Book Reviews – December 2023

Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World. By David VanDrunen. Reviewed by M. Ciftci. (skip to review)

Pondering the Permanent Things: Reflections on Faith, Art, and Culture. By Thomas Howard. Reviewed by S.E. Greydanus. (skip to review)

The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism. By Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP. Reviewed by Ethan Hicks. (skip to review)

Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview. By Fr. Harrison Ayre. Reviewed by Dillon Vita. (skip to review)

Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers. By Francis Etheredge. Reviewed by Christine Sunderland. (skip to review)

Politics After Christendom – David VanDrunen

VanDrunen, David. Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020. 400 pp.

Reviewed by M. Ciftci.

There is a sense among some that the acceptance of liberalism came at a cost. Their tendency is sometimes called “post-liberalism,” sometimes “integralism,” but regardless of whether it comes in the form of the pacifism of the Plough, the staunch Catholic neo-scholasticism of the Josias, or the Viktor Orbán-inspired National Conservatism, nevertheless some Christians are asking whether we need to rethink how we render unto God and unto Caesar. Among American Catholics, in particular, there seems to be a greater willingness to wonder if Catholics have failed to be salt and leaven in the U.S. because their eagerness to emerge from a marginalized place in society into middle-class respectability came at the cost of diluting and attenuating their faith to suit the strictures and conventions of social life.

However, what is not on display as often as it should be in the various platforms where Catholics have been thinking aloud about these questions is a desire to learn from how other Christians have been thinking about the same problems. The ecumenical approach of the 1994 statement by “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” should continue to inspire us to learn from our separated brethren, especially when their thought reveals a deep engagement with scripture and with major figures of the Christian theological tradition. David VanDrunen’s Politics After Christendom is precisely the sort of book that should be read to understand a cogent exponent of the classical Reformed perspective.

VanDrunen’s premise is that, since Scripture provides all that Christians need to face the challenges of every time and place, Christians can turn to it without fear that the demise of Christendom and the unique problems of modernity leave them without guidance. He seeks to show how political authority needs to be understood as something legitimate, but provisional; common, yet accountable to divine and natural law. His definition of political authority provides him with the materials to put forward what it means for Christians to be patient sojourners in every political community, while fully committed to being responsible citizens, without any desire to use coercion to further the Kingdom. The approach that he takes may not seem drastically different from the usual natural law arguments of conservative Catholics. Indeed, once he has put forward his basic principles in the first part, and turns in the second half of the book to the ethics of specific political issues, such as, for example, family and commerce, pluralism and religious liberty, justice and rights, he takes a conservative liberal approach that is not too different from the views of Robert P. George or John Finnis. What will strike a Catholic reader as more distinctive of his perspective is his reliance on the covenant with Noah to ground his understanding of the purpose and scope of political authority.

Readers of Scott Hahn will be familiar with the notion of salvation history progressing via different covenants God makes over the course of the scriptural canon with the family of Abraham, the nation led by Moses, the Kingdom of David, and finally the new and eternal covenant inaugurated at the Last Supper and sealed at the sacrifice of the Cross. It is thanks to Hahn’s prolific output that many Catholics have been introduced to the method of reading the Bible with a focus on the covenants, which is a prominent feature of Reformed exegesis that Hahn was formed in during his time as a Presbyterian prior to becoming a Catholic. VanDrunen’s attention is drawn to the covenant with Noah because he argues that it seems to stand independently of the covenant with Abram/Abraham in Genesis 11. The Abrahamic covenant is the first of several covenants that, for many Reformed theologians, are understood to constitute and “advance a single plan of redemption through history that culminates in the coming of Christ and establishment of the new creation.” (66)

Whereas those later covenants were with God’s elect people, the Noahic covenant “is universal, encompassing the world as a whole . . . God entered this covenant with all human beings, not only with Noah but also with all his offspring and all future generations (Gen 9:1, 8, 9, 12).” (63) The Noahic covenant is “preservative. God’s purpose is not to provide salvation from evil but to sustain and maintain the world … The post-flood Noahic covenant constrains evil rather than eliminates it.” (63) Its imperatives are to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen 9:1, 7), to eat plants and animals, without consuming blood (Gen 9:3–4), and finally “it prescribes retributive justice for intrahuman violence” (64), the lex talionis of blood for blood that demands proportionate penalty for those who commit harm against another.

VanDrunen argues that these basic principles are never abrogated, even after the advent of the New Covenant; until the Second Coming, the Noahic covenant must be considered to remain in force, which gives legitimacy to the creation of common, public institutions to uphold retributive justice not just for God’s people, but for everyone. While the provision of retributive justice remains accountable to the moral principles of natural law and the Decalogue, the Noahic covenant does not confer or advance the salvation and sanctification of the world. The preservation of justice and peace, however, provides the social order within which the Kingdom can be furthered by the special covenants with God’s people.

Clergy and well-read laypeople would no doubt benefit from the breadth of VanDrunen’s book, and I would especially recommend it for those looking for a way to deepen their engagement with Scripture when considering what an authentic Christian response to politics would look like. VanDrunen’s exegesis of the Noahic covenant dovetails very well with the natural law approach more familiar to Catholics, while remaining more firmly grounded in the scriptural text. It was the wish of Vatican II that moral theology be “nourished more on the teaching of the Bible” (Optatam totius, 16). We should not hesitate to learn from our separated brethren to achieve that aim.

M. Ciftci is Public Bioethics Fellow for the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and has a PhD in political theology from the University of Oxford. More information about him can be found here and on Twitter/X @mehmet_y_c.

Pondering the Permanent Things – Thomas Howard

Howard, Thomas. Pondering the Permanent Things: Reflections on Faith, Art, and Culture. Ed. by Keith Call. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2023. 329 pages.

Reviewed by S.E. Greydanus.

The writings of Thomas Howard (1935–2020) offer a singular gift for twenty-first-century readers. To speak of the beauty of his writing is too generic. Lights and colors flash and gleam from the page, drawn not from a remote, fanciful vision or even a lofty mystical reflection, but from what readers can find all around them, which turns out to be closer to the lofty and mystical than one might have thought. Howard puts forth a view of the world suffused with qualities for which so many hearts in our culture are starving, namely, wonder and glory.

A university professor who journeyed from Evangelical Protestantism to the Episcopal Church and thence to Catholicism, Howard wrote prolifically throughout his career. His many books have long been popular; now, Keith Call has done readers a great service in compiling about fifty shorter works — mostly essays, but including some book reviews and even a couple of forewords to other books — thereby making readily available a treasury of the author’s thought on a variety of subjects.

The title comes from a line about “permanent things” in T.S. Eliot, referenced on p. 90. In this world overwhelmed with change, rapidly questioning or outright discarding any kind of boundary, those who want to live as Christians must make an active effort to keep an awareness of the things that are permanent.

As might be expected, then, there are elements of lament and of warning running through the collection; on the other hand, this is far from merely another exercise in hand-wringing or nostalgia. “It is not . . . a question of change versus no change,” Howard explains; rather, “It is the question of how we are to know, and, knowing, to preserve, the really permanent things” (p. 90). This measured, balanced tone is maintained throughout. Ultimately readers are invited, not to worry, but to keep awake, to take care not to lose sight of how their faith ought to transfigure their understanding of the world. In Howard’s own words:

Awe is hard to keep alive in one’s imagination, since we live now under a mythology that rejects mystery. But it is not as though the Christian ought to float about in a state of perennial rapture, contemplating how splendid everything is. There are practical and specific points where, with his notion of the Incarnation, he will run headlong into conflict with ideas widely held by his contemporaries. If he does not reflect on his own Creed (“et incarnatus est”), he will find himself vaguely espousing these ideas because they sound nice. (184–85)

The above passage encapsulates some of the key themes in Howard’s thought. First, awe. Awe, along with wonder and reverence, is essential to living a fully human life. These attitudes are appropriate not only before our Lord and Creator — though then most of all — but also as we behold the countless created reflections of his glory, not to mention that glory in our own persons and those of our neighbors. Or, as Howard more colorfully puts it, “The sap that energizes and vivifies the tree of life rises from depths beyond the reach of any analytic plumbing—depths that pagans, Jews, and Christians have always recognized as being mysterious and which they have always approached, not with clipboards, questionnaires, computers, and caucuses, but with incense, blood, chant, and sackcloth” (250).

Second, as noted, this spirit of awe has become scarce in contemporary thought, with its relentlessly empirical understanding of reality. (“Analytical” is the word used most often, emphasizing an approach of picking apart.) Somewhat ironically, this exclusive focus on the material has, in turn, drained the tangible world of any greater meaning or value, since no such significance can be discovered in a lab; hence the emptiness and aimlessness observed by Eliot and now Howard:

The [post-Enlightenment] doctrines entail, again, a final confidence in an analytical and descriptive methodology as the sole approach to the world. There is a circular movement involved, in that the early decision to exclude from inquiry all realms not scrutable by the methodology is followed by the dogma that there are no such realms, since the method does not perceive them. Corollary to this is the view that it is not possible to discover any principle of significance in appearances, in that there is nothing else to be signaled. (42)

Third, and closely linked with the first two, the Incarnation. Obviously, the Incarnation of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary is central to any claim of Christian faith; but the implications of this faith, Howard argues, are easily lost in a world that has so disconnected physical matter from transcendent significance. If we believe truly, in the depths of our hearts, in the Incarnation, what follows? All of the physical world has been sanctified by God entering it in person; in particular, the human body has been invested with sacred dignity. “The [divine] energy utters itself in terms that we apprehend as soil and rock and fire and flesh. It uttered its form most nobly in man, and eventually in The Man — Immanuel” (44).

From the review thus far, one might not suspect the extent to which art and culture dominate these essays. Whence the connection? An “Incarnational” worldview has profound implications for art, which both manifests and shapes the ideas of an age. Artistic creation in all its forms is a kind of “incarnation,” a way “to see and utter and shape the human experience” (209). The above-described “incarnational” worldview, which recognizes meaning and dignity in concrete human experience, lends itself to creating art that manifests the beautiful, the noble, even the sublime in some readily recognizable form. On the other hand, without that vision, art is obliged to resort to the formless or the bizarre in its quest for significance (44–47).

Within the general outline presented here, the specifics include a remarkable variety of subjects: commentaries on Tolkien, Lewis, and mythology in general; a quick overview of the history of drama; thoughts on musical genres over the years; Catholic vs. Protestant practices and perspectives, from a man who knew and understood both; and much more. Howard’s work will be of particular interest to writers, artists, and lovers of the arts, but has much to offer any readers willing to step back, reflect, and freshen their perspective — and at least something to offer any who simply enjoy a distinct brand of exquisite writing.

S.E. Greydanus is a graduate of Christendom College and managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

The Light of Christ – Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP

White, Fr. Thomas Joseph, OP. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2017. 328 pages.

Reviewed by Ethan Hicks.


Well, this is clearly the work of a Dominican. But that’s not a bad thing. Fr. Thomas Joseph White’s The Light of Christ (subtitled An Introduction to Catholicism) is a clear-eyed and surprisingly pastoral work, approachable to both the cradle-Catholic and the curious proverbial Joe. Fr. White is the rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, or The Angelicum, in Rome. This work was first published in 2017 by the Catholic University of America.1 In this review, I will offer a general outline of the book’s major themes, then offer a few personal opinions about where the book succeeds, or could have been improved.


The structure of The Light of Christ is itself a testament to St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most significant and famous Dominican, even more so than St. Dominic. Its structure follows suit with the exitus-reditus style of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, with a bit of St. Bonaventure’s Breviloquium (both of which also were meant to be summations, or introductions, to the faith). Fr. White begins first with a consideration of revelation and reason before progressing to the subject of the Trinity, creation, the human condition, the incarnation, the Church, and ending with the final judgement — when man is returned to God.

In the introductory chapters Fr. White discusses different approaches to modeling reality, tackling subjects like pluralism and skepticism. The thrust of these opening considerations is to guide the reader into a more critical assessment of how many modern people’s skepticism creates difficulty in their ability to approach knowledge in the same way as people, especially people of faith, in the past would approach knowledge. In short, modern people have a faithless knowledge. As a result, to approach even the subject of God, as understood historically by Catholics and other religious theists, modern readers need to be reminded of the value of faith as a virtue which goes beyond, not against, reason. One can see shades of Fides et ratio in Fr. White’s presentation.

Afterwards, Fr. White moves seamlessly though some of the major content areas of the catholic faith. Rather than offering a cumbersome summary of each part, suffice it to say that throughout the work Fr. White makes conscious effort to communicate a few key ideas — woven throughout. For one, he is dedicated to communicating the wisdom of the Church in her understanding of the human person as a rational creature, made to know and enjoy God. Yet this creature needs God’s help to aid human reason to the elevation of divine knowledge. A key example would be his citation of St. Paul’s interactions with the Greeks in Areopagus to show the Christian faith maintains God is not a being but is being. As such, God transcends even our understanding of being.2

Fr. White goes on to masterfully outline the catholic understanding of God himself, in her uniqueness and in her universality. I’m not aware of any other introductory text which offers a more clear and helpful discussion of the Trinity. Fr. White’s Christology carefully balances technicalities, which need be highlighted, but at a level where one is not intimidated to approach the questions being considered. Perhaps the most enjoyable portion of this work, for me personally, is Fr. White’s treatment of the Church and her sacraments. Fr. White helps the reader to see that the sacramental life of the Church is an ongoing participation in the eternal life of the God who entered human temporality — to elevate it to the status of his own life-giving life.


The most surprising and refreshing aspect of Fr. White’s efforts is the pastoral tone which breaks through. This is especially true in his discussion of social doctrines. For instance, when Fr. White goes on to discuss the Church’s teachings about homosexuality,3 rather than claiming more than what can be proved or demonstrated from an introductory work, Fr. White gives a clear and concise presentation of the Church’s understanding of human sexuality — clearly both maintaining the dignity of a person with same-sex attraction yet acknowledging the objective disorder of same-sex genital relationships. More impressive still is how much he leans into the real sufferings which people who are burdened with same-sex attractions carry. While someone who has committed themselves to being against the Church’s teachings on human sexuality will likely not be convinced otherwise based upon the brief discussion Fr. White gives, what he offers is a sensitive and charitable consideration of people’s genuine struggles at a cultural time when such a subject is rarely treated so generously yet clearly.

If there is anything to critique the book for, it would only be on the same grounds of criticism I’d offer to the broader Thomistic school. Again, Fr. White proves that it is possible for Dominicans to speak with heart along with speaking from the head. However, there are some unexplored (and perhaps things best not explored in a text meant to be an introduction) approaches to theology which a careful reader will want from both Fr. White’s book as well as St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica. While Thomism is a powerful and rich theo-philosophical tradition, I do think there is danger in dedicating, or at least hinging, so much of one’s understanding of the mystery that is God upon such a uniform approach to answering the deeper questions of life. Hence, I would like to have seen a little more nodding from Fr. White towards other schools of theology. God, and the catholic faith, are bigger than Thomism. Yet, with her nearly unquestionable dedication to St. Thomas’ ideas, I think there are theological and pastoral blind spots from which an introduction to the catholic faith would have benefited. This is not a hill I’ll die on, because in fact this work is truly well done.


Towards the beginning of this work, Fr. White writes, “My goal is to make explicit in a few broad strokes the shape of Catholicism.”4 In my opinion, he succeeds. Having given clear attention both to the structure and content of the work, Fr. White provides a convicting yet pastoral presentation of the treasure of the catholic faith. While this work could have benefited from being a bit more inclusive of other catholic approaches to the mysteries of the faith, there is no doubt that the shape of Catholicism, clearly presented, is the shape of a cross — erected in sorrow yet built to be an unweathering ladder. It stands to liberate the world from the shackles of her dark cave and lift her into God’s glorious light, the light of Christ.

Ethan Hicks, Ph.D., is a science and technology teacher at Saint David’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina and a graduate student in theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College (Dunwoodie), New York.

Mysterion – Fr. Harrison Vita

Ayre, Fr. Harrison. Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2021. 208 pages.

Reviewed by Dillon Vita.

Fr. Harrison Ayre’s Mysterion proposes to offer the sacramental vision to its readers, or at least a formulation of it, so that they might inculcate it in their lives.5 In his words, “The goal of this book is to help you see that this life in Christ is alive and active in all aspects of Christian living.”6 The synopsis of the book, found on the dust jacket, perhaps more explicitly defines this objective: “Mysterion unveils the underlying vision at the heart of Christianity and invites us to enter into a deeper understanding of the mystery and saving work of Christ. We discover the fulfillment of our deepest desires in the sacramental worldview.” The sacramental vision, then, will be our starting point. We will judge the book by how well it proposes this vision to those who are not well immersed in the sacramental life of the Catholic faith.

“The sacramental worldview,” Fr. Ayre explains, “means seeing everything created and physical as pointing us to God and lifting us into his life.”7 Throughout the entirety of the book, he goes on to demonstrate ways in which this mode of living and seeing the world is either enfleshed or thwarted. To this end, the logic of his book is a real strength. He begins by explaining what the term sacramental means, he points out that our presuppositions of modernism are a real obstacle to seeing the world through Catholic eyes, he speaks to postures or attitudes that ameliorate this obstacle, and he indicates a few concrete practices that foster a sacramental vision. The logic of the book is not structured as an argument but it recognizes that, in order that readers might be open to its proposal, the book must first make plain what its esoteric topic is and why it is reasonable.

This book is ideal for those who are interested in the faith but do not grasp the radical realness of the Church’s claims because it does not presume any prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Furthermore, the book opts to concretize its discussion through examples rather than to use abstractions. For instance, the very first chapter does not begin by explaining that beauty, truth, and goodness are the three transcendentals and that they work perichoretically to lead someone to God. Instead, the book begins by displaying how the Sagrada Familia draws people’s minds up to God as soon as they see it.8 Instead of pontificating about the sacramental vision, Fr. Ayre invites the reader to see what he sees and to see how he sees. This is crucial because the former approach would be inimical to the sacramental vision, which like the sacraments, must be incarnated in matter. Additionally, it allows itself to be approached by a wider audience because, through its use of concrete examples, the book does not require theological fluency.

Fr. Ayre, however, is not afraid of intellectual engagement. He even offers a philosophical genealogy of figures who have shaped contemporary culture. This may sound contradictory to what I said in the previous paragraph, but this level of abstraction is necessary for the uninitiated to bring unquestioned presuppositions to light. Additionally, the abstraction in the section on modernity is rooted in the history of philosophy. People who are new to philosophy can more easily understand how a position developed by tracing the history of the important figures involved. Moreover, Fr. Ayre is clear to explicitly enumerate the dangers of modernism and its manifestations.9 He does not simply diagnose the stumbling block that is modernism but, instead, he offers sacramentality as proof against it. Namely, he emphasizes that the notion that matter can convey meaning beyond itself and that God can reveal himself through matter is inimical to the very core of modernism.10

The final section of the book, “Living the Sacramental Worldview,” is another very positive aspect of the book. The last section of the book provides concrete ways in which people can foster a sacramental vision. This is crucial because the book aims to be an introductory book to the Catholic worldview, and thus, it cannot presume that its readers know how to obtain what they have just encountered in the text. In particular, the chapter on the Mass will go a long way toward accomplishing the book’s raison d’être because, through its explanations of various gestures and words of the Mass, the book opens up the very source and summit of the sacramental vision to the readers of the book. The book realizes that it does not exist apart from the rest of the reader’s life but, rather, it is one small part of their life. By isolating the “for you” of the eucharist prayer,11 the book makes it possible for the reader to understand the existential gravity of those words the next time he or she hears the words at Mass. The book does not merely intend to teach about sacramental vision but, rather, to impart it.

There are times within the book when Fr. Ayre indeed does allow himself to become overly abstract. For example, even during this laudable and vital chapter on the Mass, he speaks of how “Jesus [is] performing the action of consecration through the priest.”12 This statement is true and emphasizes the existential sacramentality of the action but it does so if, and only if, the reader already has a sufficient understanding of the act and of sacramentality. There is much implied in this that should have been said more explicitly. In a book whose aim is to recover a sacramental vision, there should be no concern about whether a chapter on the sacramentality of the Mass might be too long. The sacramentality of the Mass is a nuanced topic and is the very heart of the worldview. As a whole, Fr. Ayre explicates the nuances of a point that an inexperienced reader would likely fail to understand, but here or there, there is want for more explanation.

As a whole, this book is well suited for introducing its readers to the sacramental vision and giving them the tools to immerse themselves in it. The book, as a whole, is an introduction, yet it avoids superficiality. Instead, it uses concrete examples that impart a nuanced view of sacramentality. There are a few times when greater explication, or even abstract distinctions, would have proved helpful to initiate a reader into the sacramental vision. However, these unclear moments are few and far between. In truth, it would be difficult to find a better introductory book on the topic of the sacramental vision. This book should be on the bookshelf of every pastor so that he might readily loan it out to those in the parish who express an interest in sacramentality, or who express reservations about the worldview that the secular culture offers.

Dillon Vita is a seminarian for the Diocese of Rockville Centre at Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College (Dunwoodie), New York.

Within Reach of You – Francis Etheredge

Etheredge, Francis. Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, 2021. 260 pages.

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland.

When do prayers become poems and poems become prayers? When they are addressed to God who is present and listening. In Francis Etheredge’s third volume of his trilogy of prose, poetry, and prayer, he turns prayer into poetry and poetry into prayer, shining light onto words as pathways into the presence of God. As in the previous two volumes, he introduces the prayers with meditations.

In the trilogy’s first volume, The Prayerful Kiss, Etheredge writes of his personal journey from sinner to saved, and in this search for meaning and forgiveness, somewhat like the prodigal son, he meets God (or God meets him?) and is reborn, now seeing all life as sacred. In the second collection in the trilogy, Honest Rust and Gold, he journeys deeper into the action of God’s grace upon us and within us, recreating us through the sacraments of the Church as we are baptized in Christ’s love. In this third volume, Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers, prayer becomes poetic, as it weaves the eternal into the mortal, life into death. Prayer becomes the true desire of poetry, to reach for God and touch the holy, reaching for words that describe the indescribable, that explain the unexplainable, through metaphor and image. For we live within the created order, a sacred but fallen world, just as we are sacred but fallen. We must use words to touch the sacred, to sing of glory to our fallen world.

We reach for Christ in these prayers, entering a holy space. As seen in the cover image, we reach for the Host, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, offered to us, within our reach. The title is two-way, perhaps: Christ is within our reach, and we are within the reach of Christ, through prayer, through sacraments, through the Church. This intimate touch is personal, for, like Moses, we stand before a burning bush, one that does not burn up or burn us, but gives us light to see, enlightening us, loving us. In this light, we see our way forward:

What is Prayer? Prayer is immediate because God is present . . . Prayer is personal – because it arises out of each person’s life; and prayer is communal because we pray with all who pray for all who need prayers . . . we are speaking to one who listens; and, whether we use words or not there is prayer in the intention to pray. Prayer is challenging because it may not be answered as we ask . . . Prayer is for the smallest need and the greatest common good. Prayer excludes no one and includes everyone . . . prayer makes it possible for us to accompany both the living and the dead into the presence of God.” (xxviii–xxix; italics added)

And so the trilogy moves from a personal pilgrimage into faith, to faithful participation in Christ’s Church, and lastly to praying for the world, past and present and future, the living and the dead, the communion of mankind, as we can only pray when we are in that space in reach of God.

Prayer, we see, is rooted in our daily life, in our family life, in our parish life, in our community life, and in the suffering life of the world. Prayer gives “flesh to the daily, ordinary or extraordinary situations out of which prayer arises” (6). In this sense we pray without ceasing, placing us always in God’s presence: “He is present to all that we do” (31). He works daily miracles in our lives. We need only reach for him, watching and praying, and, in a sense, allow him the space to work his will in us, “making possible the impossible” (34). In Mr. Etheredge’s prayer-poem “Pilgrimage,” he prays, “You know how your word passed through my life to the core/ Of what I wanted: ‘I come to give you life and life to the full’” (35; cf. Jn 10:10). Indeed, we are full, fulfilled, fulsome when we are in the presence of God.

Rooted in the real world, prayer can be simply “blessing God for the splashes of life” (41) that we see all around us. It is true, I have found, that simply giving thanks opens that space for God to reach us. And there are always reasons to give thanks — for life, for breath, for each day given, for my cat (!), for my family, for . . . Christ himself amid the splashing life all around me. Indeed, I give thanks for being in reach of God, he in us and we in him.

The author soon moves beyond the natural world rooted in family and the earthy Earth, to the universe. We see how faith and reason blend, supporting one another, reflecting the creation and the Creator: “Who knows how the universe goes, whirling and twirling and/ Curving through elliptical twists and turns, burning here and/ Freezing there, gaseous and solid, but solidly dynamic and moving,/ Cascading and still, still as staying in one place while moving . . .” (51)

With these profound echoes of T. S. Eliot, we journey into the creative Word of God reaching and touching us, in time, in Scripture, in history, in people in our midst. All these Words of God speak to those who witness with their words, witness to the manifold works of God in our world and in our hearts:

“Take us as we are, where we are, with whom we are and open our

Lives to your word, mingling your word with our lives, like the 

Mingling of water and the Holy Spirit through which you come to 

Dwell in us, opening up the wells of salvation sunk in the union

Of our Savior, Jesus Christ, with each one of us, when the word

Became flesh (Jn 1: 14) and entered the whole of human history

Taking my history and yours and making of it the history of salvation.” (56; italics added)

In this precious collection of prayer-poems we pray for our wayward culture, today’s culture of death. It is a culture that must be baptized by the Holy Spirit, to assert good over evil, truth over falsehood, love over hatred. And so, we pray, come Holy Spirit, bathe our culture with Christ’s love and all life, from conception to grave. We pray that we humans humanize our race by embracing our beginnings at conception, cherishing our unborn: “There must be in the heart of all a desire to improve the life of the nation; indeed, to be a part of progressing the welfare of all. For, without peace, who can build? Without truth, who knows what is happening and what needs to be done? Without love, what good will there be for any of us?” (218; italics added).

In prayer, God grows within us: “The presence of God, then, while always and everywhere true, is at the same time like a seed-to-be-perceived and, therefore, grows through prayer, the life of the Church and our enfolded, unfolded living of it. So, while our weakness may increase, it only increases to magnify the power of the Lord and our hope in Him” (251; italics added).

Within Reach of You places you and me in God’s presence. For when poetry becomes prayer, we are given a great gift: not only the vision of God, but a personal God, a present God. Our beginnings and endings and beginnings again as we enter eternal life are found and founded in the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, in this world without end. Amen.

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, and freedom. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020). She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband.

  1. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017).
  2. One can see shades of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in Fr. White’s presentation who was also an influential philosophical voice for St. Thomas Aquinas.
  3. White, The Light of Christ, 250–253.
  4. White, The Light of Christ, 7.
  5. Harrison Ayre, Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2021), 5.
  6. Ayre, 5.
  7. Ayre, 4.
  8. Ayre, 11.
  9. Ayre, 47–51.
  10. Ayre, 44–45.
  11. Ayre, 119.
  12. Ayre, 119.
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