In a Dark Time/Living with Apocalypse

Rosenthal, Peggy

Books: LIVING IN THE FINAL AGE IN A DARK TINE IMAGES FOR SURVIVAL Edited by Robert Jay Lifton and Nicholas Humphrey Harvard University, $15, $5.95 paper, 150 pp. LIVING WITH...

...Their hope is that if we imagine clearly and concretely the dark deeds of which we're capable and especially the terrible destructiveness of nuclear war, we'll be repelled, and then the bright side of our imaginations will rise to the occasion and to our rescue...
...The spiritual meaning of life has simply been cut out of the passage...
...While some of the book's contributors show deep understanding of the difficulty, many settle for oversimplifications: promoting certain prayer techniques, and slipping easily into jargon ("faith development," "Kingdom-conscious community," ''parenting dynamics'' in the Holy Family...
...Living with Apocalypse, at its best, then shows us what's required to heal it...
...What we need is better understanding of the complexities of our life in both its psychological and spiritual dimensions and each of these books does make an important contribution toward this end.' 'Peace must begin within our hearts...
...A heart torn by the violence of sin and hatred will never create peace...
...The implicit assumption of In a Dark Time is the secular humanist one that God is not a living reality...
...But simply to proclaim the spiritual meaning and to assert that our life is in God doesn't solve our problems either, as the deficiencies of Living with Apocalypse demonstrate...
...it's a collection of essays by well-known writers on spirituality, commissioned by the director of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation...
...that beast...
...Seeing the basic cause of war as the violence in our natures as human beings, both insist that our only real hope for preventing nuclear catastrophe lies in a radical transformation within each of us...
...LIVING WITH APOCALYPSE SPIRITUAL RESOURCES FOR SOCIAL COMPASSION Edited by Tilden H. Edwards Harper & Row, $14.95, 200 pp...
...This isn't remarkable, nor is the book's form...
...This suggests, in conformity with the book's rational humanist conclusion, that we can just" choose life," and we'll have it...
...And In a Dark Time would have benefited from the recognition of our spiritual needs which is the basic assumption of Living with Apocalypse...
...The persuasiveness of this cumulative picture of the forces of darkness in our psyches presents a problem, though: the forces of hope we're offered at the end of the book just don't seem strong enough, by comparison, to count on...
...so that we can kill them...
...The great contribution of In a Dark Time is to show us in terrible detail what our torn-up heart looks like...
...The juxtapositions are stimulating, and parts of the book would w.ork well as dramatic readings by anti-war groups...
...Living With Apocalypse would have benefited from In a Dark Time's sensitivity to language and patience with complexity...
...Of course really opening one's heart to God's love is probably the hardest thing in the world to do...
...for in this your life consists...
...Drawn from writings of various genres throughout Western history, the selections are juxtaposed so as to present ways we have seen such subjects as war, apocalypse, despair, free choice...
...they're designed to be, as the subtitle says, verbal images rather than extended arguments...
...The editors therefore feel free (or, really, bound) to cut God out of their understanding, as they do literally in one case...
...Living with Apocalypse puts its faith elsewhere: in God...
...Nuclear weapons themselves are therefore, appropriately, scarcely mentioned in the book...
...But the sentence in Deuteronomy continues...
...More important, the book's form does appeal to that human faculty in which the editors place much of their hope: the imagination...
...The book's best essays, especially those by Parker J. Palmer and Gerald G. May, are as good as Merton's writings at explaining the link between contemplative prayer and the social compassion that would keep us from mass murder: contemplative prayer is the action of longing for one's heart to be opened to the gift of God's love...
...Both books take us a long way toward a helpful answer, by shifting the focus of analysis from Cold War politics and military strategy to human nature...
...may live, in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him...
...Suddenly at the end we're being called to "believe in," to put all our faith in, our humanness (human reason, conscience, free will, "human solidarity," "human imagination") after we've been persuaded that our humanness is a pretty depressing and destructive thing...
...What's radical about the book is its conviction that our hope for averting nuclear catastrophe lies in contemplative prayer...
...Images of our inner darkness therefore predominate...
...The selections are short (most about one-half page, none over two pages...
...to picture Commonweal: 282 people we feel threatened by as subhuman ("that moron...
...The editors, both distinguished psychologists, are superb at showing how we tend to twist language into lies even to ourselves...
...and loving our enemies with God's love, we can't possibly .consider bombing them...
...Peggy Rosenthal THESE two anthologies are motivated by the same question: how can we avoid nuclear holocaust...
...to fantasize selfdestruction so effectively that we bring it about...
...They give, as a complete selection, Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live...
...Such short-cuts of heart and mind are not, alas, the way to the "spiritual revolution" which according to the editor (and to many other people, including the pope) is the only thing "that can save us...
...to cause our own death merely by the power of our despair...
...In a Dark Time begins the task of our transformation by transforming the anthology form itself...
...this love, when we allow it to fill our heart, spills out into love for all people, including our "enemies...
...This statement from Living with Apocalypse has practically become a cliche of Christian peacemaking, but it's true nonetheless...

Vol. 112 • May 1985 • No. 9


 
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