(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sister Joan Chittister has been an influential person in the Catholic Church for more than three decades. A former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, she has been a strong advocate for women’s ordination and has spoken out on other issues of social justice, such as rights for homosexuals and environmental concerns. A controversial figure, she is held in great esteem by those on the left and is sometimes vilified by those on the right.

In Called to Question, Chittister invites the reader to share in her thought processes and her spiritual journey. When she was younger, she was convinced of the correctness of the Catholic Church’s position. She tells how she struggled to accept pre-Vatican II teachings concerning Protestants in the light of her own Presbyterian stepfather. She also had difficulty with her mother’s not attending Mass. Her questions about the Church were therefore planted in her youth, but she suppressed them and willingly accepted Church teachings. Then, when a cardinal at a conference in Rome made some questionable assertions about the Eucharist, she no longer took the Church’s teachings for granted and began to take responsibility for her own spirituality.

Chittister began to keep a journal—a dialogue with other spiritual writers in which she recorded her questions and what others from a variety of faith traditions had to say about each topic. Then she would record her responses. Excerpts from that journal are included in Called to Question, which expands on her original ideas.

Chittister begins by questioning the role of religion in our lives, exploring the difference between religion and spirituality. According to Chittister, religion is external; it provides rules and rituals to lead us to the divine. Spirituality is the internal process that takes us beyond religion to the divine. Chittister questions...

(The entire section is 780 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Chittister, Joan. Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998. Beginning with the presumption that traditional spirituality has not worked, Chittister argues that a spirituality that does not consider the full experience of women is not an authentic spirituality.

Chittister, Joan. Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003. Everyone experiences struggle and pain in life. Chittister examines the way struggle defines us and offers hope for those looking to find God through such difficulties.

Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1992. This classic theological text explores the feminine aspect of God. Johnson challenges the traditional depiction of God as male and invites the reader to broaden his or her understanding of God.