Book Report: Joan Chittister’s Books

I am a Joan Chittister fan. One of her groupies.

Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is a Benedictine nun, theologian, speaker, and prolific author. As a visionary voice in church and society, she has served in a variety of leadership roles, including co-chair of the UN sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women.

Occasionally, actually more than occasionally, Chittister is the object of controversy and criticism–for her stances on contraception, abortion, women’s ordination as contradicting Roman Catholic teaching. Several years ago she was prohibited by the Catholic patriarchy from attending the first Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference, and –no surprise–she not only attended, but gave the opening address.

Even though I have never met her I consider her one of my spiritual directors. I have heard her speak many times, most often at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, where she is a frequent and popular speaker at the afternoon theology forums, and, of course, I have read many of her books.

We Are All One, Reflections on Unity, Community, and Commitment to Each Other (2018)

This small book is my current “before I make the bed” book.

One of the chapters, “Holy Accountability” begins with this quote:

It is not God’s fault that things are as they are at present, but our own.

Etty Hillesum

Not the Republicans’ fault. Not the former President’s fault (or the current one). Not the superintendent of schools or the mayor or police department or the neighbor who doesn’t mow his lawn or the parent who doesn’t discipline his child or…..

No, the fault is our own. My own.

As if that weren’t enough, Chittister asks,

Here’s a quiz: What do the Adam and Eve story and the presidential election of 2016 in the United States have in common? Give up? It’s easy: free will, accountability–and oh, yes, a snake in the tree.

p. 41

Does that grab you? Chittister goes on to remind us that Adam and Eve lost “paradise” because they ignored their responsibilities. Ouch.

One of her attributes as a writer and a speaker is her ability to target the heart of a matter in a few words and to challenge the reader/listener to examine beliefs and perspectives and then to respond.

The great human task is to make life better for everyone. To be satisfied with anything less marks us as less than fully developed human beings.

p. 45

The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully (2008)

I own sixteen Joan Chittister books; many I have read more than once. The Gift of Years has become sacred text for me, and I consult it frequently, trusting its wisdom and its ability to challenge my fears and enlarge my vision.

Again, in a few words, Chittister tackles big topics, such as regret, letting go, loneliness, transformation, forgiveness, faith. With each topic she opens me to both burden and the blessing. For example:

The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.

The blessing of regret is clear–it brings us, if we are willing to face it head on, to the point of being present to this new time of life in an entirely new way. It urges us on to continue becoming.

p. 5

Chittister does not have her head in the sand about the challenges of becoming older, of being old, (She wrote this at age 72 and is now 86 and still writing and speaking and influencing.) but, instead, she reminds us that even in this stage of life there is life to live. I am still becoming.

Other Chittister Books

I think it may be time to re-read The Time is Now, A Call to Uncommon Courage (2019) and Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life (2015). I am also tempted to add The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life to my library.

As I said, Joan Chittister is one of my spiritual guides, and I need more time with her.

NOTE:

You can subscribe to weekly and monthly Joan Chittister newsletters. https://www.joanchittister.org

You can also listen to and see Chittister on You Tube.

An Invitation

Who are your spiritual guides? I would love to know.

Age and My Relationship to Time

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

My relationship with time is changing.

For most of my life I’ve plotted how much I can accomplish in a day. I’ve been determined not to waste time, but instead, making lists for each day, I have carefully planned my time. I have been ever conscious of how to use my time efficiently and thereby, gain more time or so I thought. Often I have treated time like an enemy. “I don’t have enough time.” “Where has the time gone?” I will ________ when I have enough time.

I’ve been a time vigilante. Watching time. Timing my time. Seeking ways to improve my use of time. Congratulating myself when I use my time well–according to my self-imposed standards, of course.

How is my relationship with time changing?

The watch I wore for years died. The watch was a gift from my husband–dressy, but simple. A good watch, and I loved it and wore it every day, all day. After having it repaired once, twice, it was clear the life of the watch was over, and my husband offered to get me a new watch. I picked one out, brought it home, but didn’t wear it and finally returned it. I no longer felt a need for time to be wrapped around my wrist.

True, my iPhone is a constant companion, and the current time is visible on my laptop, but somehow that feels different to me. I like seeing my naked wrist, free from the constant reminder of time.

Not only do I not wear a watch, but I also don’t set an alarm when I go to bed. I wake up when the sun’s brightness alerts me to the day or the rumbling of the garbage truck in the alley can’t be ignored. I wake up when I wake up. This winter I have slept later in the morning than I used to and in the past I would have chastised myself for the “loss” of a half hour when I could have been writing in my journal or going on a walk. Now I am more open to saying to myself, “Well, you must have needed the extra rest.”

I still make a list for the day, but my lists are shorter. I am more gentle with myself, more realistic, perhaps, about what I can accomplish in a day. Even what I want to accomplish in a day. And I am more open to disregarding the agenda I’ve created for myself, in favor of whatever appears or opens. Instead of restricting myself to an hour of meditation/devotion time in the morning, I sit in the Girlfriend Chair as long as my heart tells me that’s where I need to be.

I pay more attention to my energy. I know I need some time between working at my desk and fixing our evening meal. I know I need more open and unscheduled time, more time for refreshment. In the recent past the ratio of work days to play days was 6:1 and then it became 5:2, but more and more the rhythm seems to be 4:3. Not that long ago I spent part of Sunday writing my Tuesday posts and also preparing the material for the Thursday writing group I facilitate. Even before going to 8:15 a.m. Sunday church I looked ahead to the coming week, noting my appointments and making my To Do lists. Lately, however, I delay the planning till later in the day. I may answer some emails, as well, but leave everything else till Monday.

Some of the change, no doubt, is due to the pandemic and the necessity to be home, but much of the change is because of my age. Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully points out both the blessings and the burdens of time in this stage of life. “Time ages things…Time deepens things…Time ripens things…Time is a wondrous thing.” (120-121)

I realize more and more what a privilege it is to have this time of my life; to have the kinds of choices I have; to still feel a sense of purpose. I am in ongoing discernment about how to live with purpose and do that in a way that “opens to the divine timing which best serves my soul,” as Julia Cameron says. (Blessings, Prayers and Declarations for a Heartfelt Life, 59) And when I am aware of how to best serve my soul, I am more aware of how to serve.

An affirmation:

It is my choice to use time festively and expansively. I have plenty of time, more than enough time. I fill my time with love, expansion, enthusiasm, exuberance, and commitment. I both act and rest at perfect intervals. Proper use of time comes easily to me. I set the rhythm of my days and years, alert to inner and outer cues which keep me in gentle harmony. Time is my friend and my partner. I let it work for me. I breathe out anxiety and breathe in renewal. I neither fight time nor surrender to time. We are allies as I move through life.

Heart Steps, Prayers and Declarations for a Creative LIfe by Julia Cameron, pp. 70-71

I love the steady, strong sound of the clock in the garret. Like a steady, strong heartbeat, a reminder to live my time.

An Invitation:

What is your relationship to time? I would love to know.

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)

Bittersweet

One of the treasures of the fall is the bittersweet plant with its clusters of bright orange pods. 
In the past when we roamed country roads at this time of the year, we have been on the look-out for bittersweet vines entwined around roadside vegetation. How triumphant we felt if we found some.

One year when we were still living at Sweetwater Farm a friend who lived at the base of a mountain in Pennsylvania sent me a large box full of bittersweet she had harvested on her property, and I swagged it along the white picket fence from the driveway to the backdoor. Such lavishness! Such luxury, especially since bittersweet is quite expensive to buy in nurseries or other stores.

Another year neighbors invited us to go with them to an area where bittersweet grew in abundance. The owner of the property had given permission to cut as much as we wanted. I suspect he thought we were all a bit crazy as we filled the back of the Jeep.

I no longer have to scrounge country roads hoping to find this fall treat, however, for a couple years ago my husband planted bittersweet in our backyard, and how delighted I was this year to cut the scraggly branches and fill containers with clusters of the orange berries.

I welcomed their beauty as one more signal of the transition from one season to another, but on the other hand how could I ignore the implication of the name itself? Bittersweet.

Bittersweet

Bitter Sweet

The mix of bitter and sweet.

Sometimes this stage of my life –elderhood– feels like a mix of bitter and sweet.

On the one hand I relish the freedom and flexibility of this age. For the most part I decide how to use my time and energy. But on the other hand I look back and see how time has passed so quickly. How is it possible that I am in my 70’s and our kids in their 40’s! And as for my energy–well, I still am able to do a lot in one day, but more and more I need to pay attention to how I use my energy.

I treasure all the gifts of my life, but at the same time I wonder how well I have lived those gifts–shared them, developed them, honored them. Some days I delight in the memories and stories of earlier years and other days I feel the gloom of regret. The echoes of what I should have done, could have done.

How grateful I am for the love woven throughout my life. So many cherished relationships, but now is also the time of loss. In this last year how many times have I tucked a vintage handkerchief into a sympathy card and written words I hope bring some comfort and connection?

Bitter. Sweet.

Joan Chittister refers to the bitter and the sweet of this stage of life as blessings and burdens. Both are present. Both are real. Both need to be acknowledged. Here’s what she has to say about the blessings and burdens of regret, for example, in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully.

The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.

The blessing of regret is clear–it brings us, if we are willing to face it head on, to the point of being present to this new time of life in an entirely new way. It urges us on to continue becoming. (p. 5)

Bitter. Sweet.

Shadow and Light.

Or as our thirteen year old grandson Peter said when I asked him after his sister left for freshman year of college what it was like to be the only kid in the house, “The good news is I am the only kid. The bad news is I am the only kid.”

Bitter. Sweet.

Shadow and Light.

Blessing and Burden.

Yes.

An Invitation: How do you experience the presence of the bitter and the sweet in your life? I would love to know.