Becoming Fully Human: The Greatest Glory of God

Becoming Fully Human: The Greatest Glory of God

by Joan Sister Chittister
     
 

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Drawing from the folklore and scripture of other cultures, as well as her own monastic tradition, Sister Joan Chittister develops a spirituality that understands what it means to be human and the importance of seeing others for what they truly are—sacred. Centered around twelve questions—from "What does it mean to be enlightened?" to "How is caring for

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Overview

Drawing from the folklore and scripture of other cultures, as well as her own monastic tradition, Sister Joan Chittister develops a spirituality that understands what it means to be human and the importance of seeing others for what they truly are—sacred. Centered around twelve questions—from "What does it mean to be enlightened?" to "How is caring for the earth spiritual?"—Becoming Fully Human reveals that no matter our color, economic or social status, or religion, we are all dealing with the same human desires, fears, needs, feelings and hopes.

Editorial Reviews

Liguorian
Characteristically, Chittister challenges the reader to seek the underlying motivation behind each [human] activity. In her words, she hopes to 'heighten our sensitivities to the point that there is no such thing as a moment without meaning for us'...She presents simple explanations for what might otherwise seem too profound for ordinary life.
Spirituality & Health
Consider this work as an example of the growth and transformation that can come from reading and savoring the spiritual words of others. Chittister knows that light can come in from all directions... [Joan] recognizes that tough questions can propel us into a deeper appreciation for the meaning of life and the mystery of God.
Spirituality and Growth - Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
This paperback contains 12 soul-stretching meditations on issues that touch the central core of our lives in relationship to God, the world, and others.
Library Journal
Chittister, a nun and the author of more than 25 books (most recently Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir), as well as a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter, has written a set of brief meditations on various topics important to the spiritual life: What is sanctity? When is care for the self or the other excessive? What does it mean to be faithful in the face of failure? As averse to easy answers as to easy questions, Chittister is both wise and persuasive in her own straightforward style: "Before we can expect God to solve our problems, we must commit ourselves with the kind of untiring fidelity it takes to resolve them ourselves." Chittister's small book is rich in its implications. Highly recommended. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781580511469
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
02/28/2005
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
352,231
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Becoming Fully Human

The Greatest Glory of God


By Joan Chittister

ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.

Copyright © 2005 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58051-146-9



CHAPTER 1

What Is a Simple Life?

Matthew 6:30

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will God not much more clothe you?


There is a story in the annals of monastic literature that has always both charmed and troubled me.


Once upon a time, this story tells, a seeker stopped at the cell of one of the monastics of the Egyptian desert seeking a word from the Spirit.

But when he entered the old monastic's cell, the seeker was shocked at the sight of it. In the cell were a mat, a table, some utensils, a book, and a prayer corner. Nothing else. Not one thing else.

"Where is your furniture?" the seeker said.

"Well, where is yours?" the monastic answered.

"Why would I have furniture?" the seeker said. "After all, I'm only passing through."

"Exactly," the old monastic said. "And so am I." Is that it? I asked myself. Is that simplicity of life? Is simplicity "poverty," and is poverty a virtue? And, if so, what good is poverty when people everywhere—including here in the richest country of the world—are dying because of it?

I've given a lot of thought to this topic—not simply in regard to you and your life but with my own life in mind as well.

After all, as I write to you about simplicity, my CD player is playing a Bach violin concerto softly and the fireplace glows behind me. And fireplace and quiet notwithstanding, I spend hours on the phone talking to technicians as I try to arm-wrestle into compliance the little three-pound computer on which I now write since I long ago put away my yellow pad and ballpoint pen.

What is simplicity of life? And is it possible at all anymore in a culture surrounded by the gadgets—the food processors and microwave ovens and cell phones and camcorders and e-mail and UPS tracking systems—that we never actually foresaw but now can't live without?

It all depends on what you mean by "simplicity of life." I myself am less sure than ever that what we have called simplicity in the past has ever really been simplicity at all. Deprivation, maybe. The cultural norm, maybe. But simplicity? Not necessarily. Not in the spiritual sense of the word. Not in the way the ancients used it, at least.


* * *

Simplicity is a talent for going with the flow in life. When we have to affect our simplicity—plan it, impose it, strategize it—we're in real trouble. "There is more simplicity in the one who eats caviar on impulse," Chesterton wrote, "than in the one who eats Grape-Nuts on principle."


* * *

If simplicity doesn't have more to do with living well than with the number of things we own, it is a virtue only for those who have things to forgo.


* * *

G. C. Lichtenberg wrote, "The 'noble simplicity' in the works of nature only too often originates in the noble shortsightedness of those who observe it." Even the one-celled organism is made up of atoms and molecules beyond count. Simplicity doesn't really exist, in other words. We make it up. It's a sobering thought, spiritually as well as scientifically.


* * *

Life is not simple. There is no controlling it, no shaping it in the style of a slower, calmer, idyllic world—long gone, if ever here. Instead, we need to learn how to deal with our complexities with simplicity.


* * *

Life without necessities—grueling, unfair, and involuntary poverty—is not simplicity at all. Life without its essentials is, in fact, social obscenity, a moral responsibility that is incumbent on society at large. God judges the poor on their honesty but the comfortable on their generosity.


* * *

Simplicity of life is more what poet Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC, called "the habitually relaxed grasp" than it is life without gadgets that we never really wanted in the first place but realize are now part of the air we breathe.


* * *

Simplicity of life is the ability to handle with single-minded unity of soul and serenity of heart whatever life brings.


* * *

When our well-intentioned vegetarianism becomes rigid to the point that it puts other people under a great deal of strain cooking for us, how simple is that?


* * *

When we handle our own life schedule very well because we refuse to have our own priorities interrupted by anyone else's needs, is that simplicity of life?


* * *

Who is really living a simple life, the people with controlled menus, controlled physical environments, and controlled schedules or the people whose lives are twisted and stretched to make that kind of simplicity possible?


* * *

Simplicity of life in a complex and complicated world is marked by four characteristics: It is honest, detached, conscious, and serene. Simplicity is an attitude of heart, not a checklist of belongings. Or, as Art Buchwald wrote, "The best things in life aren't things."


* * *

Simplicity of life requires that we be honest about who and what we are. We live a simple life when we do not pretend to be something we are not.


* * *

"In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves," the social scientist Ivan Illich wrote, "the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy." Simple people don't buy what they can't afford, or take on airs they haven't earned, or hide behind titles and pedigrees, masks, and patinas designed to protect us from the truth about ourselves.


* * *

Everybody is "from" somewhere: from the broken family, from the alcoholic home, from the wrong side of town. It is those who reach back to where they're from to give a hand today to those who are also trying to grow beyond it, who live the virtues of simplicity of life.


* * *

Simplicity has something to do with remembering who we are. It means being willing to have it known that I am from Bethlehem, not from Beverly Hills.


* * *

Simplicity is authenticity. Etty Hillesum puts it this way: "Don't make ripples all around you; don't try so hard to be interesting; keep your distance; be honest; fight the desire to be thought fascinating by the outside world."


* * *

Simplicity is not inverse classism, a kind of social pretense that is at base secure enough to risk nothing in giving something away.


* * *

Simplicity is an attitude of mind that enables us to stand in the midst of our fine worlds sure of soul and unimpeded by the seductiveness of the unnecessary and the cosmetic.


* * *

Simplicity is honesty, but it is also detachment. Honesty enables me to discover the hard truth that simplicity of life is not frugality of life: It is life unencumbered, life free of the things we own so that they do not own us. Jessie Sampter wrote, "Simplicity is the peak of civilization."


* * *

"We own only what cannot be lost in a shipwreck," the Arab proverb teaches. That is hard truth in a consumer society whose economic base depends on the creation of false needs. We create what we do not need in order to keep our basic needs at bay.


* * *

In a capitalistic society, if we don't buy, people don't work, and so the process never ends. So we "keep up" and we accumulate and we sink under the detritus of our own lives. Simplicity demands that we learn to live with open hands.


* * *

Former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos once responded to her critics by stating, "I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty." We keep a dozen nonmatching water glasses for a house of three people "just in case." Simplicity is the ability to get rid of what we're not using rather than hoarding what we will never touch again.


* * *

Whatever we now own is simply temporary. We're not taking it anywhere, so what is keeping us from being willing to get rid of it now? Perhaps the fear that real simplicity is an excursion into the trust that I will have what I need when I need it is too demanding of my soul to bear.


* * *

Freedom is the real purpose, the real essence of simplicity. "Those who have cattle have care," the Kenyans say.


* * *

Simplicity is openness to the beauty of the present, whatever its shape, whatever its lack. It enables us to be conscious of where we are and to stop mourning where we are not.


* * *

Simplicity is not the arithmetic of the soul. Simplicity of life is not really about things at all. Simplicity is about being able to take them—and to leave them.


* * *

Simplicity of life manifests itself in perfect serenity. The simple person pays close attention to the agitations that eat at the heart because it is our agitations that tell us where life has gone astray for us, become unbearably complex and eternally confused.


* * *

Simplicity of life—purity of heart—centers us on the eternal that is in the now. The Bhagavad Gita says it like this: "To the illuminated man or woman, a clod of dirt, a stone, and gold are the same."


* * *

There is no simplicity in a heart full of agitation and in a soul too distracted to recognize the one who is among us, yet invisible in chaos.


* * *

Simplicity and serenity, simplicity and honesty, simplicity and openness, simplicity and acceptance are synonyms too long kept secret.


* * *

Struck by a heart attack, a woman pleaded with God, "Oh, God, am I dying?" And God answered back, "No, no, no. You have thirty to forty good years yet. This is just a rehearsal." So, when she recovered from the heart attack, she decided to go for it. She stayed in the hospital, hired a plastic surgeon, had a face lift, a tummy tuck, a little breast augmentation and, the day before she left, brought in a cosmetologist to get her hair dyed. Then, she walked out of the hospital, was hit by an ambulance, and died. "God!" she squealed when she got to heaven, "I don't get it! You said I had at least another thirty years?!" And God said, "Yeah, that was the plan, all right. And believe me, lady, you would have got it. But when we got there, we didn't recognize you." As I was saying about simplicity, ...

CHAPTER 2

When Is War Unjust?

Isaiah 2:4

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they train for war again.


The Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese manual on the art of living, reads:

Weapons are the tools of fear ... a decent person will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint.... Our enemies are not demons but human beings like ourselves. The decent person doesn't wish them personal harm. Nor do they rejoice in victory. How could we rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of people? Enter a battle gravely with sorrow and with great compassion as if attending a funeral. (ca. 550 B.C.E.)


Everywhere I go these days, people talk about being confused. Let me see if I can get it straight: The government is preparing the country for war with an "enemy" who has never attacked us. And we are going to allow this, presumably, because someone else whom we cannot identify, let alone capture, did attack us and the people we have decided to attack may attack us in the future. Right.

So, how does the average Christian think about something like this: as a citizen or as a Christian? And if as a citizen, does it reflect the best ideals of this country? And if as a Christian, on what criteria shall we base our conclusions?

The problem is not a new one. Over seven centuries ago, people began to recognize that war was an attack on the innocent by the ruthless for the sake of the privileged. They wanted it stopped. And if that was an unrealistic goal, given the thirst for power in the human condition and the absence of any overarching negotiating bodies, they at least wanted it regulated. They wanted the innocent protected. After all, the people were not fighting their neighbors. They wanted the defenseless made secure. After all, war meant that armies were to fight armies, not civilians. So they turned to the church, which, by threat of eternal punishment, might be able to bring sense to chaos.

They popularized and developed the just war theory, first articulated by Augustine, and for a while it seemed to make sense. But over time everything has changed: the nature of the world, the nature of war, the nature of weapons, and the nature of nations themselves.

Adults seem to have a problem understanding such things. Children see it clearly: Some second-graders asked their teacher what was going on between the United States and the place called Iraq. So the teacher said, "Well, think of it this way: Somebody in your neighborhood has a gun in her house. All the neighbors are afraid of it, and they go to Margaret, the owner of the gun, to ask her if she'll get rid of it.

"And, Margaret said yes, she would. But after a while, the people began to doubt that Margaret had really thrown the gun away. So they went to see her again and asked her if she still had the gun. And she said yes, she did.

"So they told her that the fact that she had a gun made them afraid, so she had to get rid of it.

"But Margaret said no, she wouldn't because it was her house and her gun.

"So all the neighbors went back to their own houses, got out their own guns, pointed them at Margaret, and shouted that they would shoot if she didn't throw her gun away."

Then a child in the room spoke up and said, "Teacher, that is a really dumb story. It doesn't make any sense." Right.

When is war "just," or is war already obsolete now?


* * *

"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake," Jeannette Rankin wrote. But we go on trying. Why? What exactly is to be gained? The powerful stay in power. The innocent are expelled from their homes. Children grow up with fear and hatred in their hearts. Who wins what?


* * *

For war to be just, the first criterion is that it must only be waged in the face of "real and certain danger." So when did we start waging war "just in case"?


* * *

"All war is insane," Madeleine L'Engle wrote. Killing doesn't stop killing. It just gives the world a new reason to do it called "vengeance." In the meantime, the poor get poorer and the strong get stronger. Nothing really changes.


* * *

After years of Nintendo and shopping mall video arcades, Americans know that no one bleeds and no one gets hurt in war. In fact, we teach our children to love it. Or, as Ellen Glasgow said, "The worst thing about war is that so many people enjoy it."


* * *

War is not what happens in the military. It is what happens in the hearts of the rest of us who applaud it. Marianne Moore, the poet, wrote, "There never was a war that was / not inward; I must / fight till I have conquered in myself what / causes war, but I would not believe it."


* * *

To be just, we're taught in the second criterion for a just war, war must be declared by "the competent authority." But presidents no longer declare war at all. They simply ask Congress for the right to use "whatever force is necessary" to resolve an immediate problem. Or strike first and discuss it later. As Boake Carter put it, "In time of war, the first casualty is truth."


* * *

Given the earth-shattering consequences of war in a high-technology society, no single government has the right to unleash a chain-reaction response without the consent and approval of the family of nations, all of whom will be affected by the disruption. War is not a backyard disturbance anymore.


* * *

To be just, a war must pass the third criterion of the just war, the test of "comparative justice." The rights to be preserved must justify the killing that will be done in their name. So the question must be what rights do we as a people stand to lose if we don't go to war? And what rights have we lost that we must recover? Now there's a tough one.


* * *

"All wars are popular for the first thirty days," Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote. Maybe that's why we unleash such murderous attacks against such unprepared opponents. Presidents know that on day 31 the clock begins to tick on popular support. Oil or no oil.


* * *

For a war to be just, the tradition teaches, the fourth criterion is that "All peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted." Whatever happened to the days when cities weren't attacked, they were simply put under siege? Or has attack become too easy to bother engaging the soul and the mind in the task of preventing it?


* * *

We need the kind of impatience, urgency, and outrage at the thought of war that our ancestors brought to the ideas of slavery, monarchies, and child brides. We need to begin to see the universal injustice of our current type of warfare, not to argue its justice.


* * *

The fifth condition of the just war is "right intention." It can only be fought for a "just cause," a situation that outweighs the value of the number of lives that will be lost and the amount of damage that will be done in the waging of it. And what side that attacks first can ever plead "just cause"? To do that puts a nation in the place of God the Judge, a judge that punishes us before we even sin.


* * *

"War is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military," a French proverb teaches. And that is surely true. But it may also be true that it ought not be trusted to legislators whose children will not be fighting it.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Becoming Fully Human by Joan Chittister. Copyright © 2005 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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