Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand: Reflections on Faith, Reason, Charity, and Beauty by Thomas F. Rogers, one of the recent installments in the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith series, is a fascinating compilation of essays, some poems, and even an interview. The book is divided into four sections—Faith, Reason, Charity, and Beauty, with each section having fairly distinctive tonal and other qualities that allow the book as a whole to have a wide audience.
Rogers reminds me of my grandpa, a thoughtful, kind, but forthright man with a wealth of experience and what may seem as an occasionally dismissive response to difficult personal circumstances (I may be overly sensitive, but there were 2 or 3 moments reading where the language used to describe some people felt slightly dismissive or flippant. One instance was less about the language per say and in relation to the punctuation used that conveyed for mea flippancy that felt inappropriate. A minor concern, but one I feel worth mentioning given the nature of life circumstances in question). Now, Rogers is by and large incredibly understanding and compassionate in how he reflects on and responds to others, which I think made these very few brief moments of deviation from that all the more striking.
I read the book in its entirety this past week, which I think is not the ideal way to read it. The format, upon reflection, seems far more suited to a leisurely consumption. Reading an essay or two at a time. Not only would this allow the reader to more deeply engage with the profound insights that Rogers has come to throughout his life, but it would make the variation in tone and genre less jarring. Given the rapidity with which I read, some of the sections felt out of place (this was also due to personal expectations about a collection of essays that were all more or less spiritual think-pieces).
I’ll consider the four sections briefly individually, since my responses to them were quite varied.
I found the Faith section uplifting, particularly the stress in the note to the first essay that Rogers would “have preferred a more affirmative and celebratory heading” to the “Why I Stay” Sunstone panel that the essay was adapted from. This sense of affirmation and celebration can be felt throughout the other pieces in the section and I think is one well worth emulating. It reminds me of the idea that we should strive to be for something, rather than simply against something (an idea touched on implicitly if not explicitly throughout the collection). This sense of celebratory commitment to the Church and the Gospel is admirable, if at times grating on my more pessimistic personality.
The second section on Reason was profound and my favorite of the four. The opening essay (“Riding the Edge of the Herd”) struck me particularly and I’d love to quote it in its entirety, but I’ll settle for this passage that seems to capture much of Rogers’ project: “Because so much in life is paradoxical and uncertain, the wisest posture to take toward its abundant mystery and complexity is tentativeness” (78). Rogers embodies this idea throughout much of the collection and I think bears powerful witness to its veracity. I think that this tentativeness from paradox, mystery, and complexity is complimented nicely by the sense of discovery that Rogers advocates in “Greater Spontaneity and Authenticity in Religious Life,” the penultimate essay in the Reason section of the book.
The third section, Charity, I was anticipating to love (ha!) the most, but was somewhat disengaged throughout much of it. However, one of Rogers’ most profound insights comes from that section in advocating for epistemological humility (another embodiment of the “tentativeness suggested throughout the Reason section) and that we discover ourselves and God in others. As Rogers writes, “Thus to know God better and know ourselves fully, we need to relate well to others—to so empathize that we can even identify with those who misuse us, because divinity is in them too” (154). Wow. That insight alone is profound enough to justify reading the book in its entirety. I think what frustrated me with this section was that it took on a memoir-esque tone that I wasn’t anticipating and seemed to be more removed from the insight and profundity that I had been experiencing (though one could argue that that structure is meant to allow the reader to practice the very principle that I pointed out as being profound and may have promptly ignored as I did not extend the lives of these strangers who meant so much to Rogers the Charity that I would like to be extended.). Particularly given my own mission experience in Eastern Europe (Lithuania) I thought I would resonate with Rogers’ experiences, but there seemed to be a greater disconnect than I anticipated.
The fourth and final section, on Beauty, functioned similarly to the third for me. There was a lot of literary analysis influencing the essays in this section, which was great since that’s my jam, but the texts that Rogers was engaging with were by and large ones that I have not read (Russian writers for the most part). However, I gained a newfound commitment to delve into Tolstoy and especially Dostoevsky. Yet even here, the essence of the section, embodied in the title of the opening essay “The Sacred in Literature” is something powerful (and that guides much of my life). I may not share the same “semisacred” texts as Rogers, but I undoubtedly embrace the philosophy undergirding the existence of such texts.
While not every essay in the collection was profound for me, there was much to be gleaned from Rogers’ insights. I will continue to engage with the ideas and wrestle with the paradoxes that Rogers addresses, striving for that tentativeness that he promotes, while always hoping to empathize with all, even those I vehemently disagree with because “divinity is in them too.”