Archive for September, 2014

The Hermitage in the Early Morning

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2014 by citydesert

The early morning is the time that I most feel the blessing of The Hermitage. The vividly coloured stained glass in and around the front door bursts into light from the rising sun, somewhat startling the sleepy Hermit emerging from his cell.
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The back garden starts to awaken. The night silence is broken by bird calls – magpies, currawongs, noisy miner birds beginning to feed on the nectar of flowers on the trees, the occasional cockatoo or lorikeet. A few fruit bats, making a delayed return to the palm trees in the large park onto which The Hermitage backs, squeaking as they fly home.
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And only a gentle hum of traffic to remind me that The Hermitage is in a suburb close to the centre of Australia’s largest city.
It is the best time to walk around the enclosed gardens, enjoying the trees, including a giant camellia, an hibiscus, a gardenia, a huge palm tree, and a stand of giant Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia).
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It is also time to look at the herbs and vegetables: we now have chokos, parsley (various types), mint (various types), tomatoes (various types), basil (various types), globe artichokes, lettuce (various types), spinach (various types), rosemary, beetroot, Warrigal Greens (a native Australian bush food), peas, lovage, comfry, lemongrass and more. There are citrus trees: orange, lemon, and kaffir lime, and an ancient persimmon tree about to burst into leaf and, later, copious almost sickly sweet fruit (an obsessive favourite of the fruit bats).
Amongst recent additions to the herb collection is wormwood (Artemisa absinthium), now growing enthusiastically in the front garden. Given time, “St Cedd’s Absinthe” could be in production! We recently planted a weird small tree [Rungia klossii] from Papua New Guinea which has leaves substituting for the flavour of mushrooms and a grassy herb [Santolina rosmarinifolia] with leaves substituting for the flavour of olives. The black passionfruit has gone completely mad, covering the entire back fence and gate, and the bananas are thriving.
banana-plants-5288
As Spring arrives, those parts of the garden that have been somewhat bare throughout Winter are about to be planted anew. More herbs and vegetables, ferns and semi-tropical plants. Six Dogwood trees (with their beautiful deep red wood) have been delivered to create a hedge along the front path. Plants left outside during Winter are being “repaired” and made ready to be brought inside. The five tomato plants (each a different variety) recently planted are thriving in the Spring sunshine, and enjoying being “companion planted” with basil. The deck is covered with plants in pots awaiting their final destinations!
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The paved area in the depths of the garden (memories of the movingly magnificent “In the Depths of the Temple” from Bizet’s opera, “The Pearlfishers”!) is a perfect setting for prayer, reflection and “lectio divina”. And breakfast! But, mostly, to give thanks for living in this place.

The Urban Hermit Forager

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2014 by citydesert

The early Desert Hermits were essentially culinary ecologists. Apart from the little that they could cultivate in the desert, they were foragers, harvesting the plants that grew locally and naturally. Although a desert may seem an unlikely place to find anything useful as food, those “with eyes to see” and adequate knowledge will find food and water.

While foraging may seem practical in rural hermitages, it sounds inherently unrealistic in urban settings. Again, this is a problem of perception and knowledge. There is a growing interest in urban foraging as a means of enhancing self-sufficiency.
urban foraging 2
Fr Edward has been applying his horticultural qualifications to foraging in local parks, nature strips and along railway lines. Bunches of plants (currently dandelions) are hanging in The Hermitage kitchen windows to dry.
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See further:
Rebecca Lerner “Dandelion Hunter: Foraging The Urban Wilderness” [Globe Pequot Press; 2013]
dandeline hunter
“In this engaging and eye-opening read, forager-journalist Becky Lerner sets out on a quest to find her inner hunter-gatherer in the city of Portland, Oregon. After a disheartening week trying to live off wild plants from the streets and parks near her home, she learns the ways of the first people who lived there and, along with a quirky cast of characters, discovers an array of useful wild plants hiding in plain sight. As she harvests them for food, medicine, and just-in-case apocalypse insurance, Lerner delves into anthropology, urban ecology and sustainability, and finds herself looking at Nature in a very different way. Humorous, philosophical, and informative, “Dandelion Hunter” has something for everyone, from the curious neophyte to the seasoned forager.”

Gary Lincoff “The Joy of Foraging: Gary Lincoff’s Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying a World of Wild Food” [Quarry Books, 2012]
joy of foraging
“Discover the edible riches in your backyard, local parks, woods, and even roadside! In “The Joy of Foraging”, Gary Lincoff shows you how to find fiddlehead ferns, rose hips, beach plums, bee balm, and more, whether you are foraging in the urban jungle or the wild, wild woods. You will also learn about fellow foragers—experts, folk healers, hobbyists, or novices like you—who collect wild things and are learning new things to do with them every day. Along with a world of edible wild plants—wherever you live, any season, any climate—you’ll find essential tips on where to look for native plants, and how to know without a doubt the difference between edibles and toxic look-alikes. There are even ideas and recipes for preparing and preserving the wild harvest year-round—all with full-color photography.”

David Craft “Urban Foraging – Finding and eating wild plants in the city [Service Berry Press, 2010]
urban foraging craft
“Urban Foraging walks readers through the seasons, discussing what plants in the city are edible and which parts are the tastiest. It includes recipes and anecdotes – historical and personal – and special sections on herbal teas, edible garden weeds, mushrooms and more.”

Ava Chin “Eating Wildly. Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” [Simon & Schuster, 2014]
Eating-Wildly-011814
“In this touching and informative memoir about foraging for food in New York City, Ava Chin finds sustenance…and so much more. Urban foraging is the new frontier of foraging for foods, and it’s all about eating better, healthier, and more sustainably, no matter where you live. “Time” named foraging the “latest obsession of haute cuisine.” And while foraging may be the latest foodie trend, the quest to connect with food and nature is timeless and universal.
Ava Chin, aka the “Urban Forager,” is an experienced master of the quest. Raised in Queens, New York, by a single mother and loving grandparents, Chin takes off on an emotional journey to make sense of her family ties and romantic failures when her beloved grandmother dies. She retreats into the urban wilds, where parks and backyards provide not only rare and delicious edible plants, but a wellspring of wisdom.
As the seasons turn, Chin begins to view her life with new “foraging eyes,” experiencing the world as a place of plenty and variety, where every element—from flora to fauna to fungi—is interconnected and interdependent. Her experiences in nature put her on a path to self-discovery, leading to reconciliation with her family and finding true love.
Divided into chapters devoted to a variety of edible/medicinal plants, with recipes and culinary information, “Eating Wildly” will stir your emotions and enliven your taste buds—a moving memoir about the importance of family, relationships, and food.”
http://books.simonandschuster.com.au/Eating-Wildly/Ava-Chin/9781451656190

But urban foraging is no longer merely an interest of the eccentric Hermit. It has moved – in many large cities, like Sydney – into the domain of leading chefs, as the following extract from an article about foraging in Sydney – “Urban foraging: uncovering the secret fruits of the city” – demonstrates:
dandelion
“Mike Eggert was recently asked about a garnish on one of the dishes he cooked. The chef had foraged it himself, picking the young, tender dandelion leaves from the grounds of an old, abandoned mental asylum where they don’t spray pesticides, and everything is left to get a little wild: no cars, no chemicals. One lady at the dinner, it turned out, regularly walks her dog there. “Oh!” she said. “Isn’t it going to be covered in dog piss?”
Every table in the restaurant stopped eating. Eggert found himself thinking: are you guys kidding? With the way most food is produced these days, piss is the least of your worries. Instead he said: “Everything is covered in piss. I don’t want to eat anything that hasn’t had the opportunity to be covered in piss by something. Do you really want your food to come from such a sterile and plastic environment that it’s never had the chance to be exposed to a living animal, whether it’s a fly, a bee, a dog, a bird? That should be your barometer. If it’s had something urinate on it, it’s good to eat.””
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/australia-food-blog/2013/sep/12/urban-foraging-food-city

See further:
http://thefoodsage.com.au/2012/10/14/food-foraging-in-the-wilds-of-western-sydney/
http://restaurant.australia.com/explore/National/Experiences/foraging-australian-style.html

Communion for Solitaries in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2014 by citydesert

St Basil of Caesarea: Letter 93: To the Patrician Cæsaria, concerning Communion.
Basil the Great
“It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy body and blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. John 6:54 And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. I, indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord’s day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint. It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offense, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves. All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he likes. For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver. And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time.”
http://newadvent.org/fathers/3202093.htm

The Incense of Eucalyptus and Pine, and a Hermit’s Cave in the Australian Bush

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2014 by citydesert

I accompanied Father Edward on a visit to the (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) Our Lady of Kazan Convent at Kentlyn (an outer suburb of Sydney). We were graciously received by Abbess Maria, who kindly invited us to join her and the Nuns for luncheon.
Kentlyn 2
A Monastery was established on the present site in the early 1950’s, and a monastic building and the All Saints Church were erected. The late 1950’s saw the arrival from China of an enormous wave of refugees, including those in monastic orders. The monastic buildings were given to Nuns in the late 1950’s, and the Monks established a skete in honour of St. John the Baptist on an adjoining property.
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It seemed that the Convent would die out, but in 1984 a stream of young novices began to join. At that time work commenced on a new Church in honour of the Kazan Icon of the Holy Theotokos, together with a new building to house the monastic cells.
See further: http://www.kazanconvent.org/

Of particular interest to me on my visit to the Convent at Kentlyn was to visit the cave of the Hermit Father Guri (Demidov)(1894-1992), near to the St. John the Baptist Skete adjacent to to the Convent. Father Guri began living in the skete in 1960. Fr Edward and I walked along a dirt road and down a very steep and rocky path to the cave. The air was filled with the “incense” of pine (from the trees in the grounds of the Convent) and eucalyptus (from the gum trees in the surrounding thick bushland) – an entirely appropriately fragrant mixture for a Russian Hermit living in Australia. In overwhelming silence, punctuated only by the calls of native birds, we venerated the memory of the man who was (almost certainly) Australia’s first Orthodox Hermit.
Kentlyn hermit
For me it was an inspiring time, and an opportunity to reflect on the great lineage of Hermits whose path those of us who aspire to be their modern equivalents seek to walk (however unworthily).
guri-cave
This photograph is from an earlier visit to the cave by Abbess Maria (and the magnificent Convent dog) and a visiting Priest.

“Father Guri’s small cave, scene of his many hidden vigils and spiritual struggles, has been cleaned of the dirt and rubbish accumulated since his departure. A floor has been laid, overhanging rock walls strengthened, and icons and a burning lampada installed. Sanctified by Father Guri’s prayers and tears, this sandstone cleft, the Skete’s first ‘church’, has become a place of pilgrimage and quiet prayer for growing numbers of visitors to the Skete.” http://orthodoxwiki.org/St._John_the_Baptist_Skete_%28Kentlyn,_New_South_Wales%29

“Born in 1894, Fr Guri was a monastic in Harbin, China. Due to the cultural revolution, however, he moved to Australia, arriving on October 5, 1960, as a refugee. On arrival, he took up residence at St John the Baptist Skete, having been vacated the previous year. Living in a small, one room tin hut surrounded by thick bush he became its first, and only, monastic inhabitant. Fr Guri was devoted to prayer and craved solitude, and found both in the 18 hectare grounds of the skete, often attending daily services at the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Kazan.
In his search for silence, and in imitation of the monastic hermits of the Egyptian and Judean deserts, Mount Athos and the vast forests of Russia, Father Guri cleared out a natural cleft in a nearby sandstone rock face, making a small, cramped cave in which he would spend many hours reading prayers and using his prayer rope. This was his favourite retreat after communing at the Divine Liturgy. Only God and the holy Angels were witnesses to his prayerful vigils and struggles.
Father Guri was reputed to have had an extensive library on the ascetic life and hesychastic prayer (the use of the Jesus Prayer – the foundation of Orthodox Christian ascetic prayer). He would often laboriously copy excerpts from the writings of the Holy Fathers on the ascetic and spiritual life in small school exercise books. These anthologies, the fruit of his prayerful reading and spiritual struggles, he would give away as a blessing to those whom he felt would benefit from the wisdom of the Holy Fathers.”
http://orthodoxwiki.org/Guri_%28Demidov%29

The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2014 by citydesert

Diogenes Allen “Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today” [Cowley Publications, 1997)]
spiritual theology
“Often spirituality today is isolated from church teaching and doctrine, as in Joseph Campbell’s treatment of myth and the many forms of New Age theologies, but doctrine apart from the life of prayer is abstract and sterile. In Spiritual Theology Allen turns to the great teachers of the past—the church fathers, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Bonaventure, Hugh of St. Victor, Calvin and Luther, George Herbert—to recover a spirituality that is rich with the doctrines and disciplines of theology.

Allen covers the great questions of the spiritual life: what is the Christian goal? what leads us toward that goal, and what hinders us? what is conversion? how can we discern our progress in the spiritual life? what are the fruits of the Spirit?

A second purpose of the book is to introduce readers to the disciplines and texts of the threefold way, found in the eastern church from the fourth century on. Allen writes simply and clearly of the active life and the development of virtue, and the contemplative life, which includes coming to know God through the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture as well as directly, face to face, which is the domain of mystical theology.

This book is a basic and accessible introduction to the classic writings and doctrines of the spiritual life.”

“Written by a prominent Protestant theologian for Protestants, this book has a decidedly Catholic tone and content. It is an attractive, accessible book that reflects not only the great learning of its author, but also his personal experience of Christian life and striving. Allen dares to cross disciplinary, generic, and denominational boundaries in order to appeal to all Christians to recall an ancient theological tradition that has almost been forgotten, even within Catholic circles.

Allen joins his voice to those of a growing number of theologians who are deploring “a widespread theological amnesia in the church” (p. 5), as a result of which “academic theology has narrowed its focus and neglected the field of spiritual theology” (p. 3). In fact, the classic Christian works of ascetical, natural, exegetical and mystical theology are routinely dismissed as “devotional” rather than “theological.” It is high time, Allen insists, for us to address the “noticeable gap today between theology as it is taught in the academy and the practice of Christian devotion” (p. 152) by recovering these lost branches of theological study, which enable us to focus on the questions intrinsic to theology, namely, “the nature of God’s reality and our human capacity to know God” (p. 153).

“For most of Christian history,” Allen observes, “intellectual inquiry and spiritual aspiration toward God have gone hand-in-hand” (p. 154), and that is necessarily so, because Christian belief affirms that “receiving God’s revelation require[s] repentance” (p. 153). Only very recently have theologians mistakenly assumed that a personal practice of the faith is unnecessary for them as academicians. Only recently, too, have people begun to embrace vague, popular forms of “spirituality” that entail little or no doctrinal commitment.
These recent phenomena are related, Allen suggests, and stem from mechanically taking apart what was for most of Christian history a continuous, three-stage narrative of personal and communal quest.”
Ann W. Astell “Anglican Theological Review”, Vol. 81, No. 1 , Winter 1999 http://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-39223448/spiritual-theology-the-theology-of-yesterday-for
Diogenese-Allen-on-Spiritual-Theology
“Dr. Diogenes Allen (1932-2013) was a distinguished scholar in the field of the philosophy of religion, and the Stuart Professor of Philosophy emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Allen was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 17, 1932. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky in 1954, and went on to study at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a B.A. (1957) and later an M.A. (1961) from Oxford. He earned the B.D. (1959), the M.A. (1962) and the Ph.D. (1965) from Yale University. His thesis for his Ph.D. was titled “Faith as a Ground for Religious Beliefs.”
Before joining the Princeton Seminary faculty, he taught at York University in Ontario, Canada, from 1964 to 1967. He also was a visiting professor at Drew University and at the University of Notre Dame during his career.”
http://www.ptsem.edu/index.aspx?id=25769804987

Becoming Fire: Words To Live By

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2014 by citydesert

Tim Vivian (Editor) “Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers” [Cistercian Studies, 2009]
becoming fire
“The insights of the desert monks of the fifth and sixth centuries amaze, and startle, readers by their wisdom. Among other things, they teach that the first step in overcoming our sinfulness is an honest perception of things as they are.” By arranging these “words” in short Daly readings, Tim Vivian invites modern readers to savor the monks’ advice, as did those who collected these sayings, rather than dismiss them as a fascinating but irrelevant bit of history.
Tim Vivian is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at California State University, Bakersfield. He is the author of numerous books and articles on early Christian monasticism, including “The Life of Antony” (with Apostolos N. Athanassakis) and “Words to Live By: Journeys in Ancient and Modern Egyptian Monasticism”, both published by Cistercian Publications.”
See also:
Tim Vivian “Words To Live By: Journeys in Ancient and Modern Egyptian Monasticism” [Cistercian Studies, 2005]
Words to live by
“Give me a word, Father. From the time of Saint Antony ‘at least ‘younger monks would ask older, experienced monks, abbas or ammas ( ‘fathers ‘ or ‘mothers ‘), for a saving word, for advice, for wise counsel on how to live. In this book, Coptic scholar and priest Tim Vivian shares personal accounts of journeys to present-day monasteries in Egypt, and translations of ancient texts exemplifying the ‘words, ‘ the insights that have guided desert monks for nearly two millennia. Those who study the monastic tradition professionally and those who search it spiritually will find matter for reflection here.”

Tim Vivian and Apostolos N. Athanassakis “Athanasius of Alexandria: The Life of Antony” [Cistercian Studies, 2005]
Life of Anthony
“Instrumental in the conversion of many, including Augustine, The Life of Antony provided the model for subsequent saints’ life and constituted, in the words of patristics scholar Johannes Quasten, ‘the most important document of early monasticism.’”

See further:
David G.R. Keller “Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers” [Liturgical Press, 2011]
Desert Banquet
“The wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers lies in their experiences of solitude, prayer, community life, work, and care for their neighbors. Their goal was transformation of their lives through openness to the presence and energy of God in Christ. They taught by example and by sharing narratives and sayings that reflect the deep human psychological and spiritual aspects of their journey toward authentic human life. The venue for their transformation was the whole person ‘body, mind, and spirit. They emphasized self-knowledge, humility, purity of heart, and love of God and neighbor. Far from being naïve, their sayings and narratives reflect honest struggles, temptations, and failures. They also demonstrate the disciplines of prayer and meditation that kept them centered in God as their only source of strength.
The daily reflections in “Desert Banquet” introduce readers to a variety of these early Christian mentors and offer reflections on the significance of their wisdom for life in the twenty-first century.”

What Matters In The Spiritual Life

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2014 by citydesert

Amongst the increasing number of excellent books exploring the “technology” of the spiritual life, and deriving from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the Early Church, is “The Matters Series” by Mary Margaret Funk OSB.

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Thoughts Matter: Discovering the Spiritual Journey” (The Matters Series) [Liturgical Press, 2013]
thoughts matter
“Cassian taught that real intimacy with God in prayer demands renouncing one’s former way of life, the thoughts belonging to that former way of life, and one’s very idea of God. In “Thoughts Matter”, Mary Margaret Funk focuses on the second of these: renouncing the thoughts belonging to one’s former way of life. Her eight chapters focus on different thoughts”-food, sex, anger, dejection, acedia (profound weariness of the soul), vainglory (taking credit for good actions), and pride.
Funk explains well how failure to control these thoughts can undermine our spiritual life, and she instructs readers on how effectively to overcome these thoughts and to focus instead on thoughts in harmony with God’s will. The result is an experience of joy, hope, and freedom from enslavement to our appetites. Readers will come away enlightened, strengthened, and inspired to delve more deeply into a life of intimacy with God.”

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Tools Matter: Beginning the Spiritual Journey (The Matters Series) [Liturgical Press, 2013]
tools matter
“How can we tend the garden of our souls? Meg Funk turns to the wisdom of the desert fathers for the means of removing obstacles to spiritual growth, which include thoughts of food, sex, possessions, anger, dejection, and pride, among other preoccupations. Redirecting thought away from such weeds in the garden of the spirit can lead to a greater awareness of God and purity of prayer. This method to mental discipline may seem impossible at first, Funk admits, but those who succeed at it are rewarded with a liberating experience as they come to observe and control individual thought processes. Drawing on the writings of the fifth-century monk John Cassian, Funk goes on to explore deeply using such tools as memory, imagination, and rational thinking-tools right out of early Christianity-to work on inner healing. She also explains how other positive tools, such as ceaseless prayer, manual labor, and isolation, may lead to uncluttering the mind and purifying the heart.

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Discernment Matters: Listening with the Ear of the Heart” (The Matters Series) [Liturgical Press, 2013]
discernment matters
After fifty years of monastic life, prayer, and spiritual direction, Meg Funk knows what it means to listen with the ear of one’s heart to the Holy Spirit. In “Discernment Matters”, she shares what she has learned. This book is a resource for those who want to learn and practice discernment as taught by the early monastic tradition. It includes an accessible summary of teachings about discernment from monastic traditions of late antiquity, consideration of important tools for making decisions today, and practical examples from the lives of St. Benedict and St. Patrick, as well as from the experience of monastics today.
With this fifth volume of the Matters Series, Funk completes one of the most comprehensive presentations of the spiritual life available today, demonstrating why this inner work is both necessary and such a joy.”

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Humility Matters: Toward Purity of Heart” (The Matters Series) [Liturgical Press, 2013]
humility matters
“”Humility Matters” makes the claims that humility is for a disciple of Jesus Christ what enlightenment is for a Buddhist, realization for a Hindu, surrender for a Muslim, and righteousness for a Jew. It is the unmistakable character of one who has accepted the vocation to undertake the spiritual journey. It is at the core of our experience of life in Christ.
Meg Funk guides readers deeper into a life of humility by following the movement of what the early Christians called the four renunciations: to renounce our former way of life, our thoughts of our former way of life, our self-made thoughts of God, and our self-made thoughts of ourselves. With the help of the compelling examples of St. Benedict, St. Teresa of Jesus, and St. Therese of Lisieux, Funk shows the way to ongoing conversion of mind, heart, and way of life.”

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Lectio Matters: Before the Burning Bush” (The Matters Series) [Liturgical Press, 2013]
lectio matters
“”Lectio divina” is a way of praying by sustained immersion into a revelatory text. While Scripture is the classic place of encounter with God, the text could also be the book of life or the book of nature. In “Lectio Matters”, respected spiritual guide Meg Funk accompanies the reader in exploring the various levels of “lectio divina” as taught by the ancient church writers and by sharing her own long experience. By means of this wisdom both ancient and new, “lectio divina” can become our burning bush, a real encounter with the living God, in which we take off our sandals and bow our brow to the ground.”

Mary Margaret Funk OSB “Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life” [Continuum, 2001]
MF_tools matter2
In her previous book, “Thoughts Matter: The Practice of the Spiritual Life”, Sister Mary Margaret Funk, elaborating on the teaching of John Cassian, dealt with the eight classic “thoughts” that distract us from the presence of God. In her new book, casting her net more widely, she treats more than two dozen “tools” or practices of the spiritual life. Many of these (such as fasting, vigils, ceaseless prayer, and manual labor) derive from the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, but just as many come from later times: the practices of emptiness based on “The Cloud of Unknowing”, of recollection (Teresa of Avila), of self-abandonment (J. P. de Caussade), of the presence of God (Brother Lawrence), of colloquy (Gabrielle Bossis), and of the Little Way of Therese of Lisieux. The book concludes with a chapter on discernment, spiritual direction, and the limitations of each tool. Tools, says Funk, are means, not ends. “Eventually, we discover, with freedom and love, that tools don’t matter after all! God, our heart’s desire, is all that matters!” The book includes a comprehensive bibliography.”

“Funk turns to the wisdom of the desert fathers for the means of removing obstacles to spiritual growth, which include thoughts of food, sex, possessions, anger, dejection, and pride, among other preoccupations. Redirecting thought away from such weeds in the garden of the spirit can lead to a greater awareness of God. This somewhat Zen-like method to mental discipline may seem impossible at first, Funk admits, but those who succeed at it are rewarded with a liberating experience as they come to observe and control individual thought processes. Drawing on the writings of the fifth-century monk John Cassian, Funk goes on to explore deeply using such tools as memory, imagination, and rational thinking–tools right out of early Christianity–to work on inner healing. She also explains how other positive tools, such as ceaseless prayer, manual labor, and isolation, may lead to uncluttering the mind and purifying the heart. Worthy guidance for contemplative spiritual seekers.” June Sawyers – American Library Association
margaret mary funk
Mary Margaret Funk, OSB, has been a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery Beech Grove Indiana since 1961. Taught elementary school at St. Barnabas 1965-69. Was an administrator for the Archdiocese in catechetics from 1969-1983. Archdiocese of Louisville in 1984. She was Prioress from 1985 – 1993, and in 1994 became Executive Director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board. In that capacity she coordinated the Gethsemani Encounter 1996, and in 2002, Benedict’s Dharma Conference, 2001, Benedict’s Dharma 2, 2003. She spoke at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1993. She traveled to India and Tibet on the 6th Spiritual Exchange Program in 1995 and 1999, and has been in formal dialogue with Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Islam, Confucius, Taoist traditions.
She was the Executive Director of MID Board. She collaborated with James Wiseman, editor, on the last 30 issues of “Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin” and Web Site: MonasticDialog.com
She has given many retreats to Monastics and lay ministers on Christian Practice. Currently she’s directing the School of Lectio Divina at Benedict Inn. She served on Thomas Keating’s Contemplative Outreach Board of Trustees, Weston School of Theology in Cambridge and was a member of the Board of Overseers of St. Meinrad School of Theology.
She holds Graduate degrees from Catholic University (1973) and Indiana University (1979). She’s a graduate of Epiphany Certification Program of Formative Spirituality (2002).
http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/teachers/teachers.php?id=269