Starting in the Comment Box


Starting in the Comment Box

This started as a response to Neil below, who notes some other difficulties with Yancey's book. But it quickly grew to proportions that demand their own space:

Dear Neil,

But each of these people has something about them that is worthy of imitation--at least as much as St. Jerome, say. I wouldn't want to imitate all of Jerome's life, or the life of St. Catherine Laboure, but there are undeniably strains of their lives that are worthy of imitation. So too, I think with each of the "heroes" Yancey sites. Moreover, sometimes you don't need someone to imitate so much as someone to tow you to shore, to ground you once again in the reality that you are in the presence of God throughout your life.

Your point about "signs of contradiction" without internal structure, is of course, the strongest argument for the Catholic Church. But that also is peripheral to the core of the book. The book is not about religious practice. I guess I keep coming back to the purpose of writing and I am trying to judge the success of the book more on what it was intended to do, not on what it could do ideally.

Not every spiritual book is necessarily a guide to how to live. Some simply provide inspiration. And it is this aspect of the book that I find entirely successful. Yancey told me about thirteen people I could turn to for "light reading" who would tend to enhance my spiritual life rather than detract from it. Necessarily the list is idiosyncratic--they will not be the same people for everyone. For example, through the mystery of Grace, a fallen-away Catholic pointed me most strongly to the Catholic Church. Reading James Joyce's "The Dead" and the utterly magnificent sermon on Hell from Portrait of the Artist showed me the magnificence of the church and the depth to which it affected even those individuals who attempted to escape its embrace. I would not suggest that anyone attempt to follow Joyce's model. And yet, I find there tremendous inspiration--what Thomas Dubay might call the "Evidentiary Power of Beauty."

We all need to know where the life preservers are. When we enter stormy waters and the ship threatens to capsize, we need to know where we can turn. Yancey suggests some places to turn, some people to look at. Paul Elie, in The Life You Save May Be Your Own suggests others. And that book shows models that are not perfect. Dorothy Day seems to have been shrouded in a certain naivete with regard to socialist and communist regimes--and yet there are those who think her worthy of Sainthood. Certainly I would not want to imitate her politics. And so I would say that the lives of saints carry two elements--imitation and instruction. Of the two I would say that instruction may be the more important. As I frequently point out to my Carmelite group--it is fine to imitate St. Therese, but one need neither envy nor desire to be St. Therese--after all God has one of those. God wants us to be Saints, and in some measure we become Saints by imitation, but we also become Saints by refutation. That is, we do not imitate those aspects of a Saint's life that might be less than saintly in some lights. Heroic virtue does not mean perfection. All of those examples Yancey shows us, he shows us not necessarily for imitation (although there are many good things to imitate) but for instruction and for hope. These are fellow-travelers who have been through some stormy waters and yet have kept afloat. Perhaps from them we will learn things that will help us.

Thus I return to the theme--what did Yancey attempt to do in the book? I would repectfully submit that he suceeded in his intention of showing us people who could help to remind us the power of the Holy Spirit and of faithfulness. I must also say that I did not find it particularly Evangelical either in tone nor in accomplishment. As you noted in a previous entry, it is very ecumenical in its embrace, and that is not necessarily an attribute one associates with Evangelical Churches. Most particularly the presence of Gandhi is not something one would expect to find in such as study. I think Yancey transcends the limits of his church and offers us an interesting perspective on how faith operates and how we can shore our own faith up. I might suggest a different roster of authors (In fact, I know I would), but nevertheless, I could come up with a list of those who have inspired me and transformed my life. Perhaps that might be a worthwhile endeavor for some future entry.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 25, 2003 8:16 AM.

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