How to Think About the Unthinkable
If truth were known, that kind of spiritual heroism may well do more to discourage commitment to the spiritual life than to inspire it. So what is the stuff of the universal spiritual quest and path? What can possibly be found from across the ages as spiritual model for the likes of us?
To the average person whose life is exemplary most of all for its ordinariness—to people like you and me, for instance—it is what goes on inside of us that matters for the healthy life and real spirituality.
Clearly, the spiritual life begins within the heart of a person. And when the storms within recede, the world around us will still and stabilize as well. Or to put it another way, it was greed that broke Wall Street, not the lack of financial algorithms. Whatever it is that we harbor in the soul throughout the nights of our lives is what we will live out during the hours of the day.
This single-minded concentration on the essence and purpose of life, along with a focus on inner quietude and composure, makes for a life lived in white light and deep heat at the very core of the soul. Centering on the spirits within us, rather than being obsessed with the vicissitudes and petty imperfections of life gives the soul its stability, whatever the kinds or degrees of turbulence to be dealt with around it.
It is those elements of spirituality that this book is about, not extreme asceticisms or rejection of the world. Sometimes extolled in early spirituality, they are actually minor themes in the history of spirituality. Nevertheless, this book has not been written for the sake of recording or repeating the wisdom of the past.
Instead, this book is meant to shine light on the inner confusions of our own age. It is written for all our sakes. For now—for this time and place, where we live our lives at the epicenter of chaos and crises from all directions. We are weary and worn out from its petty problems and daily stress, are in search of the quiet that calms confusion and clarifies insights and firms the path.
It is these paradoxes of our own times that skulk within us, that confuse us, sap our energy, and, in the end, tax our strength for the dailiness of life. They call us to the depth of ourselves. They require us to see Life behind life. Confronting the paradoxes of life around us and in us, contemplating the meaning of them for ourselves, eventually and finally, leads to our giving place to the work of the Spirit in our own lives.
And then will we have answers to it all? Probably not. Johann W. von Goethe wrote once, “Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again.” It is thinking through life alone, by ourselves or as communities of seekers with no particular or immediate instance in mind, that may save us from giving ourselves up to the enigmas of life in despair.
For all of us, paradox underlies the question of what it means to be human. These thoughts that rise out of nowhere in us between dark and dawn seem to have no content but will not let us rest. How is it that what is right at some times is not right at all times? What does it take to choose between them? This little book is an excursion into recognizing in the convolutions of this process the stuff of our own life of the spirit.
Excerpted from BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT by Joan Chittister Copyright © 2015 by Joan D. Chittister. To be published by Image Books, a division of Penguin Random House, on Feb. 24. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.