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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

Alive in God: A Christian Imagination

by Timothy Radcliffe Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

This book was recommended by the director of liturgy at St. Mary of the LakeSeminary in Mundelein. He proposed the book in his interview for Profiles in Catholicism, a digital magazine available to all. The magazine promotes stories about Catholics living their values throughout the world. We still ask ourselves the question: “How can Christianity touch the imagination of our contemporaries when fewer people in the West identify as religious?” The author of this book argues that we must show how everything we believe is an invitation to live fully, God says: “I put before you life and death: choose life.’

Anyone who understands the beauty and messiness of human life – novelists, poets, filmmakers and so on—can be our allies whether they believe or not. The challenge is not today’s secularism but its banality. We accompany the disciples as they struggle to understand this strange man who heals, casts out demons and offers endless forgiveness. In the face of death, he teaches them what it means to be alive in God. Then he embraces all that afflicts and crushes humanity. Finally, the author explores what it means for us to be alive spiritually, physically, sacramentally, justly and prayerfully. The result is a compelling new understanding of the words of Jesus: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

During this book the readers have the opportunity to clear away prejudices about what Christians believe if we are to engage with contemporaries. No, forgiveness is not forgetting; no, the teachings of the Church are not indoctrination. They liberate the mind and the heart. No, Christianity does not reject the body but cherishes its holiness, and so on. At other times we have tried to escape from the captivity of a picture letting the fly out of the bottle, in Wittgenstein’s image. How do we escape the seduction of violence, or the fascination with money, Mammon’s Kingdom and the grip of the technocratic imagination? How do we discover that the strange is our brother or sister? How do we keep alive a sense that we live in a world of gifts and that not everything is a commodity?

A key metaphor for this challenge has emerged in the course of this book, escaping from confinement into the fresh air. We began with Emma Donoghue’s bookroom, based on the true story of a young woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a shed with her child Jack, who grows up thinking that all of reality is just ‘room’, until he escapes from imprisonment and discovers the world outside with its fresh air and bright colors, This struck me as a marvelous metaphor of the liberation of our imagination from the restrictions of ‘the univocal mentality’ We go from black and white to color.

All the traditional faiths are deeply poetic, summoning us to ‘Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind’, in the words of Seamus Heaney. The perilous journey of the disciples to Jerusalem, not knowing what lies ahead, frees them fro, the constraints of their lives as Galilean fishermen, and leads them eventually to an empty tomb, the stone rolled away, all confinement transcended. Then they are ready to receive the fresh air of God’s breath in Pentecost.

In the Christian imagination the body is not a prison from which we must escape. The body is open to love of the other, and to the incarnation of the one who is love. Much spiritual formation is learning to peel our eyes, sharpen our hearing, read the complexities of the human face, live at our fingertips. Our openness is rooted in our senses, which turn us outwards in anticipation. A truly human home has open doors, welcoming the stranger. The liturgy opens a door to transcendence, a passage between heaven and earth.Each chapter gives us a new theme to ponder.


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