In this short book Joan Chittister reflects on twelve "Qualities of the Soul" which she states are necessary for each person who desires to be "a positive presence in a changing world." They are: vision, an understanding heart, humility, holy indifference, gentleness of spirit, imagination, questioning, emotional stability, purity of heart, inclusiveness, heroism, and – somewhat redundantly – "soul" itself. A section of the book is devoted to each of these qualities, beginning with a short scripture quote and followed by a one- or two-page story reflecting the section’s topic and, finally, a collection of aphorisms and sayings devoted to it. As always, Chittister writes well and insightfully. This book would probably best be read and pondered, one section at a time, over a period of several days, perhaps during a retreat.
I did, however, notice an interesting omission. Rarely do the anecdotes and sayings in this book mention God, Christ, religion (Christian or otherwise), or anything that pertains to the God-quest that is at the heart of all true monastic life. Specifically monastic anecdotes occur only twice; and in most chapters, fewer than one in ten of the short sayings have any specifically religious or spiritual content at all. On the one hand, perhaps this illustrates that the timeless truths Chittister wishes to present transcend any one religion or culture. On the other hand, however, there is little that differentiates the book from any number of secular "self-help" books that proliferate on the racks of local bookstores. And there is even less in it that is specifically monastic. If, as I believe, our fast-paced, contemporary world is hungering for the depth dimension embodied in monastic silence, prayer, and community, this book is, at best, only an hors d’oeuvre. One would hope that a more satisfying meal would follow.