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Just Spirituality

Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action
by Mae Elise Cannon
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013
208 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action by Mae Elise Cannon explores the direct connections between personal spirituality and outward acts of kindness, mercy, compassion, and advocacy. Mae Elise Cannon is a Christian pastor and activist, and she is the Senior Director of Advocacy and Outreach in the Middle East for World Vision USA, a Christian faith-based advocacy and development organization.

Just Spirituality is organized around historic examples about individual people who have reflected upon their own spiritual truths and journeys in active engagement through service and advocacy. Chapters focus on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Oscar Romero, among others. Each chapter discusses how one of the figures found energy for social participation through his or her spiritual practices. For example, the chapter about Mother Teresa discusses how her practice of silence served as the base for her service in the community. The chapter on German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer looks at how his practice of community fueled his discipleship.

Each chapter also draws on additional personal examples of how a particular spiritual practice has supported community activism. The chapter on Mother Teresa’s silence and service, for example, also discusses Sami Awad, the leader of the Holy Land Trust. The chapters include helpful recommendations for appreciating and beginning each spiritual practice.

Just Spirituality is clearly based in an evangelical Christian spirituality. Cannon refers to examples from a variety of historic, cultural, and national backgrounds. The examples include people with whom I was very familiar and others who were new to me.

The chapter that gave me the most to reflect upon focuses on Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the connections between the Sabbath and shalom. The practical suggestions in the chapter were not all new to me, but they were excellent reminders of the importance of a rule of life, regular retreats, and resting and sleeping. Another chapter serves as a summary at the end of the book and focuses on courage, joy, and celebration. It is an excellent reminder of the themes of Just Spirituality with additional personal examples.

Just Spirituality is a valuable resource for spiritual directors, particularly when accompanying a spiritual directee who tends to be strongly inclined to separate reflection and contemplation from activism and social involvement. It describes clear, tangible connections between specific spiritual practices and participation in the community.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

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