"The impact of our 'spiritual life,' after all, has to do with the spirit in which we approach people and events. That spirit displays itself as much in the moments of frustration as in the moments of inspiration. As we stew in reactive emotions, we are engaging in 'spiritual practice,' however unhelpful, which affects our presence to ourselves and others. The way we live our life is our spiritual practice no more, no less, nothing but, nothing else." This is the view of Robert Corin Morris, an Episcopal priest in full-time teaching ministry as executive director of Interweave, Inc., a community learning center in Summit, New Jersey. The author has been active in Jewish-Christian and Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
Wrestling With Grace is a very helpful volume filled with concrete spiritual practices that can be done in the midst of everyday pressures and routines. The author's familiarity with Buddhist mind training and Jewish ritual makes this an outstanding resource for Christians who want to develop a more flexible and expansive set of spiritual practices. Morris proves that it is possible to remain true to his own tradition while learning from other religions.
Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the importance of being receptive to the grace of God which infuses all of our experiences with meaning even those that are negative and toxic. Much of our life is spent reacting to what is going on around us. The person in front of us moves too slowly, and we are sent into a tizzy of impatience and anger. Some kids play their music too loud, and we run a mental list of complaints about younger generations. Our restless mind's responses to the minor irritations of everyday living not only drains our vital energy but can lead to further trouble. But even these frustrations can be seen as doorways leading to the renewal of our spirit. He suggests exercises to turn nettlesome occasions into opportunities for opening to grace: a prayer of simple focus (mindfulness), bathing in the light of God, breathing the breath of God, using the names of God, caring for another in prayer, and praying for the world.
Obstacles are often launchpads for spiritual transformation. As spiritual writer Kathleen Norris has observed, "The point of our crises and calamities is not to frighten us or beat us into submission but to encourage us to change, to allow us to heal and grow." Writing from the same perspective, Morris discusses holy fear, wrestling with wrath, dealing with depression, the challenge of sexual enticement, busyness, the dangers of affluence, taming the pecking order, and facing evil.
One of his most enlightening observations comes in the discussion of repentance as "going beyond your (present) state of mind." This turning away from self-preoccupation and an ego-driven agenda is what the Benedictines call the practice of "a continual conversion of the heart." Here a door is opened to bring our mind in alignment with Christ's. We like a motto that Morris coined one day for pesky moments of spiritual immaturity: "There's no situation so bad that with a little effort we cannot make it a lot worse."
This user-friendly volume filled with colorful and realistic personal anecdotes succeeds in its goal of helping us cultivate a habitual receptivity to grace. Even better, Morris offers many spiritual practices to try in our homes, on the streets, and at work.