My first struggle with Scripture came early. The Sister who taught second grade made it a practice to read bible stories to us as part of our daily recess period. I went to school every day barely able to wait for the moment to come. I love the telling of them. I loved the surprises in every single one of them. But one day one of them threatened my faith in ways no child can plumb. If truth were told, the story of the Tower of Babel plagued me with troubling questions for years.
Anthony DeMello, the Jesuit spiritual teacher and psychotherapist, died suddenly of a heart attack on June 2nd in 1987 at the age of 56. In memory of his life, printed below is a piece Sister Joan wrote about him for an article entitled "The Spiritual Art of Three Modern Masters" that appeared in the U.S.Catholic magazine in June, 1994. The other two masters were Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
Sr. Joan Chittister was one of nearly a hundred prominent men and women from every religious tradition and region of the world to share a favorite prayer and offer their own reflections on its meaning in the book, A World of Prayer: Spiritual Leaders, Activists, and Humanitarians Share their Favorite Prayers, edited by Rosalind Bradley, Orbis Books 2012.
The Sufi tell stories that say all I think I'll ever know about finding God.
The first story is a disarming and compelling one. It is also, I think, a troublesome one, a fascinating one, a chastening one: “Help us to find God,” the seeker begged the Elder. “No one can help you there,” the Elder answered. “But why not?” the seeker insisted. “For the same reason that no one can help a fish to find the ocean.” The answer is clear: There is no one who can help us find what we already have.
This is a crossover point in time, very similar to that Galileo moment in history when he changed our conception of the world. Galileo was condemned because his science was in contradiction to the established theology. Science up to that time affirmed what they thought they knew, but it now contradicted what they were sure they knew. We are right back at that moment in time again, only now we call it evolution. Talk of Big Bangs and a hundred thousand universes turns everything you have learned upside down–but does it attack faith?
We have, as a people, tried every new trick we know to balance our desire for "the good life" with its effects. We've increased our technology, multiplied our laws and expanded our educational efforts, but nothing seems to be working. Maybe it's time to try anew what worked well enough to save a civilization centuries before us so that it might save us again.
To ask what it means to be human strikes at the fabric of the soul. The temptation, of course, is to gloss, to idealize. The task, however, requires much more than that. The task is not to rhapsodize; it is to distinguish between the human and the nonhuman, the subhuman that rages under it, taxing our humanity at every turn. Then, the task becomes plain. In Thomas Hardy's words, "If way to the better there be, we must look first at the worst."
A Jewish tale relates that a young woman once said to an old woman, “Old women, what is life’s heaviest burden?” And, we are told, the old woman replied: “Life’s heaviest burden is to have no burden to carry at all.”
Almost 40 years ago, Joan Chittister wrote an article for America magazine calling for inclusive language in the church and listing the positive effects such a change would have for the church itself and for the development of women. Yes, that’s 40 years ago and little has changed. The following is an edited version of that article.
First appeared in America magazine March 19, 1977 Reprinted as pamphlet by America Press, Inc. 1977
‘Brotherly’ Love in Today’s Church
by Joan Chittister
Call to Leadership
by Joan Chittister, OSB
Stanford University–Baccalaureate Address
June 16, 2012
Congratulations, class of 2012.
I’ve come across the country today with a news flash: Yes, the world needs you badly. It is waiting for you. The question is not, why? The question is only, how will you respond–as a follower or as a leader? And if as a leader, what kind?
Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist wrote: “There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two.”