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November 30, 2009

Joan Chittister describes Benedictine spirituality as spirituality of the open heart. Simple, I suppose, but I have learned that it is not easy. I have often found my heart hidden or hardened -- hidden by everything that life throws at me; hardened from everything that life throws at me.

Open the heart, we are taught. Give from the heart. The heart, which is the wellspring of the Spirit, needs tending. Thomas Merton, perhaps the most influential Christian mystic of the 20th century, said that the challenge for Christians is to give from our heart. But he also said that this is an impossible task if our hearts are not in our possession.

Like most of us, I have a lifelong inventory of tasks, worries, disappointments and losses that have had the effect of taking my heart away from me for a time. But I also have learned that there are people -- who, with an abundance of heart, have helped to find and fill my own. And there are spiritual practices -- of community, worship, study, service, playfulness, physical activity -- that bring me back to my heart and open it up.

And there is prayer. In these first five chapters, Joan Chittister talks a lot about prayer as a practice that opens the heart and brings us into an awareness of the presence of God. The function of prayer, she says, is not the bribery of the infinite -- but is instead an activity that "provokes us to see the life around us in fresh new ways." (page 28)


An open heart: isn't that what we all need? But I think it also means to open our hearts and minds to our fellow humans, who are celebrating and/or connecting to God in different ways than our own. Some stand up, some kneel, some are having communion every week, some only once a month, some are having a service nearly every day, some only once a week.
Our family loves the way our Episcopal church celebrates, we sing in the choir, but we also have family members who are Reformed Protestants and friends who are Roman Catholic and when we come together we go to each other churches, if it is possible. Our family prays before meals, but I can imagine that other people do that differently. How is it possible to set a rule for what is best?
So I think, although I am thankful that Joan has written this book to try to reach people, Benedictine or any prayer is connecting with God. Once you feel that God is always near, you may talk to Him all the time alone and in a group and He is simply there in joy or in sorrow.

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