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Tantalus and the Pelican: Exploring Monastic Spirituality Today
Tantalus and the Pelican: Exploring Monastic Spirituality Today
by Nicholas Buxton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and profound, 9 Jun. 2011
I read this book in two days flat, and if I hadn't had to go to work I'd have read it in one sitting. Nicholas Buxton was one of the participants on the TV programme 'The Monastery'. This book relates his spiritual journey in a very unindulgent way, and how he went from hanging out on a boat, doing nothing in particular except drinking too much, to seeking spirituality in India and finally in Western Christian monasteries. He is currently training to be a priest.

What I loved about this book is that it echoes the lives of so many people I know who grew up in the '60s or '70s, who ended up in India or elsewhere in the East, desperately searching for what the institutional church was failing to offer them. Then years later, having practiced meditation from a young age, they suddenly encounter contemplative Christianity and realise that what they had been searching for was there all the time in the Church, albeit hidden far out of sight of Sunday services.

For anyone who has dabbled with Buddhism, Hinduism or any other Eastern religion, and found that they love the practices and cultures they have learned but nevertheless struggle with a vague sense of dissatisfaction at remaining an outsider, this is the book for you. Nicholas has a rare gift of being an experienced meditator who has entered into profound depths of understanding through his own experience of meditation/prayer but who can also write with clarity, simplicity and insight about his experiences in a way that any Buddhist or Christian would appreciate. He talks about issues like truth, commitment and doubt in a wonderfully honest and undogmatic way that shows true humility. He also writes a lot about the Desert Fathers and the monastic movement and why it's anything but an easy cop-out.

Nicholas is a great writer, with a natural poetic flow, and although there are a couple of passages where he seems a little repetitive in trying to get his point across, this seems to be an expression of his own sheer wonder at what he's found - it's as if he has to keep saying the same things in different ways for fear that he won't communicate sufficiently the wonder of what he's discovered.

If you're going on a short break and want to read something inspiring and profound which is also a breeze to read, this is just the thing. Or if you are struggling with a degree of cultural alienation as a Buddhist, then reading this may help you to realise that Christianity is a truly profound path if you only know where to look. Not that Nicholas is trying to push any religious path in particular, just describing where he's at and what has led him there.

Very highly recommended.


A Mind at Peace: Spiritual Disciples of John Cassian and the Desert Fathers
A Mind at Peace: Spiritual Disciples of John Cassian and the Desert Fathers
by Mary Margaret Funk
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book to study on retreat, 5 Jun. 2011
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This is a small book, easy to read but rich in wisdom, and although it's coming from an early Christian perspective, I would say it's useful and relevant for Buddhists too. Drawing on the 'Thoughts' of Evagrius, which later evolved into the 'seven deadly sins', Funk devotes a chapter to each 'thought' e.g. anger, pride, etc. For anyone who feels an aversion for Christianity I would assure you that this isn't a tedious judgemental Christian book on sin, but more a psychological book based on the earliest Christian monastic teaching. I took this book on a week's (Buddhist) silent meditation retreat and found that despite being short it lasted me the entire week, because it's so thought-provoking. For Christians, perhaps unintentionally, it makes clear that the modern Church's everyday teaching on sin is inadequate compared to the far more profound understanding held by the 'Desert Fathers' of Christianity's earliest centuries. For Buddhists, there are a lot of parallels with Buddhist teaching here because it's essentially a Christian version of describing the mind-states that afflict us all. This isn't intended as a retreat book as far as I know. However, based on my own experience, I would say that for anyone thinking of going on retreat and wanting to take a physically small book which will nevertheless provide rich food for thought, this is one to consider.


The Oxford Treasury of Classic Poems
The Oxford Treasury of Classic Poems
by Michael Harrison
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all ages, 18 May 2011
I have to disagree with the review which says that this book would be babyish for over-14 year olds. I'm over 40 and found it absolutely wonderful, reminding me of classic poems I'd forgotten since school days and introducing me to many more which I didn't know. The pictures are an inspiration and the format is a joy - glossy and luxurious. If you're a poetry buff then it's probably a bit basic and childish, but if, like me, you are looking for something to inspire you to read poetry for the first time since leaving school, this is the book for you. A really good range of classic poems: Robert Browning, Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Wordsworth, Ted Hughes, Walter de la Mare, Auden, Shelley, etc. etc. For the average non-poetry reader, like me, this book is really exciting and will certainly lead me on to explore poetry further. I wish someone had given me this as a child, but as an adult I'm nevertheless delighted and inspired by this book.


The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer
by Simon Barrington-Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful introduction to the Jesus Prayer, 22 April 2009
This review is from: The Jesus Prayer (Paperback)
This is a new edition of Bishop's Simon's book, unfortunately lacking the beautiful illustrations of the first edition but with revised text.
For anyone seeking a short introduction to the Orthodox practice of the Jesus Prayer, this is an excellent place to begin. Bishop Simon has been practicing and teaching on the Jesus Prayer for many years and is a very well-respected authority on this way of prayer. The book is short and very readable but includes everything a beginner on this path needs to know. Very highly recommended.


Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Comtemplation
Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Comtemplation
by Martin Laird
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure of a book, 26 Jan. 2008
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Having spent the past few years reading one book after another on Christian meditation/contemplation to accompany my ongoing exploration and practice of this way of prayer, this book was an absolute delight. No waffle, no new-age hype, just brilliant 'puts his finger right on it' accuracy and a number of extremely useful case-studies which could be applied to many situations. I have recommended this book to several people, all experienced meditators, and each one has raved about it and ended up buying their own copies. If I were to recommend just three books to people embarking on the Christian contemplative path, this would definitely be one of them. It offers a rare and refreshing combination of genuine depth, brilliant clarity and wonderful readability. A real treasure and the best book I came across in 2007.


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