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Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks Paperback – May 1, 2009
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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From Publishers Weekly
Protestant author Jon Sweeney (Almost Catholic) reports on more than 20 years of conversations he's had with monks in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Georgia. In his search for God, he encountered Trappist monk M. Basil Pennington and a number of other memorable characters who were eager to share their decades of cloistered experience with him. As a non-Catholic layman, Sweeney asks pointed questions about many aspects of monastic spirituality and elicits warm reflections on abbey life. Background information on Cistercian and Benedictine orders and quotes from such writers as Thomas Merton, Graham Greene, Evelyn Underhill and George Herbert provide a counterpoint to the voices of a fast-disappearing generation of contemplatives. While the dialogues are vivid, Sweeney's account of his own faith task of incorporating the monks' wisdom is too sketchy to be satisfying, and he offers little information about the directions his life has taken as a result. Adding to the monks changed my life genre is tricky, especially given the height of the bar set by Kathleen Norris's remarkable Cloister Walk. Less reticence, better writing and deeper insight would have strengthened Sweeney's endeavor to distill experiences that were clearly significant to him. (May)
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From the Back Cover
Monastic Insight for Everyday Living
Cloister Talks is a series of glimpses into Jon Sweeney's decades-long friendships with Cistercian and Benedictine monks in monasteries across the country. These communal brothers hold the keys to many of the things we all yearn for: stillness, solitude, simplicity, contemplation, and clarity of purpose. Here Sweeney shares with poignant honesty the wisdom he has gained among these holy yet still very human men. Their conversations engage a wide range of topics, including life, death, love, work, play, and spirituality, offering a deeper understanding of this ancient way of Christianity--a much-needed antidote to the hurry of contemporary life.
"In this poignant, richly nuanced book, Sweeney gives us our best record yet of the sweet tension between the cloister and the world that, like a leitmotif, sings always within those of us who yearn for both."--Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours
"If you ever wondered what a monk's life might be like, if you don't mind looking into a mirror to see the craziness of life in our culture, if you think you might splurge and go deeper with God, Sweeney shares his cloistered, very human, and wise friends with us as companions along the way."--James C. Howell, author of The Beautiful Work of Learning to Pray
"Cloister Talks is a contemplative conversation inviting us to know ourselves in the deep, deep love of the One by whom we're already known."--Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of New Monasticism
"This will be a very encouraging book for those who want to glean insights from monks for everyday life outside the cloister and need permission to fail from time to time in implementing what they have learned."--Dennis Okholm, author of Monk Habits for Everyday People
Top customer reviews
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I have already recommended this book to several of the people in my small study group at church, not really knowing the reactions I will get, but knowing I will WELCOME any discussions that ensue!
When you transcend the "big questions", you have found God.... AWESOME.
If you're looking for deep meaning about God, on a very personal level, grab on to this book and cherish it! Take notes, and by all means, as the monks instruct, LIVE IT!
Thanks Jon Sweeney for sharing your experiences. My only negative is that I have not had the opportunity (yet) to explore such faith questions with the monks.
Contrary to most opinions of the monastic life, the monks Sweeney befriends and entrusts as his spiritual advisers are practical, fun-loving, and astonishingly normal people. Monks do not view themselves as spiritually superior even if we sometimes do. Instead, monks view themselves as completing the vocation God has called them to.
God's calling is the most integral part of the monastic life. As one monk relates, only God's grace would ever enable a person to live the monastic life. It is not the "normal" life. Neither is it better than the normal life. Instead, it is viewed as a unique vocation God calls a select few into. God calls others into a variety of vocations as well.
The discovery of vocation and the experience of God's true calling in each person's life is what the monks' advice boils down to: walk the path God is showing you, be humble, be silent, enjoy life, and delight in God. This is what monks do, and this is what those beyond the bounds of the monastery should do as well.
The monastic life is not all spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment. There is a great deal of insecurity, frustration, and darkness as well. The monks are just like us. They have doubts and depression. They hurt and become sick. They travel and love. But their love is attuned fully to God and their brothers in a way that is far different than those beyond the monastery that have families and live in church communities. This difference is what makes the monastic life so special and so different. It is utter simplicity in our hectic world.
Even so, the monks never call for us to flee for the hills and live the hermit's life. Instead, we must find our own simplicity and devotion, walking our own pilgrimage before God in a way that finds wonder in silence, love, life, and play.
This book might disappoint those who are seeking monastic advise as a wondrous salve that will cure all their secular and worldly frustrations. The monks have advice for your frustrations, but they have their own in the monastery as well. The monastery is not a safe spiritual place. It is a place where people are stretched in their service before God, and this can lead to trying places.
I recommend this book instead to those that want to take a leisurely stroll through the teachings of monks filtered through the lens of one man's spiritual journey. There is really no beginning and not much ending, just a snapshot of a person on the Way being helped by the counsel of dear friends and spiritual advisors.