In his substantive and soul-stretching 1997 work All Saints, Robert Ellsberg, editor in chief of Orbis Books, presented commentary on the lives and legacies of 365 saints from the past and the present. He challenged us to embrace them as members of our spiritual family and to believe that God is with us in the lives of extraordinary men and women who are writing new pages in the ongoing bright book of life.
This follow-up work is a treasure-trove of compelling quotations and illustrative material from ancient and modern saints on their journeys in search of happiness. Although we tend to think of these exemplary individuals as standing above and beyond us, they have struggled with many of the same core issues as the rest of us: learning to be alive, to let go, to work, to sit still, to love, to suffer, to die, and to see. The wisdom that Ellsberg discovers in their lives animates us to come to a deeper appreciation of our own special calling in this world.
Especially good is the explanation of the significance of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, early Christians who were pioneers in the quest for a more authentic life. Their austerities and rigorous spiritual practices were "aimed at a discipline of the will, an intensity of focus and concentration on their spiritual goal. . . . They fled 'the world' not simply to spurn material pleasures, much less to punish themselves, but to 'awaken' to a quality of existence deeper than custom, routine and bondage to social expectation." Similar to Francis of Assisi, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and others, these saints envisioned sanctity not as otherworldliness but as a quest to be more fully human.
Many martyrs, prophets, and visionaries grappled with attachments, not only to possessions but also to images of themselves being in control and being right. That is why saints are such wonderful teachers on the art of letting go. Relaxing our grip is one of the keys to happiness. Another is learning how to suffer. Even in the most harrowing and dire circumstances, these courageous people were able to find love and meaning. One of the most profound chapters explores Henri J. M. Nouwen's practice of befriending death. Ellsberg has mined the spiritual riches in the search for happiness.