At Home in the World
At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us
by Margaret Guenther
New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2006
Reviewed by Beverly Williams-Hawkins
Margaret Guenther fans will welcome this addition to her extensive work on the spiritual life. Those new to her work are in for a delightful discovery. In this wonderfully accessible read, Guenther invites readers to consider adopting a rule of life as an approach to living healthy and balanced lives amidst the extraordinary demands of our modern world.
Guenther begins by establishing the role and purpose of rules in our daily lives. She contends that “Consciously or unconsciously, we all follow a rule. Unstated, unarticulated rules can make our lives run smoothly, efficiently, and predictably…” (p. 11). She stresses the value of the ancient rules as guides for those seeking to create a rule of life which meets the unique demands of contemporary life: “If we let ourselves be creative translators, the wisdom of centuries very different from ours can be a friendly guide” (p. 15).
In part two, Guenther draws from both her personal and professional experiences in a series of short essays in which she discusses what she considers the essentials for creating wise and practical rules for ordinary folks. She uses the vows of obedience, stability, and conversation as a framework for discussing topics related to living together, handling our money and possessions, holding power and authority, prayer, rest, and re-creation. Each essay is followed by provocative questions designed to lead readers into prayerful exploration of the essentials for ones own rule of life.
Guenther makes such a compelling case for the value of a rule for living in parts one and two of the book, I couldn’t help being disappointed when the book came to an all too hasty end in part three. This is where the author falls short of her implied purpose: to help readers to craft a rule of life. Aside from a brief review of the essentials Guenther offers only one instruction: “Be specific: write your rule down in some detail, not hurrying but making it the work of several weeks” (p. 182). She ends with an analogous connection between her rule and her grocery list. “If I’m feeling particularly fussy, I organize the items according to the layout of the supermarket…. Then I go off to shop and leave the list on the kitchen counter. I already know what’s in it” (p. 183). In the end, Guenther’s book left me with an analogy of my own: a recipe with only a list of ingredients and not a clue how to put them together. Still, I recommend the book for use by spiritual directors with the caveat that they be prepared to provide additional instruction as needed when helping other in becoming at home in the world through a rule of life for the rest of us.
Beverly Williams-Hawkins holds a Master of Divinity from Wartburg Theological Seminary. She graduated from the Center for Spiritual Growth and the Contemplative Life in San Antonio, Texas, USA. She lives in Austin, Texas, USA, where she is a spiritual director and a psychiatric nurse manager at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital.