This booki belongs alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" on the bookshelf of anybody who's pursuing Christian community.
Vanier describes hi...moreThis booki belongs alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" on the bookshelf of anybody who's pursuing Christian community.
Vanier describes his experiences with community as a leader of L'Arche, a global network of intentional communities for people with develomental disabilities. The wisdom in this book is true, real and powerful.
Definitely a book to read over and over again.
Following is the 1-page book summary paper I wrote for my doctoral class in Rhythms of Living:
Community and Growth by Jean Vanier Paulist (1989)
Description of the Book Community and Growth is Jean Vanier’s reflection on spiritual growth in intentional communities, and is written from his experience with L’Arche communities for developmentally handicapped people.
In the author’s words, Community and Growth “tries to clarify the conditions which are necessary to life in community. It is no thesis or treatise. It is made up of a series of starting-points for reflection, which I have discovered not through books, but through everyday life, through my mistakes, my set-backs and my personal failings, through the inspiration of God and my brothers and sisters, and through the moments of unity between us as well as the tension and suffering. Life in community is painful but it is also a marvelous adventure and a source of life.” (p. 12)
Interpretation of the Book Vanier’s book is organized into eleven sections, each with a topical focus. Within each section there are 10-15 short topics, and each topic includes a smaller number of extended thoughts from a few sentences to a few paragraph. The effect is that of a meditation on community.
Vanier provokes deep thought by telling stories from his experience, from his historical study on monastic Christianity and from his social context. Although it would be difficult to outline Vanier’s thoughts as progressively moving toward a conclusion, the result is similar to holding a diamond in front of the light and rotating it to see different ways in which it shines and reflects the light.
Application The great strength of Community and Growth is that it is written from the field, not from the school. It stands next to Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a classic text on spiritual community, both for its lofty vision and for its realistic portrayal of day-to-day life.
I suggest that anybody interested in spiritual community read this book; in particular, all who live within or wish to live in intentional communities would be well served by reading this book and discussing their way through it with others in community. I suspect that it would give words to the normal challenges of community life. (less)
Sacred Companions by David G. Benner InterVarsity Press (2002)
Description of the Book Sacred Companions describes spiritual friendship and spiritual dire...moreSacred Companions by David G. Benner InterVarsity Press (2002)
Description of the Book Sacred Companions describes spiritual friendship and spiritual direction for the contemporary Christian who wishes to be intentional about growing in their Christian life. Benner writes as a psychologist and a spiritual director, specifically aiming to describe these ancient practices to protestant Christians for whom the practices are new and unfamiliar.
Interpretation of the Book The book is organized in three major sections. The first describes spiritual friendship, an intentional relationship in which spiritual growth is a stated goal. The second section focuses on spiritual direction, and the third section outlines specific scenarios combining friendship and direction, for small groups and in marriages.
The author writes comfortably, providing an approachable environment for Christians of all backgrounds who wish to grow in fruitfulness and seek spiritual accompaniment as the means to help them. Benner lightly references his background as a psychologist, but focuses more on his (mostly self-trained) spiritual direction practice. He introduces classic practices such as centering prayer and the Ignatian Examen, usually by telling stories of his experience as a director or a directee.
Application This may be the friendliest, most approachable book available on the art of spiritual direction.
It strongly prefers the approach of spiritual direction to more general spiritual friendship, but makes only passing reference to the Celtic approach of anamchara, or soul friendship. The last section’s discussion of spiritual accompaniment in small groups is intriguing, and the author has great hopes for this blend of spiritual friendship and the small group movement. I found myself wanting more information on this subject. He also writes from his experience working with his wife in bi-directional spiritual direction.
I must also note here that the book’s hidden gem is its 28-page annotated bibliography, organized by topics and referencing current and classic works in related fields. This section of the book would be worth the cover price, even if the book were disappointing. (less)
In our current culture, we usually rush through threshold moments - those borders between past and future, life transitions. We don't pause and reflec...moreIn our current culture, we usually rush through threshold moments - those borders between past and future, life transitions. We don't pause and reflect; we don't celebrate or mark those passages. But borderlands are meant to be explored, and thresholds are meant to be encountered and processed.
This little book is a powerful punch.
Esther de Waal looks at what it is like to live in actual “border country,” the Welsh countryside with its “slower rhythms” and “earth-linked textures,” and explores the importance of opening up and being receptive to one’s surroundings, whatever they may be.
Here is my 1-page summary paper that I wrote for my doctoral class in Rhythms of Living:
To Pause at the Threshold by Esther de Waal Morehouse (2001)
Description of the Book To Pause at the Threshold is a short exploration of the boundary spaces in our lives and our response to these thresholds. In our everyday lives, we are often so busy that we don’t pause and consider the changes we’re going through, and therefore we miss the opportunity to gain something from these threshold moments.
This idea is similar to and also refers to the monastic practice of statio, or leaving time to stand still and let go of the demands of the previous activity, and allowing oneself to prepare a space for the work of God.
Interpretation of the Book The author begins by discussing border places, writing from her home at the border between Wales and England. She then writes an interlude based upon the role of the porter in St. Benedict’s Rule; the porter’s role is to work at the edge of the monastery and provide deep hospitality to those who come from outside the monastery inside its walls.
The book continues with a look at the transitions between nighttime and daytime, and from season to season. Next, the author describes the life transitions revolving around rites of passage and rituals of transition, encouraging us to see the Psalms as the prayer book for such real changes. The next section deals with transitions between the inner life and the outer life, and then finishes with a challenge to be open to outsiders and those different from us in order to learn from them and be changed by them.
Application I find myself nodding and highlighting when reading this book. I am one of those whom de Waal describes, busily plowing through transition points in my day and in my life, without reflecting upon those transitions. This is perhaps why I sense the Spirit of God inviting me to practice mindfulness and attentiveness in the moment, and to also live a more contemplative and reflective life in the midst of my busy schedule.
I enjoyed the Celtic practice of celebrating the transition of the seasons; these transitions happen earlier in the year than our contemporary marking points. I am trying to find a good online calendar of these days and other holy days (especially the feast days of Celtic saints) so that I can incorporate these rhythms into my daily and yearly calendar.
I loved de Waal’s challenge to learn from the land, watching the way it changes and moves. As a renewed gardener, I am learning much about the rhythms of life from this glimpse of nature.
De Waal’s book reminded me of Kathleen Norris’ Dakota, which also balances nature and theology in a very practical way. (less)
Finding Sanctuary by Abbot Christopher Jamison Liturgical Press (2006)
Description of the Book Modern life is characterized by an overwhelming sense of bu...moreFinding Sanctuary by Abbot Christopher Jamison Liturgical Press (2006)
Description of the Book Modern life is characterized by an overwhelming sense of busyness. The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago for an Italian abbey, provides practical insights about Christian living that can be applied today and provide sanctuary from this busyness for everyday people and monastics alike.
Interpretation of the Book Finding Sanctuary grew out of Abbot Jamison’s experience on the BBC reality TV show The Monastery, in which five men were immersed in the monastic life at Worth Abbey for 40 days and nights. Their experience, and the author’s, showed viewers of the TV series that the Benedictine spiritual tradition is a practical spirituality for contemporary life.
The book is broken into two major sections.
The first section is relatively short, and establishes the contemporary sense of busyness which dominates our everyday lives. It shows that today’s consumerism, while toxic, is not much different from the cultural environment encountered by the desert fathers, from whom Benedict evolved.
The second section introduces seven steps from Benedictine spirituality which provide sanctuary in contemporary culture. Abbot Jamison discusses the monastic practices of silence, contemplation, obedience, humility, community, spirituality and hope. In each chapter he describes monastic history, tells contemporary stories about that practice, and then provides practical suggestions for implementing the topic in everyday life. He also includes spiritual practices from other monastic movements such as the Jesuits, Carthusians, Eastern Orthodox and others.
Application This book is an easily approachable spin on Benedictine spirituality. It compares well with Radical Hospitality by Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt.
Abbot Jamison’s section describing lectio divina in the chapter on Contemplation is the highlight of the book for me. It makes some key points that I’ve used in leading retreats and to my own small group : “the text is seen as a gift to be received, not a problem to be dissected. The first task to which the tradition invites the modern reader is: avoid imposing your questions and let the text question you. Humility is the key to wisdom.” (p. 64). (less)
This is my go-to daily prayer book. It always lives in my backpack, and while I wish the book was printed in hardcover or leather cover so it wouldn't...moreThis is my go-to daily prayer book. It always lives in my backpack, and while I wish the book was printed in hardcover or leather cover so it wouldn't get banged up, I find it to be more Biblically centered than Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria community, and just as importantly, far easier to pack around.
Disclaimer: After meeting Ray Simpson, I've become a vowed Explorer (first vows) in the Community of Aidan and Hilda in the US, which is a sister community to the one which Ray leads in the UK. Perhaps I'm biased :-)(less)