The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 32, Nr. 3, October 2002                 Richardton, ND 58652

 

Book Reviews

The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax: Poet, Peacemaker, Sage, by Steve T. Georgiou (Ottawa: Novalis, 2002) 288 pages with 32 pages of color photos and artwork. $14.95 US, ISBN 2-89507-244-2. US orders at 1-800-321-0411 or online.

Only occasionally does a book come along that is so totally refreshing and energizing that, when you reluctantly arrive at the end, your first inclination is to simply start again at the beginning. A serendipitous encounter in 1993 while on the isle of Patmos led the author to Robert Lax, a great American minimalist poet, a sage, a peacemaker, a man who lived slowly and gently with the whole of life. To most, his name is recognized as the lifelong best friend of Thomas Merton, but after reading The Way of the Dreamcatcher, I came away certain that Merton was as much blessed as blessing in their relationship. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton said of him simply, "He had a kind of inborn direction to the living God" (pp. 180-81).

In his prologue, Georgiou masterfully reveals Lax as a contemporary desert father, a dedicated, reclusive contemplative who, nonetheless, provided spiritual inspiration to those who sought him out. "When Lax greeted people, he looked at them with a kind of happy awe, as if hailing a company of saints. He addressed his audience with kindness and focused on them completely, carefully, honestly, and with a genuine love. His gentle blue eyes, deep set and empathetic, sparkled and became liquid portals of grace. Sparks would fly, and those who left him broke into warm and carefree smiles, having been uplifted by an energy born of a lifetime of theocentric living. The radiant poet had a way of reminding people that they were beloved children of God, cherished participants in a holy mystery. Small wonder why many who met Lax believed him to be a saint" (p. 30).

The book is an invitation to sit close and listen even more closely as the author deftly plies this gentle, holy man with the great questions of life: From where did we come? To where are we going? How shall we get there? The questions are huge, but the answers are savory and doable. This book is dense with insights that cultivate living slowly, quietly, surely: waiting on God, staying on track, learning with pleasure, praying the dream true, turning jungle into garden, living and helping live.

The dialogue format works well for this book because the author does not intrude: the focus is always on Lax who is mesmerizing in his wisdom and simplicity. The reader is drawn into this liturgy of encounter which is further peopled by artists, poets, musicians, philosophers, spiritual writers, etc. who have touched the lives of the two in dialogue.

This is precisely a book to give a friend. It is utterly exquisite in its external attractiveness, but even that pales in the face of the great light within the pages. As the author says in the last paragraph of his prologue, "On meeting Robert Lax, I knew that I had found a lightgiver" (p. 46). It is a book to keep and to share, to savor and to digest, to begin and . . . to begin again.


The Abbey Up the Hill: A Year in the Life of a Monastic Day-Tripper, by Carol Bonomo (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing 2002) Pp. xii, 238. $16.95 ISBN 0-8192-1912-6.

If one asks no more of the book than its title promises, one will not be disappointed, as this is a journal account of Carol Bonomo's year of visits to the "abbey up the hill." However, one of the main problems of the diary/journal genre is that it sometimes fails to get beyond the personal to the more universal experience. This is just one of the problems of this book. It is also repetitious, spiritually "lite" and long on such details as the weather, geography and her disposition. Those things being said, it also has its moments of worth.

The book is generally divided into months with journal recordings of her reflections on the Rule of Benedict, interspersed with accounts from the Desert Fathers and encounters with monks and oblates at "St. Augustine's Abbey" (why she feels the need to change the name of the abbey is unclear). Her writing is refreshingly flippant and she asks some questions that many only wish they could (she is a speechwriter and lobbyist by profession) but for this reader it wears thin and feels a bit shallow after the first hundred pages or so. While we gain insights into her as a person who has been on a spiritual journey since her Episcopal childhood, through an un-churched period, into Alcoholics Anonymous, the Catholic faith, through an attempt to become a secular Franciscan, to her becoming a Benedictine oblate, we only find occasional insights into finding spiritual nourishment for our lives.

On occasion, however, she does strike gold, as in her early insight on stability. She wrote that at a mere fourteen she realized that all life decisions, except for having children, were reversible-jobs, relationships, marriages-and this Benedictine accent on stability would prove quite a challenge to such a spiritual gypsy as herself (she used the term gyratory for the type of monks Benedict refers to as gyrovague). Her history and her real-world context in her reflections on the Rule may well serve those individuals who are considering deeper affiliation with Benedictines, but wonder if they have what it takes. But for those already in such a context, this may prove to be too light.

Renée Branigan, OSB
Richardton, ND

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Proceedings 2002

"Monastics and Mentoring:
Refounding the Tradition"

The printed Proceedings of the 2002 American Benedictine Academy convention entitled "Monastics and Mentoring: Re-Founding the Tradition" have been sold. A CD-ROM containing the complete Proceedings is available online. The cost is $6.79 plus shipping.

For other publications, contact the Academy secretary:

Adel Sautner, OSB
415 S Crow St.
Pierre, SD 57501-3304

Bennii @ dakota2k.net

Checks should be made out to the American Benedictine Academy and should accompany the order. The price includes the postage.

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Monastic Studies Grant

ABA members are invited to apply for funds to support projects which foster the objectives of the American Benedictine Academy: "to cultivate, support and transmit the Benedictine heritage within contemporary culture." Grant support may be used for research, travel, or other modes of exploring and promoting the Benedictine heritage. It may also be used for travel expenses and registration fees for the purpose of presenting a scholarly paper on a monastic topic related to the Benedictine heritage at a scholarly convention. A total of $2800 is available to fund these grants.

Applicants, who must be members of the ABA, will be selected on the basis of:

The quality of their proposal (originality, feasibility, clarity of purpose)
Potential benefit for monastics, and
Relevance to the purposes of the Academy.

Recipients of grants support must be willing to submit a report on the use of the grant and/or brief summary of the topic of the scholarly paper to the ABA Board of Directors within one year from the completion of the project/presentation of the paper for which the grant was given.

Applications must be received by December 31, 2002. Recipients will be chosen by the ABA Awards Committee and approved by the ABA Board of Directors at their winter meeting (January, 2003) and announced immediately thereafter.

To apply for a grant you may either supply the following information listed or write for an application form. Applications should include:

Name
Address
Phone
Religious or Academic Affiliation (if any)
Proposed Project:
Goal
Description of Project
Budget -- Please itemize:

Total cost of project
Sources of funding other than the ABA
Sum requested from the ABA

Completed grant applications or requests for application form should be sent to the following address:

Dennis Okholm
314 Brookside Circle
Wheaton, IL 60187
Phone: 630-752-5055
Fax: 630-752-5296
Email: Dennis.L.Okholm@wheaton.edu

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