Book Review of A Shimmer of Something

A Shimmer of Something  by Brian Doyle (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014).

Roostery. Brian Doyle uses this perfect word to describe the swagger of adolescent males. His new collection of “box poems” or “proems” delights with the play, the reach, the spasm and splurge of language. His lines are graceful, lean and surprising–as if he were the G. M. Hopkins of our time. At first I rationed, thinking I couldn’t possibly appreciate more than a couple a day. (And the style IS a bit in-your-face.)

But now and then, I binged—well, it’s too early to turn on the laptop during a flight, so what else? And then I’d start noticing, as Doyle does, the little gems we so often miss. The man in the orange vest, loading luggage, waves goodbye to the flight attendant closing the plane’s door. Does he do that every day? Every flight? What a lovely farewell when this must his stultifying routine. Doyle would do justice to the odd moment.

It’s hard to name favorites, but “Father Man” is high on the list because my grand-daughter is close in age to the tiny, blustering force in the poem. And “The Thirty,” a tribute to good priests, echoes the powerful film “Calvary.” “As I Ever Saw” praises the courage of a little boy in hospital with a terrible disease, who rallies to please the therapist, does her art project, then sinks back in exhaustion. “What a Father Thinks While Driving His Daughter, Age 17, to Rehab” could never have been written by a bishop.

Doyle explores the crazy quagmire of parenting, probes the sensitive areas in friendship which we never speak aloud, roars at basketball, chortles at fun, remembers key detail, and weaves fascinating stories. He wonders why “the very best thing is the one thing that hurts the worst.” How Catholic of him, in the best sense of the word, to see the world saturated by grace, with the divine always lurking around the next bend. Recognizing that mysterious presence, he praises it, not with the mind-deadening prose of encyclicals, but with the verve and arc and joy of the fast ball.

Faith as Glue in an Unraveling World, Part 2


What lifts peoples’ spirits now is what always has: the arts. The people of the Middle Ages walked through squalid streets and lived in miserable poverty. But they could lift their sights to the spires of Chartres Cathedral or see Bible stories in its luminous stained glass. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky knew the horrors of prison camp. But he wrote, “the world will be saved by beauty.” Franciscan missions throughout California were built around an inner garden, lavish with bougainvillea and roses, and often a sparkling fountain. These are only three examples of a long history. For over 2000 years, the church has offered beauty at critical times for the human family.

When depression threatens or anger overwhelms, the arts move us outside ourselves and into a realm beyond the economy. They remind us we were born not only for work, but also for joy, praise, appreciation.

If we have spent time appreciating the arts, we have strengthened the imagination. It then suggests new possibilities for a new era, new ways to live and different ways to cope. Jim Wallis says that the problems we face now are as formidable as mountains. It takes faith to change them, and fortunately Christians are in the mountain-moving business. Our times call for heroic responses. This is our moment; “now is the time of salvation.”

Some of this material appeared originally in
Everyday Catholic.

Faith as Glue in an Unraveling World

Crisis in the Ukraine, in Gaza, on the southern U.S. border. What does faith have to say in such desperate circumstances? Christians believe that we can bring the lens of faith to bear on every issue, no matter how painful. The challenge today is avoiding pious platitudes that help no one, instead finding insights to support and strengthen people enduring difficult times. The ancient Latin “adsum” means “I am here.” These are the times we are called to; this is our moment. God’s pattern placed us in 2014, not 947 or 2078. Why? Two brief possibilities:


The church has always been a powerful voice for immigrants, and must continue to speak for 50,000 undocumented children crossing the borders. The Christian community speaks the concerns of the voiceless who might otherwise be crushed by politics, greed and irresponsibility. Faith often comes alive in times of crisis, and this era is no exception.

While Congress dithers over immigration law, the nuns are on the ground in El Paso, working. Three Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, fluent in Spanish because they’ve worked in Peru, offer food, showers and safe sleeping quarters. The children respond with large embraces, perhaps recognizing the first kindness they’ve encountered in a long, arduous journey.

To be continued…

Sharing the Power of Reading

Editor’s note:  Kathy Coffey’s latest article, “Sharing the Power of Reading” is now available on the Global Sisters Report website:

“On a frigid winter morning Doug hopped on a bus to a storefront help center, despairing that he’d lost his job with a cleaning service for not understanding printed signs and written warnings. And when Doug asked if the bus went where he wanted to go, the driver snapped: ‘Can’t you read the marquee?'”

To read the rest of “Sharing the Power of Reading” about a literacy program in Dayton, Ohio, staffed mostly by volunteer teachers from the Sisters of the Precious Blood Convent, click here:  “Sharing the Power of Reading

Seeing through God’s Lens, Part 2

What we think is a huge disappointment—the job we didn’t get, the love who married someone else—may, from God’s viewpoint, be an entry into something or someone far better. God sees the opportunity in what we see as the setback. While we fret and fume over what’s immediate, God takes the long view. (We may have experienced a bit of that when, months after an event, we understand why it happened, or years later, see a wrong rectified.)


God also sees far beyond silly feuds and denominational differences. In his last testament, Father Christian de Cherge, a Trappist monk killed in 2006 by extremists in Algeria, described this perspective: “at last I will be able…to see the children of Islam as [God] sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ…whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.” A lifetime of trying to find the harmonious notes between Islam and Christianity may have taught de Cherge the perspective of One who created and loved all children equally.


Even if the tunes playing in our heads are flat, uninspiring or discordant, God’s orchestra is tuning up, God’s blazingly magnificent design is slowly unfolding. In God’s symphony, no note is amiss; each is meticulously planned. The cymbals are thrumming, the trumpets are heralding God’s beloved daughter or son—moi! We may feel stuck in a dead-end job or relationship, but God is saying in the words of Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”


If we could see as God does, we’d marvel at the intricate design of a grapefruit or orange, the star-shaped pattern of seeds in an apple. We wouldn’t rob ourselves of our own experience through haste or inattention. Instead, we’d see as God did at creation: that it was very good. Thomas Merton writes that if the seeds God plants in my freedom take root in good soil, “I would become the love that [God] is” and “my harvest would be God’s glory and my joy.” And THAT is certainly worth seeing.

Seeing through God’s Lens, Part 1

What would it be like to see the world and ourselves as God does? Of course we have only glimmers and hints of this vantage point, but it’s helpful to entertain the perspective, even briefly and dimly.


And perhaps it’s not that way-out/crazy. Some of the finest insights in scripture are expressed as ways of seeing.  “I have seen the Lord,” Mary Magdalene told the other disciples, in disarmingly simple words. (This was, after all, the Lord they had seen crucified, then entombed, lifeless.) Later, the other disciples would echo her, telling Thomas who had been absent: “We have seen the Lord” (John 20: 25). These words become the distinctive signature of every Christian, as we see Jesus in the circumstances of life, each other, and the beauty of our world. Recognizing even the faintest traces of his face, we rejoice.


Through God’s lens, we might come to see ourselves as “friends of God and prophets” (Wisdom 7:27). God views us not as estranged relatives who live at some distance, but as close FRIENDS who share in God’s holiness. Jesus repeated this during his last supper: “I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).


To appreciate this intimacy, think of your best friends. With them, you can be silly, relaxed, often wrong, but OK with flubbing it now and then. Thankfully, they don’t delay friendship ‘til you’ve got your act completely together. With them, you can laugh, cry and endure a lot of Ordinary Time.


If we see ourselves as God’s friends, it removes the pressure. No longer do we fumble for the absolutely perfect wording of prayer. Do we turn to the script in a book when addressing a friend? So, with God we can be honest, outrageous, fussy, overjoyed, troubled, tired, angry, perplexed, exuberant, numb, humorous. We can stand firmly anywhere on the broad gamut of human thought and emotion, confident in a listening friend. 


Seeing as God does places our most humiliating failures, stupid mistakes and embarrassing gaffes in a new light. While we may clench our teeth and agonize over those, God dismisses them with an airy wave. “Oh, that?” God says. “Forgot it several eons ago, somewhere back before Tyrannosaurus.” 


For God’s sense of time is broad and deep. One way to appreciate it is to try remembering what we worried about three years ago. For most people, that’s a stretch. So too, God may see the formidable obstacle that blocks the path right now and dismisses it as less important than dandelion fluff.

To be continued….

Book Review: SACRED FIRE by Ronald Rolheiser (New York: Image, 2014).

This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a book for the website, but this book deserves high praise. I’ll admit I haven’t always been the greatest Rolheiser fan, enjoying Holy Longing and his on-line columns, but finding him quite male, quite clerical.

That bias changed with the newest book. He begins with the question Teresa of Avila posed to those approaching their later years:

“When one reaches the highest degree of human maturity, one has only one question left: How can I be helpful?”

He explores many responses to that question, with one of the finest being the chapter on blessing. How often we squelch exuberance and deny joy: that’s Rolheiser’s definition of the curse (rather wittily contrasted to the abuse we heap on our computers when they have a meltdown). Instead, our response should be like God’s, blessing: “In you I take delight.”  I especially like his image of the “final picture of human and Christian development”: not the suffering martyr, but a blessing grandparent, beaming with pride and radiating the Creator’s energy, “Indeed, it is very good.”  

A practical tip I’ll remember for prayer, and include in my talks on prayer: when one prays with hurt, for instance about the death of a loved one, it’s tempting to focus on the loss. But the result will often be a greater obsession with “that from which you are trying to free yourself.” Instead, focus on God. Difficult as that is, it’s an opportunity for God to gently “widen again the scope of your heart and mind.” Rolheiser uses the lovely image of the wounded child climbing into the parent’s lap, simply content to be held. One final line I cherish: the holiest person you know is the most grateful person you know.

No beach read, this is one to savor slowly, pausing often and relating it to personal experience. I’m a bit of a cynic about much of the spirituality that appears in print now, but this one is genuinely worth a long, reflective stretch of time.