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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Deeply Human Story, 14 Dec. 2007
Simon Small (UK) - See all my reviews
There have always been those for whom the spiritual path is not just one strand of their life, but its beating heart. It is likely that in days gone by, those driven by this essential pulse would have found their way to the doors of one of the great religious orders. This path would have led to robes and vows; to community and obedience; to worship and silence; and to enclosed walls or wandering mendicancy.

But what of such people in our time, living in and shaped by a Western culture ill at-ease with traditional forms of the religious life. As we witness a well-documented upsurge of interest in "spirituality" (rather than "religion"), with its emphasis on individuality, how is this impulse being expressed in the midst of the modern world?

This is the question addressed by Jennifer Kavanagh's fascinating book, "The World is our Cloister". It is a vital question for understanding what is going on around us and, more importantly perhaps, within ourselves.

This is not some dry academic study. It is full of life because it is woven around personal stories and reflections, both the author's own and drawn from interviews with a wide selection of people trying to live such a life.

The book uses these stories and reflections to consider a range of issues raised by this topic. There are too many to list, but they include:
· the role of community and new forms that are emerging;
· the role of individual spiritual direction;
· the role of spiritual practice;
· new understandings of traditional concepts such as obedience, poverty and chastity;
· the relationship between stillness and action in the world; and
· inter-faith perspectives.

The book concludes with two short sections giving suggested "taxing tasks" (simple spiritual practices) and follow-up questions to aid continuing reflection on this subject.

This is an important book about an important subject. Its greatest gift is that it reminds us that real people, living real lives, are following this path right now, all around us. It is a deeply human story.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But do we need a cloister?, 2 Jun. 2008
This fascinating book takes as its premise that many people of all faiths or none are looking for a way to live an interior devotional/spiritual life whilst still being actively engaged in the external world, and tries to show that such a thing is not only possible, but perhaps even desirable. I was attracted to it primarily because I hoped to find reassurance and guidance for my own somewhat eclectic spiritual journey, which has, at its heart, a desire for contemplation, mysticism and silence. I had also, more than 40 years ago, given up what I thought was a vocation to become a nun in favour of being a wife and mother, and perhaps a little bit of me still wonders whether this was the right choice!
Jennifer Kavanagh is the child of a Russian Jewess who became a Kabbalist in later life and an Anglican father who converted to Roman Catholicism when she was five years old. She was obviously exposed to a variety of religious influences when she was growing up and is herself a practising Quaker, so she is well placed to understand the differences but commonalities of various faiths. However, whist it was clear that she had read about and researched other faiths for the book, I did come across several small inaccuracies in the ones I know about. Still, one cannot help but be impressed by the ground Kavanagh covers in the book, and the time she spent interviewing people, both in and out of the cloister, from different faiths and backgrounds. Whilst this gives the book a certain validity, I felt it was over done - at a rough guess I would say that approximately 70% of the book is based on these interviews and they leave little room for the author's own thoughts or conclusion. Having said this, other people might find this literary style helpful - I know already that I don't from previous books I have read, so perhaps I was biased against it.
My favourite part of the book was Chapter 8, called "Spiritual Practice", where the author discusses a variety of ideas that can be incorporated into one's spiritual life, and on P214 she has helpfully listed these, along with some others, as "Taxing Tasks", some of which I will definitely try. On P216 we also have four pages of "Follow-Up Questions" suggested for use in individual journaling and/or group work. I found these so interesting and stimulating that I wanted to go back and read the book again so I could work with the questions either alone or in a small group, though in my opinion it might have been better it they had been placed at the end of each chapter rather than all together at the end.
In essence though this book is one that would be of benefit to anybody who wishes to consider making, as the title says, the world their cloister, either through choice or necessity. It certainly proves that such a thing is not only possible but also that it can be a life affirming and positive choice for many, and Kavanagh's book gives practical ideas on how this can be achieved.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the modern religious life, 14 Nov. 2007
Ms. Mirabai Narayan (uk) - See all my reviews
jennifer kavanagh's book resonated so strongly with my experience and that of many people i meet who are struggling to live a religious and/or spiritual life amongst the hustle and bustle of the western world. making vows within ourselves and trying our best to listen to and be obedient to God/Spirit we sometimes feel a little lost without the community and cloistering our monastic brothers and sisters enjoy; this book takes away that loneliness, and offers real-life stories and suggestions on how to live 'in the world but not of it'. i found it both moving and helpful, a much-needed companion for a very modern pilgrimage.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kindred Spirits, 7 Dec. 2007
`The World is our Cloister' is a title that expresses exactly my own attitude to the concept of worship and mysticism. Until I read this book I assumed that those like myself, whose pragmatic view of life didn't and couldn't separate ordinary life from worship and mysticism, were not just odd, but in some way inferior. This book was a reading revelation. What a burst of light to find so many kindred spirits from so many races and religions who felt the same! It is a rare privilege to discover what truthfully `makes a person tick'. But rarer still to hear it from such a treasury of human diversity past and present. This book does something unique among similar books I have come across: instead of making you feel like a worm, it makes you feel like one butterfly among a cloud of them. A soul silence for seeking. The wonder of awakening awareness. This is the everywhere prayer. Thank you.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When your body is your temple., 13 Sept. 2007
B. A. Venn-lever "BeBe Ve" (Berkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This book shares that we do not have to become a monk, nun, hermit or recluse to lead a religiously attuned life.Discover a differnt approach to communing with that still, quiet,holy place within yourself without removing yourself from lifes rich tapestry. We can all gain from sharing someone else's ideas and journey, here is another to enlighten your own pathway. A compelling read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A timely and enjoyable treatment of an important contemporary phenomenon, 28 Feb. 2010
.The changing religious landscape of the West is surveyed in this fascinating and worthwhile book. As vocations to traditional institutional monasticism decline, Kavanagh looks at those seeking `a monasticism for our time`. Thomas Merton wrote that it is in the desert in which monastic prayer flowers, and Kavanagh talks with some of the increasing numbers of people who seem to be heading off into a desert of sorts: one in which people are trying to live seriously committed lives of religious faith but which is without externally imposed discipline, in which people "find their own way". Is this the same desert Merton had in mind? Is it, in other words, the place where truly monastic prayer is now beginning to flower in our postmodern, atomised, secular, materialistic culture? Part of the appeal of the book is the way it poses this quesion - implicitly on every page but not often explicitly, and never answering with forced polemic.

Belonging to the liberal Quaker tradition herself, those she has interviewed include other Quakers, Christians of various denominations, Hindus, yogis, Buddhists, Jains, Sufis, Kabbalists, Hare Krishna devotees and many without any labels - the unchurched and those who consider themselves to have gone beyond the confines of any one religion. This sheer breadth is one of the major strengths of the book. The numerous quotations from the teachers of many faiths will be encouraging and helpful to anyone serious about attempting ti live a committed life yet all too aware of the marginality of this way of living; its inherent fragility and vulnerability arise because it is so counter-cultural, so at risk of dispersal by the cold winds blowing around these days: secular indifference on the one hand, growing religious extremism on the other.

Conversely, this is at the same time to my mind the source of the book`s main weakness. Woefully little allowance is made for the human frailty which has always impelled monastics to pay attention to the need for some separation from surrounding culture, that `cloister` or enclosure which is more essentially a matter of mind or heart than of any physical barrier. This separation is what enables monastics to maintain their own values and virtues whatever the values of the surrounding culture. You`d have to be an excptionally strong - or perhaps rather inhuman - person to remain faithful over many years to your lights as one of those whose path, as she writes, "is in the world...unenclosed, unprotected by a common identity and the values of those around us". Most of us, I think, need at least a little such protection to maintain our core identity as monastics, undersanding this term to extend to oblates, associates tertiaries, solitaries and so forth.

Some editing would have been beneficial: too often a sequence of thought is subjected to unhelpful tangential condderations which become distracting. There is also some misunderstanding of terms in places - eg. what`s meant by `lay` and `ordained`. But it`s easy to forgive these faults. Overall this is a timely and enjoyable treatment of an important contemporary phenomenon. I found myself recollecting how Merton had counterpoised a `charismatic` monastic spirit against an `institutional` one, having "much less need of rigid structures...totally abandoned to one need alone: that of obedience to the word and spirit of God, tested by fruits of humility and compasssionate love. [This] type of monasticism can well flourish in offbeat situations, even in the midst of the world. Perhaps such `monks` may have no overt monastic connections whatever". (Contemplative Prayer, DLT 2005, p31). Jennifer Kavanagh doesn`t qoute this, but it`s exactlty what she`s getting at.
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World is Our Cloister
World is Our Cloister by Jennifer Kavanagh (Paperback - 16 Aug. 2007)
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