Archives For Monasticism


The Years that Lie Ahead

A Brief Review of

The Sun at Midnight: Monastic Experience of the Christian Mystery

Bernardo Olivera

Paperback: Cistercian Publications, 2012
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Reviewed by Danny Wright


In The Sun at Midnight, Bernardo Olivera, a Cistercian monk, examines the history of mysticism as it has been experienced through the Cistercian tradition and posits that mysticism is what we need in order to move forward in our relationships with God and our fellow man.  He believes that the West is not only experiencing a change of era, but an era of change, and that every era of change has its moment of religious awakening.  Religion is paramount, because it pushes us to discover our ultimate meaning and answers the basic existential questions of life.  He encourages the reader to understand that mystery is the most intricate and integral level of reality and that it gives meaning to everything that exists, and that mysticism itself gives birth to religion.  The author purports that every baptized believer is a mystic and that we should follow the example of the greatest mystic of all, Jesus of Nazareth.  As we experience God and his mystery, we will continually see the need to grow and develop because we will forever be dumbstruck in the presence of an Almighty God that reminds us that everything we know is a mere approximation and that our best descriptions of the mess in this sin-ravaged world are simply gibberish.


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Francis Kline - Lovers of the PlaceThe Staircase to Richer, Fuller Living

A Feature Review of

Lovers of the Place: Monasticism Loose in the Church

Francis Kline

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2012
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Reviewed by David Nash

When I received Lovers of Place, I opened the book with eager anticipation.  I was intrigued with the subtitle “Monasticism Loose in the Church” and looked forward to reading the book. Then I was disappointed to find out that the book was first published in 1997, and was republished in 2012 without revision.  “Why?” I wondered.  As I read through the book I found that my hopes were not high enough!  Indeed, Lovers of the Place, though only a few years in print, holds the promise of becoming a spiritual classic.

The opening chapter presents an extended allegory of the life of the church, an allegory that rings true with my experience as a parish pastor, and sets the agenda for the rest of the book.  The second chapter opens up the allegory as the author explains the transition from “personal pre-occupation to wonderment at the larger world of the church paradoxically inside the building.” (18)

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It’s hip to be a monk. Monastic practices have become the rage in North American Christendom and not just among Catholics and Anglicans. It would not be surprising to find a young Southern Baptist for whom the praying of the hours has taken a significant place in their life with God. Or a Vineyard pastor organizing a retreat for solitude and silence.

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St. Agnes’ Eve
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes;
May my soul follow soon!


A Review of Studying the Life of St. Francis of Assisi: A Workbook.
Second Edition.
William Hugo.
Paperback: New City Press, 2011.

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Reviewed by Stephen Taylor.

Perhaps the most famous Christian saint of post-apostolic times is St. Francis of Assisi.  Catholics and Protestants alike are drawn to the man Francis for his kindness, his concern for all creatures, and his radical response to the call of Christ which marked him forever as a man of deep holiness.  Every garden center in the nation has a statue of Francis and the birds for sale, but how many people know anything about the man Francis?

For people not familiar with Catholic Religious Orders the initials after the author’s name mean Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin.  Capuchin is name for a type of the Friars Minor, and the monkeys were named after them due to the similarity between Capuchin habits and the colors of the monkeys.

Studying the Life of St. Francis of Assisi is aimed at the scholar or the Franciscan Novice who wishes to delve more deeply into the actual writings of St. Francis and not just the hagiography of St. Francis.

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Part of the Weather
and Part of the Climate and Part of the Place

A review of
The Environmental Vision
of Thomas Merton.

(Culture of the Land Series)
by Monica Weis, SSJ.

Review by Brent Aldrich.

The Environmental Vision
of Thomas Merton.

(Culture of the Land Series)
Monica Weis, SSJ.
Hardback: UP of Kentucky, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

It might come as no surprise that Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk well-respected for his broad-reaching writing about social justice, contemplation and spiritual disciplines, peace, interfaith dialogues, etc., would also have something to say about another pressing issue of our day, ecological responsibility. Monica Weis’s new book, The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, part of the University Press of Kentucky’s Culture of the Land series, does, in fact, present Merton as a sensitive contributor to the nascent environmental movement, but does so in light of the rest of his monastic life: deeply incarnational; aware of the interconnectedness of all of creation; and firmly grounded in the particular landscape of his place, namely the woods and hills of northern Kentucky. Interestingly, Weis frames much of Merton’s ‘environmental vision’ around a letter he wrote to none other than Rachel Carson, after his reading of Silent Spring; this same book is often credited with propelling the modern-day environmental movement, as well as leading to the establishment of the EPA, so it’s telling that Merton – already sensitized so as to be receptive to Carson’s book – would recognize the significance of Silent Spring.

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A Brief Review of

This Our Exile:
A Spiritual Journey with the
Refugees of East Africa
by James Martin, S.J.
New Paperback edition: Orbis, 2011.
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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

How high and long and wide and deep is the Kingdom of God!  Most of us need to be reminded of that from time to time, especially those of us within Western culture.  This book is not only a powerful reminder of all the ways God is at work in God’s world, but it is also a reminder of our connectedness with brothers and sisters in so many places.  This is a wonderful, easy-to-read, “don’t want to put it down” kind of book.  The author is a great storyteller and quickly draws us in to the places and lives he is sharing with us.

James Martin, the author and a Jesuit Priest, was sent to Kenya to spend two years (1992 – 1994) working with East African refugees as part of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a Catholic Relief organization.  His focus was to help the refugees begin small businesses in order to help provide a way for them to make a living and enable them to at least have a start at putting their lives back together.  This two-year experience was to be part of his training as a Jesuit.  This book is a wonderfully written story of those years – the building of relationships and the sharing of life with people in a reality very different from our own.  In the author’s own words:

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“To Become More Fully Human”

A Review of
Two New Books on Christian Spirituality

Reviewed by Kevin Book Satterlee.

Monastery of the Heart - Joan ChittisterThe Monastery of the Heart:
An Invitation to a Meaningful Life

Joan Chittister.
Hardback: Bluebridge, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]

Soulful Spirituality:
Becoming Fully Alive
and Deeply Human
David G. Benner
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2011.
Buy now:
[ ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

SOULFUL SPIRITUALITY - BennerAlthough Christianity has long been understood as by many as a set of doctrines confining people into a religion in which God and Jesus became life-depleting and discipleship was a soulless death, there has always been an undercurrent of life-giving, fulfilling Christian spirituality.  Thomas Merton helped many Christians to reimagine a life-giving spiritual pursuit over doctrinal stuffiness.  There are still many skeptics, but the publishing industry is pumping out new Christian spiritual books on a monthly basis.  Spirituality is en vogue in pop culture, especially in Christian pop sub-culture, but many of the resources are valuable.

Sister Joan Chittister’s newest book, The Monastery of the Heart:  An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, (BlueBridge) and David G. Benner’s book, Soulful Spirituality:  Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human, (Brazos) are two new books for 2011 about life-giving and distinctly human spiritualities.  Chittister is a Benedictine nun and writes from her half-century in the monastic life.  Benner is a professor of psychology at Richmont Graduate University, whose work focuses on psychology and spirituality.

While the two books are about spirituality, they take very different approaches.  Benner writes about the psychology of spirituality and the spirituality of psychology.  He is a clinical therapist and applies the principles of spirituality to psychological health.  He comes from a Christian background and writes with Christian influence, however his pluralism of spirituality also dramatically influences his writing.  Chittister’s work, on the other hand, is a poetic commentary on St. Benedict’s monastic rule.  She is thoroughly Christian in her approach.

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“Easter Communion”
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu’s; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o’er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.


by Gerard Manley Hopkins

PATIENCE, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?–He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.