Africa, April 2019, Vol. 84 No. 3

From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews

Mindful Meditations for Every Day by Sister Stan

The Heavenly Habit by Daniel O'Leary

We have two offerings from the bookshelf this month. I feel sure you will find them to be good company as you journey through the year.

The first is Mindful Meditations for Every Day by Sr Stanislaus Kennedy. Sr Stan, as she is affectionately known in Ireland, is a member of the Religious Sisters of Charity since 1958. She is a well-known campaigner on social issues and has received numerous awards for her work on behalf of the marginalized in society.
With this book, her stated aim is to “bring you a greater understanding of how you have been blessed” and to “sow new seeds of hope and gratitude in your heart.” She recommends that the reader “carve out 5 to 10 minutes for prayer, meditation and reflection each day” to allow the “voice of the Spirit speaking to you in your heart, in and through the silence” to be heard. Music to the ears…for those of us leading super-busy lives!

The book takes the reader through the calendar year with each month following a particular pattern. Each month begins with a theme, for example, stillness, hope, wisdom, beauty, freedom, solitude and so on. With busy people in mind, Sr Stan then invites us to step back from our usual routines and to literally take a deep breath or two – to become centered – as she teaches the art of being aware, present and grounded. Next we find a few quotations from scripture related to the theme of the month and finally, a reflection for each day.

Wonder, is the theme for this month, April. One of the scripture passages is from Psalm 139: For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation. Wisely, the first part of this passage is balanced by the thought for the day on 3 April: To appreciate the wonder all around us, we must get out of our own way, out of our own light.

Similar nuggets of wisdom are scattered throughout. See what you think of this one on 11 May: Wisdom is the opposite of being obsessed with achievement and success. The wise person works out of love with no assurance of success, considers trying more important than achieving, questions more important than answers. Not exactly the philosophy of our times, I’d say!  
The second offering for this month is The Heavenly Habit by the recently deceased Fr Daniel O’Leary. Fr O’Leary, was a priest of the Diocese of Leeds, England, and wrote for The Tablet and The Furrow. The quotation from Leonardo Buff on the flyleaf captures the essence of this pocket-sized publication: Within every heart abide angels and devils…they will always dance together within us.

This book encourages us not to be afraid to face those inner devils and to dance with them, as it were, by developing the heavenly habit of “looking at something, especially anything negative or unpleasant, in such a way that it surrenders its secret to you – the hidden goodness it carries.” This is based on the belief that “everything has a meaning, a reason, a message – but we must search for it in a mindful, patient and positive way.”

Ten writers/artists/poets offer their thoughts on this journey from darkness to light or rather, on their own efforts at finding the light in the seeming darkness of some of their personal experiences. This process is examined under such headings as Anxiety to Peace, Hatred to Freedom, Grief to Acceptance, Rejected to Belonging, Vindictive to Forgiving and so on.

Each piece, in its own way, insists that while our inner darkness may be painful and difficult to manage, it can, when viewed imaginatively, have a vital role to play in our growth and maturing. I was reminded of the gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat in Matthew 13:24-30.           

While there are several uplifting and inspiring passages throughout, this is certainly not a “feel good” or a “how to” or a “quick-fix, self-help” book. I appreciate its realism – the contributors are not afraid to ask some truly difficult questions or to be bleak, as life sometimes is. The contributions of Adrian Scott are particularly striking: Stressed-out to Break-through, Underserving to Blessed and Vindictive to Forgiving. For his poetry alone, this book is worth the investment.    

Both books can be ordered from Columba Press, 23 Merrion Square North, Dublin 2, Dublin, Ireland.

Tel: + 353 (1) 687 4096, Both at €6.49.

Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review. 

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