Saturday, May 31, 2014


Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty, and Find Peace, is a celebration of paradox. Through his masterful storytelling and insightful expository writing, Frank demonstrates how he has learned (and continues learning) to give love, create beauty, and find peace by embracing the paradoxical nature of reality.

I sense a far greater peace in Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God than I do in Frank's earlier books: Crazy for God; Patience with God; and Sex, Mom, and God. This present book seems to be the culmination of the intriguing exploration that I sense going on in the earlier books.

To receive the full impact of Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, it is helpful to understand that Frank Schaeffer was not raised to embrace paradox. Frank was born into a Christian evangelical missionary family, where he was taught certainty about God and an either/or view of eternal salvation. Frank's earlier books describe his growing discomfort with this worldview and his movement toward a worldview where God is seen as mystery and salvation is seen as a process - a worldview that Frank now finds in the Greek Orthodox Church.

One important paradox described by Frank in Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God is an amazing paradox at the heart of his own parents' faith. While expressing belief in the direct inspiration of all parts of the Bible, Frank's parents actually practiced a far more loving faith than some parts  of the Bible advocate. For example, Frank tells how his parents welcomed and loved gay and lesbian couples who came to their mission, despite the Bible's curse upon those who practice homosexuality. Frank says that "no matter what she claimed the Bible taught about homosexuality, Mom acted as if being born gay was just another way to be human." (The italics are Frank's.)

This paradoxical story about his parents is just one of many wonderful life stories with which Frank fills the pages of Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God. Many are stories of love: stories of the lifelong love of Frank's wife Genie, the forgiving love of Frank's daughter Jessica, the trusting love of Frank's grandchildren Lucy and Jack, the barbed love of Frank's film director friend "Sam," the creatively expressed love of the late artist Holly Meade, the sacrificial love of Mother Maria of Paris. There are stories, too, of sorrow: stories of a friend's sudden death, of a friend's struggle with Parkinson's disease, of a relative's diminished life due to a brain tumor, and most poignantly of Frank's deep regret for his own failures to love. And there are stories of awesome beauty: the breath-taking beauty of the stars, the austere beauty of mathematics, the glorious beauty of the Angel's aria in Handel's Le Resurrezione sung by lyric soprano Camilla Tilling, the life-like beauty of John Singer Sargent's painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, the delicious beauty of a warm ripe tomato from Frank's home garden.

These and many more compelling stories provide the context for Frank's wonderfully clear exposition of what he believes (hopes) lies at the heart of the universe. Here is the nutshell version: "My hope is that a trillionth of a second before the Big Bang, the energy animating the mystery of matter being created out of nothing was love." I love this succinct sentence, and I love even more the beautiful way that Frank unwinds his reasoning, particularly in Chapters XXI, XXII, and XXVI.

So, what does Frank Schaeffer mean when he says that he is "an atheist who believes in God"? Here is Frank's explanation: "These days I hold two ideas about God simultaneously: he, she or it exists and he, she or it doesn't exist. I don't seesaw between these opposites; I embrace them." (The italics are Frank's.) What I myself understand after twice reading Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God is that Frank recognizes that there is evidence for God's existence and evidence against God's existence - and that he chooses to place his hope (not his certainty) on the side of God's existence, recognizing that God may not exist while living as though God does.

A precious gift that I receive from Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God is a wonderful opening within myself to embrace BOTH/AND in more and more areas of my life. I can almost feel Frank putting his hands on my sometimes tense shoulders and saying, "Relax. It's not a question of right and wrong, of either/or. Let it be BOTH/AND."

Saturday, May 24, 2014


This will surprise some who know me, but I have spent much of the month of May praying the rosary! This is a result of my first visit to a meeting of the Children of Mary at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic girls school that I attended for fourteen years (Pre-K through 12th Grade). The Children of Mary is a group of women who meet regularly to deepen their spiritual life and to do various good works. Before this meeting on the first Saturday of May, we prayed the rosary, had Mass, crowned Mary, and sang the Marian songs I remember from my childhood. This gave me the incentive to spend the rest of the month of May praying a daily rosary. To my surprise, I am really enjoying it! I am certainly finding that the mysteries of the rosary have a far greater depth than I was able to realize as a child.

Seredipitously, it also happens that during this month, a classmate of mine at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, Marie Louise Guste Nix, has had her fourth book of poems published - Being There: Reflections from the Scenes of the Mysteries of the Rosary! As soon as my copy of Being There arrived, I read it straight through and found myself deeply moved.

With Being There, Marie Louise has taken me into the thoughts and feelings of the people of the first century who actually lived through the events that we remember when praying the rosary today. To do this, Marie Louise draws upon her in-depth study of the Gospels, her deep prayer life including years of meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, and her skill and art as a poet. Marie Louise has been there time and again in spirit, in prayer, in meditation, and in imagination - and her poems take me there, too.

Here are some of the poems that I find especially moving.

  • "Simeon Remembers" - I feel Simeon's weariness of years as he faithfully performs the priestly ritual for child after child after child - each one loved and welcomed - until the day he holds the promised infant messiah in his arms.
  • "Rock of Grace" - I hear a cousin of Jesus voice his love and admiration for Jesus and his deep concern and worry as he hears Jesus proclaim himself to be the promised one of God, knowing the jealous reaction that this will provoke.
  • "Nightmare Impossible" - I enter into Jesus' very human pain as he carries his own cross - the physical pain of each excruciating step after step after step and the emotional pain of mourning for what seems the loss of his life's mission.
  • "Our Mother Is Taken to Heaven" - I listen as Mary's nurse describes her joy in caring for Mary in the last years of her life and of being there when Mary is assumed into heaven.
One of the things I appreciate most about Being There is the ability of Marie Louise to immerse me in Jesus' world. I experience Jesus as a member of a close-knit extended family, of a village where everyone knows each other, of a people united in their destiny as God's chosen and in their longing for the promised messiah.

I should mention that Marie Louise's poems are accompanied with beautiful artwork by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and other masters, and that Marie Louise also provides questions to aid one's own reflection on the mysteries of the rosary.

Already, Marie Louise's poems have beautifully influenced my own meditation on the mysteries of the rosary. I recommend Being There, not only to anyone who prays the rosary, but to anyone interested in a fresh perspective on the events of the Gospels. Eighteen of the twenty mysteries of the rosary are straight from the Gospels and/or the Acts of the Apostles, the two exceptions being the fourth and fifth glorious mysteries (the assumption of Mary into heaven and the crowning of Mary queen of heaven and earth).

Thank you, Marie Louise!