The titles I’m about to mention aren’t new to these posts; they’ve both been mentioned in lists of suggested Lenten Books. And anyone who has made a retreat at the Abbey may have heard selections from them during their visit. I’ve revived Br. Stephen’s custom of reading at one of the meals to our guests; it’s an old monastic custom mentioned in St. Benedict’s Rule. I feel it’s a way of extending our monastic hospitality, sharing one of our basic–and daily–monastic experiences.
The two books I am referring to are both by Michael Casey, OCSO, a monk of our monastery in Australia. Fr. Michael is certainly well known in our Order. He was the sacrificial author who composed the first draft–and subsequent revisions–of our present Constitutions. Apart from being an author of numerous books and countless articles, he’s an engaging speaker and conducts seminars for new formators serving our communities around the globe. The titles of the books I have in mind are Toward God and Sacred Reading.
Toward God, as its subtitle explains, considers the “ancient wisdom of western prayer,” while Sacred Reading deals with the “ancient art of lectio divina.” Both books are down to earth, practical and easy on speculation and intuitive flight. That common sense approach, providing just enough theological underpinning to focus the practical advice, I find very attractive; what really recommends both books to me is Casey’s lack of pretention. His opinions are neither shy nor foggy: he states his point of view clearly and unapologetically but he expects the reader to be critical and to judge his writing by her or his own experience. In both books, he’s very clear that he doesn’t feel either book is a candidate for lectio, i.e., sacred reading. They are “how-to” books, addressing the challenges and pitfalls of our spiritual practice. Certainly we wish to draw closer to God and deepen that elusive relationship through prayer and sacred reading but we often stumble in the actual practice. Or we become discouraged as soon as routine sets in or the endeavor begins to feel like work. Am I doing something wrong or am I on the right track? Do I just need to buckle down and grow up? Or is this a symptom that I’m beating a dead horse and need to tweak my practice? Do I just read more “how-to” books or do I bring in another person to help me? And who?
I think every week when I read passages from one or other of these books and am walking out of the Retreat House refectory, someone of the guests silently beacons me over to his or her place at table to get a better look at the title. Either book is as appropriate for a beginner as for someone whose been plugging away at pray and lectio for a lifetime. I also find both books motivational, a good kick-start when I’m getting a little lazy.
As we’d say in New York, “Try it, you’ll like it.”