The Englewood Review of Books has a couple of useful review by two authors that are formative for me: Stanley Hauerwas, and Sr. Joan Chittister. While neither review is without needful critique (especially in the Hauerwas review), they both should serve to encourage new readers to give the three books a read. For more on Hauerwas, and if you want to hear him speak, go here.
Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian by Stanley Hauerwas.
Hauerwas presents these writings, as he notes in the introduction, to show the continuity of his work from his academic efforts to his public speeches. To the extent that there is a unifying theme, the author identifies it as learning to “speak Christian” or how to “say God.” Using language as a metaphor, Hauerwas writes about the Christian life as a lifelong attempt at learning to speak. Although this theme is contiguous with the work on character and virtue he has been doing since the beginning of his career, in many ways Working with Words can be seen as a more direct continuation of the themes Hauerwas explored in his 2004 collection Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. The theme of that collection is Christian life as performance – a beautiful idea that Hauerwas uses to unify theology, ethics, ecclesiology and aesthetics into a life of worship…
…In “Disciplined Seeing,” an essay that uses C. Kavin Rowe’s World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age to critique the anthropological concept of “global Christianity,” Hauerwas and Brian Goldstone argue compellingly that Acts insists that Christianity and the kingdom of God simply do not exist without the virtuous, enacted lives of believers. Further, Hauerwas writes at length on speech and language as a means and metaphor for living out Christianity…”
You can read the full review here.
“…For both books, the purpose of spirituality is to be life-giving and fully human. Probably one of the main reasons people leave a Christian faith is because they feel as though their life is choked out rather than fulfilled. The Church talks about a life fulfilled; yet living in the Christian sub-culture often means the opposite. Many Christians say that without Christ there can be no happiness, yet often happiness is lost on the Church. Benner writes, “Spiritual paths and practices that distance us from what it means to be human are not good for humans.” (5) It is a simple yet profound statement often lost by a focus on religious doctrine rather than Godly transformation. Chittister echoes Benner, stating, “But for one man, Benedict of Nursia, the spiritual life lay in simply living this life, our daily life, well. All of it. Every simple, single action of it.” (viii) Spirituality is simple and life-producing…
Many people see the monastic life as highly ascetic, and have also misinterpreted Benedict’s strong sense of seriousness. Chittister writes, however, “Benedictine spirituality, after all, is life lived to the hilt.” (63) One might be tempted to see monasticism as the degrading of personhood, humanity and individuality, cloistered together in a common life. Chittister negates this and says that Benedictine monasteries “are not loose confederations of independent individuals. Neither are they monarchies in which individuals…are expected to give up their right to have their voices heard…” (83) Benedictine spirituality respects the individual and the individual submits willingly in fullness to the common life. In this spiritual communion, individuals become completely human, fulfilled, and dedicated to God. She writes, “Benedictine spirituality does not depend on spiritual actions as the hallmark of its quality. It requires us to do every tangible thing we can to create a human community – as decent and humanly dignified as our own.” (101)
Chittister’s book is full of spiritual wisdom. She writes out of a lived spirituality and invites the reader into the spiritual Benedictine community of the Monastery of the Heart…”
For the full review of both books go here. Reviewing Chittister and Benner’s books together was a useful approach as, for me anyway, it illustrates the tensions inherent in how we engage “spirituality”, and the places from which we come to discussions of spirituality, and also the practices of spiritual formation. In many ways the two authors engagements couldn’t be more different. If you also add the academic perspective (giving voice to spirituality in the academy) you nuance discussions of spirituality even further. It is becoming a crowded field, and that’s before you even begin to add non-Christian understandings of "spirituality" to the mix.