Archives For Benedictines


“Wisdom for the Ages… And the Aging”

A review of
The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

By Joan Chittister.

Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon.

The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.
Joan Chittister.

Hardback: BlueBridge, 2010.

Buy now: [ ]

The Gift of Years - Joan ChittisterIf I had been born in 1900, my average life expectancy would have been forty-nine years. Statisticians tell me if I’d been born in 2000, I could expect to live to age eighty. We are living longer, but I’m not sure we understand how to use the gift of these additional years.

Many of us carry negative images of aging: Sunbelt residents living in sprawling condo developments who spend their days golfing and arguing about condo by-laws (think of Jerry’s parents on Seinfeld); sad, shriveled people trapped in permanent longing for their good old days and endlessly rehearsing the saga of their declining physical condition.

Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who writes and speaks on topics of spiritual formation, justice, and women’s issues, insists that old age is not any of those things. Instead, she explains in The Gift Of Years that old age is a developmental stage rich with both challenge and blessing. Thinking of the retirement years and beyond as the last stage of life presents an incomplete picture of what is happening both inside and around us. In fact, she says, we are entering a new stage of life. Old age is a time to grow, not wither. Chittister writes:

“What is the purpose of all these extra years, the ones out of the systems, beyond the corporate institutions. Is this the dying time? Is it only about waiting to be gone? And if so, how can we possibly face it with any kind of joy, any kind of dignity?…Each period of life has its own purpose. This later one gives me the time to assimilate all the others. The task of this period of life…is not simply to endure the coming of the end of time. It is to come alive in ways I have never been alive before.”

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A Brief Review of

Chant of Death: A Father Malachi Mystery.
Diane Marquart Moore and Isabel Anders
Pinyon Publishing, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.

The setting for this intriguing little mystery is a fictional Benedictine Abbey in southern Louisiana.  The monks, under the direction of a talented (and egotistical) choirmaster, have produced a best-selling CD of religious chant.  Father Malachi, the spiritual-minded abbot, is doing his best to keep the priorities of the Abbey and its inhabitants focused on their true mission, while notoriety and media coverage and financial profits try to pull the monks in other directions.  It’s not long until events turn murderous and Father Malachi’s abilities are put to their supreme test.

The story is well-told and has its moments of captivating intensity, but I finished the book with three complaints.  First, the authors attempt to weave into the story a discussion of almost every issue facing the contemporary Roman Catholic Church.  Pedophilia, celibate clergy, homosexuality, using church money to pay claims against abusive priests, bishops who cover up such crimes, and the transformation of worship in a post-modern culture – all these issues get some level of exposure in a 150-page mystery novel!  Some of the issues are directly relevant to the story, but often the authors become a little heavy-handed in directing the story or the dialogue to get to the issues.  I felt a little “preached to” at times.

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“A Vibrant Contrast to
the Madness of our Hypermobile Culture

A Review of
The Wisdom of Stability:
Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture

by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The Wisdom of Stability:
Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ]

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove THE WISDOM OF STABILITYTransience is a major curse of our age.  From those who are always on the move to avoid their creditors to the upwardly mobile who are always seeking greener pastures, it seems that everyone is on the move.  In our urban neighborhood, it is a fairly common practice for renters to move into a new place, paying the first month’s rent, and then forego paying the second month’s rent, and then at the end of the second month when their account is 30 days past due, the eviction process is started and the renter then has 30 days until they are evicted.  Thus, crafty renters can get three months worth of housing for the price of one month, and force themselves into a cycle of moving every three months (or more if they are able to scrape together more than a single month’s rent).  These habits have larger cultural implications; I have heard of a public school in our neighborhood that has turnover rates as high as 95% from one year to the next (i.e., only 5 % of the students who started in a grade one year were still at the school a year later).  Lest I get too critical, it occurred to me recently that I myself have, in the last 15 years (since the summer before my senior year of college), lived at a staggering twelve  addresses in four different states!  Thankfully, I have been fortunate to live in the same house for the last six years, and have no intention of moving any time soon, and am slowly learning here about the historic Christian practice of stability.

Given the great mobility of American culture, it is not surprising that stability is virtually unknown in our churches today.  In the historically Black Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the Rutba House community have been growing roots over the last decade in that place and re-learning the practice of stability.  Hartgrove has reflected on these experiences and on the Christian tradition of stability in his excellent new book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.  This new volume features a foreword by Kathleen Norris, who herself has reflected eloquently on stability in her most recent book Acedia and Me (which was our 2008 Book of the Year).  The book also features narrative “Front Porch” reflections interspersed between the chapters, in which Wilson-Hartgrove captures vignettes from his own life that cut to the heart of the “craft” of stability.

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An excerpt from the recent book

A Blessed Life:
Benedictine Guidelines for Those Who Long for Good Days
Wil Derkse.
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ A
mazon ]


In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors. Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest. Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition. You get great books for a great price, CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.

This week’s bargain books (Click to learn more/purchase)
Four Books on Christian Community:

457966: The Rule of St. Benedict The Rule of St. Benedict

By St. Benedict / Dover Publications


Modestly described by its author as “a little rule for beginners,” this masterpiece of spiritual wisdom dates from the sixth century. It was originally intended as a manaual for aspiring monks, a diverse group composed of serfs, scholars, shepherds, and sons of the nobility. Benedict’s teachings have guided readers from every walk of life, encouraging with advice regarding the dignity of labor, the challenge of responsibility, and the proper use of resources

22200X: The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God"s Family The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God’s Family

By Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner / Westminster John Knox Press

$2.99 – Save 90%!!!

This is front-line work on an urgent topic, that practical kind of “how to” book on one level, and the “why to” theology work we have needed, on another. It is hard to think of any Christian who will have to read it who will not have acquired new perspectives on adoption and on God as Adopter, perspectives that we solely need and will surely welcome.

221750: The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible

By John David Pleins / Westminster John Knox Press

$4.99 – Save 88%!!!

A full-scale study of the social vision of the Hebrew Bible. Adopting a sociological and historical approach, the book analyzes biblical statements about social ethics within a framework provided by Israel’s social institutions, the social locations of its actors, and the historical struggles for power and survival.

430371: Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice

By Jonathan R. Wilson / Baker Books

$2.99 – Save 85%

What exactly is it we’re called to do when we meet as God’s people? Wilson offers compelling insights on “gathered worship” as work, witness, and warfare. He examines practices of baptism, communion, and foot-washing; and shows how glorifying God together grounds us in truth and the language of faith. Invaluable reflections for leaders and laypeople. 240 pages, softcover from Brazos.


A Brief Review of
The Life of St. Benedict By Gregory the Great
Translation and Commentary by Terrence Kardong.

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ]  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Pope Gregory the Great’s work The Life of St. Benedict is at the same time “one of the most beloved texts of the whole Benedictine family” and also, as a work of hagiography, one of the most confusing.  However, the new translation and commentary by noted Benedictine scholar Terrence Kardong, aimed at popular audiences, seeks to make sense of this classic work.  Kardong’s translation into contemporary English is easy to read and understand.  Noting that many of the stories of Benedict recorded in Gregory’s work lack “a social or historical context” (25), Kardong in his commentary offers a reconstruction of enough of the context that we might understand its meaning.  In particular, Kardong seeks to sort out the hagiographical elements in Gregory’s narrative, as is seen especially in the chapter on the “Four Miracles at Subiaco.”  Kardong observes how each of these miracles reflects certain biblical and patristic stories on which they are based.  However, Kardong is cautious not to keep caught up in academic questions here about historicity. Of the four miracles, he says: “Can Benedict really have been this extraordinary? Of course, there is no possibility of getting back to the historical reality here.  And perhaps it is not necessary if we can let the myths carry the story of this holy man” (39). I was especially intrigued by the Kardong’s framing of the story of Benedict and his sister Scholastica, which appears toward the end of the book.  Kardong observes that even though Benedict is the hero of Gregory’s work here, he is comically humanized here and “comes out second best” to his sister.  If you want to read one of the Benedictine classics, or a perspective of Benedict from one of his contemporaries, or if you have already read Gregory’s biography and seek to understand it better, this book, with its crystal clear prose and keen insights is well-worth your time!


“The Ethics
of Eating Together”


A Review of
Around the Monastic Table:
Growing in Mutual Service and Love.

by Aquinata Böckmann.

 Reviewed by Chris Smith


Around the Monastic Table: Growing in Mutual Service and Love.
Aquinata Böckmann.
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $25 ]  [ Amazon ]

 “To do rightly the practice of breaking bread together is a matter of economic ethics”

— John Howard Yoder, from Body Politics.


At one level, Aquinata Böckmann’s new book, Around the Monastic Table: Growing in Mutual Service and Love, is a fairly technical monastic commentary on twelve brief chapters of The Rule of St. Benedict.  And yet, this volume is one of the most significant and engaging works in recent memory on the ethics of food and eating within the life of the Church community.  Around the Monastic Table is not just about food, but rather the economy and form of a life that is centered around a community of God’s people who break bread together.  Thus, even Benedict’s broader economic reflections on questions like how the tools and resources of the monastery should be shared or whether a monk should have any possessions of his own, in Böckmann’s words, reflect “the image of the common meal” (3).  Each chapter of Around the Monastic Table (with one key exception that we will address later) exposits a single chapter from the passage of Benedict’s Rule on which Böckmann has chosen to focus. In these chapters, she examines our contemporary context into which the specific passage is read, the sixth-century context in which it was written, and the textual context within the Rule where the passage occurs.  She them overviews the passage as a whole and finally spends the bulk of the chapter in a phrase-by-phrase exegesis of the passage’s meaning.  Although this rigid approach is typical of academic textual commentaries, Böckmann seems never to get bogged down in the minutia of the text, but – perhaps driven by the monastic practice of lectio divina – she ultimately focuses on the ethical significance of each phrase.

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“Working Well and Being Well

A Review of The Craftsman,
by Richard Sennett.

By Chris Smith.

The Craftsman.
Richard Sennett.
Hardcover. Yale uP. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]

The CraftsmanThe monastic tradition of the Church, and particularly the Benedictine stream, has gifted the broader Church with a rich heritage that values working hard and working well. This heritage has also been reflected more recently in the writings of Wendell Berry and other writers associated with the new agrarianism. For those readers who are deeply rooted in this heritage, Richard Sennett’s new book, The Craftsman, is an eloquent gift. Sennett, an esteemed sociologist at NYU, sets out in this book to explore “the intimate connection between hand and head” (9). He notes, however, that in the Western world this connection has become strained. Sennett attributes this divide in large part to our use of technology that “we did not make for ourselves and that we do not understand” (7). In demonstration of this point, Sennett posits the example of CAD software. Despite its mathematical precision, CAD eliminates the intimacy that was had in previous generations between an architect and the space in which he was working. In this previous era, the architect would, through a cyclical process of drawing, walking around and experiencing the site, become intimate with the details of the space in a way that the standard use of CAD does not allow. Continue Reading…