Joan D. Chittister is the author of more than 30 books and remains one of the most profound and prophetic voices in progressive Christianity. In this soul-stirring collection of articles, she commands our attention with incisive insights, lively illustrative material, and deeply spiritual commentaries on social justice, politics in imperial America, environmental issues, poverty, and the riches of the contemplative tradition. She previews her perspective in the opening essay: "The spiritual life, the spiritual vision that emerges in this book, is a spirituality of both action and contemplation, a spirituality of co-creative contemplation. It requires us to both see what is going on in the world around us and to do everything we can do to square it with the will of a loving God for the world that God created. It is deeply immersed in the bond between what is and what should be. It cries to heaven for the realization that the spiritual life depends on the spending of the self to bring the reign of God here and now, always and forever. It is an anthem of personal responsibility for the spiritual quality of the world around us. It is a call to link the heart and the temple."
It is a rare and gifted writer who can, in these times, bring fresh meaning to such well-tread subjects as simplicity, Sabbath, saints, and work. Chittister whittles down simplicity into four qualities: "A life is simple if it is honest, if it is unencumbered, if it is open to a consciousness not of its own, if it is serene in the midst of a mindless momentum that verges on the chaotic." The Christian as well as the Buddhist can find a way to practice this through equanimity or detachment: "Simplicity of life is not really about things at all. Simplicity is about being able to take them and to leave them."
Chittister uncorks a new depth to the labors of our hearts, minds, and bodies when she states: "We work to complete the work of God in the world. Work, then, may be the most sanctifying thing we do." She goes on to point out that this activity releases us from the prison of selfishness and self-absorption by helping us serve a cause larger than our own petty interests. Work is also our spiritual gift to the future.
Chittister makes a good case that monastic principles serve as a valid critique and counterpoint to the greed and conspicuous consumption that so characterizes the cultural incentives of our times. Simplicity, humility, and the constant awareness of God's presence offer an alternative to business as usual. In an essay on prayer, the author quotes the advice of a Jewish sage: "Never pray in a room without windows." She takes that to mean, stay alert to what is going on in the world or you may find that "your prayer may become more therapy than energy."
Another way of keeping an eye on the world is to protest the government's equating of security with militarism. This view has already been used to justify the stealing of services from the poor and the needy and bankrupted the hopes of future generations. Chittister also condemns the violence that is "eating the heart right out of this country." In its place, she calls for a teaching by Thomas Merton God's love can only come through me. She takes this to mean: "When the starving sick lie dying on subway grates, if I am a contemplative, Merton would say, I must become the love that God is. When the underemployed workers in Detroit lose their homes and their dignity, I must become the love that God is. When the blacks die in Soweto because they are black, and kill one another in the housing projects of Chicago because they are in despair at being black in a white world, I must become the love that God is. When Iraqi children die in American wars, and crack babies languish on our own streets, if I am really a contemplative, I must become the love that God is."
Chittister's spiritual vision for today's world is profound, prophetic, and totally in sync with the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.