Susan STABILE. Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 260. $19.95 hc. ISBN 978-0199862627. Reviewed by Fran LEAP, Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA 15601
Susan Stabile’s book is a gentle gift to the work of interreligious existence in the 21st century. The theology of religions continues to explore this terrain, moving from the border dissolving of double belonging to the fearful boundaries of theological imperialism. Stabile faithfully and reasonably steers a course between with this lucid, welcome offering. Growing in Love and Wisdom embodies for us the insights of Nostra Aetate in action – rejecting nothing that is true and holy, and regarding with sincere reverence those practices of Buddhist meditation that reflect the Truth which enlightens all humanity. Stabile, who spent twenty years of her adult life as a Buddhist practitioner before returning to Catholicism, is clear that this work is not an exercise in syncretism between faiths, but rather a contribution to contemplative dialogue (8). Such a dialogue and such a contribution can bear rich and effective fruit in the lives of ordinary believers.
Of great worth are the introductory chapters of parts I and II. In chapter one Stabile reviews the value of interreligious dialogue for believers and Church teaching on this topic, respectfully distinguishing her approach from hyphenated or adjective modified titles. The second chapter elucidates some of the “underlying dynamics and shared values and principles” that are common across faith traditions and which help to ground the benefit for Christian in practices outside their own tradition (25). Her explanations of Buddhist and Christian beliefs are carefully accurate and offer practical insight into both faiths. Though Buddhism teaches realization of emptiness and Christianity teaches filling with Christ, both are expressions of nonduality. But while the Buddhist sits alone, the Christian sits in relationship with God in prayer.
Part II explains the importance of prayer. Since the impulse to pray precedes theology and belief, and presupposes a relationship that demands experiential knowledge not simply intellectual or conceptual, Buddhist meditation practices offer a rich resource for contemplative prayer that can lead to deepening our relationship with God in ways that are perfectly compatible with Christian belief. Stabile explains the similarities of Buddhist analytical and stabilization meditation practices and the Christian practices of Lectio Divina and Ignatian contemplation. It is clear that Stabile is herself a spiritual director of skill and experience.
Part III then offers fifteen analytic meditations drawn from Buddhist tradition. Of special note are the commentaries that follow each one, where besides explaining further the intention of the exercise, Stabile also explains her adaptation of the exercise for Christian use. These valuable commentaries further clarify the fundamental beliefs of Christians and Buddhist, highlighting the commonalities and, perhaps more importantly, the differences between these faiths. Stabile’s training as a lawyer is evident in her delightful clarity.
Though one could read the text in a day or two, it truly takes time to work through it at a beginning level, (a little like learning to cook by trying the recipes of a special cookbook). Stabile does not offer a smorgasbord of exercises for readers to choose a favorite. Rather she offers throughout a gentle but persistent invitation to stay with exercises even when they feel uncomfortable or odd; requesting us to “really visualize in particular detail” the image the meditation seeks to evoke for us. In fact, she cautions us, if we don’t feel some discomfort with the material then chances are that we are not working honestly or deeply enough. Truly growing in the love and wisdom necessary for discipleship is not a facile pastime for dabbling.
Stabile concludes her text with two chapters on other exercises from the Buddhist tradition, two of which she recommends from the beginning as useful background for developing the concentration and mindfulness to more effectively accomplish the meditations of the preceding chapters. (Their placement at the end remains a mystery.) The text concludes with a usefully brief glossary of Buddhist terms.
The title is apt since even a basic reading of the text both illuminates and challenges. This rich resource can be of profitable use in an undergraduate classroom considering interreligious matters, or in a broad introduction to spirituality. Highly recommended for personal, parish or academic use.