Book Review: Pilgrim Road
Author: Albert Holtz, O.S.B.
Publisher: Morehouse Publishing ISBN: 9780819222510
This was not the typical devotional piece that I am accustomed to; actually, it was for this reason that I purchased it. I think I would best describe Pilgrim Road as the sum of many parts: personal journal, Christian devotional, monastic rule, spiritual discipline, liturgical calendar, and artistic creation. In some ways it almost bordered sensory overload for me, and in other ways it was a very refreshing change of pace.
There is a lot of “movement” in Pilgrim Road…much is happening. Maybe it is my personality type, but I felt as though I really needed to pay attention to keep the “dots connected” through the journey. This is not to say the book was difficult to follow, it was not; I simply did not want to miss anything and there seemed a lot was going on. I should explain what I mean with a little more detail about the premise of the book.
The author, Albert Holtz, is a Benedictine monk and structures this book, Pilgrim Road, around four different journeys. The first journey is Christian Pilgrimage, the second is the Lenten Journey/Experience, the third is the Inward or Spiritual Journey, and the fourth is a Sabbatical Holiday/Trip. Brother Albert describes the convergence of these journeys in the following words:
This book weaves the threads of four journeys into a single spiritual travelogue: Lent’s journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter serves as the spiritual framework, my sabbatical trip provides a geographical locale for each meditation, the medieval pilgrimage provides the unifying theme, and the journey into my inner self with Christ gives the whole enterprise its ultimate meaning. (From the introduction—p.vii)
I should point out that I counted another thread in this tapestry of journeys as Brother Albert weaves in an element of the Rule of Benedict with each meditation. He might be counting as part of his inner Christian journey (he is after all a Benedictine monk), but seems valid to me that is a thread its own—part of the overall tapestry, but a thread its own nonetheless. Credit is due as Brother Albert does a remarkable job of keeping the weave tight in this tapestry of journeys and stories. The unity of the storyline remains almost seamless as he stitches location to location, reflection to insight, and insight to theme; the integrity of continuity remains throughout.
The structure of the daily devotional writings is well done. Each day’s writing is approximately four pages long. The day begins with a new location; for instance Arles, France, Assisi, Italy or another site along the way of the Brother’s pilgrimage. A brief narrative sharing the day’s observation from that locale is followed by a spiritual reflection connecting the day’s events with the inner journey. The reflection is completed with a Scripture reading and an excerpt from the Rule of Benedict.
My overall impression is lacking a bit and this is my fault. My reading list was somewhat heavy during this Lenten season and was the cause of distraction while reading the Pilgrim Road. I intend to go back and read it again with less distraction. I think it deserves more attention from me. This was a different style of devotional reading than I am used to, but I found great enjoyment in it. I think after another more intentional reading, I will have an even deeper appreciation and respect for the artistry of Brother Albert as he shares his journey and his wisdom.
Book Review: The Paraclete Book of Hospitality
Author: The Editors of Paraclete Press
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256652
I have just finished a genuinely heart-warming and seriously challenging book. I found the Paraclete Book of Hospitality a remarkable book considering that it was able to achieve both responses from me; that is “warmed” and “challenged.” I don’t believe those feelings are mutually exclusive, but it is rare that I put down a book feeling as significantly challenged (maybe even spanked a bit) as I did and still have the very real sense that I was loved deeply in the process. I know I sensed a special nearness of the presence of God as I was reading.
This is a small book; at less than 120 pages, it is also short. It is not a difficult read, nor does it take long to read… but I recommend taking time to chew the content slowly. The content is best digested along with thoughtful self-examination or it was for me.
The book is based upon the teachings of hospitality from the Bible; “love your neighbor as yourself.” The inspiration for Benedict’s Rule and the subsequent teaching that focuses on the subject of hospitality (see The Rule of St. Benedict 53:1).
All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
I found an especially challenging quote in chapter three from Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Dan Homan who reflect in their book Radical Hospitality the following:
“Benedict finds God in people. You can’t ignore people when God is looking out their eyes at you. In the tiresome, the invalid, the rebellious, we are faced with God. It is our own failures to love that we have to deal with when we talk of hospitality.” (pg.41)
Page after page, chapter after chapter, raising-the-bar challenges are seasoned with loving examples and practical suggestions to enter the practice of a life-giving hospitality. There are suggestions for practicing hospitality at home (probably one of the places it might be needed most…), there are creative ways suggested to care for others, and a chapter I especially enjoyed (Chapter Five) teaches ways to celebrate and practice hospitality through the seasons of the year (the Church Calendar).
“Every human encounter I holy.” (page 76)
Chapters Seven and Eight are also full of great suggestions for integrating hospitality into the dailyness of our lives. These are also very challenging chapters as the editors include additional teachings from the Bible and other monastic rules of life. A couple of quotes I will continue to ponder…
“Do not be nowhere in your effort to be everywhere, or attentive to no one simply because you are running after everyone.” And “Welcome God. Unless you are God-filled there will be no sharing and giving, unless he lives in you, you will be unable to welcome people sincerely.” Both quotes from -Jerusalem Community Rule of Life.
This is a delightful little book…and one not to be taken lightly. There is wisdom for the ages found in these pages. We can learn much by putting to practice the words and suggestions from this Paraclete Book of Hospitality.
Pondering at Pecos:
I read one time that “the soul is a wild animal.” That thought has given me much to think about over the years that I’ve explored that metaphor.
I think the idea of a “wild animal” can conjure different images from the “savage” to the “skittish” and perhaps every point in between—and I think the soul can be seen equally as diminutive, docile, destructive and/or even demonic depending on it’s condition and provocation. One not look too far in the annals of human history to find supporting evidence for these claims.
Many people, maybe even most people, seek solace and identity for their soul. I believe this is one of the primary quests for this life. You will often hear the words; “What is the meaning of life” and “I’m figuring out what I want to be when I grow up…” I think these words are probably more euphemisms for “soul solace” and identity affirmation than they are legitimate quests. The search for acceptance and affirmation prove this true, in my opinion. When people fail to find their affirmation and identity, most will resort to some means of self-medication or they will manufacture an identity for themselves…or they will choose to self-destruct. Of course, these are broad generalizations, but I believe them to hold a lot of truth. The complexities of the soul and the psyche are the playground of God and most mortals merely stumble and fumble their way through this mysterious land. And, this is the challenge. How do we help to heal our brother and how do we help to heal ourselves?
The past few days I’ve been in classes discussing addiction and bi-polar disorders, depression, and anxiety issues. I’m certainly not clinically qualified to speak professionally about these diagnosis, but I do have ideas and an opinion.
I have done quite a bit of reading and study from a spiritual perspective that leads me back to the same point of origin over and over again. I believe the great amount of soul disorder arises from the brokenness of humanity which stems from the break of man’s fellowship with God. Also known as “original sin,” this brokenness is responsible for every malady known to mankind. Since this “break” in fellowship with God, man has been searching for some form of reconciliation for his soul or escape from it. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I’ve already stated this is a mysterious subject and I admit I am over my head to even think about it, much less share an opinion.
I am of the mind that programs and medical intervention can only provide a certain amount of healing and restoration for the troubled soul. I don’t mean to mitigate programs or medical treatment at all with my opinions, so I hope that isn’t inferred in the sharing of my thoughts. I simply think that these options can only take a soul so far in recovering an identity.
I mentioned earlier that the soul might be seen as a wild animal and I think this is true, but I think more accurately the “wild animal” might be more like a white-tail deer. I used to live in an area where these beautiful and docile animals were plentiful. Observing them undisturbed in their environment they were calm and graceful creatures, but the snap of a twig or the scent of a human could send them in flight bounding through thistle and brush for fear of their life. Often, during hunting season, the pattern of disturbance for these timid creatures would escalate to the point that some deer might run themselves to death by resorting to uncommon behavior resulting in their demise.
A weak metaphor perhaps, but I believe the soul can be observed in similar detail. Through the fall of man and our invariable brokenness, we realize something is wrong… the scent of something unnatural surrounds us and we live under the umbrella of stigma of many shapes, size, and color. We don’t know what to do, so we disguise who we are creating false identity upon false identity with hopes we will find one size to fit every and all expectations that others have for us. Ultimately, we fail to find security in these false identities and we tire of the endless wardrobe changes that our life demands and we resort to self-medication or fleeing for our lives…
While this scenario may not be true for everyone, I think there is an alternative for those who have experienced this sense of tiring lostness. I think we can embrace our brokenness and turn to God. He is the healer and restorer for our souls and when we embrace this reality for ourselves, we can begin to be ministers of reconciliation for our brothers and sisters who have yet to find this comforting grace.
Allowing the troubled and timid soul the safe space needed to calm its racing heart, and to listen with empathy and compassion as that soul shares its story and fears provides a place that is sacred, where the divine mystery of God mixes with the brokenness of man’s soul and psyche to create healing and wholeness. This is deep healing—eternal restoration—that medication, therapy, and programs alone cannot touch. Yes, these interventions and man made elixirs are necessary and needful, but God…only God can tame a soul.
I’ve got a little break that I can pop in to provide a brief update on what’s been happening as of late. For those of you who do not know, I’ve been on retreat at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery this past week for a follow-up session in the School for Spiritual Direction which I attended last year.
So far, the session has exceeded my expectations (and I was sure it was going to be grand, so this is saying a lot!). I arrived a day early and was able to get very rested as I adjusted to “monastery time” moving into the rhythms of the Daily Office and the contemplative atmosphere of this oasis in the high desert. My cohorts began to arrive, trickling in throughout the day and night until we convened for our reunion meeting Sunday evening. Oh, what a joy it has been to catch up with these dear friends and hear their individual stories from the past year!
Our classes convened this week and have been wonderfully informative, evocative, and inspiring. The line-up of lecturers and subject material for the remainder of this week and next continues to promise spiritual and intellectual excitement; I am looking forward to each session with gleeful anticipation.
While the school itself is wonderful enough in its own right, I cannot help but say how life-giving the welcoming charism of this monastery is to me. The space to navigate the grace of the Holy Spirit abounds… the noises and rushing of the world outside these walls have been buffered from my soul and I can breathe deeply…my soul stretches and spiritual tension oozes from my pores. I am so grateful for my time here and I promise to share more in the coming days.
Book Review: The Rule of Saint Benedict (A Contemporary Paraphrase)
Author: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557259738
By St. Benedict of Nursia / Paraphrase and Introduction by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
I am enjoying this latest translation of Benedict’s Rule from Paraclete Press and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove very, very much. As I have been working through it, I have made repeated comparisons with my dog-eared copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict edited by Timothy Fry, O.S.B. I am finding that I enjoy this fresh perspective of the Rule interpreted through the eyes and experience of Wilson-Hartgrove immensely; so much, that I have taken to reading the Rule aloud to my family as a part of our morning devotional time. There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which is the contemporary vernacular and application that Jonathan applies (which still remains relatively faithful to the Rule as edited by Timothy Fry—in my opinion).
One of the reasons I like reading it aloud to my family is that I feel this interpretation is more applicable to the context of their present lives. I respect and practice a form of Benedict’s Rule in my life and have now for a few years. My family has not always understood this, but respect my practices. The Rule, in its original language and even subsequent interpretation by Timothy Fry is still more amenable to a true monastic lifestyle—hard to make the jump to “everyday” societal living. The experience of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his intentional community of Rutba House, bring monastic living and everyday society a little closer together. I sense this connection as I read through this paraphrase and I think my family, who has little connection to or affinity for the monastic life, will realize it as well.
I also appreciate the side bar commentaries interspersed throughout the book. Jonathan shares personal experience from the Rutba Community and practical interpretation of the Rule, which help to bridge some elements of the monastic life to the everyday life of community outside of the monastery.
Personally, I think this is an excellent addition to my library of resources concerning The Rule of St. Benedict. I believe it would serve well the person who is just introduced to the Rule and I believe it might help to give fresh insight to others who are in need of a perspective that extends beyond the walls of the monastery. As I have mentioned, I feel like this paraphrase is faithful to the spirit of Benedict’s Rule, at least the modern translations, and it will be an asset to most anyone who decides to listen to the ancient and timeless wisdom it shares from the Way of Jesus. Thank you Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and thank you Paraclete Press.
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835645
I love this book/workbook (see the website). I’ve been waiting almost three years for it. I was introduced to Stephen Macchia and the Rule of Benedict while attending a Renovaré Conference in June of 2009. Following that conference and the workshop I attended with Dr. Macchia, I immediately set out to use the information I learned from my notes and worksheets and I crafted my own personal Rule of Life. Since that time, I have continued the discipline of practicing a Rule of Life and I’ve taught others to do the same. I was greatly delighted when I was notified that Stephen had finally put together and published a workbook that could be used for individuals and groups. I did not hesitate a moment with getting my own copy.
While the book is arranged and formatted in the style of a workbook (fill-in-the-blank, listed notes, personal journal sections, tables, charts, and etc.), there are very informative reading sections that provide historical context, Biblical reasoning and reflection for the purpose of your rule and what each component of the rule represents, and anecdotal personal interest reading. It is a good and engaging mix that will appeal equally with individuals or groups who will work through Crafting a Rule of Life.
The book begins with an introduction explaining what a Rule of Life is in a literal context and moves from there to give a historical understanding of the same as Macchia shares the origins of the Rule as crafted by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century (540AD).
The workbook is formatted into three primary sections; Part One: Framing Your Personal Rule of Life, Part Two: Forming Your Personal Rule of Life, and Part Three: Fulfilling Your Personal Rule of Life. Each section has a number of sub-sections and exercises to work through that assist in crafting a rule that will result in a workable and unique grouping of disciplines helpful in Christ-like spiritual formation.
Part One is helpful in becoming “self aware” with exercises designed to examine and understand personal relationships, individual gifts and talents, and more. This is a needful first-step in order to proceed to Part Two, which helps to identify the components of your Rule that will need structured and in what capacity of development. Part Three moves the personal rule into a context of community with exercises designed to bring fulfillment to the Personal Rule.
The workbook is completed with a few pages of resources, suggested reading list, and a few personal testimonials from persons sharing their experience with crafting a personal rule of life.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was and remain very excited about the publication of this book. I plan to use it often as a personal resource guide (my original notes weren’t nearly as comprehensive as this workbook), and as a teaching tool to share this wonderful spiritual discipline. I cannot speak enthusiastically enough about what a positive experience having the Rule of Life in my own spiritual journey has been. This is an excellent resource for the individual and I think it is even better suited for groups. Thank you, Stephen Macchia, for this awesome resource!
Book Review: Evagrius Ponticus—The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer
Author: Evagrius Ponticus—Translated by John Eudes Bamberger OCSO
Publisher: Cistercian Publications ISBN: 9780879079048
Why Evagrius Ponticus? Who is Evagrius? And what is the Praktikos?
All good questions… that for me, started when I began my exploration into Benedictine spirituality. Several years ago now, I was introduced to the Rule of St. Benedict. As I have adopted the Rule of Benedict as a model for my personal rule of life, I have continued to study, read, and explore the foundations of Benedictine spirituality with the hope of understanding this sacred pathway and model of spiritual formation and development. What I have found is that Benedict of Nursia was deeply influenced by the writings of John Cassian and Cassian was a translator and interpreter of the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, and subsequently, influenced by them. To this degree, Evagrius becomes part of the history and underpinnings of the Benedictine tradition. This explains the “why” Evagrius question.
Evagrius also called Evagrius the Solitary (345-399 AD) was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the rising stars in the late fourth century church, he was well-known as a keen thinker, a polished speaker, and a gifted writer. He left a promising ecclesiastical career in Constantinople, traveled to Jerusalem, and there in 383 became a monk at the monastery of Rufinus and Melania the Elder. He then went to Egypt and spent the remaining years of his life in Nitria and Kellia, marked by years of asceticism and writing. He was a disciple of several influential contemporary church leaders, including Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Macarius of Egypt. He was teacher of others, including John Cassian and Palladius.
The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer is a wonderful translation for two of Evagrius’ most important writings. The Praktikos is Evagrius’ best known work on the ascetic life. In it he sets forth more completely than anywhere else his doctrine of ascesis. Ascesis describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. Many religious traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, the Christian desert fathers) include practices that involve restraint with respect to actions of body, speech, and mind. The founders and earliest practitioners of these religions lived extremely austere lifestyles, refraining from sensual pleasures and the accumulation of material wealth. They practiced asceticism not as a rejection of the enjoyment of life, or because the practices themselves are virtuous, but as an aid in the pursuit of salvation or liberation.
In the work Chapters on Prayer, the central focus is the theology of prayer and to its practice. Evagrius stresses the relationship between the purest forms of prayer and highest summits of contemplation as the heart of Evagrian theology of prayer. Much more could be said on this topic, but the notes, introduction, and analysis of the life of Evagrius by John Bamberger are a much better source for that information than this brief review.
I found this work and translation of Evagrius’ teaching fascinating. I think it necessary to say, with consideration to my fascination, that this is not necessarily an easy read. The original writings are over sixteen centuries old and this is supposedly an accurate representation of those original thoughts. It should be noted that not every thought translates over the hundreds of years and the gaping chasm of culture. The fourth century of humanity was a very different time than the twenty-first century. This really needs to be taken into account by the reader. With this cautionary consideration, there is much to glean from these ancient treatises. Not only do we get at some of the foundational thoughts that have shaped our doctrines today, we can glean practices that we can employ even today. I enjoyed this book very much.
[21MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 29—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Ephesians 4:13, 5:1
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, Even as we wait for you. Amen.
It is the desire and goal of our God that we be fully transformed and conformed to His image. Our old image is a poor reflection of it Creator…a failed testimony to the glory of God who created us. Therefore, He has given us disciplines, testings, trials, purging, and mentors to teach us and for us to follow.
Today is the Solemnity of St. Benedict—The following is a reading from the Rule of Benedict:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, 12and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. RB—chapter 72
“The good zeal is not just for monks, but for all Christians… Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
Praying Psalm 15
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
3 Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
4 Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the LORD,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
5 Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.
Hymn: Ex more docti mystico
The fast, as taught by holy lore,
We keep in solemn course once more:
The fast which to all known and bound
In forty days of yearly round
Both law and prophets from of old
In several ways this Lent foretold,
Which Christ, all seasons’ King and Guide,
In after ages sanctified.
May we more carefully control
Our speaking, eating, drinking, Lord.
May we be filled with happiness
In finding you as our reward.
Grant this, O blessed Trinity,
And undivided Unity,
That this our fast of forty days
May be our profit and your praise. Amen.
God had decreed that in the fullness of time he would restore all things in Christ. In the Cross of the Lord the tree of life has been revealed.
For many people Christmas 2011 is over…maybe there are a few folks still celebrating the season for what the day represents, but for many, what’s left of the season brings thoughts of work, clean-up, and credit card bills. It shouldn’t be that way, especially for those who are part of the Christian faith. The heritage of our faith brings with it a rich history and tradition of not just observing a holy day here and there, but living intentionally a Christian calendar year. My upbringing did not include this wonderfully enriching tradition, but I discovered it a few years ago and have made it an ongoing part of my Personal Rule of Life.
Advent begins the Christian calendar as we ready our hearts and minds in a season of waiting and preparation for the arrival of our promised Messiah King, Jesus. The “arrival” of Jesus is “go time” for the Christian calendar and launches the participating believer into “living” the Christian year with observable holy days and seasons of lengthy reflection on the life of Christ as well as personal and corporate spiritual growth in the Body of Christ, the Church. If you have never participated in observing the Christian calendar, I recommend trying it at least one time. There are many resources to help you with this practice and I’d be happy to share my recommendations and experience if that would be helpful too. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like some support and/or insight.
♦ ♦ ♦ From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” is not just the title of a fun song but also refers to the twelve-day celebration of the coming of Christ, from his birth, which is observed on December 25, until Epiphany, on January 6. This twelve-day celebration is often marked with the colors gold and white, and dates back to the fourth century. Christmas is short for “Christ’s Mass,” referring to the worship service that marks the birth of Christ. Celebrations during the season include the Feast of Holy Innocents (December 28), when we remember that the joy of Christ’s coming was marked by genocide as Herod fearfully massacred other children in Bethlehem. We can remember that the coming of Christ is about God entering the mess of this world, from the stinky manger to the torturous cross.
The dates below are some of the primary stops along the way of observing the Christian Year. Here is a link to some of my favorite resources for helping understand the Liturgical year. These are a few of my favorite books that I continue to use year to year. One of my ongoing devotional favorites is the series edited by Thomas Oden and Cindy Crosby, The Ancient Christian Devotional published by InterVarsity Press.
The Christian Calendar—Advent 2011 to Advent 2012
- Advent: Nov. 27th – Dec. 24th 2011
- Christmastide: The Twelve Days of Christmas—Dec. 25th 2011 – Jan 5th 2012
- Epiphany: Jan. 6th through the beginning of Lent, Feb. 21st 2012
- Lent: 40 day event commemorated with fasting and meditation upon the wilderness temptation of Christ leading up to Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday (depending on your observation) Feb. 22nd 2012 – April 7th 2012
- Holy Week: The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday before Easter. April 1st – April 7th 2012
- Easter: Celebrating the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and reconciliation of God and man. April 8th 2012
- Eastertide: the Season continuing from Easter through Pentecost (each Sunday is a weekly celebration of the resurrection of Christ). April 8th – May 26th 2012
- Pentecost: The celebration of the coming and infilling of the Holy Spirit to all would believe and receive this gift of God Himself who desires to dwell in, Guide, and Comfort the hearts of believers. May 27th 2012
- Ordinary Time: Kingdomtide—The time beginning Trinity Sunday and continuing through the day before the first Sunday of Advent; this season celebrates the growing life of the fellowship of Christians around the world. May 27th 2012 – December 1st 2012