Two books provide insights into suffering and joy from different angles

Reviewed by Allan F. Wright

Catholic News Service

8/2/2013

These are the covers of "Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story of Finding Faith, Following Love and Feeding a Family" by Robin Davis and "Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son" by Richard Lischer. The books are reviewed by Allan F. Wright. (CNS)
These are the covers of Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story of Finding Faith, Following Love and Feeding a Family by Robin Davis and Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son by Richard Lischer. The books are reviewed by Allan F. Wright. (CNS)

Two books provide insights into suffering and joy from different angles Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story of Finding Faith, Following Love and Feeding a Family by Robin Davis. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2013). 147 pp., $13.95. Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son by Richard Lischer. Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 2013). 247 pp., $25. 

There were three things Robin Davis said she would never do: move back to Ohio, get married, and join any organized religion. God, it seems, has different designs on an otherwise beautifully planned life that this author had been leading as a food critic for a top-notch newspaper in San Francisco.

Recipe for Joy is not about a dramatic conversion back to the Catholic faith, but rather how life apart from God reveals the void that possessions, position and prestige alone can't fill. This book takes us on one woman's journey to experience true joy as she bumps into God along the way in some of the most unlikely places. The book reminds us that the deepest longings of the human heart are satiated by God alone.

The author respectfully unfolds her own spiritual journey as she moves back to Ohio and meets her future husband, Ken, a father of three and recent widower who lost his wife to cancer. In reflecting on the events that bring her back to Ohio, Davis speaks honestly about her life growing up in a house without any real connections to religion or faith, and with parents who struggled with alcoholism and disappointment in varying degrees.

The relationship between Robin and Ken blossoms as she begins to integrate her life with his children and extended family. Food, shopping, cooking and eating become daily rituals that draw the author closer to the kids and the idea of family. Fear looms however, as she struggles to come to terms with the vocation to which God may be calling her.

The Catholic faith is never imposed on her during her courtship with Ken, but is modeled beautifully by him and his family. Their faithful Catholicism is lived out through the peaks and valleys of everyday life. Ken is a man who is comfortable sharing his prayer life and the strength and peace it brings him. The story has a joyful ending while exposing some of the bumps along the way.

Each chapter is titled cleverly like a dinner menu: Soup, Salad, Bread, Main Course, and reminds us that God is still at work, drawing ordinary people toward himself so that we may experience true joy. Recipe for Joy is an excellent book for those who may be away from the church and out in the world seeking, perhaps silently, a spiritual home.

Stations of the Heart by Richard Lischer is a heart-wrenching and emotionally draining chronicle, documenting the last 95 days of his son's life. Adam, a vibrant 33-year-old, is losing his battle with cancer. The reader is taken on an odyssey through the love, thoughts and grief of a father and his family as they journey with their son and his pregnant wife.

The story takes us to a place where no parent wants to venture or even imagine. For people like me who are only spectators from a distance observing the havoc that cancer reeks, Lischer brings the reader to his heart, the heart of a father in agony watching his son die.

Lischer, a man of faith who served in two Protestant parishes before joining the faculty of Duke Divinity School where he has taught for more than 30 years, points us to this agony in the title of the book and further reveals this agony when, as a Protestant, he encounters the Catholic practice of walking the Stations of the Cross.

"It wasn't until he got sick that I walked the Stations of the Cross for the first time," he writes. "Until then, I had never thought of them as anything other than a pious ritual for pious Catholics and a few venturesome Protestants. But as his illness wore on, the Stations began to loom in my imagination, perhaps because cancer itself leads you from one obligatory shrine to the next. It is a disease that teaches incrementally."

Lischer's potent account of his son's journey to death is accentuated by his own faith and the newly found Catholic faith of his son and his son's wife. Adam and his wife were daily communicants at a church in Washington. Their daily routine of receiving the Eucharist, prayer and community became the foundation for their life as they made the regular pilgrimage to the hospital, neurosurgeons and countless consultations. Their parish's community of faith -- the priests, deacons and laypeople -- shows the best of what the church can be as Catholic.

The faith that this book reveals is a faith in the midst of darkness; a faith that provides no easy answers yet remains faithful. Theirs is a faith that looks to the future while being pummeled daily with the reality of pain and suffering on all sides.

Stations of the Heart is an ecumenical book because suffering is ecumenical. The author's writing is sharp and unflinching, forcing us to feel the weight of his cross, much like Simon of Cyrene. The faith written about in this book offers no magical solutions, no sloppy "agape," but opens a window on the fragility of life and the hope of eternity.

- - -

Also of interest: Raising God-First Kids in a Me-First World by Barbara Curtis. Servant Books (Cincinnati, 2013). 163 pp., $14.99.

Stay Mr. & Mrs. After You're Mom & Dad by David and Christine Gibson. Liguori Publications (Liguori, Mo., 2013). 112 pp., $7.99.

Man to Man, Dad to Dad: Catholic Faith and Fatherhood, edited by Brian Caulfield. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2013). 144 pp., $12.95.

- - -

Wright is academic dean for evangelization in the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., and the author of several books, most recently Jesus the Evangelist: A Gospel Guide to the New Evangelization (Franciscan Media). He lives with his wife and three children in New Jersey.

Copyright (c) 2013 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  

Two books provide insights into suffering and joy from different angles Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story of Finding Faith, Following Love and Feeding a Family by Robin Davis. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2013). 147 pp., $13.95. Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son by Richard Lischer. Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 2013). 247 pp., $25. 

Published
Back