Thursday, April 18, 2019

A review about a kids book on "mindfulness": "Sitting with a Saint by Bottaro"

In this day and age of general spiritual confusion, my friend Mary Daly came across this new children's book and wrote  thoughtful review. I thought I would share it here.

M. Daly
1.0 out of 5 stars
April 13, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
We are all looking for a book to help us teach our children to pray and meditate in a manner coherent with the Catholic faith. I was excited to see this charming title and hoped it might fill the bill.
Alas! It is not an impressive book; in some respects, it feels more Buddhist than Christian. Starting out with a quote from St. Faustina does not entirely fix the problem. Mystics of every tradition always have passages that be interpreted in a quietist manner, lending themselves to Buddhist, Hindu, or secular New Age reading. I don’t have the impression that the authors are trying to put anything over anyone, but at the same time, quietism is not Catholic contemplation.
Catholics teach that someone living intimately with the Spirit of God, may receive “infused” gifts which are not merely the culminating touch on a natural virtue, but an out-and-out gift, an ‘infusion” from God. These gifts are certainly compatible with natural virtues, but they are not like Aristotelian virtue in the sense of a median between the extremes of two vices, or a cleverly achieved balance between two opposing tendencies in our nature. Infused virtue is a share in God’s perfection, plain and simple.
The Bottaros’ ideas about calming down are natural approaches to human peacefulness. Their reference to God and the saints is pious and credibly sincere, and it could bear fruit in friendship with the holy ones, but the saint stories are more of a setting for their message than evidence that the saints were living their message. Consider the following:
Their version of St. Teresa of Avila in the mud is actually shifted away from her humorous but wry complaint: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few,” to an implication that she laughed off her troubles, and you can lie in the dirt (or flowery grass, see drawing) and laugh off yours too. That may be, but it was not Teresa’s story. It was raining; she was in the mud; the road was bad; she had to get up and get help righting the cart and continuing her thankless journey. She did not lie there and giggle.
St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio is a marvelous story, and I’m always careful to tell my children that when the Gubbio Church was renovated several hundreds of years later, the head of a very large wolf was found under the front step or somewhere. In other words, there really was a wolf, and quite a large one, and not one with the delicate face of Lassie (see image). But… it’s worse. Bottaro does not invite us to imitate the simplicity of Francis, who knew by faith that the wolf had to obey him, since he was obedient to God, -- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – No; Bottaro has us imitating the gentleness -- of the wolf!
The Solanus Casey story similarly invites us to imitate the bees he kept. Cute, and Solanus may have enjoyed their buzzing, but they were not the source of his peace; friendship with the saints does not mean imitating their animals but themselves.
Bottaro quotes Joan of Arc, “I am not afraid; I was born to do this.” (I presume it’s a quote.) Then he explains how to arrange our breathing and our imagination to be fearless. This was not her technique; we know this. Because of her fully recorded trials, we know more about Joan than about any other person in the 15th century. Indeed, it is important to get a grip on your imagination when you are fearful by habit, and breathing differently can help; furthermore, you will find that when you calm down, your breathing changes, so there is a relationship… which way does it go? Both ways, maybe… But that has nothing to do with Joan; she simply had a vocation and she knew it. You might wish for such a clear vocation, but remember, she was born to be burned at stake too, so it wasn’t easy; it was just clear and she was specifically aware of her celestial friendships. That helps, and you can work on it.
It goes on. I hope that gives you the flavor. I don’t think that the Bottaros have the relationship between psychology and faith figured out. Few do. St Paul writes that only the Spirit of God can distinguish between the soul and the spirit. Precisely that distinction is what is confused here. Emotions are not part of our spiritual life; they touch it and are touched by it, but the movement of the Holy Spirit is distinct. We cannot access it by any technique, still less by presuming to imitate the saints’ pets. Their pets?
It was a disappointment and an irritation to read this book.

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1.0 out of 5 starsCaution: Seems very New Age to me! Not authentically Catholic!April 17, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I’m a Catholic Children’s author with young children. I decided to purchase this book because of the insanely high rankings it was receiving on Amazon. Not only was I surprised by the small, difficult-to-read text, but a red flag quickly came up at me as I started to realize the New Age feel of the book. Children pretended that they are mean wolves and then to do breathing extercises to be calmed? I wonder what Michael O’Brien would think! The illustrations are beautiful, but also have a New Age feel to them. Immediately I knew I could not even expose my children to the book. Now I don’t even know what to do with my copy! How sad that it is getting such high rankings and many good Catholic families are receiving it this Easter. We must demand for more authentically Catholic children’s books and get the word out that this book is not authentically Catholic!

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1.0 out of 5 starsMindfulness is not contemplative prayerApril 13, 2019
Format: Hardcover
I agree with M. Daly’s review. It’s very important to make the correct distinction between “mindfulness” and authentic Catholic contemplative prayer.
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