Sunday, August 23, 2015

Arriving at Amen

by Leah Libresco

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • A new convert explains her unique perspective on the Faith and how she learned to integrate these totally new concepts into her life.
  • For a cradle Catholic such as me, this is a very refreshing look at familiar and old-hat aspects of the Faith.
  • Plus there's Les Miserables! and cognitive biases! and Shakespeare! and other such awesome things!

And Why You Might Not:
  • There are a lot of references to math and logic and musicals and things not everybody enjoys. Leah has a particular kind of brain, which is pretty much mine except smarter, but I know it isn't for everyone.

Thoughts: I couldn't recommend this highly enough, except: I have learned (fairly recently, actually) that many of the things I thought were most awesome are not enjoyed by many people. Things like statistics and overcoming biases and Doing Hard Things. Because she thinks much the way I do (except more clearly and intelligently), I have found so many helpful ideas on how to better my spiritual life from her. But it is definitely personal for me, and though I think this book is awesome enough to recommend to everybody, I'm not going to.

My favourite parts:
  • She discusses many aspects of Catholic spirituality that are fairly commonly discussed but that I don't currently do (like lectio divina and the Examen). It's easy to find the standard way of going about them by a simple Google search. But these aspects are described in such an easy-to-follow way, and with freshness (since she was completely new to them), that I think it'll be far more useful to me in implementing these in my life.
  • She emphasizes spiritual concepts I feel I should have thought of before but didn't--or sometimes that I did think of, but her unusual way of putting it made it finally sink in. For example, on page 107 she talks about the goal of lectio divina and how you should let God teach you, rather than you studying him from a distance. A fairly obvious distinction for a knowledgeable Christian, but they way she described it made me see it in a different and more applicable light.
  • In a similar vein is a prayer by Thomas Merton on pg. 95. She didn't write this, obviously, but it expresses something I've felt for a while and not been able to verbalize, and thus another example of how we like the same things. "My Lord God, I ahve no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing." (From Thoughts in Solitude)
  • In keeping with her attention to rationality, she has some fascinating techniques to deal with human biases and fallacies. As a small example, when reading the Bible, she would read over a few verses, cover them up, and try to repeat what she read. By seeing what parts she got wrong, she could see which parts were not intuitive for her. (pg. 98-9) This could point out how her mistaken ideas about God and theology. It's only a small thing, explained better in the book, but it's an example of looking for one's errors in thinking, "forcing [one's] errors out into the open", and using this knowledge for good effect. Leah has lots of little things like this, and I love it.

Highly recommended for Catholics who like rationality and want some cool and unusual ideas for renewal in their spiritual life. And if you like this book, check out her blog for more of the same!

Cover note: I love it. Such a pretty, swirly blue colour, and that rosary/atom combo! This will definitely make my list of top ten (or so) favourite covers for the year.

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

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