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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mitch Finley

At a glance
Prayer for People Who Think Too Much
by Mitch Finley

Skylight Paths
190 pages, $$16.95

Mitch Finley has a passion.

And I don’t mean his love of the five-string banjo. That borders more on obsession.

No, Finley’s real passion, his abiding passion, is his faith.

“It’s always meant a great deal to me,” he says.

It’s largely because of that faith – Finley’s Catholic faith – that he has spent the last three decades as a writer. In that time, Finley has put out more than a book a year with such titles as “The Ten Commandments: Timeless Challenges for Today” and “It’s Not the Same Without You: Coming Home to the Catholic Church.”

As a change of pace – and because we all need occasionally to sit down and meditate on the nature of life, both inner and outer – we’ve chosen one of Finley’s books to be the September read of The Spokesman-Review Book Club. That book, “Prayer for People Who Think Too Much: A Guide to Everyday, Anywhere Prayer from the World’s Faith Traditions” (Skylight Paths, 190, $16.95 paper).

“Prayer for People Who Think Too Much,” which was published in 1999, was Finley’s own book-club suggestion.

“I think it’s one that anyone can read,” he says. “It’s not aimed just at Catholic readers. It’s really about cultivating a daily spirituality in the real world and drawing on all the world’s great religions.”

Even so, Finley says, it’s precisely because he is Catholics that he could write such a book.

“When the publisher asked me to write it, I thought, ‘Why not? I’m a natural for this book,’ ” Finley says. “And that’s because of all the great world religions, and certainly of all the Christian traditions, Catholicism is completely open to goodness, truth and beauty wherever it may be found.”

It’s an arguable point, of course. But Finley is convinced his point of view is correct.

“That’s not to say that there are no narrow-minded Catholics,” he says. “Obviously, there have always been plenty of them. But at its best, the Catholic tradition – well, St. Thomas Aquinas said it best in the 13th century. He said, ‘No matter where we find truth, it’s from God.’ So why not uncover that stuff and benefit from it.”

What’s interesting about “Prayer for People Who Think Too Much” is that, as the book’s subtitle indicates, it approaches that search for truth from a variety of religious traditions. As he wrote in the chapter titled “Living With Rites and Rituals, Symbols and Signs,” what he calls “visible realities” are needed “to help us relate to invisible realities.”

Thus Jews have the Torah and Talmud, Protestants have the Bible, Muslims the Quran and Roman Catholics the “scripture, tradition, sacraments, and sacred art (that) are so important.”

“In all these instances, rituals and symbols function to nourish prayer, to lead to prayer and cultivate the spirit of prayer,” Finley wrote.

The point, Finley says, is that “Anybody from any tradition can learn from the other tradition.” And, he adds, “I just think it’s an exercise in being broadminded about your spirituality no matter who you are.”

Whatever his intent, Finley impressed his reviewers.

“This engaging and frequently wise work by the award-winning author of ‘The Joy of Being Catholic’ goes beyond prayer to, more broadly, the spiritual life and fostering spiritual practice in all of the great traditions,” said a reviewer for Library Journal.

“(H)e explains the practices and leaves the mystery,” wrote Lawrence Kushner, author of “Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary.”

The “mystery,” as Kushner puts it, has never been something that has worried Finley. Despite not being born into a Catholic family (his family joined the church when Finley was in third grade), Finley says that he’s “never gone through one of those phases that a lot of people do where they get to be teenagers and decide to reject anything having to do with their parents. It’s always been something that I’ve been interested in enough to keep growing and keep understanding.”

A native of La Grande, Ore., Finley grew up in Walla Walla. After graduating from Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school in California, he moved to Spokane where he met his future wife, Kathleen Finley (author of “The Liturgy of Motherhood: Moments of Grace” and other books). After temporary moves to Milwaukee, where Mitch earned a master’s degree in theology from Marquette University, and Bremerton, the couple moved to Spokane for good.

For the past 10 years, Finley has worked as the coordinator of literary readings for Auntie’s Bookstore.

He and Kathleen co-wrote his first book, “Christian Families In the Real World: Reflections on a Spirituality for the Domestic Church.” Over the years, his talent with words and his enthusiasm for his faith have endured.

“A lot of adults don’t have a real good understanding of their faith, cognitively,” Finley says. “And I guess I have a kind of gift for talking about complex, sometimes deep, ideas in a language that people can read and understand without doing those ideas an injustice.”

He laughs, then adds, “At least not too great a one, I hope.”

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