Ten Overlooked Spiritual Writers

Gabrielle Bossis: A wealthy French-woman who wrote one of the boldest works of Catholic spirituality: He and I (Editions Paulines, 1969), in which she ‘channels’ Jesus Christ himself. Christ’s words of inspiration and comfort are–this is France!–charming and flirtatious.

Mary Daly: This pioneer firebrand feminist’s rethinking of theology is a mind-blowing assault on patriarchy–and a gripping meditation on how gendered our culture’s ‘universal’ claims to truth can be. Start with Beyond God the Father (Beacon, 1985).

Frances Densmore: A white anthropologist, and one of the great early recorders of Native American spirituality. Chippewa Music (Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, 1910) contains beautiful translations and perceptive discussions of sacred songs, including the Sun Dance liturgy.

Maya Deren: The tempestuous godmother of American avant-garde film was also an initiate of Haitian voudoun (voodoo), and her Divine Horsemen (McPherson & Co, 1985) is a poetic account of this African-rooted religion.

Toyohiko Kagawa: A Japanese Protestant novelist, poet, and activist, world-famous before World War II. William Axling’s Kagawa (Harper and Brothers, 1932) covers his life of devotion to the poor of urban Japan and includes excerpts from his writings on the unbreakable links between social justice and Christianity.

Rabi’a: The leading female Sufi saint was born in 717 and in a long life of writing prayers and poems made an indelible contribution to Islamic mysticism. Rabi’a by Margaret Smith (Oneworld, 1994) is a biography with selections from Rabi’a’s writings.

Joseph Soloveitchik: This contemporary rabbi’s Halakhic Man (Jewish Publication Society, 1984) is a brilliant reflection on the truths of traditional, nonmystical Judaism and a revelation of how life-affirming the Jewish Law is.

Saint Symeon, the New Theologian: A 10th-century Greek Orthodox spiritual master defined hesychasm, a method of communion with God that has some affinities with yoga. Read him in Symeon, The New Theologian: The Discourses (Paulist Press, 1980), translated by C.J. De Catanzano.

Rabindranath Tagore: This Nobel Prize-winning poet-dramatist-philosopher’s idiosyncratic Hinduism epitomized Eastern wisdom for the West at the turn of the 20th century. Sample his vast output in Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology (Griffin, 1999), edited by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson.

Yuan Hung-tao: Enjoy this witty 16th-century Chinese poet’s self-ironic meditations on the difficulties of the Zen life in Pilgrim of the Clouds: Poems and Essays by Yuan Hung-tao and His Brothers (Weatherhill, 1978).

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