31 March, 2009

Another Early Review

Mother Teresa's Fire


Joseph Langford

A very interesting exploration of what it was that made Mother Teresa Mother Teresa. The short answer is that she had an encounter with God one day, in which she was given a new understanding of one of Jesus' words on the cross (“I thirst”), an understanding that she was able to keep with her, meditating on it almost continually it seems, for the rest of her life, such that she moved out of “regular” Christianity into the realm of becoming one of the (from our perspective) chosen saints. Very briefly, Sister Teresa was travelling for some religious or vocational purpose on a train in India, when God showed her that in Jesus statement he was not making a physical statement primarily (though surely it was also true), but was pointing out that the reason for his whole life and current suffering in crucifixion was that he thirsts for love. This is not a new insight; many of the saints, as well as theologians, have made it previously. The novelty in Sister Teresa's experience, that which influenced her entire life so completely as to make her Mother Teresa, was that she found a way to daily meditate on that statement, on the “thirst” of Jesus for people's love, her love specifically, that her character was transformed and deepened.

Langford, a priest who knew and worked on some level with Mother Teresa, has written this book with, i should guess, two purposes: First, he preserves her insight and experience, which is valuable in itself, for historical/biographical reasons; second, and surely more important, he wants to make that insight available to all Christians, in order that all may grasp Jesus' thirst for love and respond to it as she did. To that, latter, end two guided meditations are included, one on Jesus' thirst specifically, one based on the Woman at the Well episode from John 4 (curiously, the former is included twice: Once in the text, once as an appendix; i suppose its importance is such that it must not be missed or lost in the body of the book).

So, overall, was this a good effort, worth my reading time? To be sure. To be honest, it is a rare book i can't find some value in (three i can think of in the past ten years, out of a total of just under one thousand, that i haven't been able to finish), but not that “basic value” alone adheres to this book; i found the meditations useful, as an exploration of that love i need in my life at the moment, along with the explanation of Mother Teresa's powerful will and determination to daily recreate in herself the mystic experience she had. There were points i disliked, to be clear, about the book and Langford's writing: One is the tendency which he has, perhaps as a priest in the Roman Church, to beatify Mother Teresa and make everything that she said and did especially holy and valuable. This is another expression of the same behaviour as that of Benedict, who appears to be set on “fast-tracking” John Paul II into sainthood, and i find it cheapens, rather than enhances, the subject. A second feature of the book i found less valuable was the insistence, to the point of including a complete appendix (there are four) of quotations from saints, spiritual writers, and doctors of the Church, on the orthodoxy of the insight into Jesus' thirst; i fear that here Langford has allowed himself to be drawn aside into the question of whether Mother Teresa should be declared a Doctor of the Church, and it is clear on which side he falls. These caveats to one side, however, i enjoyed this book. Yes.

23 March, 2009

New Review

They Came to Baghdad


Agatha Christie

Rather a long review for a book that might be thought to be a bit of a light-weight.  Well, i enjoyed it.

Quite a strange experience here. I picked this volume up in the second-hand place recently assuming i had read it, because i think that i've read all of Christie's works ~ at least, all the fiction published under her real name. When i read the first paragraph, though, i didn't remember it, so i bought the thing, fully expecting to start remembering when i started reading. I didn't. In fact, i finished it this morning still not sure whether i have read it previously or not. There is one moment, one quick event, right towards the end of the book, which made me think that i had read it before, but even there, looking back at it, i'm not sure. What about it, then, so that i don't have this curious experience again?

It is a spy novel, of a sort, a thriller, rather than a murder mystery. There are none of Christie's regular or even semi-regular characters; the entire cast is new, though a number of the types are those she has used previously. The plot itself is the rather hackneyed Cold War standard of a world stumbling towards global catastrophe, urged by a group planning to use the disaster for their own nefarious purposes. This time, to be sure, the conspirators are ~ or think they are ~ the men of the future, the youth planning a better world, rather than the military-industrial complex so frequently used; they are, however, much of a part with the armaments crew, just as the good guys are fairly stock secret service types, and the protagonist a typical Christie heroine.

All this is not to say, however, that i didn't enjoy reading it; i did. Why? Partly from the joy of having worked out beforehand a portion of what was to follow, including the identity of one of the leaders of the plot ~ something that often doesn't happen with me and a Christie that i've forgotten (or not previously read). Partly, also, from the pleasure i took in the descriptions Christie gave of her villain: She calls him Lucifer, in what is the most explicit use of Biblical imagery and quotation that i remember in her works, and dwells rather nicely on the way that his pride appears on his visage for all (whose eyes have been opened) to see. She has taken things from the Bible in other books, i immediately remember a cat called Maher-shalal-hash-baz, and Miss Marple and other elderly ladies often speak of the divine in vague ways, but this is the only real reference i recall to the deep Biblical knowledge which all people of that generation, and several on either side of it, had, and i like it.