John SHEA, On Earth as it is in Heaven: Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers (Year A). Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004. pp. 332. $29.95 pb. ISBN 0-8146-2913-X
Reviewed by John TROKAN, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio 45233

John Shea presents this commentary on the Sunday gospel readings for Christian preachers and teachers seeking to meditate on the gospels and to be nourished by their spiritual wisdom. This is the first of a four volume set which takes a literary spiritual approach, by analyzing the mindsets of the characters, exploring how Jesus affirmed and critiqued these mindsets to inspire meditation and spiritual development within the reader.

Shea begins this work with an insightful introductory chapter outlining his theological assumptions on the gospels as spiritual wisdom. The commentary is organized around the seasons of the liturgical year: Advent, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. It contains fifty short chapters based upon the significant spiritual-theological themes of the gospel passages such as 'Staying Awake in Everyday Life', 'Leading the Heart', 'Opening to Wholeness', and 'Making a Home for Spirit'. Each gospel reflection is divided into two sections. The first section is a spiritual commentary which examines the social, historical, and cultural milieu of first century Palestine and the world of Jesus. The second section is a spiritual teaching applying the lesson of the gospel passage to the contemporary world. These teachings address the core spiritual struggles for Christians today including spiritual blindness, awakening, testimony and witness, blessedness and gift, suffering and loss, spiritual laws, essential Mystery, and the abundant life.

The strength of this text is its literary spiritual approach. Whether it is Moses or Isaiah, de Chardin or Luther, T.S. Elliot or C.S. Lewis, Scott Peck or Max Scheler, insights from Sufi literature or Buddha, Shea seamlessly weaves these interdisciplinary sources into dialogue with the wisdom of the gospels. His creative integration of this literature with the teachings of Jesus leads to rich psychological and spiritual insights. Readers of Shea will find thematic flavors of his previous books including Experience Named Spirit ( Thomas More, 1983), Spiritmaster ( Thomas More, 1987), Starlight (Crossroads, 1992), and Gospel Light (Crossroads, 1998) reworked within this commentary with new and fresh contexts, twists, and turns.

A second strength of the text is the author's genius for theological reflection. Killen and deBeer suggest in The Art of theological Reflection (Crossroads, 1994) that theological reflection is an art. Shea demonstrates throughout this commentary that he is the master artist in his ability to consult and integrate the sources of scripture and tradition, cultural information, and personal experience. As the wisdom of these sources intersect in the narrative, the dialogue that is produced moves the reader from spiritual exploration, to consciousness, to understanding, to insight. Particularly striking from this consummate storyteller are the personal experiences he shares in the teaching section of each chapter, allowing the reader a glimpse of his own human vulnerability and spiritual journey, as well as implicitly modeling quality theological reflection.

A third strength of this commentary is the spiritual wisdom that is imparted. Shea's theological prose throughout the text is filled with pearls of wisdom: 'hear and obey', 'awakening to love', 'seeing with three eyes', 'interdwelling with God', 'hardwired for God' to name a few. The source of this wisdom is deeply rooted in the prophets, mystics, and martyrs of the Judeo-Christian tradition. This is not pablum for the spiritual novice, or new age pixie dust for the spiritually disillusioned. This commentary is healthy nourishment and challenge for adult spirits seeking to make meaning of their world, and to grow more deeply in their faith in the God of mercy and abundant love. This reviewer found the Lenten reflections upon the gospel of John including the 'Woman at the Well' (Jn 4), 'Man born Blind' (Jn 9), 'Good Shepherd' (Jn10), 'Lazarus' (Jn 11), 'Farewell Discourse' (Jn14) and 'Thomas' (Jn 20) profoundly insightful on the spiritual reality of human loss, grief, death, and the meaning of the resurrection. The spiritual journey never leaves the intersections of darkness and light, life and death, hope and despair, blindness and sight, suffering and joy, doubt and faith.

Billed as a resource for Christian preachers and teachers, this commentary has potential as a resource for small faith communities, RCIA groups, faith based counseling, and as a tool for spiritual direction and spiritual mentoring. We can eagerly await the next three volumes.

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