Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: Spiritual Living in a Material World

Title: Spiritual Living in a Material World

Author: Morton Kelsey

Date: 1998

Publisher: New City Press

ISBN: 1-56548-105-4

Length: 94 pages text, 2 pages endnotes

Quote: “Real Christianity is a mature and balanced religion; it stresses our spiritual life, our physical life, and our social life as one integrated whole.”

When Spiritual Living in a Material World crossed my desk I was writing some articles about church history--differences and similarities between denominations. Morton Kelsey would be better qualified to tell readers about those similarities. Although a Protestant minister, he was teaching at a Catholic university when he wrote this book, in which he cites several Catholic books and authors.

Some other Protestant writers who learned a lot from Catholics and wrote about the spiritual life were Richard J. Foster (Celebration of Discipline), Madeleine L'Engle (The Irrational Season), Kathleen Norris (Amazing Grace), and C.S. Lewis (Letters to Malcolm). My opinion is that their books are better than Kelsey's because they have/had more talent. Not everyone agrees. Some prefer a shorter, yet at the same time more academic, style of writing. Kelsey had that.

If you want a short, academic overview of the spiritual practices all Christians have in common, Spiritual Living in a Material World might be the book for you. But don’t expect it to be a quick read merely because it’s short. This is the writer’s quick summary of fifty years of study. Think of it as the initial lecture in which a teacher gives an overview of a five-hour, two-semester course. If you’ve not already read the Bible and many other Christian books, you may need to pause, sometimes more than once on a page, and read another book (or books) in order to get the full sense of what Kelsey is talking about. If you have read, say, half of the books Kelsey has, you’ll probably appreciate this book as a sort of abstract or précis.

Kelsey didn't always list the books in his bibliography the way publishers catalogue them now. To give readers an idea what to expect, I've had a try at tracking them down on Amazon.

Reynolds Price: ThreeGospels and A Whole New Life.

John Wesley: Complete Works.

Charles Wesley: Charles Wesley Reader.

Baron von Hügel’s MysticalElement in Religion is very old and, in places where I’ve looked, hard to find, but Kelsey lists is as an important source for his book. The Baron’s student, Evelyn Underhill, is also cited in Spiritual Living in a Material World and is easier to find.

Fritz Künkel: InSearch of Maturity.

Dorothy Phillips (editor). The Choice Is Always Ours.

John Sanford: TheKingdom Within.

A book Kelsey calls The Search for Stillness. Amazon doesn't pull up this title and suggests a book about the Shakers first published in 1998--unlikely to be what Kelsey had in mind.

John Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress.

Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.

Augustine. Confessions; City of God.

Martin Luther: Luther's Works vol. 1-55.

Apology of St. Justin the Martyr.

John of the Cross. DarkNight of the Soul. (He wrote it, and this web site has discussed and offered it, in Spanish: .)

Carlo Carretto. Daily Reflections. Well, that's what Kelsey called it, but see how Amazon catalogued it:

François Fénélon: Complete Fenelon

Søren Kierkegaard: TheSickness unto Death.

Thomas Merton: Seven Storey Mountain (and others).

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle (and others).

Teresa of Calcutta: Simple Path.

Ignatius of Loyola. SpiritualExercises.

C.S. Lewis: Till WeHave Faces is mentioned in this book. In connection with other references to Lewis’s name, I think Mere Christianity, Letters to Malcolm, and TheScrewtape Letters are the works cited.

Catherine of Siena: Dialogue (and others).

Charles Williams: Shadowsof Ecstasy is mentioned in this book. 

Chiara Lubich: MayThey All Be One. Also referenced is another nonfiction book that may now be available in English, United in His Name, and a biography, Chiara Lubich, written by Franca Zambonini. Amazon does not show the biography.

Paul Tournier: CreativeSuffering.

John Westerhoff: SpiritualLife.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Giftfrom the Sea.

(Why did the spaces between some words disappear when the words were italicized? I have no idea. I know the Amazon link app is already behaving as if it were overwhelmed; I'm not going to try to edit the links.)

A person who really wanted to support this web site could order all of these books here. Generally the price is, as for Spiritual Living in a Material World, $5 per book + $5 per package. (In other words, $5 for shipping each group of 1 to 12 books that will fit into one package.) In some cases, when books have become rare, collector prices apply; all 55 volumes by Martin Luther, translated into English, would currently cost $1000. (And even at that they'd take a while to reach you, because I own very little of Luther; if I order his complete collected works, now suppressed because the great German preacher didn't talk like a proper English gentleman, I'm jolly well going to make samizdat copies before I ship them out.) A few of the writers cited, like Foster and Norris, are still alive so their books would qualify as Fair Trade Books. Morton Kelsey, born in 1917, died in 2001.