The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Best this month

Keeping Silence: Christian Practices for Entering Stillness by C.W. McPherson salutes this devotional activity that is held in high regard by the apostolic writers, the desert fathers and mothers, the medieval mystics and spiritual directors of all eras. They point to the many benefits of silence, including the ways it improves concentration, calms the body, offers balance in our lives, activates listening skills, teaches the importance of words and helps develop empathy. McPherson offers concrete practices to activate this spiritual discipline such as visual meditations, mental prayer and kinetic meditations. He closes the book with suggestions for extending this practice by visiting a monastery, taking a silent retreat or forming a community of friends who keep silence with you.

In one of the most interesting sections, the author reports on what happened when he asked members of his congregation to set aside 10 minutes a day for silence. Most people couldn't do it. Some equated it with death, torture (such as solitary confinement) or punishment. Others who had trouble with silence felt uncomfortable with themselves and all the thoughts rushing through their minds. To sit in silence and draw close to God is an act of defiance that goes against the noisy culture in which we live. McPherson makes it clear that silence is a gift of the Spirit that adds meaning and depth to Christian life (Morehouse, 2002).

About Schmidt revolves around a 66-year-old man who has worked for an insurance company in Omaha, Neb., for his whole career. At his retirement party, a friend characterizes Warren Schmidt as a man who has reaped the internal rewards of a meaningful life and a job well-done. His wife has big plans for retirement, but he's not enthusiastic about touring the country in a motor home. Saddened that his replacement at the company doesn't need any advice, Warren secretly signs up with a charity to become a foster parent to Ndugu, a 6-year-old African orphan. In his letters to the boy, this Midwesterner lets loose a torrent of unexpressed feelings about his wife and life. One of the things that bugs him the most is that his beloved daughter, who works for a high-tech company in Denver, is engaged to marry Randall, who sells waterbeds. Warren writes to Ndugu that "the guy is just not up to snuff for my little girl."

Writer and director Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) created an American masterpiece with this bittersweet portrait of a man whose disappointments in life have made him a very angry man. With a performance characterized by restraint and nuance, Jack Nicholson should get an Academy Award nomination for best actor. Warren's negative feelings about himself and the ways he has failed to live up to his youthful dreams are something many people will identify with. The clincher in this well-realized drama is the way Warren opens up to the healing power of love in the relationship he tries to develop with the African boy. It's the little things that often prove to be the most tender and touching vehicles for grace in our lives (New Line, R--some language and brief nudity).


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