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.

Book Report: A Book For My Age

A growing area of my garret bookshelves is books about aging, about living as an elder.

The book I return to over and over is Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, and another ongoing favorite is The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh. Both are rich and, in fact, offer even more riches as I grow further into elderhood, but lately I have been immersed in a 2021 book, The Inner Work of Age, Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig.

Here’s what is written on the back cover:

With extended longevity comes the opportunity for extended personal growth and spiritual development. You now have the chance to become an Elder, to leave behind past roles, shift from work in the outer world to inner work with the soul, ad become authentically who you are. This book is a guide to help get past the inner obstacles and embrace the hidden spiritual gifts of age.

The author, Connie Zweig, PH.D, is a retired psychotherapist who is known as the “Shadow Expert.” Many years ago I read her now classic work, Romancing the Shadow, Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul (1997).

I am reading this new book slowly, taking time to respond to questions she offers for reflection, along with the guided meditations and other spiritual practices presented at the end of each chapter. The chapter that has resonated with me the most so far is “Retirement as a Divine Messenger,” but this morning I finished reading “Life-Changing Illness as a Divine Messenger,” a rich preparation for when illness enters my own life.

I am hesitant to say much more about this book, except that it feels momentous to me. The right book at the right time–both opening me to new thoughts and information, too, as well as reinforcing what seems to be unfolding in my own aging process. I am certain this will not be the last time you will find references to this book in my posts. Stay tuned.

An Invitation: If you are an elder or approaching that time of your life, what books do you recommend to support and enhance this Third Chapter state. I would love to know.