By David M. Thomas
ACTA Publications, Chicago; paperback, 2007; $9.95.
(Reviewed by David Gibson, former, now-retired editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)
Marriage and family life are interwoven themes in this book by theologian David M. Thomas, who challenges parents and other family members to learn to recognize God’s presence in the most ordinary circumstances of their daily life together.
“Our life with God and our family life are one,” the longtime family-life professor and writer says. But is God’s presence “somewhat concealed” in the ordinariness and messiness of family life?
Thomas thinks God’s presence “is very close to the surface” and that “understanding this dynamic – that God is in human reality, just out of sight – is most helpful in finding God’s presence in the often very mundane world of family life.”
Holiness in a family “takes on a very ordinary appearance,” Thomas writes. “Any moment of authentic love involves God being there.”
The author cautions, however, that anxiety, stress, clouded vision and fear have a way of getting in the way and “keeping us blind and deaf to God’s activity.” Readers will welcome his discussion of each of those four obstacles. “While stress is sometimes good and necessary, chronic stress not only shortens the lives of thousands, it also depletes the lives of millions,” Thomas states.
“A Community of Love” drives home the point that ordinary family life can be difficult, complex, even chaotic. That observation will surprise few. However, many will take comfort in the position Thomas takes, namely that holiness can be located in just such a milieu.
“Families contain great amounts of disorder, frazzled nerves and wholesale confusion,” says Thomas. He informs readers that he knows “from experience the difficult moments and hard edges of family life,” but knows as well “its moments of delight and satisfaction.”
For Thomas, the reality is that “all families are blessedly human and imperfect.” He holds that “to overidealize the notion of family is unrealistic, harmful, even potentially dangerous,” while affirming “family imperfection gives us a more realistic foundation for the spiritual life of our family.”
The importance of forgiveness in family life is accented by this book. “Living together causes difficulties and strain, and it takes very little to upend family harmony,” Thomas observes. “There are days,” he says, “when not a few wives or husbands want to jump in the car by themselves and head for the setting sun.”
Because family members are connected so intensely to one anther, family disharmony can hurt deeply, Thomas explains. In fact, he writes, one reason “family reconciliation is so difficult is because a million threads connect family members to each other.”
So a family “is the most likely place in the world to have a heart broken.” Yet, Thomas adds, “it’s a wonderful place for God the healer to be.”
Thomas’ theme is that though people often “miss the full, magnificent spiritual meaning of the commonplace,” the reality is that “every authentic gesture of family care and concern is of spiritual importance.” A family can be “an earthly, sacramental expression of God’s life lived on earth as it is in heaven.”