Archive for February 27th, 2008

Book Review: How Big Is Your God? by Paul Coutinho, SJ

How Big Is Your God? The Freedom to Experience the Divine (2007) by Paul Coutinho, SJ is a book about relationships, specifically the relationship each one of us has with God. Coutinho is an Indian-born priest, his worldview greatly influenced by Eastern religions and mysticism. Yet, if that’s not your thing, don’t let it keep you away. Coutinho’s message is purely Christian, that a God who loves us and wants a personal relationship with each one of us.

In a series of very short chapters/meditations, well-illustrated with stories and metaphors, Coutinho guides us toward that relationship. He also describes some of the roadblocks to experiencing divinity. Coutinho’s writing is full of questions and challenges and I think it would be worth rereading as each read would lead to different conclusions. In fact, I think everyone will come away with something different from this book just as each person experiences God in a different way.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

How often in my life do I compromise the values that are most precious to me in my relationship with God because I want to keep my boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. How often do I keep my mouth shut in church so I can protect the good opinion that people in my parish have of me, when I think and feel differently because of my relationship with God? How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, when my relationship with God demands otherwise? — p. 70

The Good News that Jesus came to give us is freedom — not freedom from suffering, sickness and death, but freedom that we experience in suffering, in sickness, and in the face of death. — p. 78

If you want a relationship with God, you must make space in your life for the spiritual. In a church where I once served, we would call the last Sunday of the month “BAD Sunday.” What was BAD Sunday? It was Basement Attic Disposal Sunday — and it was wonderful. Everyone was invited to go into their basement and attic and bring something they found there to church. — p. 88

We are enslaved by people, places, and things that we do not fully enjoy. How do we free ourselves? By enjoying them. If you haven’t enjoyed something and you are attached to it, do not give it away yet. If you do, it will haunt you forever. You will think of it often, fret over it, crave it. The thought of it won’t leave you. The way to get rid of material things is by enjoying them, being grateful for them, and then giving them away: good-bye, gone. — p. 91

Change is not a miracle. Change doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. We have to work at it — but it is not always difficult. In fact, sometimes it is so easy that we don’t believe that it’s possible, we don’t believe that we can change. The Buddha is supposed to have said that change is as easy as flipping a coin to the other side. What I believe is that if you want change, you will change. — p. 145

Jesus said that if we believe, we can do the same things he did. In fact, Jesus assured us that if we believe, we do even greater things than he. — p. 158

Puzzling Through Lent

It’s hard to believe that we’re already three weeks into Lent.  Of course, Lent snuck up on me this year and I have confirmation (Father Lasch, for one) that it is unusually early.  That is because Easter is a movable feast that occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first full day of Spring.  While I’ve long known this formula and that it ties into the Hebrew calendar for determining Passover (The Last Supper was a Passover seder), I still don’t understand why Easter and Passover rarely coincide.  Even if we use different calendars, the first day of Spring and the first full moon should be the same, no?  I also don’t know what happens if the first day of Spring is Sunday and there’s a full moon.

Anyhow, Easter falls on March 23rd this year.  According to Snopes.com, the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22nd which last happened in 1818 and will occur next in 2285.  In other words, this is the earliest Easter any of us will see in our lifetimes.  Spiff, huh?

Another interesting aspect of this unusually early Easter is the affect that Holy Week is having on other aspects of the liturgical calendar.  From Whispers in the Loggia I learned that Annunciation day, usually March 25th, has been pushed forward to March 31st and St. Joseph’s Day is moved up from March 19th to March 15th.  The biggest move is of St. Patrick’s Day from March 17th to March 14th.  Rocco Palmo notes that several cities/dioceses are moving their St. Patrick’s Day celebration appropriately, although I expect if will have little effect on the secular celebration of the day.

I did wonder what would happen in New York where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by a Catholic fraternal organization who always march on March 17th except when that date falls on a Sunday.   Apparently they’re going forward with the parade on the usual date even though it’s Holy Week.  In Boston, where the parade is always on a Sunday, tradition will also be adhered to even though the means marching on Palm Sunday.

Well, this is all very fasting, but does nothing for my observance of Lent.  Another day is coming up during Holy Week that no one can move.  March 19th is the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.  Jim Wallis sets out a Lenten call to repentance in observance of that anniversary.   That’s the type of thing that will give me the proper perspective on the season.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 38: London

After more than five weeks of travel, I finally hit the wall on 27 February 1998. Most people just get plain tuckered out when constantly on the go, but I had somehow managed to keep my energy and enthusiasm up to this point. Then London just knocked it out of me.

I returned to the Tower of London, intent on spending the better part of the day exploring. It is well worth the time, and while I was not to interested in the crown jewels, I did enjoy strolling along the walls, taking in the aura of history. In one tower there were historical reenactors dresss in medieval garb demonstrating swordplay. I also took a tour led by one of the excellent Yeoman Warders who are just brilliant fonts of knowledge. The ravens also fascinated me. They’re much bigger birds than I imagined when one sees them up close.

There were a number of school children visiting, all wearing their charming school uniforms. One group got a bit rowdy, and a Yeoman Warder chewed them out, ordering them to behave “like good little people.” I found this much amusing.

After leaving the tower, I found myself riding the Underground and wandering the streets of London rather aimlessly. I felt tired, sore, and really didn’t know what to do next. I just felt I should be doing something to enjoy London. Finally, I gave in to the obvious and returned to Earl’s Court where I slept for about seven hours. While I napped, women from all over Europe gathered in my dorm room and pretty much had a picnic. I didn’t care and they didn’t seem too concerned either.

Good Little People

Good Little People at the Tower of London.

Tower Bridge

View of Tower Bridge and the Thames from the Tower of London walls.

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