Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Wisdom (Joan Chittister)


A Summer Reading Series recommendation:

Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (HarperCollins, 1991)

3rd in a series of Top Three Books on Prayer

My copy of this 1991 book is falling apart. The glue has come off the paperback spine, and the pages, yellowed from the edges inward, fall out when I open it. I've used it for more classes, small groups, and sermons than I can count. In other words, this is one important book.

Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, the third of these "three top books on prayer," is foundational to the others, and to my basic understanding of the life of the spirit. For me, Chittister's book is as classic as the text it illuminates, the 6th-century Rule of Benedict.

She begins by de-bunking the notion that spirituality is somehow set apart from daily living in some rarefied and holy realm, and somehow restricted to things "religious." Benedictine spirituality instead "deals totally in the here and now . . . is made out of the raw material of the average daily life."

Of course. Don't we all know this? So why this book? I guess it's because we still are attracted to the esoteric, the arcane, the mountaintop guru or the set of rules that give us some assurance that we are getting it "right." Chittister offers a corrective to that, just as Benedict offered a corrective to the esoteric practices of his day. Rather than a set of rules to follow, the Benedictine way is, Chittister says, more wisdom than law. Rather than a "set of mechanics," it is "a change of heart and a turn of mind."

With simplicity and clarity, Chittister presents the  three-legged foundation of Benedictine contemplative practice: work, prayer, and holy leisure. All three work together: "Prayer makes us conscious of the presence of God, work makes us co-creators of the Kingdom, holy leisure gives us time for the reflective reading of Scripture that makes prayer a real experience rather than the recitation of formulas. Reflective reading of Scripture is what draws me into the text the text into my life."

As the chapter headings indicate, contemplative practice begins with Listening, and moves to "Peace: Sign of the Disarmed Heart." In between, she fills the pages with practical guides for attention to our daily habits as people who pray, work, live in community, practice hospitality and seek to be mindful of God in our midst.

I am struck this summer with her conclusion about the "new asceticisms," which she named long before the New Monasticism of today:

"This society is a complex, consumer society; we can be simple. We can reverence creation. We can refuse to have one thing more than we need. . .This society depends on power. We can practice the power of the powerless who show us all how little it really takes to live, how rich life is without riches, how strong are those who cannot be owned, how clear is the gospel about the rights of the poor. . . This society is anxious and angry and noisy. We can be contemplative . . .we can see God where God is. Everywhere." 

Echoes from the Edge

Summer Reading Series

By Richard Burden, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - August 5th, 2013

Richard recommends:

Intrareligious Dialogue  by Ramon Panikkar and  The Dignity of Difference  by Jonathan Sacks

"We live in a pluralistic world (that's not a bad thing), and these two help us understand how to approach the "other" in ways that enable us to remain faithful, critical and engaged in the deep work of loving our neighbor as our selves."

Good Omens  by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. 

"The BEST (and funniest) book about the end of the world you will ever read."

Richard Burden is priest in charge of The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Madison County, Kentucky

Finally, the Poet

The Vacation

By Wendell Berry - August 5th, 2013Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.He went flying down the river in his boatwith his video camera to his eye, makinga moving picture of the moving riverupon which his sleek boat moved swiftlytoward the end of his vacation. He showedhis vacation to his camera, which pictured it,preserving it forever: the river, the trees,the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boatbehind which he stood with his camerapreserving his vacation even as he was having itso that after he had had it he would stillhave it. It would be there. With a flickof a switch, there it would be. But hewould not be in it. He would never be in it. (from New Collected Poems, 2012)

Taken with permission from the blog of the Beatitudes Society.