Krista Tippett Illuminates the Mystery and Art of Living

Connections | wisdom, On Being

May 11, 2016 | by Gillian Gonda

Becoming Wise book cover (text with yellow banner)

We’ve long had an interest in media and storytelling—not surprising given our founder John Fetzer’s broadcasting legacy. One of our enduring partnerships in this arena continues to delight and surprise with its vision and trajectory. On Being with Krista Tippett is a media project most known for its presence on public radio and its highly successful companion podcast. Over the years, the show has evolved from a program about faith and meaning to an ever-broadening and deepening understanding of spirituality as it is expressed in theology, science, art, civic dialogue, and community.

With her roots in journalism and theological study, Krista Tippett has grounded her work with a profound sense of curiosity and hospitality, a hospitality offered to her conversation partners and the stories they weave together. Nowhere is this more evident than Krista’s latest entry into the public conversation she nurtures: her third book and most personal project to date, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.

Drawing on 13 years of interviews with luminaries and every day mystics, the book is an intimate and far-ranging exploration of ideas central to our experience of being human and becoming wise. Krista tells this story using five themes—words, flesh, love, faith, and hope—all perfect lenses through which to view our ever-changing human condition and to recognize the spiritual experience in our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.

All I know is that at every turn, I hear the word love surfacing as a longing for common life, quietly but persistently and in unexpected places.
Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise

Krista’s hospitality to these ideas also extends to herself. Throughout the book, revelatory personal experiences ground readers and invite introspection about the pleasures and disappointments in our own lives. We are treated to mini-memoir moments throughout, from Krista’s roots in Oklahoma, to her transformational experiences as a young adult in Berlin, and the present mixture of her professional and personal life. The vulnerability is touching and expressive. Krista understands that sharing her own journey, her truths and joys, as well as her longings and fears, is essential as we consider our own experience of being and becoming.

Life is fluid, evanescent, evolving in every cell, in every breath. Never perfect.  To be alive is by definition messy, always leaning towards disorder and surprise. How we open or close to the reality that we never arrive at safe enduring stasis is the matter, the raw material, of wisdom....
Grief and gladness, sickness and health, are not separate passages. They’re entwined and grow from and through each other, planting us, if we’ll let them, more profoundly in our bodies in all their flaws and their grace.
Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise

The majority of the book is comprised of excerpts of conversations from On Being over the years. These vignettes distill, accentuate, and punctuate the chosen themes with a graceful fluidity. With so many words and so much wisdom, where do you even start? Countless hours spent editing the radio show likely prepared Krista for this mammoth undertaking. Familiar names like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Congressman John Lewis, and Brené Brown are woven into luminous voices that may be less familiar and equally compelling. There is something magical about “reading” a conversation. The words haven’t been perfectly placed—they emerge, effortlessly and comfortably.

How, in our daily lives are we connecting in every single respect with ourselves and everything around us?
Because that’s where transcendence comes from.

Eve Ensler in Becoming Wise
Sometimes people talk about how we need to do things to connect. And on one hand that's right, but on the other hand, it understates what is. We are connected. What we need to do is become aware of it, to live it, to express it.  
john powell in Becoming Wise

While inspirational passages are found on nearly every page, the book isn’t simply a hopeful tome for a better tomorrow. There is an intellectual rigor and investigative edge to Krista's style--one that reveals a rapidly advancing and complex world that is comfortable for some and increasingly harsh for many. 

We are at such an interesting, unnerving moment. As we take up the task of inventing common life for this century, we are struggling, collectively, with divisions of race and income and class that are not new but are freshly anguishing. Here’s what is new: a surfacing of grief. It’s not a universal reckoning, but it’s a widespread awareness that the healing stories we’ve told ourselves collectively are far less than complete. 
Spiritual life is a way of dwelling with perplexity—taking it seriously, searching for its purpose as well as its perils, its beauty as well as its ravages.
Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise

Krista underscores the importance of “powerful questions” and “generous listening” throughout her book, concepts clearly necessary to the craft she has so beautifully and expertly honed. We would do well to take these recommendations to heart, every day in every encounter. In all her wisdom she sees the opportunity they give us to truly become our better and wiser selves.

Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.” You can find Becoming Wise at major book retailers, and don’t miss the special audio edition, read by Krista and especially crafted by the On Being editing team to include the many voices populating the book.