Heart of Flesh

Published February 1, 1999

THE TITLE, taken from Ezekiel 36:26, well reflects the sensibility of the feminist worldview which the author advocates. Joan Chittister is calling for a revolution of the heart, a new way of seeing and an attitude toward life independent of, and contrary to, patriarchal assumptions of dominance, hierarchy, dualism, and inequality.

As the author says, this book is about another set of values designed to nurture a dying globe and rescue a forgotten people . These values are identified as specifically feminist, and include a consciousness of equality in difference, empowerment for all, mutual enabling, the bringing together of feeling and reason, dialogue, non-violence, compassion, vulnerability, a humility which leads to self-development and community consciousness.

The close connection between patriarchy and Christianity is acknowledged, and Christianity is named as the most human-centred and male-privileged of the major religions. However, for Chittister, Christianity and patriarchy are not inseparable. Patriarchy is not justified by the life and teachings of Jesus; rather, feminist values are at the core of Christianity.

For Chittister, it is impossible to be a good Christian without being a good feminist, and vice versa. One requires and reflects the other, she maintains: “Neither of them stands well alone.”

The author covers a great deal of territory, perhaps too much, in 175 pages. One wonders, for example, whether patriarchy can so readily be edited out of the founding texts of Christianity as she seems to believe. Still, this is a book which is wonderfully passionate, articulate, and accessible. The author’s stories at the beginning of each chapter poignantly bring the topics to life. Nancy Earle’s colourful illustrations of the themes of the chapters make this a truly beautiful book, as well as a thought-provoking one.

Dr. Susan Storey is incumbent of St. Mary the Virgin, Vegreville, Alta., and co-ordinator of the partnerships in ministry program for the Diocese of Edmonton.


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