cover image Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks

Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks

Jon M. Sweeney, . . Brazos, $12.99 (157pp) ISBN 978-1-58743-268-2

Protestant author Jon Sweeney (Almost Catholic ) reports on more than 20 years of conversations he's had with monks in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Georgia. In his search for God, he encountered Trappist monk M. Basil Pennington and a number of other memorable characters who were eager to share their decades of cloistered experience with him. As a non-Catholic layman, Sweeney asks pointed questions about many aspects of monastic spirituality and elicits warm reflections on abbey life. Background information on Cistercian and Benedictine orders and quotes from such writers as Thomas Merton, Graham Greene, Evelyn Underhill and George Herbert provide a counterpoint to the voices of a fast-disappearing generation of contemplatives. While the dialogues are vivid, Sweeney's account of his own faith task of incorporating the monks' wisdom is too sketchy to be satisfying, and he offers little information about the directions his life has taken as a result. Adding to the “monks changed my life” genre is tricky, especially given the height of the bar set by Kathleen Norris's remarkable Cloister Walk . Less reticence, better writing and deeper insight would have strengthened Sweeney's endeavor to distill experiences that were clearly significant to him. (May)