Julie Davis' 2017 Niggle Press book Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer is one of the weightiest little books I've ever read. There are just 209 pages of main text, and each page has few words. I open randomly to page one hundred and I find a three-sentence quote from the Gospel of Luke, a brief, one-paragraph quote from Saint Augustine, and ten sentences of reflection from Davis. The few words that appear on each page, though, like the words in a rich poem, are dense with meaning. They are the kind of words that cause the reader to pause and ponder.
The quote from Luke: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those that love them … But, rather, love your enemies and do good to them." The quote by St. Augustine tackles this challenging commandment in practical terms: we must remember that even hateful people are "God's work" and capable of change for the better. Davis acknowledges, "I can't control the emotions that flood over me when I'm mad at someone." Davis concludes the page with a prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me and bless my enemy. I am not strong enough to love him by myself. Help me to see with your eyes."
Each pair of pages, left and right, has a theme. The themes are subdivisions of the book's twelve chapters. The opening chapter is "Beginning to Pray" and the closing chapter is "Continuing to Seek." In the chapter entitled "Finding Jesus in the Cross, the Resurrection, the Eucharist," themes include "Spending Time with God," Jesus as a courageous hero, and "Death Shall Be No More: Death, Thou Shalt Die." Each quote on the page relates to the theme.
There are quotes from the Old and New Testaments on almost every page. Otherwise, Davis' sources range broadly. There is a prayer, that originated from the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, contemplating Jesus as he developed in Mary's womb. There are several quotes from CS Lewis, Thomas Merton, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Popes Benedict and Francis, and the writings of saints including Patrick, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Augustine. There are also quotes from Hermann Cohen, a nineteenth-century Jewish convert to Catholicism, Andrew Klavan, a twenty-first-century secular Jewish convert to Christianity, media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and Father James Yamauchi, who, I take it, is Davis' home church pastor.
These Biblical quotes, quotes from literature, and Davis' reflections are elegantly laid out on the page. Formatting is important in all books, but especially in a book like this. Davis is a visual artist as well as a verbal one, and her careful choices in fonts and spacing guide the reader through a flowing experience.
Davis' own reflections are general, and mostly free of particular biographical detail. You won't learn much about her from her personal comments, except that she is a wife and mother. For example, about suffering, she writes, "I want to avoid suffering … I know that great good can come to me through the Cross. That is different from the present moment when I'm suffering. Then I have to fight self-pity. Sometimes suffering is inflicted by others. Sometimes I inflict it on myself as a natural consequence of my own actions."
One doesn't know what is causing Davis this suffering, who is hurting her, or how she hurts herself. By using general language, I conclude, she is trying to produce a document that can be significant to many readers, no matter whether the reader shares biographical details with Davis or not. Every now and then Davis lets slip a very personal detail. For example, she sometimes uses a kitchen timer in her prayer life. Her description of this method is priceless and very true.
Davis wants this book to be an aide to other Christians in their prayer life. Online reviews attest to its value and success at just that. One reviewer reported, "I immediately ordered copies for the six people in our RCIA class who will be baptized or confirmed at Easter this year." Another said, "Exactly what I needed at this point in my life!" Another reviewer wrote, "Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is." This book is helping people.
I think Seeking Jesus has another use. I think this would be a great gift to an open-minded Christophobe. There are a lot of people these days who insist that all Christians are violent bigots. Jesus is certainly the main character of this book, but Davis is a very appealing sidekick. She is humble, eager to learn, thoughtful, and patient. I think giving this book as a gift to someone trying to understand a modern American Christian's interior life would be a very charitable act.