A thoughtful, accessible, and useful religious study guide.

BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

A study guide about the famous biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

In this slim work, the author explores the Gospel passage of John 4:4-26. In it, Jesus meets a woman and asks her for water and uses the moment to teach her about God’s unconditional love and salvation. Mills, in turn, uses this tale as a metaphor for finding wholeness in times of struggle, accepting God’s love, and having patience regarding his plans. The author imaginatively brings the passage to life, reflecting on what the two actors in the story might have thought and felt and drawing out lessons for readers’ own lives. The book also provides context for readers unfamiliar with biblical history, explaining the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans and unpacking how such details may enhance and enrich the biblical story. Mills also weaves in personal anecdotes, finding religious lessons in mundane occurrences; for example, she uses her own father’s rehabilitation of an underfed horse as a metaphor for God’s ability to make people whole again and to love them despite their flaws. Similarly, she provides engaging “Food for Thought” discussion questions, which range from the simple (“What’s your typical reaction toward having to wait for someone to show up?”) to the lofty (“In what ways do we use what imprisons us to define our freedom?”). Overall, she aims to help readers access the spiritual promise in the biblical tale, which she says is about Jesus accepting people in their “brokenness” and sin. She ends with an exhortation to the reader to “go to the well…empty…thirsty…[and] exhausted of ourselves.” Throughout, the prose is simple, clean, and readable. Study groups may find particular value in the book, both as a jumping-off point for discussion and as a gentle introduction to Bible study. It would also work well for individuals, as there’s room in the text for solitary readers to write in answers to the discussion questions.

A thoughtful, accessible, and useful religious study guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1490856377

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2016

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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