The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 40/41, Nr. 3c, October 2010                  Richardton, ND 58652

Brief Book Reviews

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Benedict, by Judith Sutera, OSB (Ligouri, MO: Ligouri, 2010) 128 pp., $10.99, ISBN 978-0-7648-1883-7.

This is not just another Advent book with something for Christmas appended. Rather it is an attentive tool for lectio in the waiting time that draws on Scripture, Benedict, prayer and action to ready our hearts for Christs coming at Christmas. The plan is both simple and practical: there are 28 days for Advent and 12 for Christmas and within each day there is an opening section from the Rule or Dialogues, a passage from Scripture, a short prayer, and finally a proposed Advent action, all of which are integrated by a motif. By not tying the day to a calendar date, the book can be used annually.

The third and final section of the book offers two full formats for night prayer and reading during Advent and Christmas which can be used by individuals or groups. This book is both wise and useful as well as inspiring and practical for monastics and laity alike.

Renée Branigan, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, ND

 

Green Monasticism: A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity, ed. Donald Mitchell and William Skudlarek (New York: Lantern Press, 2010) 200 pp., $22, ISBN 978-1-590561-676.

From May 27 to 31, 2008, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue sponsored and organized a conference entitled "Gethsemani III: Monasticism and the Environment" at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky. This gathering of predominantly Buddhist and Christian monastics is the third such encounter held at the Trappist abbey with which Thomas Merton was affiliated.

Participants numbered 40 altogether (16 Buddhists and 22 Christians, plus a few additional invited guests), most of whom hailed from the United States and Canada, and a few from as far away as Italy (Rome) and France. As a MID board member at the time, I was privileged to be one of the conference participants.

The conference centered on the environment in its broadest sense its degradation, sustainability, and future promise and the roles Christian and Buddhist monastics, given their teachings and practices, have played and must continue to play as we move into an uncertain environmental future.

At its closing, the monastic participants of Gethsemani III developed a conference statement, "Simple and Sufficient," that reflects the conference proceedings and frames the values we must cultivate as we engage our environment in the twenty-first century.

Green Monasticism is the subsequent publication showcasing the presentations at this conference. Donald W. Mitchell and William Skudlarek, OSB, have done a masterful job in editing the volume. It is divided into seven major sections: "Thomas Merton and the Looming Ecological Crisis," "Buddhist and Christian Teaching on the World and Our Place in It," "Monastic Rules on the World and Our Life in It," "Monasticism and the Consumer Society," "Contemporary Environmental Practices in American Monastic Communities," "Epilogue: Insights from Dialogue," and an appendix. Its strength lies in the unity of voice concerning the monastic modeling of the green movement, but also by the diversity of conceptual frameworks through which monastic spiritual dynamics, Buddhist and Christian, are articulated.

As both an invitation for reflection and a call to action, this is a book that should be carefully read and thoroughly digested by modern monastics who are deeply concerned about the moral and ethical implications of how we must all confront the future of our planet for the sake of its sustainability and integrity.

Aaron Raverty, OSB
Saint Johns Abbey, Collegeville, MN

Robert of La Chaise-Dieu and Stephen of Obazine. The Lives of the Monastic Reformers, Volume 1. Cistercian Studies Series 222 ( Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2010) 272 pp., $32.95, ISBN 978-0-87907-322.

This book is an important contribution to medieval studies. It introduces readers to two monastic reformers who may not be as well known as Bernard of Clairvaux or Peter the Venerable but, nonetheless, had important roles in the monastic reform movement of the high Middle Ages. Hugh Feiss, osb, Maureen OBrien, and Ronald Pepin have produced a volume of brief yet comprehensive introductions for each of the two lives which they translated and included in this book.

Each introduction offers detailed content and context from which to leap into the lives of Robert of La Chaise-Dieu (two versions) and Stephen of Obazine, but without complicating and confusing the reader. The editors also provide backgrounds for each author of these lives allowing for additional context to better understand the men about whom they are humbly writing.

Each editor has provided an appropriate amount of material for which any reader (novices, monks, professors, graduate students, even skilled undergraduates) will feel very well prepared to read the translations and take from them the desired messages, lessons, ideas, and history for study or personal contemplation.

The texts have been translated with very close attention to the Latin, rendering it into a very accessible and faithful English translation. The Latin of these texts is not an easy Latin to translate at times. Even an experienced Latinist could run into some difficulties without consulting various colleagues. Thus, the translators have done a great service for novice and experienced alike. Nothing has been lost here by these translations because they maintain the meaning and intent of the Latin text (and the footnotes, especially for the Life of Stephen, are most helpful in clarifying some of those Latin issues).

Much can be gained from reading this book: learning about important, albeit less well-known, early monastic reformers and their lives, general medieval history, and even simple faith and humility as found in the Middle Ages but also still in demand today. As the back cover of the book states: "Both reformer monks are models and inspiration for our era, which too calls for creativity and new beginnings."

This first volume in the series is a tremendous contribution by Cistercian Publications with which to begin their new series The Lives of Monastic Reformers. This book creatively renders a complex yet dynamic Latin into a solid, fluid English translation of the lives of two very important early monastic reformers, as well as providing introductions which assist all levels of readers to gain a fresher, more comprehensive understanding of this important period of medieval monastic reform history through the lives of Robert of La Chaise-Dieu and Stephen of Obazine.

Dr. Michael Martin
Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO

Additional Sponsors/Donors 2010

SPONSORS

Abbey of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, NM
Abbey of the Genesee, Piffard, NY
Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO
Blue Cloud Abbey, Marvin, SD
Holy Name Monastery, St. Leo, FL

Mount Savior Monastery, Pine City, NY
Newark Abbey, Newark, NJ
New Melleray Abbey, Peosta, IA
Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Dubuque, IA

Queen of Angels Monastery, Liberty, MO
St. Bede Abbey, Peru, IL
St. Benedict Monastery, Oxford, MI
St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, AL
Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN
Saint Louis Abbey, St. Louis, MO

DONORS

Benedictine Monastery, Sonoita, AZ
Mount Calvary Retreat House, Santa Barbara, CA
St. Paul's Monastery, St. Paul, MN


Issue Contents



Seek Peace and Pursue It:
Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval


2-5 August 2012


St. Scholastica Monastery
Duluth, Minnesota


Issue Contents

 

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