“The Orthodox Way” by Bishop Kallistos Ware

“The Orthodox Way” by Bishop Kallistos Ware

I was first introduced to Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way on September 2, 2006 when it was given to me after a chance meeting with an Eastern Orthodox priest. This priest, whose name I do not know, gave me five books about the Eastern Orthodox Church after briefly taking to me in a hotel restaurant in Los Angeles. Of the five books the priest gave me, Ware’s The Orthodox Way stood out because of its spiritual depth and simple prose. Twelve years later I can honestly say that this book changed the course of my life by introducing me to the path of the mystic. The book itself isn’t that long, just six short chapters bookended by a prologue and epilogue. The purpose of the book is to introduce the reader to the “fundamental teachings of the Orthodox Church”[1] without being exhaustive or too technical. Rather, Ware lays out “some of the decisive signposts and milestones upon the spiritual Way.”[2] He does this by addressing six different facets of God as noted by the chapter titles: “God as Mystery,” “God as Trinity,” “God as Creator,” “God as Man,” “God as Spirit,” and “God as Prayer.”[3] Though each of these chapters are packed with amazing gems, the first chapter, “God as Mystery,” was the one that had the most lasting impact on my life. The overall gist of this chapter is that God cannot be known strictly by intellectual reason or as the “conclusion to a process of reasoning.”[4] Rather, knowing God means knowing him as a person who loves and cares for us. Faith in God is, after...
“The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks

“The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Sept. 30, 1207 – Dec. 17, 1273), better known as Rumi, was a Persian born Sufi Muslim teacher, religious leader, poet, and Islamic scholar. Since the day that they were written, Rumi’s poems have been enjoyed by countless people in multiple languages. In recent decades, his poems have enjoyed a renaissance in America with Rumi becoming “one of the best-selling poets in the United States.”[1] As a Sufi Muslim, Rumi was follower of “Islam’s immensely complex and infinitely diverse mystical tradition.”[2] Though rooted in the core beliefs of Islam, Sufism is a “medley of divergent philosophical and religions trends”[3] with concepts borrowed from Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions. This background allowed Rumi to become “dissolver of boundaries” with poems that speak to the heart of humanity regardless of religious affiliation. This mystical belief in the connection of all of humanity can be seen most clearly in Rumi’s statement that he saw “one altar” and not three when he went “into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church.”[4] Rumi’s poems are characterized by his usage of “anything human beings do, no matter how scandalous or cruel or silly, as a lens to examine soul growth.”[5] This style, though effective at one level, also tends to drive away some readers due to the crude and unrefined nature of the poems. I, for one, fall into this latter group as I did not find Rumi’s poems to be enlightening, enriching, or beneficial. Rather I found them to confusing and unhelpful in stimulating personal spiritual formation. Part of this, I readily admit, may be due...
No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Islam rose to the forefront of the global consciousness on September 11, 2001 through the bloody actions of several self-proclaimed followers of Islam. Yet in spite of the almost constant barrage of information since then by news pundits, political leaders, and religious personalities, it seems that most people living in the United States still don’t understand the basic concepts, history, or divisions within the religion. Written four years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks by Reza Aslan, a Sufi Muslim immigrant to the USA from Iran, the book No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam seeks to provide the reader with a basic understanding of Islam.[1] Using chronological time as a scaffold, Aslan focuses on telling the theological history of Islam rather than outlining the territorial spread of the religion. This focus on the theological development of Islam allows Aslan to highlight the various reformation movements within the religion. In fact, Aslan goes as far as to say that the book itself is less about the origins of Islam as much as it is “an argument for reform.”[2] Though not widely known in the United States, “Islam has been in a constant state of evolution”[3] since the very beginning. Hence the power and glory of Aslan’s book is that it informs the readers of the struggles within Islam as its religious followers try to adapt their religion to a changing world while remaining true to their traditions, scriptures, and deity. A good example of this struggle is the ongoing debate over the role of human reason in reading and understanding the Quran. The Rationalist school of...
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea

            Though it is common to think that that we who are alive are the ones who are braving new territory, the reality is that we are always following someone else. In his book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill shows that for those of us steeped in Western thought and culture it is the ancient Greeks who got there before us. As Cahill so eloquently states at the end of the book, “whatever we experience in our day, whatever we hope to learn, whatever we most desire, whatever we set out to find, we see that the Greeks have been there before us.”[1] Cahill, however, makes it clear that his book contains “no breakthrough discoveries, no cutting edge scholarship.”[2] Rather his approach is to draw together the various pieces of the past and “try to remain in their presence till [he] can begin to see and hear and love what living men and women once saw and heard and loved.”[3] This method of reviewing history proves to be extremely effective in drawing out the humanity of the ancient Greeks that so often gets buried under the text of their mythology and philosophy. The book itself is divided into seven chapters plus an introduction. Each chapter is preceded by a fragment of Greek mythology that corresponds to the theme of the chapter.[4] The chapter titles themselves summary the concepts explored by Cahill: The Warrior (How to Fight), The Wanderer (How to Feel), The Poet (How to Party), The Politician and The Playwright (How to Rule), The Philosopher (How to Think), and The Artist (How to...
Embracing the Victory

Embracing the Victory

A look through the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, reveals a lot of passages about the victory that comes through the new life in the kingdom. We become new people with a new family built upon love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. No matter what pain or sorrow we have experienced before, we now have a chance at a new life. The old is gone; behold the new. Sadly, a lot of people fail to embrace fully the victory of Jesus in their lives. The scars of the past are so deep and numerous that it is hard to trust again. What happens if I open up my heart and Jesus fails me? What if I try to fight the chemical, emotional or spiritual addictions in my life and I fail? Perhaps it is just safer not to dream of victory; instead I will just push on through this life, hanging onto the promise of healing in the next life at the resurrection of the dead. As it has been said, the pain that I know is better than the pain that I don’t know. Not wanting victory may sound crazy to some people, but there are a lot more of us out there who are afraid of change than those who embrace the change of life that comes with Jesus. I’m reminded of the time when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda, which was a sort of hospital and healing spa (John 5:1-15). Walking among the sick and hurting, Jesus stopped next to a gentleman who had been sick for 38 years and asked him the most important...
Heretics and Heroes

Heretics and Heroes

A look back over history shows that there are certain periods in time during which innovation and cultural change dramatically increases. The book Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World is the sixth volume of Thomas Cahill’s The Hinges of History series in which the events of these critical periods of western history are documented and retold. Heretics and Heroes focuses on the cultural and religious upheaval in Europe during the sixteenth century. Divided into seven sections with a prelude, introduction, intermission, and postlude, the book highlights various innovative ideas and concepts that arose during the Italian Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation.  Woven throughout the text is a nod towards the “centuries-long game of philosophical tennis”[1] being played out behind the events themselves. This game, as Cahill outlines in his prelude, is between the Platonic-Augustinian and Aristotelian-Thomistic schools of thought on how reality is perceived. During the time period covered by Heretics and Heroes the Platonic-Augustinian view of reality (i.e. that the “phenomena of our world…leads us to the absolute realities…[of] Beauty, Truth, Justice, Unity…and…Goodness” [2]) becomes the dominate view over and against the Aristotelian-Thomistic view (i.e. that “there is no world of Forms beyond the world we know and see” [3]). Though it may seem unlikely, the motivation for both the master artists of the Renaissance and the leaders of the Germany Reformation can be found in the newly rediscovered drive to know and understand the absolute realities behind what we see and hear. The artists followed a blend of Platonic philosophy and Medieval Christianity that saw the “human flesh [as] a fine...