Mature Interspirituality: Wayne Teasdale’s Nine Elements–And Beyond
by Swami Shraddhananda, Dr. Kurt Johnson, Mirabai S. Starr, Rev. Elizabeth Teal, Sandra Simon, Lynda Terry, T. S. Pennington, Dr. Joan Dittrich, Swami Prakashananda aka Rev. Christine Deefolts, Rev. JoAnn Barrett, Dr. M. Darrol Bryant (afterword)
Somerset, KY: Sacred Feet, 2017
151 pages, CAD$29.06, GBP£17.02, USD$21.95
Reviewed by Donna Erickson Couch, MA
One of the first questions I ask spiritual directees is to describe their rule of life. Most of them are perplexed because no one has ever asked them such a thing. However, after some gentle coaching, many can communicate a fairly good list of statements they try to live by each day. Using Brother Wayne Teasdale’s Nine Elements as a guideline, a way I learned many years ago as a seeker of the contemplative or mystical life, I match their lists to his and then know what avenues we might need to further explore as we venture together on the road toward a mature spirituality. Now there is another resource to draw upon in Mature Interspirituality, a diverse commentary on Teasdale that sheds more light on the modern path.
What I especially like about this book is the conversational tone with which it has been written. Some of the essays are taken from a series of talks given at a retreat in 2016 by the Community of the Mystic Heart at Boat Dock Road in Kentucky, USA. The others are based on presentations and articles written after participants returned home and had time to process. I also like that the collective knowledge comes from the perspectives of seasoned practitioners, most of whom have been following the interspiritual path for a long time. For Teasdale and others, interspiritual can be understood as the sharing of ultimate experience across religions, or even the religion of the third millennium.
There is alternative wisdom in this book that raises new perspectives on generational and cultural challenges. Most of the essays are quite provocative and come from nontraditional sources. For example, in the first chapter on morality, solidarity, and nonviolence, Rev. Dr. Sw. Shraddhananda discusses her new book, Killing, in which she advances the notion that human beings are becoming more violent and calls to action the immediate teaching of ethics and morality to the younger generation. There is also an entry by Rev. Elizabeth Teal and her work with Animal Assisted Chaplaincy that unites animals with people for healing after trauma. In the second chapter on humility, spiritual practice, and mature self-knowledge, Mirabai Starr writes about how to cultivate a contemplative life based on the application of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila’s mystical experiences with the Beloved. In the third chapter on simplicity, selfless service, and prophecy, Lynda “Ma Shanti” Terry writes from her experience of the often overlooked concept of silence as the greatest inspiration or formation for growth. The last chapter also has an essay by T. S. Pennington on implications for the spiritual but not religious, that growing group of nones everyone reads about who have eschewed institutional religion for a more crafted, individual path.
As a spiritual director, I often struggle to suspend the many questions I hold about this vast pluralistic approach to the spiritual life. I worry there is too much to process, and because young folks today self-describe as “too busy,” they will only have time to digest tiny bites of a very big gourmet meal. This book gives me some comfort in knowing that solid practitioners like Teasdale and Bede Griffith are at the core of formation. However, I think a young or immature seeker is ill-advised to read and adapt these elements alone. Most people need a spiritual director to navigate the life task of applying them to ordinary life. If the goal is to become more mature spiritually, one first must put on “beginner’s mind,” especially about the deep concepts presented here. Going beyond Teasdale’s Nine Elements will take a lifetime of commitment and many guiding companions along the way.
Donna Erickson Couch, MA, is the director of faith formation at Saint Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California, USA. A spiritual director, she also has many years of experience as a retreat guide, master catechist, and college professor. She is the author of Together but Alone: When God Means Something Different to Your Spouse. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.