"River of Words"
Richard A. Nenneman, former editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor, writes in Part 1 about his spiritual development, drawing upon the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others. Part 2 is his autobiography, published posthumously. Paperback 6"x9".
Contents: PART ONE:
Chapter 1 My Religious Background; Importance Of Religion; Early Interest In Christian Science
Chapter 2 Ralph Waldo Emerson
Chapter 3 Thoughts About God and Jesus in the Middle Ages
Chapter 4 A Concept of God for Today
Chapter 5 Eschatology-The Meaning of Jesus
Chapter 6 The Hebrew Scriptures
Chapter 7 William James
Chapter 8 Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Chapter 9 Relating to Other Religions
Chapter 10 Church as Community
Chapter 11 The Christian Science Church
Chapter 12 Finding Your Own Way
Then my thoughts went back to my own Sunday School days, first as a preteenager in what I would call a moderately evangelical Protestant church, and later for almost a year in a Christian Science Sunday School. I realized that between my preteen years and the last year of my teens I had made a remarkable spiritual journey. We do not always make that journey in our teens. And for many of us, the concerns of religion do not seem to count for much until later in life. We are too busy maturing both physically and mentally. As young adults, getting started with a career and at some point finding a life companion preoccupy us. It may be only when we are thirty or forty that we discover the importance of a spiritual link in our lives that can make a major difference in all that we set out to do.
So, although I began writing this as a rather long letter to my grandchildren, I realized when I had finished it that it might not have meaning for them for several more decades. With that in mind, I have tried to describe my own religious pilgrimage in terms that may be helpful to those of any age. And it is a pilgrimage. Although I am a student of Christian Science, my own vision, or understanding, of spiritual reality continues to evolve.
In the first two chapters I explain the important influence of my religious parents and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Then, after the four sections dealing with concepts of God, Jesus, and something about the significance of the Hebrew Scriptures, I jump to modern times and another American philosopher, William James, who came at the end of the nineteenth century. James has been important to me for at least three reasons. First, like Emerson, his style is engaging. This is most easily recognized in The Varieties of Religious Experience. There is an old canard that claims James wrote philosophy like a novelist, while his brother Henry, the novelist, wrote novels like a philosopher. The Varieties tells of religious experience in terms of real people. Second, and more important, James recognized the validity of some forms of spiritual healing. At the very least, he recognized the ability of religious faith to revitalize lives. Finally, I am impressed by his regard for his own conviction and the courage to act on conviction.
This is what led me to include a chapter on the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of course one could choose a myriad of individuals who have given their all, as he did, for their convictions. But my generation grew up during the Nazi period and World War II. Those years have formed the background to our entire adult lives to this day, and trying to understand how a civilized country like Ger-many was even partially seduced by Hitler has always intrigued me. So the story of Bonhoeffer finds its way into the otherwise very American approach to religion. He was a man, as I say, of whom James would have been proud.
The final four chapters all seemed necessary to me because of the times in which we live. Relating to other religions would not have been a serious topic for most people a century, or even two generations, ago. Today, instead of having come through a century that would make all the world the "Christian Century," as the magazine was called, we have entered a multipolar religious world. It is not the diabolical misuses to which some Muslims have put their own religion that concerns me here. Rather, there is a need for genuine appreciation for the faiths that have nurtured and continue to nurture the lives of millions of their adher-ents, as well as a need to think about how we relate this appreciation to our own religious beliefs and practice.
I address the issue of whether one can develop a spiritual life alone. There are huge differences among church congregations in the United States today. They range from megachurches with several thousand members to small groups of ten or fifteen. Even when we acknowledge the need to meet as people engaged on a similar journey, the ways in which we do that can be vastly different. Church needs to be mutually supportive, and at its best, it is. But it is also on occasion divisive or competitive, which is why there are individuals who prefer to get their church on television or not participate at all.
Finally, how can one progress in developing a sense of God's presence, which to me is what religion is all about? In the case of Christian Science in particular, in which one's convictions demand action, demand some kind of practice that follows on the conviction, where can one find help and encouragement in a society that, at least on a superficial level, is overwhelmingly secular, hedonistic, and materialistic?
the spiritual life is actually the primary demand on us, as I believe
it is, what kind of practices can we follow that will help us promote
... for me, the point
that Christian Science emphasizes is that spiritual reality is the only,
or ultimate, reality. It made real for me St. John's vision of the new
heaven and new earth in the final chapter of Revelation. It threw light
on what Jesus said when he told his disciples that the kingdom of God
was here--within. And in glimpsing this reality, of mentally living within
it, spiritual healing becomes a natural occurrence."