Cover image for Pilgrim souls : an anthology of spiritual autobiographies
Pilgrim souls : an anthology of spiritual autobiographies
Mandelker, Amy.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

Physical Description:
543 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Touchstone book."
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BL72 .P55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What is the source of personal writing? When do we begin to consider our own lives worthy of a story? These powerful and passionate selections of spiritual autobiography do not merely represent a vital literary tradition; they bring together fifty-eight writers whose search for truth and understanding has spanned over two millennia and several continents.
From Saint Augustine and Rabi'a to T. S. Eliot and Kathleen Norris, each of these autobiographers tells the story of the inner life as a spiritual quest. Although separated culturally, historically, and linguistically, they are united by their efforts to respond to Socrates' challenge to "know thyself." In four parts this insightful collection includes works by:
* Wanderers and seekers, like Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Merton, who feverishly explore many experiences and world views
* Pilgrims and missionaries, like Anne Bradstreet and David Livingstone, who unwaveringly pursue God and holiness in lives of self-sacrifice
* Mystics and visionaries, like Julian of Norwich and Annie Dillard, who discover the ecstasy of epiphany in a life of contemplation and seclusion
* Scholars and philosophers, like Simone Weil and Blaise Pascal, who seek to ground spiritual conviction in a rational certitude.
Strong, deep, and enduring, the selections in this illuminating anthology remind us that "the unexamined life is not worth living" and speak to us with an immediacy that transcends time and space.

Author Notes

Madeleine L'Engle is best known for her science fiction trilogy A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Award; A Wind in the Door; and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, winner of the American Book Award. She is also a distinguished poet and an award-winning writer of nonfiction.



EDITORS' PREFACE Fashioning the Soul: The Shape of Spiritual Autobiography The idea for this book originated in a chance conversation between two literature professors lamenting the absence of a comprehensive anthology of spiritual autobiographies. We had both noticed that autobiography -- the story of the formation of a self -- is one of the most enduring genres of Western literature. Historically, writers view the self as a soul; for them the story of their life is a spiritual autobiography. Continuing this tradition, many contemporary authors write from a subjective framework: personal journalism and criticism, memoirs and family histories,spiritual journeys and geographies have all become popular. Yet where was the collection of spiritual autobiographies for interested readers, writers, students, and teachers? We felt they needed a volume that would be historically comprehensive, including the classics of the genre, and up-to-date, presenting the most recent writing of this kind. In compiling this anthology, we began by asking: What is the source of personal writing about the inner life? When do stories about the self begin to be told? How did such writing develop historically? Unlike sister genres -- travelogues, family memoirs -- spiritual autobiographies focus on events and experiences that shape the inner person in relationship to God. The authors of spiritual autobiographies concentrate on examining their interior experiences in order to discover coherence, structure, and meaning in the shape of an individual life. Most scholars locate the sources of spiritual autobiography in the personal histories of antiquity and in the Christian traditions of confession, profession of faith, and personal testimony. Early versions of these forms originate in the preclassical world, where the only individuals thought to be worth writing about were kings, pharaohs, or military heroes. These official histories and epics related public deeds as the justification for glory and honor; the individual's character or soul did not come under scrutiny. When did attention begin to turn to examining one's inner life? Perhaps with the philosophical autobiographies of thinkers like Socrates or Marcus Aurelius. Their quest for truth and understanding involved self-examination and an active effort to resolve the moral and spiritual conflicts in the individual psyche, or soul. The Wisdom books and histories of the Hebrew Bible bear a different emphasis, reflecting the development of monotheism. Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, rejects the idea that individuals can find meaning in life through their own efforts. Even the heroes and leaders of the Israelites, far from being glorified, are depicted in all their human frailty: Jacob was a deceiver, David an adulterer and murderer, Moses also a murderer who stammered and was afraid to appear in public. The source of wisdom for these figures is external; what shapes their lives and souls is the pursuit of God. Although the foundations for the modern form of spiritual autobiography were established by Saint Paul in the New Testament, the most significant figure in its evolution is Saint Augustine, whose Confessions influenced many of the authors in this collection: Petrarch, Saint Teresa of Avila, John Bunyan, C. S. Lewis, and others. Most spiritual autobiographies adhere to the Augustinian formula, itself a revised and amplified version of Saint Paul's story. The basic plot structure contains four parts: (1) a description of the individual's life before spiritual awakening, (2) an account of the events leading up to the individual's encounter with God, (3) a description of the actual encounter with God and the impact of this event on the narrator, and (4) a celebration of the new life following this event. There are few surprises or changes in this basic story line, even in such modern revisitations as those by Paul Claudel, Leo Tolstoy, or Kathleen Norris. Since most European and American spiritual autobiographies are crafted within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the reader should understand the supernatural terms of these texts and what was at stake for their writers. Although many of the authors refer to their works as "confessions," the meaning is not limited to the idea of penitence alone, nor is the question of guilt or criminality central to the genre. This form of spiritual autobiography is, more accurately, a type of testimonial intended to sway the reader to the author's way of belief, through what has been described as "first-person evangelization." The idea of providing witness reappears in the term personal testimony, introduced by the American Puritans. Personal testimony conveys the almost legal idea of deposition or witness. Saint Paul's spiritual autobiographies were actually delivered in his own self-defense before Jewish and Roman tribunals. In a personal testimony, the confessor describes the radical changes that have taken place in himself and bears witness to the conversion that transformed his aimless life to a life dedicated to God. Yet the personal testimony is more than a conversion narrative, as it continues to relate the spiritual progress and growth of the confessor as a proof of God's power. For writers of the medieval and Renaissance periods, moral struggle within the soul was described dramatically, with different characters taking on the roles of inner emotional states. In the courtly romance, spiritual goals were embodied in the form of an unattainable beloved. Personal accounts of spiritual struggles were often couched in terms of a dialogue between the individual and a spiritual confessor, as in Petrarch's confessional works, or between a troubador and his lady, as in Dante's La vita nuova. During the Reformation, personal testimony of a spiritual conversion was crucial evidence of individual predestination, proving that one had been preselected by God for salvation. For the American Puritan communities, an individual's testimony was not only to be documented in prose, but was also to be verified by visible transformations of the individual's heart, mind, and actions. A convincing personal testimony was the requirement for church membership, and for inclusion among the community's "elect." The ultimate stakes, however, were even higher: eternal salvation or damnation. Many Christian writers stress that a godly life should supersede material pursuits, even to the point of apparent folly, as in the case of Saint Francis, who abandoned wealth and position to embrace poverty and service to a leper colony. Writers of spiritual autobiographies proclaim that what was previously of value is now of little reckoning in contrast to attaining the coveted "pearl of great price." The authors of spiritual autobiographies from Saint Paul to Albert Schweitzer sound this same note: after a spiritual rebirth, the absorptions and pleasures of their earlier lives appear empty and tasteless. The Enlightenment transformed European and American life by eroding spiritual certainties, yet the formulaic structure of spiritual autobiography, where an enlightened narrator reviews a dismal past, continued in secular writing and fiction. Modern writers begin with a more skeptical attitude toward the possibility of obtaining a genuine understanding of themselves or their lives. The very process of writing about oneself is called into question. C. S. Lewis, for example, lamented that "even keeping a daily journal" was of little use, as events appear meaningful only in retrospect, so that unrecorded trivial occurrences might later prove to be of tantamount importance. This uncertainty about knowing oneself or others pervades modern and postmodern thought and literature. Contemporary spiritual autobiographies have a secular starting point and are no longer based in a conventionally religious worldview. Curiously, this brings these works closer to their antecedents in antiquity, such as those by Saint Augustine and others who sought God while living in a pagan world. As Nietzsche wrote, the "shadow of God" persists, even in a faithless world; writers who reject organized religion, for instance, Simone Weil, continue to characterize their spiritual experiences in the very terms they seek to escape. Postmodern writers avoid any type of plotline that would suggest they subscribe to a discarded world view; their inner journeys are described quite differently, delighting in the uncertainties of time, space, and objects, as in Annie Dillard's free-form meditation on holiness. In selecting works for this anthology, we have tried to identify and include the major classical works of Western spiritual autobiography. We have also searched for works that were written from an outsider's perspective, such as Jewish, colonial, or slave narratives. Whenever possible, we have presented complete or lightly edited texts. Each work is introduced by an informative head-note. Four major types of spiritual quests and personal histories are presented here: wanderers and seekers, pilgrims and missionaries, mystics and visionaries, and philosophers and scholars. These designations do not necessarily indicate an author's occupation or identity; rather, they are meant to describe the writer's approach to the spiritual and supernatural. The first type, wanderers and seekers, includes authors whose personal stories relate a sometimes feverish exploration of all available experiences and world views. Exhausting the enjoyment of "things under the sun" and perceiving the collapse of philosophies and ideologies, seekers cast themselves upon the spiritual truth that brings them to their authentic self. Typical of this group is the poet and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who was attracted by communism, journalism, art, and philosophy before turning to the contemplative life. The second, and perhaps most familiar, type of spiritual autobiography is written by pilgrims and missionaries. These stories describe individuals whose life goal has been the unwavering pursuit of God and holiness. Whatever sufferings or martyrdom they endure, these pilgrim souls, represented here by the writings of Saint Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Archpriest Avvakum, and others, remain unvanquished, even rejoicing in the opportunity to display their enduring faith despite trials and adversity. Perhaps the most unworldly type of spiritual autobiography is written by mystics and visionaries, who focus on supernatural experiences and epiphanies. These writers' lives unfold not in actual events but in moments of ecstatic prayer and visionary meditation. Historically, many of these visionaries have been found in the Carmelite order of the Roman Catholic Church: Saint Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Thérèse de Lisieux. But there have been other ecstatic responses, as in the poetry of John Donne or the slave narrative of Henrietta Gant. Finally, the accounts of scholars and philosophers demonstrate a lifelong commitment to the discernment of truth through the exercise of the intellect. These writers, thinkers, and poets -- such as Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, C. S. Lewis, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Denise Levertov -- seek to anchor spiritual convictions in intellectual certainties and to claim the possibility of a rationally established faith. The readings within each section span over two millennia and several continents. Although these authors are separated culturally, historically, and linguistically, they are connected in their efforts to respond to Socrates's challenge to "know thyself" and in their belief that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Saint Augustine's starting point, "I became a great question for myself," is the impetus for each of these authors as they pursue spiritual enlightenment in order to gain understanding of their lives. In looking backward, they try to pick out that connecting thread of significant events which Henry James called "the figure in the carpet." Modern skepticism may question whether such a thread exists in any sense other than that supplied by the recuperative powers of hindsight. But there are moments of self-assessment and reflection when a person may step outside the flow of experience to ascribe meaning and give shape to the past. The authors presented here have given expression to this activity in some of the greatest examples of introspective spiritual writing in the Western tradition. It is a tribute to the power of their writing and their passion to define the transcendent that we find their works still speak with power and immediacy. Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers Copyright © 1999 by Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers Excerpted from Pilgrim Souls: A Collection of Spiritual Autobiographies by Elizabeth Powers All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Madeleine L'Engleeditors'
Fashioning the Soul: The Shape of Spiritual
Part 1 Wanderers & Seekersking David, The Psalmist
From the PsalmsSaint Augustine
From The ConfessionsLeo Tolstoy
From A ConfessionEmily Dickinson
Selected PoemsJoris-Karl Huysmans
From En RouteJohannes JØRgensen
From His AutobiographySergei Bulgakov
From His AutobiographyThomas Merton
From The Seven Storey MountainMadeleine L'Engle
From A Circle of QuietCharles W. Colson
From Born AgainEldridge Cleaver
From Soul on FireKathleen Norris
From Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
Part 2 Pilgrims & Missionariesmoses
From Exodus and DeuteronomySaint Paul
From His LettersMartin Luther
From His WritingsSaint Ignatius of Loyola
From Saint Ignatius's Own StoryRabbi Leon Modena
From The Life of JudahAnne Bradstreet
A Letter to My ChildrenArchpriest Avvakum
From The Life of Archpriest Avvakum by HimselfJohn Bunyan
From Grace AboundingJonathan Edwards
Personal NarrativeJohn Wesley
From The Journal of John WesleyDavid Livingstone
From Missionary Travels and Researches in South AfricaAnonymous Russian Pilgrim
From The Way of a PilgrimChristina Rossetti
From MaudeAlbert Schweitzer
From Out of My Life and Thought: An AutobiographyDag Hammarskjouml;ld
From Markings
Part 3 Mystics & Visionariesrabi'aAl-'Adawiya
From Her PrayersDAnte Alighieri
From La vita nuovaJulian of Norwich
From ShowingsSaint Teresa of Avila
From The Book of Her LifeSaint John of The Cross
From On a Dark NightJohn Donne
From Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Dedication, First Meditation and Prayer, Number OneBrother Lawrence
From The Practice of the Presence of GodSaint Margaret Mary Alacoque
From Her LettersJeane Marie de la Motte-Guyon
From Her AutobiographyFrancis Thompson
The Hound of HeavenHenrietta Gant
Narrative of Her BaptismSaint Theacute;regrave;se de Lisieux
From The Story of a SoulAnnie Dillard
From Holy the Firm
Part 4 Philosophers & Scholarssocrates
From The ApologyMarcus Aurelius
From MeditationsAbuuml; Hamid Muhammad Ghazali (Algazali)
From Deliverance from ErrorPetrarch
The Ascent of Mount VentouxSor Juana Ineacute;s de la Cruz
First DreamBlaise Pascal
The MemorialBenjamin Franklin
From The AutobiographySamuel Johnson
Prayers and MeditationsJohn Henry Cardinal Newman
From Apologia pro vita suaGerard Manley Hopkins
Selected PoemsPaul Claudel
My ConversionT. S. Eliot
Ash-WednesdayC. S. Lewis
From SurprisedJoy Viktor E. Frankl
From Experiences in a Concentration CampSimone Weila Spiritual Autobiography and Sheldon Vanauken
From A Severe MercyDenise Levertov
Selected PoemsFlannery o'Connor
From Her Letters