Brief Book Review: The Faces Of Jesus

The Faces Of Jesus: A Life Story

Author: Frederick Buechner

Publisher: Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press

97 pages + Introduction, ISBN: 1-55725-455-9, Hardcover

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

Frederick Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and, over the years, has become somewhat of a popular and prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction works.

This little volume is divided into six chapters in addition to the Introduction: 1 Annunciation, 2 Nativity, 3 Ministry, 4 Last Supper, 5 Crucifixion, and 6 Resurrection.

Buechner—in this reviewer’s humble opinion—has the gift of attention grabbing turns-of-phrase that surprise and inspire the reader. Sometimes these turns-of-phrase have the capacity to confront readers with the foreboding judgment of God and the all-encompassing grace of God that are able to make readers laugh and cry—perhaps at the same time. Such is the brilliance of Buechner. Here are a few examples:

When you think the world is on fire, you don’t take time out to do a thumbnail sketch. Nobody tells us what he looked like, yet of course the New Testament itself is what he looked like…(p. ix).

If he [Jesus] is the Savior of the world as his followers believe, there never has been nor ever will be a world without salvation (p. 4).

It is no wonder that from the very start of his ministry the forces of Jewish morality and of Roman law were both out to get him because to him the only morality that mattered was the one that sprang from the forgiven heart like fruit from the well-watered tree, and the only law he acknowledged as ultimate was the law of love (p. 42).

God makes his saints out of fools and sinners because there is nothing much else to make them out of. God makes his Messiah out of a fierce and fiercely gentle man who spills himself out, his very flesh and blood, as though it is only a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet red wine that he is spilling (p. 59).

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party (p. 61).

He could be Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, who said, “Fathers and teachers, I ponder, ‘What is hell?’ I maintain that hell is the suffering of being unable to love” (p. 65).

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men [and women] even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by (p. 79).

Thus for Jesus the only distinction among people that ultimately matters seems to be not whether they are churchgoers or non-churchgoers, Catholics or Protestants, Muslims or Jews, but do they or do they not love—love not in the sense of an emotion so much as in the sense of an act of the will, the loving act of willing another’s good even, if need arise, at the expense of their own (p. 91).

This is a powerful little volume, and I hope it will be regarded as a spiritual classic for many years to come. Highly recommended.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Spirituality & Wholeness Workshop 2015

On September 11, 2015, I attended a Good Samaritan Society Workshop with keynote speaker Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., titled: “The Good Samaritan and the Giver’s Glow: The Paradox of the Simple Act of Giving.”

Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D. is the best-selling author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, in addition to Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and his work with Alzheimer’s outlined in The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer’s Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying. Dr. Post has worked at the University of Chicago Medical School, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and is currently at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Dr. Post has received the Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Leadership in HealthCare from the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network and the Kama Book Award in Medical Humanities from the World Literacy Canada.

In 2001 he founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, a free-standing non-profit whose goal is to research and distribute knowledge on selfless love. You can visit his website at: http://www.stephengpost.com and http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org

Dr. Post gave four talks, with the following titles and outlines: “Rx: It’s Good to be Good” Dr. Post introduces his philosophy of intentional giving. Discussing the positive effects it has on happiness, health, creativity and longevity.

“The Ten Ways of Love, Giving and Flourishing” Learn a simple way to apply the philosophy of intentional giving in your everyday life, using the ten ways to love.

“Who Benefits From Compassionate Care?” Dr. Post shows how resident care as well as their health improves with compassionate care and how living with the philosophy can prevent depression and burnout in healthcare professionals.

“Hope, Love and Caring for the Deeply Forgetful” Discover how applying compassionate care can help caregivers to recognize enduring self-identity within those with dementia. Discuss the ethical issues involved in caring for individuals with various forms of dementia, through the stages from diagnosis to dying.

One of the opening bits of information that Dr. Post shared with us was artist Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule.” He pointed out that it consisted of people from various racial and religious backgrounds and ages. Observing their faces, one is given the impression of a sense of peace and well-being. Such outward reflection of peace can also influence the well-being of others.

Dr. Post pointed out that the words medicine and meditation come from the same root medi, which means balance. Life and health is about balance.

The biblical concept and practice of love is now being confirmed by scientific research. According to Michael McCullough in Beyond Revenge, 2008, “When we help others we cannot maintain a vengeful attitude.” According to P. Wink & M. Dillon, In the Course of a Lifetime, 2007: “300 pre-teens in the Bay area followed every ten years since the 1920s. The one third who identified contributing to humanity as important were healthier and happier 50 years later, protected from depression & some physical illnesses.” In AA: The Big Book, p. 20: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help their needs.”

Dr. Post said that research has been done on the cause of Schizophrenia, and it is now being viewed as connected with experiences of separation anxiety. He mentioned that environmental changes can cause separation anxiety—for example, when a person graduates from school and moves into a workplace.

President Abraham Lincoln suffered from melancholy and depression, and once said: “When I do good I feel good: When I do bad I feel bad.” Dr. Post pointed out that, from his own experiences, it does not necessarily follow that when you do good or love others or propose projects for others to do good and love others that it will go easy for you. People will resist you and crosses still find you.

One of Dr. Post’s favourite definitions of care/love comes from Harry Stack-Sullivan: “When the happiness, security and well-being of another person matters to you, you care for that person. When these things are as real or more real to you than your own, you love that person.” According to Stack-Sullivan: “Love cures mental illness.”

In study by Howard Brody & Franklin G. Miller, “Lessons from recent research about the placebo effect,” in The Lancet, Vol. 375, 2010, pp. 686-695: “a warm interpersonal relationship independently” adds “substantial therapeutic benefit” in the placebo effect. According to WB Malarkey, DK Pearl, JK Kiecolt-Glaser, R Glaser, “Influence of academic stress and season on 24-hour concentration of ACTH, Cortisol and Beta-endorphin,” Psychoneuroimmunology, Vol. 20, 1995, pp. 499-508: “Abrupt dismissive interactions elevate stress and slow wound healing.”

According to JW Mack, et al. “End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life,” J of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 28 (no. 7), 2010, pp. 12-3-8: “Compassionate communication with family members whose loved ones are dying decreases anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and decreases use of the ICU at the end of life.”

During Dr. Post’s discussion on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention, he suggested that the following factors may be significant for some: Diet (fruits, vegetables), exercise, social and intellectual engagement, avoid protracted stress (possible role of spirituality), walk peacefully with friends to a Greek restaurant (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) and then hit the library to read and meditate.

In Dr. Post’s “Alzheimer’s & Grace,” First Things 2004, he offers the following wisdom: “As caregivers, we should talk even to the most cognitively disabled, calling them by name (which, sometimes surprisingly, may come). We should speak with a warm and calm voice, with a joyful facial expression, bending down to make eye contact, communicating with them rather than around them. We can use pictures, music, hymns, Scripture, poetry, meaningful symbols, and short simple prayers.”

I agree with Dr. Post 100% on these practices. It has been my experience as a chaplain working with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents that they respond the best with music. Often music calms them, reduces fear and anxiety, gives them peace and contentment, and even helps them to express themselves verbally in a more lucid way. As Martin Luther once said: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”