Peace Corps Writers
  Two books by Gail Straub (page 2)
Two books by Gail Straub page 1, page 2       The author uses life stories, her own and those of some of her students, to illustrate the process she has developed. The reader observes Ms. Straub and several others search for understanding as they: uncover their central image; examine their parent’s lives to further understand their own strengths and weaknesses; identify where they feel most and least comfortable in their lives; and search for the deeper “heartbreaks” and the “radical surprises” that offer an opportunity to accept the suffering in their lives as an opportunity for growth and connection with others. As the last element of each stage in the process, the reader is provided with an exercise — a series of questions and suggestions and techniques that can function as stepping stones to reaching the objectives laid out by the author. Often she will also counsel that a person may want to seek professional psychological or spiritual assistance.
     After working through the process of self-understanding, Straub begins the task of helping the now more insightful reader prepare for service to others. This process involves such things as “cultivating a quiet mind and an open heart;”cultivating presence and radical simplicity, and viewing service and stewardship as a spiritual practice. Finally, she brings it all home in Part III where she describes what results when a person’s inner and outer manifestations become one: “…we find that we are disappearing and a divine presence is taking over.” She quotes William Blake speaking of this same state of being: “I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.” At this stage of development, a person displays a “mature compassion,” a wholeness, a oneness with the world and with God. Straub is insistent that a person cannot achieve this point of peace without a vibrant and consistent spiritual life. The author summarizes this joyous state of being as follows: “When we find our rhythm of compassion, we have come home, we are in a state of grace. We are in tune with a great universal cadence where a rich inner life is balanced with a passionate engagement with the world. Conversely we need grace — an unmerited gift from God — to find that universal rhythm.”
     Those readers who are well launched on their spiritual journey may find the first section of this book — the search for the central image — unhelpful or perhaps irrelevant. However, it’s likely that everyone will find much that is sensible and useful in the section on determining where and how one will serve others. Here the author singles out busyness as a singular curse of our times. She quotes Thomas Merton: “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence.” And Jacob Needleman writes, in Time and Self: “The time famine of our lives and culture is in fact a symptom of metaphysical starvation.” Every reader will appreciate the quotations from great spiritual leaders that the author uses liberally throughout the book. These powerful and challenging quotations will have the reader heading to the bookstore or library for works by Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Naht Hanh and Meister Eckhart, and others, eager for more.

The Circle of Compassion is a small volume that grew out of The Rhythm of Compassion. It consists of short statements, one per page, to be used for meditation. Ms. Straub suggests they be used in the context of one’s preferred spiritual practice. Many of the statements are excerpted from her earlier book.

Susan Hundt Bergan is studying to become a lay minister in the Roman Catholic Church. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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