Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Two issues are symbiotic with the book: first, John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme in December of 1964 and released it the following year. He presented it as a spiritual declaration that his musical devotion was now intertwined with his faith in God. In many ways, the album mirrors Coltrane's spiritual quest that grew out of his troubles, including a long struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. The author doesn’t mention this although he is a pop music person and has written about addiction and the need for a spiritual quest so without much ado Coltrane becomes part of the foundational issue. O’Brien is working in Ireland at this present time. One of the issues that I am most fascinated with is his love for the arts and philosophy. The author tips his hat to Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, who allowed the Word of God, ‘the love letters to us’ to give meaning to our loneliness and our search for meaning. This is the aim of this book.
In Chapter 1, the author introduces us to the Czech philosopher, Jan Patocka, as one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century who studied in Prague, Berlin, and Freiberg. Patocka studied under Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger whose work deals with our world and the place of the human being in. The chapter, aptly named “Solidarity of the Shaken”. This solidarity is resistance to the force of falsehood. The term ‘shaken’ means that we have been stirred out of our complacency, fixed preconception, our standard judgments, and clichés. “Because we are shaken we often stand-alone and pretend everything is all right. It is only when we come together to share our brokenness and hold each other up that we can bring about change. In the rest of Chapter 1, the author gives us examples of how we have been shaken as a people and the response of the community and how God has both ‘shaken’ and comforted us.
Chapter 2 entitled “God in Search of Us”, the author refers to Pope Paul VI who stated, “Even before we have moved in search of God, God has come in search of us.” He gives us the example of Abraham Heschel who states that authentic human life is a life lived in response to the wonder of God’s creation. “We hear God’s word in Scripture and we respond by the way we live. Heschel was profoundly Jewish in his spiritual and cultural roots, in his closeness to Jewish suffering. In his religious commitment, in his love for the nation and land of Israel, and the quality of his prophetic presence. Yet he was an inspiration to Christians and many searching people beyond the familiar religious boundaries. Christians are nourished in their faith by his vision and his words.” The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice, a sense for the monstrosity of injustice. Justice is precious, injustice exceedingly common. According to Heschel, one of the troubles seems to be that we have delegated the concern for justice to the judges as if justice were a matter for a few specialists. There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. The world seemed to have lost any understanding of what it means to be human. It is an age where one is afraid to be vulnerable, an age that has forgotten how to pray, how to think and how to cry.
Chapter 3 is replete with examples of how God bailed us out of our loneliness and sadness and how he wanted us to be looking out for our neighbor whoever that might be. The examples are from Isiah, Jerimiah and the Psalms. It provides great meditation as we finish the section on Philosophy. God’s will is that we will be healed and find peace in him (see 1 Tim 2:4). His word reveals this, in the new life with God in the new heaven will be wiped away. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more mourning, or crying or pain, for the former things, have passed away. (Rev21:4). This is God’s dream and we are called to be his partners in making it come true.
In Chapter 4 entitled God Speaks His Word, the author explains that Christian theology looks at the incarnation as one of its most powerful insights to understand the relationship between God and nature, between biblical revelation and our explanation of the world. In Chapter 5 entitled The Crucified God deals with the passion of Christ. He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.” Christ helps us in His weakness, in His suffering in the hands of a godless world. Chapter 6 deals with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to certain people to perform functions for their brothers and sisters. The book provides the reader of each of the chapters with many examples of how we can include the love of God in our lives. It is aptly titled “A Love Supreme”.