by Patrice M. Wilson
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!”
Though the end of this book contains the above quote, unpacking the quote in terms of its authors’ subject and perspective gives much insight into the book’s meaning and significance. First, the book’s narrative is structured in five Acts and an Epilogue; in other words, its parts are organized like a play, while the contents of each section are written like a can’t-put-it-down novel. Second, the subject includes the stories of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, Glasnost, Perestroika, the end of Communist rule in the USSR and surrounding countries, and therefore the end of the Cold War.
Third, as the authors point out, the two main actors in this powerful play had been actors themselves professionally, before they became world leaders acting in a drama that has been incomparably important for our times. Fourth, this historical drama depicts its two main actors as choosing to be part of a theo-drama rather than an ego-drama, a concept developed by theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar around the mid-twentieth century. Neither of them, it is written, was hungry for self-aggrandizement, taking full credit for, or expecting any personal reward for their efforts. They saw themselves as acting in a larger drama, what Reagan called the Divine Plan, as he saw it (for more on Reagan’s spiritual life, do read this book). And, John Paul II was clearly acting with a Divine Plan in mind, as he was no politician but a priest, a bishop and the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
The chronological order of events is laid out as scenes occurring in time; it is considered no coincidence that first, in 1978, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyła became Pope; then in 1981 Reagan became President of the United States; and then in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became head of the USSR. Gorbachev is not given much time or space in the book, and appears only in its final parts; I would have liked to have read more about his role in this drama, but that is not the purpose of the book, which focuses on the Pope and the President at the time, their lives leading up to the climax and denouement of the drama, and their roles in it.
Also, it is no coincidence that both of them came together most strongly after they nearly lost their lives to would-be assassins within months of each other, in 1981. After that, we are told, the President consciously devoted all his actions and his time left on earth to the Lord. It was no coincidence either that all of his advisors were religious men, at least three of whom were Catholic. John Paul II’s response to his near-death experience was similar: he focused his spiritual life on devotion to Mother Mary as his powerful protector and on forgiveness of his attacker, as well as recognizing the hand of God in preserving him for a great purpose.
As for knowing whether or not humankind’s actions are part of a Divine Plan, within the dimensions of good and evil on this earth, John O’Sullivan was quoted as saying that we have to “watch what happens on the ground and draw commonsense conclusions about how God is working in history” (p. 22). This book is a fascinating depiction of the Lord’s working through men to achieve a paramountly good purpose. Though it was a complicated process in many ways, the end of the Cold War can be understood in a more Christian light through this book, and I would dearly love to see more like it, having to do with other world affairs in the past. That said, perhaps the title of this book could be “A Divine Plan” etc. suggesting that it exists among many others.
What happened in the 1980s gives me hope that what is happening now in that area of the world, will be resolved by the hand of Divine Providence, no matter what we see on the ground at present. I highly recommend Kengor and Orlando’s work to anyone wondering, “Where is God in all this?” while we witness the drama called earth as it moves toward its conclusion: God becoming “all in all” as St. Paul says, and the full defeat of evil. Persons of faith will also be especially attracted by the vision emphasized in these well-written chapters.
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Born Catholic in Newark NJ, raised in Catholic schools, Patrice M. Wilson has a PhD in English from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, having earned her MA there and her BA at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was editor of the very fine Hawaii Pacific Review for 16 years while teaching at Hawaii Pacific University. She has three chapbooks of poetry with Finishing Line Press, and one full-length poetry collection with Christian publisher eLectio Publishing. Dr. Wilson recently spent five years in the cloistered Carmelite monastery in Kaneohe, HI. She is now a retired professor living in Mililani, Oahu, HI.
One thought on “The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War by Paul Kengor & Robert Orlando — Book Review”
Thank you for this informative review, Dr. Wilson. I remember the taking down of the Berlin Wall. Surely the Hand of God was on the leaders involved.