Book Report: The Story of Ruth by Joan Chittister

I’m always happy to spend time with Benedictine nun and theologian, Joan Chittister. I have heard her speak many times, often at the Chuautauqua Institution in New York, but other places as well, and, of course, I own and have read many of her books. I return to her The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully (2008) frequently, but value many of her other titles, also, including Following the Path, The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy (2012); The Time is Now, A Call to Uncommon Courage (2019); The Art of Life, Monastic Wisdom for Every Day (2012); and Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life (2015). Many years ago when I was preparing lectures for a weeklong retreat on spiritual friendship her book The Friendship of Women, A Spiritual Tradition (2000) was a guiding star.

The Story of Ruth, Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life is a gentle and wise, but compelling reflection of the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi. Who isn’t familiar with the verses:

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die–there will I be buried. (Ruth 1: 16-17)

I’m not sure what drew me to this book at this stage of my life. I probably read some reference to it in someone’s blog, but what a welcome companion it has been recently. How good it is to be in the company of women as they meet the challenges, or as Chittister calls them, “moments” of their lives and how God calls us to become who we were created to be.

The book leads us through the Biblical story, highlighting the ways Naomi and Ruth, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, meet the challenges following the deaths of their husbands. Chittister relates those challenges to the challenges all women face, especially as women continue to struggle with inequality and stereotypical limitations. Each chapter examines one of those challenges, including respect, recognition, invisibility, and empowerment.

I suspect if I had read this book earlier in my life I would have been drawn to different chapters, but as a woman in her 70’s, I was most drawn to the chapters on loss, aging, and the last chapter, fulfillment. In the chapter on aging, Chittister writes:

There are lessons that come with age that come no other way. Age is a mirror of the knowledge of God. Age teaches that time is precious, that companionship is better than wealth, that sitting can be as much a spiritual discipline as running marathons, that thinking is superior doing, that learning is eternal, the things go to dust, that adult toys wear thin with time, that only what is within us–good music, fine reading, great art, thoughtful conversation, faith, and God–remains. When our mountain climbing days are over, the elderly know, these are the things that will chart the setting of our suns and walk us to our graves. All the doings will wash away; all the being will emerge. (p. 33)

And in the chapter on fulfillment:

What we do as women to bring ourselves to fullness makes the world around us a fuller place as well. (p. 87)

A wonderful bonus in the book is the art by John August Swanson.

An Invitation: What Biblical stories have new meaning for you as you age? I would love to know.

Books Added This Week to My TBR (To Be Read) List

  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer (2019). This actually is already on my list, but needs to move higher. Nonfiction
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fannone Jeffers (2021) Fiction
  • Cabin by the Lake Mystery Series by Linda Norlander: Death of an Editor; Death of a Starling; and Death of a Snow Ghost (May, 2022)

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