Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review 8: Fr. Ryland's Memoir

I wrote this review about 6 weeks ago, then kind of forgot about it. Fr. Ryland died yesterday.

As usual I made a mistake by judging this book by its cover: Drawn from Shadows into Truth, A Memoir by Ray Ryland. I expected something nebulously reflective; I didn't get it. Instead, Father Ryland has recounted both his vivid and peripatetic life story, and his journey of faith, from his Disciples of Christ roots in Depression-era Oklahoma, to coming home to the Catholic Church. It is indeed a memoir in the conventional sense, but it also takes the reader through a lifetime of spiritual inquisitiveness, growth, change and maturation. The pace is measured, and we share in Fr. Ryland's gentle, decades-long philosophical development as a Christian, and ultimate fulfillment as a Catholic priest. I've read many conversions stories, but don't recall another that played out over such a long time, and with so many stops along the way.

Fr. Ryland remembers each person who influenced his faith, and takes careful time to show how their ideas and added to or altered his Christian worldview. Some were authors long dead; others were contemporaries. Among the authors he admires is Cardinal John Henry Newman, in whose own faith journey Fr. Ryland found encouragement. A few years ago I tackled Newman's Apologia pro sua Vita, but never finished it. The Cardinal's prose was just too difficult. But Fr. Ryland does a fine job of explaining Newman's thinking in a writing style that's clear, but not condescending.

What I most appreciate about Drawn from Shadows is its wide angle. Fr. Ryland became Catholic by thinking holistically for decades about the nature of Christ's Church, and where one might find it. If that sounds nebulously reflective, trust me, it's not. It was refreshing and exciting.

The last third of Drawn from Shadows comprises essays which treat aspects of Fr. Ryland's conversion one at a time, rather than following them as assorted threads through 50 years of faith-formation.


No comments: