Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

When the Monastery Comes to You

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Ever since I read Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in 1997, I have found the teachings and systems of monastic life not only inspiring but comforting, right for me somehow.  From time to time, I even consider becoming an oblate like Norris. . . somehow the rituals and schedule appeal to a place deep within me, but what I admire and seek to emulate most in monastic communities is the intentionality with which they live.  The idea that the daily work, the every day relationship with people around you is essential to love and health – that seems ultimately right to me.

So when I received Joan Chittester’s The Monastery of the Heart  as a review copy a while back, I kept it, even through the great cleansing of books before the move.  This week, I picked it up – rather randomly from my shelf.  I took it to bed to read before I slept on a night when I felt restless and weary, and the Sister Joan’s words soothed my spirit.

Here are a few of her words that resonated with me deeply:

The search for God depends, then, on choosing the spiritual path most suited to our own spiritual temper and character. For some seekers, it is in withdrawal from society or by immersion in nature that God is most present. For others, the face of God shows most clearly in the face of the poor, or is felt most keenly through the support of those with whom they share a common spiritual regimen.

Prayer restores the soul that is dry and dulled by years of trying to create a world that never completely comes.

In a Monastery of the Heart, as well, whoever else makes enemies of differences, the seeker listens ever harder to learn what differences have to teach, what otherness has to say.

Whatever our motives might be, to absent ourselves from manual labor is to participate in the creation of a servant society in which we give ourselves the right not to serve.

Not everyone must do everything, but everyone must do something that benefits the group as a whole.  And we must do whatever we do with total commitment and a complete sense of responsibility.

The will of God in life does not come in straight lines, or clear signs, or certain choices.

I could go on.  But to do so would be to do Sister Joan’s words a disservice for they are not only the kinds of truth that lodge into my heart but they are beautifully written, laid out on the page in the structure of poetry to give them more room to grow and expand as I breath them in.

I cannot recommend this book enough if you need comfort or challenge, wisdom or rest.

What monastics have you read? Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, Kathleen Norris? What do their words give you?

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • debra

    I’ve read both Kathleen Norris and Thomas Merton and found them enriching – also Richard Foster.

    Now I’ve intrigued by this Sister Joan.
    “The will of God in life does not come in straight lines, or clear signs, or certain choices.” It takes days, weeks, months, years, a lifetime, quite often, to find our call. I’m still seeking.

  • http://afieldofwildflowers-kellys.blogspot.com/ Kelly Chripczuk @ A Field of Wild Flowers

    I LOVED the Cloister walk and, I think, did not one, but two of my final exam type projects on Norris for different classes. Have you ever read Richard Rohr? He’s a Jesuit, I believe. I first read his stuff on the Enneagram, but he has a lot on contemplative living. Also, A Tree Full of Angels by Macrina something or other and Brother Lawrence’s little book – both are very humble in their practical lives, but offered what they had to the world. Also just read Short Trip to the Edge by Scott Kairns about Mt.Athos, an Island in Greece that is almost solely populated by monastaries, all Greek Orthodox, and no women allowed (I wrote a post on this book, last month but I can’t remember what I called it!). There’s a 60 minutes piece on youtube where they visit the Mt. and interview various leaders. Fascinating.
    Kelly Chripczuk @ A Field of Wild Flowers recently posted…The Second Presidential Debate and Who I’m Voting ForMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I haven’t read Richard Rohr or Macrina . . . but I love Brother Lawrence and Scott Karins, although I haven’t read that particular book of his. Thanks for these recs.

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