“Blessed are the Stressed: Secrets to a Happy Heart From a Crabby Mystic” by Daughter of St. Paul Mary Lea Hill. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2016). 168 pp., $14.95.
“Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion and Healing the Divided Self” by Chuck DeGroat. William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016). 200 pp., $15.
Sure, you’ve heard dozens of talks and homilies about the Eight Beatitudes, but have you ever taken “a friendly stroll” through them? Sr. Mary Lea Hill, a Daughter of St. Paul, invites readers to do that in “Blessed are the Stressed: Secrets to a Happy Heart From a Crabby Mystic.”
If one thinks of strolling as a low-impact exercise, then this is a low-impact but effective spiritual exercise because of the content and how it is presented. Strolls are for conversation, for ambling with no particular purpose other than to take in the surroundings or to informally converse with a companion.
Here, the beatitudes are the surroundings; Sr. Hill starts the conversation. And like conversation that occurs during a stroll, she jumps from topic to topic, always linking each to one of the beatitudes. From this conversation comes reflections such as: “The beatitudes are our spiritual selfies. They are individual snapshots of our soul at work.” In speaking about the meek, she relates it to handles. Remember, this is strolling conversation; it can go in any direction, with any connection.
The zig-zag of each two-page chapter includes, among others, a would-be shoplifter, professional wrestling, the music of Joan Baez and dust bunnies. That might appear to be scattered, but Sr. Hill concludes every chapter with a paragraph titled, “And You.” This is the serious conversation during the stroll, often leading to thought-provoking questions, e.g., “How do you deal with a God who is set in his ways?” and “Do you think anyone will find in you a Catholic role model?” The strollers continue in silence as they contemplate answers.
Take the stroll. Enter the conversation. The “crabby mystic” provides the stressed-to-blessed workout your heart and soul will appreciate.
While Sr. Hill notes that hers is not a “scholarly treatment,” the same cannot be said for Chuck DeGroat’s “Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion and Healing the Divided Self.” It is laden with poetry and psychological and theological references. For the reader not used to plodding through St. Augustine, Trappist Fr. Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and dozens of others, the exhaustion about which he writes might set in before one reaches the final part of the book.
In that section, DeGroat provides exercises and asks questions that may help the immersed reader find “the elusive wholeness and freedom for which we so desperately long.”
As a counselor and pastor, DeGroat provides a perspective that lends itself to a pastoral approach readers may welcome throughout this process. Anyone enduring the journey into the final chapters will be ready for the probing statements and questions DeGroat poses, e.g., What are your stories of disappointment and division? How do you think they’ve affected your spiritual life?
DeGroat opens the seventh chapter by stating, “You’re not here to find a quick fix. You’ve embarked on a journey.” Readers should know that, but the caution would have been better positioned in the early stages of the book so they could determine whether they wanted to embark upon a journey so deep, involved, intense and – yes, exhausting.