Fragments of Real Presence:
in the Hands of Women
Professor of Ecumenical Theology
Herder & Herder: 2005
Paper, 262 pages, $24.95
Reviewed by Kazuyo Hirose
“In case of a fragment, gather.”
With this basic impulse, Professor
Berger gathers her inspiring essays
to offer Fragments of Real Presence.
A variety of genres—scholarly
reflections, intimate stories, poems,
meditations, prayers, liturgies—
are ordered according to the
rhythm of the liturgical calendar.
Together they reveal a multiplicity
of feminist perspectives.
This volume is a treasure
box of Christian spirituality. Its
wealth of examples of women’s lived lives of faith
will help Christian and non-Christian readers alike realize
the value of the Christian tradition. I have long sought a
book like this, as I look for ways to bring together
Christianity and popular religions like Shintoism and
Buddhism in my own country. It gave me, a Japanese
Christian, a chance to deepen my understanding of the
influence of religious differences on human spirituality.
For example, in a chapter that counts down the seven
days before Christmas, the author questions women’s
desires by relating images in the O-Antiphons, ancient
texts from the Roman liturgy, to advertisements for Bed,
Bath & Beyond. At about the same time of the year in
Japan, another consumerist nation, women shop in preparation
for the New Year, and the whole nation is scrubbed
from top to bottom. Traditionally, everything is made fresh
and clean to honor the purity of the New Year’s gods.
It is interesting to watch people in both countries “shop
until they drop,” driven by a tradition that has its roots in
welcoming the sacred into our homes. But the aims of this
custom, I find, are different: gift-giving at Christmas is to
practice the charity of Christianity; preparing new things for
the New Year is to practice the purification of Shintoism.
While Christians’ desires for material goods may be
cast into doubt when they think of God who was incarnated
and born in poverty, the Japanese try to find a balance
between desire and the essence of the virtue
expressed in the saying, “mottainai.” The most general
meaning of mottainai is “What a shame to waste this!”
Mottainai is used with a sense of humility and reverent
awe toward all objects, both natural and human-made. It
derives from the Buddhist concept of co-existence or
connectedness. It is used in many different situations.
Photo by Mitsuru Kuroki
When Japanese Nobel Prize laureate Koichi Tanaka
mixed the wrong chemicals at his lab bench, he thought
“Mottainai,” and tested them anyway. His reluctance to
throw out something potentially useful led to a new
method of analyzing proteins. And when she was introduced
to mottainai,Wangari Maathi, the Kenyan Nobel
Peace Prize laureate, chose to name her anti-consumerist
campaign after it. The Christian image of the babe lying
in the manger and the Buddhist expression extolling reverence
for even the humblest objects seem to share something
In the chapter “Baptism,” Berger argues that traditional
Christianity downplays physical birth as it praises baptism.
She suggests that women, who have the experience
of birthing from their own wombs, might reclaim the
value of creaturely birth. Here, Christian views parallel those of Shintoism and Buddhism, which traditionally
considered menstruating women, or those who had just
But Berger’s account of her own experiences as a
Christian mother, giving birth to and having her infant
child baptized, left me behind. I have had neither of these
experiences. I was baptized years after the births of my
children. My children are not, and will probably not be
baptized, for only 1 percent of our population is Christian.
Still, I was led to find ways to support Berger’s claims
from my point of view, a perspective quite different from
hers. I find it amazing that even with this big divide
between the author’s experience and my own, the rest of
what this book presents appeals deeply to my spirit.
||Blending Traditions: At the 100th anniversary service of Catholic Nara Church on Sept. 23, 2005, children processed carrying God’s word for presentation to the priests for the celebratory mass. The children are carried by young men holding a Mikoshi, a portable shrine modeled after those used for Shinto procession festivals.
Berger’s humor and sharp-witted intelligence culminate
in the last chapter, where various fragments on the theme “The Making of Love” are gathered. Passages by
the Apostle Paul, the words of Pope John Paul II, advice
from a “sexpert” and explicit e-mail advertisements are
cleverly arranged from A to Z. It’s a surprising device
that lets readers survey the confused and complex landscape
of sexual issues in the U.S., which, it seems, is
almost the same in Japan.
Yet when we remember the victims of sexual abuse,
prostitution, abortion and so on, everywhere in the world,
we are compelled to look at these issues in a different
context. In Japan, this chapter might produce more puzzled
faces than smiles. Sexuality is less discussed here
than in the U.S. If a scholarly treatment of the material
appeared along with this casual one, it might encourage
readers unaccustomed to frank discussions of sexuality to
start talking about this issue.
Professor Berger speaks as a feminist, which is not as
widespread a notion in Japan as it is in the U.S.
Discussions of feminist theology here are still limited to
the scholarly world. Readers in either country who may
have been put off by earlier feminist theological scholarship,
which addressed more limited concerns like the language
of texts or the politics of translation, will be drawn
to Professor Berger’s feminism with its strong nurturing
power and encompassing energy. It was this energy that
for the first time made me want to call myself a feminist.
This book introduced me to many women and made
me feel closer to them. Unpacking and examining traditional
hagiographies, the author evokes vividly the saints
who live together with her. Readers may be surprised to be reintroduced to the figures of Saint Mary of Magdala,
Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Hildegard of Bingen, and
Saint Teresa of Avila. The author’s intimate knowledge,
as well as unforgettable stories of women in the crucible,
both in the past and at present, are gathered together that
they may become visible to us.
Photo by Kazuyo Hirose
||In preparation for Eucharist, each parishioner uses chopsticks to place a wafer on the plate prior to the service.
It becomes possible for us to be “with” them because
we are “with” a theologian who has committed herself
to be “with” women in all their varied existences. The
detailed scriptural exegesis of John 6:12-“Gather up
the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost”-
in the book’s introduction leads into her broad vision
“The world we inhabit is nothing if not in violent labor
pains. It is a world that desperately needs midwives,
women who know how to be ‘with’ (from the word’s origins
in Middle English). Without women who are ‘with,’
how will this world glimpse a God who is ‘with,’ Godwith-
Berger’s witty and poetic writings gently lead us to
confront theological questions and social problems.
Liturgy, she writes, does not provide a retreat from the
pressing problems of poverty, the family, the environment,
or social justice. On the contrary, our renewal
through liturgy provides us with the clarity of vision and
the strength of will we need to confront these problems.
And she encourages us to pay careful attention to liturgy
so that the church of today and the future may be blessed
with the liturgical tradition. Throughout the book, she
shows us the richness of liturgy that has been overlooked
when viewed through androcentric and traditionalist perspectives,
a richness she has found in women who have
made meaning of liturgy “in the crucible of their own
May this book contribute widely to the making of new
“Liturgical Traditions in the Hands of Women"-traditions
for the future.
A resident of the ancient Japanese capital of Nara,
Kazuyo Hirose lives within a 15-minute walk of 8th
century Buddhist temple complexes, Shinto shrines and
Catholic Nara Church, where she was baptized at the age
of 35. She participated in Dr. Berger’s Sustained Learning
Seminar, “Women's Vocation: Leadership, Power, and
Constraint in the Christian Tradition" during a sabbatical
year in Chapel Hill, N.C., where her husband was a visiting
scholar at UNC. Formerly a high school mathematics
teacher, she now works as a translator.
Changed from Glory into Glory:
Wesleyan Prayer for Transformation
Paul W. Chilcote D'79, G'84,
Professor of the Practice of Evangelism
Upper Room Books: 2005
Reviewed by Steve Harper G'81
Before I opened this book, I knew it
would connect me with prayer as
understood and practiced in the
Wesleyan tradition. I saw “transformation"
in the title. No single word
better captures the purpose of
prayer for the Wesleys than this one. No idea is
more defining of prayer as the chief means of grace than
But moving on to open the book only increased the
sense that here is a book that can make prayer transformational
for Christians today. The organization of the
book is a journey. Each chapter begins in Scripture, then
moves into commentary, artistic contemplation, hymnody,
and meditation. The book is an exercise in lectio divina
and Wesley's version of it: to read, mark, and inwardly
digest words which themselves describe a transformational
Readers of Dr. Chilcote's book will find the Wesleyan
commitment to “plain words for plain people." His style
is personable, inviting and understandable. He has
learned how to connect Scripture, tradition, reason, and
experience into an easy-moving narrative which becomes
the very thing it is attempting to create. Knowledge and
vital piety are joined in every chapter. And those who
believe that John and Charles Wesley's contribution to the
Wesleyan tradition should never be separated will find
this book delightful.
The themes of the chapters take the reader squarely
into the main categories of prayer for the Wesleyan tradition:
attentive prayer, responsive prayers, unceasing
prayer, corporate prayer, and prayer that places us in solidarity
with those who suffer. This is prayer that forms
those who pray into the life of personal and social holiness.
As Dr. Chilcote notes, it is prayer that beats with the
rhythm of transfiguration and which pulsates with the
love of God and neighbor.
It all culminates at the Eucharist-the table where
those who are praying transformationally come together
to pray with great thanksgiving in a matrix that combines the past, the present, and the future. In the Eucharist,
transformational prayer culminates in the holy mystery of
being resurrection people who are taken, blessed, broken,
and given by the living Christ himself.
In the introduction, Dr. Chilcote proposes several
ways to use this book. One pattern is designed especially
for Lent. I highly recommend this excellent resource
for pastors' Lenten ministry in the congregation. But
whether you are a pastor or a layperson, this book is a
resource to which you will return-one which will provide
you and others with insight into the ongoing life of
prayers, a way of praying that changes us from glory to
Steve Harper is professor of spiritual formation
and vice president of Asbury Theological Seminary,