Five years ago, in September 2015, Pope Francis visited our country and spoke to Congress, delivering a speech that recalled four “great” Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Each of them was animated by a dream—for equality, for justice, for care for the oppressed, and for a spirit of dialogue and peace. Francis tied these dreams to ongoing struggles for racial justice, care for the earth, welcoming the stranger at our borders, and global solidarity.
He could not have anticipated all that has transpired in the past years, nor how poignant his vision would appear today in the midst of a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and protests around the unfinished business of racial justice. And yet he spoke directly to the question of what makes a country “great”—precisely when it attends to the dreams and fundamental values of the Americans he invoked.
Four new books speak to those values. In Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation and the Common Good Sister Simone Campbell, best known for her work with “Nuns on the Bus,” describes the vision and spiritual practices—the “hunger for hope”--that can sustain us in our work for justice and the common good.
In Dignity & Justice: Welcoming the Stranger at Our Border, attorney Linda Dakin-Grimm describes the life and death struggles migrants face on their journeys to the U.S., reviews Catholic teaching on their plight, and outlines a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.
Daniel Wolpert’s Creation’s Wisdom: Spiritual Practice and Climate
Change addresses the need for a spirituality attuned to the crisis and disruption posed by climate change, finding answers not only in Christian and other spiritual traditions, but in the wisdom of nature itself.
And finally, in Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow addresses the “earthquakes” in times like the present when history trembles beneath our feet. Such times may overturn empires and our personal lives. But they may also become the fertile ground from which renewal and new life come, especially if we can learn to “dance”—to imagine and live out new possibilities—in the midst of this disruption.
New “earthquakes”—first the global pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter awakening—unfolded even as Rabbi Waskow completed his book. He was able to address these situations, which only underscore the timeliness and relevance of a message that combines spiritual wisdom and social urgency.
Of the four “great” Americans whom he cited, Pope Francis said that such men and women “offer us a new way of seeing and interpreting reality.” May these new books also help us see what needs to be done, while sustaining our hopes, and emboldening our efforts on behalf of a new world, and a better country.