Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life

Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life

by Joan Chittister


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Feeling burnt-out from life, strung-out from social media, and put out by a society that always wants more from you? Beloved nun and social activist Joan Chittister, who appeared on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, offers a practical, character-building, and inspirational guide to help you take control of your emotional life and redirect your spiritual destiny.

Joan Chittister, whom Publishers Weekly calls "one of the most well-known and trusted contemporary spiritual authors," is a rabble-rousing force of nature for social justice, and a passionate proponent of personal faith and spiritual fulfillment. Drawing on little known, ancient teachings of the saints, Sister Joan offers a practical program to help transform our thinking and rebel against our fears, judgments and insecurities.

"Freedom from anxiety, worry, and tensions at home and work, comes when we give ourselves to something greater," she argues. "We need to seek wisdom rather than simply facts, to think before speaking, and in turn create respectful communities." With a series of twelve simple rules for healthy spiritual living, Chittister not only reminds us, but pleads with us, to develop enduring values by shifting our attention to how God wants us to live. This book will teach you how to accomplish this.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451495174
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/25/2017
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 90,907
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is an internationally known writer and lecturer and the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, she served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses, and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for twelve years. Sister Joan received her doctorate from Penn State University in speech communications theory. She has received numerous awards for her work on behalf of peace and women in church and in society.

Read an Excerpt

The First Step of Humility

Recognize That God Is God

The first step of humility, then, is that we keep “the fear—the reverence—of God always before our eyes (Ps. 36:2) and never forget it.”

What is the challenge here?

Humility has never been easy for me, at least not in the way it’s written about in Chapter 7 of the Rule of Benedict.

I remember it all too well: It was 1952. I was a novice then, and preparation for full membership in the community was intense. Study, prayer, and almost total withdrawal from society marked that year as special, as different.

We didn’t take college classes. Instead, we studied only the sixth-century Rule of Benedict, which formed the framework in which we would live out the rest of our lives. We not only prayed seven times a day but we studied the Latin in which the prayers were written in order to make those prayer periods understandable. Most of all, we concentrated on the Rule itself and, particularly, its cornerstone chapter, “Of Humility.”

Every morning, in fact, we took an hour out of the day’s regular duties—like baking altar breads or cleaning the chapel, washing windows or working in the kitchen—to study the Rule of Life under which we would soon promise to live. And that reading alone, not the manual labor, could well have been enough to make any thought of taking another step in the process impossible.

First, the Rule itself had been written fifteen centuries before this novitiate. Second, the book needed a good editor. Its language was for the most part musty and terse. And at least to a teenager in 1952, in a postwar era that had new and liberating written all over it, the ideas were chilling. One, in particular, drew my attention—and troubled me deeply: We were to “keep the fear of God always before our eyes and never forget it.” Life was to be about “the fear of God”? Oh, great.

Years later, of course, they told us that “the fear of God” was now an archaic term, which meant “a mixed feeling of dread and reverence,” but no one stressed the “reverence” of it in those days. “The fear of God” was the current translation, the defining essence of the relationship, and it stuck.

But I was young and new to monastic life, and the very language of this first step of humility was itself enough to be discouraging. What did it mean to “keep the fear of God always before our eyes”? I found the words stifling. Threatening, if truth were told. This God, it seemed, forever hovered over us just waiting for us to slip up. Then all heaven would pounce and, as the old Church manuals made so clear, close the gates of life to us forever. How could we possibly reverence a God like that, a God waiting in the dark, a specter in the night?

We were, I figured, entrapped by the presence of God, not liberated by it at all: This God sees “the thoughts of my heart,” the chapter on humility put it. A discouraging thought in itself. We were condemned in that case just for thinking about something, before we even got a chance to try it. And yet, over the years, another light began to dawn: If that was true, then something else was surely just as true. This God who knew everything had to know, too, how hard I was trying to live decently, to love deeply, to grow beyond the gaps in my soul. And that, at least, was a calming thought.

But, there was something else that still bothered me: How was it even possible to claim to have nothing but God on my mind? How realistic could any of this be? My spirit sank. Did any of this chapter make sense? And if it did, would I ever be able to do it? I knew down deep that if the way this chapter read were really the way things were meant to be, I doubted that I would ever manage to get it right.

I simply could not imagine how to be perfectly immersed in God. Perfectly attuned to God. Perfectly satisfied with a life more intent on perfection than on life itself. I was looking for a spiritual life that was more grounded, more real, less ethereal. I wanted to move on, to find more of the sacred in life rather than cut it off in the name of Life. Something in me insisted that I needed to become fully human before I could even think of being perfectly holy. Why? Because striving to come to fullness is the nature of the human condition, and without that how can anyone be truly holy?

When I was younger, I didn’t question that perfection was possible. The truth, I learned as life went on, is that there is, indeed, always something lacking in us. We are not born perfect. The very process of human development—slow, stumbling, inquisitive, fickle all the way from infancy to old age—is proof of that. And I was living proof of that. I certainly did not become perfect as the years went by, however clear religion class had been about the process. I’m not even sure I wanted to be perfect if being afraid to try, to taste, to fail, and only then to try again was what it was all about. On the contrary, I seemed only to get further and further away from a spiritual ideal that felt to me like a living death. Every day, every new failure, left me less and less convinced that the ideal was even possible.

One situation in particular riled me every single day.

The prayer schedule provided for exercises in examination of conscience once at noon and again at night. Each of them concentrated on what we had done wrong that day. No one ever suggested that we might thank God for having helped us do anything right. So, I knelt in my pew, head down, and accused myself of things I considered too small, too meaningless, on which to waste my time. The Novice Directress, for instance, was particularly stressed by the fact that I walked too quickly, too loudly, on my leather soles in the hollow-sounding halls. Don’t forget that one at examen time, I knew.

This “life of perfection” in a world of human imperfection was beginning to look like an excursion in neurosis. Surely the spiritual life was about more than walking heavily—a failing we were taught to confess weekly—along with dropping pins, spilling food, and making mistakes during community prayer. The boundaries between the moral, the immoral, and the amoral began to slip away, to blur, to become almost meaningless.

No, this great confrontation with God in the first step of humility had to be about more than making petty mistakes as we went about the routines of life. Clearly, the spiritual life had been reduced to a kind of psychosocial obsession someplace along the line. It was all about what we did and how. But what was that doing to the level of spirituality we were developing as a result? How could this possibly be the stuff of which sanctity was made?

If truth were known, every day of that regime I failed in more and more ways. Everything called “good” here was foreign to me. I spoke out of turn, ruminated incessantly, and broke silence repeatedly—which I learned quickly was a more reprehensible matter than the fact that what I was saying might be considered virtuous. So I said one thing in public and thought other things in private. I stayed on the path to religious life but spent a lot of time thinking about all the other paths I could have, and maybe should have, taken. I got smaller and smaller in my thinking, and my world got narrower as well. I felt like I was constantly underwater, my lungs bursting for want of breath, my heart stopped in midair. Most difficult of all, I was beginning to accept the fact that the “spiritual life” was a thing for spiritual children who counted childish things as its common currency.

“Love not your own will,” the chapter on humility stressed. And I tried to stretch to those heights. But love what instead, then, I thought, in this place of puny pieties? “Our actions everywhere are in God’s sight,” the Rule reminded me, “and are reported by angels at every hour,” looking for sins and vices. The more I read, the more I felt trapped in the centrifuge of the self. I became a constant subject of my own smallness. Or, as a friend of mine told me years later, “I left the Church because if I stayed there I never could be anything but a failure.”

What kind of spirituality was this? And what kind of God were we dealing with?

Where was the greatness of the spiritual life? Surely I had seen it once. In fact, I had tracked it in the wake of figures before us who had blazed an arc across the sky of life for all of us to follow.

Where, for instance, was the grand-heartedness of a Teresa of Avila, who had turned religious life upside down in her era—and sent my vision of it soaring in my own? Or a Martin of Tours, who refused to fight in the Roman imperial army in order to follow the peacemaker Jesus? Or a Joan of Arc, who argued conscience against the Church itself and had been willing to die for it? Or a Mother Catherine McAuley, who laid her life down to educate illiterate girls? Or a Mary Ward, who was condemned for trying to renew religious life outside of the spiritual architecture of her time but prevailed in the long run regardless? Or a Dorothy Day, who spent her life trying to recall the Church itself to the Gospel? These, and hundreds of others like them, had set my young soul on fire before I entered the monastery. But now here I was. This spiritual tradition, they told me, had lasted for over fifteen hundred years, yes. But was there anything left to it beyond the palest shadow of a guide to a kind of holiness crafted and gone dry in ages before? There had to be more to it than this equation of humility and spirituality with humiliation and repression. I simply could not see in this chapter on humility a God great enough to follow.

Little by little I began to realize that it was not the spirituality of humility of which this chapter purports to speak that creates a problem. It was the notion of the kind of God to whom we owe homage that created the barriers. It was not the spirituality of humility that was my undoing. It was the image of God I had brought with me to the chapter that was my undoing.

But as the years went by, slowly but surely, the greater vision came back into focus. I finally uncovered the references to the psalms that this chapter on humility cited as its luminarias along the way to the expansion of the soul. The concern of the psalmists to whom Benedict’s Rule points in this chapter is a God much bigger than the one forged by the popular notion of perfection. It is that God who eventually became the beacon and the rudder of life for me.

What is the underlying issue?

If fear of God is the kernel and core of Benedictine humility, then the questions that must underlie our understanding it are these: Who is this God to whom we owe “fear, reverence, awe, genuflection”? How did Benedict of Nursia himself understand God? And, most of all, what does that say about the spiritual life in the Benedictine tradition, let alone to our own singular and often dispiriting journeys to God? And how shall we know if our concept of God and Benedict’s concept of God are in sync?

One way to study the mind of Benedict—seldom marked, too often overlooked by modern readers of this ancient Rule—is to follow closely the Scripture passages Benedict draws on to give us a picture of God. Then there can be no misunderstanding about who it is to whom we owe both awe and homage. In fact, in this chapter Benedict chronicles God in action for us. He allows Scripture itself to explain this first step of humility by carefully citing the verses of the psalms that confirm his vision of God and the holy life.

Benedict’s God is a defense from the storms of life, not a threat to human thriving (Ps. 7:10). This God sees everything, yes, which means that this God sees more than our weaknesses. This God sees, too, our needs, our pain, the struggle of being human (Ps. 38:10) and rewards those whose hearts are right and whose souls are righteous (Ps. 18:24). It is to this loving God, this merciful God, that we are to bring thankfulness, praise, veneration, awe—and genuflection (Ps. 50:21).

Clearly, to Benedict, God is a mighty God. This God knows what we are and stands with arms open to receive us—always and regardless. This is a poignant vision of God, a comforting one. This is a God who wants love, not fear, to be the bond between us. And real love, every lover knows, never goes away. Instead, it creates a kind of invisible but crystalline scrim toward which we are forever reaching out, however great the distance, to grasp the all of it.

Benedict is very clear about the character of God. This is a not a God of wrath, not a God who is indifferent to the world, not a ghoul of a God who spies on us in hope of watching us fall from grace. Most of all, this is not a “gotcha God” who simply lies in wait to punish us when we do. On the contrary.

In this light, God, the Doer of Magical Miracles outside the natural order, disappears. Instead, the God of Creation frees nature to take its course with us as we, too, test and taste and grow in wisdom, age, and grace. Having experienced life in all its glory, all its grief, we grow to the full height of our humanity. It is a slow process, yes, but in the end our choice for God is valid, is holy, because it is real, considered, not forced, not extorted. This God wants for creation the fullness of all the good that is in it.

Most of all, this caring God loves us and so refuses to interfere with our judgments or prevent our experiments with life. Instead, this God does us the respect of simply standing by, of being there to hold us up, of confirming our trust by leading us through the dim days and long nights. How else to explain the depth of soul of those who have survived great calamity, endured the brutal death of a child, struggled through crippling debilitation, torturous addictions, and yet come out of all of it praising the God who carried them through? Once we have known the strengthening presence of God in our own lives, we feel even closer to the God of Life after the tragedy than we did before it. No doubt about it: This God trusts humanity to work its own way to the fullness of its soulfulness.

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Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
4aussiegirl More than 1 year ago
Radical Spirit 12 Ways To Live A Free And Authentic Life By: Joan Chittister I really had a hard time getting into this book so I truly have to tell you I didn’t read it all the way through. Sorry I thought this would be a book I could just read and ponder on but I had a hard time getting into it. It took me a long time to read very far so my review may not be the best again I am sorry for not getting further into the book. I know there are 3 segments that helped Joan she tells the segments in the introduction part of her book. Maybe you will find them helpful. As you go on the journey with Joan as she helps you find your quest for new freedom and wisdom. You’ll read of the spiritual seekers that the soul has many masters. Apostle Paul says “People are slaves to whatever masters them.” For example anger, addiction, and fear then try to break the chains to whatever it is. We know it is ongoing every day of every minute. I believed if I could have had more time I might have been able to get into it or maybe I just am not as fast at understanding as you are. Again I think it could be a good book if I just had a little more time. Enjoy it I am sure you will love it. Joan is a good author. I put the ISBN to help you find the book faster. I received this book from bloggingforbooks for an honest review I was not required to write a positive review just an honest one. The opinions I have expressed are entirely my own and no one else’s. 4 Stars ISBN 978-0-451-49517-4
summer_no9 More than 1 year ago
This book was beautiful written amazing and compelling to read with is the most of enduring ancient practices of the faith accessible. This radical is really full of spirit that will guiding us and helping to transform our thinking offer is freedom from anxiety, worry, and tensions at home, at work with all our living life with strung out from social medial surround us this book will help you out. I highly recommend to everyone must to read this book. " I received this book from the Blogging for Book program for this review "