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Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent

Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated and Explained
Annotation by Rami Shapiro
Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013
200 pages
Reviewed by Margaret Blackie

This book is a wonderful resource text that would be a useful addition to any spiritual director’s library. The author is an academic who teaches comparative religion and is well versed in a variety of religious traditions. The intended audience is the spiritually independent—those people who find religious practice or allegiance to a particular church, synagogue, mosque, or other formal gathering problematic. The foreword is written by Richard Rohr, OFM, who strongly endorses the book.

The author’s intention seems to be to provide a gateway text—one appropriate for a person starting out on an independent spiritual journey. The text is scattered with annotations that direct the reader toward additional material. Each chapter focuses on a fundamental question that any serious spiritual seeker must explore, and each comprises three major sections.

First, a brief introduction describes the complexity of the question, written in narrative style. The author writes of experiences of having discussions around the question raised in the chapter with various audiences. Rather than a definitive answer, the result is a clear invitation to explore the question. It is important to note that the author’s own views are evident.

This introduction is followed by a large number of short quotes from the sacred texts of all the major religions. The author’s intent is that these short quotations should be meditated upon. The meaningful texts should be returned to over and over again. There are between fifty and one hundred sacred texts per chapter.

The remainder of the chapter comprises the annotations to the second part. These provide some commentary on the chosen text.

The organization of the book means that most readers will likely want to flip between the quotations and the annotations. I find this much easier to do with a physical printed book in contrast to an electronic book. While the text is clearly aimed at those who do not worship within a clearly defined faith community, even those who worship in a more traditional religion will find this book useful. The exploration of questions may be challenging to those who tend toward a dualist understanding of humanity and the Divine. Nonetheless, all the major religious texts are well represented.

Margaret (Mags) Blackie is on the faculty in the department of chemistry and polymer science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is a spiritual director, participates in the training of spiritual directors in Cape Town, and is the author of Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian Spirituality into Daily Life.

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