Not Less Than Everything is a collection of essays written by various Catholic artists, all on people who’ve inspired them. Editor Catherine Wolff recognizes that we are creatures of community and learn from observing others, that we “spot the rhyme” between our own lives and those of people we admire, study and emulate. As she has personally wrestled with imperfection in the Roman Catholic church, she sees that others through the ages have challenged the church and truly been heroes of conscience. “To what extent is anyone required to submit to those in authority who have seriously compromised themselves and others?” she asks in the introduction. “I yearn for other spiritual leaders.” (p. 2-3)
In the series of essays that make up the book, each individual writer has chosen someone whose life has impacted him or her, and written about that person. The subjects range from the well-known (Joan of Arc, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hildegard von Bingen, Martin Luther) to those I’d never heard of (Mother Mary Mackillop, Charles Strobel), although I do recognize that I may be simply revealing my own ignorance. I’m not a Catholic, but I do admire heroes of conscience, and I love reading about people who inspire me to want to change, to be better at following God and my conscience.
From Father Charlie Strobel, who has given his life to serve the homeless with love, dignity and respect, to Hildegard von Bingen, speaking out against the clergy of her day (12th century) and crying for justice and humility, there is much within these pages to inspire. Paula Huston, writing about Bede Griffiths (another one I’d never heard of), draws out the conclusion that if we lose our fundamental connection with the Creation, we’ve lost a vision of heavenly participation. (p 188) She parallels, briefly, her own biography with that of Bede Griffiths. Tom Beaudoin, writing of Ignatius of Loyola, also traces his own journey with the church–he ends up leaving it, but was profoundly impacted by Ignatius’ life and writings, and sees his own choices as a generous legacy of them. (p 26)
I’ll be honest. As a non-Catholic, I didn’t always agree with the conclusions drawn or even the implications grasped at. However, I did enjoy many of the essays in this collection, and there were some that left me feeling inadequate and wanting to be so much more. Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroe, bs of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero is an inspiring collection. It offers a thoughtful, unflinching look not only at the church in our own time, but how others who’ve gone before can guide and affect us.