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Assuming one accepts Fr. Johnston's rather generous and vague idea of mysticism as any keen awareness of God's presence and power, this overview of Christian devotional life in the context of traditional theology, contemporary politics, and other world religions is a model of balanced thinking and lucid writing. And it's stronger than his previous books on mysticism (Silent Music, The Inner Eye of Love, The Mirror Mind) because it's content to show suggestive parallels, instead of deep structural similarities, between Christianity and Eastern religions. Johnston is an Irish Jesuit, born and raised in Belfast, who studied Buddhism in Japan for many years, and now works in the Philippines. This international-ecumenical experience colors the whole book: Johnston suggests, for example, that evangelical poverty should be understood not rationalistically but as a Zen koan; that the key to all mysticism is letting go, which can be translated as well by the Taoist wu-wei (non-interference) as by the Christian fiat (""Be it unto me according to thy word,"" Lk 1:38). Elsewhere Johnston stresses the religious implications of global poverty, the arms race, imperialism, etc., by presenting metanoia (conversion, or effectively admitting personal and corporate responsibility for evil) as ""the very core and center of Christian prayer."" At the same time he defends the value of such familiar and apparently individualistic traditions as ""the dark night of the soul,"" adoration of the Eucharist, and even--with some misgivings--psychic withdrawal from the world. Perhaps his strongest chapter is ""The Irish Conflict,"" where Johnston blends historical synopsis, vivid, sometimes bitter, memories of Belfast in the '20s and '30s, and dogged faith 'in the possibility of escape from ""the agony of Ulster."" A broad-minded scholar with a crisp prose style (Vatican II, he writes, ""rejects the medieval notion of an elite called to perfection and a riffraff called to salvation""), Johnston is an extraordinary spokesman for Christianity.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row