Book Review: Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body

Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body: Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength & Solace in Psalms

Author: Edited By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, CSW A Project of the Jewish Healing Center

Publisher: Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing

115 pages, ISBN 1-879045-31-1, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In the “How To Use This Book” section, the purpose of this little volume is stated: “This book is intended to help you—struggling with illness or helping someone who is—derive spiritual healing from Psalms” (p. 11). Accordingly, the focus then is on what the late 18th century, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov referred to as the ten “healing psalms,” they are: Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150. Readers will find helpful, practical suggestions on how to use these psalms.

In the “Introduction” chapter, Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub provides an overview of who Rabbi Nachman was, and the ten different kinds of songs found in these ten “healing psalms.” Each song has a corresponding Sefirot… “of the Kabbalah, the mystical attributes through which the Creator brought the universe into being. These Ten Sefirot are called “Direct Light,” shining from the Creator to the world” (p. 19). For example, one type of song is called a Niggun, “Melody,” and its corresponding Sefir is Hessed, “Lovingkindness.” In “Notes To Introduction,” there is a list of all ten Songs and corresponding Sefir.

Ten rabbis from four denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstruction—each write one of the chapters; providing a wide range of insights and approaches to these psalms.

The structure of each chapter is as follows: A Hebrew and English translation of the psalm, along with a commentary on it.

For this reader, the most helpful chapter was by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, commenting on Psalm 105. Rabbi Lamm offers several insights regarding the importance of songs and singing to facilitate communion with God and healing if not of the body, then of the mind and soul. For example: “The word shir, meaning song, also derives from shur, meaning insight. When we sing we raise our souls to God, and we gain insight into Him” (p. 83). I think this emphasis on singing songs regardless of our situation is most timely in our day and age, since very few people seem to sing anymore—one wonders if they are the poorer in health as a consequence.

In addition to this volume’s chapters, there is information about each of the contributors, suggested resources for further reading, helpful organizations, information about the Jewish Healing Center, and Jewish Light Publishing and several of their publications.

 

 

Book Review: Leaving North Haven

leavingnorthhavenLeaving North Haven: The Further Adventures Of A Small-Town Pastor

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York & Berkeley: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

251 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2013-0, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In this sequel to Good News From North Haven, the Reverend Michael L. Lindvall continues to tell his heartwarming stories of many of the characters in his first novel.

The Reverend David Battles has now served Second Presbyterian Church for some ten years. He hadn’t expected to stay that long. He has learned much in those ten years. Yet, it is with a humble heart that he observes: “In these last ten years, I have come to know that I know less than I once did, but I do know this, just this: to see anything that matters, you must always bring two things to your looking—attention and love” (p. 23).

One character readers may remember is Minnie MacDowell, who had a fall and broke her elbow, was suffering from Parkinson’s and believed she was dying. On at least three occasions, she had gone through the ritual of having Reverend Battles ask her the question, “Are you prepared to die?” Then he was to read the twenty-third Psalm and pray the Lord’s Prayer. After this, she was to close her eyes turn her head to the window and pass away (p. 25). This ritual reminds me of a parishioner of mine who asked me every time I visited her: “Pastor, why am I still here? Why doesn’t the Lord take me home?”

The Reverend Battles, reflecting on if it was time to move on after ten years has this to say: “The town has come to be an unlikely home for us, but we can hardly stay forever. The hard truth is that in a year or two, maybe five on the outside, the church won’t be able to pay a minister a full-time salary.” (p. 38). This reality, of course, is an all-too-familiar one for many a mainline Protestant clergyperson serving in a rural and small-town parish.

In one of his adventures Reverend Battles thought he’d shot a ten-point buck deer. He had placed his gun triumphantly on the antlers, and one of the Wilcox brothers was about to take a picture when the buck suddenly came to life, got up, and ran away with the gun still in his antlers.

Then there is the young boy, James Corey, who is fascinated by a momma killdeer.

There is also the prophetic-like eccentric, Ivar Johanson, a bachelor, everyone is curious about his mysterious building project of Redi-Mix cement and chicken wire.

In the concluding chapter the Reverend Battles is celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, which was also his last Sunday at Second Presbyterian. Something surprises them and gets them laughing on that solemn day.

Those who love the culture and tales of small-towns and their churches will enjoy this novel. Clergy and laity alike will laugh, cry, and be edified by these tales of God’s loving grace.

Brief Book Review: Conquering Fear

Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World        Author: Harold S. Kushner                                                      Publisher: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, A Borzoi Book, 2009      ISBN: 978-0-307-26664-4, 173 pages, Hardcover                              CDN $29.95

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

conqueringfearFears. Every human being, at one time or another, encounters fears. The question is: How does one deal with such fears? Harold Kushner, who served as an active rabbi for many years, offers some of his experiences, knowledge and practical approaches to the subject at hand.

The volume consists of ‘First Words,’ and nine chapters. Each chapter focuses on a particular theme, and begins with at least one pertinent quotation.

There are over eighty references in the Bible instructing human beings not to fear. According to Rabbi Kushner, God does not want fear to dominate our lives; hence he gives us the Eleventh Commandment—“Do not be afraid.” This means, among other things, that: “Our goal should never be the denial of fear but the mastery of fear, the refusal to let fear keep us from living fully and happily.” (p. 24)

If readers are familiar with any of Rabbi Kushner’s previous books, they will recall that he casts the literary net far and wide, drawing on an array of sources, including: the Bible, the Talmud, rabbinic stories, contemporary psychology and literature among them. This volume continues in that vein.

In chapter after chapter, the author counsels his readers not to be paralyzed by their fears. Rather, the best way to handle fears is to face them and try to overcome them.

For example, Viktor Frankl told his patients, “Go out and do what you are afraid of. Expect the worst to happen.” When they did it and the worst did not happen, he would say to them, “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” (p. 168) Of course there are some exceptions to providing such counsel, especially regarding life-threatening behaviours.

My favourite story in this volume is one of hope inside a Nazi concentration camp, when Jews wanted to celebrate Hanukkah. Holiday celebrations were forbidden in the camp, but one man saved a bit of the bread from his evening meal, dipped it in grease from his dinner bowl, fashioned it into an impromptu candle, said the appropriate prayer and lit the bread. His son said to him, “Father, that was food you burned. We have so little of it. Wouldn’t we have been better off eating it?” The father replied, “My son, people can live for a week without food, but they cannot live for one day without hope.” (pp. 93-94)

This volume is written in accessible prose, and readers who are familiar with Rabbi Kushner’s previous books would most likely benefit from this one.

 

Book Review: Over The Mountains

Over The Mountains: A Story Based on The Second Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren and other contemporary records

Author: Compiled by Eileen Robertshaw

Publisher: Walden, NY: The Plough Publishing House, 2012

184 pages, plus maps and an addition entitled: The Hutterite Mission Machine by Dean Taylor & Jake Gross

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

I’ve not read much Hutterite history. However my sister and brother-in-law who own a business, have numerous Hutterite colonies as their customers. A Hutterite customer gave this volume to them, and they passed it on to me.

Over The Mountains chronicles the life of Hutterites in the eighteenth century from Austria and eastern European countries such as today’s Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Rumania, and Ukraine. As the title suggests, it focuses on a flight of a group of Hutterites from Transylvania from the persecution and conversion tactics of Delphini, a Jesuit priest, sent by Empress Maria Theresia to do away with the Anabaptists. The flight was from Transylvania over the Carpathian Mountains into Wallachia, contemporary Rumania. Later they would emigrate from Rumania to Vishenka, Ukraine and Radicheva, Russia.

The work highlights a recurring cycle. The Hutterites because of their beliefs in communitarian living, based on Acts 2:42-47, pacifism, and re-baptizing those who were baptized as infants; they were regarded as heretics by other Christians, were persecuted, and invading enemy Turks plundered and destroyed their property. They were offered the opportunity to recant and return to the Roman Catholic and sometimes Lutheran churches. When they refused, they were imprisoned, even beaten, children were taken from their parents, and families were separated from one another. The Hutterites then sought out other countries where religious freedom would honour their way of life. Princes and other wealthy landowners from such countries would promise them religious freedom, and then they would immigrate. Whenever the civic or religious authorities of that land began to persecute them; or a war tax was imposed on the Hutterites; or they were expected to serve in the military; or the land on which they lived was disputed because of war; the recurring cycle would begin again.

One of the developments amongst the Hutterites was an underground communications system whereby one or more would secretly travel to visit their imprisoned family or community members, and then return with news as to their circumstances.

Periodically there would be disagreements in the community whether or not to observe all of Sunday as a day of worship and rest; and what type of prayer was permissible.

According to The Hutterite Mission Machine, Hutterite missionary ministers met in 1527 at Augsburg, Germany for what came to be known as the Martyr’s Synod. At this meeting, the focus was on evangelism and missions; and the missionaries divided up certain regions of Europe and agreed on where each missionary would go. Of the 60 missionary ministers who attended the Synod, only two were still alive five years later.

This is an interesting fact for at least two reasons. First, it underscores the priority and commitment to missionary work among the Hutterites in the Reformation era; as well as the courage and faith of the 58 missionaries who were willing to be martyred for what they believed was the work Christ had given them. Second, it is quite a contrast with contemporary Hutterites here in Canada, who seem to have given up on evangelism and missions.

This volume would be most beneficial to those interested in eighteenth century Hutterite history.

 

 

Book Review: Good News from North Haven

goodnewfromnorthhavenGood News from North Haven: A Year In The Life Of A Small Town

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

189 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2012-2, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Reverend Michael L. Lindvall was born and grew up in small-town Minnesota. He developed a love for the stories told by folks living in such communities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the stories he tells in this novel are set in North Haven, Minnesota and, at the very least, are implicitly autobiographical. The storyteller in this novel is Reverend David Battles, the minister of Second Presbyterian Church—and Lindvall himself is a Presbyterian minister.

The novel begins with a brief history of First and Second Presbyterian congregations—the former lost their building to a fire, and most of the members subsequently joined Second Presbyterian. As the novel unfolds, Reverend Battles is keen to tell what he refers to as “tales of grace” revealed in the “things that happen” in daily dramas (p. 19).

In his compelling narrative style, Lindvall introduces us to a host of eclectic and eccentric characters—similar to the sinner-saints we clergy meet in our parishes. There are: the “intractable, intransigent, unmovable…iron butterfly” Alvina Johnson, who is skeptical about this year’s Christmas Pageant after directing it for four decades; the inactive Roman Catholic barber who confides in Reverend Battles about growing up with an abusive dad; Reverend Battles learning that the little things in life like reading a bedtime story to one’s kids and kissing them good night are important “…because the mark a man or woman makes on this world is most often a trail of faithful love, and quiet mercies, and unknown kisses” (p. 37); Carmen Krepke the rebellious young biker-woman who had a vision of Jesus; the wise patriarch of Second Presbyterian, Angus MacDowell; the single-minded boat-builder Lamont Wilcox, and many more.

The novel is also worthwhile for its humorous stories of Reverend Battles’ “short trip” on Easter Sunday while climbing the stairs to the communion table with the offering; Reverend Mitchell Simpson’s comments which he thought were spoken in private, but were heard by the congregation because his cordless microphone was turned on, when he thought he had turned it off; when soprano choir member, Emma Bowers’ spiked high-heeled shoe got tightly lodged into the heating grate, when choir member, Elsie Johnson was “raptured” during a recessional hymn, and more.

The final heart-warming story is the baptism of single mother, Tina Cory’s son, James; the whole congregation “stands with” James during the baptism as an act of love, acceptance and grace.

I highly recommend this delightful novel to the general reader, and especially to the clergy who serve in small-town and rural churches. The Reverend Lindvall shares a great deal of his folksy wisdom, insights and humour in these stories that instruct and inspire.

Rumours of Glory Book Review

bruceRumours of Glory: A Memoir

Authors: Bruce Cockburn & Greg King

Publisher: Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014

530 pages, including Acknowledgments & Discography, hardcover

CDN $34.99

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Ever since Bruce Cockburn’s first album released in 1970, I confess that I’ve been attracted to his music. Over against so many singer-songwriters who focus on, and cannot seem to mature beyond the superficial and trivial and “what sells,” Bruce Cockburn is amazingly challenging and inspiring. I find his lyrics quite brilliant and profound, as well as poetic and prophetic. He often speaks out against the evils and darkness in the world today, advocating for the world’s poor, oppressed and forgotten.

There is a wonderful irony and paradox at work in his life and music, in that one has the sense of Cockburn not intentionally setting out to be an international celebrity—yet he is likely more popular, honoured and famous than many of his contemporaries who have long been forgotten or are minimally remembered and celebrated today.

In this memoir, Cockburn recalls his early years growing up in Kingston and then Ottawa, where his dad was a medical doctor; his parents never expressed much emotion, and were only occasional attenders of worship services in the United Church. Cockburn comments: “Ours was a secular household, in spite of the exposure we all had to the surface ideals and imagery of Christianity” (p. 17).

Bruce speaks a bit of sibling rivalry in the early years, he being the eldest of three brothers. He also mentions his early month-long summer camps in the wilderness—perhaps an influence on his music in later years as some of his songs reflect a love for and respect of creation.

In the pages of this memoir, Cockburn speaks at length on: his music and many influences from a host of genres, including of course the 60s and 70s rock and folk musicians such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, his relationships with those closest to him, including his first spouse and several other girlfriends and partners, the process of working with several significant people to record and produce his albums, the political situation in Canada and around the globe, the environment, his encounter with Christ, other Christians, and the Christian faith, his views on religions, his experiences as a world traveller, especially to many poor nations, his work with several NGOs including Amnesty International, among more various and sundry subjects.

A surprising tidbit about Cockburn for this reviewer is that he enjoys guns and shooting them at gun clubs and/or firing ranges. Even though he is a peace-loving human being, he does not consider himself a pacifist. In his own words: “I honour nonviolence as a way of being, and as a political tactic, but I am not a pacifist” (p. 2).

One of the themes that keeps resurfacing is that of Cockburn’s relationship with and response to God or what he refers to as the Divine. All-in-all, Bruce Cockburn is a difficult person to categorize—if I had to describe him in some categorical manner, it would be within the tradition of Christian mysticism, with universalistic inclinations, that encounter the Divine/God through the beauty and tragedy of creation in all of its forms, which connects everyone and everything. His concluding words sum it up well: “It’s recognizing that from the first to the last we are all one in the gift of grace, and that if we hold this gift dear we can be whole again” (p. 525).

I highly recommend this volume to those with an interest in Bruce Cockburn’s music or wish to learn more about him and his long and prolific career.

Book Review: Where Was God?

wherewasgodWhere Was God? The Lives and Thoughts of Holocaust and World War II Survivors

Author: Edited by Remkes Kooistra

Publisher: Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario, 2001

204 pages, ISBN 0-88962-757-6, CDN $20.00, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

This volume, as the title suggests, is both a history and memoir of Holocaust and World War II survivors, edited by Rev. Dr. Remkes Kooistra. It is based on oral interviews of survivors, conducted by Rev. Dr. Kooistra and others. It is dedicated to the nation of Israel in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Rev. Dr. Kooistra, a Dutch survivor of World War II, was a theologian, linguist, sociologist, professor, chaplain and pastor. He was educated in the Netherlands, graduating from the Dutch Reformed Church seminary at Kampen, and earned a doctorate in theology and sociology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He was pastor of congregations in both the Netherlands and Canada. He also taught at various post-secondary institutions, and was chaplain at the University of Waterloo.

The work consists of three parts: Part I provides the Dutch historical context and briefly traces the history of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism over the past 2000 years. Part II consists of the actual interviews and stories of the Holocaust survivors. Part III is titled Beyond Survival, and includes Rev. Dr. Kooistra’s reflections on his life during the war years.

Volumes of this nature of course are usually very somber and emotional. It is not easy to re-live and tell the story of such horrific events—one can be re-victimized and re-traumatized by such a process. Even readers who have not survived such cruel experiences as those interviewed here may feel somewhat traumatized; as one of the recurring themes is the senseless violent acts committed against the Jewish people.

From a historical perspective, this is a valuable work, since it provides readers with an inside view of how Dutch Jews were persecuted and deported by the Nazis; as well as how Dutch citizens hid and helped their Jewish people survive.

In relation to the volume’s title, those who survived provided a wide range of answers concerning their understanding, doubts, confusion, etc., of the question, “Where was God?” during the Holocaust.

Here is a sample of one survivor couple, Jack and Miriam Somer. When answering the following questions said: Do you still believe in God? Miriam answered: I do, but I don’t understand God. Was the holocaust a punishment from God? Jack answered: A punishment for little children? I can’t believe this. Miriam answered: I don’t know. Punishment for what? There are enough guilty people among us. The Nazis are not the only ones. The whole world is guilty. We all let it happen. Should we all be victimized by a holocaust? (p. 138)

This volume is a worthwhile read for those interested in Holocaust and World War II history as well as Jewish-Christian relations.