While I'm on the Topic of Monasticism: A Book Review
While on the topic on monasticism, I wanted to share a bit about a book I recently finished, In Praise of the Useless Life, by Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O. Brother Quenon has lived for over five decades as a Trappist Monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani. He worked with and learned much from Thomas Merton. Brother Quenon has a deep love for nature, music, contemplation, and being attentive to the present moment. These are what drew me to this newly released book. The wise and beautiful words paint a picture of life at this rural Abbey in Kentucky, surrounded by trees and knobs (hills). The counter-cultural life of a monk inspires me as a wife and mom of teenage triplets, living in a home, in a neighborhood, with a job to evaluate how I can carry pieces of this ‘useless life’ in to my own. In a time when we wear busy like a badge, how might it be more valuable for me to live in to the words of this wise man? Ideas like, “With feet contacting and feeling ground, I explored the world for what it presented at the moment.” And, “It is a yielding to life, to the spirit operating in a hidden, undramatic way, and to the operation of grace. Even though nothing appears to be happening, something is. It means long, patient abiding in the poverty of the present moment, without making great claims concerning it. Something much bigger, indeed, is at work all the time. To take stock and measure is to diminish it.” What If I lived “patiently in the poverty of the present moment, without making great claims concerning it.”? Just be. A student on her last day of my class this week stayed after and one of the words she shared with me that meant so much was that I taught her how to ‘be’. By keeping my “feet contacting and feeling ground” and my eyes focused on the now, the beauty surrounding me, Brother Quenon says, “Ordinary objects could be shown as special: scaffolding leaning against a wall, paint patch samplers, water stains seeping down a retaining wall-things that did not seem beautiful became so…” This attentiveness becomes spiritual contemplation. Brother Quenon talks about the roots of the word contemplation and shows how it actually is an attentiveness, a looking at, a gazing upon. “The smallest, most incidental things can be a gift, such as slimy slugs on the wet pavement.” The small, the ordinary, the routine. By slowing down, inserting some of the pace of the Monastery in to my every day life I can be astonished by the beauty, notice the things I often pass by. I think we could all use a bit more of this ‘uselessness’ and I would argue that the beauty of this life actually provides us with the most value.
Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley, but all the thoughts are mine!