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Gratefulness and the Body
List Price: $14.00
PAPERBACK , 112 , 5.5 x 8.5
- Morehouse Publishing
- ISBN-13: 978-0-8192-2762-1
eBook available from these distributors:
• Strong-selling author
• Continues her focus on spirituality, wellness, and the human body
• Author is in high demand for retreats and lectures
Each chapter in Marvelously Made focuses on a vital part of the body (the heart, the lungs, the
brain, the joints); relates an anecdote from the author’s experience; provides reader-friendly
(i.e., not overly technical) information about the wonders of the organ or body part, and offers a
prayer and a set of “gratitude practices”—physical and spiritual meditation exercises to deepen
the reader’s appreciation of the body.
The heart works (as do all of our organs) every moment of our lives, whether we are aware
of it or not. The heart is a muscle, an extraordinary muscle with exquisite timing, which,
when disrupted, causes grave problems. Brian Doyle, a writer whose son’s heart had
congenital malformation, writes, “It weighs eleven ounces. It feeds a vascular system that
comprises sixty thousand miles of veins and arteries and capillaries. It beats a hundred
thousand times a day. It shoves two thousand gallons of blood through the body every
day. It begins when a fetus is three weeks old and a cluster of cells begins to pulse with
the cadence of that particular person, a music and a rhythm and a pace that will endure a
whole lifetime. No one knows why the cluster of cells begins to pulse at that time or with
that beat.” (from The Wet Engine, by Brian Doyle).
Mary regularly teaches in a variety of settings in San Antonio, and online for the Seminary of the Southwest. As a member of the leadership team, she participates in the ecumenical silent retreat offered annually at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. She is a regular contributor to explorefaith.org.
FROM ANGLICAN THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, SPRING 2013 EDITION
Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body. By Mary C. Earle. Harrisburg, Pa: Morehouse Publishing, 2012. xii + 100 pp. $14.00 (paper).
From the very earliest decades of Christian belief, with the proclamation of the incarnation of God in Christ as its central puzzle, Christians have fretted over the relationship between the body and holiness. Is the body the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), or an unruly servant that needs to be subdued (“I punish my body and enslave it,” 1 Cor 9:27)? Since the mid-1990s, theological books on the subject of human embodiment have proliferated, mainly as a corrective to centuries of Christian ambivalence about, suspicion of, or even abhorrence of the body and its inescapable needs, vulnerabilities, and desires. But while we are in the midst of so much concentrated thought about the body, it can still seem that the body itself has had no chance to speak. Mary Earle’s most recent book fills this gap. Through a series of practical exercises, she opens up the body as the primary text of God’s speech in and through human beings.
Marvelously Made is divided into three sections, the first laying down the basic theological foundations for Earle’s understanding of the sacredness of physicality; the second a series of nine meditations on specific organs of the human body (such as the stomach, pancreas, bones, lungs, skin); and the third a set of four distinct areas of practice that link the needs of an individual body with the needs of others (concern for clean water and abundant food; organ and blood donation as spiritual practices, etc.). One indication of the way in which this is not another book about embodiment, but a book of embodiment can be gleaned from a look at the endnotes and suggested reading. Earle’s sources fall mainly into two camps: modern classics of spirituality (e.g., Steindl-Rasts’ Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer) and poetry (Wendell Berry, Philip Larkin); and medical resources, such as interviews with medical doctors, studies provided by the National Institutes of Health, and the like. Her genius is to put these two very different ways of thought to work together, as the reader is guided through the reflections and practices. Like a weaver at the loom, Earle moves her shuttle back and forth, from poetry to science, from the spirit to the details of the body, weaving human wholeness out of gratitude. At all times, Earle balances practices of looking within and practices of looking outside oneself at the simple fact of others’ embodiment, and the pull their needs justly exert on our consciences.
In the past, Earle has written on prayer and the lives of the saints, living with illness, the desert mothers, and Celtic spirituality. These are all popular subjects, but that very popularity can dissuade a good writer from tackling one of them. Earle is that rarest of popular writers, one who does not speak until she has thoroughly plumbed a subject with her own experiences of prayer and intellectual exploration. Consequently, she can be trusted as one who knows where the heart of a matter lies. In Marvelously Made, she explores the wisdom of the human body, the temple of bone and flesh that somehow manages to house both ourselves and the breath of God. This is a book at the boundary of the fields of spirituality and practical theology, written for devotional use by laity. Its importance lies in the way it gives unencumbered access to the deep things of God for ordinary people. This is exactly the kind of creative scholarly work that the church needs, an example of how the fearlessly engaged practice of one’s faith can lead to a more vibrant existence. Personally, I would like to give a copy to every one of my students before they experience CPE, and come up hard against the mystery and the fragility of human bodies. This would make an excellent book for all who make pastoral visits, lay or ordained, and for lay eucharistic visitors, as it speaks not about “that person in the hospital bed,” but about us, about the divine implications of the holy and embodied existence that we all share.
REVIEWED BY: Jane Lancaster Patterson, The WorkShop, San Antonio, Texas