The Monastic Heart, 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life by Sister Joan Chittister (Hodder & Stoughton, £22.99/€27.00)
The kind of peace of mind and heart which poets and sages write about proves elusive for many of us these days. We need to remind ourselves, or perhaps for many of us, to actually inform ourselves about what in the middle ages would have been called “the Peace of God”, the kind of peace that was to be found in monastic settings. And still is, of course.
Sr Joan Chittister hardly needs an introduction. Though she is perhaps better known in the USA for her activities than here. Still she brings to what she writes a freshness that communicates itself to the lay person better than it seems to do to some American bishops.
She is by vocation a Benedictine nun, and in this latest of her many books, she aims to provide some access to the heart of that life, not by entering an actual building, but to the monastery that we can make of our own mind. She feels we all know there is a “better place” which is all too often overwhelmed by the restless and sometimes purposeless bustle of the life we are forced to lead. For St Benedict himself living well was not the best revenge, but simply the best way.
In her 50 short chapters she highlights aspects of the Benedictine tradition, from bells to Marian hymns. They are short enough never to become dull, but remain compelling throughout, a few pages which for some may well be life-changing.
Everything she writes is wise and insightful. But the reader will pause at the great task it will be for many to arrange their life of work to fit this life of devotion and contemplation.
Someone like me, when I have finished this article, can get up and go for a walk around the lovely grounds of a hospital that cares for many disabled and enfeebled people. Here I can think about things in the peace of both nature and dedication, with in the near distance, the canonical hours being rung in the tower of a nearby High Church parish.
But in what we have made of country and city, I realise many cannot have such a calm and calming retreat. But if we dislike the physical and mental chaos of modern life, perhaps by taking up some of Sr Joan’s wise suggestions, we can all find some way (as St Benedict did) of combining work and contemplation to the benefit of all, adding thought to the binary pair in the “work and life balance”.
But Benedict did not have to answer to the Regional CEO for Europe of some international corporation.
He had only God to answer to.