Sobonfu E. Somé was born and raised in Dano, Burkina Faso, a West African village. There she learned that Spirit, the life force in everything, is what animates all relationships. Her name means "keeper of ritual," and she conducts seminars and workshops around the world on the relevance of indigenous ideas and practices to modern problems. This volume on the art of transforming failures into gifts is her third work following The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships and Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community.
Over the past decade living in the West, Somé has experienced the collapse of an intimate relationship, the loss of a beloved brother and uncle, and the challenge of celebrating the healing powers of community in a culture where competition and individualism remain foremost in the consciousness of so many men, women, and children. The African author believes that the state of grace is "that holy and contented way of being that each of us strives for. It is that state, auspicious in the spiritual realm, in which we work out all our difficulties with care, and function peacefully in connection with other people in the flow of life." But again and again, we experience a fall from grace that brings suffering, loss, and feelings of failure. Somé writes: "In the Dagara tradition, Spirit brings the lessons of life through falls from grace. Crisis comes as an instigator of change; it takes you to somewhere new, where you find a higher meaning and purpose. If you are going to learn and grow, you can't just be stuck in a particular place. Crisis breaks you out and creates the space for Spirit to teach you. This breaking away from a place of stagnation, a place of comfort, and moving forward to a more perfect way is what we call a spiritual life."
Somé is a clear teacher of the wisdom of the African way of living a spiritual life every day. In chapters on family, community, work, leadership, intimacy, health, and mortality, she contrasts how people in the West deal with loss, disappointments, and failures with the traditions of her African village. A simple illustration comes in the following example: "In many cultures, including the Dagara, the idea is that you sculpt your face as you live, and each wrinkle shows a particular joy or pain you have survived. You would never have a facelift in order to look younger, or color your hair when it turns gray. That would be a loss of beauty, a loss of grace."