David STEINDL-RAST and Anselm GRUN. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Time. A Conversation. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2015. pp. 176. $17.95 pb. ISBN: 9780814647134. Reviewed by Walter SISTO, D'Youville College, Buffalo, NY 14201.
As the title suggests, this book is a colloquy between two masters of Christian spirituality, David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün who speak to the concerns and challenges of having faith today. This book is divided into twenty-two detailed conversations between David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün and the interviewer, Johannes Kaup. Kaup asks probing and provocative questions that attempt to address the challenges of life and faith in the twenty-first century. To this end, the goal of this text is to provide a spirituality that can offer an “orientation in a world that has become too complex to understand.” (xiii)
Kaup’s ambitious intention for this book results in a fascinating discourse that has a large scope encompassing traditional theological topics such as the original sin, soteriology, and mysticism, but also how to live a fulfilling life, capitalism, spiritual growth, and pluralism. Although none of these topics are comprehensively addressed, the conversants avoid superficiality, and they provide concise and precise answers that draw from their spirituality and pastoral experiences. Overall, Grün and Steindl-Rast are successful in providing an orientation “in a world that has become too complex to understand” that is based in the Christian tradition.
For instance in the chapter “Being Entirely My Self, or: Prayer as a Space of Freedom,” Kaup inquiries as to how to live a fulfilling life. (94) Steindl-Rast argues that a fulfilled life is a life in which everything is flowing well. He provides an interesting analogy to a wooden log and a fish in a stream. We need not be like a log that is driven by the current but rather like a fish that makes use of the current and can even swim against it. (95) A fulfilled life involves “active response to life.” To accomplish this, Steindl-Rast offers three simple steps that we should take: “pause, become aware, and respond.” (95) His point is that we have to build moments of stillness into our lives to become of opportunities life is offering you and then to make use of that opportunity. Grün compliments Steindl-Rast’s response, stating that the qualities St. Benedict looked for in aspiring candidates to live in the monastery provide a good measure to see if your spiritual path is good. It includes “emotional ability, aptitude for community, and productive capacity.” (96) People who have these characteristics have “internal peace” and radiate goodwill and peace in part because they are capable of relationships.
These steps to fulfillment are one example of the wisdom contained in this text that is phrased in language that non-specialists or even non-Christians can approach with little difficulty. To this end, this book successfully achieves its goal to provide an orientation in a complex world. Ultimately the orientation is towards God, and his only beloved Son Jesus Christ who deals squarely with one of the most challenging human experiences, suffering. Grün writes that the suffering-Christ does not withdraw from suffering but goes through it and in so doing transforms it. (59) By the same token, Steindl-Rast says that the suffering-Christ is the greatest contribution of the Christian tradition. Jesus Christ reveals that suffering is not a punishment but rather that “suffering is part of life and life is the expression of the Mystery we call God…suffering is divinized…Suffering is part of life and of being alive.” (59)
The editor Johannes Kaup argues that this book functions as a “crash course” in Christian spirituality. (xiii) To an extent this is correct. The conversants address many axioms of Christian spirituality. However, their ability to present the Christian tradition in short and precise terms that non-specialists will be able to relate to at times detracts from the uniqueness of the Christian spiritual tradition. For instance, Steindl-Rast in response to Kaup's question about religious pluralism, Steindl-Rast argues that what is most important about religion is that "it really leads to what is human," and that "[t]he human is greater and more important than the form in which we express it." (62) This statement is theologically problematic as it suggests that all religions are ultimately the same. Thus the text may not be well-suited as a textbook on Christian spirituality or an introduction to the topic. Rather the fluid and frank conversations and provocative questions lend this book towards usage as supplemental reading for courses about spirituality or mysticism, especially for ungraduated students.