Saturday, December 22, 2007

Best Books of 2007 - Spirituality

I will begin this list with the easiest selection. Ever since first hearing about Anselm Grun, OSB, I have been on the lookout for his books in translation, as I don't (yet?) read German. The quote that got me started on this quest was something to this effect: "If someone is perpetually tired, he is relying on himself for strength and energy and not on God."

One finds this sort of wisdom in abundance in Invitation a la serenite du coeur "Invitation to Serenity of Heart. Very few of Grun's books have made it into English so far, so I jumped at the chance to purchase some in French while at the Provincial Chapter this autumn. I devoured this book, finishing it in a day, despite not being quite fluent in French. I literally couldn't put it down in the train ride across France, except to consult a dictionary. I am now reading it a second time, to translate it for reading at table in the monastic refectory.
Aside from Grun's talent for aphorism, what is most impressive about Grun is his life. He has been, for many years, the Cellarer at Munsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany, one of the world's largest Benedictine Abbeys. The Cellarer is the monk responsible for the economy of the house, and so if anyone would have a right to claim to be overworked, it would be the Cellarer of a giant abbey. Yet here is Grun, gently extolling rest, Sabbath, creative leisure.
He has also managed, in his 'free time' to be spiritual director to many seminarians and lay persons, as well as write scores of books. These books in turn, show him to be a reader of wide interests: references to Evagrius and Cassian are interspersed with others to Heidegger, Chung Tzu and Mark Twain. Perhaps he is able to do all these things because he is not a multi-tasker, ironically: "I must do whatever is in my power and leave the rest to God in all confidence. Inasmuch as I am the cellarer of my monastery, I am responsible to insure healthy financial conditions for the community and its members. But if this responsibility follows me even into prayer, I am making a mistake. Then I would be more preoccupied with myself than with the Kingdom of God, more tempted to justify myself before others than to entrust myself to justice and divine providence."
A few more selections...
On avarice:
We spend entire days looking for something to buy ‘on sale’. However, as soon as the sale is finalized, satisfaction evaporates and a new desire hooks us, not leaving us in peace until we satisfy it, in its own turn, by another purchase.... To want to possess something is not evil in itself. The desire to possess derives from the desire to live in peace and security. But many are ‘possessed’ by their desire for possession. They are driven continually to acquire more. Because they lack sufficient riches within, they search for them outside.
On acedia as expressed by a flood of words:
The overabundance of words and curiosity are two aspects of acedia that are most obvious today. The multiplication of words is opposed to genuine conversation: one cannot hear or allow space for dialogue; the talkative person moves from one subject to another, extending only to superficial topics and preferring to talk about himself....We feel the mute emptiness inside ourselves, and having nothing essential to say, we mask this state of affairs by talking more and more loudly. Such a discourse gives the impression that we are up to date on everything and that we are interested in everything, yet this discourse rings hollow. We have the impression of entering into relationships with others because we speak to them, but in reality we merely express our inability to connect....This phenomenon is best demonstrated by ‘talk shows’, the summit of the ‘decadence of the word’. The ability to speak endlessly about nothing is driven to the point of absurdity, to an extreme....nothing really new emerges from such a debate, all the while producing the effect of genuine dialogue.
On the nature of man:
Jesus has a different notion of man [than Heidegger]. Man is not principally someone who worries, but someone who trusts. He knows of Himself that He is in the hand of the Father who takes care of Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites his disciples not to worry:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?"
On the connection of fasting, prayer and serenity:
Fasting frees the one who prays from worry that obstructs access to the interior life, so that we might truly pray to God ‘in secret’. This space in the deeper recesses of our selves is the Kingdom of God [within us]. If we enter into this space of serenity, our life will be just and in accord with the deepest part of our being. We will be made upright and will regain true humanity. When we arrive at the “Kingdom of God in us,” we can say with Teresa of Avila, “God alone suffices.” We become aware that we no longer have any need to be disturbed. We are no longer preoccupied with the expectations and demands of others since others do not have access to this interior place. Fear is no longer in that place because, at these times of prayer, we realize that we have everything that we need in order to live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think there are a number of his books in english that came out in the 1990's. I have about 10 of his books in english...and know i saw more that i did not pick up.

he does not seem to have caught on in the US so most of his books may not be in print. I know I have one on the gospel of luke, one on the sacraments, two on angles, one on midlife crisis, and one on desert he covers a lot of ground! the one french seems very interesting......


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