US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read, listen, and watch: June 2020 reviews

The books, music, and films ‘U.S. Catholic’ writers have enjoyed this month.

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Spiritual Conversations with Children 
By Lacy Finn Borgo (InterVarsity Press, 2020)

Imagine what it would have been like if someone had asked you questions about God when you were a child. Lacy Finn Borgo suspects you would have had a lot to say. In her new book, Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together, Borgo encourages adults to create a sacred space for listening to the children in their life. Following Jesus’ example to let the little children come to him, she looks for ways to create paths to God.

Borgo gives thoughtful insights to the spiritual formation of children and shares dialogue from sessions with children at Haven House, a transitional housing facility for families experiencing homelessness. These sessions are where Borgo really shines—or rather, lets the children shine—as she opens a window into her work and how children relate to God.

Children are natural contemplatives and see God in places we adults have long forgotten—like Amanda, a child who had suffered deep loss yet tells Borgo, “I think God cries with me.”

Borgo shares practical tools we may have not considered: how to create a sacred space with a special blanket, how to set up creative play and imaginative prayer prompts. But most of all, Borgo shows us how to be present, put our own ego and answers aside, and simply listen. 

Something happens when we read these stories of God’s presence in the lives of these children. We begin to see more clearly how God is working in our own lives and can’t wait to sit with the children we know to ask these questions. 

This book will encourage parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, psychologists, and educators. As we dive into these spiritual questions with the little ones in our life, we will wonder who is ministering to whom? 

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Let’s Talk About Truth
By Ann M. Garrido (Ave Maria Press, 2020)

Homiletics professor and author Ann M. Garrido skillfully guides us through developing a spirituality of truth that exists between the extremes of triumphal proclamations about “capital-T Truth” and laissez-faire “anything goes” relativism in her new book, Let’s Talk About Truth.  

Rather than presenting truth as an object to be possessed, Garrido offers a nuanced, scriptural approach to cultivating “faith seeking a way to live truth.” She describes four ways in which we practice truth: seeing the world as it is, forming good judgments, communicating with others, and being in relationship.  

Garrido draws on communication and conflict theory to reframe how we see disagreements on contentious topics. She writes, “The more important question isn’t ‘Who’s right?’ but ‘Why do we each see things so differently?’ ”

In living out the gospel vision of communion, the hard work of seeing our own blind spots and listening deeply to those with different perspectives is necessary.  

With scripture as her framework, Garrido draws on Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, and Pope Francis. Her thinking is well informed, and her arguments are strengthened by examples from her years of preaching, teaching, and consulting.

The book seamlessly weds scholarship with strong pastoral instincts informed by Garrido’s many years in relationship with Dominicans, who claim veritas (truth) as their charism. 

Perhaps the book’s greatest treasures are the texts of Garrido’s preachings, which illustrate how she breaks open the Word and speaks the truth in love.    

This book is a resource for preachers and other Catholic leaders. Yet it will prove valuable to anyone striving to live a spirituality of truth or simply trying to navigate difficult conversations with kindness and authenticity. 

Rhonda Miska

The Way to Manresa: Discoveries Along the Ignatian Camino
By Brendan McManus, S.J. (Loyola Press, 2020) 

Jesuit Father McManus walks the pilgrimage route where St. Ignatius of Loyola composed his Spiritual Exercises and discovers the freedom to be had in letting go of expectations.

 

 

Margaret and the Pope Go to Assisi
By Jon M. Sweeney, Illustrated by Roy DeLeon (Paraclete Press, 2020)

The fourth book in the charming The Pope’s Cat series follows the pope and his pet cat, Margaret, as they travel to Assisi for adventures such as visiting St. Francis’ basilica and eating gelato on a walk through the city.

 

Monumental Jesus: Landscapes of Faith and Doubt in Modern America
By Margaret M. Grubiak (The University of Virginia Press, 2020) 

Grubiak examines how nonbelievers respond to American sacred architecture and how these “landscapes of doubt” illuminate necessary questions about faith.

 

Listen

Rachael & Vilray
Rachael & Vilray (Nonesuch Records, 2019)

A little nostalgia and romanticism can go a long way. Each can offer a reprieve from challenging daily realities, stir the imagination, and perhaps even rekindle feelings thought long-lost.

On their self-titled debut album, Rachael & Vilray stir all this and more. With a penchant for old-time jazz and popular songs of the 1930s and ’40s, the duo crafts a sound once familiar yet enchanting.

But the lyrics tell a story much more contemporary.

Songs of love abound, but these are at once playful, clever, and aware of the dangers of being too free with one’s heart. On the delightful end of the spectrum Rachael & Vilray offer songs such as “At Your Mother’s House” and “The Laundromat Swing” that make you smile with their well-turned phrases and knowing nods, all jumping along like an old Django Reinhardt tune.

Weightier are songs such as “I Can’t Go to Sleep” and “Without a Thought for My Heart” that speak of the pain that follows a broken relationship. More reassuring are songs such as “Do Friends Fall in Love?” with their messages of hope and love found in unexpected places.

Religion may not be prominent in songs of this nature. But there is an intriguing opening in a beguiling song titled “Alone at Last.” The song is about a person who is very introverted, wary of crowds, and finds it difficult to be completely themself with another person. The lyric even references Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous line “Hell is other people.” But here’s their twist: “Jean-Paul said hell was people / I mostly agree with that / But one person does get a pass / With you, I feel alone at last.”

If love can break boundaries, overcome fear, and draw people together, I’d say God is present. 

Father John Christman, S.S.S.  

 

Watch

Marriage Story
Directed by Noah Baumbach (Netflix, 2019)

Nicole and Charlie Barber first seem like a happily married couple, raising their young son, Henry, in New York City. Charlie (Adam Driver) is a busy theater director, and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is an actress who stars in many of his plays.

In the opening scene of Marriage Story, each is listing, in what we learn are letters they’d written, the qualities—mostly positive—in their spouse that make them who they are. Nicole gives thoughtful gifts and cuts her husband’s and son’s hair. Charlie loves the hard parts of being a dad (such as dealing with tantrums) and knows how to tell someone, gently, that there’s food stuck in their teeth. 

But this couple is going through a divorce mediation, and the letters are part of the process of working through their issues instead of hiring attorneys. They both want to handle the split amicably. Or do they? Although Charlie is willing to read his letter about Nicole out loud, she refuses to read hers about Charlie. 

The next we see Nicole, she’s in Los Angeles with Henry, staying with her mom and auditioning for a TV pilot. She hires a high-powered divorce lawyer and serves Charlie divorce papers, thereby changing the tone of their uncoupling.

Things get ugly. The Charlie we initially see isn’t exactly who he really is, nor is Nicole. They each made mistakes in their marriage, and there are tangible reasons why they’re breaking up, even though we see there is still love between them. 

Driver and Johansson are both believable in their roles, showing vulnerability and strength while wanting to strike a balance as parents. Marriage Story is a realistic and sometimes sad look at the undoing of a marriage and how that undoing is managed by overpriced, arrogant attorneys and an impersonal court system.

Ann Christenson

Published: 
Thursday, May 28, 2020

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