book to save his soul.

Random House of New York publishes the book in hardcover for a list price of $28.

Brooks’s own view is laid out in the Introduction, where he describes “Adam I,” the resume and career side of our life, and “Adam II,” the internal Adam, where there are moral virtues.

Adam II includes the eulogy virtues talked about at your funeral. Chapter 1 and the concluding chapter tell you what he is trying to do in writing about the lives of seven or more persons who lived lives with virtue. It was often wounded virtue. This brokenness is referred to as “the crooked timber tradition.” In the final chapter, Brooks gives 15 ways of living a life of humility. It is powerful to see a virtue almost forgotten in our time take its place as a possible key virtue in our lives.

The people extended as possible models in the tradition of stories of lives of the saints begin with Frances Perkins, who was deeply changed by seeing the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City in 1911, where 47 people jumped to their death in at attempt to escape the flames. Perkins’s life of service centered on the four presidential terms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was Secretary of Labor during the Depression.

The story of Dwight David Eisenhower is told with special emphasis on his mother, Ida Stover Eisenhower, who taught him how to deal with his anger. In this chapter there is a section on sin that is striking. Eisenhower was raised religiously, with emphasis on small acts of self-control.

Dorothy Day led a life that broke from religion and was radical for her time. But when she had her child, Tamar, and her lover refused to marry her, she began an intense journey of faith and living the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

General George C. Marshall had a tough time in school, but also had lots of drive. President Roosevelt would have given him the position of head of the D-Day invasion, but Marshall did not see a way to ask for it for himself. In the book’s section on Marshall there is a great quote from editor Tina Brown. She says that if everybody is told to think outside the box, you’ve got to expect that the boxes themselves will begin to deteriorate. Marshall had a view that with all their weaknesses, institutions need to be strengthened and improved.

A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Ruskin call us to the non-violence that led to the famous March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

The novelist George Eliot (Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss), whose real name was Mary Ann Evans, shows us a life that included a rebellion against religion and her own struggles that eventually lead to a life of love and an emphasis on the importance of day-to-day life.

Brooks writes with a fondness for St. Augustine in a chapter he calls “ordered love.” St. Monica is presented in not the best light. Sin and grace is present with gusto.

The final section of persons to remember includes mainly Samuel Johnson of the 1700s in England, with a large section on Montaigne in France. One of Montaigne’s quotes is a prize-winner. He wrote: “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do the job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it.”

David Brooks has done a great service for us all. For some, The Road to Character could be a life-changing book.

*****

My memory is that Father Donald Cozzens was in Spokane 10 or 15 years ago and spoke to priests and possibly several other groups. He has just come up with his first novel. It’s a real page-turner, in the tradition of Dan Brown and the late Father Andrew Greeley.

The book is titled Master of Ceremonies. It is published by In Extenso Press and distributed by ACTA for a softcover list price of $19.95.

The story is filled with some paper-thin characters and a plot loaded with devious corruption and potential violence.

At various public events, a retired archbishop of Baltimore has been hit with a beam of light that seems to threaten violence. The possible rifleman is a military man who was abused by the bishop many years ago. The archbishop is to be celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest at the basilica. Several auxiliary bishops are worried about possible events. One has contact with a bishop in Rome who leads a secret organization of bishops and priests. The other is the good protagonist trying to prepare for the safety of the archbishop.

Margaret Comiskey, the secretary of the auxiliary bishop in the secret society, is the godmother of the possible rifleman. She learns of his abuse and with the help of a good friend named Ella Landers finds incriminating evidence of more abuse that has been secret. Ella happens to be a former CIA agent and is able to open fortified safes. By the way, on top of this there is an Italian hit-man named Georgio who is secretly in Baltimore for the archbishop’s celebration. He is a friend of the bishop in Rome who goes by the code name “M.”

Now, this may sound a little wild to say the least, but it is certainly quite a ride.

Yes, through fiction Father Cozzens gets across viewpoints he has written about in non-fiction books and essays.

This book is not for someone who would have difficulty reading about a very wounded church pushed to the extreme. It is not going to win any literary prizes, but Father Cozzens clearly makes his case on sexual abuse by clergy and the resulting cover-up. He provides a lot to talk about.

Movie Review

In her appearance on Charlie Rose recently, actor Carey Mulligan remarked that when Thomas Hardy’s epic story Far From the Madding Crowd first came out as a novel, all the critics but one could not identify with Bathsheba because she was too independent. She fought against the customs of 19th century England.

Mulligan plays Bathsheba as a modern independent woman who goes from little money to an inherited large estate in beautiful Dorset. In the process she stands up to the male power structure of her time. She does not have to marry and be treated as property. She can deal with the rough and tumble world of male control of the farming and financial worlds.

But Hardy gives us three men who want to marry her. The earliest is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) who loves her deeply but loses his sheep herd in a tragic accident and eventually ends up working for Bathsheba after she has turned him down for marriage.

The very rich William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) wants to marry her and take her away from running her estate. He wants her to live like other wealthy women of the day. Bathsheba turns from him several times, but she does fall for a dashing soldier in red. Sgt. Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) was scheduled to marry another woman, but she went to the wrong church. So even though he doesn’t love Bathsheba he seeks to marry her and control her farm.

The photography in the film is wonderful. In two hours the director, Thomas Vinterberg, gives the film an epic feel, with plenty of slower characterization of the people of the time. Screenwriter David Nicholls does a fine job of translating a massive book into an understandable film story.

All the main actors are excellent. But it is Carey Mulligan who gives an outstanding performance. She should be honored when the awards season comes around.

The film is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of American. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-II – for adults and teens.

(Father Caswell is the archivist for the Inland Register.)


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