In this alphabet of monastic virtues from A (Awareness) to Z (Zeal), Joan Chittister spells out the heart and soul of what it means to be contemplative in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. The founder and Executive Director of BENETVISION, a Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality, supplements her own commentary with excerpts from the desert fathers and mothers of fourth century Egypt. She calls their writings "spiritual direction that has stood the test of time."

For example, "D" stands for "Dailiness" and it begins with this selection from the desert mystics: "Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning." Chittister sees regularity as the hallmark of living under the auspices of the Spirit: "Spiritual life is meant to be constant, meant to be centered. The dailiness of spiritual practices, the practices of daily life, focus the heart and concentrate the mind."

What are some of the other virtues of the contemplative life? Humility, kindness, prayer, silence, vision, xenophilia (love of strangers), and zeal. All of these practices sustain contemplation, which, according to Chittister, "keeps the inner eye focused on Goodness, . . . is the crown of the spirit, the gateway of the heart through which all good comes and in which all things are welcome."