What Does the Wolf Say?: a book review

Every once in a while you discover a book which is accessible but chock-full of insight. Notker Wolf is the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation of the Order of Saint Benedict. I had never read anything by him and was not sure what to expect when I picked up Faith Can Give Us Wings: The Art of Letting Go, I discovered an author who was perceptive, gracious and wise. This is a book which encourages readers to deepen their faith in God and to trust Him more. It is in ‘letting go’ that we discover God’s presence and power at work in our lives.

Wolf organizes his reflections under four headings. Part 1 seeks to answer the question, “why have faith?”  He answers it existentially: faith is grounding, it helps us understand who we are, it helps us to live meaningfully, it reveals beauty, brings joy and imparts peace. But lest you think that faith is merely a subjective experience (though it is certainly that!), Notker grounds the comfort and hope faith bring in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. This gives a historical rootedness to the promise of faith:

If we don’t believe the resurrection we can forget everything else. Jesus death would have been completely in vain, rendering absurd all he’d said and done before. Thankfully, Jesus did rise from the dead and through his death enables us to rid ourselves of sin in the presences of  our forgiving God (62).

Thus faith isn’t just about feelings or positive thinking. Our faith in God is secure and beneficial for us, because the object of our faith (God through Christ’s life, death and resurrection) is secure.

Part 2 asks, “how does [faith] work?” It works through trust. This is Wolf’s first word to us and the first step we take when we seek to grow in our faith.  Of course he says much more: we grow through prayer, through reading scripture (with commentaries), by sharing in community and living simply. These practices nourish faith and help us deepen our trust in God. This exploration of spiritual practice opens up some of the gifts of the Benedictine tradition for the rest of us.

In his third section, Wolf describes ‘life with God.’  Living with God involves learning to say yes to him, surrendering our fears and opening ourselves to him. It also means submitting to his guidance, relinquishing false expectations, growing in love and preparing for suffering. In short, life with God is about letting go. As Wolf states, ” At times, the journey will be awkward. A sudden squall of wind might throw us off course. But just as a child becomes stronger through practice, each of us can develop the needed strength to stay on the path of faith” (184).

In his final section, Wolf describes how faith gives us wings: casts out our fears and enables us to fly. He explores the metaphor of a caterpillar in a cocoon. Faith is like a cocoon which brings about a spiritual transformation in us. But sometimes the miracle of spiritual transformation is not readily apparent to those of us being transformed:

A butterfly does not simply appear, fully formed. It first takes the form of a caterpillar and spins a cocoon. In certain phases of our life, faith grows almost imperceptibly, seeking ways to unfold and develop.  Looking at a caterpillar, we cannot see what it will become; its development and transformation take time, though it will  finally emerge as a butterfly of elegant beauty. . . .Faith can be like a protective cocoon within which we can develop into the person we are intended to be. As with the cocoon, we cannot know what sort of glory will eventually emerge (193).

As we submit to God, ‘let go’ of our expectations and trust him, we discover who he is making us to be, and the God who flies with us through all life’s circumstances.

This is not an academic book, though Wolf is theologically astute and the book is thoughtfully stated. Rather this is a book that slakes our thirst for God and causes us to hunger for more of his presence in our lives. I highly recommend this book. I appreciated it because it introduced me to a new author whom I had not read before with depth of spiritual insight. I also liked how Wolf opens up the gifts of faith and roots them in the historic Christian tradition. This is a book relates the experience of faith, to sacred history (Jesus’ own story) and the Church. This is a Catholic book, and Wolf often draws on the words and examples of leaders in the church (like Benedict XVI and John Paul II); yet this is also a ecumenical book. Christians of all varieties will be inspired and enriched by Wolf’s message.

Most of Wolf’s books are not in English, but I am grateful to Mark Burrows and Paraclete Press for sharing with the English speaking world. What does the Wolf say?  I give it five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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