Space for Grace | Sojourners

Space for Grace

"Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx" by Heidi B. Neumark

This is a book that takes your breath away and at the same time gives it back. I have every suspicion, and say it with a sigh, that Heidi Neumark has written a classic to be.

Breathing Space defies genre, or at least mingles them. Part diary of a city priest, part Bible study, part theological reflection on years of urban ministry with an undercurrent of journalized griefwork, part social analysis with patches of homily - yet always pure prayer and even pure poetry. All these are woven in centered self-awareness by a concrete and thoroughly unaffected wordcraft. This is one way of saying that, as a pastor, Heidi Neumark is the real deal - and, as a writer, she has the gift.

The title is only passing reference to the Louisville Institute sabbatical that occasioned its writing. It certainly names the contemplative process of penning pastorally on the run. But like the biblical notion of Sabbath year itself, "breathing space" reflects worship infused with justice. It is the sanctuary of ministry and community constructed with residents of the South Bronx, whose dumping-ground neighborhood was just surviving beneath the atmosphere of environmental racism and more, air violently stretched, literally toxic, inflicting countless cases of asthma. Which is to say, every pastoral act recounted here is political, an engagement of the powers that be.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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