Carla Mae STREETER, O.P., Foundations of Spirituality: the Human and the Holy – a systematic approach / Collegeville: Liturgical Press, pp xxii, 130. $18.95 ppk. ISBN 978-0-8146-8071-11. Reviewed by Christopher RUPERT S.J., LaStorta Jesuit Residence, 2320 Liverpool Rd., Pickering, ON L1X 1V4.

Carla Mae Streeter’s book, Foundations of Spirituality: the Human and the Holy – a systematic approach is a “how-to” work long overdue. From its preface on the nature of spirituality to its concluding envoy it engages the reader with lucid, well-chosen everyday examples about how to grow spiritually into a truly beautiful human being regardless of ones life experiences and upbringing.

Streeter’s definition of spirituality is operative. This sets it apart from the descriptive definitions of spirituality in common use. For Streeter spirituality is ”real presence to myself, others, nature, the cosmos, the Divine.” If any of these horizons is missing an incomplete spirituality results. For example, materialism omits the Divine. Her first chapter, The Context for a Study of Spirituality explores this. The second chapter, Spirituality as a Universal Phenomenon, uses the template Bernard Lonergan and Robert Doran find underlying an informed, mistake-free move to a more virtuous, more deeply spiritual life. This template is truly universal. She hopes others will use it for the study of spirituality in other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. This takes her to her third chapter where she sets out what makes Christian Spirituality distinct.

Her fourth chapter, The  Anthropological Foundation of Spirituality,  deals with all our emotions and drives, their joys and hurts, and how to harness them for one’s spirituality using the insights of Lonergan and Doran set out in Chapter Two. Psychological scarring, she notes, occurs when any of these God-given instincts, drives, and emotions are denigrated. She roots this chapter solidly in modern psychology and medical understanding.
Chapter Five, The Divine Foundation, makes the book shine. Here Streeter shows how Daniel Helminiak’s theotic approach helps us grow in love, understanding, and forgiveness. The Apostle Paul declares that where sin is found, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5.30), or as St. Thomas Aquinas states, ‘Res sunt sacramentum Dei.’ This leads to Chapter Six, The Beautiful Human Being. Here she points out that the beautiful human can not only name what goodness is, but also be beautiful and forgiving.  As I would put it: Mistakes, if learning experiences, are stepping-stones to heaven; but repeated become the pavement to hell. This is certainly something one can derive from Streeter’s glances at America’s criminal system. Its legal framers, she suggests, have developmental blockages that could profit from spiritual attention.

Foundations of Spirituality is the product of a master teacher who has honed its contents to perfection. Streeter calls it “a first effort” and “trusts others will be forthcoming [for] from this combined richness [of Aquinas, Lonergan, Doran, Heminiak, Margaret Brennan, and others] all of us can benefit.” Streeter synthesizes these giants lucidly and masterfully in sentences anyone can understand. She hopes her approach will serve as a template to study and understand spiritualities in other religions. I concur. The book is well indexed, and contains an excellent set of references. It is the product, Streeter acknowledges, of an education at Regis College (Toronto) and her life as a Dominican sister called to Res contemplata, aliis tradere (think things over carefully before passing them on.)

As a text for both the study and development of spirituality, Streeter’s work is, I think, without rival today. It leaves today’s plethora of books on mindfulness and educating for virtue far behind.