Volume 43, Nr. 1b, February 2012 Richardton, ND 58652
Lessons from Saint Benedict by Donald Raila, OSB (Augusta, MO: Sacred Winds Press, 2011, 183 pages, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9830615-1-9).
Before praising the book, it must be noted that this book represents a growing new trend in publishing. At a time when publishing companies are downsizing, merging and fading away, one young man is choosing to perform a true labor of love by offering spiritual books and articles on the internet, some as on-demand printings, some as e-books, some free for download. There are even video conversations with his authors on his website, www.sacredwindspress.com. Joe Reidhead is the son of devoted oblates of St. Vincent's in Latrobe, PA, and he has been brought up to recognize the simple monastic wisdom that counters much of what his culture has served up. Now he has chosen to use the modern media of his generation to bring that message to contemporary readers.
It was natural for him to begin with the wisdom of Father Donald, longtime director of St. Vincent's oblates. The book is a collection of his letters to the oblates. They are a treasury of homey, conversational, yet deeply profound, musings on various Benedictine values. He often reveals a lot about his own spiritual journey by using very specific examples from his day-to-day life and showing how he had to wrestle with the ordinary to see the sacred. At less than five pages each, these "lessons" would make excellent lectio material for monastic or lay readers, or provocative conversation starters for oblate groups.
A series of videos by Father Donald, as well as videos and free e-book by his confrere, psychologist Father Vernon Holtz, make a visit to Sacred Winds' website definitely worthwhile. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a new type of resource for promoting Benedictine wisdom in the digital age.
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Prayer in the Cave of the Heart by Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010, 123 pages, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-8146-3276-5).
Cyprian Consiglio has summarized in a concise little book the essence of his understanding of monastic prayer. He is a contemplative monk and musician who has devoted himself to a cross-cultural spirituality. He is conversant in, and in fact travels and teaches about, the universal mystical hunger in Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. While rooted in the Christian Benedictine expression, he guides the reader to practice and appreciate contemplative prayer and the lectio tradition by introducing, explaining and providing examples from across the world's religions. It is at the same time basic and enlightening, a gem for anyone wanting to place contemplative prayer into a more universal context without getting lost in technicalities or foreign vocabularies. A glossary and bibliography make the text even more accessible and helpful for the beginner, but the content is of value to even the seasoned practitioner.
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Abide: Keeping Vigil With the Word of God by Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011, 214 pages, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-8146-3383-0).
Sister Macrina comes through once again with a poetic and inspiring book that is intended for anyone who likes guided meditations. There are forty short scriptural reflections, the ideal number for someone looking for a Lenten book. Each begins by inviting the reader to prayerfully read a particular biblical passage. As is her style, the author walks the reader through a meditation exercise, drawing attention to particular aspects or asking the reader to think about and imagine something related to the passage. She follows each with a series of questions that invite readers to think about their own lives and how they might apply the text, and ends with a prayer. There may be too much structure here for some people's tastes, but it can also be a prayer starter without using the questions or a solid way to introduce people to the practice of lectio.
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Now under the auspices of Liturgical Press, Cistercian Publications continues to do what it does best, provide access to early and medieval texts or helpful books about them. Several came out in late 2010 and throughout 2011. Among them was The Maronites: The Origins of an Antichene Church by Abbot Paul Naaman, which describes the fifth to seventh century origins of this Eastern Catholic Church. This group, with its ties to Syria and Lebanon has come to public attention with the recent conflicts among Christians and Muslims in that troubled part of the world.
The Holy Workshop of Virtue: The Life of John the Little brings another ancient desert resource to light. A group of translators and editors have gathered the fragments about this early monk of Scetis from several sources and, of interest to a far smaller segment of the reading public, have also offered one section of the text in its Bohairic Coptic original.
Lectio Divina: The Medieval Experience of Reading by Duncan Robertson is not a book primarily for those seeking inspiration for their practice. It is a substantial historical and academic examination of the evolution of the theory and practice of lectio. It blends historical analysis with spirituality for the monastic scholar who is curious about the perceptions of different people in different times regarding sacred reading.
Surely the title, Outreach and Renewal: A First-Millennium Legacy for the Third-Millennium Church, by James McSherry is intriguing. The author sweeps through a number of historical incidents and methods of preaching from the early Church fathers and ascetics. Common themes are trying to dialogue with the beliefs of the "other," overcoming native superstitions, trust in a benevolent God, and especially teaching by example. Though the title is tantalizing, the author leaves it to the reader to make the connections with the present; the text itself stays to the historical overview.
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