Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review Things Seen and Unseen

Ave Maria Press based in Notre Dame Indianna is an up and coming Catholic Press. While they have certainly been around for a long time, 140 years and counting, it seems as if they have been publishing some really inspiring titles lately, a new collection of the letters of Thomas Merton, one of my favorite spiritual writers, and now Lawrence S. Cunningham's Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook.

I first came upon the work of Cunningham when reading Commonweal Magazine. He writes a regular Book Notes section for Commonweal and also a blog there as well. Cunningham is what I call an ecumenical theologian, he is firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition, yet his writing speaks to the larger/wider Church. As an Orthodox Christian I have found many pearls of wisdom from Cunningham's prose.

Things Seen and Unseen is not a traditional type of book. It is neither a regular journal, diary, or memoir, but a collection of thoughts, ideas, ruminations, from his many years teaching. Each entry stands alone, they are not arranged thematically or chronologically, but each on its own worth. When reading Things Seen and Unseen I immediately thought of the desert fathers and mothers whose writing we have in many collected anthologies. Their short bits of wisdom, usually a sentence or two, sometimes even a paragraph, would be enough to chew on for the rest of ones life.

Cunningham is no different. Collected here is over 30 years of teaching and writing, thoughts from the liturgical year, books that he has written or plans to write, articles, and lectures delivered to students or religious orders. This book is a book to be read and re-read again and again. I can envision using this book for sermon ideas or parish bulletins. Take for example this little insight from his entry about devotional practice and the word "heart" in spiritual writing:

Apropos to the memory of the Lord: The Italian very to remember is ricordare--literally it means to bring back to the heart. How wonderfully rich etymology can be! (page 15).

There are others like it. He speaks about current events or ideas for future lectures. Things Seen and Unseen is not a book to read quickly, but rather, the reader takes it slowly, entry by entry, taking time to reflect and gaze upon these precious pearls of wisdom. Things Seen and Unseen is perfect for lectio divina, holy reading, as we all struggle with the spiritual journey.