Patrick Henry, retired executive director of the Collegeville Institute of Ecumenical Research in Minnesota, reflects on how he found varied facets of God’s grace in things simple and complex, ancient and modern. For his new book, Flashes of Grace: 33 Encounters with God (Eerdmans, out now) he looks everywhere — from Christian patriarchs such as Saint Benedict of Nursia to Katniss Everdeen, the fictional heroine of The Hunger Games, to Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
PW talked to Patrick Henry about mystery and marvel and “loosening the spiritual joints.”
(This conversation has been edited for clarity and length)
What prompted you to write this book now, at age 81?
This book emerged after I suspected I didn’t have anything more to say. I had published The Ironic Christian’s Companion (Riverhead) in 1999 and thought I’d said all I needed to. Flashes of Grace got its jolt into becoming a book when I realized Star Trek: The Next Generation was a clue for me about what I consider essential and important about the Christian tradition, a tradition that is the Rosetta Stone by which I try to interpret the mystery, marvel, and glory of the world in which I live.
What about Captain Picard is so telling of your practice of Christianity?
Captain Picard is a listener. He doesn’t just listen, but also pays attention to what the speakers are saying and what they mean by what they say. I believe this is the closest approximation to what I think of as a Christian mindset or attitude.
You describe, rather than define, "grace." Why?
This book sums up what I want to say. If I’m to be remembered for anything, I would like people to say that this is what Patrick, in his long and privileged life, came to understand and would like to communicate about God and his grace. As I say in the prologue, “I don’t know how to say what the grace of God is. What I can say is what it’s like for me.”
What do you hope your book does for readers?
I want them to come away from this book loosening up their spiritual joints and becoming free and spontaneous in their actions. I like to imagine the book triggering the kinds of memories that ricochet and syncopate through them to feel prompted, encouraged, challenged, and reassured to do this same kind of reflecting.