I picked up this book at a local bookstore because I was very intrigued by the author’s experience as a Presbyterian minister who is also a Benedictine oblate at a monastery in Oregon. I also have been recently interested in Christian formation from a contemplative perspective. I feel myself drawn more and more to this path in deepening my own walk and am studying many of the lives of the Saints and the Desert Fathers in accordance with Anglican/Episcopalian tradition. There are actually a number of Anglican/Episcopalian monasteries based upon The Rule of St. Benedict, and a number of Benedictine oblates who seek to live their lives in faith according to the Rule of St. Benedict within their own place in the world, whatever their job or marital status might be.
This book is divided into two main parts. Part One includes “Ancient Perspectives On Christian Formation” and has 7 chapters, including How Benedict Transformed the World, Benedictine Essentials for the Journey, The Path of Communal Prayer, The Path of Spiritual Guidance, The Path of Ordinary Spirituality, The Path of Lectio Divinia, The Path of Hospitality. Part Two includes “Christian Formation As A Way of Life Together” and includes chapters on How Benedict is Still Transforming the World, Five Case Studies of Christian Formation, A Guide For Christian Formation in a Local Church, User’s Guide to Going on a Monastic Retreat, and A Year of Tools for Christian Formation. Each chapter has a bullet-point list associated with it at the end with different activities and further reading to do in order to take steps into deeper Christian formation.
The book starts with an apt description of private spirituality, antimomian spirituality and nomadic spirituality and moves into the inner and outer life of the Christian. Benedictine formation begins with a commitment to stability in community, fidelity in community and obedience in community. Then the author takes the time to talk about the life of Benedict, which was really fascinating in and of itself and he also discusses the impact Benedict and Benedictine monasteries had upon the world in the arts, literacy, health care and economic development. Later in the book, the author writes, “In this efficient system of communal labor, Benedictine monks planted orchards and vineyards, hand copied hundreds of thousands of biblical manuscripts, founded and maintained most of the first libraries of Europe, created crafts guilds that birthed the artisan middle class of medieval Europe, dug wells, and built irrigation systems interlacing much of Europe.”
Chapter Two details the essentials of the Benedictine way of life, including spiritual leadership, shared wisdom, tools for spiritual formation, obedience and humility. There are twelve steps in an ascending ladder of humility alone, which provides so much food for thought in how to live. One of my favorite chapters was Chapter Three, which went through “praying in the dark”, morning prayer, praying through the psalms and The Divine Office. I love how the author points out that “the Jewish people have always viewed the book of Psalms as their prayer book, the instruction manual for the life of prayer, both in community and solitude.” Jesus prayed the Psalms from the cross, and the early church prayed the Psalms, so it was fascinating to see how this is such a rich and important part of prayer life for so many. This is probably one of my most favorite chapters in the book, along with the section regarding “Silence and Solitude” in Chapter Six and Chapter Twelve: “A Year of Tools For Christian Formation.” I think the chapters and sections on obedience are also important for thoughtful reading as obedience doesn’t seem to be a popular idea any more but vital to living life in the Christian faith and I think also with living peacefully with each other.
I didn’t feel as drawn to the chapters in the book discussing how to implement a Benedictine Rule within your own place of worship; I guess I was reading this book and thinking more of this path for myself rather than for my parish. However, with the emphasis within the Rule of St. Benedict, of course this makes perfect sense. Perhaps it is just the idea of bringing this into community and organizing that seems challenging to a beginner like me who is just starting to deepen my walk into contemplative practices.
All in all, a book well worth reading from Paraclete Press, Here is a link to the e-book version so you can look at it for yourself: http://www.paracletepress.com/ancient-paths-discovering-christian-formation-the-benedictine-way-epub.html