A friend of mine recently sent me a book. The name of the book is "Monastery of the Heart" (BlueBridge Press, 2011) and the author is Joan Chittister, a well known and much published Benedictine nun.
My friend's name is Fred and he occasionally sends books to me. Fred lives in Portland, Ore., and we have corresponded for years. I have never met him but feel I know him well just through his writing.
The book intrigues me. Joan writes beautifully and this particular book takes a different approach than her other writings. Whereas she usually writes in prose style, this book is written in poetical format.
The stanzas move along and as they do so they illumine the various yet connected teachings of the Rule of Benedict. The Rule is what we follow here at the monastery and it is also the Rule followed by Benedictine monasteries all over the world.
The amazing thing is that the Rule can be interpreted differently, according to times, customs and cultural norms. Contemplative Orders are divided into cloistered and active expressions. The Rule can speak to the needs of both.
The Rule is 1,500 years old and is as vital now as when it was written. It has enabled successive monastic generations to ponder the movements of the Spirit according to time and place. Joan has a gift for taking the Rule of Benedict and placing it in conversation with modern times and modern needs.
The reason the book intrigues me has to do with meeting a growing need.
It is a need that I have pondered over the years. That need has to do with sharing our monastic gifts with those outside our style of life. There is a shared need that people know and feel and it has something to do with living and loving from a contemplative or mystical framework.
We offer retreats here and I am convinced that people sense something of themselves in us, in our monastic way of life, but they lack the monastic framework and observances to bring it to fruition. There is an association called "Contemplative Outreach" that has a worldwide reach.
It is made up of people who are "in the world," working, married, raising children, teaching, coping, moving -- all looking for something more that they sense we monks have but that they lack. Well, it isn't that they lack it. They need a language and a structure to look within and find it within themselves -- and then go about sharing it.
This is a phenomenon that is unique to our age and it is a growing one.
Monastic orders are today being called to share their gifts, their heritage, with people who are hungry for a spiritual base in their lives that is tried and true. They, therefore, turn to us -- and we in turn look to them.
Joan has written a book that can and should serve as a guide for nourishing the contemplative life where it has always been but not really recognized. People who are seeking a reason to love more deeply, to be more like the God who lives in them, who seek to pursue beauty in all its forms and create it will find in this little book a treasure of recognition.
"Monastery of the Heart" is a generous contribution to the growing body of literature that reflects a growing body in the churches.
The ages to come will require a spirituality that is contemporary and as old -- and as fresh -- as the living wisdom that comes from God into the human heart. This book is a wonderful contribution to the church as it seeks to meet the challenges of today's world.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is email@example.com.