A PLACE APART by M. Basil Pennington


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Reflections in praise of monastic life and on ways of living quasi-monastically in the world. Pennington is a much-traveled and -published Trappist monk who writes intelligent devotional material for the surprisingly large market that Thomas Merton partly created and partly stumbled into. Pennington is no Merton, but he rehearses some major features of monasticism (solitude, silence, fasting, vigils, work, obedience, fellowship) in a reasonably forthright and engaging way, while offering a few methods for lay-people to find the ""place apart"" hidden deep inside everyone. The ascetical style Pennington promotes is balanced and humane. ""The Fathers of the Egyptian desert,"" he observes, ""deprived themselves of food and sent boatloads of grain down the river to feed the poor of Alexandria""; and he sees nothing wrong with simultaneously fasting and dieting. Pennington recommends the Benedictine practice of lectio, slow immersion in a religious ""text"" (whether verbal or pictorial). He suggests prayer in secular settings--while shaving, jogging, commuting. In a rather unconvincing chapter, he exalts the sacred character of work. Though most accessible to Catholics, the book is thoroughly ecumenical; it connects, for example, Martin Buber's four Hasidic virtues (single-mindedness, humility, service, and the fire of ecstasy), which aim at bridging the chasm between sacred and profane reality, with similar Cistercian categories. Hardly compelling, but a tasteful performance.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday