According to Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books and editor of this paperback, it is a companion to the Modern Spiritual Masters series in which nearly 40 volumes have been released. In this era of expanded spirituality, more and more people are coming to realize the need to bring together both a contemplative life and a compassionate response to the harsh realities of the world. Thomas Merton pioneered this integration, and it's reflected in the Center for Contemplation and Action founded by Richard Rohr. The Buddhists have another term for the same thing: engaged spirituality.
Ellsberg has selected 12 spiritual masters who lived out their faith through an engagement with the world. They were nuns, monks, priests, bishops, and lay people who could be seen as mystics, prophets, and social activists. Ellsberg writes of them:
"A spiritual master is ultimately a guide someone who has traveled the path that lies before us. At the end of the day, such guides do not show us how to be like them, but how to be more truly ourselves, how to find our hidden gifts, how to respond to the sacred voice that issues from our own hearts and from the challenges of our own time and place. The goal of the spiritual master is not that we should remain forever novices or apprentices, but that we should learn to walk our own path, and perhaps one day become a guide for others."
The twelve spiritual masters are Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mohandas Gandhi, Madeleine Delbrel, Oscar Romero, Catherine De Hueck Doherty, Howard Thurman, Mother Maria Skobtsova, Dom Helder Camara, Thea Bowman, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy Day. Some of our favorite excerpts in this anthology are "Letter to a Peacemaker" by Thomas Merton, "Joy" by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, "Love" by Madeleine Delbrel, "Desert Silence" by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, "Prayer and Peacemaking" by Henri Nouwen, and "Room for Christ" by Dorothy Day.