Karl RAHNER, The Mystical Way in Everyday Life. Annemarie S. Kidder, trans. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. pp xxxix, 194. $20.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-867-6.
Reviewed by Reviewed by Hans GUSTAFSON, College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University, Collegeville, MN 56321.

Drawing on Chesterton, Philip Endean famously defends Rahner when he says, “The problem is not that Rahner’s theology and spiritual vision have been tried and found wanting: they have been found difficult and left untried.” [Philip Endean, “Introduction” to Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 29]. In this text, Kidder takes another step toward making accessible Rahner’s spiritually-imbued theology. The result is not only a difficult theologian made easier, but awareness is brought to the broader spectrum of Rahner’s writing.

As Kidder points out in her introduction, the sheer range and quantity of Rahner’s scholarship overwhelms the newcomer to his work. His spiritual theology and musings on mysticism often take a back seat to his more philosophically inclined and rigorously methodical theological investigations. Here is an effort to put forth a collection of essays that integrate his theology with a spiritually lived religious and mystical orientation of everyday life. It offers meditations on the liturgical seasons such as Advent, Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Corpus Christi and Pentecost. Further, the collection is peppered with short essays aimed at mystically attuning the reader to the rhythm of everyday life though ordinary acts such as work, walking, sitting, seeing, laughing, eating and sleeping. The collection culminates with a handful of short, yet powerful, meditations on starting each day.

Quite cleverly, Kidder centrally locates substantial reflections on Aquinas and Ignatius, two thinkers who have had, perhaps, the most influence on Rahner’s spirituality and theology. We might think of Aquinas and Ignatius operating as the two lungs of Rahner’s religious soul. Aquinas, the patron saint of theological studies, firmly girds Rahner’s theological vision while the father of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, grounds Rahner’s spiritual orientation. Rahner recognizes Aquinas’ unique ability of maintaining the medieval synthesis of faith and reason. Thus one of Rahner’s essays on Aquinas comes under three headings: Thomas the monk, Thomas the theologian, and Thomas the mystic. Just as Rahner recognizes that in Aquinas, “there does not exist the horrible gap often found in subsequent theological thought between theology and the spiritual life,” (125) so too, the reader, comes to recognize that this is the case with Rahner’s own work. “In Thomas [and Rahner too], theology and spiritual life are truly still one” (126). If this collection succeeds in the conveyance of only one message, it is just that.

The essays included on Ignatius provide a necessary foundation for Rahner’s devotion to spiritual sensuality and mystical attunement in everyday life. It is here that the reader comes to understand the Ignatian influence founded on the principle of ‘finding God in all things,’ be it extraordinary or ordinary (‘everyday’). Rahner’s typical emphasis on grace is highlighted here in the context of Ignatian piety, which strives for “the God of supernatural grace who feely and personally deals with people in a ‘historical’ manner’” (150). He elucidates well the principle of Ignatian piety as an outgrowth of everyday worldly mysticism, or in his preferred phrase, “a wintry spirituality.”

Since, for Rahner, all persons are capable of mystical experience, and “the Christians of the future will be mystics,” this collection is by no means intended for that small number of Christians interested in an esoteric and exclusive mysticism. This short text is packed with powerful essays that demands one proceed with patience, attention and intention. Partially arranged around the rhythms of the liturgical seasons, it can be taken in with the seasons, slowly and meaningfully. It can also be approached as a reference work to be called upon when seeking a devotional meditation on a specific facet of everyday life. It can also be imbibed cover to cover, for Kidder has arranged the collection in a way that, though containing specific and different essays, flows along seamlessly as a unified whole.

One need not come to this text with a rigorous Ignatian background steeped in a systematic knowledge of Rahner’s theological vision, though it certainly does not hurt. Kidder’s introduction provides a brief, though substantive, overview of the Jesuit’s life, background and theological tendencies. This collection showcases some of Rahner’s more spiritually centered theological meditations. In these essays we receive wisdom from a thinker whose spiritual writings are often neglected and untried, but by no means empty and unimportant.


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