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Friday, November 14, 2014

"The Drama of Living" (David Ford)

TITLE: The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit
AUTHOR: David F. Ford
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (240 pages).

In his earlier work, the Shape of Living, Ford talks about the need to live wisely amid three guidelines to help us deal with the "overwhelming" forces in life. He calls it the NDA: Name-It; Describe-It; and Attend-to-it. This book continues the flow which I call as "Live-It." In this sequel, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, Dr David Ford continues with another trio of Bible, poetry, and life. The operative words in this book are "drama," "improvisation," and "wisdom."

On the Bible, Ford focuses on the gospel of John, calling it the "most dramatic book of the New Testament." The first chapter of the book tells us what the book is about. Using the same name as the title, Ford observes how Jesus' public life intersects with the lives of ordinary people, and how Jesus shaped them. He then ponders on the question of how our own lives are shaped by noting the need for patient listening to truth matters, and gentle entering into the brokenness of this world. Public drama influences us in more ways than one. In a world crowded with famous people, we can be influenced by what they say or do. We need to be selective on which character we allow to influence us. More importantly, we need a better grip of the ordinary, and not to be easily swayed by popular persons or fads that do not last. He praises the ordinary because it is a great environment to promote "promises, commitments, habits, disciplines, and routines." This calls for an "ongoing improvisation in the Spirit," something that is about embracing Jesus' love, following after Jesus, and manifesting his love in daily living.

On "Improvising wisdom," Ford distills his twenty years of "Scriptural Reasonings" into five deepening maxims that can not only help us individually to grow deeper, but also in relating to others in an increasingly pluralistic and multi-faith world:
  1. Go deeper in your own traditions
  2. Go deeper into the traditions of others
  3. Go deeper in your joint commitment to the common good
  4. Go deeper into your relationships with each other
  5. Go deeper into your disagreements as well as your agreements
On the drama of life, Ford uses Michael O'Siadhail's poetry to describe life. Poems like "Transit" describe the tensions and hurried postures of travelers in our present world; "Study" is a meditation on how learning is infused with loving in family circles; and poems like "Perspective" weaves together themes found from movies and painting that reflect life. The heartwarming poem by Jean Vanier tells of the compassion and mission of L'Arche ministry that sees people as of "value, beauty, and importance." Is that not a beautiful drama of exalting the glory of living?

Living out the drama of life requires repetition, which is the way of life. Ford reflects on the words "restart, repeat, replace, review, reveal, reject, redo, refresh, and more" to find pleasant surprises in old classics. Religious practices often require re-reading and rehearsal. We re-read not only as reminders but also to dive deeper into truths previously undiscovered. It helps us to go beyond reading as consumption toward reading with understanding. Rehearsing is essentially preparing ourselves to do life. It calls for preparation, work as well as rest. Ford carefully contrasts the difference between our active religious practice of humble access to God and our receiving of God, noting that "it is God who gives access to God."

Love forms a major part of the drama of living. The wisdom of living, loving, and remembering will meet in friendships of interwoven lives. There is intimacy and "vocation of love." The former is an "intensity of attention" while the latter is our role in loving. John's portrayal of love in the gospel as very down to earth, community like, and relentlessly relating with people different than us.

Ford talks about life at large and how they can be "improvised." Timing wise, there are many different moods and modes; left and right brain perceptions; and a sense of our role in the larger picture of life. He puts them together in three aspects:
  1. Sense of a larger drama
  2. Sense of our own biographical or vocational drama
  3. Sense of timely living day by day.
These three are dramatized in daily living, aging, and our dying. As in our natural world of life, there is the inevitable reality of death. Ford ends the book with an "open ending" that life does not simply end in death. There is a sense of another cyclical drama that gets played out even after death. Like the gospel of John that is remarkably open ended, life is also open-ended. The rhyme of life is simply about how God loves us freely and we freely love. Ford has done well in bringing dignity to the ordinary.

So What?

Sometimes we think about wisdom only in the domain of certain famous names or white-haired old people. We put them on the pedestal until they become some kind of a spiritual celebrity. More often than not, media and marketing hype had elevated them to American-Idol like stardom. The truth is, wisdom cannot be marketed nor purchased. Just because something is famous does not necessarily mean it is a thing of wisdom. Likewise, just because something is ordinary does not mean there are no wise truth in that. This book highlights the glory of the ordinary. It connects living in wisdom with patient listening. It shows us that loving well also means paying deeper attention to the things that matter. It means wisdom transcends the dividing lines of human differences or pluralistic views.

What makes this book personal is how David Ford manages to make it his own journey of learning about the drama of living. In writing this book, he has formed a good friendship with the Irish poet, Michael O'Siadhail. He brings out his personal encounters with his favourite gospel. He sees himself as a vocational player of love in the arena of life. He does not go around splashing life with paints of black and white. Instead, he encourages us to paint life as it is, to reflect life carefully with broad strokes to frame the big picture, and the finer lines of our vocational roles within that world. In bringing out the glory of the ordinary, he does not downplay the famous and the extraordinary. He includes them as part of the overall reality of life. I marvel at the way Ford summarizes life in six stanzas toward the end of the book. He uses alliteration, assonance, and resonances. He adopts the whole being, mind, body, soul, and spirit. He reminds us that our roles are more intermediaries than controlling; more expressions than conclusions; and more life and continuous living. Like the Apostle John's focus on love, Ford desires us not only to discover the beauty of love, but to live it.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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