Joan Chittister is executive director of Benetvision, A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. She has written many books and carries on an active speaking schedule. Over the years, she has received many letters asking about the central issues and concerns of the spiritual life. While responding to these queries, she realized that the wisdom literature of the world's religions offers the best and most relevant insights into the spiritual path. She notes:
"Each great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person. Each of them shines a light on the human ideal. Each of them talks about what it takes to grow, to endure, to develop, to live a spiritual life in a world calculatingly material and sometimes maddeningly unclear.
"Yet, most of the responses to these great life questions do not come from catechetical manuals or theological treatises. In each of the traditions, we find the kind of wisdom literature that transcends both spiritual techniques and sacred theory. This kind of wisdom literature sets out simply to illuminate those passing moments in life that too often seem to be transitory, even worthless, but in which, underneath it all, some of the most disturbing, most challenging personal themes of life ambition, success, security, exhilaration, endurance, romance, abandonment, depression, failure are crystallized."
In this healing and helpful volume, the author has gathered stories from Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim literature. It is a delight to read this interspirituality resource which demonstrates a deep respect for all of these religious traditions. Readers will find themselves in the stories and identify with many of the spiritual messages they reveal. Wisdom literature values both religion and spirituality and compels us to take them both to heart. Here are some of the questions that Chittister addresses:
• What it means to make a difference
• What it takes to succeed
• Why do I feel stuck?
• Why can't I get away from it all?
• What is the purpose of life?
• What is happiness?
• What's wrong with me: why can't I change?
Here is a sample Sufi teaching story that speaks volumes about the presence of God and the dead-end street of religious legalism:
"Once upon a time an old Sufi dervish set out to make the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca.
"It was a difficult journey under any conditions. This particular year the trek was unusually demanding. The large crowds jostled one another and crowded him off the road. The path was rough and uneven. The sun beat down on the old man's head without mercy.
" 'I must stop for a while,' the holy one decided.
"So he lay down by the side of the road, just outside of Mecca.
"He was hardly asleep before he felt himself being shaken roughly awake. 'Sufi, get up,' the imam said. The voice was not kind. The hand was not gentle.
" 'Some Sufi you are,' the stranger went on. 'You're a disgrace!'
"The imam circled around the old man, flailing his hands and shaking his head.
" 'How dare you lie down at the time for prayer,' he shouted, 'with head turned to the West and your feet pointed toward God in the holy shrine.'
"The old Sufi stirred a bit, opened one eye, looked at the man, and smiled. 'I thank you, sir, for your concern,' the Sufi said. 'So before I go back to sleep,' he went on, a grin playing at the corner of his mouth, 'would you be so kind as to turn my feet in some direction where they are not pointing at God?' "