Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men

By Joan D. Chittister

Eerdmans. 1998. 187 pp. $20
ISBN 0-8028-4282-8

Reviewed by Freda Gardner


If you are a feminist, female or male, you will find convictions and new insights resonating deep in your being. You will also be challenged to think through again the broader and deeper dimensions of life lived on the basis of feminism rather than the patriarchy that has so long dominated the culture of much of the world.

If you don’t know yourself as a feminist but are open to the leading of God’s Spirit, the author’s words will call out to you to consider “anew what the Almighty will do.”

If the words patriarchy and feminism make you defensive, scornful or maybe even disgusted, this book has the potential to make you think again about the reasons for those reactions, maybe to realize that there are truths in each concept worth looking at before they are assimilated into preconceived prejudices or ideologies.

Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality, spent a good portion of her life as a member of an ordered community. As in previous well- received books, she draws on her experience as a woman, her broad knowledge of both ecclesiastical history and contemporary culture, an impressive use of imagery and language to evoke in her readers a sense of the ways things are and the ways things might be.

The “might be” is drawn from careful attention to competing values: reason and feeling, power and government, aggression and non-violence, pride and humility, universalism and otherness, authoritarianism and dialogue, competition and compassion, vulnerability and strength. Attention to these opens the door for desiring the “hearts of flesh” that we read in Ezekiel as God’s promise; a promise which will engage the world that God created, a world that cries out for the life God intended.

Like many, I desire a healthy heart of flesh, one that will show up well on an EKG or as monitored on a treadmill. I discipline my life to optimize that possibility. Dare I desire and subsequently discipline my life to gain the healthy heart of flesh that God is ready to give?

Chittister’s book calls for and provides the possibility of rich reward in conversation, study groups, sermonic interpretation, justice and mission goal-setting, personal meditation. Unlike much that passes for spirituality today, this book’s impetus to pay attention to God’s purposes drives the reader to act, not merely believe. It is so rich that it cannot be done with after one reading, at least not by those whose hearts will burn within them at the recall of the magnitude of God’s gifts and the many areas of human life which await the incarnation of those gifts in their midst.

Chittister asks, “Where will any sincere Christian go for spiritual direction if tradition is more important to the church than on-going revelation is? If the awareness of God in the past is more profound, more illuminating than the awareness of God in the present, what can possibly be the hope of the universe it never imagined in its theology?” (p. 47)