The Monastery of the Heart

The Monastery of the Heart

Joan Chittister, BlueBridge

When people whose judgment I respect (Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren et. al.) keep suggesting we read Joan Chittister,  I sit up and take notice.

Others apparently agree: Google has 339,000 references to her (there can’t be too many with a name like that!), beginning with her beautiful website [benetvision.org/].

Five thousand people (so far) have joined her Monasteries of the Heart movement [monasteriesoftheheart.org/].

She writes two or three (or more) books every year: at least four have appeared since this one: about 45 altogether so far.

Wikipedia: “Chittister writes and speaks on women in the church and society, human rights, and peace and justice in the areas of war and poverty, and religious life and spirituality.”

Amazon.com offers this summary of The Monastery of the Heart: “Every age has answered the questions and challenges of spiritual living in its own particular ways through its languages, arts, and lifestyles, giving seekers various concepts for guidance. In this original manifesto, bestselling author Joan Chittister delivers a roadmap based on the ancient Rule of Benedict that stands as a practical model upon which to build a satisfying life, despite the seemingly limitless (and at times meaningless) supply of options in the modern world. By giving spiritual seekers — individuals, couples, families, and small groups — a new opportunity to live a better life from the very center of their world without ever having to withdraw from it, Chittister’s new approach redefines Benedictine living for modern day seekers while remaining firmly rooted in its monastic values.”

So here we have — for catholics and Catholics — a brilliant summary of timeless Benedictine wisdom about individual and corporate spirituality.

Notable:

  • The worship of our private little idols of money and power and status… lure us away from the real treasures of life [4]
  • We must follow Jesus from Galilee toJerusalem, contending with the system, healing the people, doing good, excluding no one, being a voice for the voiceless… [5]
  • God is as present in darkness as in light [16]
  • The function of Benedictine life, with its community commitment, is not to hide from the world [28]
  • In a Monastery of the Heart, we do not pray merely to pray. We pray to become more a sign of the mind of God today than we were yesterday [37-8]. Silence prepares us for prayer … It is the noise within — our desires that plague us, our worries that deplete us, our thoughts that agitate us — that we must calm [45-6]
  • The ancients called [it] the regret of the soul — we must forgive ourselves for being less than we know we can be [63]
  • Understand the difference between need and want, between having what is necessary rather than doing without what is necessary — simply for the sake of doing without [89-90]. In a Monastery of the Heart seekers live with one eye on the needs of everyone else as well as their own [92]
  • Extreme asceticisms [are] practices which are often a source of spiritual pride, and always a source of spiritual distraction [96]. [Even] prayer and contemplation, Benedict is clear, are no substitute for work [105]
  • The magnet in our hearts ‘whose true north is God’… stretches toward truth, and signals the way to justice. It is attuned to the cries of the poor and oppressed with a timbre that allows no interruption, no smothering of the Voice of God on their behalf’ [146]

That’s enough for now: this book is full of such special wisdom. Its typography is “centred text” and is very easy to read. Actually, it’s too easy: the temptation is to fly through the book too quickly. It’s best read meditatively, slowly, a little at a time.

Rowland Croucher

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1 thought on “The Monastery of the Heart”

  1. I am part of a Benedictine book group in Newcastle. We have been studying this book for 12 months (and still going). Accompanying it is a wonderful study guide. Sr Joan is so full of wisdom, insight and presents a most worthwhile alternative in approaching one’s spiritual life. The MOH website is also extremely supportive and allows individuals to become members of MOH groups either online or physically part of a group.

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