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I am happy to say that our list of required readings for postulants inquiring into our Order and spiritual formation has been handed over to the Cathedral Book Store at St. Philip’s. They have agreed to have copies of the books on hand for those wishing to purchase them for our convenience. For our members and guests that will be choosing which book we discuss in the coming weeks, here again is our required reading list for postulants and early formation:
1) The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen – Henri Nouwen was one of the greatest contemplative writers of the 20th century, standing along side others like Thomas Merton and Joan Chittister. This very small book is his basic introduction into the purpose and practice of silence. Being Roman Catholic, his theology flavors a lot of his descriptions, but it is still a wonderful bite size morsel. Best when read, allowed to sit, and then reread slowly.
2) What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills – In a short and straight forward format, Wills shows how radical the really outward teachings of Jesus really were and what he was trying to accomplish within religious identity. He also shows where the Church has been trying to cover up, overshadow, and outright ignore a lot of his radically inclusive message while claiming to be the “embodiment of Christ on earth.” A good “back to the basics” book for any Christian contemplative.
3) Wisdom Jesus by Mother Cynthia Bourgeault – This is best read as a companion to What Jesus Meant. Where Wills shows the radical outward ministry of Jesus, Mother Cynthia shows the radical inward spiritual teachings of Jesus. Her grasp and explanation of ancient texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, is excellent and provides a far more internal view of Christian spirituality than is often found in traditional church teachings.
4) Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong – For anyone interested in intentional religious community, these two books are a must. In the 1960s as a woman in her early 20s, Karen entered a convent to become a nun. She entered at a time when Religious life was being redefined by Vatican II and systems of tradition were giving way to much need innovation and restructuring…but the change was hardly easy for those that had lived under the old system for most of their lives. Karen is caught between two worlds as she enters into her novitiate, and struggles in her own religious identity as her own Religious Order struggles with theirs. The Spiral Staircase is the second half of her autobiography, picking up from where she left her convent and tried assimilate into the secular world while eventually coming to terms with her own faith and experience of God. Her transformation speaks to many who are searching, and her observations of Religious life can offer us numerous lessons as we move into community as modern contemplatives in our Church.
5) Meditation without Myth by Daniel Helminiak – Dr. Helminiak, a former Roman Catholic priest, is now a professor of psychology at West Georgia College. By initially “taking God out of the equation” for teaching centering/meditation, he offers a good introduction to the very basic practice while showing the benefits both physical and psychological. At the end of the book, he brings God back in, showing the greater depth one can achieve through the basic practice of being still. His simple instruction and medical explanation shows how all of us are wired for centering, and what to expect when we being doing it on a regular basis.
6) God is a Verb by Rabbi David A. Cooper – For anyone interested in the mystical aspects of Judaism (which figured into early Christian practice) this is a great and easy to read guide to the basics of Kabalah, the contemplative branch of Judaism. The concept of Ein Sof will resonate with anyone who has practice contemplative spirituality, regardless of tradition.
7) The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings of the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century by Thomas Merton—A concise collection and excellent introduction into the sayings of the early Christian hermits as compiled by one of the 20th century’s best known contemplatives. Each small reading offers a wealth of material for prayer and contemplation.
The last of our guided centering prayer sessions for this round.
I am thrilled to say that our Order has taken a great and much anticipated step forward in formation. As of this weekend, four of our members are now in community. The monk house (not quite a monastery yet) is in Sandy Spings, Atlanta. Brothers Addison, Ashton, Kevin and I are currently renting a townhome there. Moving in wasn’t entirely easy, as the stairs going down to the lower level can’t accomodate full size box springs…but that’s what the porch is for. Up and over it went and then in through the downstairs patio entrance. Just goes to show that nothing can stand in the way of determined monks.
The altar and worship space is set up and we sang and recited compline together last night. What a wonderful experience!
Next step is to continue to raise funds and find donors to help us purchase property that will fit everyone. Br. Stephen is anxious, as are we all, to join us in community so that we can go ahead and sell the small townhome in which he is living. It will also be nice to have a dedicated space for visitors and postulants coming to us for formation. We give thanks to God for the progress thus far and ask that you all keep us in your prayers as we continue ever forward, always to the glory of God who unites us in Love and Christ. Amen!