Book Review: Breath of Life

Book Review: Breath of Lifefeatured

So a new feature for Illuminated Life, book reviews. I’m a book worm, have been all my life. I read so voraciously as a child that I’d read through most of the adult fiction section of our tiny home town library by the time I was 12. The librarians would actually save new books for me to read first because heavens knew I’d have them back a day and a half later and be prowling for something else.

I have always been an eclectic reader, especially of non-fiction; most specifically religious or spiritual books. I’ll read pretty much anything, by anyone. Partly it’s curiosity. And partly it’s a deep seated belief that the world in which we live and the Divine Other humans encounter in so many ways is just too big, varied, and complicated for any one religion or spiritual path to fully encompass.

You know those book stores with crystals in the windows and incense burning just inside the door? The ones that sell yoga wear, the latest encyclical by the Pope, and books on Celtic Goddesses; those stores? They are my happy place. You can find pretty much anything in such places and no one will look at you strangely if you walk out with the wisdom of five different fiath traditions under your arm. The likelihood of becoming stuck into one myopic way of viewing the world is incredibly unlikely in such a place. Today’s book would fit into such a store very nicely, it’s author is a Jewish rabbi by the name of Rachel Timoner. This is a thoroughly modern piece, open to the feminine, and unafraid of science and spirituality supporting one another. It’s my sort of book.

The topic is a favorite of mine for a long time, God as Spirit. This is nothing new for Trinitarian Christianity (into whose realm I officially fall) but is often woefully misunderstood. The old joke being that Trinitarians worship the Father, the Son, and the family dog. In other words: the Spirit, she gets no love.

The book is well done, and one does not need to be Jewish, or an expert in Jewish theology to follow along. In fact I suspect many practicing Jews might find it a bit basic. Rabbi Timoner has created a piece thoroughly and unapologetically rooted in her own spiritual tradition, but which is absolutely accessible to those outside of it which is a feat to be applauded whenever found.

The variety of ways in which she interprets “spirit” and “God” (both words open to much discussion) are varied and all of them connect somehow to real human life. This is not a book about angels dancing on the head of a bloody pin, or of philosophical navel gazing. Spirit, in all its many forms, here is always intimately connected with human life and with the Divine’s interaction with humanity.

I suspect that even those who don’t put much stock in scripture (which is called upon heavily here, but perhaps not in the way most Americans are used to) will find the way Rabbi Timoner uses scripture (as an invitation and a entrance into deeper truth rather than a way to proscribe or constrain) a breath of fresh air. But I was especially drawn to her emphasis on the gift of Divine spirit that in Jewish theology is part of every human being. It is a unifying and ennobling vision the world very much needs.

The book is an easy read, the chapters are short enough to read each in a sitting, and the language is not academic or difficult. If you are rather tired of God being “he,” and “him” exclusively you will also find some relief here as the Jewish concept of the Spirit of God draws on feminine imagery and ideas, and Rabbi Timoner is not at all afraid to speak of God’s feminine side.

The book is part of a series from the same publisher in which religious leaders of various traditions are asked to think about “God as Spirit.” There are also books in this series from a Protest and an Orthodox perspective. An easy and enjoyable read, recommended.

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