11 February 2019

Book Recommendations

I picked up a new book today and though I have only read a little of it I wanted to recommend it (or at least bring it to folks' attention in case they have some interest in the topic). The description included with the book reads, [[Through her  evocative intertwined histories of the penitentiary and the monastery, Jane Brox illuminates the many ways silence is far more complex than any absolute; how it has influenced ideas of the self, soul, and society. Brox traces its place as a transformative power in the monastic world from Medieval Europe to the very public life of twentieth century monk Thomas Merton, whose love for silence deepened even as he faced his obligation to speak out against war. This fascinating history of ideas also explores the influence the monastic cell had on one of society’s darkest experiments in silence: Eastern State Penitentiary. Conceived of by one of the Founding Fathers and built on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the penitentiary’s early promulgators imagined redemption in imposed isolation, but they badly misapprehended silence’s dangers.

Finally, Brox’s rich exploration of silence’s complex and competing meanings leads us to imagine how we might navigate our own relationship with silence today, for the transformation it has always promised, in our own lives. ]]
I also wanted to recommend two books I have read in the past year or two by the Irish Dominican, Paul Murray, OP. The first is In the Grip of Lightthe Dark and Bright Journey of Christian Contemplation. [[What is it like in practice to come close to the presence of God? Are there words which can, in some way, explain the nature of that experience? In this compelling study, Paul Murray draws attention to both the wisdom and lived experience of those men and women who knew, at first hand, of the light and fire of which they speak. Murray demonstrates how important and relevant for us today are the writings of authors such as Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and Teresa of Avila. To the often bewildered hearts and minds of our generation, the writings of these remarkable men and women speak with a unique authority.]] Murray's writing is clean and transparent. His sensitivity to language, poetry, the reality of prayer, and the heights and depths of the human heart allow his books to sing a song of hope and joy in minor and major modes both.
    The second book is Scars: Essays, Poems and Meditations on Affliction.  I began this last July and finished it last night. In some ways it reminded me of John Ciardi's, How does a Poem Mean? because Fr Murray writes beautifully of the book of Job, Beethoven's use of music to console a suffering friend, Rainer Marie Rilke and how Rilke's poetry sustained Etty Hillesum as she journeyed to her death in an Auschwitz death chamber, and several others. Ciardi once wrote in the introduction to his book (a text I used in a high school poetry class about 52 years ago!) that Poetry is like karate; it has the power to save us when we are caught some night in a dark alley. Paul Murray, OP shares that same sense of the redemptive power of beauty -- whether it comes to us in poetry, music, or otherwise. His stories are touching, inspiring, challenging and consoling.

Besides the section on Job and the stories noted above, one of the sections on the importance of the body for human wholeness and clear rejection of approaches to asceticism that are life denying rather than life affirming are especially wonderful. The last section of the book is a series of meditations on Christ's "Seven Last Words" and reflects on these with a new perspective sure to be helpful to every human being who knows affliction. As anyone who has read any of his work knows already, Fr Paul is a gifted writer!
Recently I was able to "meet" himself via some email correspondence re my blog and my vocation as a diocesan hermit. It took me some time (at least a couple of weeks) before I was able to move from a nagging sense of, "Hmmm, Irish Dominican, his name is so familiar; how do I know him?" to a thoroughly embarrassed, "Omigosh, I know his work! I have read at least two of his books!!" Fortunately my Dominican friend, Sue Pixley, OP recognized his name right off and, when we were finally able to get together for coffee this weekend, identified him as the author of a book on Dominican spirituality --- a book she will loan me next weekend! Enjoy; I know I will!!