Elizabeth A. JOHNSON. Abounding in Kindness: Writings for the People of God. New York.: Orbis Books, 2015. pp. ix + 324. ISBN 978-1-62698-112-3 pb. Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65201
Johnson’s title is from Ps. 103 whose verses are apropos of the essays contained in the volume as Johnson explains in her Introduction: “As I reviewed these writings one theme kept emerging in various forms, namely, the overflowing compassion of the living God engaged with the struggles and suffering of the world.” (vii-viii) Some chapter headings indicate the breadth of concern that inspired her lectures and essays. In this book Johnson writes about, among other things: Passing on the Faith; Atheism and Faith in a Secular World; Atheism and Ecological Spirituality; Feminism and Sharing the Faith: A Catholic Dilemma; Is God’s Charity Broad Enough for Bears?; Sacred Ground at the Bedside: the Hospice Caregiver and Divine Compassion; Jesus and Women; Torture. The sub-title of Torture (211-214) is “You Did It To Me.” In this brief meditation on Jesus in the hands of the Roman soldiers, scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, mocked, and crucified, Johnson takes Jesus’s depiction of the last judgment in Mt. 25:40-45: "Whatever you did to one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” She then comments: “There is no mention in this parable of abuse, only beneficial activity or neglect. But the point of the parable, Christ’s solidarity with each person in need, extends beyond the two scenarios to situations of actual mistreatment.” She then applies this to the “coercive interrogation” of prisoners at Guantanamo, or by extension, to prisoners anywhere. Surely these few moving pages respond to a spiritual dilemma that involves citizens of any country in which abusive treatment of prisoners occurs.
In her last chapter, “Hearts on Fire: a Revolutionary Song,” (302-312) Johnson meditates on Mary’s Magnificat . . . “the oldest Advent hymn,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in one of his sermons on Mary’s canticle quoted by Johnson: “This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God amid the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.” Johnson declares that “the Magnificat is a profoundly God-centered prayer.” It is the song of a peasant woman rejoicing, toasting her God as she “lifts up the glass of her canticle, rejoicing in God as a woman who has herself suffered and been vindicated. And so it is our song as “we join with her in praising God who regards suffering with utmost mercy and summons us into the struggle to build a more peaceful and just world.”