The last several years have seen many great publishing projects come and go. Noted among them would be Penguin's Great Ideas
series, which seems to be sinking into nothingness. Another series, though, which appears to be more successful ? maybe it's been blessed? ? is Orbis Books' Modern Spiritual Masters
series. Modern Spiritual Masters aims to collect defining texts from contemporary and almost contemporary religious thinkers of great and abiding power. Each book is edited by a different person, and they all reflect the generous, open-minded approach to the study of religion that characterizes Orbis in the whole of their broadly esteemed publishing program.
Orbis, which was and remains the key publisher of liberation theology books in this country, leans towards social justice, and many of the titles in this series are by people who are on the cutting edge in the struggle against poverty, racism, or war from the depthless perspective of the sacred. Among them are Dorothee Soelle, Mother Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi. Many are mystics, such as the English eccentric Caryll Houselander, founder of the Christian Meditation movement John Main, and the astoundingly brilliant and deeply engaged Thomas Merton. Some are champions of interreligious dialogue, such as Bede Griffiths and Sadhu Sundar Singh, and some are just classic, such as Henri Nouwen, Brother Roger of Taize, and Albert Schweitzer.
Many of these books have become mainstays not only of my library, but of my devotional life. I find that I read constantly in the Bede Griffiths collection, for example. His commitment to the unity of world religions, and his practice of it in a compelling mixture of Hindu and Catholic practice, speaks volumes to me, as does his dedication to the ideal of a peaceful world, where peace is emphasized as not only being between people and communities, but as being between humanity and the earth, as well.
Another current favorite is Leo Tolstoy: Spiritual Writings. Tolstoy was not only one of the greatest novelists of his time, he was also a brilliant, radical, and completely unique religious thinker. His embrace of the Sermon on the Mount as a new set of commandments to be added to the traditional ten, his disavowal of force as being merited in any situation, and his espousal of a kind of Christian anarchism all make for compelling reading. (Tolstoy's radical pacifism, by the way, was to have a huge impact on a young M. K. Gandhi). To quote from the master:
Our life is never secure. And in our effort to make it so we ruin the very thing we wish to secure. Armies mobilize to protect what is ours, but in doing this hundreds of thousands of lives are lost. The rich secure their lives by obtaining more and more money, but it is this very money that attracts the robber who kills them. An anxiety-ridden man tries to make his life better by undergoing a cure, but the medicine itself slowly deprives him of life, like that sick man who sat thirty-eight years at the pool waiting for the angel of healing to come (John 5:2-8).
Which way ? Christ or the world's ? leads to suffering? Let us think again before we dismiss what Jesus commands in favor of the world's wisdom. For he alone has the words of eternal life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is an exceptionally rich collection of books, just waiting for readers to come and mine their depths. They make it very clear that not all Christians ? nor all religious people ? are conservative, and they collectively point a way toward a world where we can perhaps lay down our swords, and abide in accordance with Tolstoy's ? and Jesus' ? law of love, instead of the law of hate. May that day soon come.
Happy Holidays to all of you.