Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You


By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Joan Chittister is executive director of Benetvision, A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. She has written many books and carries on an active speaking schedule. Over the years, she has received many letters asking about the central issues and concerns of the spiritual life. While responding to these queries, she realized that the wisdom literature of the world’s religions offers the best and most relevant insights into the spiritual path. She notes:

“Each great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person. Each of them shines a light on the human ideal. Each of them talks about what it takes to grow, to endure, to develop, to live a spiritual life in a world calculatingly material and sometimes maddeningly unclear.

“Yet, most of the responses to these great life questions do not come from catechetical manuals or theological treatises. In each of the traditions, we find the kind of wisdom literature that transcends both spiritual techniques and sacred theory. This kind of wisdom literature sets out simply to illuminate those passing moments in life that too often seem to be transitory, even worthless, but in which, underneath it all, some of the most disturbing, most challenging personal themes of life – ambition, success, security, exhilaration, endurance, romance, abandonment, depression, failure – are crystallized.”

Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You

  1. Review

    Joan Chittister, a Benedictine abbess, is executive director of Benetvision: A Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. She begins her book by reminding the reader that all people, who have lived at all times and places, have confronted and struggled with the same kind of questions arising out of the human condition and have arrived at their own answers. She writes, "This book is meant to explore how those other cultures, other peoples – long before us, and apparently completely unlike us – have answered the same kinds of life questions that plague us now." She is convinced they have left us a "reservoir of wisdom as broad as the sky, as deep as history." The purpose of her book is to "profit from the wisdom of those who in other ages and traditions grappled with the same kinds of human concerns we have now – only differently."

    She emphasizes that the concerns with which her book deals do not come from theology and philosophy. The concerns come from ordinary people who reach out for help in living their daily lives. In her vocation as a Benediction abbess and director of Benetvision, she receives countless letters from people sharing their personal lives, their questions and concerns, their deep emotions, pleading for help and engaging in philosophical reflection. She writes, "It is those issues, those questions – the questions and issues that plague my readers and fill my mail – with which this book deals. But it is far more than that as well. It is also about the way other people, in other ages, other cultures, other spiritual traditions, have dealt with these subjects."

    The book has six sections: Hindu Wisdom, Buddhist Enlightenment, Jewish Community, Christian Love, Islamic Submission, and an Epilogue: The Roots of Tradition. Within each section are five chapters, each titled in the form of a question, like "Why Does My Life Feel So Hectic?", "How Do I Know The Right Thing To Do?", "What Does It Take To Succeed?" etc. The questions are formed by a concern that someone expressed to the author in a letter. And her response is to offer an answer from one of the five religious traditions, a response from those "who, having sunk into the most radiant spiritual light that formed them, extracted its wisdom and grew in its beauty as a sign to the rest of us that we can do the same."

    In the Epilogue: The Roots of Tradition, the author, recognizing that religion is often a cause of "worldwide division and danger" states her conviction that "World religion is one of the keys to universal community in our time." In the seeking of understanding and respect between each of the five tradition she stresses that it is important to "take from all the very best answers they have to offer to the questions in our own lives."

    She highlights the wisdom of the five traditions, by attempting to "define one or more of the major facets or defining charisms of each tradition." Hinduism, in the wisdom literature of the Upanishads "turns us inward to seek within the self those divine impulses that lead us, in the end, to a final immersion into Ultimate Mystery, in Brahman." Buddhism provides four insights: "All of life is suffering, The cause of suffering is selfish craving, Desire can be overcome, and the way out of captivity to the self is through the Enlightened Path." In Judaism, "Every act of life……has to do with the pursuit of right relationships – with God, with the other, with the world. It is a life of total awareness of complete God consciousness…It is not a God-and I-spirituality. It is a God-and-we relationship." Christianity is "The Call to the Beatitudes." They are a definition of those whose lives are blessed, "a template of godly happiness that is based on humility, compassion, justice, mercy, singleness of heart, peacemaking, and the willingness to pour ourselves out to spend ourselves to make it all happen." Islam is "about unquestioning faith, immersion in God, care for the other, discipline of the self, and commitment to the tradition" as revealed in The Qur'an.

    Every one has questions and concerns arising from their life journey. Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and its meaning for you!

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