"The Ten Commandments are an adventure in human growth. We are not so much convicted by them as we are to be transformed by them," writes Joan Chittister, a prolific author and worldwide speaker who has been a leading voice in contemporary spirituality for more than 25 years. She sees them as "laws of the heart" and finds an appropriate practice for each of the ten: reflection, respect, remembrance, caring, life, commitment, sharing, speech, self-control, and assurance.
Chittister's treatment of each commandment is in three parts: a look at the historical understanding of it; situations to which the commandment applies today; and reflection statements for personal consideration as we try to live moral lives. As is usual in a book by this author, there are plenty of rousing stories from all spiritual traditions, lots of memorable quotations, and important statistics about many of the egregious injustices of our time.
Chittister considers that she has spent far too little time on the first commandment which challenges us to surrender our lives to the Source of all our days and doings. In her comments on not taking the name of God in vain, she writes:
"When we use the name of God to demean or diminish any other human being, it is not they whose merits we measure. It is ourselves. And in public. How embarrassing."
We also miss the meaning of the second commandment when we call upon God to baptize crusades that lead to the death of others. Chittister doesn't get too upset about swearing but she does worry about the toxic energy that lies behind it.
The author does a superb job with her treatment of the fourth commandment, covering the law of caring, which means that we owe future generations a fair shake and cannot pass on to them a world of misery. She hits high stride in her multidimensional treatment of the seventh commandment, noting the many ways we steal from others:
"Stealing, in the biblical sense, then, is not so much a private or personal sin as it is a social sin. To take what we do not need, to destroy what is useful to another, to deprive those in the community of their basic needs is stealing."
This paperback concludes with Chittister's assessment of the Two Great Commandments of Love. She makes a good case for measuring our spiritual development in terms of these laws of the heart.