THE CLOISTER WALK

Ruminations on the perennial relevance of Benedictine monastic life from Norris (Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, 1993), who acts as a sympathetic and perceptive outsider. Ten years ago Norris, a Protestant who had not been to church for 20 years, became an oblate, or lay associate, of the large Benedictine community of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. Since then she has spent two nine-month periods studying and teaching at one of the abbey's many academic institutes. She sets out her experiences in the form of 75 short reflections, which cover the course of the monks' liturgical year and touch on many aspects of their life and her reactions to it. We hear how the Benedictines find a meaning in the passing of time through their daily rhythm of prayer and work. Norris is struck by the way communal recitation of the Psalms, with their paradoxical, violent emotions, breaks through the conventions of church language and American optimism. She speaks of the monastic lectio divina as a mode of reading that involves the heart and aims at a surrender to whatever word or phrase catches the attention. She reports conversations with the monks and visiting sisters on the pressures of community life and the struggle to remain faithful to the prayer in a culture that values independence and putting self first. We hear how celibacy is about a primary relationship with God and demands a self-awareness and emotional wholeness that often makes monastics invaluable counselors to laypeople. Norris is also aware of the tensions in American Benedictine life, e.g., she powerfully presents the cases for and against wearing the traditional habit and outlines some of the impact of feminist thought. A down-to-earth and accessible introduction to a powerful tradition.

Pub Date: April 2, 1996

ISBN: 1-57322-028-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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