In the Middle of This Road We Call Our Life: The Courage to Search for Something More, by James W. Jones (HarperSanFrancisco, 213 pp.; $20, hardcover). Reviewed by Randall Lehmann Sorenson, associate professor at Rosemead School of Psychology, La Mirada, California, and editor of a special issue on "Psychotherapy with Religiously Committed Patients" in The Journal of Psychology and Theology.

I'm thinking of something with a large, bushy tail, that packs nuts in its cheeks and likes to climb trees. What am I thinking of?" The pastor's question, posed to the youth assembled on the chancel steps during a children's sermon, sparked a response from one brave lad. "I know what the right answer always is, so I'll say 'Jesus,' " he muttered, "even though that sounds an awful lot like a squirrel to me."

If you read James Jones's book looking for the catechetical answers of Christendom, you'll be frustrated-not because Jones is evasive, but because he's addressing readers across a broad spectrum: "This is a book for those committed to particular religious traditions," explains Jones, "and also for those outside any specific faith who still struggle with questions about what might provide meaning, value, and fulfillment in their life."

If you're open to things being a squirrel sometimes, buy this book. Read it. Then read it again. Unlike pop psychology texts-of-the-month that are dashed off by anyone with a rustic cabin and a laptop, Jones, a professor of religion at Rutgers as well as a practicing clinical psychologist, has a long list of scholarly publications and two earned doctorates. It shows. By this I mean not that his work is stuffy or pedantic-far from it. Rather, what shows is this book's depth, the full measure of which may be missed by the casual reader, given Jones's lucidly accessible prose. His text is not burdened with footnotes or other scholarly paraphernalia, although a 23-page appendix offers the interested reader evidence both of further resources to pursue and those upon which Jones has drawn.

The thesis of this book rests on three points. First, our desire to be connected and related to God is fundamentally normal rather than something reducible to psychopathology, and this connection is central to a sense of well-being and psychological wholeness.

Second, the masks and defensive barriers we habitually employ end up distancing us not only from other human relationships but also from a deeper relationship with the awesomeness of God.

And third, the steps we can take toward knowing God more intimately are similar to the process of discovery by which we can come to know ourselves more honestly and fully. These themes are given vivid expression in stories of Jones's patients (altered to preserve confidentiality), grounding his insights in the particulars of individual lives.

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Jones's title, which alludes to the beginning of Dante's Inferno, also calls to mind the title of Scott Peck's perennial bestseller The Road Less Traveled, inviting comparison. Both Jones and Peck address the value of spirituality and highlight the limitations of psychology. And both, while deeply attuned to the Christian message, have worked as clinicians who see a broad spectrum of modern, secular people. For me, however, the similarities end here.

Jones reminds me of two other authors more familiar to evangelicals, Eugene Peterson and Frederick Buechner, who write of spiritual formation and spiritual life as having to do with the discipline of paying attention, especially to the myriad ways God is present in our lives already. If spirituality for Peck is "the road less traveled," for Jones it is not so much off the beaten path as smack dab in the middle of the thoroughfare-for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Spirituality for Jones is mediated in and through our ordinary, flesh-and-blood, bodily existence. It is in this sense deeply incarnational.

This incarnationally developmental sensitivity is evident in the following seven sentences, which also convey a sense of Jones's gift for language:

Growing up, children may learn to speak of God, envisioning God within the limits of their cognitive frame perhaps as a giant man (or woman) who lives above the clouds in a great white palace. Children talk to their God as they do their teddy bears, consulting "him" about the weighty matters of childhood.

But the time comes when children trudge off to school and leave behind the enchanted Eden of their private world. There they learn that beyond the clouds are only limitless curves of space bending back upon themselves; no great white palace, no friendly giant God, only the infinite, still emptiness. Gradually the child, now become a young man or woman, may cease to speak of God at all.

But perhaps one day, when staring into the face of his or her own newborn child, or when engulfed by the fierce beauty of the raging ocean or the soaring stillness of the mountains, or when confronted by the grave into which parents or friends have tumbled, or wrestling with recalcitrant fears and anxieties that leap unbidden from the caverns of the mind, the young man or woman, now become an adult, discovers that he or she has (in William James' words) "prematurely closed his accounts with reality" and that there is more to reality than can be dreamt of in any one philosophy. And the grown child may again speak of God, not as a giant in a palace beyond the clouds or a great policeman in the sky, but as a way of connecting with that sacred mystery that surrounds us.

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As Jones's reference to "that sacred mystery" suggests, his understanding of God falls short of Christian orthodoxy. For Jones, God is the central mystery that all religious traditions point to but cannot grasp. At the same time, he insists on the reality of the sacred.

Those who accept that a journey of faith includes doubt and struggle and psychological complexity will likely feel understood and met by this book. Jones invokes no platitudes. He has the courage to call a spade a spade, and a squirrel a squirrel. One way to understand this book is 213 pages of "it sure looks like a squirrel to me." By presuming no necessary dichotomy between divine transcendence and ordinary life, Jones's volume makes an eloquent case for how we can encounter God in the midst of everyday moments, even those involving bushy tails.


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