At Sea With God: A Spiritual Guidebook to the Heart and Soul by Margaret Silf. Sorin Books (Notre Dame, Ind., 2008). 192 pp. $15.95.
Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase, OFM. Formatio (Downers Grove, Ill., 2008). 180 pp. $15.
Comfort and Joy: Simple Ways to Care for Ourselves and Others by Colette Lafia. Conari Press (San Francisco, 2008). 131 pp. $14.95.
At Sea With God by Margaret Silf, Coming Home to Your True Self by Franciscan Father Albert Haase and Comfort and Joy by Colette Lafia offer practical guidelines for wholistic growth.
Throughout At Sea With God, Silf compares our lives to an ocean voyage. To this detailed, extended metaphor, she adds scriptural passages, references to helpful other works, and questions for reflection suitable for personal prayer or group discussion.
Beginning with the “boat” itself, our identity and personality, Silf shows how body, mind and spirit need ongoing maintenance, offering positive, practical suggestions for daily life. The maps and charts needed are the Scriptures and spiritual reading. Silf sees the main cargo as our unique gifts and warns against carrying “stowaways,” unconscious attitudes such as old resentments, prejudices, busyness, fears, false guilt, etc.
In order to navigate the spiritual life, Silf suggests that we check our “latitude” by mindful reflection on Scripture, tradition and moral principles, and that we check our “longitude” by responding from the heart in personal prayer and through the discernment of our deepest desires. Silf offers the reader valuable insights, but poses many more questions for personal reflection.
In Coming Home to Your True Self, Father Haase draws on Christian tradition and personal examples. The book speaks to both those pursuing their own growth and those involved in adult spiritual formation. “When we leave the home of the present moment,” Father Haase writes, “we live in the anxious, worried, false self and we try to live tomorrow today.” In that state, he says, we are driven by the “empty P’s”: praise, power, prestige, position, perfectionism, productivity, etc.
Father Haase’s title reflects insights from the story of the prodigal son and from Meister Eckhart’s statement: “God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.” There is nothing to be obtained or achieved as the false self thinks, but there is much to be learned through deepening awareness of the true self and of obstacles to grace. To return home, we must live in the true self, which is relational, self-giving, “unflappable and unthreatened.”
In Comfort and Joy, Lafia shows the power of being aware of everyday experiences that bring comfort and relaxation. Through her experiences of the growing demands of life, personal loss and career change, Lafia found that comforting ourselves and others does not come naturally, but is an acquired skill. She says of this period: “I was learning to be more receptive to my need for comfort. I didn’t have to run away from it, or get over it, or find a way to change it … (but) to hear what my body and heart were saying.”
The book offers vignettes of more than 40 ways to experience comfort in simple things, such as a bowl of soup, a long walk, gardening, music, laughter, solitude, sounds and even smells — which include aromas of salty sea air, a wood fire, wet grass and freshly baked muffins: “a whiff, a sniff, and the scents carry and soothe.”
Lafia suggests that learning to comfort ourselves helps us to know how to comfort others and to make a contribution to our overly busy and compulsive world.
Sister Castelazo, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has taught English for many years in Los Angeles. She is the author of Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity, published by iUniverse in 2005.