Note from CM: I’m so pleased to announce that Damaris Zehner’s new book has been published! It is available on Twenty-Third Publications’ website and for pre-order on Amazon. For our readers from New Zealand (!), there is a local source. Germans can pay with Euros here and Dutch here.
We’ve asked our friend David Cornwell to review it today.
• • •
It wasn’t long after beginning to visit Internet Monk that I noticed the comments and posts written by Damaris Zehner. She has a certain kind of consistent depth that makes what she says so relevant. On the right side of the blog page, you will notice something new. It’s the unveiling of a new book by Damaris with the title The Between Time.
In the Introduction Damaris states part of her reasoning for the book: “Our race exists between the original creation and the unveiling of the new heavens and the new earth. We hold on with faith between God’s promise and the distant fulfillment.” We find ourselves in what sometimes can feel like a spiritual no-man’s land. Something seems vaguely wrong with where we find ourselves and what we are longing for.
Many years ago I took my four or five year old grandson on a trip to southern Ohio to visit my parents. This is a trip of about 280 miles. He and I were traveling together with no one else accompanying us. About five miles down the road he asked his first question, and you guessed it: “Are we almost there?” He has never been a patient traveler. And so the question was asked again at regular intervals for the entire trip. We were in the Between Time!
As we all know, rest stops are important on a trip. Damaris and her family discovered that they needed something different from the kind of evangelical Protestant churches they had always been part of. They found that they needed more than “do-it-yourself Christianity, churches with stages rather than altars, and the sovereignty of individual interpretation of Scripture.” Their searching ended when they entered the Catholic Church in 2011. And with it the realization of “having found a place of peace from which to continue my journey.”
While reading this book, one discovers that Damaris has a “thing” for words. You will discover this while reading. Words, in their preciseness, are important to her. Words bear the task of holding together the trials and triumph narrative of “between time.”
The book is divided into three main divisions: (1) Nature; (2) Ourselves; (3) God. There is overlap between them because it is impossible to discuss one without the intertwining narrative of the others. The three main divisions are subdivided into separate stories and essays. Each ends with a short prayer, verse, or Psalm.
Alongside the decision of Damaris to make the Catholic Church her new spiritual home is something else that seems to be of almost equal importance. This is the value of “place.” Her family moved to an old Indiana farmhouse deep in rural Indiana, and called it home. Her devotion to this one place reminds me of the writings of Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, and his celebration of land and place. However she credits the vows of St. Benedict, one of which is the value of staying in one place.
Lessons about nature are learned more quickly in rural society. In discussing the aspects of our relationship with nature, Damaris says that:
Our relationship with nature and nature’s God is profoundly baffling, but it seems to me there are two chief mistakes we can make in thinking about it. First, we assume that nature exists for our sake. I can’t accept that. It exists for God’s purposes and for its own sake.
And even though we have a special relationship, “it has its own existence beyond our opinions of it. And its existence does not always make allowances for ours.”
In one of her stories we hear about the struggles for life of kid goats named Heidi and Hope. And in another, “Consider the Dogs,” she tells the special stories of Mama Dog, Marshall and Archie. All were rescued dogs. Mama Dog, near death, one day appeared at the edge of their Liberian property. She wasn’t much to look at. Here she found a home, and worked her way into the hearts of her new caretakers. Marshall and Archie came at different times. Both were Shelties and both were adopted from shelters.
All became special in their own ways. Marshall, the middle dog, loved music. When Damaris’s daughter would tune her violin, Marshall would come running and wait for the warmup to begin. Then he would join in running the scales. “Sometimes he would rumble and other times soar into falsetto. He achieved Baroque ornamentation on some notes and had a particularly effective vibrato.”
These were special animals, for their lives “better than any treatise or homily, have illuminated for me the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.”
Part Two of the book is Ourselves. The essay, “Shared Lives” talks about what it takes to make real community. In brief outline, the elements are:
- stay put
- stay slow
- stay simple
- stay connected
However I think these simple sounding concepts also show just how complicated community might be to develop and maintain.
The is one of the one of the areas the Catholic Church with its parish system and its ancient liturgies can bring its strengthening presence. Damaris comments that “the liturgy sets the tempo for us, regardless of how jangled we are when we get to Mass. We are shaped by the deliberate repetition each week of words that have been said for centuries.”
The story, “How the Whole Town Threw Us a Wedding” has the makings of a movie. Elements of the script would be as follows: The Peace Corps; a young couple; Liberia; jungle; theft; rain; mud; multiple religions and nationalities; and the inexperienced reverend.
And then, she gives a specific challenge, entitled “A New Mission Field.” It involves rural and small-town America. She, with specifics, issues a call to wealthy churches, Christian business people, doctors, and other professionals. I love it. Here is the kind of fresh thinking the Church needs to hear.
Damaris has a particular love of words. She expects from them a precision of excellence in meaning and usage. This comes through strongly in “The Seven Virtues.” Do you know what they are? Most Protestants would probably miss them altogether or think they are the title of a book about success in leadership, business and capitalism. But she looks at them in the light of Catholic tradition, and what they can mean to us today. Gregory of Nyssa puts it thus: “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”
I think one of the reasons Damaris became a Catholic is the passivity she found in so with so many Protestants. After one was saved, there was nothing to do — or so seemed to be the implication. Spiritual activities that encouraged service and growth were frowned upon because these are too much like earning salvation through one’s own merit. With her usual clearness, Damaris points to scripture and example, that we are to be doing the works of Jesus here on this earth. A tragedy of the Reformation is that so much good from tradition was thrown out. For instance, guidance on when to feast and when to fast. And a knowledge of the ascetic disciplines.
Damaris hits onto something in the last part of the book that I’ve often wondered about, but for which until now I haven’t had a satisfactory answer. But I think she’s found it. And since I like her answer, for the first time in seventy-seven years I think I truly understand the meaning of: JOY! I’m not going to tell you, because then this review would need a “spoiler alert” in the beginning!
In the last essay, she talks about the physicality of God’s dwelling place. In other words the actual buildings we have built for God. She doesn’t limit God’s dwelling places to the great cathedrals of the world, but also describes plain and simple Quaker meeting houses, and even the pole barn that is an evanglical church, with its lack of color, beauty or order. Into all of these places people will come with their differences of look, manner, and style. And so — “In a mystery, in the between time, God already dwells among usóin our church buildings, in creation, in the church, and in each believer.”
God’s Spirit attended to the writing of this book. And I pray, that God’s Spirit will give help to you as you read.
• • •
The Between Time
by Damaris Zehner
Twenty-Third Publications (November 20, 2015)