Joan Chittister: The Problem With Clinging to Old Certainties

What do the great prophets—Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel and Jesus—have in common with us? asks Joan Chittister. And she answers: All of them were simple souls like you and me. Here’s an excerpt from Chittister’s book Cry of the Prophet that helps me understand how faith keeps us flexible in eras of great social change.

It is so easy to make God to our own image and likeness. It is so easy to see only the images we make of the Unimaginable, to the exclusion of all others. It is so easy to make God small and call that faith.

The evidence in every sector of human life makes the point all too well: open-mindedness, breadth of vision, the universal mind rise all too rarely in the human heart.

Fundamentalism, biblical literalism, reactionism and ideological extremism — all dispositions designed to freeze spiritual and social development to a given period — ride high now. The condition is not uncommon during periods of great social change and deep social stress. The situation begs for it, in fact. Given the loss of past absolutes and the shift in the social consensus on national values that come with technological development, major cultural transformations and new social realities, people cling to old certainties like shipwreck survivors to lifeboats.

It is precisely in times like those a world in flux needs a prophetic commitment to principle in the face of practices long since gone awry or begging to be reviewed again. What the world needs then is openness to the Holy Spirit and a commitment to basic tenets of truth and justice and goodness and to the Will of God for all humankind. We need a faith than can function in the present, not a religion that mirrors the past.

It is not an easy task, this openness to the Spirit. It demands that we let go of our own ideas to make way for new manifestations of the presence of God in time. It is not a comfortable call, this invitation of God to a dark walk toward a distant future, but it is the ultimate manifestation of response to the Spirit.

It takes vision…to see good will where we do not see a similarity of ideas. It takes courage…to admit the weaknesses within us that corrupt our strength and erode our hearts. It takes openness of heart to see God everywhere and in everyone when we assume that godliness is common only to us, to our groups and our nation and our church and our ideas.

Vision and courage and openness to the Spirit call us to breadth of vision, to softness of heart, to the expansion of our souls beyond our parochial worlds and chauvinistic politics and segregated social lives and intellectual blandness that mask as faith and parade as religion.–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from The Cry of the Prophet by Joan Chittister, OSB

Merton: ‘Simple and Primitive’

Photograph by Thomas Merton, taken on May 13, 1968 on the Pacific Shore

“People who watch birds and animals are already wise in their way. I want not only to observe but know living things, and this implies a dimension of primordial familiarity which is simple and primitive and religious and poor. This is the reality I need, the vestige of God in His creatures. And the light of God in my own soul.”–Thomas Merton

From A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 3

Radical Openess

Sr. Joan Chittister is one of my heroes in the faith. Rooted in her life modeled after the 1500-years-old disciplines of St. Benedict, she writes and speaks from a position of prophetic wisdom.

The home of whites that has never had a person of color at the supper table is a home that has missed an opportunity to grow. People of color who have never trusted a white have missed a chance to confirm the humanity of the human race. The man that has never worked with a woman as a peer, better yet as an executive, has deprived himself of the revelation of the other half of the world. The comfortable contemplative who has never served soup at a soup kitchen, or eaten lunch in the kitchen with the cook, or clerked in a thrift shop, or spent time in inner-city programs lives in an insulated bubble. The world they know cannot possibly give them the answers they seek. The adult who has never asked a child a question about life and really listened to the answer is doomed to go through life out of touch and essentially unlearned.

“When someone comes to the gate,” the Rule of Benedict instructs, “say ‘Benedicite.’” Say, in other words “Thanks be to God” that someone has come to add to our awareness of the world, to show us another way to think and be and live beyond our own small slice of the universe. –Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB (Illuminated Life)