The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness
The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice
by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, PhD
Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2006
Reviewed by Richard Lenson, MD
This book is spiced with from teachings from many traditions, all pointing toward the same Reality. Rabbi Rami Shapiro suggests that “The Thirteen Attributes of God” described in Exodus 34:5-6, and known in the Jewish tradition, are facets of lovingkindness, and qualities of God. Shapiro’s interpretative translation of these thirteen attributes are: “(1) realizing the divinity of self, (2) realizing the divinity of other, (3) cultivating creativity, (4) engendering compassion, (5) finding grace, (6) acting with equanimity, (7) creating kindness, (8) bringing forth truth, (9) preserving kindness, (10) forgiving iniquity, (11) forgiving willfulness, (12) forgiving error, and (13) cleansing yourself of delusion” (p. XIII).
Each chapter is dedicated to a discussion of one of these thirteen qualities, with teachings from a variety of spiritual traditions, and exercises to cultivate the quality in one’s own heart. True to his search for connection to God in many spiritual traditions, Shapiro shares stories and teachings from many of his own teachers, including Jesus, Matthew, John, Krishna, Job, Maimonides, Saint Francis, The Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, and Pema Chodron. Shapiro shares only exercises that he has found open his own heart to the specific qualities of Godliness.
But what does this book have to do with spiritual direction? When Shapiro conceived, formed, and created Morei Derekh, a spiritual direction program in the Jewish tradition, he combined Mussar—the Jewish practice of ethical self reflection— with spiritual direction. The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness is a marriage of these two paths to God. In the process of reflecting on qualities of our being that we attribute to God, I find we open ourselves to what Shapiro calls the spacious mind. These practices can turn us into alchemists, transforming our day to day human encounters into opportunities to practice lovingkindness. Shapiro writes:
Religion and spirituality often denigrate the temporal and urge us to take refuge in the timeless. This dualism is a trap in that it denies the holiness of the transient, God in creation, and to love God is to lovingly engage creation. Acting with lovingkindness in the world and toward the world reminds us that all things are part of God. (P. 57)
I recommend this book to spiritual directors and seekers.
Richard Lenson MD, is a graduate of the first spiritual direction class of Morei Derekh. He lives in Napa, California, USA, with his wife, their daughter, and two dogs, where he continues his spiritual search.