By the time we reach 50, most Americans realize that the pursuit of happiness isn't quite the same thing as attaining it. Yes, many if not most folks in the U.S. live lives rich with friends, family, careers, pets, hobbies, book clubs, not to mention technology's 21st-century bounty: cars, computers, cellphones, AC, GPS, TV, 24/7 streaming entertainment.
But what about those 3 a.m.-Peggy Lee-"Is That All There Is?" bleak moments? No matter how many marathons you run or antioxidant smoothies you guzzle, the grave awaits.
In a universe filled with self-help affirmations, a Roman Catholic nun named Carol Perry offers an alternative path to happiness in her new quiet, compelling and often witty book, Waiting for Our Souls to Catch Up: Reason, Ritual, and Faith in Our Fallow Time (Asahina and Wallace). She urges readers to switch their focus away from our gadget-obsessed selves and turn toward God.
Waiting for Our Souls to Catch Up is not filled with drama and miracles. Perry, who is the resident Bible scholar at Manhattan's Marble Collegiate Church as well as a Sister of St. Ursula, presents simple steps for developing a relationship with God and with His other children. For example, she urges readers to observe one's fellow commuters, then to offer a quick prayer for them, as she does. "They haven't a clue that I am doing it," she writes, "but my soul feels better for thinking of someone beside myself." No matter what the gurus tell us, narcissism never leads to happiness.
Her advice is sometimes pragmatic. "I often say, 'Do make yourself known to God before you have a problem. Then you will not come to him as a stranger in times of need.' " Like exercise, prayer is something you must perform on a regular basis to enjoy its benefits. "God never expects perfection of any human being, but he does expect effort," Perry notes.
Perry touches on history, pointing out, for example, that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation since the majority of Founding Fathers were Deists who believed God was a divine clockmaker who set the world in motion. She also explains how Abraham from the Old Testament connects Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She emphasizes that asking questions is good. "We are rational beings, and we do not give away that faculty as we come to God."
The chapters on the Bible, its history and its people, including Jesus, are particularly good, perhaps because Perry, like many Roman Catholics, did not grow up reading the Bible. She discovered it as an adult and, thus, displays a newcomer's zest for its richness, contradictions and complexities. She stresses that the Bible is not a single book but "a collection of books by different human authors and from different periods of history." (If you are looking for a conservative, literal approach to the Bible, this is not your author.)
Bottom line: This is a lovely book for people who want a calming voice and bit of humor as they put their feet on the path to the eternal joys and rewards that being in relationship with God has given human beings for thousands of years.
Photo credit: Ahasina and Wallace