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Reviewed by:
  • Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions
  • Janet Ruffing RSM (bio)
Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions. Ed. by Norvene Vest. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2003. $21.95.

This volume of essays makes a significant contribution to the understanding of spiritual direction and one of its cutting edge issues—spiritual direction in a variety of traditions. The book comprises three sections with four chapters in each, offering a total of twelve essays. The over all quality of the essays is excellent, and the control of each author over his or her particular perspective enhances the conceptual depth of the volume.

In section one on world-wide faith traditions, each essay written by a competent informant and practitioner describes spiritual direction within the context of that particular tradition. Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism, and Judaism are represented. In the lead essay, Tejadhammo Bhikku illustrates key aspects of the relationship of a neophyte practitioner monk to his guide through an extended example of the way this young monk does and does not make tea mindfully. An Australian, Bhikku accurately represents the unique relationship of monk to elder and the concrete nature of mentoring another into a whole way of life, including acute observation of the directee, the unique relationship of freely accepted dependence on the teacher, and teaching by example, including sitting together in meditation until the neophyte's own practice deepened sufficiently for him to recognize his own illusions. The narrative of this process is lively and illustrative. Bhikku makes no attempt to make comparisons between this practice of spiritual guidance and either psychotherapy or contemporary Christian spiritual direction. This is one of its strengths. The differences in practice and in context remain distinct. Anyone familiar with the history of Christian spiritual direction will be struck by the similarity of the approach used by the Desert Mothers and Fathers who employed many of the same methods as true elders charged with forming neophytes in the monastic tradition. [End Page 244]

Fariha al-Jerrahi accounts for Sufi methods of spiritual guidance. She is the lineage bearer of Lex Hixon, a well-known New York Sufi, who led a community there for many years. Her chapter clearly shows the relationship between Sufism and Islam, describing the mystical practices rooted in Islam. Both the Qur'an and the hadiths, the on-going history of interpretation of this revelation, and Qur'anic practices provide the context for this spiritual guidance. Rooted in its own mystical theology, the teacher in Sufism, often called a shaykh, provides spiritual guidance to a disciple through prophetic utterance and through reflecting the Divine Beloved in human form. The mystical opening of the disciple's heart into the Divine Presence is mediated through this relationship of the dervish (disciple) with the shaykh that is significant from the beginning to the end of the spiritual journey. The author describes the service performed by the dervish, the rites of initiation, the practice of the remembrance of God's names, and the spiritual itinerary through seven levels of the self. She describes both communal and individual forms of spiritual guidance. Guidance is mediated not only through one shaykh, but through the entire lineage of shaykh's all the way back to the prophet, Mohammad.

Christopher Chapple addresses the Guru tradition originating in India as it has evolved in the United States. He draws on his personal experience with Gurani Anjoli, a teacher from Calcutta with whom Chapple studied as a yoga student. He discusses teachings about one's guru (they appear when the student is ready) or its inexplicable converse (many never find a guru). He mentions some of the better known gurus who migrated to the West. Although aware of abuses and abusive behavior in this tradition, Chapple's reflection on his experience with Anjoli is quite positive. He also gives considerable attention to the dangers of this system of spiritual guidance. India seems to him better able to integrate the Guru-Deva tradition of the divine mediation of the guru than the West. The isolation and potential narcissism of the guru is dangerous both for the guru and the community. Misuse of authority on the part of the guru and relinquishment...


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pp. 244-247
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