Saturday, January 21, 2012

"How, Then, Shall We Live?" and other stuff

I've made it back from my trip. It was a shock to the system to leave temperatures in the upper 70s and to have the pilot welcome me home to a balmy 14 degrees and then having to drive on snow-covered roads. Coming back, there was also an "incident" with the plane as one of the deicers had failed to close properly and we were delayed 30 minutes or so in Atlanta. Landing on a snowy runway, it was good they got it fixed. I am going to have to spend some time this weekend catching up with folks blogs, but before that, I'm going to enjoy this snow and today's sun and do a little skiing. Below is a review of a recent book.

Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live?  Four Simple Questions that Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives (New York: Bantam Books, 1996), 289 pages.

Wayne Muller is an ordained minister (he doesn’t give a denomination), a psychotherapist and the founder of “Bread for the Journey,” a ministry in Northern New Mexico.  In this book he addresses four basic questions: “Who Am I? What do I love?  How shall I live knowing that I will die?  What is my gift to the family of the earth?”  Muller draws upon his experiences in working with people (especially the poor, those with AIDS, and those in his clinical practice) and a vast knowledge of Christian, Jewish, Chinese, Buddhist and Native American spirituality.   Each section of the book provides numerous stories and quotes as well as exercises to help the reader come to his or her own answer to the question.   Early in the book, he tells a story from the Buddha in which he equates a story with a raft.  It’s not to be carried as baggage, but to be used to help you get to the other side of a river.  Like with a raft, once the lesson is learned, a story is to be let go.  (36-7)

Each section has numerous stories that vary in length from half a page to a few pages.  Although the stories focus on the same topic, they don’t necessarily flow together.   This allows the book to be read as a devotional, a few pages at a time.   The strength of the book is in the diversity of stories from around the world.  If any areas are underrepresented, it would be Islamic and Hindu authors (although he does quote the Sufi poet Rumi and a Hindu holy man).  This book is a storehouse of knowledge.  For Christians that may have a problem with so many references to non-Christian sources, I would remind them of the doctrine of “Common Grace.”  Muller doesn’t offer clichés as answers to his questions.  Instead, he encourages us to struggle with the questions ourselves.   This is the second book by Muller I’ve read. The first was Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest.  I recommend them both.

“Within the sorrow, there is grace.  When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open.  And in breaking open, we uncover our true nature.”  (26)

“For many of us, the hardest thing to accept is the way our life has gone.   We didn’t have the family we hoped for…  I have to accept that I will be who I am and make some peace with it. It is a little sad, and yet I also feel some relief.”  (62)

“Our own true nature is not something extraordinary; in fact, it is quite ordinary, an inevitable proportion of our daily life.”  (64)

“The spiritual life is not a process of addition, but rather of subtraction.”  (99)

“When you use all your strength to fight your death, you are losing all the energy you have left to live.” (167)

“We mistakenly believe that if we accept our deaths, we will begin to die.   Curiously, the reverse is true: When we accept we are already dying we are set free to live.” (168)
“Love, serve, and remember”  -Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba (197)

“To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”  -Tao Te Ching (209)

“When our days are complicated and fast, things get lost.  All too often it can be precious things that get lost—a sunset, a walk, a gentle word, an opportunity to be kind…” (211)

“Gratefulness arises naturally from this fertile balance of honoring both our sorrow and our joy.  We name our sorrows so that we can bring care and attention to our wounds, so that we may heal.  At the same time we give thanks for the innumerable gifts and blessings bestowed upon us daily, lest we forget how rich we are.”  (221)

“Gratefulness slows time.”  -222

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”  -Lao Tzu (224)

“Your lamp was lit from another lamp.  All God wants is your gratitude for that.” –Rumi (227)

“’Love,’ wrote Jean Vanier, ‘doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things.  It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.’” (239)

“Real joy is to be found in the balance between giving and taking.  Like breathing, we must both inhale and exhale.”  (266)

“As the bee takes the essence of the flower and flies without destroying its beauty and perfume, so wander in this life.”  -The Buddha (273)

Our work with ourselves can be an invaluable gift to those who are in need of strong and faithful company.” (274)

When I was doing a google search to find a photo of the book to include here, I came across the photo at the bottom of this page. (Just do a google search for "how, then, shall we live?"   I assure you, even though he doesn't give us direct answers to his questions, I don't think this is what Muller had in mind when he wrote the book.  (Please note, this photo isn't mine and is copied from a blog that I think must have copied it-along with a lot of other photos.  If it is your photo and you want it removed, just let me know and I'll do it.  After all, you got a gun!).


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. def some prickly quotes in there but i like prickly...some good wisdom too...will check this one out...

  3. I've heard good things about this book before and it sounds like something I would enjoy reading. Glad you made it home safely.

  4. No maybe not, maybe so but there IS a story in that picture.

  5. #62 hit home a little. Loved this post and especially the end photo - oh my, that guy! :)

    For some reason, on my new desktop computer I can't leave a comment on your blog. I used internet explorer on that one. I have to pull it up on the older laptop to comment. I used firefox on this one. I have no explanation for this.

  6. Great post sage--sounds like a good read!


  7. I don't mind "non-Christian" sources, inasmuch as I think part of the Truth come to all men. Still, that shouldn't mislead us from seeing the one Truth, presented in God's revelation to man. After all, every claim to truth cannot be correct at the same time. Otherwise, we'd be better off playing golf on Sunday.


  8. Vince, why?

    Brain, I think it's a book you would enjoy.

    Charles, there's no horror in this book :) But it's good

    Walking Guy, I laughed at the photo. I didn't link it to the site I got it for what little I read of the blog sounded racist

    Lynn, I am sorry you're having problems postings--I wish I knew why

    John, it is!

    Randall, I was probably preparing myself for those who like to be exclusive and only read "certified Christian" writings... I hope I am never so narrow and the doctrine of common grace is one that I often appeal to.

  9. So glad to know that you made it back safely! I love the Tao Te Ching quote.

  10. Sounds like it could be a thought-provoking book.

  11. Quite a variety of perspectives to be sure, Sage. Have tried to log on here several times but my computer froze. Sorry about the absence! Great post!!

  12. See now that last photo, really got me to laughing right out loud! This is how I shall live this day and as many others as possible...laughter it's the best medicine for all.... tee hee...and I wasn't laughing at your great review, especially the quotes, but they sure made me smile....and smiles are the gateway to laughter right! Have an awesome weekend and do things so worth all the laughter you can get! :)

  13. I too was experiencing the freeze on here as well, like Michael said...but so far as yet it's off to a long day...and hopefully on my return all will still be good on blogger! Take care!

  14. Although I am not a religious soul, I relate to much of those quotes you post - I truly believe if we strive to live in the moment, savouring all that is good there, and are able to let go of any resentments in the past, if we can avoid longing for a new "better" tomorrow, certainly contentment, and often true happiness is achieved.

    Great reviews.

  15. When I began to travel I was consciously pursuing the question "what is a good life?"
    and looked for answers in traditional cultures, where people with so much less often seemed to be happier than I was.