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| 14.10.04
Christopher: The Holy Giant, by Tomie dePaola

Lately I've been reading a lot of Tomie dePaola's books to my daughter. Some, like The Clown of God and Christopher deal with Christian themes. Others, like Now One Foot: Now the Other deal with the impact on a child of his aging grandfather after he suffers a stroke. Still others, like Tom and The Art Lesson deal with themes surrounding individuality, conformity, growing up, and just plain having fun. All are richly illustrated with prose that manages to convey both depth and simplicity at the same time. Not skirting mature themes such as death and suffering, dePaola nonetheless manages to present these topics in a gentle way appropriate to younger children.

I found Christopher to be especially exemplary of dePaola's sweet yet substantive style. While retelling the legend of St. Christopher with alacrity, simplicity, and vivid illustrations, he also retains the full allegorical impact the tale for the benefit of the adult reading the story. I felt like two stories were being told simultaneously. One was a fairy tale for children, complete with monsters and a happy ending. Yet on another level we are introduced to the important themes of the Christian journey --spiritual practices, the dark night of the soul, the face of Christ found in service to others, prayer-- culminating in the transformation of the Christian into the image of Christ.

Transformation on every level is most clear in the middle of the story, which I consider the fulcrum or turning point of the entire tale. After having worshiped strength and power in the forms of both an earthly king and Satan, Reprobus wants to serve Christ because of Christ's power. He demands of a hermit he meets during his journey through the desert, "Tell me how to find him, so I can serve him." But the hermit refuses, saying "You cannot find him. . . you must pray, and Christ will find you. . . then you will be told how best to serve Christ." Reprobus obeys, humbles himself, and eventually finds Christ through serving others. And when he finds Christ, Christ's strength is made manifest through the weakness of a child. Yet as Christ's strength is made manifest through weakness, Reprobus' strength is also only perfected after he has humbled himself and carried the Christ child across the river on his back.

It was this theological depth that I loved about the book. While dePaola tells a good story and gives children what they want, he doesn't talk down to them, instead telling a tale that will grow in meaning instead of diminish with the passage of the time.

PUBLISHER: Holiday House, New York (1994); ISBN: 0823408620

Mystical Christianity

| 2.10.04
Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, by John A. Sanford

In this 337 page commentary on the fourth gospel, John A. Sanford paints a fascinating picture of Christianity that is steeped in the mystical, the mysterious, and the psychological. Drawing upon his clinical experience and extensive knowledge of Carl Jung's psychological theories, Sanford explicates a gospel message that connects spiritual and psychological realities, takes them seriously, and relates them to the modern world.

I read this book straight through from cover to cover, which is probably not the best way to read it. It is intended to be used as a commentary and reference guide. Either way, Sanford's work does much to explain both depth psychology and the gospel of John. As I've written elsewhere, I have struggled to understand Jung's writings, and Sanford helped me both comprehend them and see how they relate to Christianity.

"Christianity as a religious movement is in danger of losing its vitality, as it becomes ensnared in the conventional, and as the powerful and numinous impact of the Gospels is emasculated by the rationalistic and materialistic mentality of our times." (p. 310) In many ways the purpose of Sanford's book is to offer a corrective to our overly modern world view, which sees and takes seriously only the material, physical universe. The author of John's gospel calls us to see a hitherto unseen spiritual world, and to recognize that what happens in the spiritual world directs and impacts the material world. Sanford's genius lies in linking the spiritual world with the archetypal world of depth psychology, giving the spiritual new credence for modern people.

One of Sanford's most evocative images is the Son of Man. Often used in John's gospel to describe Jesus, this mysterious term is avoided by the church in favor of the term Son of God as the favorite title for Christ. Sanford sees Jesus the Son of Man as the ideal man, the archetypal man to whom all humanity can look to see its true self. Yet as Christ is believed by the church to be both fully God and fully human, when humanity strives for its true self it accepts both its humanity and its divinity.

Sanford quotes Robert Johnson, stating "the world isn't meant to work; but it does provide an arena for the development of individual consciousness." (p. 301) Christ is the exemplar of both the way to live and the way to die, the way to be fully human and the way to participate fully in the nature of the Divine. Life's purpose is to gain authentic knowledge of oneself, and of God. Christ's Way is the path to consciousness. Christ's cross is a mandala –a sacred image of wholeness and centeredness. As followers of Christ, we are the ground in which the cross is planted –the way of the cross is planted into our lives and consciousness. (p. 317)

PUBLISHER:Crossroad Publishing Company (February 1, 1994); ISBN: 0824514122

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