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Book Reviews

There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem

by Wayne W. Dyer

I’d Say ‘Yes’ God, If I Knew What You Wanted

by Nancy Reeves

Faith @ Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century

by Denyse O’Leary

Determining the role of spirituality in one’s life is a challenge for most people. Some argue that they don’t need spirituality; others identify as atheist or agnostic; still others believe in a higher being, but not necessarily in God. A growing number of members of established religions don’t know how to recognize God’s presence in their lives. A number of books this season deal with learning how to recognize God’s presence and reconciling it to today’s world in a meaningful way.

Clinical psychologist Nancy Reeves says her book I’d Say ‘Yes’ God, If I Knew What You Wanted is about “spiritual discernment,” or figuring out what God wants from our lives. Divided into two sections, “Concepts” and “Methods,” it systematically explores ideas about discernment and how various faiths use their own traditions to hear God’s word.

Both sections are filled with stories of individuals trying to explore their own faith. Reeves interviewed 57 people to see how their notions of God and belief were evolving. She also includes a further 21 stories of celebrated figures like Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Viktor Frankl, and the Dalai Lama to illustrate how faith shaped their lives.

Reeves points out in her introduction that talking to people about the “God-touches” in their lives was an intimate undertaking, and some of her subjects said that discussing their sex lives would have been easier. Talking about God seems a slippery business, and Reeves went back to every subject to validate her interpretation, often making changes at their request. Reeves has been exhaustive, and it shows.

Many of the individual stories are moving and enlightening. Ada McKenzie, in the chapter on trust, tells of how she and her husband’s faith in God helped him to battle his alcoholism, leading them out of what could have been a disastrous situation. Their marriage survived 61 years until his death; he was sober for the last 45 years.

Swami Padmananda, a teacher of Kundalini Yoga, explains how yoga helps to clean up the senses and make way for self-investigation. He also talks about spiritual practice and journaling, the idea that writing in a stream of consciousness fashion helps get to the core of thought.

I’d Say Yes is intended for religious audiences looking for direction to clarify the role of God in their lives. Reeves provides a map of possible destinations and paths to get there. The stories make the map that much easier to follow.

American psychologist Wayne W. Dyer’s There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is a spiritual how-to guide in the broadest sense. As he explains in his introduction, Dyer suffered a heart attack in the fall of 2000 that left him shaken and unsure of his future. His need to deal with both the heart attack itself and its consequences led him to explore the notion of solving problems spiritually.

The book is similar in structure to I’d Say Yes, but is more instructive in tone. The first section, entitled “Essential Foundations of Spiritual Problem Solving,” provides the fundamentals for understanding that a “spiritual solution for all problems is readily available.”

In the opening chapter, Dyer provides three steps for accessing spiritual direction: recognizing an invisible force that can be used to solve a problem; going beyond the recognition of a spiritual being to the realization of one; and becoming one with the spiritual force.

In the second section, “Putting Spiritual Problem Solving Into Action,” Dyer uses a prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi to provide instruction. Each line of “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” is used to highlight ways to act out spiritual problem solving. Some of the themes he explores are achieving peace, developing healing energy, replacing doubt with faith, turning hope to despair, and cultivating joy even in the face of sadness.

Dyer discusses all of this in a cheerful upbeat manner that is quite infectious, going so far as to acknowledge that good cheer has a role in his personal problem solving. Sometimes he seems just a little too confident, pompous even, in his self-righteousness, and the material is occasionally flaky. But the book will appeal to spiritual seekers who find comfort in a self-help environment.

Toronto journalist Denyse O’Leary’s Faith @ Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century makes a distinct departure from the self-help shelf. O’Leary was asked by Christian Week editor Doug Koop to write a monthly column on science discoveries that raise spiritual and ethical issues for Christians. The assignment was a dream come true for O’Leary, allowing her to explore “practically anything in science, provided it’s relevant and interesting.” The book is a collection of these columns, which O’Leary claims do not provide a complete map of the moral landscape, but rather, fodder for further pursuit of the ideas within.

In the first section, O’Leary looks at subjects like genetic engineering, genome mapping, cloning, and other biotechnology issues. While she clearly adds a Christian slant to her enquiries, the issues present serious moral dilemmas for society at large.

Her column on selective reduction for high-risk fertility-drug-induced pregnancies is a good example of a Christian perspective on a broader moral issue. A childless Christian couple seek biotech aid to conceive and end up conceiving multiple fetuses. Doctors tell them that if one or two of the fetuses were “selectively reduced,” those remaining would have a better chance of survival.

O’Leary gathers multiple viewpoints to explore the dilemma faced here: various couples who resisted, others who gave in; doctors who feel that selective reduction is necessary, others who think multiple fetuses can be avoided. This is good journalism, and the fact that the columns were not written for a mainstream newspaper shouldn’t make the reader take O’Leary any less seriously.

In “Recovered Memory: True or False?” O’Leary maintains that the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s decision to ban recovered memory evidence in a boarding school abuse case was the right one. Through explaining the function of memory and the concept of dissociation (repressing memory to avoid pain), as well as the notion that memories can be planted, O’Leary points out that memory cannot be the only evidence to back up serious accusations. O’Leary demonstrates that, although she has strong, Christian-based opinions on many subjects, she is always ready to back them with thorough research and argument.

Faith @ Science is by far the most powerful of the titles discussed here. While both Reeves and Dyer offer helpful and relevant material for a readership already somewhat converted to the cause, O’Leary picks her way through a moral landscape that would prove unsteady for any audience.