Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Book Report

I just finished Anthony De Mello's book, Awareness. A guru friend of mine recommended it after hearing that I was challenged by Father Thomas Keating's Open Mind, Open Heart.

In reading DeMello's book, I grappled with why I wasn't connecting with it as well as Keating's book.

Open Mind, Open Heart is on contemplative prayer. Keating talks about the discipline of spending time in silence before God. It is a "be still and know" pursuit. De Mello writes more about enlightenment. It struck me that a core difference was that DeMello is pursuing a state of being, but Keating is pursuing Someone.

So, why does that even matter to me? (So much so that I bugged John for days needing a sounding board, trying to figure out the reasons I loved one book, but not the other.)

I think as people, we are geared to connect with other people. It's possibly the reason Jessica Simpson gets more press than the AIDS epidemic. There is something connecting about personalities. Something about "knowing and being known." A reason we connect with characters in a movie, book, television series... A reason churches are often accused of being personality-driven as congregations connect with a pastor. A reason we fall in love.

In Keating's writing, there was more of a sense of "him" in the book. DeMello was conspicuously absent in the writing and given that a lot of the book was about the letting go of the "me", maybe that was the point. In fact, he talks about attachments and affections as being driven by our conditioning. And maybe some of that is true.

But, it wasn't very satisfying. It didn't move me like Keating's writing about letting go of yourself in pursuit of God.

DeMello also wrote about the uselessness of labels. Again, true. I've seen labels applied to people who didn't deserve them. Some that they believed, even though they were completely false. But in Scripture, names seem to be really important. Adam is tasked with naming animals. God changes names of people when he does great work in their lives. The Hebrew names of God reveal His character. God "calls" things that are not as though they were. In fact, it occurs to me that it is possible that the concept of self-esteem is a myth, but the concept of identity is not. There is something terribly important in it. Something I don't fully understand.

The cool thing about the book was that it prompted me to think about things like attachment, labels, identity and pursuit.

And now that I'm done with that, I'm reaching for my People magazine. I think Jessica Simpson is on the cover. Again.
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