Spiritual Directors International

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God Speaks My Language, Can You?

God Speaks My Language, Can You?
by Heather Tosteson
Decatur, GA: Wising Up Press, 2008
337 pages
Reviewed by Kathleen D. Clark, PhD

In God Speaks My Language, Can You? Heather Tosteson weaves stories told by people of diverse faith traditions and spiritual experience with her own struggle to hear and understand each speaker on his or her own terms. She says, "I have been especially interested in the role of story in opening us safely to unfamiliar worlds, and ways of thinking or believing wherever we find them—our faith life, our professional life, across our back fence" (3). Tosteson spent two years conducting one hundred interviews with a variety of people in the southeastern United States of America. The range of faith traditions and experiences represented includes Astrology, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Mysticism, and Paganism.

The research includes both systematic elements, such as the same set of questions used to guide all the conversations, and a distinctive personal narrative that engages the stories with caring and honesty. The author, a creative writer and spiritual director, directs our attention to shifts in the stories, tracing themes, and asks us to notice inner responses. As a spiritual director and communication scholar myself, I’m intrigued by the inherent tension between the question of the book title and perspectives of those interviewed. We hunger to share our stories with other people, difficult as they may be to tell, in order to understand, integrate, and affirm our experiences.

Spiritual directors or a spiritual direction program might use these stories in role-plays as what ifs. What if the person whom you are companioning brings a similar experience to direction? How might you enter into the world of such a person? The book might be used as a supplementary text for a course in religion and communication, where an ample opportunity exists for students to gain a fuller understanding of people who may believe differently than they do, see points of commonality, and also gain respect for profound differences.

One can read this intelligent and inviting book straight through, following the unfolding themes through chapters with headings like childhood, mystical experiences, and conversion, or intriguing sections entitled, "Surprising Antipathies and Affinities" and "Needles, Eyes, & Universal Tables." Or one may browse it, sampling the stories and descriptions of person and setting supplied by the author, and meditating on the photographic images at the beginning of each section. In the end, we find moments of recognition and greater understanding of people who may believe and practice differently than we do.

Kathleen Clark, PhD, received the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California, USA, and her doctorate in communication at the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA. She is a spiritual director and associate professor of communication at the University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, USA.

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