Alexander Campbell: Adventurer in Freedom
By Eva Jean Wrather
Imagine working 70 years on an Alexander Campbell biography and writing more than 3,000 pages — more words than the Old and New Testaments combined.
With that effort and its sheer volume, you would think the life work of Eva Jean Wrather might be a cumbersome, overblown mess. You would be wrong, at least as concerns this first volume, which has been lovingly brought to fruition by Wrather, who died in 2001 at age 92, and fellow historian Duane Cummins, who finished it up after her death. Cummins insists the words are hers.
Wrather writes as if she were crafting an historical novel. She starts with Campbell’s father, Thomas, being beaten with a cane by Alexander’s grandfather in Northern Ireland for getting too political in one of his family prayers. But politics and political freedom are key in the minds of both Alexander and Thomas as the very framework for their experiment in religious freedom. That’s one of the reasons they immigrated to America while Americans were still in the process of warring for their independence.
The book covers the first 33 years of the life of the key figure in the Disciples of Christ. Its 261 pages are peppered with character insights and historical anecdotes culled from an enormous stash of data.
In the middle, a marvelous 10 pages recount how Christianity, from its beginnings, wandered from simplicity and freedom to complexity and tyranny, waffling back and forth several times, even into America and onto the frontier.
Wrather explains what made Alexander tick, why he took control of the movement from his father at the age of 24, how unity without uniformity was birthed, and why it was Alexander — not his dad or Barton W. Stone, the older founders — who propelled the Disciples to prominence among American-born churches.
— Reviewed by
Robert L. Friedly
Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality
By Brent Bill
Relax your body and mind. Breathe deeply. Put down this magazine. Meditate on this question: Which takes a bigger place in my life — silence or noise?
Noise, right? Which is why Brent Bill’s book Holy Silence is such a welcome remedy in this fast-paced, clanging world.
Bill, a Quaker minister, has taken up the subject of Quaker silence. Whether you’re Quaker or not, this book, with its quiet, gentle spirit, has much to offer.
It begins, fittingly, with a definition of silence. Silence is not the absence of noise. It is “a state of peace and quiet” in which “God gently invites us into the Holy.”
I recently worshiped at a Disciples congregation. When I partook of the bread and wine, it felt similar to what I experience in the silence of my Quaker meeting — a nearness to God, a deeper sense of community, a multiplication of Spirit. We Quakers have long believed that silence is, first and foremost, a holy communion.
I have spiritual ADD. When I first became a Quaker, the notion of sitting quietly was more than I could bear. But now I welcome that sweet retreat. Sprinkled throughout the book are helpful guides to silence, insights gained over years of worship, which help transform silence from plodding drudgery to welcome respite.
I especially appreciated the chapter on “Gathering: Practicing Communal Silence.” In this era of verbal thrust and parry, of point and counterpoint, cultivating the art of non-reactive hearing is crucial. Bill is at his best in describing that spirit of mercy which ought to underlie our silence.
The book concludes with a number of self-directed questions that focus our attention in our silence. This, I believe, is the key to holy silence. It is not undirected rumination that roams with wild abandon across our private landscapes. Rather, it is the practiced art of focused self-examination amid the Divine Presence. Thus, this book is not just for Quakers, but for all who desire to go deeper in their inward life. And who among us doesn’t want and need that?
— Reviewed by