The Irish-Canadian experience

{mosimage}A Story to Be Told: Personal Reflections on the Irish Immigrant Experience in Canada by M. Eleanor McGrath (Liffey Press, 215 pages, hardcover, $65.00).

TORONTO - Between 1940 and 1990, the reasons behind Canada’s last great wave of Irish immigration were about more than Ireland’s poor economy — there were social, cultural and political factors too.

Making sense of our different beliefs

{mosimage}Common Ground: A Priest and a Rabbi Read Scripture Together by Andrew M. Greeley and Jacob Neusner (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 335 pages, softcover, $24.95).

A couple of nights ago I looked up at the sky and saw the wishing star and so I made a wish. I wished there was a university course, perhaps called Thinking and Judgment 101, and that it became a required course for everyone in a position of responsibility or aspiring to one.

Story seen through wrong eyes

{mosimage}Cibou: A Novel by Susan Young De Biagi (Cape Breton University Press, softcover, 256 pages, $19.95).

In her back cover biography, Susan Young De Biagi claims no Mi’kmaq ancestry. Yet the Cape Breton native, who has a master’s degree in history from the University of New Brunswick, has an obvious, abiding interest in the indigenous people of her home province. She has brought both these things to her first novel, Cibou (the territory her fictional Mi’kmaq inhabit) and puts her abilities as a historian to particularly good use.

African reality alive in fiction

{mosimage}Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Little Brown and Company, 368 pages, hardcover, $26.99).

Say you’re One of Them is a masterpiece of reality-fiction that evokes powerful emotions. Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Catholic priest, has exceptional narrative skills. He captures heartbreaking realities in Africa as seen through the eyes of children. He uses his characters to show us spiritual values of love, hope and sacrifice.

Akpan explores unimaginable tragedies of poverty, suffering and sacrifice across Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Benin in this collection of five stories. He narrates experiences perceived through the eyes of children in these five countries. In all the stories innocence and vulnerability are interwoven with suffering, survival and hope of families who struggle with some of the hardest realities of Africa — realities readers will barely comprehend. The children are lenses through which we see a series of surreal tragedies and triumphs.

Helping us in the chaos of our inner journey

{mosimage}Song of the Sparrow: New Poems and Meditations by Murray Bodo, O.F.M. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 136 pages, softcover $10.50).

I started reading Franciscan Friar Murray Bodo’s book, Song of the Sparrow: New Poems and Meditations, early this summer and ended reading the last pages as autumn came. As it turns out, the book begins in autumn and ends in summer.

These are serendipitous reversals that call attention to each individual section in this book of meditations and poems. Seasons signify personal states of mind and our sense of quest, as do the heightened awareness and insight that each changing time and period evoke on Bodo as he contemplates his life’s passages.

Setting the record straight on Martha of Bethany

{mosimage}The Many Faces of Martha of Bethany by Diane E. Peters (Novalis, softcover, 230 pages, $26.95).

For someone who only receives a couple of short mentions in the Gospels, Martha has certainly caused quite a commotion over the past two millennia.

Most know her as the woman who was too busy in the kitchen to hear Jesus preach. There is a lot more to her than that — including her skills as a dragon-tamer, at which (some say) she was more impressive than St. George.

Kung vs. the Vatican: who really won?

{mosimage}Hans Kung: Disputed Truth, Memoirs II, by Hans Kung (Novalis, 556 pages, $37.95 hardcover).

After his highly publicized dinner meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 24, 2005, the world wondered whether a “tamer” Hans Kung — a more benign, less pugnacious public theologian — would emerge. And, in fact, all was smiles and mutual compliments afterwards.

Rediscovering the Bible

{mosimage}Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 238 pages, soft cover, $19.95).

If ever there was a “Bible Year for Catholics,” surely it must be this year. Bishops from around the world have just finished meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome to discuss the place of Scripture in Catholic life and prayer. Throughout the Catholic world we are dedicating this year to St. Paul, the “Apostle to the Nations.” And into the marketplace for Scripture-centred books comes a familiar (and yet unexpected) figure: Franciscan Father Richard Rohr.

Christianity's bright lights

{mosimage}Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada, ed. by Byron Rempel-Burkholder and Dora Dueck (Wiley, 260 pages, $24.95 paperback).

I have sometimes thought that faith works in our lives like the lens of a camera, capturing and framing events and emotions as they are in motion, bringing stillness to the moment and finding God in the detail of the encounter.

At other times I am certain that faith does its best work in hindsight and retrospection, discerning meaning and mission.

It's all about Anne

{mosimage}Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, by Anne Rice (Knopf Canada, hardcover, 256 pages, $29.95).

Anne Rice is famous — or perhaps infamous, depending on your point of view — for a string of darkly gothic vampire novels. Her first and probably most famous, Interview with a Vampire, was made into a major motion picture in 1994. 

A self-declared atheist for most of her adult life, after a lengthy personal and spiritual journey, she returned to her roots in the Catholic Church in 1998. A few years later she announced she would never again write about vampires and redirected her literary energies towards what she has called “Christian literature.”  She has since produced two novels about the life of Jesus (Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana in her “Christ the Lord” series). Her latest book is Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession — an autobiographic account of her spiritual journey back to the church.

We can't compromise on violence

{mosimage}Put Down Your Sword: Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Non-Violence , by John Dear S.J., (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, softcover, 216 pages, $18.50).

The title of Fr. John Dear’s latest book comes from Jesus’ instruction to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was being arrested. Dear makes the point that Jesus’ call to “Put down your sword!” is particularly significant to us today. They were the last words Jesus spoke to His assembled disciples — to the church. The disciples all ran away at that point and the other, more famous last words of Christ were in truth spoken to others.