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Go to the doctor and they won’t begin to treat you without taking your history — and not just yours, but that of your parents and grandparents before you. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson points this out as she reflects on her epic work of narrative non-fiction, The Warmth of Other Suns. She’s immersed herself in the stories of the Great Migration, the diaspora of six million African Americans to the north of the U.S. in the 20th century. It’s a carrier of untold histories and truths that help make sense of human and social challenges newly visible at the heart of our life together.

Mysticism is the birthright of every human being, says Br. David Steindl-Rast. He speaks of the anatomy and practice of gratitude as full-blooded, reality-based, and redeeming. Now in his 90s, he has lived through a world war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country. He was an early pioneer, together with Thomas Merton, of dialogue between Christian and Buddhist monastics. He’s also given a TED talk, viewed over six million times, on the subject of gratitude — a practice increasingly interrogated by scientists and physicians as a key to human well-being.

A Jesuit priest famous for his gang intervention programs in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg Boyle makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship. The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”

“In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” A mystic, a 20th-century religious intellectual, a social change agent, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., famously saying afterwards that he felt his legs were praying. Heschel’s poetic theological writings are still read and widely studied today. His faith was as much about “radical amazement” as it was about certainty. And he embodied the passionate social engagement of the prophets, drawing on wisdom at once provocative and nourishing.

No conversation we’ve ever done has been more beloved than this one. The Irish poet, theologian, and philosopher insisted on beauty as a human calling. He had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with the inner landscape of our lives and with what he called “the invisible world” that is constantly intertwining what we can know and see. This was one of the last interviews he gave before his unexpected death in 2008. But John O’Donohue’s voice and writings continue to bring ancient mystical wisdom to modern confusions and longings.

In the 1960s, Nikki Giovanni was a revolutionary poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She had a famous dialogue with James Baldwin in Paris in 1971. As a professor at Virginia Tech, she brought beauty and courage by the way of poetry after the shooting there. Today, she is a self-proclaimed space freak and a delighted elder — an adored voice to hip-hop artists and the new forms of social change this generation is creating.

The civil rights icon Ruby Sales names “a spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of this time. During the days of the movement, she learned to ask the question, “Where does it hurt?” It’s a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now, but it gets at human dynamics that we are living and reckoning with. A probing conversation at a convening of 20 theologians seeking to reimagine the public good of theology for this century.

The renowned actor as you’ve never heard him before. He has appeared in over 100 films, including Apocalypse Now. He’s best known on television as President Bartlet in The West Wing. But Martin Sheen, born and still legally named Ramón Estévez, has had another lesser-known life as a spiritual seeker and activist. He returned to a deep and joyful Catholic faith after a crisis at the height of his fame in mid-life. He’s been arrested over 60 times in vigils and protests. “Piety is something you do alone,” he says. “True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. And Pádraig and Corrymeela extend a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond their northern coast to people around the world. “Over cups of tea, and over the experience of bringing people together,” Pádraig says, it becomes possible “to talk with each other and be in the same room with the people we talk about.”

We take in the extraordinary wisdom of Congressman John Lewis on what happened in Selma on Bloody Sunday and beyond — and how it might inform common life today. A rare look inside the civil rights leaders’ spiritual confrontation with themselves — and their intricate art of “love in action.”

In an unsettled political moment, at the end of a divisive campaign, the late, great civil rights elder Vincent Harding is a voice of calm, wisdom, and perspective. He was wise about how the civil rights vision might speak to 21st-century realities. Just as importantly, he pursued this by way of patient yet passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationship. He reminded us that the Civil Rights Movement was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. He posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

This is a strange, tumultuous political moment. With columnists David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, we step back from the immediate political gamesmanship. We take public theology as a lens on the challenge and promise we will all be living as citizens, whoever our next president might be. This public conversation was convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, the day before the second presidential debate on that campus.

A philosopher of ecology, Joanna Macy’s path wound from the CIA to Tibetan Buddhism, to translating the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. We take that exquisite poetry as a lens on her wisdom on the great dramas of our time: ecological, political, personal. Now in her 80s, Joanna Macy says we are at a pivotal moment in history — with possibilities of unraveling, or of creating, a life-sustaining human society.

Xavier Le Pichon, one of the world’s leading geophysicists, helped create the field of plate tectonics. A devout Catholic and spiritual thinker, he raised his family in intentional communities centered around people with mental disabilities. He shares his rare perspective on the meaning of humanity — a perspective equally informed by his scientific and personal encounters with fragility as a fundament of vital, evolving systems. Le Pichon has come to think of caring attention to weakness as an essential quality that allowed humanity to evolve.

The Vietnamese Zen master, whom Martin Luther King nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is a voice of power and wisdom in this time of tumult in the world. We visited Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat attended by police officers and other members of the criminal justice system; they offer stark gentle wisdom for finding buoyancy and “being peace” in a world of conflict, anger, and violence.

Sixteen Muslims, in their own words, speak about the delights and gravity of Islam’s holiest month. Through vivid memories and light-hearted musings, they reveal the richness of Ramadan — as a period of intimacy, and of parties; of getting up when the world is quiet for breakfast and prayers with one’s family; of breaking the fast every day after nightfall in celebration and prayers with friends and strangers.