The Spiritual Athlete

The Spiritual Athlete

compiled and edited by Ray Berry
Joshua Press, P.O. Box 213, Olema, CA 94950, 1992; paperback, 352 pages.

Since religion is the most prominent manifestation of ethnicity, understanding other people's faith traditions is a healthy step toward appreciating the diverse ethnic heritages constituting modern American society. In The Spiritual Athlete Ray Berry shatters the prejudicial barriers separating nationalities, cultures, and creeds. Delving for the common element that unites humanity, he explains:

Even a cursory study of the religions of the world will reveal that among them there exist certain differences in dogma, ritual, and creed. But looking further, we discover a connecting unity, a common thread of truth, running through all faiths.

Like Theseus on Crete, Berry has followed this three-millennia-long thread through the labyrinth of human civilization. The common thread is spiritual experience.

Berry introduces us to nearly two dozen outstanding spiritual figures, famous and obscure, ancient and modern, traditional and heretical. They are Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, and people whose religions defy simplistic taxonomy. Rather than discussing the conflicting theological systems, The Spiritual Athlete introduces the religious experience as universal.

In addition to biographical sketches of well-known figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Lao Tzu, and Plotinus, Berry has included many lesser-known individuals. The simple faith of a freed slave, Sojourner Truth; the eremitic life of Japanese monk Yoshida Kenko, and the peaceful quietism of German ribbon weaver Ger hart Tersteegen confer on this book a rare charm.

Berry himself is a thirty-year member of the Vedanta Society. Like the Vedanta philosophy, which emphasizes the oneness of being, his book seeks to uncover the single spiritual Truth beneath the multifaceted surfaces of all religions. The two forms of spirituality-ascetic and sensual - found in the book are part and parcel of the athlete's training. The athlete, spiritual or otherwise, must discipline his body and at the same time cherish it. As Sufi mystic Rabi'a admonishes, "Curb your desires and control yourself." But as Rabbi Bunim points out, "there is more than one path leading to God, but the surest goes through joy and not through tears."


Spring 1994