Instances of Discovery

This website is populated with instances of what I’ve discovered. It is designed to give you access to some of what I’ve found out, and by means of the blog you can eavesdrop on what I’m still discovering, stumbling on, getting mired in, being exhilarated by. You can even follow me on Facebook. ~Patrick Henry

It’s 1989. At age fifty I’m reading a New Yorker story by Jamaica Kincaid. The unnamed protagonist wonders about someone else, “How does a person get to be that way?”1 I realize instantly: this is what drives my curiosity. How does the person, virus, cosmos, institution, treatise, society, poem, language, statue, statute—whatever it is I am pondering—get to be the way it is? There are patterns, but mostly I end up where Dr. Seuss does at the conclusion of my all-time favorite book, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (published the year before I was born): “But neither Bartholomew Cubbins, nor King Derwin himself, nor anyone else in the Kingdom of Didd, could ever explain how the strange thing had happened. They only could say it just ‘happened to happen’ and was not very likely to happen again.”2

One of my conclusions, both long before that New Yorker moment and right up to today: There is no one “way” that anybody or anything is. There are many options. In the effort to understand, I toggle between anecdote and analysis, between incidents and influences.

This website is populated with instances of what I’ve discovered.

  • What are new directions in New Testament study, and how are old directions still dependable?
  • What does it mean these days to confess faith in God, when, as one profound person I knew put it, “God’s not our kind of folks”?
  • Study of dead Christians makes clear that not all the wise are among the living.
  • When Buddhist and Christian monastics come to know one another, meetings are like a particle accelerator in which their interactions reveal fundamental components of human nature.
  • One explanation of current pathologies in Western Christianity (the parts with a Latin genealogy) is that we have lost effective touch with Eastern varieties (the parts with Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Armenian, Russian, and more genealogies) and their more positive assessment of the world.
  • And I have learned that grace truly abounds—now and then I find it, then and now I encounter it—but, however it happens, grace is seldom easy, never cheap, sometimes challenging, occasionally consoling, nearly always surprising. God can be trusted. God cannot be taken for granted.

This website is designed to give you access to some of what I’ve found out, and by means of the blog and current articles you can eavesdrop on what I’m still discovering, stumbling on, getting mired in, being exhilarated by. There's a way to get in touch with me. You can even follow me on Facebook. 

I'm eighty-five, long retired, but I like to think I have thus far evaded the fate of an exhibit I saw years ago in the National History Museum in Budapest: “Unknown provenance. Belongs to the old collection of the museum.”

1 Jamaica Kincaid, “Mariah,” New Yorker, June 26, 1989, 32.
2 New York: The Vanguard Press, 1965; orig. published 1938. No page numbering.

Flashes of Grace: 33 Encounters With God

  • “This book stands as a profound look into the mirror of a soul who has been brave enough, wise enough, honest enough to follow the path expected of him up to the beginning of his real self and how he dealt with each idea along the way. Some elements and ideas on this soul’s journey confirmed what he had always known. Some tore him away from his roots and gave him new life. The life that came out of a life so acutely dissected comes from the kind of honesty that will give you, too, a way to look at your own self and all its twists and turns. It will pull you like a mountain climber’s rope up the North Face of your soul. It will stop you in the process of falling. It will show you that every path is eventually the right path.”

    — Joan Chittister
    from the foreword

  • “Sadly, it’s unusual to encounter a book on Christian faith that simply conveys the ‘unbearable lightness’ of that faith—not with the dire fixed jollity of the sales rep, but with the wit, realism, and loving wonder that speaks of a lifetime’s delighted discovery, as a woman married for forty years might speak of a partner or a child. Patrick Henry draws on an immense range of learning—as well as offering theological reflections on Star Trek: The Next Generation—to chart for us a territory where we can explore in confidence, expecting at every turn the completely unexpected and completely committed grace of God in Christ.”

    — Rowan Williams
    104th Archbishop of Canterbury and author of Being Christian

  • “This thoughtful and thought-provoking book, rich in reference to theologians, historians, biblical scholars, philosophers, and social critics—including those critical of religion—is for anyone who wants to understand what a Christian faith can mean in the present day. If you’re a seeker and a doubter with a liberal and ecumenical bent, this book helps you understand that you’re not alone. The author demonstrates that people like you have long been a valuable part of the Christian tradition.”

    — Kathleen Norris
    author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk

  • “Patrick Henry is a giant of ecumenical imagination, and just the sort of giant you’d hope to encounter on a walk through the theological woods—well-read, thoughtful, humble, and wise. St. Ignatius taught us to find God in all things, and Henry certainly does—from philosophy to music, literature to TV shows, loss to profound joy. It is a delight to follow along through his eight decades of encounters with the grace of a God who is not stingily either/or but generously both/and.”

    — Cameron Bellm
    author of A Consoling Embrace: Prayers for a Time of Pandemic

  • “‘Be someone on whom nothing is lost’—Henry James’s admonition to the writer—is something Patrick Henry must have read in the cradle. In a long and distinguished career he has not ceased from spiritual exploration, always ‘pressing forward,’ and this inventive book, notable for its wide range of reference, radiantly shows an openness to the necessity and vitality of change and new patterns in these giddy times, while honoring the cantus firmus of invaluable traditions. His clear, aphoristic prose is a joy to read. ‘Fully alive’ indeed.”

    — Michael Dennis Browne
    poet, librettist, and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota

  • “Patrick Henry offers a story of grace that is embedded in a life. Through memories of his interpersonal relationships, education, travels, and engagement with and enjoyment of pop culture, Henry shows how grace flashes into our lives and reveals new truths as it does. This is a playful Christian spiritual autobiography that teaches the reader while also encouraging her to reflect more deeply on her own story.”

    — Kristel Clayville
    senior fellow, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago

  • “‘This is my first (and last?) foray into the field of American religion.’ That’s how Patrick Henry self-identified decades back for a journal bio. We should all rejoice his prediction was mistaken. His newest book is the perfect antidote to our American age of spiritual discontent, his faith the right prescription for today: one shorn of doctrinal triumphalism, stamped with intellectual honesty and rigor, ever open to discovering religious wisdom in many crevices and byways. Reading this beautifully written spiritual autobiography instantly brought to mind W. H. Auden’s observation that ‘a Christian is never something one is, only something one can pray to become.’ For religious seekers on their way to becoming, no matter what their particular label, Flashes of Grace shows the way forward.”

    —Barry D. Cytron
    rabbi and former director of the Collegeville Institute Multi-Religious Fellows Program

  • “Flashes of Grace is a fascinating book. Written with the swoop and dip of lively conversation, and ranging through a lifetime of opinions and experiences, it is a portrait of a deeply sincere Christian fully open to being astonished and illuminated by a changing world. Since Patrick is a scholar and a teacher, his personal musings are infused with the history of religion. I learned so much from this book! Its good-spirited honesty cheered me up.”

    — Norman Fischer
    Zen Buddhist priest and author of The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path

  • “Patrick Henry, in his latest book, makes some brave forays into questions of faith, history, orthodoxy, ecumenism, and hope. His style, at the same time erudite and accessible, always honest, and with an occasional whimsical touch, invites us to test old boundaries and certainties and to do so with a sense of joy and adventure. One could easily imagine this book serving as a pungent and provocative catalyst for discussion groups, whether in or beyond formal religious communities.”

    — James Gertmenian
    senior minister emeritus at Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis

  • “Flashes of Grace offers thirty-three glimpses of wisdom gained from a lifetime of listening. The book’s insights are drawn from the well of memory and poured with just the right mix of humility, honesty, and irony. The preacher’s impossible job—speaking plainly of that which is inscrutable—is made slightly less intimidating by hearing the story that unfolds in this collection of encounters with grace.”

    — Timothy Hart-Andersen
    senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

  • “Patrick Henry’s Flashes of Grace is a contemplative ordering of the often-disordered fragments of divine wisdom lodged in him throughout his long life. Without letting go of the traditions and education that ground him, he explores an expanding universe of science, religion, and social change that expose and enhance, challenge and confirm his deeply held Christian faith. His teachers along the way are as likely to be a Star Trek captain or his own small daughters as Thomas Aquinas or Albert Einstein. Ultimately, it is grace he navigates by and grace he invites us to encounter with him.”

    — Michael N. McGregor
    author of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

  • “Patrick Henry is one of the wisest people I know, so I am not surprised he has written so beautifully on grace. This artful book shows there is hope in unexpected places and that our troubled age is not the last word on the future. Drawing readers in with skillful stories, his book is like a drink of cool water in a dry land.”

    — Linda A. Mercadante
    author of Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious

  • “Flashes of Grace propels the Christian theological tradition forward into new terrain. With references both ancient and contemporary (and to the 24th century—when he reflects on Star Trek: The Next Generation), Henry draws us into the depths of his question ‘Why am I Christian?’ through telling stories of his encounters with God’s grace—stories that open our imaginations to create fresh theological ideas for future generations. With fluency in the Christian tradition(s) and provocations to take the Christian faith into territories yet to be discovered—to ‘explore strange new worlds’—he challenges readers to examine their own narratives.”

    — Ann M. Pederson
    professor of religion at Augustana University and adjunct professor in the section for ethics and humanities at Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota