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And Live Rejoicing: Chapters from a Charmed Life - Personal Encounters with Spiritual Mavericks, Remarkable Seekers, and the World's Great Religious Leaders Paperback – Sep 4 2012
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About the Author
Huston Smith is recognized and revered as the preeminent teacher of world religions and a prolific author. He was the focus of the five-part television series The Wisdom of Faith hosted by Bill Moyers.
Phil Cousineau is an editor, filmmaker, creativity consultant, literary tour leader, and the author of numerous books, including The Art of Pilgrimage.
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He feels he has lived two different lives. "Being raised in an ancient world meant owning far less paraphernalia, while my life in modern America has meant accumulating more encumbrances than I think I need." I envy Smith for his adventures, his opportunities and for having lived a life that allows him to understand and embrace the differences in life.
In And Live Rejoicing, Smith recounts visits with many famous people of his generation. Among them Noble Prize winner in Physics and discoverer of the laser, Charles Towns; Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama and Joseph Campbell. He tells stories of visiting exotic places such as China, Japan, Tehran, and India. He was able to study many religions in many lands, therefore discovering the true essence of each religion. How could a man who was able to experience all this not be rejoicing? I'm sure there are some who would view the travel and experiences tiring, troublesome or intimidating, but not Huston Smith. He tells his stories with ease, honesty and as someone who truly realizes his good fortune to have lived an adventurous and privileged life. Privileged because he recognized the value of his experiences and the importance of sharing his insights with readers.
Not all his experiences were happy, but all bore lessons that served him well in later life. Being told he was a slow learner, for instance, may have hurt his feelings for a short while, but it taught him to be more patient with his students when he began to teach.
Smith's writing flows and he keeps his stories interesting because he puts the reader at the location in which he is at when the each event is happening. Although the lands and religions he speaks of may be overwhelmingly difficult, Smith explains them by telling a short, easy to identify with, experience he had while encountering the region or religion. He also didn't just study the religion, when he could he lived the religion. He didn't just read about or observe the spiritual practice of sitting in a sweat lodge, he participated in a sweat lodge.
Enlightening and interesting, after reading And Live Rejoicing you feel as if you've just left the company of a very good friend.
Writing this review, as a veteran journalist, I think back across the many decades when Smith was a fixture on PBS, the man behind the standard volumes on world religion like the newer The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions and a tireless advocate of seeing religion as a source of global goodness. I have interviewed Smith a number of times throughout his career and, as recently as this spring, recommended the earlier The Huston Smith Reader.
As a journalist, I also recommend reading the whole true story of Smith's life, including his involvement with the early experiments in the use of drugs to induce altered spiritual states as told in Don Lattin's The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. Huston Smith himself wasn't shy about discussing his personal research into mind-altering drugs that are part of major world religions; he wrote an entire book about it called Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemical. In the 1990s, Smith publicly worked on the political campaign to preserve Native American rights to use peyote in sacred rituals. For full balance on Smith's legacy, I also recommend reading Huston Smith's critics as well; the most articulate critic these days is Stephen Prothero in his book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World.
At this point, anyone who cares about religious cultures around the world probably has a couple Huston Smith books on the shelf -- perhaps a half dozen including a more than one edition of The World's Religions, originally published in 1958 as a major milestone in this field of study. So, the question is: Do we want this new book, prepared in collaboration with Phil Cousineau, Smith's main colleague in writing and editing. Smith is 93 as of this book review and has ever-increasing trouble speaking and moving, so works closely with Cousineau to keep communicating with the world. So, let me answer a few questions readers may have about this book:
Is this a new book? Some "new" Huston Smith books represent old Smith material in new packages. That's not a bad thing. The illustrated version of his world religion's book is beautiful. Live Rejoicing is new in the sense that he has newly produced about 200 pages of autobiographical stories and reflections, many of which Smith has told in talks over the years.
Is this a book about joy? In the opening pages, Smith tells readers that this book revolves around the question: How do we seize the day rejoicingly -- with hope and happiness over each new encounter? That is the general tone of the book, but you shouldn't expect Chicken Soup-style happy endings to every story. A vivid story about Smith's early experience with a Native American sweat lodge, for example, mainly shows us why it's tough for non-Indians to understand that ritual.
What section of Huston Smith's life does this book cover? The short answer is: all of it. However, the book is neither chronological nor sequential. The first stories jump right into Smith's mid-career work as an author; he then takes us back to his childhood; then, toward the end of the book, we travel back again for several anecdotes about his early public-television series, including an interview he conducted with Eleanor Roosevelt. In fact, if anything, the book's timeline often is confusing. Open this book as you might settle into a theater seat for an evening of Huston Smith talking about his life. Expect to ramble with him.
What parts of the world does Smith cover? Again: all of it. Given the rise of China as a world power, many readers may find the sections on China especially fascinating. As one might expect, there also are sections here on India and many other parts of the globe.
I highly recommend this book for individual reading. Small groups and book clubs may also enjoy discussing the book. While it is not organized well for a small-group series, the huge range of vivid anecdotes represents a grand central station for points of departure in conversation.
And Live Rejoicing is a different kind of memoir than most I have read. It is more of a spiritual memoir that is told by someone that quickly seems like your close personal friend or mentor by reading it.
Huston's life and the religious studies he has embraced around the world is amazing. What I love most about this book and the author is that he embraces everything that is thrown at him, and rejoices at the experience of it all. Lucky for us, he has compiled many of his traveling and religious encounters with us in this memoir of his spiritual journey.
This is a beautifully written account of Huston Smith's life. I highly recommend it.
* Thank you to the publisher of And Live Rejoicing, New World Library, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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