The loss, death, and personal and cultural disorientation of the coronavirus has been felt on some level by all of us. We all know friends and family members who have lost their jobs or have fallen ill, perhaps some who are among the 200,000 who have died from the virus in our country. We pray for a return to more normal times, perhaps even to a period of review and reflection during which the better angels of our nature will emerge and we will be able to address, from a spiritual perspective, the social ills that have become more evident these past few months.
As challenging as daily life has been for us, many have been able to identify positive and hopeful opportunities for personal and interpersonal growth. Unable to meet each other in person, we have embraced Zoom and other communication media to stay in close touch with friends and family in our neighborhoods, as well as across the country and throughout the world. The ubiquitous face masks we wear to minimize the spread of the virus have become something more, a statement that we share a common purpose, that we are one people, that we’re all in this together. And although the coronavirus has interfered with our work life—disastrously for so many—it has also opened up a little more free time, due largely to increased opportunities to work from home. It’s amazing how much time is saved when you cut back on driving!
For me, that extra time has provided a welcome opportunity to respond to the stack of books that is forever calling for my attention. Books have been my closest friends for as long as I can remember, and, suspecting that I am not alone in my bibliophilic affliction, I recommend several of those friends for your enjoyment as well.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owen, and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, offer poignant, gritty coming-of-age survival tales set in the North Carolina marshes and a remote community in Alaska, respectively. In each, the protagonist is a young girl struggling to make sense of her largely self-destructive family and carve out a life of her own as she confronts and embraces the harsh environment that has become her world. And Barbara Kingsolver, with Unsheltered, offers a tale of two families living a century and a half apart in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey, the first in post-Civil War times and the second in the present day. Kingsolver is known for incorporating sociopolitical perspectives in her books, and she doesn’t disappoint in Unsheltered, confronting, through the eyes of the two families, the evolution debate in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the much larger cultural issues of the present day.
Moving from fiction to nonfiction, I recommend Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, a refreshingly new look at a question that never ceases to call for my attention, how to discern one’s life vocation. (Even at 72, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up!) Also: If you want to experience more clarity about what is at stake in America and around the world today, don’t miss Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Applebaum charts the current rise of authoritarian politicians and the subsequent threat to democracy throughout the West, with particular attention to Poland, Hungary, Russia, and the US. She writes as a conservative American historian committed to the protection of democracy throughout the world, and, unlike many others, she is not blind to the threat of authoritarianism in her own country.
Finally—drum roll, please—I am happy to announce my own new publication, Journeys of Faith: Religion, Spirituality, and Humanistic Psychology. You know how literary critics sprinkle their book reviews with words like “a page turner, I couldn’t put it down” or “fast-paced and utterly absorbing” or “mesmerized me from the first page to the last”? Well, this isn’t one of those books. Trouble sleeping? This might be the book for you.
Seriously, Journeys of Faith has been a labor of love for me, the result of academic work I’ve been engaged in the past several years. A slim volume, just 200 pages, it explores the development of a spiritual orientation in four humanistic psychologists and an evolutionary biologist—Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, Rollo May, and Julian Huxley, the last a close friend of the great spiritual writer Teilhard de Chardin. If you are at all interested in the early years of the development of psychotherapy, which starts with Freud and includes psychoanalysts, humanists, existentialists, and others, you might find this book helpful. Maybe even enjoyable!
Enough for now. Back to my stack of books.