The book elves are busy putting together the new book (using wood blocks for each letter and silk to sew the spines, I hope), and it should be out the door on August 15. It may take another 6 wks to fully ship in to stores. The title is "The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation", and it is a shortie, just over 100 pages. My goal was to introduce readers to the basic spirituality of the early church--how they prayed, fasted, gave alms, how they determined which interpretation of scripture was true, how they attempted to "pray constantly," and so forth. It's a practical book, an introduction for those who would like to take a look at, and maybe begin to practice, the spiritual disciplines of the early church.
Yes, this is the book that was initially titled "Sweet Sorrow," but we decided that sounded too much like a romance novel. And for awhile it was the "Illuminated Heart" until we decided to get rid of the "at", making the title more ethereal but also harder to hear. I have this fear that bookstore clerks will get calls from little-old-ladies saying "it has a title that sounds like 'The Aluminum Heart.'" I use a 5th century middle-eastern couple named Theodore and Anna as a way of making it concrete. He's a deacon and they run a family olive grove, and have three small kids. It wasn't until I'd finished the book that I realized my mother's mother's parents were named Theodore and Anna. He was German, and became a missionary dentist in South America; she was Swiss, and a Salvation Army captain. The family story is that she was "thrown down the stairs" during a protest. I'll paste in the first chapter and table of contents below. On my website you'll see the same chapter, plus a graphic of the cover and some of the many kind blurbs supplied by folks like Dallas Willard, Thomas Howard, Rod Dreher, David Aikman, Krister Stendahl, David Neff of Christianity Today, Amy Dickinson of Time, and others. It's just $13.95 (a gift book price) but the publisher, Paraclete, says they will give any of youall a 20% discount if you phone them and pre-order now. That number is 800-451-5006. *** Chapter 1: The Central Question You are holding a small book with an old-fashioned title. It might seem like a messenger from the past, or from no time at all, like one of those books you pull off the shelf at a musty old retreat house. That's pretty much what I'm aiming for. The shelves at your local bookstore are bulging with titles addressing urgent, transitory concerns, but this book intends a different pace. I want to examine a more timeless and universal question, one basic to the human condition, and to address it with more timeless wisdom. That kind of wisdom is certainly not my own. I am too caught in my own time to attempt timelessness, not to mention having a pretty short stock of personal wisdom. But I hope to pass on, as accurately as I can understand it, a consensus that grew and flourished among Christians from the first century onward. This was a consensus regarding how to do the most important—perhaps the only really important—thing we can do: to live in Christ. This is the early Christians' wisdom, not mine. I hope not to say anything original. If I do, ignore it. What is this human condition, this timeless question? To take the most global approach, we could say that it is the riddle of why none of us feels really at home in this world. We're not consciously aware of this uneasiness every minute, of course; with enough entertaining distractions, we can hold it at bay. But still it's there all the time, just under the surface, a murmuring unease. Almost unheard but still persistent, it rushes in the background of our lives like an underground river. It can take different forms with different people. For some, there's a vague, haunting feeling that we're always disappointing others; for others, it's that everyone else is always disappointing us. A lot of us feel like the whole rest of the world is in on a joke we're not getting, and we just smile awkwardly and pretend to go along. Some of us are burdened throughout our lives with guilt for a severe and genuine evil we committed. Others feel peppered daily by twinges over a host of minor offenses, pursued as by a cloud of mosquitos. For all of us, I think, there is a recurrent sense of loneliness. Ultimately, we are alone, humanly speaking, on this hurtling earth. Even in the most jovial and affectionate of families—and I speak from blessed experience—there remains a melancholy awareness that each of us is still fundamentally alone, encapsulated in skin like a spaceman. Even when enjoying those whom we love most, we are looking through a pane of glass, and all the urgent longing of our hearts can't break through. We modern Christians have a ready and confident response to this dilemma. We say that of course this is so; it is because, as St. Augustine said, God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together, as St. Paul put it. When we draw near God, and only then, do we find our place in relation to the world. It is like going up the spoke of a wheel to the center, and when nearest him we find ourselves closest to everything else he has made. Here is communion. In God's presence we discover ourselves able to love one another, to be vessels of heroic love, even toward our enemies, even unto death. We find all creation in harmony around us, as responsive and fruitful as the Garden was to Adam and Eve. The peace that passes understanding informs our every thought. All this sounds pretty good, right? So why are we doing such a crummy job of it? Why are we modern Christians so undistinguishable from the world? Why are our rates of dysfunction and heart-break just as high? Why don't we stand out in virtue and joy? Does anyone ever say, "We know that they are his disciples, because they love one another"? How come Christians who lived in times of bloody persecution were so heroic, while we who live in safety are fretful and pudgy? How could the earlier saints "pray constantly," while our minds dawdle over trivialities? How could they fast so valiantly, and we feel deprived if there's no cookie at the end of the in-flight meal? How could the martyrs forgive their torturers, but my friend's success makes me pouty? What did previous generations of Christians know that we don't? That's what this book is about. *** too much of a teaser? The chapter titles are: A Challenging Answer So Who Cares? Where We're Going Why We Don't Like Repentance Repentance, Both Door and Path Introduction to Passions, and Disciplines of the Body More about Passions, and Disciplines of the Mind The Jesus Prayer Dealing With Others: The Smaller Circle Dealing With Others: The Larger Circle The Way from Here there's also a glossary, and a bibliography that suggests further readings. ******************************* Frederica Mathewes-Green www.frederica.com