THE VIEW FROM A MONASTERY by Benet Tvedten

THE VIEW FROM A MONASTERY

KIRKUS REVIEW

Gentle musings on four decades of monastic life, by fiction writer and Blue Cloud Abbey resident Tvedten. Readers of Kathleen Norris will appreciate this insider’s view of the monastery in which her books are set. Tvedten weaves the teachings of St. Benedict with the ebb and flow of daily events at his busy monastery. The chapters are quite short, each exploring some component of life in the monastery, from daily prayer to the animal-shelter dogs deposited at Blue Cloud. One of the most interesting perspectives the book offers is a result of the fact that Tvedten was a monk before and after Vatican II and eloquently recounts the ways that his everyday routine changed forever after the Council: Talking was permitted at two meals a day, bedtimes became flexible, some books were no longer forbidden, among other changes (e.g., whereas at one time National Geographic magazine was carefully edited whenever women’s breasts were exposed, today “the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated is placed in our reading room intact”). Tvedten finds it incomprehensible that young people who never experienced the Church before Vatican II should have such a romantic desire to return to the old ways. He, in contrast, has embraced changes to the liturgy and to the Church. Tvedten seems bent on having readers understand that monks are just everyday folks who shop at Wal-Mart and grumble about their workload (he jokes that the brothers take vows of poverty, chastity, and “discussion”). Blue Cloud Abbey comes off as a place of great spiritual vitality despite the dwindling number (and advancing age) of its monastic residents. “Numbers may determine the amount of work a monastic community can do,” Tvedten concedes, “but they need not detract from the quality of the monastic life.” Through retreats, houseguests, and seminars, the abbey opens its arms wide for the curious public. Tvedten’s honesty and genuine humility keep this memoir from becoming another pat homage to the simple life.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57322-134-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999




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