Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Great Resource for Living a Spiritual Life

I have spent the last several months reading A Spiritual Life:  Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers (edited by Allan Hugh Cole Jr.).  It's a wonderful book of essays written from a variety of Christian perspectives.  The reason that it took me several months is that it's easy to dip in and out of, and also, I didn't want it to end.

There are famous writers here, like Gail Godwin and Lauren F. Winner, but the not-famous writers deliver inspirational work too.  Many of these essayists have a lifetime of working in Christian fields, like ministry and theological education, while others come from more ecumenical fields, like psychology.  There was not one essay that I disliked, and that's rare for a book of essays.

Most of the essays are rooted in the spiritual experiences of the writer and in the larger cultural and historical landscape.  Some of them have a self-help angle, which I didn't find offputting.  Many are analytical, but with a warmth that one doesn't always find in analytical essays.

This book is a great companion for your spiritual journey.  As we head into the dark winter months, it's good to have this kind of companion.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"But the greater dying to self, I believe, comes when I have no understanding at all of another person's repellent behavior or character traits.  There are no doubt always reasons driving such behaviors, but I need not have access to those reasons to live in greater acceptance and kindness toward difficult people" ("Habits of a Whole Heart" by Marjorie J. Thompson, page 58).

"Divine love is demanding beyond my capacity and generous beyond my prayers.  My best hope in life and death is to lose my futile battle for security and control, surrendering freely and with deep relief to the love of God until 'it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me' (Gal. 2:20)" ("Habits of a Whole Heart" by Marjorie J. Thompson, page 63).

"The academic life enriches and nearly destroys the spiritual life.  Few people have tried to probe and understand this because it is not an easy dynamic to grasp and appreciate" ("Theological Protest and the Spiritual Life" by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, p. 167). 

"But now, Nouwen was complexifying my understanding of monasticism.  He noted that monasteries were, from perhaps our angle of vision, marginal places, places on the edge of relevance.  But, he went on, from another angle of vision monasteries--where monks prayed constantly through the hours of the day--were in fact at the very center of the world and the reason that the world was still intact.  The world, he suggested, was held together by the ongoing diligence of Christian prayer" ("Practicing Spirituality in the Middle" by Theodore J. Wardlaw, p. 198).  

"I have the highest regard for Benedictine monks who tithe the hours" ("Spiritual Ill-Discipline" by Michael L. Lindvall, p. 246).  

"As Rabbi Abraham Heschel suggested, we should keep Sabbath as a constant reminder that God created the world and that God can handle the world for twenty-four (or maybe even forty-eight hours) without our help.  Furthermore, my wife Lazetta insists that I should keep Sabbath since there has been no expansion in the Trinity.  God is God, and God can handle things while we rest" ("Sanctification and Proclamation" by Brad R. Braxton, p. 238).  

A quote from Thomas Merton:  "There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence . . . [and that is] activism and overwork.  . . . To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence" (quoted in "Sanctification and Proclamation" by Brad R. Braxton, p. 238).

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