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Thoughts Matter: The Practice of the Spiritual Life Paperback – December 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Benedictine nun and former prioress Funk translates the vocabulary of fourth-century Christian mysticism into accessible prose for 20th-century spiritual seekers. Using primarily the writings of the early desert father John Cassian (b. A.D. 356), other Christian mystics and an occasional Eastern religious mystic, Funk, the executive director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, explores Cassian's premise that serious knowledge of God involves three renunciations: of one's former way of life, of the thoughts belonging to that former way of life and of one's very idea of God. Most of her text deals with renouncing the thoughts belonging to one's former way of life. Her eight chapters focus on different "thoughts"--food, sex, anger, dejection, acedia (profound weariness of the soul), vainglory (taking credit for good actions) and pride. In each chapter, she shows how such thoughts can interfere with one's knowledge of God. As Funk states: "To renounce one's thoughts may seem out-of-date to a casual observer--harsh, foreboding, even unrelenting. A mind at peace, stilled, available for conscious thinking at will is of major value for those of us who confront chaos, confusion, noise, and numbness as we move into the third millennium."

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The desert tradition of Christianity (250-450 C.E.) is remembered for its ascetic rigor, but its purpose is often forgotten. Renouncing a former way of life to dwell in the wilderness meant renouncing the thinking that formed old habits and hence moving beyond all preconceived ideas to experience fully the divine reality. Funk, a Benedictine nun, discusses this spiritual practice of watching and training thoughts, largely based on the eight classic thoughts outlined by John Cassian, a fourth-century monk. Interesting parallels exist between this early Christian spiritual practice and Buddhism and Hinduism, as Funk points out. This book might be of interest to students of Eastern asceticism as well as those wanting a good introduction to the literature of the Christian desert communities, but even more broadly, it is an excellent, clearly written companion for spiritual seekers drawn to the path of mental discipline.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum; 1 edition (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826411649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826411648
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
Our Lady of Grace Monastery
1402 Southern Avenue
Beech Grove, IN 46107-1160

(317) 787-3287 (ext. 3354)
(317) 780-2398 (fax)
(317) 730-7436 (cell)
use Amazon Author Page
Mary Margaret Funk

MA Catholic University (1973) Religion and Religious Education
MS Indiana University (1979) Adult Education
Post Graduate Studies: CUA 1982-83
Graduate of Epiphany Certification Program of Formative Spirituality (2002)
Certificates: Selection Research Incorporated Interview Perceiver (teacher, admin. Religious

1961: Member of Our Lady of Grace Benedictine Monastery, Beech Grove, Indiana
1965-1969: Elementary school teacher, St. Barnabas Catholic School, Indianapolis
1969-1983: Administrator, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis in catechetics
1983-1984: Postgraduate studies Catholic University, DC
1984: Bolivia
1984-1985: Administrator Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville in catechetics
1985-1993: Prioress, Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Beech Grove, Indiana
1994-2004: Executive Director, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) Board
2003-2007: Director, School Of Lectio Divina at Benedict Inn, Beech Grove, Indiana
2005-7: Consultant for Kylemore Abbey, Connemara IRELAND
2007-2008: Prioress Administrator Kylemore Abbey, Connemara IRELAND
2008-2011: Consultant for Glencairn Abbey, IRELAND
2008-present: Writer and teacher of The Matter Series
2010-present School of Lectio with St. Joseph Monastery Tulsa OK Benedictines
2010-present School of Lectio with St. Paul Monastery St. Paul MN Benedictines
2010-present School of Discernment St. Paul Monastery St. Paul MN Benedictines
2009-present: teach Matter Series at Abby of Gethsemani Novitiate
2009-present: Consultant to Sister Joyce Weller, DC Los Angeles CA
2010-15 Gave retreats and/or teaching weeks
for Mepkin Abbey, SC,
Novice Guardians of UK gathered at Noddfa Wales,
Sisters of the Incarnation in Oxford England,
Mt.St. Bernard's England,
Junior Course Roscrae Ireland,
Junior Course Mt. Melleray, Ireland,
Oblates Beech Grove,
Oblates Rock Island,
Daughters of Charity Evansville Indiana,
Day of Discernment for St. Joseph Benedictines Tulsa,
Day of Discernment St. Paul MN,
Contemplative Nuns Gathering Dalgan, Ireland,
Muslim Catholic Dialogue St. Cloud University MN.
Contemplative Outreach: Snowmass, Denver, Indianapolis
Jane Owen Legacy Lecture New Harmony Indiana "Friendship"
Retreat Stanbrook Abbey UK
Retreat Daughters of Charity Evansville
Retreat Monks of Morristown NJ
School of Lectio St. Paul MN
Public lecture: Ceaseless Prayer St. Paul MN

9, 10,11 Pittsburg Contemplative Outreach
Topic Humility Matters
Jack Shaw
Stay with Mark and Tina Nowak
26 Notre Dame Archives sign contract
27 Women Touched By Grace day of teaching

October 29th weekend Schuyler NE
Merton's Legacy
November 20
Spirittual Direction Internship at Beech Grove
Day of formation

Glencairn IRELAND

Stanbrook Abbey UK
contact: abbess

Coordinated the Gethsemani Encounter (1996) and Gethsemani Encounter II (2002)
Coordinated the Benedict's Dharma Conference (2001 and 2003)
Coordinated the first Nuns in the West (NITW) gathering in Los Angeles, Hsi Lai Temple (2003)
Participated in NITW III (2008) and NITW IV (2011)
Spoke at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1993)
Coordinated and participated in the 6th Spiritual Exchange Program in 1995 (formal exchange program between USA and India/Tibet)
Participated in formal dialogue programs with Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Muslim, Confucian, and Taoist practitioners
Coordinated The MID Bulletin twice a year
Coordinated the website (73 issues)
Coordinated moving the MID archives to Notre Dame University Archives
Taught in the School of Lectio Divina in Tulsa, OK (2009)
Taught in the School of Lectio Divina in St. Paul, MN (2009)

Published works:

Thoughts Matter (Continuum, 1998) is an updating of the teaching of the fourth century desert father, John Cassian, on the eight "afflictive thoughts" that impede spiritual life.
Tools Matter (Continuum, 2001) is on both ancient and modern practices that help us with our "afflictive thoughts" and help us to lift up our thoughts in prayer.
Humility Matters (Continuum, 2005) is on the teaching on humility of St. Benedict.
Islam Is...An Experience of Dialogue and Devotion (Lantern Books, 2003)
What Catholics Should Know About Islam (St. Anthony Messenger Update, 2004)
Revelation Catholic & Muslim Perspective (USCCB Publication No. 5-630. 2006)
Islam Is...An Experience of Dialogue and Devotion (Lantern Books, 2nd Edition 2008)
Lectio Matters: Before the Burning Bush: Through the Revelatory Texts of Scripture, Nature and Experience (Continuum, 2010) is a clear teaching from the Alexandrian School for catechumens (Didaskeleion) that is recommended by the Rule of St. Benedict
Lectio Matters in Polish:
Into the Depths: Memoirs of Bolivia (Lantern Books, 2011)
Thoughts Matter, Tools Matter, Humility Matters, Lectio Matters, Revisions, Discernment Matters Published by Liturgical Press Collegeville MN. 2013

Contributed works:
Interfaith Friendship. Edited by James Frederick (to be published 2015)
Lectio Divina. Oxford Handbook on Late Antiquity. edited Bernice Kaczynski (2015)
Gethsemani Encounter, 1996 (Continuum, 1998) edit. Don Mitchell & James Wiseman
Benedict's Dharma (Riverhead, 2001) edited Patrick Henry
Purity of Heart (Continuum, 2001) edit. Joseph Wong and Bruno Barnhart
Transforming Suffering (Doubleday, 2003)
A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century (Cistercian Publications, 2006) edit. Patrick Hart
Listen I, II, III Constitutions of Federation of Saint Gertrude. Both writer and facilitator
"Retrieving, Reclaiming and Reappropriating Monastic Life Today" in Living in the Meantime (Paulist Press, 1994) edit. Paul Philibert, OP

Articles Published in:
America Magazine
US Catholic
DIM Bulletin (UK)
St. Anthony Messenger
Living Light

Book Reviews:
Over 50 reviews published in Cistercian Studies, Living Light, MID Bulletin and the Merton Seasonal Reader, Worship.

Public Presentations:
Speaker: the Gethsemani Encounter (1996) and Gethsemani Encounter II (2002)
Speaker: World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago (1993)
Retreat director: USA, Central America, Europe and India
Speaker: St. John's Collegeville Monastic Institute (4 Institutes gave written papers)
Speaker: Anniversary of Nostra Aetatae Rome San Anselmo and St. Michael's VT
Speaker: Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (7 Conventions)
Speaker: Islamic Society of North America Convention (2005)
Speaker: What is Prayer? Princeton University (2007)

2013 Closed blog: now use Amazon Author page
Board Memberships:
Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambride, MA (1980-1985)
St. Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, IN (16 years between 1985 and 2005)
Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board of North America (1987-2005)
Thomas Keating's Contemplative Outreach Faculty and/or Board of Trustees (1989 - 2001)

Archives for Sr. Meg Funk are available through University of Notre Dame Archives.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth G. Melillo VINE VOICE on June 28, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Based on the classic ascetic practises of the patristic era, and on their application in the Rule of Benedict, this book sets forth clear, solid, far-reaching insights which would enrich the life of anyone seeking to grow in the spiritual life.
Sister Mary Margaret expresses the principles simply yet with great depth, and, in a style enormously refreshing for the "self-esteem" era (her comments on that concept are very telling), does so with great honesty. She does not qualify the wisdom of two millennia in an attempt to be unwisely "relevant" to the reader. She has no qualms about showing that the Christian ascetic vocation is an endless period of growth, though her expressing how practising discipline of thoughts leads to results unaware will undoubtedly be strengthening during times of struggle.
The only aspect which those new to the topic must keep in mind is that this volume, short though it is, is not meant to be skimmed nor read hurriedly. It is the stuff of the lectio divina to which the early chapters refer - intended for quiet, reflective, prayerful reading. Much of the best material (for example, the sections regarding sex and vainglory) can be missed if one is reading only "key words," without attention to the overall picture which places it into focus.
I have had a deep interest in ascetic theology for thirty years, and am well acquainted with many great writings in that area. I can honestly say that this book is one of the best of contemporary treatments of the subject.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Brad Shorr on May 13, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This plainly written book can help you overcome the daily struggles that prevent you from developing a strong relationship with God.
First the author identifies the eight objects of self-centered thought we must learn to control: food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia (spiritual dryness), vainglory, and pride. She then describes how these thoughts, when uncontrolled, progressively undermine our spiritual awareness to the point of becoming soul-deadening obsessions. Finally, she explains how we can overcome these distracting thoughts and instead center on thoughts in harmony with God's will. By doing so, we are able to experience the joys of hope and freedom, no longer enslaved by our appetites.
Funk does an excellent job of translating some complex spiritual concepts into plain English. And, to illustrate good and bad thought patterns, she cites examples that will sound (uncomfortably) familiar to people of all ages and vocations. It's hard to imagine people reading this book and not wanting to seriously reevaluate their attitudes toward toward their own thoughts.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lora Arnold ( on May 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Thoughts Matter challenges the serious reader to examine the nature of the thoughts that are constantly playing through the mind - like a non-stop tape recording! While we can't always control the thoughts that pop up in our heads, we can certainly decide which ones we want to spend time with and which ones can only do harm to ourselves and others. I would love to read what Sr. Mary has to say about renouncing our thoughts about God.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is to let you know that I read your book, "Thoughts Matter" very carefully and meditatively, one chapter at a time, and that I enjoyed it very much. You found a nice was of presenting in a simple way a deep teaching that is not so easily accessible in the original, because it is over couched in a disconcerting language. You also present a traditional monastic doctrine in a manner that is accessible to any serious spiritual seeker,wheteher monastic or not. I also appreciated upir leem semse paradox: writing a whole book to show that "thoughts matter" and ending it by saying that "If we let God be God in our innermost life, then thoughts don't matter after all". Thanks for alowing me to drink from that wisdom: John Cassian's and yours. Armand Veilleux, Abbot of Scourmont BELGIUM
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book brings to the modern vocabulary ideas and experiences originally posited by the Desert Fathers out of their experience. It has benefitted me greatly. The author asks in her own comments if people would like a book on the third renunciation - renouncing our thoughts of God. My response is YES!! YES!! I am personally at the edge of this country and would much appreciate some guidance, though I'm not sure I can wait till a book gets written and published!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By matt on July 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Somewhere C. S Lewis says that we too often blame the body for our inordinate passions, when in fact it is the thoughts that we entertain and cultivate that lead "brother ass" down the wrong road. While I am not an expert on the spiritual/psychological life, I am someone who has been attempting to be human for some time and this book is always a great resource to cut to the heart of the matter, which almost always comes back to thoughts.
The book is blunt and to the point, all the time. Although every chapter will not be something that you struggle with, and perhaps only one will apply to you, that one will help you clarify your situation and strengthen your resolve to acquire the mind of Christ. Yet I still find that life is a juggling act, with things always in motion, in and out of balance, and totally interrelated. So in this sense all of the passions are connected. They don't reside in nice little compartments with locks on the doors and peep holes that we can look into as we please. They have a way of overwhelming, overflowing and generally seeking to be dominant. And where one goes so do the others. So this book helps me not keep things in check (that white-knuckling it never works long term) but rather to cultivate the joy of a balanced life in Christ where His grace and will come to be my will. It's the actual meaning of the prayer, "Lord, give to me the desires of my heart", meaning, put your own desires within me. Well, a work in progress anyway and this book helps a great deal.

While not exactly the same style, these books have been useful to me in this regard:
...Read more ›
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