Len Matano, M.D.
Dr. John Spitzer’s highly personal book, Finding God Again and Again, is part memoir, spiritual journey, interior reflection, and testimonial. That achievement is praiseworthy in itself. But for me, the heart and soul of his work are the prayers that close most chapters. Let it be known: Catholicism is not a religion of guilt, but one of humility—mortals kneeling before the God of infinite love in an attitude of right praise toward the one who creates and sustains our beings. Some of John’s experiences parallel my own, including having graduated from Kalamazoo College and returning to that town following medical training, and those certainly resonated with me. What will grab every reader who has ears to hear is his call to holiness, and his own path shines some light on the path. Thank you, John, for sharing your story.
Len Matano, M.D.
Author, Celtic Crossing
Finding God Again and Again by John Spitzer is a spellbinding spiritual odyssey that documents the author’s quest for intimacy with God after finding out that his testicular cancer has returned after thirteen years. The book started as a message to the author’s two children and quickly morphed into a spiritual book that is as resonant as it is inspiring. The author shares the experience of his mortality, faced with cancer, and the troubling thoughts that assailed him while he battled the disease with his wife. The quest for a deeper connection with God and the relationship with God as an experience through which we re-define authenticity and find our real identity are recurrent themes in this book, and the acute awareness of his mortality drove the author to re-embrace his faith, seeking God with sincerity and in truth. This book tells the author’s story while providing valuable spiritual lessons on finding God and embracing Him in our hearts.
John Spitzer’s book is a rare gift of love and faith that brilliantly captures the author’s experience of God’s unconditional love. The title is suggestive of the indisputable truth that God can be lost, but it also reiterates the hope that He can be found, again, and again, and again. The author writes about the place of prayer in the economy of human growth and explores the different kinds of prayers.
But in a nutshell, this book is about self-discovery and the discovery of God. The author identifies two movements of the heart — one that questions who we really are and one that seeks God: “I believe that in the depths of our hearts, we have two main yearnings: we yearn to find who we are, hopefully, to find out we are as God made us to be; and we yearn for love, hopefully realizing that it is God’s love we are looking for.” The link between his identity and his relationship with God is intelligently written and it provides answers to the perpetual ache of the human heart — the ache that nothing can sooth and the void that only God’s endearing and unconditional love can fill.
Finding God Again and Again is crafted in gorgeous prose and in a voice that is compassionate and filled with honesty. John Spitzer’s book is sprinkled with spiritual wisdom and insight, a book that will inspire faith and provide a path for many to find God and themselves.
Reviewed by Daniel Rhodes, May 9, 2022
The Book Commentary
Comstock Park, Michigan
Vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom characterize the very best spiritual autobiographies (think of Augustine’s “Confessions,” Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain,” or Day’s “The Long Loneliness”). I found all three in Dr. John Spitzer’s “Finding God Again and Again.”
Spitzer is a pediatrician, husband, and the father of two children who, although he was born in the U.S., spent much of his childhood in Cali, Colombia, before returning to the United States. He wrote this book in pieces over the course of nearly twenty years (2001-2020), labeling each chapter with the month and year of its composition. The result isn’t a neat retrospective, filtered and edited to conform to a dramatic arc. Instead, he took me on a journey through the ups and downs of his life, including several bouts with cancer. Although he gives some details of these experiences, his focus is on his internal life, especially his relationship with God. I got to see this relationship evolve and mature as the trials he faces lead him to new insights and practices. He moves from a more discursive style of prayer, for example, to a more contemplative style, walking us through several rich experiences of encountering Jesus in imaginative prayer. But even in the early parts of the book, Spitzer’s relationship with God is poignantly intimate. I recognized myself in his efforts to get his relationship with God “right”: like me, he has to learn again and again that there is no “getting it right” per se, only a childlike surrender to God’s love and mercy.
Spitzer is Catholic, and the spirituality he practices has a Catholic “flavor,” drawing on Catholic spiritual masters and Ignatian spirituality, for example. There’s an immediacy and rawness to his writing that reminds me of what Therese Martin might have written if she had lived into middle age.
“I have two main yearnings: I yearn to find my identity, and I yearn for love.” Spitzer frames his account with reflections on these yearning at the beginning and at the end of the book: “When I realize both of these yearnings in my relationship with God, then my heart feels at peace.” The search for this peace runs through the whole book; anyone walking a similar path will benefit from the wisdom and guidance Spitzer provides in these pages.
By Jerry Windley-Daoust
Author, Imagine You Walked with Jesus
Loved it! 😍
This is an excellent spiritual memoir of someone’s faith journey toward the God of Christianity.
While I would no doubt have issues with someone getting all of their theology from someone’s memoir and journal, I do believe it is helpful for us to consider how we find ourselves in similar situations. I have not had a similar experience with reoccurring cancer like John, but I have had my fair share of religious experiences throughout the years.
John’s writing is captivating and is hard to put down. I sincerely mean that. I had an easy time not only reading these words but digesting them as well. He writes in a way that will keep you turning page after page, and you will find it hard to put this book down. I suppose the one thing that I could complain about is I would have doubled the number of chapters and space everything out a little bit more. It may make it easier for some folks to read that way, but like I mentioned, it is not one that I wanted to put down so I do not think that the number of chapters is something that must be changed to enjoy the book.
While the book spans about two decades of time, the timeline stays fairly well coherent. I am sure that there are some details that have been left out but overall, I feel like I know the story of John Spitzer well enough that I could have a conversation with him about both the health issues that he has faced as well as his faith journey towards knowing God. You can tell from the very outset that there is a culmination building and I am thankful that there is a joyful ending to the work.
You should pick up a copy of this memoir and give it a read. I believe you will find it not only interesting but stirring something in your soul. If you pick it up for no other reason, pick it up because the author quotes Star Wars amongst a book about Jesus.
Book Review by Matthew Lloyd
Finding God Again and Again by John J. Spitzer, M.D. (Archway Publishing, 2021)
John Spitzer’s deeply personal spiritual memoir, more than 20 years in the making, takes the reader through his early life as a medical student and his three cancer battles and how they sent him in search of God. Raised in the Catholic faith, John regularly prayed and attended Mass; however, it was in confronting his own mortality that he yearned to be closer to God, but he didn’t know how.
His search for God leads him on a path filled with daily prayer, spiritual direction and reading about the lives of the saints. John doesn’t shy away from acknowledging his own spiritual frustrations and most readers will see themselves mirrored in his struggles. Whether wrestling with professional challenges, waning soccer skills or energetic English Setter puppies, John strives to find God in all moments, people and experiences.
“It’s hard to know sometimes how God direct us in life,” writes John. “We often feel like we want to be in control of our lives, and this desire can permeate our prayer lives. We may even get used to a routine and become comfortable with it. It may be difficult to contemplate change, especially if we are not sensitive to what our hearts are telling us – that we need a change. But if we trust God and ask for guidance in this change, then God, in God’s own time, will grant us that favor. And usually, this change moves us closer to God. We just have to be patient and allow God to take control of the wheel.”
In “Finding God Again and Again” John provides an honest account of how elusive God can feel at times but how rewarding it is when we go searching for him in earnest. Readers will gain insight on how to begin their own search as well as inspiration from John’s journey.
Editor-in-Chief, Southwest Michigan Catholic
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
Diocese of Kalamazoo
Marcella Clancy, CSJ
This book could have many titles: The Story of Soul, The Seven Story Mountain, The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Dark Night of the Soul or The Interior Castle. What it shares in common with these books is the sacred story of an individual in search of God. How it differs makes it exquisitely relevant for today. It is not written by a priest, a religious but by a husband, a father, a pediatrician, a person whose life is filled, like most of us, with family and work responsibilities and concerns.
John initiated his writing when, in 1998, he had a relapse of testicular cancer. He, with his wife, Anne, had two young children aged 5 and 2. Death was a real possibility and John wanted to leave his children some knowledge of his life. John did not die but was encouraged to continue writing by a wise spiritual director both as a means of self-discovery and deepening his relationship with God. The reader journals with John over 20 years as he struggles to find God, to follow God’s will, to overcome his faults and flaws, and to integrate into his interior life with God his exterior life of recurring illness, keen disappointments, and the constant demands of family and professional responsibilities. John’s transparency and honesty in relating his pilgrimage to God with its stumbles and falls, warm experiences of God’s love, and continual ups and downs, twists and turns will provide encouragement to anyone who is also on this same journey. John’s journey underscores how one’s movement toward God is never a straight ascent to the heights.
Some of the most significant aspects of the book describe John’s growth in prayer beginning with oral prayers, to more meditative and then contemplative prayer, from 5 minutes of prayer to 15 minutes to an hour to wanting to pray always, yet at times wanting not to pray at all. He identifies resources that have helped him on his prayer journey that also may assist the reader. In Part 2 of the book, John touchingly describes incidents when his prayer with Scripture allowed Jesus to intimately communicate with him. In Ignatian spirituality it is described as “putting oneself in the scene” and John’s retelling of his Scriptural prayer reveals how the Word of God uniquely touches each of us in our particular circumstance and enables us to discover a compassionate God near and caring for us no matter where we find ourselves.
Several times John relates profound moments when “God’s love flows through him” and it may make those who long for such moments envious. Yet, God, as John emphasizes, desires each of us to experience our self as a beloved son or daughter. However, anyone who has attempted to make this journey can testify these moments do not last. We descend from the mountain and find ourselves again seeming distant from God, caught in our own vices, and feeling discouraged. What we learn from John’s writing is that it is always God who takes the initiative and can surprise us at any time. It does not depend on us or what we do.
Having had the privilege of accompanying many others on their own spiritual journey, as I read this book, I often wanted to suggest to John that he foster more compassion toward himself, be kinder and gentler and less condemnatory. Though John acknowledges that any good he may do is always a gift of God at times he is tempted, like all on this journey, to think if he were better, humbler, more dependent on God he could feel God’s love flowing thought him more constantly. Yet the truth is God often seems absent in the holiest of lives. The great spiritual writers tell us that God is never absent but just gone deeper and draws us to travel to that deeper place and abide in Divine Love ever more profoundly. Certainly, John’s writing is a witness to this.
I loved reading this book. It details in the context of an ordinary man’s life, the extraordinary presence and intimate Love of God found, lost, and found again and again. From John’s perspective it is he finding God. From God’s perspective it is the Good Shepherd determined to find the lost sheep over and over again and holding him close to God’s Heart carry him home. Anyone who desires to begin the journey of finding God or who is already on the journey of finding and losing and finding again will find hope, courage, and encouragement to persevere. This book underscores the intimate love of God for each of us and God’s great desire to communicate that love to everyone, absolutely no exceptions.
Submitted by Marcella Clancy, CSJ
Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph