Reviews - What do customers think about The Fire in These Ashes: A Spirituality of Contemporary Religious Life?
ILLUMINATING, INSPIRING, REFUELING, REINVIGORATING MEDITATION AND EXHORTATION ON HOW NOW TO LIVE INTEGRALLY OUR RELIGIOUS LIFE Jan 12, 2008
The great Benedictine Roman Catholic nun, the Reverend Sister Joan Chittister, gives us a clear and generous and a fearless voice for Catholic religious life today. She is founder of Benetvision, and past head of US Benedictine Priors, and a prolific and well respected exegetical and spiritual writer. She is a lifelong Benedictine nun and has come through all of the changes as well as anyone else.
At first she was extremely resistant to the ineffable shifts of the Sixties, and then through contemplation and study she came to understand and to implement what was truly valid. She was able to communicate this understnading to others and to guide them gratefully. Her title to this present work describes that process. Although we now may find decimated our once thriving and numerous religious communities, reduced to what appears to be ashes, let us discover and awaken the Holy Spirit's undying eternal Fire in These Ashes.
This is not as empty headed as my too brief summary would indicate. Sister Joan calls us to live honestly and seriously our religious vows and our Catholic religious life to the fullest. For instance, in her section regarding the vow of poverty, she reviews past prevalent shortcomings as others have noted, and in part states strongly:
Surely the vow of poverty is not so simplistic a thing as being secure but not saturated. Vows must be made of sterner stuff than that. In our days at least, when the poorest people on earth watch on television while the richest people on earth feed their animals better food than the poor can feed their children, poverty most certainly obliges us to commit ourselves to the just distribution of the goods of the earth (p. 107).
Certainly the vast poorest of this earth have no television to watch, yet we see with agreement her point, which foretells that made by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis: el Sacramento de la Caridad: una Exhortacion Apostolica Postsinodal, in which His Holiness exhorts us to work to restrcture those economic structresu which keep the most of us poor and hugry, compelled as we are, in his words, by the Eucharist itself. Sister Joan here also echoes the well received Encyclical of the US Bishops named Economic Justice for All/10th Anniv. Ed. (Publication / United States Catholic Conference).
Sister Joan's meditation on our vow of poverty continues along several valid paths, and concludes, as do so many things in spirituality, with three points:
An authentic spirituality of poverty in a period of massive human want rests on a tripod of virtues: public advocacy, congregational deprivatization and personal conversion (p.108).
Sister Joan then describes these three supports at depth, and this represents only one comprehensive section of her profound treatise.
We find here that Sister Joan expounds a true commitment to her religious life in all of its aspects. Rather than lamenting the loss and the disappointments of the past, as in the book Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns, Sister Joan courageously and openly looks ahead to how and why we live religiously today in America, integrally and whole, honestly and without compromise. This is a great and a stirring book for any Catholic religious to read. It is a clarion call to advance, not to retreat, upon our long road to realizing the Reign of the Prince of Peace and Justice. And as Our Holy Father Saint Benedict desires, may we all get there together.
To live truly our religious vows is to present the Sign of the Cross which counters the materialist, individualist, capitalist, greedy, lustful, warrior, violent, imperialist path of our nation now. By living our vows integrally and honestly and openly we show all the way to Salvation in Jesus Christ. God grant us that courage and grace in these our lost times.
See also please Poverty Celibacy & Obedience : A Radical Option for Life.
Be changed into fire... Jun 27, 2003
'Why not be completely turned into fire?'
This was the response when one holy man went to another holy man asking what else he could do -- he practiced a disciplined rule of life, prayed, meditated, fasted, and did all that was expected, required, and good for spirituality.
'What else should I do?'
The response is a telling one, and the one from which Joan Chittister, OSB, derives the title of her book. Chittister is a well known author and lecturer on topics of spirituality, religious life, peacemaking, and social justice. The OSB that follows her name stands for Order of St. Benedict -- a monastic/spiritual framework that informs her work thoroughly.
Part of Chittister's work is to recover the connections between this ancient form of religious life and practice for today's world. 'The world that spawned religious life, even the religious life of this century, is not the world we're living in. If religious life has anything to do with real life, the hope of recasting it in old molds smacks of pure fantasy. Spending time and energy yearning for the return of the mythical past while the present swirls perilously around us, awash in the debris of rationalism in the social order and dogmatism in the church, only holds us back, I think, from moving in holy ways in a post-modern world.'
This is a hard statement to put into practice. What we must do, in very simple terms, is eliminate from our lives those things we tend to make into absolutes and idols (of particular danger in the present world, worldly and church-bound modes of thinking) so that we can reach into something more divine and lifegiving. However, this is not without similar traps. 'To attempt to fabricate a vision of religious life for a world, and for a time we may never see, takes as much power out of the present as a nostalgic commitment to the past. What's more, the fabrication, I think, is not for us to make. That is the work of the people who live it.'
In her beginning essay, Chittister takes on the issues of modernity in and outside the cloister, issues of feminism/anti-feminism, identity, enculturation, and the virtues of religious life for today. She expresses the fears that many feel, in and out of religious communities, that there are too many things being irretrievably lost from the past, while we have no real direction or guide into the future. Particularly for institutions, which tend to see institutional survival as the highest priority, there is a sense of survival mode existence that contaminates the larger purposes. 'The purpose of religious life is not survival; it is prophecy. The role of religious life is to bring to visibility what is Good News for our time now, not to preserve a past long gone and no longer germane to the challenge of new questions.'
Indeed, every generation has to address questions that prior generations either found irrelevant, unquestionable, or unspeakable. These always present new challenges, and one of the new challenges as we enter the next century and millennium is the questioning of institutions and foundations themselves, and the very idea of such. The question is no longer 'which institution?', but 'why institutions?' The constant search for 'why?' brings us back to the original intentions of the religious impulse.
For the stewardship of the globe, the extension of justice to all people regardless of age, race, gender, creed, location, and for the true purpose of call to all people, Chittister calls on us to recognise that this is a time to become a new people. 'The truth of the matter is that we cannot claim to be building the new religious life until we call for and form for the new direction. It is too late now to rebuild in the shell of the old. It is time to become a new people again.'
Continuing with the idea of the fire, she relates the story of the Irish custom of starting the first fire in a new home from the already heated coals of fires from other homes of family or community members. The fire must come from somewhere, but in each new home, it blazes anew. The same must be true for the religious life. The first fires are drawn upon, but the current fire is its own blaze. This must be recognised and cultivated. 'We are not the first generation for whom this is the content of our lives, but unless we do it with all our hearts, another generation may not get the opportunity to do the same, to warm themselves at the same fire, to heat the world with the coals of their lives.'
Reading this book has helped stir the coals in my own life, in my own quest. I must re-read it in greater detail and attention, perhaps several times before I get the fullest benefit. I recommend it most highly to those who are seeking, and those who have yet to seek, and those who don't know they should be seekers. While this is done in the context of Benedictine spiritual practice, it is by no means an exclusively Benedictine, or even exclusively Christian, task.