Robert Ellsberg

Publisher's Letter - July 2020

Dear Friends,

The ongoing course of the coronavirus pandemic continues to raise new as well as perennial questions about life and the meaning of suffering. Reflections on those questions along with answers from many of the world’s great spiritual teachers may be found in The Way of Suffering: Readings for an Enlightened Life, the latest in an Orbis series edited by Michael Leach, James, T. Keane, and Doris Goodnough. As the editors note, this volume might well be read as the first volume in the series (with volumes on Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Kindness), since the subject is so rooted in universal experience. Though suffering may show its face in dramatic, global events, it touches each one of us intimately, and how we cope with it and learn its difficult lessons is one of the prime challenges of human existence.

            Contributors range from Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joyce Rupp, and Carlo Carretto, to Eckart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and Stephen Colbert. Along with lesser-known companions, their stories and wisdom drawn from personal experience, offer consolation, insight, and tools for enlightenment.

            Especially under conditions of social distancing, it is wonderful to find spiritual resources—such as Zen practice—especially suited for these times. In Embracing the Inconceivable: Interspiritual Practice of Zen and Christianity, Ellen Birx, a Christian as well as a Zen roshi, offers Christians a guide to Zen practice that can deepen their spiritual practice and foster new ways of encountering reality.  

            Another great guide is Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whose Essential Writings, edited by Or N.  Rose and Netanel Miles-Yépez, is the latest volume in our Modern Spiritual Masters Series. Weaving together strands of Hasidism and Kabbalah with teachings from a wide range of other religious and wisdom traditions, Reb Zalman created the Jewish Renewal Movement, seeking to infuse contemporary Jewish life with greater spiritual depth through increased attention to contemplative and embodied practice and joyous service to God, the Jewish people, and the world as a whole.

            One of the obvious lessons of our recent experience is the importance of true leadership. Robert Michael Franklin, former president of Morehouse College, addresses this topic—what it means and how to foster it--in Moral Leadership: Integrity, Courage, and Imagination. Moral leadership, he argues, is anchored in intellectual and ethical integrity, a vision of and commitment to the public good, and personal investment in transformative community. Drawing on a lifetime of witnessing, emulating, and nurturing such leadership, Franklin proposes ways in which readers in any context can discover and foster those qualities in themselves, while inviting others to join them in solving the nation’s most pressing problems.

 May we all seek and cultivate the practices, ideals, and models to meet the challenges—personal and social—of our time.


Robert Ellsberg