Joan Chittister, Listen With the Heart; Sacred Moments in Everyday Life (Oxford: Sheed and Ward, 2003), 119pp.
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, has written over twenty books that map the terrain of the Christian life, with special attention paid to issues of feminism, international justice, the monastics, and reform in the Catholic Church. I especially enjoyed her work Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope (2003). In this slender volume she organizes her thoughts around a dozen themes of everyday, ordinary life: blessing, light, fasting, prayer, naming, ordinary time, community, rituals, music, table fellowship, the mystery of death, and waiting. She introduces each of these twelve chapters with a 1–2 page overview, followed by about 30 aphoristic, pithy reflections on the given theme. One of the couple dozen notes about prayer, for example, reads: "Prayer is not an escape into spiritual narcissism. It is an attempt to put on the mind of God, to see the world as God sees the world, to respond to the needs around us as God responds to ours" (p. 38). Or on community: "It's what we owe the rest of humanity that drives us into communities large enough to deal with large questions. None of us has the right to ignore what is eating the heart out of the world and call ourselves human" (p. 67). On death: "There's a time in life when we start reading the obituaries before we read the headlines of the daily paper. That's the sign that we have finally figured out how precious life really is. If it hasn't happened to you yet, pray God it will" (p. 107).
The book's format of short introductions, followed by thirty or so separate, independent thoughts on the theme, makes for awkward reading. This is not a book to sit down and read straight through. Nor is the quality of reflection and introspection even throughout. While some of her insights shine, others feel pedantic and over written. But I can easily imagine using this book in a small group as a conversation-starter across a 12 week period (one week for each chapter and theme). Chittister's passion for a deep, authentic Christian experience, her familiarity with church history and especially monasticism, her appreciation for the daily rhythms of ordinary people and events, and her willingness to share her own personal experiences make this, like much of her writing, worth the read.