Ragan Sutterfield Book, Wendell Berry and the Given Life

Sutterfield cover croppedWe all get asked now and again, “What are you reading?” In the past year or so I’ve read, among other titles, Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life; Teresa of Avila, the Book of My Life; and Gerard Manley Hopkins; the Major Works.

Of late, I’ve enjoyed Ragan Sutterfield’s wonderful new book Wendell Berry and the Given Life (Franciscan Media, 2017). I’ve never read any of Berry’s (prolific!) writings—for a garden lady in her sixties that’s hard to believe—and was delighted by author Ragan Sutterfield’s collection of essays about the philosopher.

The author’s compilations of Berry’s expansive writings fostered an understanding of the relationship of humans and nature. Each chapter distills a topic—such as givenness, work, economics, or language and peacableness—weaving together Berry’s thoughts with other Christian writers.

Sutterfield synthesizes Wendell Berry’s writings and his vision that our world and our life are gifts to be lived in and through a moral compass focused on ‘the other’, our neighbor. Much of the book fitted neatly with my Benedictine experience of living a virtuous life in a world often neglectful of those spiritual principles.

There is the humility of our creatureliness that comes through a reflective wisdom of interdependence, as Berry says “…that is born from soil…and home.” As Sutterfield’s essays highlight, Berry emphasizes the importance of stability and community of place.

We have come, as Elizabeth Scalia has written, to a generation of strange gods, where ‘virtual community’ is only one step away from imaginary. Sutterfield’s book reminds us of Wendell Berry’s conviction that we are designed to reach out—in our place, whether city dweller or along farm lanes—and touch our neighbor, our land, and embrace our Lord within the creation we were given.

Sutterfield’s lovely collection of essays was a help to me in that it brought together, concisely and cohesively, the nearly overwhelming abundance of Wendell Berry’s written works. The author masterfully weaves together Berry’s philosophies and makes it easy for the reader to see the truths of “a given life”. I am grateful for Sutterfield’s new work and my introduction to Wendell Berry through it.

Transformed by God’s Word

Binz Book sizedThis is a lovely book by Stephen Binz about seeing anew the power of Lectio Divina when combined with Visio Divina, praying with icons. The images of icons are created by Ruta and Kaspars Poikans.

Sometimes Lectio Divina can become stale, performed out of love for God’s word instead of embraced with delight at what he might be saying to us. This book brings its readers to illumination, a visual sense combined with The Word brightening the mind.

The author walks you along a path of “formative experience” beginning with the familiar; listening deeply to a scripture as it is being read. With a short reflection we are moved into the Visio, gazing upon the wonderfully created icons that are exceptionally detailed for a non-glossy print. Looking at the images–the tilt of a head, position of hands, stance of a body–the scripture comes alive with deeper clarity.

It doesn’t stop there! We continue the faith journey as if walking through a garden with questions of, “Did you see that bud or small fruit, and had you noticed how the twist along the way enhanced the beauty?” Binz asks us to look about and within to see what seeds have been planted, and what fruits we will bear.

The author and artists skillfully unite The Word and icons in beautiful prayer, allowing us to enter into a healing and enlightening encounter with Our Lord.

With 20 meditations, it is an excellent choice for later in Lent to encourage you towards a personal resurrection at Easter.

I recommend this book for the beginner or the well travelled. It is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or from the publisher Ave Maria Press.

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Almanac for Catholic Gardeners

A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual AlmanacFor years I’ve enjoyed reading the Farmer’s Almanac. All the random fun pieces of information and facts about growing and harvesting, were eagerly read throughout the year. I bought a new edition every January.

It was that love of almanacs that lead to the writing of A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, released by Ave Maria Press in 2015.

The construction of the book is, of course, by month, and each month is themed. It coordinates a garden topic and a liturgical garden plan, with what is taking place within our Catholic Church during that month.

Like most almanacs there are stories, tidbits of fun facts, quotes, and gardening information. Its not meant to be read all at once, but picked up while enjoying coffee or in the evenings, a light read before bed.

I’ve offered a way to not only grow in a garden, but also the garden of your soul. I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy and maybe send one to a gardening friend.

Peace and all good in the new year!


True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life, by Lisa Mladinich

tru radiance resizedWomen often struggle with discerning their inner beauty, wrestling with the flesh of our being as we age. A friend, Lisa, who exemplifies what it means to be a lady and age with grace, has written a lovely book on seeing ourselves as God sees us.

The promise of True Radiance is simple: Prayerful, faith-filled women become more beautiful as they age, not less. As a woman matures spiritually, as she grows in wisdom and holiness, she increasingly reflects a radiant inner beauty that touches others in countless ways.

If you’ve ever felt negative about the onset of middle age with its array of physical and psychological challenges, this book can help you redefine your perception of aging. Along the way, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the possibilities for relevance, value, and contribution waiting to be discovered.

Positive, personal, and practical advice from fellow traveler Lisa Mladinich will inspire and motivate you to thrive in the second half of life.


Nancy Ward has a new DVD: Sharing YOUR Faith Story

SYFS Cover AmazonSharing our faith story plants seeds of encouragement in others whose faith might be wavering. But how do we share the story of our conversion, renewal, healing, miracle or answered prayer? Nancy Ward has a new DVD, Sharing YOUR Faith Story, a three-part seminar for evangelization to show us how. As she tells of her conversion to the Catholic faith and her renewal of her faith years later, she demonstrates how we can share our faith stories in different situations from an elevator speech to a blog post or magazine article.

This four-minute YouTube excerpt from Sharing YOUR Faith Story DVD pinpoints how sharing our faith encourages others as well as ourselves:

YouTube Encouragement Excerpt

Let me introduce you to Nancy and her seminar. Catholic convert, author and speaker Nancy HC Ward has a passion for evangelization. “All baptized Christians have a unique story and all are meant to be evangelists. The most effective way to evangelize is through the faith story only we can tell.” Her Sharing YOUR Faith Story seminar answers the question, “How do I give my personal witness?”

The Sharing YOUR Faith Story seminar came from Nancy’s heartfelt desire to share her conversion story, her renewal story and the ways she found joy in sharing those experiences that brought her closer to God. The DVD takes her live seminar and opens it to encompass anyone who recognizes the need to evangelize through personal witness.

“Since conversion is a life-long calling, we can expect God to surprise us with little steps and big steps closer toward him,” she said. “I want to help as many people as possible learn to take these steps and always be ready to tell their unique story as only they can.”

As Nancy tells her conversion and renewal stories she demonstrates how to witness effectively and authentically. Then she addresses tips and cautions that also apply to stories of healings, miracles and answered prayers. On the DVD, Nancy presents the three talks of her live seminar:

  • Sharing Your Conversion Story – how her initial conversion experience clarifies the three components of your faith story
  • Sharing Your Renewal Story – how her continuous conversion connects to your life-long spiritual journey
  • Ten Tips for Sharing Your Story – how to always be ready to share your story wherever you are.

The DVD is ideal for Catholic leaders of small or large gatherings, Bible studies, retreats, evangelization seminars and parish missions. A free study guide is available at JOYAlive.net/shop to complement the DVD.